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Tonight’s Subject: Great Moments In Sidekickery.

In 1967, Batman, Robin and Batgirl traveled to Londinium, where Robin was almost immediately set upon by a team of delinquent finishing school girls, who then held him hostage.

In their bedroom.

 

 

The rare African Death Bee is also involved.

Is this Awesome? Show your work.

Friday Night Fights: Haggling Lessons

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that’s exactly how Bahlactus got such a good price on his last car.

 

For more tips on Cimmerian Money-Management, consult Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman’s Conan and the Songs of the Dead, wherein Conan has sex with a ghost, chops up a couple dozen mummies, and then stabs a wizard who is riding a giant red eagle and summoning Lovecraftian horrors. Back in the Hyborean age, that was pretty much just called “Thursday.”

The Week In Ink: March 19, 2008

So here’s the weird thing: This week’s issue of Immortal Iron Fist contained exactly zero kicks to the face. None. It is what the French would call sans un coup-de-pied. And as you might expect, this has shattered my faith in the world.

If Iron Fist doesn’t have face-kicking, then… then do we really know what to expect from anything? Will the sun rise tomorrow? Do I even know who I am anymore?! Up is down and black is white, people! Cats and dogs! Sleeping together! Mass hysteria–

 

 

Ah, that’s better.

Once again, the site of a patriotic hero putting the boots to a guy dressed like a snake has brought me back from the brink of madness, and that can only mean that it’s time once again for another round of the Internet’s Most Combative Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…

 

 

But can any of them restore my faith in the order of the Universe?

 


 

Comics

 

Amazing Spider-Man #554: I realize that I’m probably going to regret saying this in a couple of years–or, you know, months–but I actually kinda like Freak.

Not in this story, you understand: Here, as my pal Chad pointed out, Freak is pretty much an updated version of Carnage, and between the gross-out appearance and the fact that he’s a villain who stops to take a hit of crystal meth on-panel before fighting Spider-Man (because, you know, it’s an All Ages book and all) , I get the feeling that Bob Gale dusted off the DeLorean and grabbed a plot from 1991. But for all that, there’s something appealing about having a villain that can have a new appearance and a new set of powers every time he shows up. It’s essentially Dial V for Villain vs. Spider-Man, and that’s an idea that has some potential. It’s just that not a lot of it’s used this week.

Beyond that, though, there are more rough bits in this one than there have been since the relaunch: Phil Jiminez drawing Spider-Man’s head in completely different shapes when he’s masked, for example, or the fact that a guy as allegedly smart as Peter Parker should know better than to bring a) cigars, and b) bad news to a guy who just had a heart attack. Admittedly, I might be more sensitive to that last one than the average reader given where I spent most of last March and October, but this is common sense, and the casual way that he drops the bad news makes him come off as far more of a dick than Our Hero ever should. It’s obviously meant to be played for laughs, but it’s clumsy and it misses the mark by a huge margin.

That said, it’s still not a terrible comic, and since that’s something you couldn’t say about Amazing a year ago, I think they can probably still chalk that up as a win.

 

Ex Machina #35: Now that Y – The Last Man‘s finally wrapped up, it looks like this is going to be the only onging series by Brian K. Vaughan that we’re getting for a while, so it’s a good thing that it’s sharply written and highly enjoyable.

This time around, though, it’s not the script that caught my eye, but rather the art, because in this issue, Mitchell Hundred is totally using the Nerf Secret Shot:

 

 

See, it’s the Secret Shot because there’s a secondary barrel hidden in the grip, and when you move the “sight” down to the side, it switches it over to firing from that one instead. It is, therefore, absolutely perfect for shooting your way out of a “Hands-Up” situation, but–as you might expect–neighborhood children rarely attempt to take prisoners during games of Let’s Shoot Each Others’ Eyes Out.

Regardless of how well it actually functioned, it was one of my favorites as a kid–which was in no small amount related to the fact that it looks like a comic book laser gun–and seeing it brandished by Mitchell Hundred as exactly that right on page one sent me into a haze of nostalgia that I’m not sure I can get out of without buying some crazy dart rifle and sniping at customers. So, you know: Be advised.

Huh? Comic? Oh, right, it’s really good. You should all be reading it.

 

The Immortal Iron Fist #13: For as much as I was poking fun at it earlier, the fact of the matter is that this issue of Iron Fist has the least amount of fighting that we’ve seen in the series thus far… but it’s also one of the best.

I know: I can barely believe it myself, especially given that the standard for entertainment value in this book was set pretty high a couple months ago in a story where a man turned into green lightning during a kung fu tournament and handed out one of the most severe beatdowns in comics history. With this one, though, it’s a completely different game: This issue is the setup for the fight that Brubaker and Fraction have been building to for a year, and they pull it off masterfully, from Danny’s conversation with Yu-Ti right down to the very last page.

And what a last page it is. It’s telegraphed right from page six with the line “Danny has a plan,” and I don’t think it’s spoiling much to say that Danny’s plan involves beating the crap out of people until everything works out okay, but when it hits, it’s easily one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in a long, long while. I mean, those last two lines alone are worth the price of admission. Great stuff.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

The Incredible Hercules #115: In a perfect world, every single comic book would be like this one.

Bold statement, I know, so let me back that up with a brief summary of what actually goes on here. In this issue, SHIELD attempts to take down the Behemoth–a special Hellicarrier built specifically for fighting Godzilla that’s currently been hijacked by Amadeus Cho–by throwing every piece of ordnance they have and the God of War at it, which of course leads to Hercules and Ares standing on the hull, grabbing missiles out of the air and hitting each other with them while they give broad, sweeping speeches about the nature of man’s fallability and why we see ourselves in the gods we make.

It is, therefore, the perfect Marvel Comic.

I’ve mentioned before that it’s very reminiscent of Walt Simonson’s run on Thor, and while that’s an easy comparison to make given the books’ protagonists, it goes beyond just the mythology. Of course, that is a major aspect of the story, and in this issue it’s as much at the forefront as the others. It’s the style of the storytelling, though, that really strikes a chord.

It’s the way that the big, non-stop action scenes are built around the parallel stories that drive the book, the way that Van Lente and Pak define their characters as creatures of stories and legends first and foremost–even among their peers, like Black Widow in the last issue–and more than that, how fun it all is. Ares alone has had some of the best dialogue Marvel’s seen since Nextwave got the axe, and that continues through this one. Even the sound effects–an explosion that goes “KHOIPHOOM” in a book drawn by Khoi Pham, just like World War Hulk–are an indication of how much fun they’re having making the comic, and that comes right through for the reader.

Now if only John Workman was lettering it…

 

Screamland #1: Aside from a brief obsession with the Universal Monsters when I was around nine, classic horror’s never really been my bag, so I initially skipped over Screamland when I saw it in Previews, figuring that it probably wasn’t for me. Cut to a couple of weeks later, however, and writer Harold Sipe invited me to take a look at the first issue, and since I don’t usually turn down free comics, I said sure.

And I’m glad I did, because Screamland‘s actually really entertaining, even for someone whose interest in the source matieral peaked in the fourth grade. The plot is as follows: The Big Four of the monster movie circuit–Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy and Dracula–are not only real, but made their fortunes playing themselves in horror movies back in the day before CGI made it far less cost-effective to actually hire the aging monsters, leaving them with the remnants of their film careers. And now, of course, their manager’s got a plan to bring them back.

It’s a simple but intriguing premise, and Sipe and artist Hector Casanova make the most of it, opening the book on the set of a low-budget picture on the classic theme of Monsters vs. Lesbians that’s directed by a suspiciously Ed Wood-ish type, and then dropping a line that totally seals the deal: “My father was Mr. Frankenstein. I hope to God you’ve got booze in that thing.”

Needless to say, I ended up liking it an awful lot, and then completely forgot to mention it when it actually came out last week. But the good news is that it should still be available (or at least available to order) at your local shop, so give it a shot. You know you want to find out about the Wolfman’s adventures on the con circuit, right?

 

Tiny Titans #2: I don’t mind saying that when the first issue of Tiny Titans hit last month, I found myself not particularly caring for it. I am, after all, about two decades out of the target audience for this one, and let’s face it, folks: The last guy the Johnny DC line should be trying to please is the guy who has enough Showcase volumes to build a small fort.

This issue, though, hit the mark where the previous one failed, and I’m not even really sure why. It could be the way that Art Baltazar’s expressions seem to get a little more expressive on the second time out, or the way that this issue’s primary themes mirror those of my own childhood with an emphasis on unrequited love and rock-throwing. It could be the surreality of Cyborg having an EZ Bake Oven built into his torso that his friends are always taking advantage of. Or maybe–just maybe–it could be that I am totally awesome at matching games. Either way, it turned out ot be pretty fun. Get one, read it, and pass it along to a kid. Maybe one day they’ll have a Showcase Fort of their own to show for it.

 

Wasteland #15: I haven’t talked about Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten’s Wasteland in a while, for the simple reason that if you’re not already reading it after reviews so positive that they got me on the back cover twice–an honor that goes to Friend of the ISB Dave Lartigue this month–then you’re probably just here to see if I’m going to compare my comics to fictional cheerleaders again. So, uh, sorry to disappoint on that front.

In any case, it’s always worth saying again that Wasteland is probably the best take on the Post-Apocalyptic Western in any media in years, and definitely the best in comics, owing largely to the rich, deep world in which it takes place. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s made me break one of my usual rules this week. See, I cannot stand it when writers spend their time purposely making their dialogue harder to read, whether it’s swapping out a few pages’ worth of dialogue for Kryptonian or something a little more creative than a font switch. And with this issue, that’s what Johnston’s done, giving us the origin of the Sand-Eaters in their own corrupted–but eventually readable–language. And I read every bit, because that’s the kind of book Wasteland is: It makes you want to work to get more out of it, and that’s a quality that’s hard to find in anything.

 


 

Trades

 

The Dirty Pair Strikes Again: I’m pretty sure I didn’t even get halfway through the first Dirty Pair before I set it down and got distracted by something else–probably something drawn by Adam Warren, now that I think of it–but that’s an oversight that I’ve been meaning to correct for a while, and now, I’m pretty sure I have to finish it up, because just flipped this one open to a random page and found a section where Kei explains to the reader what a Lumberjack Death Match is.

This, for the record, is the first time I’ve ever seen that happen in a book, and in case you guys forgot, I once read an entire novel about pro wrestlers fighting terrorists. Clearly, this has the potential to be the best book ever.

 

North World v.1: I was going to pick this one up anyway, but fortunately for me, the very good folks over at Oni saw fit to provide me with a copy to review, so expect that pretty soon.

There is one thing I’d like to say tonight, though, and that is this: If you can read this page and not want to read this thing immediately, then you’re beyond my help.

 


 

And on that note of bear-fighting excitment, that’s the week! As always, recipes and questions on anything I read or skipped over this week can be left in the comments section below, but as for me, well, there’s this new guy in training for LawyerOff 2K8, and he ain’t gonna get that Not Guilty verdict by himself, folks.

Saul Is Dead! Maybe!

If you ever find yourself bored at work and looking to kill a couple of hours, there are far less entertaining things with which you could occupy your time than reading through a bunch of the “Paul Is Dead” clues.

For those of you who aren’t aware and are electing to waste your time with the ISB today, here’s the short version: Rumor has it that in 1966, Paul McCartney left a late recording session with the rest of the Beatles and, on his way home, stopped to give a lift to a girl who was walking through the rain. Once they’re back on the road, she realizes he’s Paul McCartney and flips out, which causes him to get into a pretty massive car accident, which ends with the car exploding and Paul getting decapitated. Pretty grisly stuff, right?

Well, here’s the weird part: Rather than letting this somewhat major setback derail the success of the Beatles, the other members of the band decided that a better idea would be to cover up the accident and replace Paul with a lookalike named–wait for it–Billy Shears. But, just so people wouldn’t be completely surprised when the news inevitably came out, they went ahead and hid clues for their devoted fans in their album art, lyrics and solo projects. But, since we’re forty-two years past it at this point, I think it’s safe to say that they could’ve been a little more obvious.

You can find out more about it–including all of the clues–at Officially Pronounced Dead, and seriously? It took me two hours to write up that summary because I got caught up in reading about the album art again. It’s addictive.

As for whether it’s true, well, while it’s nice to think that there’s no way that the same guy who wrote “Eleanor Rigby” could later go on to form Wings, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly just an exercise in how you can start from a conclusion and work backwards to find signs that lead to it (see also: Nostradamus). Besides, I know for a fact that Paul isn’t dead. And how do I know this?

Because Batman himself solved this case back in 1970 with Batman #222′s Dead–Until Proven Alive!

 

 

With a script by Frank Robbins and art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano, this one comes at you from the height of the Paul-Is-Dead craze–before it eventually died down and was then resurrected when people realized that the Internet was pretty much a worldwide network of conspiracy theorists–and while I know it’s already been covered elsewhere at least once, it’s worth getting into again for the opening scene alone:

 

 

That, my friends, is Robin slowing down a record and playing it backwards to listen for hidden messages, and while that is awesome, I dream of a world where this story came out fifteen years later and involved the Boy Wonder and a copy of British Steel. Seriously, guys: Batman taking on the PMRC would be fantastic.

But back to the record at hand: With the revelation of another “clue” on the latest record by The Oliver Twists that points to the death and replacement of one of their members, Saul Cartwright, Robin decides that he’s going to get to the bottom of this once and for all. Lucky for him, then, that the Twists are on their way to a gig in Gotham City at that very moment and–even more coincidentally–that Bruce Wayne is a major shareholder in their record label.

Needless to say, this is a pretty handy turn of events, and Bruce is able to convince and/or strongarm the band into crashing at Wayne Manor during their stay in Gotham. Thus, we are finally introduced to the Twist in question. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Saul Cartwright:

 

 

You know, just looking at this picture here, I’m not sure if Saul’s dead… but he’s definitely a Dracula.

Anyway, once Saul and the rest of his crüe arrive at Wayne Manor and explain the situation…

 

 

…Bruce and Dick decide that the best course of action here would be to ruthlessly investigate Saul, because, you know, there was nothing else going on that would benefit from the application of their crimefighting skills. Turns out June’s a pretty slow month for thematic crime. Who knew?

Thus, the game is afoot, and after bugging the chandelier fails to give them a good sample of Saul’s voice–because they only have recordings of him singing to compare them to–Robin settles on stealing his “mini-recorder” while he’s asleep and using it to check things out.

So, to review: In order to essentially satisfy his own curiosity, Robin is going to put on a mask, break into Saul’s room, steal one of his valued possessions and use it for his own purposes. I doubt I’m going to win any prizes for hospitality or anything–I won’t even let anyone else have Player 1 when my friends come over for Smash Bros.–but at least I’ve never committed B&E on a houseguest.

Incidentally, this being 1970, the “mini-recorder” in question is about the size of a phone book and looks to weigh about six pounds, as Robin finds out when his adventure into burglary goes awry:

 

 

With Robin bludgeoned so hard that it knocks the color out of his costume and casually tossed down the stairs, I think it’s safe to say that this plan meets with a solid failure, as does their second attempt, which involves faking Alfred’s birthday to get him to sing.

So clearly, the time for subtlety has passed, and this can only be settled in the way all questions are answered on the ISB:

 

 

Violence!

 

Yes, when a late-night visit to a recording studio–which our heroes plan on busting into so they can do more stealing–turns out to be a setup, DG and the Bat hand out some harsh justice to a gang of freelance thugs, then run the recording of the phone call reserving the studio by another recording of Saul to prove that he’s the one that arranged the hit.

But, here’s the thing: It wasn’t Saul at all, but the ersatz John Lennon who arranged the hit! And after Robin lays him out like a Sunday picnic…

 

 

…we finally start to get some answers:

 

 

 

Yes, in a shocking Oliver Plot Twist, Saul’s the only one who isn’t dead, having planted the “clues” himself to throw suspicion off his three ringers. But alas, Chumley got too greedy, and instead of imagining no possessions, he decided to ensure the income would keep flowing.

But, with Batman chiding the group for their dishonesty–which has the handy side-effect of diverting attention from the fact that he’s hanging out in Bruce Wayne’s house and sending his sidekick to ransack their rooms–they decide to come clean with the fans, throw Chumley in jail, and try their hands at a new act.

And out of all the craziness in the issue, that’s the bit that really sticks out.

I mean really: A fight between “John” and “Paul” that leads to the breakup of the band? Only in comics, folks.

The Third Annual Great Moments in Irish Super-Heroics Special

Top o’ the evenin’ to ye! Today, for those of you who missed the rivers of Jameson flowing like the mighty Mississip’ through the streets of the land, was St. Patrick’s Day, where we all pause to celebrate the time that Shamrock and the Guardians of the Galaxy drove the Serpent Society from the shores of the Emerald Isle!

Or at least, I’m pretty sure that’s how it went. But regardless, it’s also the one day of the year when we celebrate our Irish heritage, real or imagined. And since there’s nothing that we like better here on the ISB than a rousing holiday tradition, we set aside St. Pat’s to salute the great Irish comic book characters!

Characters like…

 

 

StormWatch’s Hellstrike!

 

 

Future lawman Judge Joyce!

 

 

Jesse Custer’s vampire pal Cassidy!

 

 

Gotham City’s greatest hitman, Tommy Monaghan!

And of course…

 

 

X-Factor’s own Siryn!

 

Great characters all! Now, I was gonna ask you to raise your glasses in toast, but uh… it looks like they’re already on top of that one.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everybody!

 

Special thanks to Kevin and Ken for helping out with this one.