Comics for 29 December 2004
Moving on, this week's comics:
303 #2 by Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows
Another good comic that will be overlooked. Whatever you think of Ennis, he knows war and he knows action. I refuse to buy Punisher because I think he's the worst character in major comic-book history, but Ennis is still one of my favorite writers. After an introductory issue of this series in which only one person got shot (shocking!) this issue ratchets up the body count. We start with a typically anti-American shot (I have nothing against anti-Americanism, it's just that sometimes it's so stinkin' obvious -- let it go!) when the Yanks bomb a village just for the hell of it (well, not really, but for a stupid reason) and some ugly carnage ensues. The Russian star of the book (I can't be bothered to see if Ennis named him) says "The Americans do as they please here. Have done since the fall of Kabul." I wonder how many innocent people he killed when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s? But I don't want to get too political here, so I'll move on. The Russians get to the airplane that has crashed, but the English have already gotten there. The Russians think the English have been sloppy in their sentry positions, but it turns out to be a trap. Much more carnage ensues. Then the Americans arrive, and interestingly enough, more carnage ensues (I'm not being sarcastic; everyone here is supposed to be allies, so all the carnage and who causes it is surprising). We're still not sure what's in the plane, and that's the central mystery of the book. The book ends with the Russian major (I still think he should be a sergeant, but what the hell) wounded and worried about the arrival of the Americans. 303 is a five-issue (or maybe 6?) mini-series, so there's a lot more going on, and it will be neat to see where Ennis goes with this. I still wish Avatar books would get more publicity, because even though 303 isn't the greatest book in the world, it's still interesting, and it's the kind of book that Ennis does better than pretty much any comic writer around.
Quit City #1 by Warren Ellis and Laurenn McCubbin
This is the second of Ellis's four titles he's releasing under the Apparat imprint, which are, according to him, based on comics as they would have been if superheroes hadn't taken over the market. The first comic was about a sort-of psychic policeman, and Quit City is about aviator heroes like the Blackhawks, but with a modern sensibility.
The story is about Emma Pierson, who quits a high-profile job with Aeropiratica, Ellis's version of the Blackhawks. She returns to her home town (Oakland) and meets up with old friends. There's a mystery involved, but the story is more about Emma and who she was when she left and who she has become now that she's back. It's an interesting little story that, unfortunately, is probably not worth the $3.50. This is partly because the story is somewhat slight, although parts of it are emotionally wrenching, and partly because the art is so poor. Ellis can praise McCubbin in the afterword all he wants, and she's not the worst penciller, but her people look weird. Occasionally parts of bodies are out of proportion, and she draws some people like they're looking into a fish-eyed lens, with the nose huge and the sides of the face stretching to infinity. It's jarring and not really appealing.
Anyway, Ellis is still working on Ultimate Fantastic Four, so if his quieter writing isn't for you, go buy that. This issue, for all its faults, reminds us why Ellis is a good writer to begin with.
Supreme Power #14 by J. Michael Straczynski, Gary Frank, and Jon Sibal
I read a review complaining about how slowly this series was going, which is valid, but unlike some other series that go slowly, I like how this series is unfolding. Yes, JMS takes his sweet old time, but each issue seems to reveal a little bit more and still has something to push the story along, so despite the glacial pace of the book, it still holds my interest.
This issue is no exception. Blah blah blah, the government is incompetent. Blah blah blah, they should have made Hyperion more of a weapon and less of a human. Then, just when you say "Enough!" Dr. Steadman says something very cool about they plan on finding Hyperion, who's about to throw down with the super-powered serial killer our heroes have been tracking. Then comes the big fight, and I don't think I'm being too iconoclastic when I say this might be the best superhero fight since Miracleman #15 (Kid Miracleman destroys London). The power and glory of the superheroes is shown, but also the casual disregard for anything in their way. It's really excellent. There's even a moral crisis when Hyperion, Nighthawk, and Blur finally take the bad guy down. And then Dr. Spectrum shows up and it's back to blah blah blah, how do we jail these superpowered beings? So. On balance, an excellent issue. For once, it didn't advance the plot all that much, but JMS and Gary Frank (who I assume is responsible for the book's erratic schedule, since his artwork is clear and beautiful and never looks rushed) make up for it with the fight scene. Marvel's MAX line has been hit and (mostly) miss, but this title makes me hope it continues.
Ultimate Nightmare #4 by Warren Ellis, Trevor Hairsine, and everyone and their mothers inking
I don't know what to say about this. It's okay, but just kind of there. This is the kind of book I would buy if comics were still 75 cents and never think of it again. So why am I buying it when it costs $2.25? Beats me. Maybe it's one of those things like inertia, which kept me buying Amazing Spider-Man (not the current run, the one back in the 1990s) long after it turned to crap. I don't know. Again, this book is okay, and I have some faith because Ellis is writing it, but man -- not only has it been a while since the last issue came out, but apparently this is the first series in a trilogy of series that continues with Ultimate Secret (kind of like Claremont's X-Men: The End trilogy of series. What's wrong with Marvel these days? Can't anyone tell a story in two or three issues?). Anyway, the Captain America, Black Widow, Colonel Fury, and the Falcon are wandering around the underground Russian complex at the same time the Jean Grey, Wolverine, and Colossus are. Natasha keeps blaming Captain America for the horrors they find because, apparently, she's crazy. Is it Captain America's fault that the U.S. government turned him into a super-soldier and then the Russians decided to copy them? According to Natasha, yes. Meanwhile, Jean is disgusted with Wolverine because, you know, he slept with her even though he joined the X-Men to kill Professor Xavier. Nice that someone remembered that, even though it was four years ago. And I think Jean should let it go. She's the teenaged slut who jumped in bed with Logan the second Cyclops had his back turned (that always disturbed me about that story -- Jean and the rest of the Ultimate X-Men are supposed to be teenagers, yet Millar had Jean sleeping around -- I'm not terribly prudish, it just seems like it could have been dealt with differently). Anyway, both groups fight horribly disfigured monsters, and Jean hears something in her head, and the X-Men finally discover what's going on, but it's on the last page of the book, so we'll have to wait until next month (or whenever the next issue comes out) to find out what it is! Oh, and Captain America meets the twisted, disturbed Russian version of himself. Sort of cool.
I don't know. If Marvel is going to simply let their writers write for the trades, why come out with monthly books at all? I'm trying to decide whether or not I should buy the hardcover version of the first 13 issues of the Ultimates. Can you imagine how cool that would have been to read if they had simply released it like that? If Millar and Hitch, instead of making us all wait for months between issues (because Hitch is, you know, an artist and can't be rushed or anything), had just sequestered themselves for a year and cranked the whole thing out? I don't know, I know the future is in trades, but if you're going to continue to release monthly "pamphlets," at least make it sort of worthwhile.
Happy New Year, everyone! Since everyone else is doing a "best-of" list, maybe I will too. Not that anyone cares!