The Week In Ink: February 17, 2010

I hate to break it to anybody who had this week in the “Chris Finally Stops Doing Weekly Reviews” pool, but I’m back for another round.



So take that, generic racist anti-tax protester whose resemblance to any member of any real-life movement living or dead is purely coincidental!

Yes, it’s another round of the Internet’s Laziest Comics Reviews, but before we get around to my thoughts on this week’s funnybooks, I’m going to plug this one one last time:



I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but this week saw the release of Resurrection #8, in which my partner in the Action Age Chad BowerS and I make our professional comics debut in a backup story with art by seasoned veteran Rusty Shackles. As reviewing my own work would be unquestionably the most shameless thing I have ever done, I won’t actually do that, but I will say that Marc Guggenheim and Justin Greenwood’s main story has Bill Clinton punching aliens. That is not a joke. It is literally what is in this comic book. In any case, I hope you pick it up and enjoy it, and if your local shop’s sold out, they should be able to reorder it using the Diamond code NOV090888.

And hey, if you do get it, send me a picture! I’ve already gotten quite a few on the Twitter, and sometime next week, I’m going to pick someone who sent me a picture of them with a copy and send them something nice. Well, something “nice.” You know how I am.

Now then, let’s get on with the reviews!



Joe the Barbarian #2: This comic, you guys. This comic. Wow.

I think the record will show that I’m pretty unapologetic about being in the tank for Grant Morrison–hey, you write JLA #4 and Batman: R.I.P. and I’ll be in the tank for you, too–but this comic here is like nothing I’ve seen from him, and it’s fantastic. It’s Morrison doing a big, accessible epic fantasy that may or may not be a hallucination, with just beautiful art by Sean Murphy.

There’s so much I love about it that I have a hard time putting it into words–which, given how mouthy I am about these funnybooks, is saying something–but I think it really comes down to just how swept up I am in it. I’ve been flipping back through this issue being excited about the fact that Joe actually has the phaser belt over his shoulder because maybe that means it’s actually happening, and that’s exactly the feeling that I want to get from comics. It’s the same kind of sense that I get from stuff like The Unwritten where there’s such a well-done hook that I cannot wait to see the next bit. And really, that’s what Morrison’s made his career in super-hero books doing.

The only thing bad about it is that it makes diabetes seem like the most awesome thing ever, because you get to go on adventures with giant legos and talking mice and Captain Picard will give you his phaser. And I’m pretty sure that’s somethign Wilford Brimley would’ve mentioned.


Phonogram 2 #7: Matt Fraction has already eulogized the series in glowing terms that I couldn’t even come close to, so I’ll just say this: At first blush, it seems like an odd choice to end a series that’s entirely about music with an issue that’s largely silent–well, “silent” in comic book terms, anyway–but by opening it with a page that addresses the reader directly and–in dialogue between characters–tells them to think of a song that matters to you, Kieron Gillen has provided all the soundtrack that his comic needs. You can’t read this comic without thinking of a song that means something to you, and that’s the most brilliant way Gillen could’ve ended this. Not with the music that matters to him, but the music that matters to us. It’s engaging the reader to be part of the story in a way that puts the core theme of the entire series in their hands, and that’s something a lot of writers wouldn’t have the trust in their audience to do.

Plus, the whole thing gives Jamie McKelvie a chance to shine, and in return, he turns in some of the most dynamic art I’ve ever seen from him, throwing together a great sense of motion and storytelling and capping it off with one of my all-time favorite tricks, framing the panels inside words. I love that stuff, and it looks absolutely fantastic here.

So yeah: I can’t really say that this is the best “silent” story ever as it does not technically contain Snake Eyes, but it’s probably in the top two.


Punisher #14: At this point, I’m pretty sure that my feelings on “Franken-Castle” have been well and truly entered into the public record, but guys, seriously: It just keeps getting better.

In this issue, that’s largely thanks to Rick Remender’s origin story for Hellsgaard, both in the way that he sets his obsession with killing all monsters up to parallel Frank’s with killing all mobsters, and in the way that this garners absolutely no sympathy whatsoever from Frank. It’s an idea that Garth Ennis played with in the subplot of Welcome Back Frank, that there’s a constant, ice-cold self-loathing in the Punisher, a recognition that he’s damned himself by becoming what he is, but saw no other choice in his life that really underscores the tragedy of the character. It’s a great aspect to him that isn’t brought up that often, but with Remender holding a mirror up to it at the same time that he’s turned Frank Castle in to the literal monster that he became inside when his family died is incredible. It bespeaks an understanding of the character that, once a writer has, can be applied to any story, no matter how outlandish the trappings are. The only negative thing I can say about it is that it’s not very subtle (Henry makes the explicit comparison in the text), but when you’re talking about “Franken-Castle,” I think it’s safe to say that subtlety’s gone out the window, and that’s just fine.

The other great thing about this issue? Dan Brereton. I think I may have mentioned this on Ajax when we talked to Remender, but while I’ve never read much of Brereton’s creator-owned stuff, I’m always utterly thrilled to see him on Marvel books like Iron Fist, and in this one, he just kills it. And that’s saying something: He’s following up (and as art chores are split here, teaming with) Tony Moore, who has been doing a bang-up job with the arc thus far, but his take on Gene Colan’s classic Dracula is just a thing of beauty. It’s a perfect fit for the story, and then two pages later he’s drawing the Tokyo Tower being dwarfed by Ultraman monsters, and that’s a perfect fit too. It seems like it would be insanely difficult to pull off, but he does it, and it’s great.

In short, for a storyline that’s getting so much flak from “fans” about not respecting the character, or not getting what makes Frank Castle work (one of whom gets a lengthy letter and a lengthy, thoughtful response from Remender in this issue), this issue gets the Punisher better than most comics, and does it in a smarter, sharper, prettier, and way more fun way than it ever had to.



And that’s the week! So will I keep the streak alive or will the Week In Ink finally be retired? Find out next Thursday night, and until then, feel free to use the comments section below to talk about how awesome Giant Gorilla Man was in this week’s Avengers vs. Atlas, debate the fun love pentagon of Amazing Spider-Man, or just totally suck up and tell me how great “Wolf” was. Your choice, but I’d totally go with Option 3.

The Week In Ink: February 10, 2010

Ah what the hell, let’s keep it going one more week. After all…



…if I skipped out in a week where Batman kicked Batman in the face, I just wouldn’t be me.

There are going to be a couple of changes, though: First, I’m going ahead and doing away with the shopping list, as it was a lot handier when I was reading around 20 titles a week than it is when I’m reading around four. Second–and this is going to tie in with that first change–it’s going to be a bit shorter. As some of you may have noticed, I’ve already done a fair bit of writing this week.

So with that settled, let’s get to it! It’s Thursday night, and here’s what I thought of this week’s comics!



Amazing Spider-Man #620: As big a Spider-Man fan as I am, and as much as I like getting a series of stories where he battles all the classic villains one right after another with no break, “The Gauntlet” has been pretty hit or miss for me. The Electro story was competent (as I’ve said before, Mark Waid can pretty much write a super-hero comic in his sleep at this point and have it come out pretty solid) but felt off, the Sandman story was very entertaining, and I skipped the Joe Kelly issue entirely. Even future installments haven’t done much to hook me, as there’s very little I want to read less than a “Brand New Day”-era Flash Thompson story.

But this Mysterio story? It has been downright perfect.

A lot of that has to do with the art team of Marcos Martin and Javier Pulido. I’ve been a fan of those guys since I first caught their work on Robin: Year One, and their work on the Spider-Man books has been some of the best in the character’s history. Admittedly, I’m prone to hyperbole, but with their innovative layouts and the kinetic sense of motion that they give to every page, they can hold their own with anybody from Ditko on down.

Which isn’t to sell Dan Slott short. Of all the increasing numbers of the Spider-Man “Brain Trust,” his stories have been the most consistently fun, and this one’s right up there with the best of ’em. They’re just jam-packed with good stuff, from the nods to old continuity that are enjoyable rather than restrictive, to the immediate refutation of the “Spider-Man’s a MURRRRRRRDERER!” subplot, to the slapstick fight sequences with Mysterio’s gimmicked goons, and right on to the Wile E. Coyote ending.

It’s sharp, it’s smarter than it has to be, and it’s got panels like this:



What’s not to love?


Batman and Robin #8: So, just to recap, here’s a brief list of what happens in this issue of Batman and Robin:

1. Batwoman fights a gang of evil Mary Poppins chimney sweeps “with a Satanic ninja twist.”

2. Batman brings one of the evil clones of Batman that Darkseid made during Final Crisis back to life and then fights it with electro bat-knuckles.

3. The Crime Bible prophecy is filled in a pretty unexpected and awesome way.

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than about fifteen minutes, you’ve probably already got a good idea of how I feel about this comic.





PunisherMax #4: I know that Jason Aaron has to be sick to death of being compared to Garth Ennis at this point, but with this issue’s fight with the Mennonite, he and Steve Dillon have done the single best Punisher fight since Welcome Back Frank.

For me to say that is no small thing. WBF is easily one of my favorite comics of all time–I did, after all, have a panel from it as the ISB’s header for something like four years–but with his run, it’s like Aaron’s looking at Ennis’s work and not saying “how do I follow in these footsteps,” but “where was this going next?” And the result is a phenomenal read, with the same sense of craziness underlying the harsh savagery of it, taking things to the next level.

Plus, the pure fact of the matter is that nobody–but nobody–draws the bone-shattering brutality of two dudes just beating the living hell out of each other like Steve Dillon. I talk a lot about facial expressions when it comes to the comics I like, and usually what appeals to me is how well the artists use them for comedy, but Dillon… When Dillon draws someone getting hurt, they look like they hurt, and it blends with his storytelling to make him one of the best fight artists in the industry.

So then: Top-notch writing, top-notch art, and Frank fights a guy called the Mennonite by hitting him with electricity. It’s darn good comics, folks.



And that’s the week! As always, discussion is welcome, so if you’d like to talk about the fun of Nate Grey’s master plan in Dark X-Men or my high hopes for a continuation of Mark Waid and Emma Rios’s Strange, feel free to leave a comment.

The Week In Ink: February 3, 2010

Since this is quite possibly the last installment of the Week In Ink as we know it, what do you say we get things started right?






What I’m trying to say here is that it was a pretty good week.

How good? Well, that’s what you’ll find out tonight on the Internet’s Most Ultimate Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…



…and here’s what I thought about ’em!



Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #3: Before we get too far into tonight’s reviews, I wanted to mention this one. I don’t usually review comics I don’t actually buy and Blackest Night: Wonder Woman was one of the books that didn’t make the cut when I trimmed down my sub to reflect my new employment status. Still, I did get a chance to leaf through it today at the shop (yes, I know, this ain’t a library and I’m killing comics) and given the amount of venom I spat at the last issue, I thought it might be worth mentioning.

I’ve got to say, I liked this issue a lot more than the previous one. It might just be that my initial anger that the whole concept has had time to cool down, but just the fact that Wonder Woman didn’t spend the whole issue going “please… no…” was a pretty major improvement. I think the key was to get her back to actually fighting villains, and the fact that Rucka was able to work in a literal response to the eternal bondage jokes without having it seem forced into the dialogue was not only a nice touch, but it actually made me think about that stuff in a way that I hadn’t before. And Nicola Scott’s art, of course, was just beautiful. Even the ridiculous Star Sapphire costumes look better in this one than they normally do.

Which isn’t to say that they’re not spinning gold out of complete and utter nonsense. Everything I said last month still applies; loving everything in the world is still the definition of compassion, Wonder Woman shouldn’t be relying on something outside of herself, and seriously, I never need to see another person who is not Green Lantern talk about how super-awesome it is to have a power ring. Also, I have no idea where Rucka was going with the scene where Wonder Woman talks about how Mera’s rage is at herself. Just going from the panels, it seemed like it was a parallel with Wonder Woman never telling Batman she was totally in love with him, but given that Mera was actually married to Aquaman, I can’t see how. But that might be on me, as the things I know about Mera are limited to: a) She was Aquaman’s wife, and b) there is a tiny plastic gamepiece of her vomiting an insane amount of blood coming out soon. You know, for the kids.

(SIDENOTE: If Wonder Woman wanted to express her love for Batman, she probably should’ve just started a comics blog. It’s what I did.)

But like I said: When it’s actually about Wonder Woman fighting bad guys, it’s great. It’s when it has to deal with everything else that the character’s wrapped up in with the rest of Blackest Night that’s the trouble.


Nova #34: Okay so look: Everybody already knows that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning can write really fun outer-space super-heroics. In fact, everyone who was paying attention already knew that like ten years ago when they were writing Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s old news! So how about we just talk about Man-Wolf for a minute.

I’m totally serious here, guys: How friggin’ awesome is Man-Wolf? First of all, his dad is the third-best Marvel character ever, but that barely even comes into consideration in how great he is, because he’s also an astronaut werewolf barbarian king from another dimension. Anywhere else, just one of those things would be enough to define a character, but in the Core Marvel Universe, it takes all four and he’s not even one of the top tier guys. And in this issue, he fights a time traveling mermaid princess. In space.

I think I may have mentioned this before, but guys, I totally love comic books.


Wolverine: Weapon X #10: As far as writing awesome comics goes, it’s been a pretty good week for Jason Aaron. Heck, let’s be honest here: In that regard, it’s been a pretty good two years for Jason Aaron, and this issue’s a great example of why.

It’s not just that he gets the characters that he writes, although he definitely does, and that’s certainly a big part of it. He’s a guy that understands that Ghost Rider is a guy who rides a motorcycle with his head on fire, and so he needs to fight giant demonic backhoes. And he gets that the Punisher needs to have truly horrible people to shoot in the face. And he gets Wolverine.

You’d think that’d be pretty simple–guy has claws, guy stabs things, guy is best there is etc.–but as a direct function of his thirty odd years of incredible popularity, Wolverine’s become a deceptively complex character with a lot of facets that are often directly opposed to each other. It’s something that Aaron’s tackled in a couple of stories, and he tackles it here again in a way that manages to make everything work. What really sells it, though, is that Aaron doesn’t shy away from the ridiculous bits of that history. He’s not afraid to make Wolverine funny, or to use him as the straight man who gets the punchline (or as seen above, the facekick), and it brings a tone to the stories that you don’t often see.

Also, he writes about guys with chainsaws for hands, and, well, you know.





Crogan’s March: This week saw the release of Chris Schweizer’s second installment of the Crogan adventures, and I loved it just as much as the first.

For those of you who missed my unabashed excitement the first time around, the deal here is that each book tells the story of a different member of a family whose history includes pirates, escape artists, minutemen, gunslingers, ninjas and–in this volume–a member of the French Foreign Legion, with each story told as a life lesson passed down to the family’s youngest member. If it sounds a little strange, that’s because it is, mostly because of the ambition that’s led Schweizer to plot out a series of sixteen graphic novels based around a family tree, but it’s largely because of that ambition that I’ve been in love with the concept since I first heard about it.

And the best part is that it lives up to it. The stories are rich and detailed, and while the idea of object lessons from a family history sounds like it could be the most boring thing since The Uncanny Paint-Dryers, they’re genuinely thrilling. The characters are done well enough that he rarely spends time on explaining relationships, instead letting things just play out organically, and the framing sequences that I thought were surprisingly entertaining the first time around (surprising because I had no idea they were giong to be in there) held up very, very well. It’s the art, though, that makes the book: Deceptively clean, cartoony linework that gives way to crowded battle scenes and detail down to the filigree on the barrels of muskets. I’m sure the comparison to Jeff Smith has been made more than enough by now, but with the clean, effective storytelling, it’s easy to see why.

If you haven’t read it, the first volume, Crogan’s Vengeance is still available, and the new one is out this week and worth every penny.


Iron Man and the Armor Wars: I mentioned Joe Caramagna and Craig Rousseau’s all-ages Iron Man story when it was coming out in single issues, but now that it’s out in trade, it’s worth mentioning again: I loved this comic.

I’ll admit that it was a little weird for me going in; the original Armor Wars is probably my favorite Iron Man story, and I was leery of a book that was going to be a direct re-telling along the lines of the failed “Marvel Age” books from before they did the “Adventures” line. Instead, what I got was a fantastic all-ages story that took that title and did it in a completely different way, setting up a story where Tony Stark has to fight super-villains that have stolen all of his old suits of armor, starting with his original and working their way up.

Just the idea of Iron Man fighting a bunch of different versions of himself is one of those hooks that I could read all day long, and the fact that Caramagna throws in stuff like Dr. Doom loaning Stark a spare suit of Doom armor so that you can get a fight scene where Dr. Doom’s the good guy and Iron Man’s the bad guy? That stuff pushes my fan buttons just right, and it ended up being one of my favorite stories of last year.

I will say, though, that there is an oddity in the paperback. In addition to the four-part story, it also has the first part of the original Armor Wars from 1987’s Iron Man #225. It’s weird, because it’s just the first part of a story, but even weirder because it’s immediately followed by an ad that advises you to check out the Armor Wars trade, and while you see that sort of thing in MMPB novels all the time, I think this is the first time I’ve seen it in comics. Also, as Caramagna and Rousseau’s version is directed more towards kids, it seems like telling them to go read Iron Man: Armor Wars after they just read Iron Man and the Armor Wars (which annoyingly leaves “and the” off the cover) would be confusing as heck.

But again, they are different stories, and I’m living proof that it’s possible to love both of ’em, and while that struck me as a truly bizarre marketing decision, the real draw here is the story itself. And brother, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.



And that’s the week! If you’ve got any (FINAL?!) questions about something I read this week, or if you just want to talk some more about Jason Aaron and how he knows how to end a Ghost Rider run, then feel free to leave a comment below.

The Week In Ink: January 27, 2010

Change is in the wind here at the ISB, but no matter how much we may change, some things…



…will always be rad.

Yes, it’s another Thursday night, and that means it’s time once again for another round of the Internet’s Most Vital and Unflinching comics reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…



…and some of the more sharp-eyed readers among you might’ve noticed that this is a little bit lighter than what I usually pick up. There’s a reason for that (which some of you who follow me on Twitter already know), but for details, stick around and I’ll get around to it next week. Now’s the time for what I thought about ’em!






Batman and Robin #7: All told, I’m pretty sure that Grant Morrison’s Knight and Squire have only appeared in around ten or twelve comics, so there’s a good chance that my absolute undying love for them as characters may–may–be a little out of proportion. I don’t think it is, though; everything about them, from the Knight’s hinted-at arc of the sidekick-turned-alcoholic-turned-hero to the Squire being a super-genius because she grew up poor but read every book in the library, it all just appeals to me on the same kind of pure level that gives me the same feeling I got when I was a kid finding out about super-heroes for the first time. Maybe it’s just because of my childhood fascination with The Londinium Larcenies, but there’s a history there that I want to find out about so badly that I can barely stand it.

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m already stoked to get a Knight and Squire story from Morrison, who takes the time to flesh out even more of their world with stuff like Basement 101 and Dai Laffyn, and everything else is just icing on the cake. And what a good bunch of icing it is, mostly embodied by the clean, beautiful art of Cameron Stewart, who is just perfect for this book. That’s no surprise, though, as Stewart collaborated with Morrison on Seven Soldiers: Guardian, a book that also featured an evil subway train and–not coincidentally–was also awesome. It’s just beautifully done, from the big action of the opening chase sequence to the moodiness of the interrogation scene, and everything just works.

Of course, there is that one pretty big lettering error, but by now you’ve probably heard about it, and nothing else needs to be said.

Otherwise, it’s a darn near perfect comic, and now that it’s back, the extra month that went by without it feels like an eternity.


Captain America Reborn #6: Yesterday, there was a friendly back and forth between me and Woman of A.C.T.I.O.N. artist Chris Piers about whether or not Steve Rogers’ appearances in other Marvel universe titles–namely the “Who Will Weild The Shield” one-shot that was meant to serve as an epilogue to this one–spoiled Reborn. My argument was that you pretty much know what you’re getting into with a book called “Captain America Reborn,” but Piers brought up the point that even so, it’s how the relationships are re-established that really matters, and I can’t say I disgree with him.

So why am I bringing this up? Because even with Captain America hanging out in Iron Man and having meaningful conversations with Bucky, I’m pretty sure that nobody knew we were going to get a fight scene where Cap fought the Red Skull in an Arnim Zola body that had been grown to 50 feet tall by Pym particles that exploded and fuck yes I love comic books.


Punisher #13: This has been one of the best weeks I can remember for sheer crazy Marvel Universe moments. In just the comics I read this week there was the moment above with the Red Skull, the dead body of a Galactus from the future in Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom wearing the Destroyer armor to fight Thor, and two different sets of M.O.D.O.K. clones! TWO!

But even among all that, it’s what happens in Punisher this time that sticks out in my memory. I won’t spoil it–although I knew it was coming and stll laughed when I read the page–but if you read this book, and you should be, you’ll know it when you see it by the fact that it’s the team-up you never thought would happen. And that’s what’s been making this book so enjoyable lately: Not just that Rick Remender and Tony Moore have turned the Punisher into a Frankenstein’s monster, but that they’re using that to launch into even more wild, over-the-top stories that almost leap off the page with the amount of fun they’re bringing. It’s pure joy in comics form, and one of the books that I honestly can’t wait to sit down
with every month. But given how much I’ve been harping on it lately, you probably already knew that.


Afrodisiac: If you’ve read Jim Rugg mand Brian Maruca’s Street Angel, then you’re already at least a little familiar with Afrodisiac, and you probably understand why this is so awesome. With Afrodisiac, Rugg and Maruca are doing a tribute to Blaxploitation movies (and their accompanying Bronze Age comics) that takes the offbeat formula of Street Angel and does it a hundred times more over the top. And it is beautiful.

Alan Disler is Afrodisiac, an unrepentant pimp with the supernatural ability to turn any woman into a freak ho and a different origin story in every appearance, who battles against foes like Richard Nixon (his former world champion tag team partner) and, in a story that has one of the best panels I have ever seen, Dracula. The stories originally appeared all over the place, including convention ashcans and various anthologies, and now that it’s all collected, the only way I can describe it is gloriously, isanely over-the-top. There’s a story, for instance, where Afrodisiac has sex with the Grim Reaper herself that’s actually called “Death Comes For Afrodisdiac,” a pun so bad that it loops back around to good, then bad again, then good again.

It’s excellent stuff that’s all been wrapped up in an equally excellent hardcover that’s crammed full of great bits from the inside front cover to the inside back cover, and really, it’s one you ought to be reading.



And that’s the week! As always, watch for a couple of extra reviews on next week’s War Rocket Aajx< and if you've got a question about something I read this week, feel free to ask in the comments section below. But, and let's be real with each other here, keep in mind that I did just pick up Mass Effect 2, so you may have to pretend that I responded instead of me actually doing it. But hey, at least now you get to choose whether I agree with you or call you a cretin! That’s something, right?

The Week In Ink: January 20, 2010

I’ve been sitting here for an hour trying to think up an opening line here, but everything I’ve come up with has been a bit of a stretch.



Groan if you must, but it’s been a long hour, and I’m not taking that one back. You’ll just have to deal with. And deal with it quickly, because it’s Thursday night, and that means it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Procrastinatorial Comics Reviews!

Here’s what I got this week…



…and here’s what I thought about ’em!



Batman: The Brave and the Bold #13: I’m just going to come right out and say it: This is one of the greatest Batman team-up stories that I have ever read, and for those of you just joining us, I’ve read quite a few.

For starters, Sholly Fisch has jam-packed this thing with characters. The story revolves around other heroes picking up the slack when Batman gets injured, and by the time it’s all said and done, it’s included six super-villains, six guest stars (including a three-page opener starring Angel & the Ape, a duo that I will never, ever get tired of reading comics about), and cameo appearances from another twelve characters! But even with all that, it doesn’t fall into the easy trap of getting bogged down or cluttered; the storytelling’s just so well done that each character’s two or three pages in the spotlight works as a chapter unto itself. It’s a textbook example of how fun ensemble storytelling should be done.

As for Robert Pope, as much as the animated series tie-in books have always gone for a “house style” that matches what’s on TV, he really deserves a hand here. Not just for pulling off the nifty, Dick Sprang-ish character designs from the show, but for combining them all into distinctive ersatz Batman costumes that use the characters’ existing bits of flair to be distinct and carry across the humor as well. And considering he’s doing this for a grand total of sixteen characters by the time the book’s over, that’s saying something.

It’s absolutely excellent stuff, and it’s exactly what I was looking for from this book when it started last year.


Batman: Streets of Gotham #8: This one, on the other hand, is pretty close to being the platonic ideal of a lousy Batman story.

Actually, that’s not true; Dustin Nguyen’s art is moody, expressive, and absolutely fantastic as always. Other than that, though, it’s a mess, and it’s largely thanks to one thing that happens right on page five: Batman offers a tacit approval of a murderer that’s killing criminals. I think it’s fair to say that Batman as a character is open to different interpretations, and that this is, in fact, what makes him great, but there are certain things that are pretty immutable, and Batman–any Batman–being okay with murder is one of them. This is Bad Characterization.

And just to give you an idea of exactly how bad it is, this month’s Manhunter co-feature opens with Batman telling her that killing a criminal will not be tolerated. In other words, Mike Benson’s characterization of Batman is so far off the mark that it is contradicted by another writer in the same issue.

And that’s just the start of the problems: Batman uses pointless gadgetry to accomplish something that he could’ve done with a modicum of detective skill, there’s a dated, out of place reference to Pamela Anderson, and there’s no dramatic tension whatsoever. Since we already have Batman’s endorsement of the killer, the reader is given no reason to want him to solve this case, and everything that happens after (Batman chatting up a hooker for two pages and then chatting up another hooker for another two pages) is just going through the motions. It’s an issue that feels like someone’s waving around cardboard cut-outs of characters that don’t really seem to have anything to do with anything else that happens, and the fact that it’s a two-issue fill-in before Paul Dini comes back to finish an apparently complex story about Mr. Zsasz only magnifies that effect.

Andreyko and Haun’s Manhunter backup, though, is fantastic.


Joe the Barbarian #1: Here is everything you need to know about this comic in three handy bullet points:

1. It is written by Grant Morrison with very, very nice art by Sean Murphy.

2. The first issue costs one dollar.

3. It has a page that includes Batman, Optimus Prime, Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, Lobo, Santa Claus, Captain Picard and a dinosaur. This is not a joke.

If the purpose of a review is to help you decide whether or not to buy something, I think my work here is done.


Starman #81: I’m not going to lie, folks: I went into this one ready to hate it.

I’m always a little leery of creators returning to the comics that they defined–and that defined them–after long absences. It’s always a tricky proposition that sees them inevitably compared to versions of themselves that have the added benefit of nostalgia, and more often than not, whatever set of circumstances allowed them to catch lightning in a bottle the first time around just isn’t there. Yes, it works out occasionally–John Ostrander’s return to Suicide Squad and Grant Morrison’s all-too brief second shot at JLA come to mind–but for every one that does, there are plenty that just don’t, and whether it’s fair or not, they tend to taint what was good just by existing.

Throw in the fact that, with Cry For Justice, James Robinson is responsible for the book that has my early vote for being the worst comic of the decade, and expectations were at an all-time low for his return to the book that’s defined his career. But maybe it’s because my expectations were so low that I actually found this one to be a pleasant surprise. There are a couple of weird stumbles here and there (the metatextual reference to the “Talking With David” stories was about as much of a groaner as you could get without him actually saying “THIS… is our BLACKEST NIGHT!”) but overall, it reads like what it says it is on the cover: Another issue of Starman, albeit one of the weird crossover tie-ins that the book occasionally found itself roped into when Jack Knight wasn’t either off romping around space for three years or talking about Bakelite for 20 pages at a time.

Like those issues, Robinson uses the elements of the crossover as the framework to do detailed character work (in this case on Hope O’Dare and the Shade), which comes off a little weird in this case because these characters don’t have a book in which to build from after the advancement here, nor have they had one for almost ten years now. But it’s far more solid than I was expecting it to be, and while the prose might be purple as all hell, it’s Starman and hat sort of goes with the territory. In other words, this issue may not recapture what made Starman one of the best super-hero comics of the ’90s, but it doesn’t break anything either, and that’s sort of an achievement in itself.

I have to wonder, though, and I mean this as genuine curiosity and not a veiled criticism: What’s Peter Snejbjerg doing that he couldn’t come back and draw this one? I guess if you wanted to get sassy about it, you could say that he’s doing whatever it is that kept Will Pfeifer and David and Alvarro Lopez from coming back for the “resurrected’ Catwoman issue, Jerry Ordway from coming back for Power of Shazam, and Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan from doing the upcoming Question tie-in, but with Robinson writing it and a cover by Tony Harris, it seems weird that they wouldn’t get the artist who drew such a huge chunk of the book, especially when he was doing work for DC as recently as five months ago.





Wolverine: Weapon X #9:



I fucking love Jason Aaron. That is all.



And that’s the week. As always, if you’d like to ask me about anything I read this week–like Incredible Hulk’s awesomely bug-nuts crazy “Fall of the Hulks” tie-in–feel free to do so in the comments section below.

The Week In Ink: January 13, 2009

I knew if I stuck it out, it had to happen eventually. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

Anita Blake Getting Kicked In The Face



I might as well just wrap this post up now, because there is no possible way that things are going to get better than that.

But alas, it’s Thursday night, and as I am a slave to my habits, that means it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Self-Referential Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…



…and here’s what I thought about ’em!



Adventure Comics #6: With this issue, Geoff Johns’s run on Adventure comes to a close, and while this might come as a surprise given my comments about Blackest Night last week, I think that’s a shame. Johns has done some of the best work of his career on the Superman titles, and Adventure felt like an extension of that, but with the added bonus that the focus on younger characters (or, in the Legion’s case, characters that used to be young but have been aged up commensurate with the comics Johns read when he was 12) seemed to be doing a good job of blunting the random brutality and grotesques–you know, arms getting ripped off and blood getting puked out to be replaced with hate–that seems to crop up in his books. Plus, that Superboy Prime stuff was gold.

Which isn’t to say that this book didn’t have its share of problems, because brother, they were there. It’s almost the textbook definition of a comic that stumbled its way out of the gate: As I understood it, the whole idea behind it was that it was going to be a Superboy/Legion of Super-Heroes book with the occasional team-up, but in practice, we haven’t seen the Legion in this thing for three months, which, for those of you keeping score at home, represents half of the series thus far. And while the two Superboy Prime issues (again, a full third of the run thus far) were highly enjoyable, they had absolutely nothing to do with the Superboy storyline, meaning that the ostensible focus of the book was just put on hold for two months of (really funny) in-jokes. And while we’re on the subject, his take on Superboy trying to figure out who exactly he was, which mirrored the fact that he was created to replace a version of a character that no longer existed but now exists again thus rendering him redundant, had a lot of potential to play out nicely with a good arc, but the end of it with this issue felt rushed, and more than a little anticlimactic. It might not hold a candle to the Cary Bates story from Action Comics #510-512, but it’s a good illustration of Lex being evil that unfortunately revolves around sitting in someone’s kitchen for twenty pages and a main character who himself is in no danger whatsoever.

In short, the shame of it comes from the fact that there’s so much potential to what’s being set up here, but with Johns leaving, none of it feels like it’s going to get resolved, or if it does, that it won’t be in this book, which adds up to something that’s pretty frustrating for the reader. But hey, at least we know the Legion’s coming back.


Dark X-Men #3: If you’d told me a year ago that someone was going to be doing a highly enjoyable comic about Nate Grey fighting Venom and the Sentry, I would’ve said you were suffering from the same sort of dementia that makes people think Cody Devereaux is not the single best thing on television. And yet, here we are, with Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk doing just that.

That’s not a surprise, of coruse; Cornell and Kirk are the team that kicked off the late, lamented, highly entertaining Captain Britain and MI:13, after all, so it’s not like anybody should’ve been expecting their next project together to be a misstep. It’s solid and engaging stuff… but that’s not important.

What is important is that X-Man has basically the sweetest jacket ever.

Seriously, look at this thing.



It’s a blue and gold pirate coat with the lapels done up as Phoenix wings. Straight up, Leonard Kirk: That is boss and I am not even joking. And that’s before you even get to the back:



It’s official: The X-Men need more filigree. And that’s real.





S.W.O.R.D. #3: Let’s be honest here, folks: In that it does not feature ADAM-X THE X-TREME, this issue is a massive failure. Fortunately, it succeeds on just about every other level, up to and including the fact that it features Death’s Head.

Long-time ISB readers will probably recall that I’ve been in the tank for Kieron Gillen since Phonogram, and as I’ve loved everything he’s done for Marvel, it’s no big shock that I think S.W.O.R.D. is engaging and fun with a great hook to it. And the dialogue’s fantastic too, to the point where I actually cracked up at the interplay between Henry Gyrich and the Beast. But enough about that guy.

What caught my eye this time, even more than the previous issues, is the art. I’ve seen some consternation here and there from people who don’t care for Steven Sanders and Craig Yeung, but as is so often the case with people who disagree with me, they are wrong and should be ashamed of themselves. Sanders brings a fantastic, exaggerated cartoonishness to the characters that’s most noticeable in the Beast, but leads to wonderfully expressive characters that are just a joy to see playing out on the page, and Matt Wilson’s colors do a great job accenting them and handling tricky stuff like force bubbles.

And there’s not much more to it than that. Simply put, it’s just a thoroughly well-done, highly enjoyable comic, and while I normally throw a little more hyperbole on it than that, sometimes that’s enough.


Secret Six #17: I went on and on about how glad I was to have John Ostrander back doing a new Suicide Squad story last week when the Blackest Night tie-in hit shelves, and the intervening week hasn’t really changed matters much, so this is less of a review and more of a reminder that that story is continuing here, as the Secret Six get up to all sorts of fightin’ shennanigans at Belle Reeve so that nobody forgets to pick it up. And you should pick it up; Simone and Ostrander have thrown their respective teams into a fantastic conflict that’s straight from the heyday of the original Squad’s fight with the Justice League, only without Nightshade and Captain Atom sneaking off to make out.

Well it can’t have everything, but don’t worry: It makes up for it with undead Punch and Jewelee.



And that’s the week! As always, if you have any questions or concerns about something I read this week–like if you want to discuss the (appropriately) creepy turn this week’s issue of Strange took, or just offer up a reminder that Unwritten is one of the best books out there right now–feel free to leave them in the comments below.

The Week In Ink: January 6, 2009

And thus we get back to the grind, with the first Week In Ink of a new (ordinal) decade. Quite an occasion!



Yes, comics are back, and that means it’s another Thursday night of the Internet’s Most Time-Wasting Comics Reviews!

Here’s what I picked up on the fifth anniversary of my blog yesterday…



…and here’s what I thought of ’em!



Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2: This Wonder Woman stuff. Boy, I don’t know.

I haven’t exactly been quiet about my opinions on Wonder Woman as a character, but for those of you who missed it the first time, here’s the short version: I’m not a fan. I’m in the minority on this, I know, but despite the insistence of her status as an “icon,” the fact–for me anyway–is that in her entire history, she’s only actually been good two, maybe three times. She’s iconic because she’s a surviving Golden Age character, and in comics, once something’s old enough, you can never get rid of it.

Still, even with that opinion and the bristling at DC’s constant assurance that she’s part of some “Trinity” with Batman and Superman, I understand that there’s a value to the character that, if nothing else, is symbolic. For better or worse, she’s the most recognizable female character in comics, and while there’s an overwhelming mediocrity to her history, the two or three good times prove that you can do something great with her. Somewhere in there, there’s a strong character.

And that character is being thoroughly undermined by Blackest Night.

This is not the fault of Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott by any means: Scott is a phenomenal artist, and Rucka’s one of the few creators to do a good–a great run on Wonder Woman to begin with, and I’d love to see them do more with the character. But this book’s very nature as a Blackest Night tie-in means they’re at the mercy of the larger story, which, unfortunately, is a story that sends the message that Wonder Woman is incapable of doing things herself.

In the latest issue of Blackest Night–spoiler warning for anyone who still cares–Wonder Woman and a handful of characters are given a bunch of the Rainbow Lantern rings, and while a super-hero getting another super-hero’s toys is every twelve year-old’s idea of awesome, the message is that she can’t contribute to the plot without getting help from another source. The message is that she needs something outside herself, and you know what? Wonder Woman doesn’t need other super-powers. She has super-powers. She’s fucking Wonder Woman. She’s the one who stepped up in Final Crisis and used the powers she already had to save everyone on the planet Earth from slavery, “and no one was hurt.” But according to Johns & Co., she can’t fight zombies without someone else giving her a hand. Superman–who, remember, is Wonder Woman’s male equivalent according to DC and their have-it-both-ways Trinity nonsense–didn’t need help. But Wonder Woman does. And symbolism and feminism aside, from a pure storytelling standpoint that comes from a desire to make a strong character, that is bullshit.

Even so, I’d be willing to just roll my eyes and deal with it–like I said, Hero-Gets-a-Power-Ring is every kid’s #2 desire to see in comics, right after Batman-Throws-Auto-Parts, and at least they’re showing that Wonder Woman’s every bit as good as Aquaman’s Wife or the Scarecrow–except for the fact that Wonder Woman doesn’t get Compassion (which would fit pretty well) or Hope (reflecting her status as an aspiration symbol designed to appeal to young girls), or especially Willpower (which, again, is not an emotion but is one of her defining traits, but it already belongs to someone else, so whatever). No, she’s a girl, so she gets Love. And at this point, sure, that’ll work, and Rucka’s portrayal in #1 of Wonder Woman being entirely motivated by a universal love for everything, even her enemies was something I could certainly get behind, even if we have a word for that kind of love already: Compassion. Which also has a ring. Which is apparently defined more by the Atom than Wonder Woman. The Atom. Who four months ago was–in a fit of Compassion, I’m sure–torturing people on Hal Jordan’s orders. But whatever, “Love” at least allows for a depth that “Compassion” might not, so sure, it works.

Except that in the DC Universe, “Love” means this:



The other characters who get rings just get color-coded versions of their costumes, but because “Love” means “Desire” in the DC Universe, Wonder Woman gets this. Even more than the bondage jokes about Marston, the “Wonder Woman dresses like a hooker” jokes are the stalest, easiest criticisms of the character, so when she’s put into prominence in a major company storyline, they of course put her in an outfit even more revealing, with thigh-high boots and a Vampirella collar. It’s 2010 and this is what comics’ view of love and strong women is. It’s 2010 and the most prominent female character in comics can’t fight evil without being dressed like Witchblade. It’s a fucking embarrassment.

And again, that’s not on Rucka and Scott. They’re incredibly talented people and do the best they can with what they’re given–and Scott’s version of the Star Sapphire costume is way better than Reis’s–but cast in the light of everything that’s going on around it, it’s almost impossible to enjoy, especially given the implication in this issue that Wonder Woman doesn’t free herself by drawing on her own inner strength, but is saved–much like I often am–by thoughts of kissing Batman. On its own, there’s nothing wrong with this, as the theme of love conquering death, while not exactly a revolutionary idea, is certainly appropriate, not to mention the direct involvement of Aphrodite, which is a trope of Wonder Woman’s entire existence, but everything around it makes it easy to read into it. Why can’t Wonder Woman’s love of her mother, her sisters, the entire planet save her when the love of a man can? Because she’s been cut off at the knees at every opportunity so that she doesn’t even have a chance of standing on her own.

In essence, Blackest Night has proven my earlier point: Despite all their bluster, DC obviously doesn’t think Wonder Woman is a strong character either. And never have I hated being right this much.


Well. That’s certainly a hell of a way to start the new year. Let’s move on to happier things, shall we?




Love and Capes #12: I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Thom Zahler’s Love and Capes before here on the ISB since I caught up with it in trade a while back, but the short version is that it’s easily one of my favorite comics right now.

The word “cute” isn’t one that I throw around all that often here on the ISB, but even with my well-known love of gorillas and space karate, I actually am a sucker for a well-done romance, and this is about as well-done as they get. The high concept is essentially Zahler’s take on the Superman/Lois Lane dynamic, and while it has a fantastic blending of romance and super-heroics–everything from meeting each other’s parents to setting up their friends on blind dates to time travel and evil twins–what really makes it work is Zahler’s incredibly strong character work. Admittedly, using analogues for characters like Batman and Spider-Man means that a lot of the groundwork has been laid to make them seem familiar, but Zahler never rests on that. Abby and Mark–and Darkblade, Amazonia, and the rest of the supporting cast–are incredibly well rounded, and once you get past the super-powers, they’re more Rob and Laura than Clark and Lois.

And it’s the strong character work that comes through in this issue, which–as the cover suggests–is the wedding the series has been building to. And it’s just great. There’s great super-hero action, great comedy, and even great romance that manages to be genuinely sweet without ever veering into the maudlin or forced that bogs down so many things like it. If it’s not the best Wedding Issue of a comic, I’d be hard pressed to figure out what is.

Of course, the flipside to that is that as good as this issue is, it’s not the one you want to pick up if you’ve never read the series before, as it’s more of a culmination than an introduction–that’ll come in the next issue, which is available for Free Comic Book Day this year–but Zahler’s got a way around that too. In addition to the trade, there’s a good chunk of it (at reduced but readable size) available to read for free on his website, and last year’s FCBD issue is still available to order from Diamond, though as it’s not the first Saturday in May, you might have to offer your local retailer four bits for it. It’s well worth it.


Marvel Boy: The Uranian #1: Hey… hey guys. Check it out. You know where this guy’s from?

He’s from Uranus.

His father took him to Uranus as a small child, and then he used a rocket ship to escape the gravitational pull of Uranus, and came to Earth to spread Uranus’s message of peace. But he’s facing a lot of trouble, what with people judging him for coming from Uranus. I guess the government just didn’t trust Uranus in 1950.

Personally, I’m not sure if our culture will ever be able to accept Uranus.


Suicide Squad #67: Before anyone starts to think that I’m completely down on Blackest Night–and lord knows where you’d get that idea–allow me to say one thing: I will put up with just about anything if it gets me some John Ostrander Suicide Squad.

Of all the “resurrected” titles, this is the one I’ve been really looking forward to, because it’s the one that really seems to capture the spirit of the series that’s coming back. Most of them lack the creative teams that defined the originals, and while James Robinson’s doing the Starman one, the James Robinson we have today is hardly the same make and model we had back then. This one, though, is fantastic. When Ostrander returned to the Squad a while back with From the Ashes, it was like he never left, and teaming up with Gail Simone–who deserves to be lauded not just for her great work with the obviously Squad-influenced Secret Six, but also for leading the effort to raise money for Ostrander’s eye surgery–it works the same way. It doesn’t miss a beat, and it’s got that pure joy and love of the DC Universe that comes through on every page.

Plus, there’s the fact that the Suicide Squad, a book where someone died in every single story arc, is tailor-made for a book where the dead return to fight their old teammates, and calling them the “Homicide Squad” is just icing on the cake. Plus, it’s given me hope for the future. The immediate future, I mean: Looking up the trade for From the Ashes on Amazon, they’ve got Showcase: Suicide Squad listed for release in June 2010! Here’s hoping it actually happens this time, and that Ostrander’s upcoming Squad-centric art on Secret Six leads to more.



And that’s the first Week In Ink of the year! As always, if you’ve got a question or concern about something I read, or if you just want to talk about how surprisingly funny and clever Stumptown is, or how enjoyable the dialogue gymnastics the Mass Effect comic has to go through in order to avoid gender-specific pronouns turned out to be, feel free to leave a comment below.