The Week In Ink: October 21, 2009

If you tink I’m going to go with Batman kicking a guy in the face in this year’s DCU Halloween Special, then Tony Chu wants to tell you something:



Yes, after a two-week drought of facekicks in my comics, this week’s stack provided an embarrassment of riches, but there can be only one kick that leads off another round of the Internet’s Most Senses-Flattering Comics Reviews!

Here’s what I picked up this week…



And here’s what I thought about ’em!



Beasts of Burden #2: I talked up Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden pretty heavily when the first issue came out, but as we enter the final approach to Halloween, my appreciation of a good horror comic is higher than usual, and with as good as this book is, it bears repeating. What’s really striking isn’t just that it’s a great blend of Dorkin’s sharp dialogue and Thompson’s art, which manages to show dogs and cats that are simultaneously expressive and realistic–although both of those things are true–but how much of a straight-up horror comic it actually is.

By its very nature of having neighborhood pets that deal with the supernatural, it always sort of sits in my mind as a grown-up version of Bunnicula, and while that works pretty well as the elevator pitch, it’s not exactly a fair comparison, and this issue underscores why. There’s humor to it–there’s at least a small element of humor in pretty much everything I’ve read of Dorkin’s–but in this issue especially, they get to a point where it’s time to stop being funny and get down to the disturbing, creepy business of horror and pull it off perfectly.

And that’s no mean feat, either. The story structure, from its setup to its almost Tales From the Crypt-ish man-is-the-real-monster ironic punishment ending, could easily come off as cliche or–even worse–maudlin and sappy. I’m not much of a pet person thanks to a combination of allergies and outrigh crabbiness, but even I have a hard time not feeling automatic empathy when truly horrible things happen to cute little animals, which makes it a trick that I’m very leery of, especially after Mark Millar’s actually-pretty-good late ’90s PSA comic, Superman For The Animals. But rather than coming as a way to build cheap sentiment, there’s a subtlety to the way the story is executed–especially in Thompson’s art–that makes it far more effective than it has any right to be. It may have just been me–and Spoiler Warning if you want to keep everything fresh–but in the page where the kid gets mauled to death, my eye was drawn so clearly to the bright blood-splatter that I didn’t see the truly horrible things until I went back to it after the next few pages. And that last-page splash… jeez. Horrific, and incredibly chilling.

Which is exactly what a horror comic is supposed to be. It’s great stuff–and again, if you don’t want to take my word for it, Dark Horse has been cool enough to put the early stories online to read for free–and as we’ll see in a bit, you could do a whole lot worse if you’re looking for a spooky read this Halloween.


Chew #5: This issue wraps up the first arc for the strange book that surprised just about everybody, and I’ve got to say, it has turned out to be darn good comics.

Part of that comes from the fact that John Layman is just cramming high concept after high concept into this book–it’s not just that Tony Chu gets psychic impressions from the food he eats, but that he also works for the FDA and exclusively investigates bizarre food-related crimes, and also there may or may not be a government conspiracy that has outlawed poultry due to Bird Flu–but like all things, the big idea can only take you so far without the execution to back it up, and that’s something this book has a full helping of. Layman’s scripting is delightfully quirky, and Guillory pulls off art that’s over the top enough to fit it, with stylized figure work that lends itself as well to action scenes as it does with static pieces like this issue’s cover of the hulking Mason Savoy. It’s thoroughly top-notch stuff in a very bizarre way, and it makes for a great read.

As to this issue specifically, “Taster’s Choice” ends with the last-act twist that sets up the rest of the series, and it’s really neat to see the way that Layman’s been able to interweave the ongoing story arc with the rapid-fire plots he’s been presenting every month. Not to get off on the usual rant about decompression, but Layman really has offered up a full story with an interesting hook in every issue, from the vengeful food critic who causes widespread nausea with her reviews to the overfunded observatory. Any one of these would have worked for an entire arc, but the quickness with which they’re done is a testament to Layman and Guillory’s comedic timing, and the fact that they’re able to work in a story that’s actually compelling too is just icing on the food-pun cake.

The first trade’s out soon–an extremely reasonable ten bucks–so if you’ve missed out, then give it a shot because if it holds up, it might just end up being the best new series of the year.


DCU Halloween Special 2009: I don’t think I’m going to spark up a lot of controversey here if I say that I really like super-hero comics, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Dracula Week (not to mention my annual Christmas celebratoins, which tend to start the day after Halloween and continue right on through to January), it’s that I’m pretty fond of seasonal themed entertainment, too.

And that is why every year, I buy the DC Halloween special hoping that it’s going to be good, and why every year, I am thoroughly disappointed.

The problem this year is that it’s just no fun, and while individual taste may vary, I think the fact that a Halloween Special starring Superman and his running crew ought to be fun (with liberal amounts of spookiness added in) is something we can all agree on. And yet, this fails at both, and while I’m not a publishing company–well, not full time, anyway–I can’t imagine that it’s all that hard to put something together that is. It’s not like it hasn’t been done (the new Hector Plasm being the textbook example), it’s not like there aren’t a lot of talented people working at DC, and it’s not even like the exact same company didn’t put out a Halloween special that was actually highly entertaining–the House of Mystery Annual–like two weeks ago, so what’s the friggin’ hold-up here?

Things get bad right at the beginning with the Green Lantern Corps story, which starts out as inoffensively bland and then takes a turn for the worse when the creators decide it’s a good idea to introduce child abuse nine pages into the comic for what I’m pretty sure is absolutely no reason at all. It doesn’t do anything to advance the story, unless you count the hamfisted tenth-grade irony of “Guy Gardner likes Halloween even though his dad used to smack him around on Halloween!” It’s never explained why he likes Halloween if he has such terrible memories of it, and the fact that they actually go so far as to make it Halloween themed child abuse–Guy’s dad, no joke, holds his head under the water while he’s bobbing for apples and beats him up for wearing a costume–pushes it right over the edge into being completely incomprehensible. It’s never resolved or addressed, just shown, and it appears to just be there to pad out the middle of the story before Ice shows up in a Sexy Guardian of the Universe costume, ending the story by suggesting that Guy use his ring as a sex toy.

And that is the lead story.

After that, it’s just remarkably inconsistent: There’s a story about the Outsiders and I, Vampire that’s about as exciting as it sounds, a Batman story written by Tiny Titans‘ Art Baltazar and Franco that suffers from inconsistent art, a Robin story with very nice art from Dustin Nguyen that unfortunately makes no sense, a boring Red Robin joint, a nonsensical Kid Flash story that was probably too ambitious for the low pagecount it was given, a story by Billy Tucci that’s kind of neat, and a Superman story that’s actually the best of the lot, but suffers from the fact that there’s an overt reference to someone pissing himself in a Superman story.

The only one that comes close to matching the lead in terms of wrongheadedness, though, is the Wonder Woman story where Wonder Woman watches The Blair Witch Project. That’s it. That’s the plot. It’s a six page story where Wonder Woman watches a movie. And then she goes to find the Blair Witch, and doesn’t. The End.

I don’t even know what to say about that. I can’t even get my head around the fact that anyone would write, draw, edit or publish a story where a super-hero, especially one rooted in a tradition known for its monsters and its afterlife, would watch a movie, then go looking for the villain of the movie and not find him. It’s not a story. There’s no conflict. There’s no resolution. There’s just a bunch of words and pictures that you’re meant to go through in a certain order, but if you don’t there’s no problem because it’s not a story. It has absolutely no reason to exist, and yet it does, and I do not understand why.

It is, in short, one of the worst comics I have ever read in my life and despite its cover price of $5.99–or to put that in perspective, one cent more than it would cost you to get two issues of Batman & Robin or Incredible Hercules or Hellboy or Chew or Beasts of Burden or Hellblazer–is pretty much worthless.


Incredible Hulk #603: A few weeks ago, an ISB reader asked if I was reading Incredible Hulk since Greg Pak took over after the renumbering, and–as should be obvious by this point–the answer is yes. Over the past few years, Pak has quickly become one of the writers I’ve been most interested in following, starting with the surprisingly enjoyable Planet Hulk and continuing to now, when, along with Fred Van Lente, he’s writing what is without question the best book on the stands, and since I enjoyed Skaar: Son of Hulk before it went through its title change (I’m planning on picking up the stuff that’s going on now in trade), I hopped over to this one to see how it’ll play out.

And it has been a hoot.

Everything about it, from the way each issue has begun with a note about how Bruce Banner can never turn into the Hulk again, which is immediately followed by Banner himself acknowledging the inevitability of doing just that to the idea of a super-smart Bruce Banner palling around with an ersatz Hulk who likes to hit things with his sword is just incredibly appealing to me, and Pak, Olivetti and, with this issue, Camuncoli have pulled things off very, very well. And even though it’s fun in a completely different way from Herc, the same vein of comedy shines through, with Pak’s scripts pulling off the neat trick of acknowledging how silly this all is and just going with it anyway because it’s too fun not to, and the same goes for the Dark Reign one-shot that also hit this week. It’s good stuff.





Invincible Iron Man #19: I’ve said before that if you want to know what Iron Man’s all about, there’s really just a pretty short list of stories you need to read. Armor Wars is on there, of course, and Doomquest, which doubles as a what-you-need-to-know-about-Doctor-Doom story, Iron Man #200 is pretty essential, and the ubiquitous Demon in a Bottle pretty much rounds things out.

And after today, I’m pretty sure World’s Most Wanted goes on the list with them.

To start with, WMW has just about everything that you want to see from the guy. Matt Fraction has been doing some incredible things with this book since he came on, taking advantage of a climate when everyone wanted to like Tony Stark again to build rip-roaring adventures, and with this one, he not only throws in Tony putting on his old suits of armor (actually giving him an appropriate reason to do it this time), but gives you the character that has to step in and substitute for him, throwdowns his big-name villains and even a megalomaniacal businessman in a suit of knock-off Iron Man armor to function as a Stane-like foil. It’s got all the best parts of what’s derisively referred to as a “Greatest Hits” run, but it’s built around something new and exciting, and this issue brings it all together.

So much so, in fact, that it reads less like a super-hero yarn and more like a heist story with bulit-in repulsor rays, in that everything’s been building to showing the reader that the good guys had it figured out all along. It started with last issue’s reveal with Pepper and continues through this one’s “I win” scene (which again, echoes #200’s “Somebody lost”), but it’s that last page that really seals the deal with a little wink at the reader from the Tony Stark of six months ago. It’s the perfect page to remind us not just that yeah, this guy’s an Avenger, but also shows just what we like about him.

It’s excellent stuff, and if you haven’t jumped on, then brother, you’re missing out on some of Fraction’s best work for Marvel.



And that’s the week! As always, any questions or concerns about something I read this week can be left in the comments section below, but before I wrap up, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Miserable Dastards, a new graphic novel with art by Friend of the ISB Jeremy Dale, hit shelves this week with the story of thugs-for-hire doing it for themselves. I haven’t quite finished it yet, but what I have read is solid super-heist fun, and it’s well worth pestering your local shop to get for you.

The Dracula Week In Ink: October 14, 2009

For the second shocking week in a row, it looks like none of the comics I picked up this week featured anyone getting kicked in the face, and while I was originally planning on going with a shot from Thor and Herc’s battle in Incredible Hercules (because really, an Asgardian kick to the junkules is almost as good), that was before I heard that there was actual vampire face-kicking in this week’s Detective Comics Annual:



Brother, if that doesn’t say Dracula Week on the ISB, then I don’t know what does. And for bonus points, that’s Looker, the inaugural Nobody’s Favorite doing the kicking.

And that brings us to another spoooooky Thursday night installment of the Internet’s Most Draculawesome Comics Reviews! But before we get around to that, a bit of my own special brand of bloodsucking!

The ISB Fall Fundraiser is going again, with a new round of stuff on eBay for your purchasing pleasure. So if you feel like jumping on some back issues and giving me your money in the process, here’s what I’ve got up:

Livewires #1-6: A very fun, very underrated series from Adam Warren.

Catwoman #1-37 and Secret Files: And speaking of underrated comics, this is the entire Ed Brubaker run on Catwoman, which was consistently one of the best books DC was putting out at the time. Gorgeous art from guys like Cooke and Stewart, fantastic super-hero noir storytelling.

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1-3: Hey, remember that time that Black Canary got chained up and smacked around and Green Arrow killed some dudes? Well, you do now. (That description notwithstanding, Longbow Hunters is actually really good.)

Empire #1-6: Mark Waid and Barry Kitson do a story that’s essentially what happens when Dr. Doom wins.

A Big Ol’ Bunch of Final Crisis! Both covers for #1-7! Both covers for Superman Beyond #1 and #2! Actual 3D glasses that have been punched out and worn by your favorite non-Dave Campbell comics blogger! Don’t ask! Just buy it!

Irredeemable Ant-Man #1-12: Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester bring you the world’s most completely unlikeable (but surprisingly fun) super-hero!

Daredevil: Guardian Devil paperback signed by Kevin Smith: Title pretty much sums it up there, I think.

And finally, Birds of Prey #56-127 and Black Canary #1-4: This is the other half of my BoP run, and out of everything I’ve sold on eBay these past few weeks, this was the one I thought the most about hanging on to. This is a title I picked up longer than anything else I’ve read ever (108 issues monthly), and this stuff, which includes the entire Gail Simone run, was highly enjoyable.

Okay, plugging over, let’s get back to it! Here’s what I bought this week..



…and in a moment, I’ll let you know what I thought of them! But seeing as this is Dracula Week, this time we’re going to be doing things a little differently: By seeing how my comics stack up against the spectrum of vampires that make up… The Draculometer!



Yes, from the awesome intenisty of Blacula to the wispy shirtlessness of James From Team Rocket Jean-Claude from Anita Blake, vampires in popular culture vary pretty widely in quality, which makes them the perfect unit of greatness for a given comic! Or to put it another way, it’s exactly what I did during Bring It On Week, but with fangs! Now let’s get to it!



Adventure Comics #3: A few weeks ago, when the crew of War Rocket Ajax was invited to the Between the Panels podcast to talk about Blackest Night, I mentioned that there is a complete lack of subtlety endemic to Geoff Johns’s comics.

Now before I renew my hater status, I actually am enjoying Adventure Comics a lot–more than I was expecting to, in fact, as the Superboy story is turning out to be surprisingly strong. And to be fair, a lack of subtlety is not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, nobody was less subtle than Jack Kirby, and I could–and have–read his stuff all day and never get tired of it. But there’s a quirk that Johns has in his writing where every single thing not only has to have a deeper meaning, but that the deeper meaning has to be literally explained to the reader at the earliest opportunity.

In Blackest Night, it’s that Barry Allen can’t just be the Fastest Man Alive who’s always late because Kanigher and Broome thought that was a nice recurring gag, it has to be a deeper signifier of his character. And while that’s fine–and I actually do like it–having someone stand there shouting it to the reader is something that just grates on my nerves. The same thing happens in this issue with Robin. There’s a long, drawn-out conversation about why Tim Drake’s wearing the Red Robin costume that could’ve stopped after one line (“Not until Bruce is back”), but goes on for panel after panel, literalizing the metaphor for anyone too thick to figure it out themselves. And that’s what bugs me: It’s not just Johns telling you how clever he is for figuring this out, but also telling you that you couldn’t.

Which isn’t to say that Johns is wrong for doing so. He is, after all, writing for an audience that read a story where the first page had the words “BATMAN AND ROBIN WILL NEVER DIE!” and then complained when Batman didn’t die in it (not to mention their complaints about not being able to figure out who Dr. Hurt was when Batman literally says who he is in the last issue), so it’s safe to say that there’s a good chunk of them out there who don’t want to think too hard when they’re reading their funnybooks. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Comics are meant to be fun, and having fun doesn’t always have to be hard work. But a good metaphor works even when it’s not spelled out, and there’s a definite difference between making something accessible and talking down to your readers, and when Johns has characters expound on how their past tragedies have led them to wear a particular pair of shoes, it feels a lot more like the latter.

Also, I will never understand why there’s an interest in having Krypto be a hassle. You want to talk about stuff that’s supposed to be fun? A flying dog is supposed to be fun, and instead we’ve got scenes where Superboy just can’t deal with him. He’s a source of angst. Krypto. The flying dog. A source of angst. I will never understand this.

But again: For all my grousing and complaints, Adventure has been a very fun read for the most part. To put it in Dracula Week terms, it ranks at a solid Spike From Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Better executed and far more enjoyable than than you think it’s going to be when it first shows up, but held back slightly by the annoyances of its quirks.





Hector Plasm: Totentanz: Regular ISB readers won’t be surprised by this one, as I haven’t exactly been quiet about being a fan of Benito Cereno and Nate Bellegarde’s previous work, especially their earlier stuff on Hector. And like the first collection, De Mortuis, this one is the perfect Halloween comic.

It’s alternately spooky and fun, and while Benito’s stories are more fantastic examples of the zippy, well-researched work that get him compared to Mike Mignola all the time, it’s Nate, the Paul Pope of Comics, that really stands out as the star of this one. His art has never looked better, whether it’s in the incredible two-page riff on Edward Gorey that starts things off or the absolutely gorgeous “Hector Contre la Danse Macabre,”–the book’s longest story–he just shines. The expressiveness, the figure-work, the way he lays out the pages (the silent nine-panel grid with Hector, the Skeletons and a fiddle-playing Death is about as good as they get), everything comes together perfectly. It’s a book I’ve read five times since I picked it up yesterday, and I just can’t stop looking at it.

Plus the bonus features are fantastic. The one-page “costume guide” by Dean Trippe and Jason Horn is a hoot, and while I would gladly read Hector Plasm every month if it was coming out, I’d read John Campbell’s stick-figure Hector strips extra hard.

To refer back to the Draculometer, this thing is straight up Dracula Himself. Not just because it’s the best thing I picked up this week, but because–like Dracula–Benito and Nate have shown that they can work beautifully with Hector in any idiom, from comedy to horror to silent film pastiches set to 19th century French compositions to recipes. And yes: There are a surprising number of recipes in this book.


Incredible Hercules #136: I’m just going to put this out there: Incredible Herc is the single best comic on the stands today.

I realize that’s nothing I haven’t said before, but in addition to the new issue, I’ve been reading through the previous stories and something struck me that made me love this book even more: I’m pretty sure that Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have been re-doing the Twelve Labors of Hercules without ever coming out and saying it.

It’s just a pet theory of mine, so I could be wrong–or on the flipside, I might just be the last person to realize it–but the way they’ve structured their stories is mirroring the setup of the original 12: Herc’s battle with the Hulk that started things off has the air of his first labor, the Nemean Lion, as both see him tackling a seemingly unbeatable foe (though Herc came off quite a bit better against the lion). Then there’s the story where he and Atlas have their rematch from the 11th Labor, and he unchains Cerebus during his trip to the underworld, undoing the 12th. Even the current storyline, where Herc romances the queen of a fantastic race for somewhat devious reasons, is a mirror for the 9th Labor.

It’s not a one-for-one comparison (the Secret Invasion issues were far more like his trip with the Argonauts rather than one of the Labors), and it’s all vague enough that I’m not sure if I’m right or not. There are references to Herc’s myths, of course, but no more than you’d expect from an ongoing starring the Lion of Olympus. But it’s obvious just from the books themselves that they’re drawing a lot on the original mythology, so if there is a conscious parallel to the labors, it’s one that’s pulled off very subtly, and that makes me like it even more.

But that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with why this particular issue is so fantastic, which has a lot more to do with its role in the Marvel Universe than in Greek mythology, namely in that it’s another great Thor/Hercules smackdown. The twist this time is that Herc and Thor are both dressed as each other, and given their history, that leads to some amazingly fun interplay between the characters that’s so good that it might just replace even Thor #356 (the great “Walt Simonson is on vacation, and so art thou” fill-in where Thor drops the entire island of Manhattan on Herc) as my favorite of the two.

And that’s why, in Dracula Week terms, Incredible Herc ranks in as Blacula. Both of them are drawing on disparate traditions–Blacula combining vampire movies and Blaxploitation, Herc with its Simonsonian blending of Myth and the Marvel Universe–to create something that’s truly incredible, and pure joy to experience.


Nomad: Girl Without a World #2: And speaking of things that take their inspiration from strange places, who would’ve thought that a solo series about the Rob Liefeld-created Heroes Reborn Bucky would end up being this enjoyable? When the first issue came out, I mentioned in passing that it was engaging and fun, and I’m glad to report that the second issue has continued along in that vein for a variety of reasons, including the fact that with Rikki Barnes now re-cast as Nomad, we don’t have to worry about Bucky 1.0 adopting that as his code-name at the end of Captain America Reborn.

But there’s a good chance I was the only one losing sleep over that, so let’s just stick to what’s giong on here: Not only does this one prove once again that Sean McKeever can do books about teenage Marvel super-heroes darn near perfectly, it also provides us with the return of one of my all-time favorite third-string villains: Flagsmasher.

Seriously, I love that guy. For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he’s a legacy villain that carries on the tradition of the former leader of the Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind (U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M.), one of Marvel’s lesser known but still totally awesome acronymed hate groups. He carries a mace (which he presumably uses to smash flags), and his recent apperances have pretty much involved his ass getting handed to him by teenagers, which is a role that I’m perfectly comfortable with him having.

But really, he’s just icing on the cake here. McKeever’s doing great things on the script, carrying on the proud Marvel tradition of dropping big ol’ metaphors for teenage isolation in ways that could only work in a super-hero universe, and David Baldeon’s art style fits perfectly. It’s fun and good for the kids, but I get the feeling that it’s being sadly overlooked. So in Dracula Week terms, that makes Nomad our Count Chocula. One hopes that one day, Rikki Barnes too will decorate ironic t-shirts across this great land of ours.


Unwritten #6: This week’s issue of Unwritten opens up with two page of pullquotes from everyone from Fables writer Bill Willingham to ISB sidebar resident Blair Butler. And yet, even with two pages to fill, “Sandman without its head up its ass” didn’t make the cut. Oh well.

Regardless, after the enjoyable diversion of last month’s story about Kipling, this one’s back to the ongoing tale of Tom Taylor, and it’s as enjoyable as it ever was. I’ve talked quite a bit about Mike Carey’s scripting and the focus on literary trivia that he manages to not just work into the story, but make the main focus of the story without coming off as a pretentous know-it-all (no easy feat), but Peter Gross is doing an amazing job with the book, pulling off the neat trick himself of delivering clean-but-detailed art to the story. It’s excellent stuff, and I’m glad to see that–around my neck of the woods, anyway–a lot of people are really getting into it.

Engaging, fun, and even educational? Clearly, Unwritten will fit in quite nicely on the Draculomter as Count Von Count.


X-Men vs. Agents of Atlas #1: I’m going to keep this brief hre: This is a new series by Jeff Parker, and you all know how I feel about him. It’s about the Agents of Atlas and the X-Men, and you all know how I feel about them. It involves Wolverine fighting both a gorilla and a robot, and you all know how I feel about that. Carlo Pagulayan does the art, and given what you already know, you can probably figure out how I feel about his work, too.

(HINT: These are all very positive feelings)

To place our final book this week on the Draculometer, this one is a solid Count Orlock: Just as cool as Dracula, but with the added street cred that being an unlicensed bootleg vampire can get you.



And that’s the Dracula Week In Ink! As always, any questions or concerns can be left in the comments section below, and as I managed to disparage Geoff Johns and Joss Whedon, at the same time in this post, I imagine you’ve all got plenty to say, and I assure you that I will definitely not ignore it.

The Week In Ink: October 7, 2009

In what is quite possibly the most frightening thought you’re likely to encounter in this Spooktoberfest season, none of the comics I picked up this week involved someone getting kicked in the face. So it looks like we’re just going to have to content ourselves with the undeniable majesty of…

The Grimmstache



Straight up, you guys: That thing is fantastic.

And it’s just one of the many wonders to be found as we enter yet another round of the Internet’s Most Lemmyesque Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…



…and here’s what I thought about ’em!



Buffy the Vampire Slayer #29: For the past few months, my opinion on Buffy has been steadily inching towards the point where I just quietly stop reading it, and despite the fact that it’s got a pretty cool cover and genuinely neat ending, this one didn’t do a whole lot to stave that off. The problem is what’s between those two high points, and like the rest of the series of late, it all comes down to the fact that its just plodding.

I mean really: I didn’t like the idea of Buffy & Co. fighting the government to begin with–Season 4, where they did that the first time around, had some of the best individual episodes but the worst overall arc–but that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily bad. And yet it comes off here as not only incredibly boring, but the idea that a bunch of depowered Slayers can successfully fend off a tank squadron for long enough to engineer an almost-literal Deus Ex Machina is… well, “unrealistic” is the wrong word when you’re dealing with a comic about super-teenagers who fight vampires, but when the setup for it comes in the form of a slipshod training montage cribbed from Gymkata, I think it’s pretty clear that there’s a problem.

But far be it from me to complain without offering solutions, and while I’m loath to criticize the work of Jane Espenson, as she is certainly someone I’ve heard of, I think the problem here might be that she’s looking for inspiration in the wrong places. Perhaps she should instead turn to the most respected poet of my generation:





Think about it, won’t you?


Ghost Riders: Heaven’s On Fire #3: No sooner had I published my review of the last issue of this one when I got a text message from Benito Cereno informing me that the character I’d identified as Killdozer was, in fact, Trull the Unhuman, a pre-FF Marvel monster that was a shameless rip-off of Killdozer, but–as he was a Lee/Kirby creation–way more ridiculously awesome. For those of you who don’t want to click the link (a surprising number of my readers, it seems), Trull is a malevolent alien spirit who came to earth and decided that a good way to terrorize the populace was to possess a steam shovel.

That is the full extent of his plan, although to his credit, the shovel does look like it has angry eyes. And now he’s back to fight two guys who ride motorcycles while they are on fire.

Clearly, this is rad, and the fact that it’s like the third best thing to happen in this issue perfectly captures the sort of love for the crazy, awesome, and crazy-awesome that comes through so well in Jason Aaron’s work for Marvel, and especially in his tenure on Ghost Rider. He’s made the Anti-Christ fun again.


Sherlock Holmes #5: And now, the part of the evening where I remind you that I totally spotted the crucial clue to the mystery way back in the first issue:

Ha ha ha! I am the smartest! It is you who are the fools!

Okay, okay, enough of that. It’s not like there’s not enough of my truly boundless display of ego on this website already. Back to the flimsy premise that I refer to as a review.

This issue wraps up Leah Moore and John Reppion’s mystery starring the world’s second-greatest detective, and now that it’s all said and done, it’s been thoroughly entertaining. The idea of Sherlock Holmes having to solve a crime that he was framed for, the fact that it involved an intricate assassination plot that was wrapped up in everything from Moriarty to the international politics of the Victorian Era, the appearance by Mycroft, all of it just adds up to something that’s really fun to read, with a nicely done Big Reveal to wrap everything up. And that’s probably the best thing of all: Everything just works. I may have mentioned already that I spotted a pretty important clue on my first read-through, but the fact is that that was only part of the mystery, and I was more impressed with the fact that Moore, Reppion, artist Aaron Campbell and letterer Simon Bowland were able to put in something that could’ve only worked in comics. It all adds up to a very good package.

Which isn’t to say that the series has been without its faults, and chief among them is the fact that it’s rooted in a mildly false premise, which is that Sherlock Holmes is only taken into custody because he pulls a rank amateur move and is completely flustered when the police burst in on a locked-room mystery. They go so far as to address this in the script–Holmes actually says “contrary to Watson’s writings, I am not wholly beyond bewilderment”–but that in itself is more of a cheat than the event itself. “Watson’s writings” are, of course, the original stories which were written from Watson’s point of view, and in saying that those were wrong, Moore and Reppion are attempting to supplant Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes with their own version. I don’t consider myself much of a Holmes purist–I’m a long-time fan of the novels and I’ve got a nice set of annotated editions, but that’s about it–but if you’re explaining a plot hole by saying that Doyle got it wrong, I don’t think that’s a satisfactory explanation.

But a story about Sherlock Holmes being framed, imprisoned, and put on trial has to get him into the jail somehow, and if you can get past a slightly ham-handed way of doing it, there’s certainly quite a bit to enjoy here.


Spider-Man 1602 #1: I’ll be honest with you, folks: I have absolutely zero interest in the 1602 titles. The original mini-series is among Neil Gaiman’s worst work with an ending that reads like a last-minute rewrite to allow for further exploitation of the franchise, and there’s nothing to come out from it since that’s swayed my opinion on that.

But here’s the thing: A few years ago, when my mother had a heart attack, Jeff Parker–a writer that I liked but didn’t know very well at all–was the first person to leave a comment wishing her well. With that simple act of kindness, that guy earned my loyalty a hundred times over, to the point where I’ll read anything he writes. Not that that’s been a terrible chore or anything–his comics are pretty much universally awesome–but the point is that under almost any other writer, even someone whose work I enjoyed, I wouldn’t have given this one a second look.

But I did, and I’ve gotta say, it’s good stuff. Again, that’s not a surprise–Parker’s Parker, and just flipping through you can tell that Ramon Rosanas does a great job with the art–but I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, with a solid story that has an actually surprising twist to set the stage for the rest of the series. Then again, it was never the premise of 1602 that bugged me as much as how it was handled. I like a good elseworlds story as much as the next guy, and to be honest, anything that adds another J. Jonah Jameson to the universe can’t be all bad.





Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter: Beta Ray Bill is a horse from space with Thor-powers and a hammer with which he hits things.

Galactus is a big dude in a giant helmet from space who eats planets and generally makes people sad.

In this, they fight with space explosions, because Kieron Gillen knows what the people want.


Dark Reign: Fantastic Four: If anyone out there has decided to take my constant praise to heart and jump on Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham’s run on Fantastic Four–which you really should, as the issues that are out have been incredible–then you should probably know that Hickman’s run actually gets its start here.

The whole thing ends, as you might expect if you’ve read FF, with Reed Richards deciding to just go ahead and fix everything that’s wrong with the world, but it’s the way that he gets there that’s the focus here. I’ve mentioned before that Reed is the definite focus in the ongoing, but here he plays a far more passive role–he’s just an observer for most of the book–while the rest of the family has this huge, rollicking adventure where they’re thrown through parallel worlds with counterparts that include Sue as a Wild West gunslinger and the majesty that is Chamberlain Grimm, with the high point being Franklin and Val having a stand-off with Norman Osborn and the Dark Avengers.

Cross-dimensional introspection, clobbering, child endangerment… In four issues, it’s got pretty much everything you want to see the FF do, and while it’s not strictly necessary for enjoying what comes after, it’s well worth picking up.



And that’s the week! As always, if anyone’s got any questions about anything I read this week, like whether Criminal: The Sinners is awesome (yes, it is, but you should know that already), then feel free to ask in the comments section below!

The Week In Ink: September 30, 2009

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from a lifetime of reading them, it’s that if you read a comic that has the words Master of Kung Fu on the cover…



…you’re pretty much guaranteed to see someone get kicked in the face.

Yes, it’s Thursday night and the appearance of a new panel of Shang-Chi’s sweet chin music has heralded another installment of the Internet’s Most Acquisitional Comics Reviews! But before we get to those, a quick announcement that it’s Fall Fundraiser Time here on the ISB, which is basically just a fancy way of saying that I’m thinning out my collection and selling a few things on eBay. So if you’re interested in buying some comics and supporting the ISB at the same time, check ’em out. Here’s what’s up this week:

Books of Doom #1-6: A great origin for everyone’s favorite time traveling horribly scarred armored sorcerer scientist dictator by Ed Brubaker and Pablo Raimondi.

The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana: The out-of-print hardcover by genius annotator, friend of the ISB and former Ajax guest Jess Nevins, exhaustively detailing the heroes of the pre-pulp era. I love this book, but somehow ended up with an extra copy.

Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew Full Run: Includes #1-20 of the original series, plus the three-part Oz/Wonderland War, plus the three-issue Bill Morrison/Scott Shaw! Final Crisis tie-in.

Batgirl #1-76 and Secret Files #1: And speaking of full runs, Batgirl is still one of the few comics that I bought every month for its entire duration and liked the whole thing.

Batman: Harley Quinn: This is another one of those comics that I ended up with multiple copies of over the years, and despite being the first in-continuity appearance of Harley Quinn, it’s also got one of my favorite Joker moments of all time.

Birds of Prey #5-46: And finally, this one represents a pretty big chunk of Chuck Dixon’s run on Birds of Prey, minus the first four because I got rid of those a while back when I picked up the first trade. It does, however, have the hard-to-find #8 that features Barbara and Nightwing’s date. Or as I like to call it, The Comic That Launched A Thousand Fics.

As you might be able to tell from the titles, that’s just the first bit that I’ve pulled out so far, and I’ll most likely have more stuff going up over the next few weeks for your bidding pleasure.

But enough with the plugs! We’re here to review comics (or at least I am; you’re probably here to ask why I didn’t show enough love to your favorite comic or whatever), so here’s what I picked up this week…



…and here’s what I thought of ’em!



GI Joe: Cobra Special: I want you to bear with me here folks, because I’m about to use a phrase that I don’t think anyone has said since The Silent Issue came out in 1984:

This new GI Joe comic is a really masterful use of the form.

Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true. Before we get to that, though, I do want to mention the few things I don’t like about it.

The Cobra series has been as a high-stakes espionage story that uses the elements of GI Joe to function more along the lines of a comic like Sleeper, and on that front it’s been very good. But the problem–for me, anyway–is that the great deal of affection I have for the series is largely rooted in the goofier aspects of it. I like the idea of Cobra Commander as a legitmiate shrieking madman with completely insane plans that’s so good at motivating his soldiers and succeeding despite his madness that he requires a team of the best soldiers we’ve got to fight him and him alone. I don’t have much of an interest in reading a straight military action comic, and the overblown super-villain grandeur of characters like Cobra Commander and Destro–something that Chuck Dixon has completely missed in the main GI Joe ongoing but that Larry Hama has kept wonderfully preserved in the fantastic Origins series–adds a spin to it that I find incredibly entertaining. In short, I dig the silly stuff and how it interacts with the more realistic bits, and when there’s an attempt to make things “grittier” or “realistic,” the logical conclusion is to strip those things away, taking two psychic twin circus acrobat financial genius terrorists and removing the stranger parts, and it all leads to the sense of false “maturity” that you get from a teenager who’s just too cool for that stuff.

That said, Mike Costa made me like it in spite of myself, and it’s largely thanks to an expert use of a narrative trick that I just love: The story mirrors itself.

It’s the same trick that Alan Moore pulls in Watchmen #5–and again, I think we might be breaking new ground here by comparing a GI Joe story to Watchmen–but where Moore is more subtle with it (shocking, I know), Costa makes it the focus of the story, which, as it’s about a pair of twins that are always shown to mirror each other, works perfectly. It starts with Tomax and builds to the center of the story where the narration switches to Xamot and then works backwards, with each panel and each piece of dialogue building off its counterpart from the first half, reflecting all the way back to the first panel. I absolutely love stuff like that, and once I was through reading it the first time, I immediately went to the center and read each panel and its matching “reflection” in the other half just to see how well it all worked, and it was great.

I just noticed this flipping back through the book, but even the page numbering is reflected, counting up to eleven and then back down to one in the second half. It’s a thorough use of the technique, and Costa obviously worked hard to get the beats down, with artist Antonio Fuso pulling off the reflected panel layouts perfectly. So yeah: Masterful use of Watchmen-esque technique in a GI Joe comic that was not about Snake Eyes not talking. Believe it.





Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu Black & White One-Shot: I talked about this a lot during the recording session for next week’s episode of War Rocket Ajax last night (which is why you’ll have to wait ’til Monday to hear my thoughts on Batman: The Brave and the Bold), so in the interest of not repeating myself more than I already do, I’ll try to keep this relatively brief: This book is awesome.

I’ve been looking forward to it ever since writer Jonathan Hickman mentioned his story at HeroesCon, and while his story was the reason it was the first thing I read this week, the rest of the book didn’t disappoint. Like the Rampaging Wolverine special that came out a while back, this one largely reads like an attempt to recapture the glory of Marvel’s oversized black-and-white magazines from the ’70s, but while that one was super-heroics in the vein of Rampaging Hulk, this one’s a clear tribute to and pastiche of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. And as you might imagine, I am totally okay with that.

Mike Benson and Tomm Coker do a great job with their story, setting it up like a Hong Kong revenge picture right down to the “film grain” detailing, widescreen-style panels and subtitling, and the third story by Charlie Huston reads like it could’ve come straight from the pages of Deadly Hands, with Enrique Romero’s clean art–as seen at the top of this very post–perfectly evoking guys like George Tuska and Joe Staton. Paul Gulacy even comes back to illustrate a text piece, and as the final perfect touch, there’s even a “Count Dante” style ad at the end. But that lead story… that’s the one that blows ’em all away.

For one thing, it’s a Master of Kung Fu story with no actual kung fu in it, and while that’d normally be grounds for a complaint, it’s made up for with the fact that it’s a story about Shang Chi going head to head with Deadpool in a Hunter S. Thompson-esque motorcycle race across the desert against characters like The Hitler Twins and a quintet of luchadores that ride a pennyfarthing. It is hands down the most over the top story I have seen in my life, and in case anyone out there’s forgetting, I write comics about a half vampire skateboard champion private detective who fights dinosaurs that are also witches, so that’s saying something.

It’s also incredibly fun. I haven’t bought any comics about him since Gail Simone’s all-too-short run on the title ended, but I do have a soft spot in my heart for Deadpool, and he fits this story perfectly. Shang-Chi, however, works because he doesn’t fit at all, and his presence just reinforces the whole comedy of the thing. If there’s a legitimate complaint about it, it’s that Shang-Chi’s more of a cipher than an actual character (you could essentially replace him with any number of other characters and have about the same story), but again, with the events Hickman and artist Kody Chamberlin put him through, who wouldn’t look plain?

So to sum up: I really liked a comic about kung fu and high concepts. Shocking, I know.


The Unknown: Devil Made Flesh #1: For me, this was one of those make-or-break issues that determines whether or not I’m going to keep reading a book I’m on the fence about. I read the first Unknown miniseries and while I enjoyed it a lot, I thought it fell short on its promise of a completely rational World’s Greatest Detective who turned her attention to the supernatural in her last months to live. The whole thing was just average, although to be fair, it was average by Mark Waid standards, as that guy can write highly entertaining comics in his sleep at this point.

This one, though, has hooked me back into looking forward to it, while at the same time frustrating me as a reader. There’s a fun mystery-within-the-mystery that’s set up and dismissed in a matter of pages with a clever “Flash Fact” solution, there’s a last page status quo change that I certainly didn’t see coming that hints at a much broader story beneath, and that’s great. But it also reads as though the first mini-series was just setup to get to this point, which makes this the real series and makes me wonder why I bothered with the first when it could’ve been trimmed down and done as part of this. In essence, this issue has retroactively downgraded the first series from “good but not quite up to its potential” to “enjoyable, but a waste of time.”

But again, there is a story here that I want to read, and Minck Oosterveer’s art is as good as his name is hard to spell, so I’m planning on sticking with it for now.


Usagi Yojimbo #123: Every now and then I’ll get a comment on the reviews asking why I don’t talk about Usagi Yojimbo that often, and my standard answer is that I would be saying the exact same thing every time, to the point where I’ve actually considered keeping a little text file on my computer for when it comes out so that all I’d have to do is scan the cover and write an alt-text joke. For the record, Usagi.txt would look something like this:

In this week’s issue of Usagi, Stan Sakai proves once again why he’s a twenty-one time Eisner nominee*. The man is a living legend, and this issue brings you the best of his clean but detailed linework and the engaging characters that have a depth that comes off instantly, betraying the master craftsmanship that most creators would kill for by what you don’t see as much as what you do. As always, the attention to historical detail is superb without being distracting (another element of his work that shows just how good he is), and his action scenes are superb without relying on even a single drop of blood to thrill the reader. I’ve said this before, but it might just be Usagi’s greatest adventure yet!

*: REMEMBER to change this next year when he gets nominated again.

And there is nothing in that review that would be inaccurate for every single issue. Come to think of it, I should’ve just started doing that and seen if anyone noticed. But even if I had, there’s one thing that I would like to point out here: This story, while it’s the note-perfect standalone that I’ve come to expect from Sakai, hearkens back to Usagi’s earliest adventures, but there’s such an amazing economy of storytelling that you know everything you need to know about these characters in the 24 pages you’ve got here, which is incredibly impressive.

Which probably means I’ve got another sentence I could add to the text file.



And that’s the week! As always, if you have any questions about something I read this week, or if you’d like to ask me if there is any greater opening sequence in comics than the Lincoln Memorial coming to life, fighting kid super-heroes and being shot by a giant stone John Wilkes Booth (answer: no), then feel free to use the comments section below.

The Week In Ink: September 23, 2009

Make ’em say–



Na-na, na-na!

Yes, as the dulcet tones of Master Percy Miller ring in your ears, it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Cashmoney Comics Reviews!

Here’s what I picked up this week…



…and here’s what I thought about ’em!



Conan the Cimmerian #1: In last night’s post, I briefly described a story from Savage Sword of Conan where Conan had sex with a girl who turned into a tiger, turned into a lion to fight her, fought a bear, stole some stuff, and thought about having kids. That’s a lot to happen in one story–even a magazine-sized epic–but you know what the most important thing about it was? And in fact, the most important thing about any Conan story?

Conan was in it.

And that’s more than you can say for this issue. Now, it’s not bad at all–I think Tim Truman’s been doing some fantastic work on the title since he took over from Kurt Busiek–but like “Cimmeria”, it’s a story that only spends a cursory amount of time with Conan and instead centers the action on characters in which the reader has absolutely no investment. Admittedly, it was a worse idea to relaunch the book with a story that didn’t have much to do with the tiutle character than it is to do a similar story as a stand-alone one-off with a guest artist (in this case, the legendary Joe Kubert, who does an amazing job with it), but the fact of the matter is that I’m not reading this book because I like barbarians in general. I’m reading it because I like Conan, and stories in a book called Conan that aren’t about Conan aren’t really what I want to read.

Again, it’s a fine story from Truman with gorgeous art, and there’s a good chance that it’s just my particular hangups and declarations about What Comics Oughtta Be that keep me from enjoying it, but I can’t stop myself from thinking how much I’d rather see Kubert drawing Conan fighting a monster than Conan cooking a deer while his mom and some kid fight a monster.





Detective Comics #857: This is one of those awesome weeks for comics where there’s so much great stuff that, even with my almost completely arbitrary standards, it’s almost impossible to pick something to call the best. But if I may be allowed to quote from pal Matt Wilson’s recent article on Topless Robot

Don’t even try to tell me these things aren’t awesome: Batwoman fights the adherents of a crime religion who follow a crime Bible that says they have to kill her. She often kicks people right in the face.

…and in most situations where I’m involved in judging the quality of something, that’s pretty much going to come out on top.

Seriously, though, this is an incredible comic, and that’s obviously due in large part to JH Williams III. His issues of Detective have been four of the prettiest comics I’ve ever read, and this one somehow manages to top them all, not just for the beautiful art that shines under Dave Stewart’s coloring, but for some of the most innovative page layouts in comics today. The idea of Batwoman and Alice as reflections of each other isn’t just something that crops up in the script (not to mention that it’s underscored by the references to Alice in Wonderland itself), it’s also driven home in the way the issue plays out on the page. Pages two and three are done as an incredible spread of symmetrical panels with the characters mirroring each other, and the effect is amazing. And then there’s the fight scene where the actual fighting is done in jagged red lightning bolts that was one of my favorite pages ever even before I turned the page and got to the punchline. It’s just a flat-out gorgeous comic.

But it’s not just the art that makes it so great; Greg Rucka’s written the perfect script for Williams to work with, taking full advantage of what he’s set up in other books to do an engaging story about the Crime Religion (which, to be honest, didn’t really work all that well for me the last time I saw it in the mini-series with the Question) and nifty lines like the invocation of The Batman Rule. It’s one of the rare books in which everything comes together, from the script and art to the coloring and lettering, and it’s quickly become one of the comics I look forward to the most.


Fantastic Four #571: Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham’s second issue of the World’s Greatest Comics Magazine has a cover where Reed Richards has just dropped an uppercut on Galactus while wearing the Infinity Gauntlet, and the fact that this is the third most awesome thing about this issue ought to give you an idea of just how rad this comic is.

We’re going to be talking about it quite a bit on next week’s War Rocket Ajax (we recorded last night, right after Euge and I had read the issue), but the short version is that this is not just a great comic–with its intriguing plot and a story that can still deliver more surprises in one issue than most comics manage in entire arcs–and it’s not just a great Marvel comic–with love-letter eye candy like the army of Reeds armed with Ultimate Nullifiers that shows up on page two–but that it’s a great Fantastic Four comic. With all the big fun stuff that’s in it, my favorite part isn’t Galactus showing up with four Silver Surfers or even the last-page twist, but a scene where Reed and Sue talk to each other at the breakfast table.

The major “criticism” (if you want to call it that) that you can level at Hickman’s story is that it’s not so much an FF story as it’s a Reed Richards story, but in one scene, Hickman proves he gets Reed better than almost anyone who’s been working on the character in the past few years. Plus I’ve got a theory about why we’re only seeing alternate Reeds and not any alternate Bens or Johnnys or especially Sues. But we’ll have to see where that goes.

As for the art, well, I’ll be honest: I wasn’t a big fan of Dale Eaglesham when the run started, and even the first issue didn’t quite hook me, but this one is darn near perfect i how he pulls off everything from the cosmic action to the expressive faces. It’s not often that I’m taken by surprise, but Eaglesham did it, and it’s good stuff.


Incredible Hercules #135: I haven’t exactly been quiet about my love of Incredible Herc, as it’s easily one of the best comics comics on the stands and probably in the running for the best Marvel book period, but I’m not sure that I’ve talked too much about how much I love the current stories.

I say “stories”–which sharp-eyed linguists among you might note as the plural form—because the last few issues have been split between Hercules disguising himself as Thor to infiltrate Asgard, which is awesome, and–as we see in this week’s–Amadeus Cho seeking out the origin of the game show that got his parents killed and his sister whisked off to Parts Unknown. And it is pure comics joy to read.

Everything about it is fun, from the faux AD&D module setup of the recap page that reuses Chris Weston’s art from The Twelve (which looks oddly appropriate) to the way Pak and Van Lente have done a story that’s as much of a metatextual riff on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth as it is a new iteration of the same. And then there’s the stuff that we’ve come to expect from Herc: the book’s signature sound effects are a little toned down (only two good ones this time, although “DETHTRPPPP” is great), but I would’ve stabbed someone to have come up with Dr. Japanazi, The Man With Two Evil Axis Brains! It’s incredible fun, and while the book’s gone biweekly while the two parallel stories are going on, I’d read this thing if it was coming out every day.


Superman: Secret Origin #1: With my overwritten, vitriolic review of Blackest Night #1, I might’ve earned a bit of a reputation as a guy who habitually hates on Geoff Johns, but I promise that’s really not the case. I’ve actually really enjoyed everything he’s done on Superman with Gary Frank; between Superman and the Legion and Brainiac, there’s only one line that I don’t like, and while that line is something that I’d consider to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the character, the rest of what’s in there is so darn good that it’s easy to overlook. So needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to this one, despite the fact that it’s completely unnecessary.

And it is unnecessary. In the 20-odd years since Crisis on Infinite Earths provided an actual reason for people to show how the DC characters got started, Superman’s had more “definitive origins” than anyone ought to. And while all you really need is the first page of All Star Superman, where Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely do it in four panels and eight words, nobody’s done a long-form version better than John Byrne’s Man of Steel. Twenty-three years on, and aside from the fact that there’s a guy walking around with a boombox, there’s nothing about it that needs an update.

And yet, here we are, with DC steadily chipping away at all the reasons they rebooted Superman in the first place (“Last Son of Krypton? Nah, there’s 100,000 more, including his cousin, his cousin from a parallel dimension, and a dog.” “Well if he doesn’t make Lex Luthor lose his hair as a child, then why would he become the greatest villain in the world, huh?”), and a new origin is warranted. And like I said, as much as I feel like it’s the last thing we need in comics, I’ve been looking forward to seeing how it’d go down.

And the result? Well, it’s good–there are some sharp, funny bits and Gary Frank on Superman is just incredible–but for me, it feels a little empty. I can only think that as much as I’m trying to read it on its own, I can’t help but mentally compare it to Man of Steel and the seemingly effortless way that Byrne pulled off Superman’s origin. . Add to that the fact that as much as I love the Silver Age, there are elements of Silver Age Superman (the indestructible costume, for instance) that I just can’t see a reason to bring back beyond wanting them because that’s how it was when Geoff Johns was a kid, and I’m having a harder time enjoying it than I thought I would.

But at the same time, the Modern Age Superman of Man of Steel is the Superman from my childhood, so maybe I just want that stuff to stay around because it’s what I grew up with. I’d like to think that I’ve got legitimate reasons (obviously), but the only real determination of which take on a character is valid is which one DC is willing to pay for, and since I’m pretty sure Geoff Johns isn’t complaining about my Superman mini-series on his blog at 2 in the morning, that guy wins. So for now, I’m going to stick with it, and maybe Johns’ll pull out one of those third-act moments he’s build his career on that’ll turn it around for me.

I’ve got to admit, though, I am pretty intrigued by the idea that Superman’s heat vision is a direct by-product of getting aroused, as it would make for a really awkward fight with Darkseid later on in life.


Underground #1: And speaking of things that I’ve been looking forward to, Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber’s Underground came out this week, and I can already tell that it’s going to be a book that’ll tough to review because it’s just so good.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone; Parker’s great and Lieber, whose amazing art I first saw in Whiteout, is just as good here. I’m pretty sure this is the first time that I’ve seen his work in color, and Ron Chan does an amazing job of bringing out Lieber’s clean lines and extremely expressive faces.

Scriptwise, it lacks the robots, gorillas, robot gorillas and Truman Capotes that you may have come to expect from Parker (though there are a good number of explosions), but he’s just as good here as he is on the big fun super-hero comics that he does for Marvel. It reminds me a lot of The Interman–probably because that’s the closest thing to it that he’s done–and he manages to hook the reader right out of the gate with appealing characters.

So yes: All that just to say “Hey, it’s Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber. Get it.”


Wednesday Comics #12: With this issue, DC’s experiment on the 14″ x 20″ newspaper-sized page ends, so it looks like it’s time for the ISB Comics Review Lightning Round: My reaction to all twelve strips in one sentence each! Here we go!

Batman: On the one hand, Batman kicks dudes, breaks windows and Azzarello writes a moody script that works well with Risso’s equally moody art that reads well one page at a time, but on the other, it ends with Batman making out with a dead girl, and that’s an Emotion of Batman that even I haven’t chronicled.

Kamandi: Absolutely perfect for the format with gorgeous art and a fun story that evoked the best bits of Prince Valiant but with machine-guns and gorillas.

Superman: You have got to be kidding me.

Deadman: I’m not quite sure what went on with this one story-wise–it got a little muddled there in the middle, what with it starting with a serial killer and then turning into Deadman kicking demons in the face, both of which are equally valid–but I could look at Dave Bullock drawing this stuff all day long.

Green Lantern: Busiek and Quinones got off to what might be the worst start of the bunch, and while it picks up at the end, half the strips could’ve been cut out to make more room for Quinones to draw Hal fighting aliens for weeks at a time and I’d be much happier.

Metamorpho: As good as this one was–and it was a lot of fun–having such huge names behind it meant it little bit of a letdown, especially since two or three strips read like filler.

Teen Titans: Great art, terrible story.

Strange Adventures: Another of the standouts, Pope crams so much into this one that I’m surprised he pulled it off even with the larger page format.

Supergirl: I talk about expressive art a lot when I review comics, but Amanda Connor is second only to Kevin Maguire with how much she can get across with just a facial expression.

Metal Men: We knew Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan were going to be awesome on this, but who woulda thought that Dan Didio would write a story that made it the sleeper hit of the project?

Wonder Woman: I can respect Ben Caldwell’s ambition in trying to pull this off and he definitely made something that’s gorgeous to look at, but actually reading it took more effort than I was willing to put in after a few weeks.

Sgt. Rock: If you can remember how upset I was to see Joe Kubert draw a Conan story where Conan didn’t fight anybody, imagine how I felt to see an oversized Sgt. Rock story where Rock only punched like two Nazis.

Flash: A great example of playing with the newspaper format, but it felt like Kerschl & Co. bit off a bit more than they could chew once the time travel stuff started.

Demon and Catwoman: This isn’t exactly what I was expecting from Simonson, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


And that’s Wednesday Comics! As with all anthologies, it’s a pretty mixed bag, but it served its purpose as a reminder that Kyle Baker is more than any of us deserve.


DC Classics Library: A Death In The Family: All told, this is the third time I’ve bought this story–the original issues and the trade being the first two–and I’ve got to say, if you’re going to get it, this is the way to do it.

For one thing, there’s a lot more to it than the trade has, which is a good thing because $39.99 for four issues is almost enough to start a riot over. Instead, you get Death in the Family and the follow-up story, A Lonely Place of Dying, which–while not exactly what you’d call “essential” or “particularly good”–is still a nice piece to have. What really sells it for me, though, is the coloring.

In the originals, and even in the trade, there’s a lot of bleeding that only got worse over time as the newsprint pages faded, but in here–unlike the Kryptonite No More hardcover, which was authentically distressed, or Life and Death of Ferro Lad, which had already been cleaned up for the Archives–everything looks so much cleaner, and the nicer paper stock really holds up well. Which is especially good because it has some of Jim Aparo’s finest work, including the sequence where the Joker wails on Robin with a crowbar that Mike Sterling immortalized as an animated .gif.

Oh, that Sterling.



And that’s the week! As always, if you’d like to discuss something that I didn’t review–such as if Monark Starstalker’s return in Nova was rad or super-rad (yes) or if the grand finale of the biggest, stupidest, loudest Wolverine story ever was really worth the wait or the $4.99 cover price (no, not really, but I laughed), then feel free to leave a comment.

The Week In Ink: September 16, 2009

You know, we’ve taken some pretty hard shots at James Robinson here on the ISB over the past few weeks, but just imagine how much better this panel would be…



…if Daredevil’s dialogue was “But compared to you, Bullseye, I’m Chris Isaak!

That line will never stop making me laugh, but enough veiled criticisms of comics from 1994! It’s Thursday Night, and that means it’s time for the Internet’s Most Somnambulistic Comics Reviews!

Here’s what I picked up this week…



…and here’s what I thought of ’em!



Agents of Atlas #11: Earlier today, Kevin said pretty much everything I wanted to say about this one, so I’m just going to quote him wholesale and hope he forgives me if I throw up a link to his all-new (and quite good) webcomic, She Died in Terrebonne:

I’m just going to presume Jeff Parker writes Agents Of Atlas for me and Chris Sims and the rest of you are lucky enough to be along for the ride. The latest issue has a terrific gag centering around a personality implant for M11 just identified as “The Greatest.” I won’t spoil it, but I’ll say it’s a perfect example of how to slip neat asides into your superhero comics without getting bogged down in the too-cute-oh-hey-here’s-a-meme syndrome that some writers fall into.

So yeah, what he said. And considering that Jeff Parker’s the next guest on War Rocket Ajax, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be talking about it quite a bit then, too.





Amazing Spider-Man #605: Okay, first things first: This comic is $3.99 for 48 all-new story pages, offering up three complete stories. Say what you want about Marvel’s price hikes, but on this one at least, they’re giving you your money’s worth.

All three stories are awesome, too–thanks largely to writer Fred Van Lente, who scripted the whole shebang [EDIT: That’s a lie, Brian Reed wrote the third one!]–but it’s the first one that steals the show. Believe it or not, as much as she sucked through the ’90s, I actuallly really like Mary Jane–and not just for SMLMJ, either–and it’s nice to see her back in a story that sees her in a starring role, but attempts to give a decent storyline reason for her absence from the book. It’s the art, though, that really steals the show: Javier Pulido (like Marcos Martin, with whom he often works) has a style that’s absolutely perfect for Spider-Man, and his faces in this one are just beautifully expressive.

Plus, it’s got Javier Pulido drawing the White Rabbit, and if we can’t agree that this is awesome, you can see yourself out.

The other stories too are standouts in the art department, featuring Luke Ross on the second and Yannick Paquette straight up channeling some Terry Dodson on the third, and Van Lente ties them all together for an extremely fun portrayal of Peter Parker’s love life, which, if you’ll remember, is so disastrous that the direct intervention of Satan was seen as an improvement.


Batman: Streets of Gotham #4: It shouldn’t surprise anyone to read this, but a while back, I came to the conclusion that I could pretty much just sit around reading Batman comics and be perfectly happy, and on a day off last week, I took the opportunity to put that theory to the test by re-reading Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics. My opinion on it soured towards the end once it started being a comic about Hush doing things like literally cutting out Catwoman’s heart, but I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed everything that led up to that point, especially once Dustin Nguyen took over the art.

Point being, this issue of Streets of Gotham is the best of the series by far, and fits in pretty well as an extension of what Dini was doing on ‘Tec, although I’ve still got mixed feelings about it. There are parts of it that come off as problematic even while Dini’s doing something interesting with them, as though he’s not so much taking a step forward and a step back as he’s just continually shuffling sideways. Hush is still in it, for example, but this issue keeps him limited to two pages, and even I’ll admit that having Batman’s network of assorted sidekicks and hangers-on keeping him in line is probably the most entertaining way you could deal with having an evil doctor who, when he wasn’t extracting hearts, performed plastic surgery on himself to look just like Batman. And after that point, the focus turns onto the guy that handles real estate for the super-villains.

And I’ve got to admit, that is a great idea, functioning as a nifty little callback to Silver Age stuff like Paul Gambi (Central City’s tailor to the Rogues), and while it’s an explanation for something that didn’t necessarily need to be explained, Dini’s talented enough to present it in an engaging way. But he’s using it to set up Mr. Zsasz as a force to be reckoned with, and the problem with that is, well, it’s Mr. Zsasz.

As far as Batman villains go, Zsasz, a muderer with a gimmick that involves self-mutilation, is about as standard as you can get. In other comics, a serial murderer with a body count in the hundreds who carves a mark on his own skin might be a little more potent (and from a real world perspective, it’d scare the crap out of me) but for Batman, he presents about as much of a challenge as a jaywalker. Batman deals with guys who poison reservoirs with fear gas on a monthly basis, and his tough fights see him facing down the God of Ultimate Evil, so Guy-With-Knife isn’t really going to cut it, so to speak. Admittedly, you could argue that the Joker is just a guy with a knife, but we both know that’s not true and you’d be stupid to do so.

So if Dini wants to use him as a credible threat, he’s got to present him as one, and he chooses to do so by having a character in the story literally tell you that he’s worse than the Joker. Specifically, the Real Estate Broker says that while he’s sold property to the Joker, Zsasz is the only one “who makes me feel dirty about what I do.”

This is one of the laziest tricks a writer can pull, and in this case, it’s also completely disingenuous. I’ve rambled on about the Joker at length before, but the short version is that he’s as far above other criminals as Batman is above other heroes. He operates on a completely different scale. The idea that Zsasz–again: Guy-With-Knife–could inspire a worse sense of dread than the guy who was sniping random citizens at Christmas, beat Robin to death with a crowbar and tried to blow up the U.N., paralyzed Batgirl, and killed Jim Gordon’s wife WHILE HOLDING A BUNCH OF NEWBORN INFANTS HOSTAGE is laughable.

And again: I’m not saying that Zsasz is necessarily a bad character or that he can’t be the focus of a good story, or even that he can’t be made into a credible threat. Heck, Dini almost pulls it off in this one, as the rest of the setup is perfectly interesting and very well done (and of course, beautifully drawn by Nguyen). But he torpedos himself by going for the cheap comparison to the Joker, and rather than building Zsasz up, it just serves to remind you of everything he’s not, and reaffirms his place as the character that we all know from the Arkham Asylum video game–which Dini also scripted–and reminds us that that place is to be the guy that Batman takes down with exactly one hit while he’s on his way to fight more important villains.


Beasts of Burden #1: If you’re like me, then you’ve often wondered what Hellboy would be like if the title character was a bunch of adorable neighborhood pets.

Actually, that’s a lie. I’ve never wondered that, because by the time it had occurred to me, Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson had already done it in the pages of the hardcover Dark Horse horror anthologies, offering up stories that were far and away the standouts of those books. And now they’ve finally gotten a longer-form story (with a bigger page size!) and I’ve gotta say, it reads like what you’d get if HP Lovecraft had written Bunnicula, and that is totally rad.

But again, that’s not really a shock, and neither is the fact that Evan Dorkin’s script is sharp and frequently funny, or that Thompson’s painted pages are absolutely gorgeous. But what was a nice surprise was that Dark Horse–in this week’s example of comic book companies doing something really cool–put the original stories on their website to read for free. So if you’re curious about the series, check them out there and then head to your local shop to pick on up. It’s well worth it.


MODOK: Reign Delay: If this were the VMAs, Kanye West would’ve grabbed the microphone when I named Spider-Man the best comic of the week and told me that he was going to let me finish, but Ryan Dunlavey’s MODOK was one of the best comics of all time. And he would’ve been right.

(Note To People From Two Or More Months In The Future: This was briefly a thing.)


Uncanny X-Men First Class #3: I’ll be honest with you, folks: I’ve been on the fence about whether I was going to keep getting First Class.

It’s not that it’s bad at all; the two-part Inhumans story that the book led with was pretty fun, and did some very neat things with Nightcrawler. But as much as I love the X-Men (though as often as not, that love has been pretty theoretical), my interest in the title was less out of wanting to read about the characters than wanting to read a comic by Jeff Parker, and with him gone, I wasn’t seeing much reason to continue.

And that was before Scott Gray referenced Banshee’s love of country music.

Long-time ISB readers will no doubt recall that I am amused to no end by the issue of Captain America where Banshee goes to Nashville for a Merle Haggard concert, mostly because Cap hiply refers to country music as “C.M.”, and Gray’s reference to that bit in the opening of this issue was exactly what I needed to get me to pay a little more attention and not dismiss the book as readily as I was planning to, and I came away really enjoying it. Gray does a fun little done-in-one with Banshee that delivers the best kind of all-ages action, combining super-heroics, romance, the supernatural and a mystery story in a way that most writers wouldn’t even attempt, let alone pull off with this much fun. And the fact that Roger Cruz does an amazing job with the art is no big shock either as he’s been awesome on this book since jump street, especially under Val Staples’ colors. It all makes for a very, very entertaining combination, and I’m glad I was hooked enough by a mention of Merle Haggard to stick with it.



And that’s the week. As always, if you’d like to ask about something I didn’t review–like how great Wegener’s art was in Atomic Robo this week, or how Batman plus the H-Dial should be awesome but came out mediocre–feel free to use the comments section below. Otherwise, just bask in the glowing radiance of the fact that someone just wrote 800 words about Mr. Zsasz.

The One-Sentence Week In Ink: September 10, 2009

No Comics Wednesdays are the loneliest Wednesdays of all.



Yes, Labor Day pushed the release of this week’s comics back to today, and since I usually like to let things marinate for a bit before I write up my half-cocked, needlessly angry thoughts about them, it looks like it’s time once again to offer up the Internet’s Most Succinct Comics Reviews!

Tonight, I’ll be sharing thoughts on this week’s releases in exactly one sentence each, though given how I abuse the poor comma, there’s no guarantee that the sentence’ll end where it ought to. Still, it’s a shame that Cry For Justice didn’t come out again, because I’m pretty sure I could’ve knocked that one out in two words.

So here’s what I picked up this week…



…and here’s a bunch of reviews that are shorter than the intro paragraph!



Adventure Comics #2: Not only does the second issue of Adventure bring us an actual Legion story, it’s actually really good, and while I’d prefer it if Geoff Johns hadn’t written another scene where a hero slapped around a helpless prisoner, I’m way more likely to accept it from a bunch of a-hole teenagers than from the guy who’s supposed to be the best space-cop ever.


Amazing Spider-Man #604: The old-school action that Van Lente and Kitson have been throwing into this story has made it great, but J. Jonah Jameson acquiring the intellectual property of the Spider-Slayers by having them categorized as work-for-hire might just make this one of my favorite comics of all time.


Doom Patrol #2: Much like Streets of Gotham, I’m starting to get way more interested in the back-up story than I am in the main one, thanks largely to the fact that one has a plot and characters that I don’t really care about, and the other has Kevin Maguire drawing sexy robots.


G-Man: Cape Crisis #2: Chris Giarrusso’s Crisis is already better than every other Crisis except Final Crisis, and since he’s got three more issues to have Superman fight Vampire Anti-Matter Superman for the fate of all of fiction and not bring back Barry Allen, there’s a good chance that it might end up being better.





Incredible Hercules #134: Between the sweeping, Simonsonian fun of the story, an appearance by the Warriors Three, and Thor in a mini-skirt, the only thing I don’t absolutely love about this comic book is that we didn’t get to see what awesome onomatopoetic sound effects Van Lente and Pak came up with for Herc’s night of passion with Alflyse, which I can only assume would’ve been “SEXERRRRRUP!” or “TAPPADATTAAAS!”


Marvel Adventures Super-Heroes #15: I’ll admit that I’ve always sort of hated Tigra (as both a West Coast Avenger and a furry, she’s got two strikes against her right out of the gate), but every time Paul Tobin writes her saying “Aw sneezes!”, my heart softens just a little bit.


Models Inc #1: And speaking of Paul Tobin, I’ve been looking forward to his revival of Millie the Model and her cast in the Marvel universe, but without the caption boxes to tell us, how the hell are we supposed to know who sent in the designs for their dresses?!


Nomad: Girl Without a World #1: If you ever have reason to doubt that Sean McKeever, the guy who gave us the pure joy that is Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, is an excellent writer (and to be honest, his run on Teen Titans is probably all the reason you need), then just keep in mind that he wrote a solid, engaging and entertaining story that starred Heroes Reborn Bucky.


Punisher: Frank Castle #74: Holy crap, if #74 costs $4.99, what’s #75 going to cost, four live chickens and a kidney?!


Secret Six #13: In case you were wondering whose side you should take in the great Mark Waid/Gail Simone Twitter Feud of ’09, keep this in mind: Mark Waid created the super-hero theme restaurant, Planet Krypton, while Gail Simone created the super-hero themed strip joint, Superiors.


Unwritten #5: I’m not going to say that Unwritten is Sandman done right because a) I’m not Tom DeFalco, and b) I actually do like Sandman quite a bit, but it’s probably safe to say that as far as stories about stories go, Unwritten is Sandman without its head up its ass.


Classic GI Joe v.5: IDW’s finally gotten up to #50 in their reprints of Marvel’s GI Joe series, and unlike some of their other volumes, the reprint quality in this one is uniformly perfect, so good job!


Gotham Central: Deluxe Edition v.2: If you liked the version of the Joker that was in The Dark Knight (and statistically speaking, you do), then you should buy this one immediately, as “Soft Targets” is not only comparable to the movie in terms of tone, but my single favorite Joker story ever.



And that’s the week! As always, I’ve left a few things out–though I considered trying to cram every Wednesday Comics strip into one sentence, all you really need to know is that Dave Gibbons gave you lions with machine guns because he knows what the people really want–so feel free to leave questions or concerns in the comments section below.