If there’s one thing I’ve learned from comics, it’s that anybody–even Barbara Gordon and Professor X–can kick someone in the face. Kicking two at once so hard that it shatters a stone floor and produces the Aparo Effect?
…now that takes moxie.
And if there’s one thing that we have in abundance here at the Internet’s Most Triple-Dog-Daring Comics Reviews, it’s moxie! And don’t even get me started on our surplus of pizzazz.
Here’s what I picked up this week…
And here’s what I’m going to review before the NyQuil kicks in!
Astonishing X-Men #25: Well! That was certainly a Warren Ellis comic!
Yeah yeah, I know: It’s wrong to pigeonhole a writer as talented and versatile as Ellis based on his tendency to put a futurist spin on his stories, but come on, folks: When an X-Men comic opens up with someone twittering about their costume and then throws the heroes at a Great Big Science Idea, it’s not hard to figure out that comics’ favorite cranky technophile’s banging away at the keyboard behind it.
And that’s not a bad thing. The signature tough-guy dialogue and explodo action stories that Ellis perfected on The Authority make the perfect follow-up to the tough-guy dialogue and explodo action that Joss Whedon perfected by reading The Authority, and best of all, it brings something different to the table. A super-hero team investigating an unregulated salvage yard for crashed spaceships is a good idea on its own, but when you apply it to a team that’s essentially just been doing the same thing over and over since the Dark Phoenix Saga, it takes on a new level of freshness. Like Brubaker’s story in Uncanny that sees Cyclops and Emma Frost fighting the ’60s, it’s not the sort of thing that you see the X-Men do all that often, and that alone makes it worth a read.
As for the art side, I’ll confess to being pleasantly surprised by Simone Bianchi. I liked his work on Shining Knight a lot, but I didn’t like his character designs for the X-Men–and let’s be honest here, I’m talking about his Storm–one bit. I also don’t get why everyone now has a huge red and gold X on their chest–unless they’re there in case you forget which comic you’re reading–and all things considered, I’d prefer it if they’d just stuck with Cassaday’s super-hero costumes or even Morrison/Quitely’s uniforms (rather than going back and forth on the need for costumes and settling on “Well, we need them sometimes“), but, well, here we are. What matters more is that the actual art for the book is not just good, but really interesting to just look at, with some neat page designs and elements that you don’t see too often.
And it’s nice to see that–at least around my store–it’s still selling pretty well, despite the exodus of the Casual Reader/Whedonite, who dropped the title in droves. Because really: Who wants to see another X-Men book with top-tier talent that actually comes out on time?
Batman #678: Now this is what a crazy Grant Morrison comic looks like.
I mean, this is a comic book where an amnesiac Bruce Wayne gets jacked up on Crystal Meth and then walks around all day with the alcoholic ghost (?) of a homeless guy before sewing up his crazy new costume as Bat-Mite shows up for one panel, and I’m pretty sure that’s a plot summary that even Bob Kanigher would’ve looked at and gone “Uh, yeah… why don’t we dial that one back a little?”
Of course, it’s also crazy exciting, from Robin fighting a killer mime on the back of his motorcycle to Bruce Wayne attempting to deduce his own identity and breaking through the DTs long enough to kick the crap out of a couple of muggers, and that last page… man, that thing is a hoot. And I’ll confess that I absolutely love the idea that Morrison’s working with here, that Batman: Year One (and presumably all of the “Year One Era” stories, like Batman and the Mad Monk) happened and then gave way to the weird-ass adventures of Silver Age Batman. It’s one of those “Everything Counts” ways of looking at continuity that really appeals to me as a fan of the character: Of course Batman could’ve done all that stuff. He’s Batman.
One thing does bother me about it, though, and that’s that Morrison’s building this story around references to things that are long out of print. It’s the flipside to my comment about how it’s your own fault if you don’t know who Dan Turpin is: That guy’s not only a character from a groundbreaking series by one of the best–if not the best–comics creators who ever lived, but if you missed the initial run, then you could’ve found out about him in the 1980s Baxter reprints, the black and white Fourth World trades from the ’90s, the new Omnibus editions, or even Superman: The Animated Series, where he’s a major player in my favorite moment of the show. If you don’t know about Zur-En-Arrh, however, well… you’re pretty much out of luck.
Of course, you could always look it up on Wikipedia or find the entry in Michael Fleisher’s Batman Encyclopedia, but it’s not the same as actually reading the story. As to why they haven’t been reprinted, well, as someone who’s actually read the Rainbow Monster story that’s referenced in this issue, my guess would be that it’s because a) they’re not strictly necessary to enjoying the story and b) they are not very good. I mean, I can’t speak to the other ones, but man, that rainbow monster story just drops the ball.
Talking about this with Kevin Church, he made the point that it’s “not important to the story itself, which is a Secret Group Is Trying To Fuck Batman Up Real Bad,” and that’s true, but I still think it’d be nice to see where Morrison was coming from with a collection of stuff like the original Club of Heroes story and “Batman-The Superman of Planet X.” Hell, DC, Morrison’s already given you a great name for the thing: You could call it The Black Casebook.
Shit… that would be awesome.
Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #1: For those of you who missed it the first time I talked about it, I’ve been pretty excited about seeing Mike Kunkel’s take on Captain Marvel ever since the book was first announced, and I’m happy to report that it’s actually better than I’d hoped it would be.
A lot of it just comes down to Kunkel’s beautiful, expressive art. It’s a perfect fit for Captain Marvel–especially since this is explicitly the version of the Big Red Cheese that started out in Jeff Smith’s Monster Society of Evil–and more than anything else, it reminds me of old-style animation, like early Looney Tunes or the Disney Robin Hood; it’s got that same sketchy-yet-fluid quality, and the way that he uses multiple images in a single panel just adds to the feeling that you’re seeing images that flow into one another, rather than just the standard static figures.
As to the story, it zips right along with a sense of adventure that never really stops, which is pretty impressive when you consider that Kunkel is packing this thing with pages where ten to twelve panels are the norm. There’s a lot of dialogue, too, which makes this a pretty dense comic by any current standards, especially the standards of a kid’s book. Not to bag on Tiny Titans or anything–since it’s actually a book that I think is a lot of fun–but when you consider that they’re made for about the same audience, it makes Billy Batson look like a novella by comparison.
Which isn’t a bad thing: I mean, I liked to read when I was a kid, and having this much to read–and relatively vast coded sections to decipher if the mood strikes you–means that you’re getting an awful lot of comic for the price.
Beyond that, it’s just a fun comic, full of adventure and neat tricks with super-powers–from impersonating your own father to solving your problems by playing tetherball with construction equipment–that just make it a joy to read. For me, at least, it’s like the Platonic ideal of what a Shazam! comic should be, and if this was the only way we got the character from now on, I’d be perfectly happy with that.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #16: And now, an open letter to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Hi! It’s me, Chris. So you remember that time that you came into the store to get the Buffy comic, and I told you while I was ringing you up that if you liked Joss Whedon, you might want to check out some of the other stuff he was writing, like Runaways or Astonishing X-Men, and you looked at me like I was trying to sell black tar heroin to your children and told me that you only really liked Buffy? And so then I told you about how he did another story about a slayer from the future called Fray that you might enjoy, and you gave me a condescending look that told me that you didn’t think it counted because it didn’t have a photo cover of Sarah Michelle Gellar or whatever?
Well guess what, motherfucker: It counts now. And if you want it… you gotta go through me.
Or, uh, I guess you could probably get it through Amazon or something, but… Well, I made this display with all the Buffy trades, and, you know… It looks very nice.
GI Joe: America’s Elite #36: I think I’ve made it abundantly clear by now that I like GI Joe a lot more than I probably should, and while I’ve enjoyed the “World War III” storyline as a whole, I gotta say that this is one hell of an anticlimactic ending.
I mean seriously, it’s pretty lame when something that’s been billed as “the most ambitious GI Joe story ever told”–which, seriously, how high was the bar for that one?–ends with a scene where Cobra Commander gets punched out and sent to jail. Admittedly, he’s punched out by a paraplegic Hawk who straps on a jetpack, rams into the Commander and then crawls him down (which is pretty awesome), and the jail that he gets sent to is a prison at the bottom of the ocean that looks like it’s been built just to hold him and him alone (which is also awesome), but when you boil it down, there it is: Cobra Commander gets punched out and sent to jail, the end.
Now I’m not saying that Mark Powers should’ve necessarily gone for the relatively cheap route of wholesale character deaths to give the illusion of change–although to be honest, I woulda laughed my ass off if he killed Duke on page two and then had a word balloon from off-panel announcing “Doc says Duke’s gonna be A-Okay!” on the last page—but the heck with it: It’s not just the last issue of the story or the last issue of the run, it’s the last issue before Devil’s Due loses the license, so I say go out with a big fuck-off Weather Dominating bang. Have Cobra Commander unmask and reveal that he’s been Lady Jaye all along. Have Serpentor show up with Nemesis Enforcer and Golobulous and turn everyone into snakes and only Timber and Polly can save the day. Have Snake-Eyes fight a shark. Have Destro fight a shark. Have Snake-Eyes fight a shark that is dressed as Destro.
And incidentally, IDW, Chad and I are available to script the new series, and yes: Those stories would be as awesome as they sound.
In any case, it’s not a bad issue by any stretch of the imagintion–and heck, I don’t know if there’s somebody from Hasbro who looked at Powers’s original shark-punching script and put the kibosh on it–but it feels like a missed opportunity to go out with balls-to-the-wall craziness that GI Joe hasn’t seen for a while. But on the plus side, it did show me what I want my toy shelf to look like.
Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle #3: I gotta say, I was already starting to like this Harry Dresden guy, but when this issue opens with a scene where he punches a dog in the face with magic, that pretty much does it: I’m sold. Soon as I get through this Wodehouse biography, two Mary Roach books, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and this copy of Wild Dog Special #1, Storm Front’s going on the stack. So congratulations, Jim Butcher: You have softened a heart that had been frozen to bitter ice by the works of Laurenn J. Framingham.
Really, though, it’s good stuff, and I’m continually shocked to find something new to like about it in every issue. I’ve already mentioned that the idea of a haggard, world-weary magician who constantly seems to be finding himself in way over his head was one that hooked me pretty immediately, but in this issue it’s only been made better by the fact that one of his incantations is “Fuego,” which means that his voice in my head when I read him is that of former ESPN commentator Dan Patrick.
Clearly, this is awesome.
I will say though that one thing did stick out on the negative side with this issue, and that’s that Harry’s staff seems to disappear and reappear from panel to panel. For all I know, that could be one of his special witchity powers (because once you’ve mastered Spontaneous Combustion and Bifocal Psychometry, Odd-Size Object Transportation should be a snap), but since there was a big deal made a couple issues ago of how he left it back at the house, it stuck out. Still, it’s a relatively minor art mistake, and if that’s the price I’ve got to pay to watch someone punch the crap out of the magical embodiment of a song from Led Zeppelin IV, then so be it.
Madame Xanadu #1: So a couple weeks ago at HeroesCon, I got to meet Matt Wagner, which was a pretty big deal since he’s a personal hero of mine. I’m also glad to report that he’s also a heck of a nice guy, and after I had my moment of gushing about how much I love his stuff and how Mage was one of the comics that turned me from a fan into a lifelong reader, we got to talking about his current stuff, and he told me, and I quote: “Madame Xanadu’s coming out next week. It’s really good!”
And really, who am I to argue with Matt Wagner?
Of course, since he wrote it, he’s probably a little biased, but I agree with him. Admittedly, I’m a fan of just about anything that heads to the DCU version of Camelot, which works as the great convergence of the Demon, the Shining Knight, the Phantom Stranger, and, every now and then, Swamp Thing. It’s a pretty rich part of the universe to draw from, and I’m pretty glad to see it whenever it crops up.
What really impressed me with this issue, though, was the art. I’m not familiar with Amy Reeder Hadley and I don’t know how much of a hand–if any–Matt Wagner had in the character designs, but it’s a beautiful comic, and the little details like the way that Young Madame Xanadu (Mademoiselle Xanadu?) has rocks strapped to her toes that make her walk like a satyr are pulled off with a consistent attention to detail that you just don’t see as often as you should. It makes for some pretty good stuff, and while I was a little skeptical when it was first solicited, I definitely want to see where it goes from here.
The Nearly Infamous Zango #3: Another quick HeroesCon story, and then I promise I’ll shut up about my weekend of hobnobbing with the stars.
This one actually hit shelves last week, and I completely forgot to mention it due to the fact that it wasn’t actually in the stack of comics I bought. Instead, I got mine at the con directly from creator Rob Osborne, who is also a super-nice guy who makes comics that more people ought to be reading.
And if you’re not reading Zango, then here’s what you’re missing: In this issue, R.I.P. Van Freako fights The Atomic Pilgrim, and the beauty of that sentence is that I don’t even have to explain who those characters are. You already know that it’s awesome just by reading those names. So give it a shot. I happen to know for a fact that there’s a store in Columbia with an extra copy on the shelf as we speak.
Captain America: Operation Rebirth: As I’m writing this, it’s now Independence Day, so if you woke up with the desire to read something patriotic, then you could do a heck of a lot worse than picking up this one, which contains my favorite Captain America story ever.
Yeah, I know, it’s a surprise. I always thought it would be the one where Cap has to roller-derby battle a woman named Tinkerbell to get his shield back, too.
But no, the one I’m referring to is the Mark Waid/Ron Garney classic “Man Without a Country,” where Steve Rogers is exiled from the United States for treason, and runs around Europe dressed like a slightly more patriotic Dread Pirate Roberts with a shield made of lasers. Believe me, it’s a heck of a lot better than it sounds, and the rest of the run–which was ended prematurely due to Heroes Reborn but restarted once everybody realized that the Jeph Loeb/Rob Liefeld Captain America was no damn good–is great too, including a last issue that’s just about everything you want from a Cap story.
Bill Clinton guest stars.
Annnnnd that’s the week. As always, if you’ve got a question about something I read this week, feel free to ask in the comments section below. And heck, if you want to know why I didn’t read something this week, feel free to ask that too, but be advised that the answer is usually “because it sucks and I hate it.”
Happy 4th of July, everybody!