When you get right down to it, summing up what’s so awesome about the Joker is harder than it seems, because really: Where do you start with that guy? Do you talk about the tragic clown who had one bad day from Killing Joke? Do you try to explain Grant Morrison’s “super-sane” villain who re-invents himself with every appearance? Do you just mention the Surf Jams and leave it at that?
But for me, I think it all boils down to this: The Joker is a guy who routinely fights the world’s greatest super-heroes…
…while wearing high-heeled spats. Genius.
But enough about footwear! It’s Thursday night, and that means that once again it’s time for the Internet’s Most Fancy-Footworked Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…
But does anyone even read this part? Find out now!
Annihilation: Conquest #1: You know, once you’ve seen Ultron get beaten to death with a stick by Daredevil, it’s easy to see any of his other fights as something of a letdown, but man. This right here is good comics.
Admittedly, I’m as weary of the hyperbole surrounding “event” comics as the next guy, but I don’t think it’s understating it to say that Annihilation (and by extension, Nova and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy) has thoroughly revitalized Marvel’s “cosmic” side, just by virtue of solid, exciting storytelling. And even better, Abnett and Lanning–along with Keith Giffen and Christos Gage–have done it using the last characters that anybody would’ve expected. I mean honestly: If you’d sat down three years ago and listed the heroes involved in Annihilation, you would’ve gotten all the way down to Rocket Raccoon before you hit somebody I cared about even a little bit–and if you’d told me that Nova was going to be one of my favorite Marvel titles, I would’ve thought you were crazy–but here we are.
The greatest appeal, though, is that the story they’re using these characters for actually is cosmic: There are entire worlds in danger, and while the stories focus on a very small group of heroes, they never lose that grand sense of scale, and since this is a story that ends with a woman fighting a giant genocidal robot with a sword made of revenge, I think it’s safe to say that it doesn’t lose its sense of fun, either.
The Batman Strikes! #43: For the past couple of years–ever since the Marvel Adventures line became a going concern under guys like Jeff Parker, Marc Sumerak and Fred Van Lente–the presence of kids’ comics that really are fun and appealing for all ages has shifted away from DC and over to the competition, and while they’re still a long way from recapturing the heyday of Batman Adventures, it looks like Josh Elder’s doing his best to have fun with ’em.
Elder, of course, is the Friend of the ISB that brought us the entertaining and offbeat Mail Order Ninja, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that his return to the title is marked by a fun attempt at an animated-style World’s Finest. It’s good stuff, and while it’s certainly a light read, it’s a kid’s book, and, well, they can’t all have rich girls that gain godlike power and usher in a Huxleyan dystopia, now can they?
And hey, even Dave Campbell likes it!
Catwoman #78: By now, word’s gotten out from Will Pfeifer that Catwoman‘s canceled as of #82, and that, my friends, is a damn shame.
And it also makes no sense. Not that they’re canceling it for low sales, but why a book that’s consistently been one of DC’s absolute best titles has low sales to begin with. I talk about Pfeifer’s stories a lot in my reviews–and with good reason, as they’re consistently and thoroughly entertaining–but this is really a book that excels on every level. David and Alvarro Lopez are an amazing art team, and they provide some of the cleanest and most expressive art in comics today, and heck, this thing even has great covers by Adam Hughes every month, so why it doesn’t just jump off the shelves is a complete mystery to me, and this issue’s no exception. A great bit of scheming from Selina, Slam Bradley smacking somebody with a phone book, and a great super-villain battle to top it all off? What more do you want?
It’s great stuff, and while it outright sucks that it’s not long for this world, I’m certainly going to be enjoying it while it lasts.
The Damned: Prodigal Sons #1: Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt are back with the sequel to 2006’s Damned, and while that was a series that hooked me immediately, I’m pretty sure that I like the start of the second series even more than the first.
For those of you who haven’t read Three Days Dead, here’s the plot: Eddie’s a low-level hitman for the mob during the ’20s, but with a couple of catches. For one, the Mob in the world of The Damned is made up not only of humans, but of demonic gangsters who thrive on the sin and vice of the Prohibition era, and for another, Eddie’s preferred M.O. involves allowing himself to be killed, since anyone who touches his corpse brings him back to life at the cost of their own.
It’s one of those deceptively simple high concepts that I just can’t get enough of, and Bunn and Hurtt just nail it. The scripts are fast-paced and intense, and the art strikes a great balance of clean linework and heavy mood that’s awfully hard to come by. It’s good stuff, and while the first series followed Eddie’s attempt at rising through the ranks, this one focuses on his origins and his family, the lengths he’ll go to to save their souls and the risks he’ll take with their lives. The end result is something that makes a great follow-up to one of the most underrated mini-series of the past couple of years, and if a cross between Hellboy and Criminal sounds like your thing–and come on, that sounds awesome and you know it–give it a read. It’s worth it.
Hellblazer #243: And now, the ISB proudly presents “Why I Love Hellblazer,” in one panel:
Incredible Hercules #116: A couple of weeks ago, someone mentioned that there was a flaw in my reviews, as all of them were, and I quote, “glowing,” and I responded by pointing out that, well, that’s one of the problems with reviewing the stuff I buy every week: As fun as it is to get a run of, say, Justice League of America and vent my frustration with it here, I tend to only buy the stuff I like, and the end result is that I’m just reviewing the stuff I enjoy anyway. The snag here is that, unless you’re just going to take my word on everything–which is a perfectly acceptable course of action, especially when coupled with the use of the ISB’s Amazon Store–reviews that are universally positive don’t actually tell you a whole lot. The question, then, is how do you guys know when something really is as awesome as I say it is?
This, of course, assumes that anyone’s actually basing their purchases on what I say, so bear with me here, and check this out: If you listen to me about one book–just one–it should be this one, because The Incredible Hercules is one of the best comic books on the market today. Not just one of the best Marvel books–although it’s certainly up there with the likes of Iron Fist and Captain America–but one of the best comics, period.
And it’s been that good for the past few months–since it made the switch from Hulk to Herc, though the former was no slouch either–and while I’ve gone over the reasons time and time again, the same stuff applies here. It’s great, you should be reading it. End of story.
Iron Man: Legacy of Doom #1: Despite the fact that it does not contain the words “Armor,” “Wars,’ or “Two” in the title, this issue is fairly close to my platonic ideal of what an Iron Man comic should be for a few reasons: a) It starts in outer space, finishes in Hell, and makes a stop in Latveria during the middle, b) at no time does Tony Stark act like a massive tool to anyone who is not a super-villain, an c) it’s about Iron Man fighting Dr. Doom, and I could pretty much read about that all day.
Come to think of it, that’s actually what I did on the day that the Doomquest hardcover came out, and while the story from Iron Man #149 and 150 sets the bar pretty high, this one didn’t disappoint. Admittedly, it’s a little early to say that it lives up to its predecessors–if nothing else, there’s three more issues for MIchelinie and Layton to drop the ball–but a first issue that gets just about everything right in its attempt to capture the feel of those late-80s Marvel stories is a darn good place to start.
Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle #1: I wasn’t originally planning on picking this one up, since I have something of a checkered past with comic book adaptations of urban fantasy novels. Still, I decided to give it a shot after I consulted with pals / novelists Richelle Mead and Caitlin Kittredge (whose novels are available now), and they assured me that this Butcher fellow was good people.
As for how it worked out, well, it was actually a lot better than I expected, though to be fair, the bar had been set pretty low. This is my first time encountering Harry Dresden, but the story itself was accessible enough that I didn’t feel like I was missing anything, outside of the intentionally cryptic flashback. As a character, he obviously suffers by comparison to John Constantine–and really, if you’re going to walk around in comics solving magical crimes and wearing a trenchcoat, that’s gonna happen–but that probably wouldn’t have been quite so prevalent in my mind if I hadn’t just finished this week’s Hellblazer right before I started reading it. Still, there’s an appealing sort of lovable-loser weariness of someone who’s been kicked around a little that comes through to set him apart. Sort of the Al Bundy to Constantine’s Archie Bunker, if you will.
Painfully stretched metaphors aside, it was going along as a pretty sharp read that didn’t fall into the trap of overexplaining itself, and while it didn’t quite thrill me, it wasn’t half bad.
And then Harry Dresden totally punched a lion in the face.
World of Warcraft #6: Okay, seriously you guys… what am I doing here?
I’ve often said that based on his work on Thor and Fantastic Four–both of which are some of the most entertaining comics ever printed–Walt Simonson had earned a spot as one of those creators that I will buy anything they care to do, but man. I just can’t take this thing anymore. It’s… It’s just awful, you guys. Just the pits.
The whole thing reads like someone just printed out a stack of terms that Walt had to throw into each issue and then requested the most clichéd, paint-by-numbers fantasy plot that money could buy, so long as it met the required number of references to Ashenvale or White Plume Mountain or The Forest of Wood or whatever. And the names! As if “Valeera Sanguinar” wasn’t bad enough, this issue sees people talking to gryphons and hippogriffs with names like Blackklaw and Stormwing and Falcon Crest, dishing out plot exposition in speeches that would make Charlie the Parakeet shoot himself in the head and…
Sorry. Lost it for a minute there. Suffice to say that the Casket of Ancient Winters, this ain’t, and while I was holding out hopes that Walter, Son of Simon could pull out a grand fantasy epic that would fall in line with his truly legendary run on Thor, I think it’s time to admit that that ain’t gonna happen and cut our losses. Because after all… “Ghost Wolf.” I mean really.
ISB BEST OF THE WEEK
Nixon’s Pals: So yesterday, I got an email from Nixon’s Pals artist Chris Burnham that read as follows:
I might be coming off as a prideful father here, but Nixon’s Pals, the graphic novel about a parole officer for supervillains that I co-created with Joe Casey came out today… and it may very well have been scientifically designed to rock YOUR world. There’s enough ass-kickery for you to rule Friday Night Fights for a month… and enuff left over for Dave Campbell to reminisce about ten years hence in his F*&^ Yeah Files.
Not sold? There’s a bit where Nixon (the main guy) knees a dude in the groin and headbutts that same dude SIMULTANEOUSLY. And that’s AFTER Nixon has already been simultaneously suplexed and kicked in his OWN groin. Verily, this book is for you.
Now, I was already planning on grabbing Nixon’s Pals anyway, but if there was any doubt left in my mind, Burnham’s email erased it immediately. And trust me on this: He was not kidding. I’d go on, and explain how this thing hits like a freight train with one of the most fun scripts we’ve gotten from Joe Casey in a long while and how Burnham’s art is just fantastic, handling everything from a guy who looks like a rampaging potbellied stove to a woman with what I can only describe as nuclear-powered breasts, but really, that email says it all.
And it’s even crazier–and believe it or not, better–than it sounds.
Showcase Presents the Legion of Super-Heroes v.2: And while we’re on the subject of the craziest things I’ve ever seen, I’d just like to point out that not only does this volume contain the story of Computo the Conqueror–also starring Hate-Face and the Weirdo Legionnaire–but that it actually made the cover.
And with good reason: The only way it could be a more beautifully perfect, absolutely insane Silver Age Story would be the addition of Jimmy Olsen and a couple of chunks of Red Kryptonite. And that’s real.
And hey! Speaking of the Legion of Super-Heroes and the things I’ve written about them, if any of you are headed up to the New York ComiCon this weekend, stop by the SequArt booth and check out their new book Teenagers From The Future!
In addition to an introduction by Matt Fraction and columns from guys like The Physics of Super-Heroes‘ James Kakalios and Scipio Garling, there’s a piece I contributed about the often arbitrary rules and charter of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
See, it’s just like reading the ISB, except now you get to pay for it! Everyone wins!
And of course, if you have any questions about something I read this week–or if, like me, you’re just wondering whether Kate Waynesboro’s transformation into the Oldstrong is going to last longer than her transformation into Ms. MODOK–feel free to drop a line in the comments section below.