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 26 January 2005

Apparently, my social commentary leaves something to be desired (see the comments about the post about "No Name-Calling Week" below), but I still know comics! Hot damn it was a good week! Why aren't you people out there buying comics? You know they're good for you!

Ascend by Keith Arem, Scott Cuthbertson, and Christopher Shy
$14.95, Image

Ascend is a true graphic novel. This format ought to be the wave of the future in comics, since you can tell self-contained stories and not skimp on the art and it just might allow more people to get into comics. But what the hell do I know, right?

So: is it any good?

Well, sort of. It's not the best thing I've ever read, and I have some problems with it. The art is gorgeous but very dark and occasionally muddled. I think that's part of the point, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. It's moody and evocative and in parts breath-taking, but, like I said, sometimes I had trouble figuring out exactly what the hell was going on. I would, however, like to see more kinds of this kind of art -- not just pencils, but all sorts of media jumbled together. Bill Sienkiewicz and Dave McKean do this kind of thing very well, and it would be nice if more artists tried it, like Shy does here.

The story is similarly muddled. Basically, this story is about angels fighting each other on Earth. There's a lot of talk about using the souls of the "Born" as soldiers in the war against "Hell" (it's not called Hell in the book, although I don't know why) and the return of the Messiah (called the Mashiach, for some reason) and why angels go bad, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Ultimately, this is a good-guy-versus-bad-guy kind of thing, which isn't the worst story idea, but when you wrap it up in a pseudo-mystical-religious story, it kind of seems out of place. I mean, there are ideas here, but when it boils down to two angels in a cockfight, you're left with kind of a hollow feeling.

So what's the verdict? Well, it's pretty, and somewhat exciting, and a little tense, but it's not really worth the money. The ultimate problem with this format is that most comic book people are too busy telling everyone why they should read Teen Titans or New Avengers that they don't look at graphic novels and say if they're worth it. You have to spend 15 bucks, which is a more substantial investment than your usual comic book, and if you're disappointed (which I was), you might never take the chance again (but I will). So that's that.

Black Widow #5 by Richard K. Morgan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Goran Parlov
$2.99, Marvel

It's the penultimate issue, and we learn many things. Why would Natasha be so surprised that she wasn't the only Black Widow? It seems logical to think she wouldn't be, but whatever. Someone dies, but I'm not telling who! And is Kestrel a lesbian, or not? Make up your minds, mighty Marvel men!

Phew. Okay, it's still a nice little story. Like I said, Natasha learns things about her past, and the art is still fabulous. That's all I want to say, since everything's moving along nicely. It all comes to a head next issue: what's the point of the girl Natasha saved? What does all this really mean? Who will live? Will Natasha and Kestrel bury the hatchet and jump into bed together? (Sorry -- typical man fantasy, I guess.) Oh, and Morgan makes some interesting points about the Soviet Union and its transition to capitalism.

JLA: Classified #3 by Grant Morrison, Ed McGuinness, and Dexter Vines
$2.95, DC

Two Grant Morrison mini-series wrap up today, and if there's any doubt that he's one of the best comics writers working today, it should be laid to rest by these two, simply because of his versatility. JLA: Classified is balls-to-the-wall action and silliness, and We3 is brutal violence and social commentary. And they're both done well (We3 is the best mini-series of the year, even though it spanned two calendar years). I don't want to give too much away in either mini, so I'll just say: buy them both! In this issue, the JLA saves the world. Did you think they wouldn't? Batman escapes using a ploy Morrison gives away in the last issue, but that's not the point -- it's just a cool thing most writers wouldn't have thought of. Aquaman knows Japanese -- who would have thunk? This is sheer superhero action, and illustrated beautifully by McGuinness, whose attention to detail is very nice throughout this series. This is the kind of story you want from big team books whose members have their own books -- lots of action, very little introspection, and character development where you can shoehorn it in, but not front and center. And Vixen is in the book! And the Ultramarines get a new purpose! All very cool.

Planetary #22 by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday
$2.95, Wildstorm

Holy crap. Whenever an issue of Planetary comes out, I say holy crap, because it's so painfully good it makes Cassaday's work on Astonishing X-Men pale in comparison, and it makes the fact that Ellis has to write Ultimate Fantastic Four all the more sad. Anyway, it's a typical later issue of this title, in that we learn more about the Four and we don't get the craziness of the early issues. That's okay, but it's frustrating when the book only comes out once every few months. If you're not buying Planetary, you won't even come close to understanding this issue. In fact, I'm not even going to discuss it, except to say that it kicks ass. Okay, I'll discuss a little. We learn more about William Leather, and we learn more about the Shadow analogue that we saw in early issues (the ones about the Doc Savage analogue). We learn that Elijah Snow is an evil bastard in the cause of "good" (I put that in quotes because he could be a bad guy, for all we know) and that he lost someone he cared about on the Nautilus (the one in Verne's book, I assume). Jakita Wagner and the Drummer are nowhere to be seen. It still kicks ass.

I say this every time a new issue comes out: I cannot wait until the series is done and I can read every issue slowly and in one sitting. This is an excellent comic, and I hope it will be recognized as great in the coming years.

Ultimate X-Men #55 by Brian K. Vaughan, Stuart Immonen, and Wade von Grawbadger
$2.25, Marvel

The second issue of the Longshot arc introduces Ultimate Arcade, and I'm not a fan. The "real" Arcade is a goofy villain who can turn sociopathic at any moment, and hence his goofy moments are all the more creepy. The Ultimate Arcade is just a guy who hates mutants because his sister was killed when Magneto blew up the Brooklyn Bridge (nice of Vaughan to remember that). He acts tough but gets taken down rather easily. We also get Ultimate Spiral, and I can't wait to see how Vaughan explains her (she still has six arms). There is a lot of treading water in this issue (shocking, for a Marvel comic these days), but some nice stuff. We learn that Dazzler is the name of Alison's band (did we already know that?) and we get a little more information about the murder "Longshot" supposedly committed. It's an okay issue.

What bugs me about Ultimate X-Men is actually a positive. Why can the Ultimate Universe comment on popular culture and incorporate it into the stories but the regular Marvel Universe cannot? I know that when you read stories published in the 1960s, the references are hopelessly dated, but that's part of what makes them fun. And dropping a reference to American Idol is not going to ruin the story for future generations -- it might actually give them an idea about what was going on in the zeitgeist at that time. I'm not necessarily talking about only popular culture, either. Bobby Drake makes a reference to Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. That's not popular culture, that's history. Yet in the regular Marvel U., we rarely see references to history, unless the character is drenched in WWII history, like Captain America. It's annoying.

Anyway, this is a nice little story. We'll see where it goes.

We3 #3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
$2.95, DC/Vertigo

Holy crap (it's a theme -- deal with it). We3 is simply breath-taking. This is what comics should be. This couldn't work in any other medium. Can you imagine CGI animals in a movie? How crappy that would look? Can you imagine trying to describe this with just prose? How stale it would sound? This is what comics can do, and it's a shame that more writers don't take advantage of it. This is also Morrison's most human work since his run on Doom Patrol (and some day I'll get around to telling you why you should own that). Sure, there's horrible carnage and some shocks, but Morrison has humanized these animals so well (and I don't mean anthropomorphized, which I would define differently) that we yearn for good things to happen to them, and not just because of the cute covers of the books that belie the horror within. The resolution to the story is a shade deus ex machina, but it still works. I'm not going into any more of the story, because it's a pleasure to read it.

The art is stunning. The detail is rich and the storytelling is bold and brilliant. Quitely is a great artist, and mini-series are what he should be doing, since he works so slowly. The way he makes raindrops and blood look like tears on animals that obviously aren't crying is excellent. Morrison's story is wonderful, but it wouldn't have the emotional impact without the art.

This is a true horror comic in that it takes everyday things and makes them things we are completely uncomfortable with. Horror isn't a crazed slasher hacking up coeds, it's a rat with a drill or pliers where its head should be, attacking a dog and a cat that have been turned into unstoppable killing machines. That's what We3 does the best -- it disturbs us. Buy it now!