Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Name:
Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

14.10.04

Comics for 13 October 2004

Some people review comics because they get free copies. They can afford to bash books. I have to buy mine, so I buy things I like. Therefore, you won't see many bad reviews -- I'm going to tell you why you should buy these comics, whether or not you're a comics geek like me. Maybe some day I'll be clever enough to offer really excellent criticism about comics, but for now, I'll stick to this.

303 #1 by Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows
$3.99, Avatar Press
This came out last week, but I didn't buy it then, so here it is. Those people who don't know about Avatar are missing some very good books. I first found out about it back in the late '90s when they published some Faust-related material. (Some day I'll do a post on Faust. What a weird, glorious comic book.) Back then they basically published soft-core porn. Then Warren Ellis started writing for them, with his brilliant Strange Kiss/Strange Killings series of mini-series. Now Avatar publishes stuff by established writers who want to write ridiculously violent or semi-pornographic stuff that the big companies won't touch. Which makes 303 interesting, because it's neither pornographic nor terribly violent, although I'm sure that will change as the series progresses, since it's Garth Ennis and all. The premise is that a Russian colonel (a character in the book calls him "Sarge," but he seems like he should be a colonel) is leading a group into the mountains of Afghanistan to find out what was on an American transport plane. The Americans want it, the Russians want it, and because it's an Ennis war book, the British have sent in a SAS team. All of which means everyone's heading for, as my wife and I say, a "Lumumba" moment (no good can come of it).

This may sound boring, and the book doesn't have a lot of action, but it's not. Ennis is one of my favorite writers (although I avoid Punisher like the plague), and he obviously loves his war stories. This idea of soldiers fighting like men and having more in common with soldiers on the other side than their own government is a common theme in Ennis's war stories, but that doesn't mean it's not true. The dialogue between the colonel and his sergeant rings true, as does a moment in the book when a man is wounded and they have to decide what to do with him. Ennis starts the book powerfully, as well, with an evocation of former, "honorable" battles symbolized by the Lee-Enfield (a 303 caliber -- hence the title) slung over the colonel's shoulder. The colonel's dream in the middle of the book is a nice touch, as well -- it lets us know how similar and yet how different this Russian is from what we know about our own soldiers.

Burrows is a good artist -- his lines are very clean, and his soldiers look sufficiently battle-hardened (in the colonel's case) or fresh-faced (in the case of his troop). He does a lot of Avatar's more mainstream work -- check out the trade paperback of Scars with Warren Ellis for some excellent work on his part -- and I have to wonder why he doesn't do more for the Big Two (or at least the Middle Two -- Image and Dark Horse). What he mostly does here is draw bleak Afghan wilderness and talking heads, but his spread showing the colonel's dream is vividly captured. He can do violence very well, so expect some of the ultra- stuff soon.

A good start for this mini-series.

Astro City: A Visitor's Guide by Kurt Busiek and various artists
$5.95, Wildstorm
If you're a fan of Busiek's Astro City, you'll probably like this. If you're not, why on earth would you buy it? It's a decent book, but only of interest to a completist -- it has a (very) short story in it about a woman on vacation in the city, but it's not really that good, unless you want to see Brent Anderson experimenting with his usual style and coming out looking like Stuart Immonen or John Cassaday. Other than that, there's some interesting stuff about the history of Astro City (I'm a sucker for that sort of thing) and some of the industry's heavy-hitting artists taking a shot at drawing some of the city's heroes. There's also a map, another thing for which I am a sucker. But $5.95? Man, that's a lot to spend for something that probably won't detract from your enjoyment of the series as a whole.

Ex Machina #5 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Tom Feister
$2.95, Wildstorm

Ex Machina is one of my favorites right now, and I hope it continues with its high quality, since one of the reasons Harris gave for leaving Starman lo those many years ago was that he couldn't keep up with a monthly schedule. Be that as it may, this is a well-written, beautifully drawn book that has a lot of interesting things going on. It's tough to critique, since it's the last issue of the initial storyline, but suffice it to say, the problem at the art museum gets solved in a funny and unique way, the snowplow driver murderer is revealed, and it's ... okay, I suppose, and Kremlin learns some things about heroes and doing the right thing. The resolution to the art museum controversy is funny, but I hope Vaughan doesn't go for an easy solution every time. It seems that there would be more uproar about the painting, and Mayor Hundred would have to come up with a better solution. I didn't like that he felt the need to translate Sic semper tyrannis, either, but that's just me. I mean, the title of the book's in Latin, and nobody's felt the need to translate that. The murder mystery was a novel answer, too, and the page where the police confront the murderer was actually a little heart-rending. It was a little goofy, however, and came out of nowhere. Unless I missed something in one of the other issues ... The best part of the book was Mitch, Bradbury, and Kremlin's conversation. I like how Vaughan mixes in the superheroics with the politics in this book, and this conversation showed how diametrically opposed the two can be. It makes for interesting reading, and I hope Vaughan keeps it up and doesn't start giving us too much of the Great Machine.

A lot of people might have picked this book up for the art -- I know I did. Harris's art is beautiful, although, strangely enough, I like his early art on Starman more -- it seems more vibrant, although I suppose the coloring has a lot to do with it. His cover is wonderful, with Mitch as, I believe, Shiva the Destroyer (she's the one with the six arms, right? -- or maybe he's Spiral) and his interiors don't let up. Kind of like 303, a lot of this book is talking, but we're never bored, not only because the story is interesting, but because the art's so pretty. Page 15 (why don't comics have page numbers anymore) is particularly nice. Count along and you'll see which one I'm talking about.

Pick this book up. It's actually worth the money.

Fables #30 by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha
$2.50, DC/Vertigo

Fables never ceases to amaze me with the detail that Willingham and Buckingham put into each page. Just the knowledge of fairy tales is impressive, and Buckingham, who has evolved nicely beyond aping Chris Bachalo even though the influence is still there, puts a lot onto the page. This issue starts a new storyline, and Snow White has kids. Prince Charming wins the election and finds out things aren't as wonderful as he thought they would be, and an investigative reporter wonders why no one noticed the battle with the wooden soldiers that almost destroyed Fabletown. Lots of things brewing. It's a treat to read this book every month. Maybe Willingham could be persuaded to draw an issue here and there if Buckingham needs a break ...

Fallen Angel #16 by Peter David, David Lopez, and Fernando Blanco
$2.95, DC

David's been flogging this book on his blog, and it's helped, apparently, as sales as slowly creeping upwards, and DC has extended its life a little. It's a shame more people don't read this, because although some of the objections to it are valid (sometimes people need to know a little more about the characters instead of David constantly teasing us), it's still a worthy book. I still can't figure out what all the names of the characters are, and I'm still not sure if we've seen some of them before or not, simply because I read a lot of books every month and I have other things to do, but I still enjoy this and will enjoy it a lot more when I sit down and read the whole series. Fallen Angel rewards its readers with little nuggets of information, like the "secret origin" of Shadow Boxer in this issue, including a creepy drawing on page 5, third panel. Lee survives the bomb from last issue, of course, and goes for revenge, and we learn something interesting about Juris. Speaking of him, he also finds out about Lee's pregnancy, so that thread is going to pick up. I still think Fallen Angel could move a bit more quickly, but I trust Peter David, and I'm willing to cut him some slack. David Lopez, whom I'd never heard of before this book, continues to provide good, solid art that looks normal on first viewing, but has a kind of dark edge to it that works for this book. So I guess I'm flogging Fallen Angel just like Peter David is.

Rex Mundi #12 by Arvid Nelson and Eric J
$2.95, Image

Ah, Rex Mundi. If you can only buy one comic book in a month, make it Rex Mundi (unless, of course, it doesn't come out in that month, which is unfortunately more likely than not). My favorite comic book out there. Murder, mystery, political intrigue, conspiracy theories, sex, religion -- what else do you need? How about beautiful art? How about codes and puzzles? How about an alternate history of the world? If you don't read Rex Mundi, I can't even describe it. It takes The Da Vinci Code and turns it into something much more mystical, mysterious, and dangerous (and it saw print before The Da Vinci Code anyway). It combines realpolitik in an alternate 1930s Europe with religious fanaticism and conspiracies. It has a fake newspaper at the back of each issue with actual stories that enhance your understanding of the story. Are you kidding me? Why doesn't this book sell more? Everyone who reads it loves it. Which means not enough people are reading it. The owner of the comic book store I patronize called me "weird" when I put this on my pull list. If this is weird, then weird I be!

Oh. In this issue the rabbi who helped Sauniere leaves for New York to escape the Inquisition, Sauniere gets help from Brother Matthew in deciphering the geometrical precision of Poussin's The Shephards of Arcadia, we learn about the Grail family, Genevieve discovers a genealogy for the true kings of France that descends from Dagobert II (who in real life didn't have kids, or if he did, it died young, but that would interfere with good fiction!), and the Duke of Lorraine has some family problems. And someone dies (we think). See what I mean about trying to describe it? Oh, and Winston Churchill shows up. He's right there on the cover! Just buy it!

Ultimate Nightmare #3 by Warren Ellis, Steve Epting, and Nelson DeCastro/Tom Palmer
$2.25, Marvel

And then there's Ultimate Nightmare.

There's been a lot of talk about decompressed storytelling in comics, and Ellis usually seems to want nothing to do with it. Here, he wallows in it. Issue number 2 was the most egregious example of this, as basically, both the Ultimates and the X-Men went to Russia. That's it. In this issue, we get a couple of fights, but there's still not a whole hell of a lot happening. This mini-series could be about halfway through a second issue and still have room for more, but Marvel apparently wanted to turn a good 3-issue mini into a mediocre 5-issue one, knowing suckers like me would pick it up. Good job, Marvel.

So does this suck? Well, it's Warren Ellis, so no. I would like to see him putting more effort into Planetary, but it's still an okay read. It's an intriguing idea, and Ellis's dialogue is always fun (Wolverine's whining is a highlight of this issue), but God does it move slowly. We get the Ultimates and the X-Men separately walking through the complex, filling in the blanks for us, and then two weird creatures who attack the separate teams. The Falcon kills one, but the other drags the X-Men down into a pit where other strange beings, who may or may not be hostile, await. That's it.

The art is a big come-down, as well. Epting has always been hit-or-miss with me, and his most recent effort on the late, lamented El Cazador was perfect for that title. Here, it doesn't work. His Wolverine is just weird-looking, and everything's so stinkin' dark (yes, I know they're underground without electricity, but still!) it's hard to see much of anything. And what happened to Hairsine? Three consecutive issues was too difficult for him? I'm sick of pencillers who can't even do a mini-series, much less a regular series. It's pathetic.

I also noticed something as I was reading this. If we ignore the title page, this is how things go: Page 1, p.2, p.3 (good so far), ad (Sarah Michelle Gellar's new movie), p.4, p.5, p.6 (still good), ad, p.7, ad, p.8, ad, p.9, p.10, p.11, ad, double-sized ad (for Smallville), p.12, ad, p.13, ad, p.14, ad, p.15, ad, p.16, ad, p.17, ad, p.18, ad, p.19-21. Disgusting. Compare that to a book like Rex Mundi, where all the ads are at the back, and they're all for other Image books. Yes, I know Marvel and DC have to sell advertising, but can't they put them at the end of the book? It's ridiculously distracting, and the saddest thing is: the only double-sized spread in the entire book is an ad! Blech.

Ultimate X-Men #52 by Brian K. Vaughan, Andy Kubert, and Danny Miki
$2.25, Marvel

Vaughan has two books on this list this week, and it's very obvious which one you should buy -- it ain't this one. Ultimate X-Men isn't bad, but it's nothing like Ex Machina. Still, it is the only X-book I buy on a regular basis (at some point I may chronicle my long and twisted relationship with the Marvel Universe X-books) and it's pretty good. I read some people bashing Vaughan's use of Fenris. I LOVE Fenris! I just think the concept is so cool, and their all-too-brief appearances in Uncanny X-Men were very neat. I don't know if they've appeared more often in other Marvel books (they are Baron von Strucker's kids, after all, so maybe Captain America?), but I think they should be used more often in the "real" Marvel Universe.

Which leads me to a tangent. Why are these characters allowed to be used in the Ultimate Universe, but not the Marvel Universe? Not only do I love Fenris, but I love Dazzler and Psylocke and Longshot. Okay, Psylocke is dead in both universes, but at least in the Ultimate Universe, she went out with some dignity. Claremont (who I always thought liked the character) killed her off-panel, for God's sake! Dazzler and Longshot are in limbo in the Marvel Universe (DeMatteis wrote a Longshot special in '96 or '97, but since then -- nada; I don't know what's going on with Alison), but Dazzler's currently in Ultimate X-Men and I read the next storyline's dealing with Longshot. Why can't we use them in the Marvel Universe???? Grrr...

Anyway, this is a perfectly serviceable story, although why the Struckers would go through this elaborate setup to recruit Rogue makes no sense. Just offer her a crapload of money! Although, being the altruistic X-Man she is, she'd probably turn down boatloads of cash on principle. The interplay between the team is good -- remember the days in the Marvel Universe when the X-Men didn't always get along -- with Peter's exit line ("You weren't here when Cyclops and Wolverine almost murdered each other. I'd say we're improving ...") just flat-out funny. I kind of wish Gambit had been killed, because I hate Gambit no matter what universe he's in, but no such luck. Betsy they can kill, but let's not touch Remy! The walk on the astral plane was nice, with a future plot brewing. Is that the Phoenix or possibly the Shadow King talking to Jean? Kubert's art is Kubert-like. I like his brother's better. Andy's not bad, but his figures are all stockier than they have to be, and when he sometimes draws weirdly contorted people that's disconcerting. It's fine, I suppose.

The Ultimate Universe still bugs me, because of what seems the slavish devotion to simply blending old plots and then spitting them out. Millar's Ultimates has not taken that route (yet), and even though I don't read Ultimate Fantastic Four, it seems like it's doing it. Bendis even gratuitously killed Gwen Stacy, who, unlike the real Marvel Universe, was just as cool (or even cooler, possibly) than Mary Jane! I thought the Ultimate Universe was a way to introduce new readers to the concepts without bogging them down with history. Can't we come up with at least a few new villains? Please? (That crappy villain Bendis made up to introduce Spidey to the X-Babes doesn't count.)

X-Men: The End: Book One: Dreamers & Demons #4 by Chris Claremont, Sean Chen, and Sandu Flores
$2.99, Marvel

That's a lot of colons in one title, let me tell you! This is the much-ballyhooed first of three mini-series chronicling the end of the X-Men. Blah blah blah. The only "The End" book I have really liked is David and Keown's Hulk one, but this one is shaping up as pretty interesting. Claremont gets a bad rap these days, but let's face it: despite Morrison's run, the X-Men and the X-Universe hasn't been the same since Claremont wrote every book in creation. Yes, he's bombastic and expository and didactic and pedantic (I can fling fancy words with the best of them), but he writes a mean story. This series is not even remotely decompressed, as Claremont throws fights and plotlines at us incessantly. It's a little overwhelming, and probably won't make many fans want to buy this. That's a shame, because it is fun, and it is nice to look at (Chen's art looks different, but nice -- maybe it's the inker), and you can tell that Claremont has a real passion for these characters, many of whom he created, and that he does have a plot behind all the craziness and bad dialogue (Shatterstar, I think, was created to spout bad dialogue -- I mean, he's a joke, right?) I have no clue where Apocalypse came from, who Puffball is, what that weird Warlock-looking thing is, and why Claremont ends the book on a limp, lame page at the Mansion, but I don't care. I'm going to stick with it at least until the end of this mini-series.

So that's it. A big week, and it won't always be this way. In fact, most weeks I might only buy one or two books. I hope some of you get some ideas from this list. Comments are welcome!

Oh yeah: there was a debate yesterday. Blah blah blah. Kerry stomped him, Bush stomped him, they tied. Why are the Republicans so offended by Kerry referencing Cheney's daughter? Everyone knows she's gay. It seems (and I'm just speculating here) that they (the Republicans, not the Cheneys) are a little embarrassed that their ruler (let's be honest about who runs the country) has a daughter who's so out of phase with their core constituency. Anyway. Interesting debate. Did it convince anyone? We'll see.

nemo dat quod non habet!