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!

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!


Comics for 15 December 2004

Lots of stuff this week, including quite possibly the worst single comic book ever published! And I bought it!

Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril #1 by Joshua Dysart, Sal Velluto, and Bob Almond
$2.95, Penny-Farthing Press

This is the kind of book that DC and Marvel (especially Marvel, since DC does a lot of stuff like this) should be publishing. That's not to say that it's an excellent book -- it's pretty good, and I recommend it -- but that it's something different. It's a rip-off of lots of other stuff, sure, but it's a fun rip-off. And it's beautiful to look at.

Dysart is the writer of Swamp Thing these days, and he has written a Demon mini-series, but I know him from the late, lamented Violent Messiahs. He's exhibited a sick, twisted kind of brain, which is cool, but in this, he opts for straight-forward adventure, and it's fine. He rips off the Rocketeer and the Indiana Jones movies, so if you like those, you'll probably like this. It has Nazis, archaeology, beautiful 1930s starlets, slightly sinister government spies, and dark magic. The best parts of the book deal with the "secret identity" of Captain Gravity, because Joshua Jones is black. He's friends with Chase DuBois, the beautiful starlet, but he's not her boyfriend, although it might be interesting to see that. There's also a good deal about the Jews fleeing Germany and how Joshua feels about Nazi Germany and his own country. Dysart doesn't get into it too much, but it's nice to see, because it hints at something deeper in the story than just an archaeological romp through Egypt fighting Nazis. Like I said, it's a rip-off, but I like it.

Velluto's art is fabulous, evoking the whole 1930s milieu, especially the Hollywood system in place back then. I haven't seen Velluto's art in a while, but it's very nice. I look forward to the rest of the story, and I continue to hope Marvel realizes they can tell stories like this and not be stuck in a superhero universe. I'll probably hope for a long time.

Daredevil #68 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
$2.99, Marvel

Boy, that's a nice cover. Really neat.

I'm always afraid that Bendis is going to do something like this. "Like this" means tread water. That's what this issue is, treading water. Okay, he ties it back into the White Tiger storyline from a few years ago (now I have to go re-read them -- thanks, Bendis!), but not a whole hell of a lot happens here. Matt is still getting the snot kicked out of him by Melvin Potter, and we still don't know why. Alexander Bont is still enjoying it. We see a fight between the Gladiator and Daredevil from the "1960s," and Maleev's art style is as enjoyable as ever, but it really doesn't need six pages of the issue to show the fight. In a flashback, we see Matt chatting with Agent Del Toro, the FBI agent, who's related to the White Tiger and wants Matt's help with the White Tiger amulets, but again, we don't need three pages of Foggy and Matt talking about her before Matt meets with her. It's annoying.

Bendis does this occasionally, and the payoffs to his stories don't always live up to his setups. It's all part of the whole "decompressed" storytelling that I hate so much, and this is his most egregious example on Daredevil in a while. It's still a good book, and the art is still fantastic, but I'm worried.

Ex Machina #7 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Tom Feister
$2.95, Wildstorm

So much going on. You hear that, Bendis (and Ellis, I suppose)? SO MUCH GOING ON. Sure, there's not wall-to-wall action (there is a fight scene, but it's short), but there's still a lot going on. And you have Tony Harris art for seven straight issues! Oh, the largesse!

In the past (2001), Mitch meets with Jackson Georges of the NSA, with whom he met last issue. Georges tells Mitch ... well, nothing, because before they have a conversation, nasty German agents dressed in black with gas masks on come crashing through Mitch's window, and he has to take care of them (with a device that prompts the funniest line in the book). Then it's back to "the present" (2002), and Mitch is debating the issue of gay marriage, and all his staff thinks he's nuts for even considering presiding over one. It's a really interesting discussion, and it again points out that realistic politics can show up in comic books and not kill the momentum. Sure, it's six pages of talking heads, but they all have something interesting to say, and although the plot might not be advanced, you don't care. We then switch to the subways, where last issue the strange sign that has something to do with Mitch's powers show up. There's some neat brutal violence, and it's actually creepy how Vaughan and Harris pull it off. At the end, Mitch gets a date! Since earlier his sexuality was discussed, I'll let you buy the book to find out if his date's with a man or woman!!! Oh, the secrecy!

Harris is on art. What more do you need to know? In case you didn't know, I really like this book. It's one of the best out there. Don't buy Amazing Spider-Man, buy this!!!!

Human Target #17 by Peter Milligan and Cameron Stewart
$2.95, DC/Vertigo

Human Target is why I won't be buying Milligan's X-Men. Why should I? Will he be able to write as challenging and twisted stories for Marvel as he does here? I doubt it. This is a stand-alone issue (people can still write them!) with art by Cameron Stewart of Seaguy fame. Stewart's art is fine, but like Pulido and Chiang, the regular artists on this book, it's not the reason to pick up this book. Milligan's stories are.

Christopher Chance is hired by a woman in the Witness Protection Program. She's unhappy with the protection she's getting (she testified against her husband, a punk crook who still has a lot of friends on the outside), so she wants Chance to remake her. Chance gives her lots of tips on how to become someone else, sets her up in a business, and gets her some plastic surgery. In a nice Vertigo-like twist (the movie, not the comics imprint), she happens to look suspiciously like Chance's "wife" Mary (who's still alive, by the way, and still living with Chance). Lots of twisted things happen, some rather predictable, some not. The ending is pretty bleak, but this wouldn't be a Vertigo book or one written by Peter Milligan if it wasn't bleak!

I still really like this book (some day I'll rank the comics I currently buy, if that's possible), but I hope Milligan is going somewhere with it. I would love if he had a whole grand storyline worked out and that Human Target is meant to be finite (like all comics series should be). He's doing a wonderful job exploring identity and what it means to be someone and how people can hide their real selves or whether we actually have real selves at all (lots going on in this series) without sacrificing sex and violence (it's a Vertigo book, after all), but I don't know how long he can do it, or what point he's trying to make. Milligan is a good writer, but he lost his way a little with Shade, the Changing Man, although he ended it nicely, and his last Vertigo title, The Minx, never got a chance and was cancelled before we could see where it was going. So while Human Target continues to be one of the smartest books out there, I wonder where it's going. I have no doubt it will be an interesting ride.

Ocean #3 by Warren Ellis, Chris Sprouse, and Karl Story
$2.95, Wildstorm

Ellis has so many wacky science fiction ideas floating through his head that he probably can't wait to throw them at the wall and see what sticks. Here it's people who voluntarily give up their personalities when they go to work for a corporation so that the company personality can be downloaded directly into their brain. This way, they can also receive e-mails and such straight into their consciousness. Spooky. It's an okay issue, although why the manager gets knocked over when he's about to kill Kane is a bit confusing. It just seems like Ellis would be better served writing graphic novels, because I'm sure this will read better in the trade paperback. It's a perfectly serviceable chapter in a grander story that could have been told in half the time. Again, the scourge of decompressed storytelling.

I'm sorry for harping on it so much, especially because I'm not the first. I've been re-reading Ellis's work on StormWatch, and the man can write a damn fine compressed story. He also should have some clout in the marketplace, so I guess doing a six-issue mini-series instead of a four-issue (into which he could probably fit this story) is his idea. I don't know. I like Ocean, and it's nice to see science fiction done well in comic-book form (for which I would think it's suited), but by the time this series is done, I'll have spent 18 dollars for a serial that, if collected as prose, would probably be 150 pages and cost 10 bucks. Frustrating.

Trigger #1 by Jason Hall and John Watkiss
$2.95, DC/Vertigo

This is an interesting first issue of an ongoing series, and I'm actually pretty keen on seeing where it's going. Lots going on in this issue (I suppose the compare/contrast between compressed and decompressed storytelling is the theme of this post), and I like most of it. It's a science fiction title in the tradition of 1984, and both Hall and Watkiss make it soar. I only know Hall from his mini-series Beware the Creeper, which was very good despite having absolutely no connection with the Creeper, and Watkiss has been around for a while, doing some issues of Sandman and a few of Starman some years ago. This art is excellent. It's chock full of details, very moody, very Blade Runner-ish, and futuristic without being too alien.

The story appears simple, but has a lot of layers. There's a corporation, Ethicorp, that wants to make everything bad go away. To this end, they employ "triggers," people with guns who can kill anyone who's "bad." Of course, bad is a subjective term, which I'm sure will lead to all sorts of problems, but from what I can see, "bad" means watching pornography and questioning authority. These "triggers" are, of course, not recognized as being real, but a nosy reporter is asking the wrong questions of the corporation, which will probably lead to trouble for her, and Carter Lennox, our ostensible "hero," is looking for answers in a world where everything is homogenized and finding out the "triggers" are all too real. Carter is at the center of the story. He reads actual books instead of downloading them, he wants to leave "the city" and get away from the crushing conformity of it all, he's estranged from his wife, who wants to reach him emotionally but no longer knows how, and he's having weird sex dreams. I put "hero" in quotes because we're not sure about Carter, and there's a twist at the end that makes us wonder what exactly is going on. Like I said, on the surface, it looks like a simple story, one we've seen before: lone individual against "Big Brother" (which is even referenced in the story). However, there is more happening here, and it's an intriguing brew.

I recommend Trigger for the time being. I know this is an ongoing series, but I don't know if this issue is "part one of five or six" to see how popular it is. It would be nice if this begins a story that lasts a long time, with little bits and pieces shown over time (Fallen Angel has worked like this, although it's not burning up the sales charts). I'll keep checking it out for the time being, and hope for the best. A good start.

Identity Crisis #7 by Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales, and Michael Bair
$3.95, DC

Sigh. I waited until the end do go over this, the last issue of Identity Crisis, which is probably the worst issue of any comic book this year, and might just he worst single issue of any comic in the past decade. I'm not counting self-published crap, obviously, but stuff that actually counts. Man, this is bad. More than that, it's offensive on so many levels. I just can't get over it.

Okay. Spoilers ahead, although it's crap, so who cares. Jean Loring, Atom's ex-wife, is the killer. Yes, Meltzer cleverly set up the Atom last issue, but it's not him, it's Jean. Why? BECAUSE SHE WANTED TO GET BACK TOGETHER WITH RAY PALMER!!!!! Read that again. Carefully. Now, in my world, guys have a great difficulty getting laid, and I imagine it's pretty much the same for a nerdy scientist dude who's claim to fame is not getting BIGGER (if you catch my drift), but getting SMALLER. And Jean, apparently, dumped Ray (I don't know her backstory, but that's what I hear), so it's not like he moved on or anything. So why didn't she just suck it up, say she made a mistake, and try to reconcile? Why, because she's insane. And where would be the story in that? So instead of just faking her hanging (which she did), she kills Sue Dibny ("I-I didn't mean to ..." she whimpers when Ray finds out), hires Captain Boomerang to kill Jack Drake, and sends the gun to Jack Drake so he'll kill Boomerang. This is how people reconcile in Brad Meltzer's world.

It's disgusting. This is what happens when editors, desperate for sales, allow non-comic-book writers to write flagship titles. I have no problem letting established writers from other genres write comic books, but editors have to step in and say, "You can't shit all over DC history like this, man. Write something within the context of our history." It's like recent Stephen King books -- he has so much power that editors are scared to say, "Well, Mr. King, it's a fine book, but could you cut 800 pages to bring it down to 500?" Someone, if not Mike Carlin, the series editor, than someone higher up the food chain, should have put a stop to this. I can deal with Sue Dibny being brutally killed (not to mention raped in the past). I can deal with a desire to "explain" why villains in the 1950s and '60s were so goofy (who cares why they were -- didn't Crisis on Infinite Earths wipe all that out anyway?). I could even deal with Ray Palmer being the killer, or even Jean Loring. But put them all together, with reasoning behind it, and this becomes an exploitative piece of crap that was written simply to cull some characters from the DC Universe, create a new, perhaps less lame Captain Boomerang, and prove once again that heroes suck. I don't mind superheroes acting less than heroic -- I once really liked The Authority -- but this is just crass. Meltzer has made me hate Oliver Queen. I used to like Oliver Queen (on a side note, I just re-read The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell -- talk about a great Green Arrow story). I also hate everyone in the Justice League who did this to Dr. Light and Batman. I want Batman to kick the crap out of all of them. Yes, Batman had all those defenses against the Justice League and was thrown out of the League because of it, but he didn't freakin' use them! And Meltzer said to himself, "Hmmm, there's some interesting relationships in the DCU -- the Dibnys, Tim Drake and his father -- I think I'll destroy them all for no real good reason." Someone should have stopped him.

This is horrible. To compare this to Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns (which DC would love) is an insult. I'm even thinking of ripping up all my copies and mailing them back to DC. It would only be a symbolic gesture, of course, because DC apparently doesn't care about its readers (unless they're crazy, like the obsessive people who love Hal Jordan), caring only about the buzz they get in newspapers across the country. Blech. Avoid Identity Crisis #7 at all costs. Come to think of it, if the series had ended with issue #6, it might have actually made a more interesting series. Not a good one, but a more interesting one. But this? Blech.

Can you tell I didn't like it?