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 24 November 2004, Part II

I'm not even going to get into my problems with my particular comic book store right now. I like them and they're a small business and they give subscribers and discount, but they have some issues. So I didn't buy these books there, because they didn't have them out. So here's Part II of comics I bought from last week. These are actually quality titles, so hunt them down if you can.

Fade From Grace #3 by Gabriel Benson and Jeff Amano
$1.99, Beckett

This is the strongest issue of the title so far, and even though I'm still not sold on it, if Benson and Amano continue in this vein, I might be with this for the long run. We get two parts of the issue -- John and Grace test John's powers in the first part, and John battles a bad guy dressed in a big robot suit in the second part. Both of these are comic-book cliches, but they're handled nicely here. John has a nasty sense of humor when Grace tests his powers, and the enormity of what's happened to him comes through when he decides to fade something completely. It's a nice section. Going after Dante is handled okay, as well, although it's not clear why John's powers fail him at a crucial time, nor why they come back. It's something that I hope will be explored in later issues. The final page is why this story, with its echoes of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, resonates and why I hope the title will do well. Grace is much more involved, it seems, in John's heroic ventures than Mary Jane has been, and you really get the sense of two people who are committed to each other. Not easy to do after only three issues, but it's here.

The art is beautiful. Occasionally the players are very concrete and realized, while at other places, the lines are hazier, suggesting diffused sunlight, speed, or darkness. It's really interesting how Amano works with shades and lines to create a wonderful looking book.

This book and The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty remain excellent reads. They're totally worth the money.

Frank Ironwine #1 by Warren Ellis and Carla Speed McNeil
$3.50, Avatar/Apparat

$3.50 is a little much to pay for this, but it's still a nice story with art that suits the book well. Ellis has said that his Apparat comics are all one-shots that, presumably, could lead to ongoing series, but whatever he wants to do with them, I'm sure they'll be well worth reading. Ellis has a great appreciation for what makes a story interesting, whether it's a police procedural like this or a sci-fi epic like Ocean or his superhero work on The Authority. Despite the fact that for once, I knew who the bad guy was (and, more importantly, WHY the crime took place) pretty quickly (I usually don't try to figure mysteries out, because I'm no good at it), this is a quirky little story about a cop who can "read" the city (but not like Jack Hawksmoor can) and the crime he's called upon to solve. That's pretty much it. I'm sure there's more that I'm missing, with echoes of Raymond Chandler and Sam Spade, but you don't need to know about pulp detectives to enjoy this. The art is very rough and a little Crumb-like, but it fits the tone of the book and Ironwine is sufficiently seedy and burned out. Ellis has three other Apparat books coming out, so instead of buying his Iron Man, buy one of these!

Small Gods #5 by Jason Rand and Juan Ferreyra
$2.95, Image

Small Gods is rapidly becoming one of my favorite books, and this is good place to jump on, since it starts a new story. I wasn't sure where this book was going to go, but apparently we're not going to follow the cops from the first story all the time. I'm sure they'll show up again, but in this issue, we're introduced to a new bunch of cops and a down-on-his-luck telepath who is recruited by them. There's not much action in this issue, except that we see how Robert Pope (the telepath) uses his powers (to run cons) and that the cops bully him into working for them. In today's comics world, where everything is geared toward the trade paperback, this is just a first chapter, and it feels like it. It makes me angry, but it's the way comics works these days. The story is still a good one, because you get the feeling Rand and Ferreyra have really thought about this world and the social ramifications of telepaths walking around.

A strength of this book is the art. The black and white suits the gritty tone of the book well, and Ferreyra's pencils have gotten stronger each issue. The way Robert's telepathy is displayed visually, with ghost figures moving seconds before they actually do, is a nice touch. The characters look like real people, without the ridiculous proportions of most comic book people. The details of every panel also help the realism that pervades this book.

Another good book from Image. Why aren't you buying it?


Comics for 24 November 2004

A small sample of books today, but some good quality:

Black Widow #3 by Richard K. Morgan, Goran Parlov, and Bill Sienkiewicz
$2.99, Marvel

I still don't know if this is the first arc of an ongoing series or a mini-series. It's quite puzzling. Anyway, there are some real nice moments here, and the story continues to interest and entertain. It's a nifty little puzzle, one I hope doesn't fall apart as Natasha gets closer to the solution. There's a nice panel in which Max, the male agent tracking Natasha, insults women with his partner, Kestrel, standing right there. It's subtle digs at the male-dominated comics world that makes this an interesting read. There's been some discussion about non-comics-writers like Kevin Smith and J. Michael Straczynski coming onto high-profile titles and messing with things because they don't have an appreciation of the history (Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn? Ick!). Morgan might go that route, but here, because Natasha has never been so high-profile, he can get away with a little more. That said, this is a perfectly believable Black Widow in the context of her previous appearances. She's a tough bitch who knows exactly what she's doing and always looks out for weaker women. Not a stretch to believe that.

The art is excellent this issue. When issue #2 came out, I was worried that Parlov doing the layouts and Sienkiewicz finishing would make the art less Sienkiewicz-like, which was a big draw for me. However, the Sienkiewicz influence is still strong, and some pages, like the one when Ferris sees her through a drug-induced haze, and pure Sienkiewicz and brilliant. Natasha's breasts are ridiculously large in one panel, but I suppose that's okay, since she's trying to look like a slut. The use of sound effects in this book is very well done, as well. Sienkiewicz has always incorporated neat ways to convey sound into his art, and in this issue, there are two great examples -- a rifle shot, and something hitting the pavement. People don't always appreciate the sound effects in a comic, but here, they're done very well.

Good stuff. I suppose you could wait for the inevitable trade paperback, but Greg Land's covers are very pretty to look at on a monthly basis.

Daredevil #67 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
$2.99, Marvel

More of the same from last month, with Bendis continuing to impress and Maleev experimenting with the black-and-white, woodcut-style 1940s art and the Ditko-esque 1960s art. Must be tiresome for these guys to be so consistently excellent. Why would you buy Avengers Disassembled when you can read really good Bendis work here? Why, dear God, why????

Melvin Potter shows up in this issue, beating the living snot out of Matt Murdock while Alexander Bont looks on. We don't find out why Potter turned against Murdock, nor how Matt was captured. I'm sure we will in the future, but it's a little weird that Bendis doesn't tell us. I guess I'll have to trust him. We get a flashback to the "1960s" and Bont is telling Potter that he has to go get Daredevil for him. This is apparently after Potter gave up being Gladiator (I'm fuzzy on my old Daredevil history, but I'm sure Gladiator appeared in the late 1970s, so Bendis may be messing with history again), and Bont basically blackmails him into doing it. We see another flashback to the "1940s" and how Bont got on top of the underworld in the first place. Then we see why Bont hates Matt Murdock, as opposed to Daredevil, so much. So it's a layered story, with events going on in three different times, and all will, presumably, make sense at the end. Although I like this issue and this story a lot, I have some questions:

On page 3, Bont says that he wants everyone to understand how we all got to this place, meaning Potter beating the hell out of Matt while Bont watches. We then go into the first "1960s" flashback where Bont wants Potter to bring him Daredevil. It can't be the same time period, because it's a different art style and Bont's much younger. So why did Bont want Daredevil at that time, and how did he get Matt in the present?

Agent Del Toro of the FBI, investigating the murder from last issue (Bont punched right through some guy!), knows that the stripper's name is Amber. Amber wants to know how she knew her name, and so do I? Is there something we don't know about Agent Del Toro? Is that a stupid question?

Buy Daredevil. Powers is too "look-at-how-cool-I-am!", Ultimate Spider-Man is fine, but too devoted to the "Ultimate" mandate of redoing the mileposts of Spider-Man history, The Pulse is too new and hasn't found its legs yet, and as for Bendis's Avengers work -- the less said, the better. Read Daredevil!

Supreme Power #13 by J. Michael Straczynski, Gary Frank, and John Sibal
$2.99, Marvel (Max)

Holy crap, three Marvel titles in one week! How can I stand it?

It's been a while since the last issue of Supreme Power came out, but that's okay, because it's definitely worth the wait. As long as Frank stays on the art, it will be worth the wait. This issue is actually a little sloppy, but it's still worth it! Frank's art is excellent without being gimmicky, and it works very well on this title. You actually believe these people are real and doing all the things JMS makes them do. It's a very good book.

So what happens? The heroes are tracking down a super-powered serial killer. But there's so much more. Nighthawk (isn't it Nighthawk?) and Hyperion have an interesting conversation about the responsibilities of power and how you choose to use it, the fast kid (I can't remember his name, because it's been so long since this title came out!) is mocked by some hookers (in a really funny scene), and Doctor Spectrum gets involved. The last scene, where Nighthawk encounters the killer, is set up nicely, and, as usual in this title, you really get the sense of danger when dealing with superheroes. Usually, superheroes are presented as, well, heroes. That's great, but shouldn't people be just a little scared of Superman? I mean, he's kind of scary, isn't he? Straczynski does a nice job showing the scary side of superheroes -- not in the way others have done, as if they're going to take over the world because they can (although that's here, too), but as if they could kill you because of a casual swat on the back. It's done well here.

I wish Supreme Power came out more often, but I won't complain as long as it's this high-quality. Pick it up!

Waterloo Sunset #2 by Andrew Stephenson and Trevor Goring
$6.95, Image

This is an interesting title that is actually worth the seven dollars, since it's a hefty book and tells an engrossing tale. It's 2051, and London has been plunged into a new Dark Age. The city is cut off from the outside world, and it's populated by not only humans, but strange aliens as well. Into the city comes a woman from the outside with dire news for the inhabitants. She's on a mission that could lead to disaster or to a renewal of London's fortunes. The woman, who is named Nina, is led around London by Esau, a Hunter, who knows all the powerful players and navigates among the dangers of the city. Last issue, Nina wanted to meet the Cartel, the secret group that runs London. In this issue, she and Esau get to enter the tower where the Cartel supposedly resides, but they find nothing. Nina, however, has persuaded the Cartel to meet with her, a meeting which will change the way London is run and may lead to its end.

This is the kind of book that needs to be part of why comics are a vital art form and can do so much more than superheroes. The story is interesting, and the art complements it perfectly. Goring's style is much like David Lloyd's, and his London comes to life with every small detail he packs onto the page. It's a bit of a mystery, a bit of a science fiction story, and kind of a Grail Quest. I just read somewhere where the title of the book comes from, and now I can't remember. Damnit! Anyway, I don't know how long this title will last -- I'm sure it's a mini-series, but I don't know how many issues it runs -- and I hope people pick it up. It's a fascinating concept handled well. There are many questions about what's going on, and if I don't have answers when it's done I'll be a little peeved, but right now I'm enjoying the ride.

That's all for this week. I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving.


U2 P-U

We've all been inundated with the latest iPod commercials starring U2. We've all had "Vertigo" jammed into our brains so that we just can't stop singing it. It's a catchy tune, I'll give Bono and the boys that. We're about the be subjected to the media blitz surrounding their new album (they're on the cover of Spin magazine this month, and many others will surely follow). And I'm going to bash them.

I realize that bashing U2 is like spitting on the cross to some late model baby boomers and a lot of Generation X (of which I am a member). Before I bash, I must quantify: I like U2. Okay, "Pride (In the Name of Love)" is a lousy song (go listen to it closely if you don't believe me) and I don't like most of their old stuff, because The Edge (I feel stupid just typing that; how does he go through life?) sounds like he's just playing the same guitar riff over and over, but "The Joshua Tree" is brilliant, "Achtung Baby" is almost as good, and even "Zooropa" has its moments. I even listen to "Pop" occasionally (raise your hands if you're with me on that ... yeah, I didn't think so) and "All That You Can't Leave Behind" was decent. So I'm a freakin' fan, okay?

So why bash them? Well ... I was reading a story about them in our local newspaper and came across a quote about them which described their marketing strategy as "savvy." It made me ill, to tell the truth. It made me ill when Bono announced they were reapplying for best band in the world. Sorry, Bono, you never were the best band in the world, even in your late-80s early-90s heyday. Why did it make me ill? The old U2 wouldn't have approved those iPod commercials, nor would it have approved of them. The old U2 spit at crap like that. I may not have liked the old U2 as much as some, but when Bono stuck that flag in those rocks while singing "Sunday Bloody Sunday," it felt like he was ready to lead the revolution. But, like all revolutionaries, the boys in U2 decided it was better to allow the system to co-opt them and make some coin. Hence, the "savvy" marketing campaign.

Why does this disappoint me so much? Don't I know that everyone sells out eventually? Sure, but I've always wondered why bands that were so unwilling to sell out when they actually need the money are so willing to do it when they don't need the money. I actually have less of a problem with unknown bands selling their music to commercials (although that still sucks) than I do established bands. Is Pete Townshend or Robert Plant telling me they really need the money? Does Bono really need to money? Is it just some desperate grab to remain in the limelight? Is fame really that important to these people? Maybe it is, but it's sad.

I never understood why bands that have made a crapload of money don't simply do what they want and screw the album sales. The reverse seems to be true -- young bands are more willing to experiment, and older ones coast on their laurels. A few don't. David Bowie always seems to be re-inventing himself. R.E.M., to name a contemporary of U2, never looked back once they went all wacko, and their sales have suffered tremendously. I was never a big fan of R.E.M. either, but "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" is so much better than their more "popular" work it's ridiculous. Maybe the most disappointing thing about U2 is that, on "Achtung Baby," "Zooropa," and "Pop," they did experiment, pushing the boundaries of their music outwards. For a while, people were onboard, but when the audience left, they decided to "return to their roots," which is a kind way of saying they put out an album that sounded like everything they had done prior to "The Joshua Tree." Apparently, this new album is more of the same. It's sad, but it seems that Bono and the boys couldn't handle the fact that millions of people were adoring them anymore, and they might not get an invitation to play at the opening of the Clinton Library (can you imagine the Bono of 1982 accepting an invitation to play at the Clinton Library?)! That wouldn't do, so they decided to go all retro and play the same old junk they churned out in the 1980s, before they got interesting.

Maybe this is a good album. Maybe it is interesting musically. Everything I've read about it suggests otherwise, but maybe it will be fine. Although I bought "All That You Can't Leave Behind," I have no interest in buying this one. I don't buy a lot of music these days, and refried U2 is low on my list of interests. I have in the past continued to buy music just because I remember the glory days (I bought "Invisible Touch," for crying out loud!), but I don't much anymore. I would like to read someone calling U2's marketing strategy what it is -- a gasp for attention from a once-great band that doesn't have the guts to continue to broaden their musical horizons. Just don't call it a major event in the history of rock and roll.


Comics for 17 November 2004

I will not comment on the Monday Night Football promo ... I will not comment on the Monday Night Football promo ... I will not ... okay, just a quick one. Why would ABC not do this again? Look at all the free advertising they're getting! I predict the audience for that show (which I watch, but won't give free advertising to) will go through the roof this week, whenever it airs (again, I won't give free advertising to it!). What a great marketing scheme by ABC! Now, on to the comics:

Ex Machina #6 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Tom Feister
$2.95, Wildstorm

This is still a wonderful book, but I was a bit let down by this issue, because nothing of substance actually happens. Yes, there's some set-up for the rest of the story arc, but this idea that everything is just the "first chapter" of the trade paperback is really getting ridiculous. Why bother with the monthly "pamphlets" if you're just going to release a trade paperback? Some people have already spoken out about the death of the monthly, but I'm not ready for that yet. I just want more story if I'm spending three dollars for a book. Harris's art is lovely, and the story looks intriguing, but did we really need 8 pages (EIGHT!) to set up Mitch's involvement with the federal government and the beginning of the investigation into the weird symbol that is connected to his powers? Eight pages? Really? Then we have a meaningless three pages showing Mitch officiating a wedding and brushing off a reporter, which I'm sure will be important in later issues, but three pages? Vaughan could have written it in a page. The rooftop conversation with Wylie (the guy with the cornrows) is very nice, and shows again why this book has so much potential -- local politics. Politics is really fascinating, and Vaughan has some nice ideas about it. Then we get the reappearance of the mysterious symbol, which is obviously a big deal in this story, and then the issue of gay marriage comes up (in 2002 -- Mitch is ahead of his time!) as the teaser to next issue. I was disappointed by the ending, because it's so obvious. Of course Mitch is going to be okay with gay marriage -- he's a swell guy! If you read this blog regularly (I know you're one of the millions who do!) you know that I have absolutely no problem with gay marriage -- the more the merrier is my motto -- but wouldn't it be nice, just for a change, to have a character in a comic NOT be okay with something that all good liberals are supposed to support? I mean, I don't know what Vaughan's position on the issue is, and I'm sure there will be sufficient dissenting voices in future issues, but I always get the feeling that comic-book writers, who can usually write believable space manta rays with power rings, cannot write believable conservatives, as if they were more alien than space manta rays with power rings. I hope Vaughan proves me wrong.

Anyway, I haven't talked about the art because it's beautiful. Tony Harris -- six straight issues with no guest artists! Wow!

Despite the feeling that this is all just a set-up, it's still a nice book. I've been hearing bad things about Y: The Last Man recently, so maybe Vaughan has some trouble if he's on a book too long, but so far, he's doing well on this one. It's generally worth the money.

Freaks of the Heartland #1-6 by Steve Niles and Greg Ruth
$2.99, Dark Horse

Niles is, of course, justifiably famous for 30 Days of Night, and he seems to have struck a horror vein and just keeps mining it. 30 Days of Night was a wonderful story, although its sequel, Dark Days, may have been more horrific (I haven't read Return to Barrow yet). Freaks of the Heartland, unfortunately, has not gotten as much press as Niles' vampire work, which is a shame. This is truly one of the best reads of the year.

Part of the problem is the timing of the mini-series. Issue #1 came out in January, and number six came out this week. Not a good way to build readership. I do not understand why, when the publisher knows it's a mini-series, all the issues aren't in the can by the time the first issue comes out. Would it have killed Dark Horse to wait on this one for a few months while Ruth finished the art (the art's beautiful, by the way)? I don't know the ins and outs of the business, but this seems so logical that maybe it's too logical.

But that's neither here nor there. If this comes out as a trade (doesn't everything?) you should buy it. There's a lot of quiet horror here, such as the central mystery of the story. We're never quite sure what happened in "the valley," and Niles refuses to take the easy way out and use one of the characters for exposition. Instead, we get tantalizing hints, and we make up the rest. We're also never quite sure what "powers" the kids have, even though they are shown using them. It's a nice way of allowing the reader to remain outside the situation, where we simply see what's happening and we're forced to understand it on those terms. The last scene is kind of confusing, and not really in a good way, but it doesn't diminish from the story at all. I also was a little confused about where "the valley" was, because there's apparently a pretty large town on the other side of the hill, but no one from the outside ever goes into "the valley." It was just a little weird. Those are minor quibbles, however.

The art is fantastic, evoking a hardscrabble, Oklahoma-in-the-Dust-Bowl kind of life. The freaks are horrific without being inhuman, and some of the panels are double-page spreads, showing the wide open spaces of the farmlands. It's fully painted art, so the colors, despite some (necessary) drabness, are rich and haunting. It's very nice.

This is another example of what can be done with comic books beyond superhero stuff. The art form is slowly but surely expanding outward, and it would be nice if these kinds of things got more attention. Find this mini-series and pick it up. You won't be disappointed.

Human Target #16 by Peter Milligan and Cliff Chiang
$2.95, DC/Vertigo

Last month I wondered if Milligan was going to explore two things: Christopher Chance losing himself in the role of Paul James, and organized religion. He has had his chance (oh, what a pun!) in this story, and he has only skirted the edges. In this issue, the final one of the arc, he gets into both themes a bit more, although still kind of unsatisfactorily. The first theme, of Christopher getting into a role a little too much, is much better done, and what makes this book so interesting. Who is Christopher Chance? Does he even have a personality? That's when this book is strongest. Milligan's take on organized religion is, as usual with a left-leaning bunch of writers in comics, somewhat condescending. I have no use for organized religion, but I understand the role it plays in many people's lives, and even the far-out cult that Milligan writes about in this book deserves some serious consideration. The "miracle" that occurs in this book plays on people's gullibility, and it's kind of disappointing. If you don't mind a writer picking on religion, then this is a very good book. Even if you do, there's a lot here to read without taking too much offense at the tone toward religion.

One last thing: there's been a lot of talk about violence toward women in comics, especially in the wake of Sue Dibny's gruesome fate in Identity Crisis. True, there's a lot of violence toward men in comics, but the women seem to fare particularly badly. Don't, for instance, get involved in any way with Bruce Wayne if you're a woman. (I always wanted to see Silver St. Cloud come back. Old school Batman fans know who I'm talking about. I want her back, but I'm kind of glad she hasn't shown up, because some writer would kill her immediately.) The point is, a woman dies in this issue. There's no real reason for it, and I'm disappointed in Milligan for including it. He has written many excellent female parts (Kathy and Lenny in Shade come to mind -- even though he killed Kathy in that book, as well) and I'm not suggesting he's misogynistic, I just wish writers would figure out a way to tell a story without brutalizing women. The first time Jean Grey died, I thought it was wonderful and touching and not exploitative at all. In all her subsequent "deaths," it's just ridiculous. That's just my opinion.

The Pulse #6 by Brian Michael Bendis and Brent Anderson
#2.99, Marvel

This is what I was hoping for when The Pulse started. No offense to Mark Bagley, but his style didn't really fit the tone the book was trying to establish. Anderson's art on this issue isn't anywhere near as nice as his work on Astro City (his inks seem really heavy here, which isn't a plus), but it's still an improvement over Bagley. The story is more Alias than Ultimate Spider-Man, too, which is nice. I miss Alias, and want Bendis to continue those kinds of stories in The Pulse.

All the normal Bendis tags are here, so I'm not going into them. What I like about this issue is that a lot happens. Yes, it's setting up a story, but unlike Ex Machina, a lot's going on. At the beginning, Wolverine's crying like a little girl as Jessica tells him she's sorry. Then we flashback a week, and a bomb explodes in Luke Cage's apartment. He and Jessica are rushed to the hospital, but they can't operate on Luke because of his unbreakable skin! (Bendis, by the way, is not the first to think of this -- others may have, but I know in an old issue of Justice League Europe, Power Girl was injured and Superman had to operate with his heat vision providing the scalpel.) The cops question Jessica, who tells them a strange woman was in the apartment saying mysterious things to Luke, but that's all she knows. The cops get a weird call from the dispatcher, and they leave abruptly. Then Nick Fury shows up. Then Captain America shows up and says some cryptic things to Fury which indicates he knows quite a bit about the explosion. Then Jessica calls Matt Murdock (her lawyer), but he's not home. She notices some guy watching her, but he runs for it. As she chases him, there's a massive explosion right outside the hospital. She checks on Luke, but he's gone!!!!! Jessica doesn't know what to do.

There. Now you don't have to buy it! But you should. Bendis is at the top of his game in this (unlike, say, in Avengers) and the mystery is very intriguing. The name of the arc is "Secret War," which makes me hope it's not tied into his mini-series of the same name (which I'm not buying, since the issues come out once every six months or so -- I'll definitely wait for the trade). If it is tied in, I hope you can read The Pulse without reading Secret War. Either way, this is a nice beginning to the next story, and a rebound from the mildly entertaining but somewhat disappointing first arc.

Ultimate X-Men #53 by Brian K. Vaughan, Andy Kubert, and Danny Miki
$2.25, Marvel

The coolest thing about this issue is the last page, and Alison's comment. That's kind of sad. The thing I don't like about this issue is the same thing I like about it. Confused, you say? Well, I like the infighting among the team, but I don't like it. I like it because it seems like something forceful personalities would do (remember the Minutemen?) and also it seems like something teenagers would do (they do it often enough in real life). However, I don't like it because the X-Men don't look like teens in this book, nor has there been a lot of infighting recently. It seems like it comes out of nowhere in this issue. Maybe I've been missing it, but I didn't see any connection between Wolverine and Rogue any more than Rogue did. In the "real" X-Men, Wolverine didn't like Rogue anymore than the other X-Men, but she earned his respect. Here, Storm just says it's true. And Bobby's acting like a true jerk in this issue, which is fine, but it has seemed to come out of nowhere in this story. I don't mind different writers handling short arcs on books, but make sure you're consistent with what others have done before, please! Vaughan's story also lasted four issues, and probably could have been done in two. There just wasn't a lot going on here. Fenris could have been a cool villain (you'll recall my love of Fenris from last month), but they just lose it here for no discernible reason. I don't really know what the point of this story was, except to reintroduce Gambit and have Rogue quit the team. But the last page is still cool.


What I've been reading

I'm not terribly in the mood to comment about football these days, even though I said I would, but if you're a football fan and you don't think that throw by Donovan McNabb was easily in the top 5 of most amazing plays in NFL history, I don't think you can count yourself as a football fan, can you? Yes, I'm an Eagle homer, but please. It was ridiculous. Watch some sports highlight show this week and appreciate the genius.

Anyway, I've read a couple of books in the past week, both by the same author with the same theme. The books are The Queen's Man and Cruel as the Grave by Sharon Kay Penman. If Penman's famous for anything (I have no idea if she is; I read books based on whether I like them, not if the authors are famous, although in this Internet world, I'm sure there are people out there with web sites devoted to her), she's famous for writing huge novels about medieval English history. She has written a sympathetic novel about Richard III, a trilogy about 13th-century England (including her best book, Falls the Shadow, about Simon de Montfort), and she's two-thirds of the way through a trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine's rather chaotic marriage. Apparently, when researching those novels got too much, she decided to write some shorter works. Thus, these two novels.

Both of these books are less than 300 pages, and they're quick reads. They follow the adventures of Justin de Quincy, a bishop's bastard son in 1193 who, through a good deed done in the first book, becomes the "queen's man," the queen in this case being Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most remarkable women of all time. If you don't know about Eleanor, she's a fascinating person to learn about. Justin is confronted with murders in both books, and the stories are about how he figures them out. These are medieval murder mysteries in the tradition of that monk guy. (I never read them; sue me.)

The interesting things about all Penman's work, but especially these two books, is how she brings medieval England to life. Yes, she uses many of the same overblown phrases and tropes occasionally, but you get a nice sense of how people lived back then, which is difficult since it really was such an alien time. In these books, Penman delves more into the lives of the common people, and we see daily life in London at the end of the 12th century and how people dealt with the random violence and uncertainty that comes from a government based almost completely on patronage. Penman's history is sometimes shaky, as she readily admits, but having recently read Pierre Riche's Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne and also, in the distant past, having read Marc Bloch's Feudal Society, her evocation of the world rings true. Again, she occasionally repeats situations, but it's still interesting.

Both these books are good, fun, quick reads. You get medieval detective work, with no fingerprinting or forensic science of any kind, you get high politics (Richard the Lion-Heart was in prison in Austria in 1193, and John -- of Robin Hood fame -- was conspiring against Eleanor -- his own mother -- for the throne), and you get romance and intrigue and treachery. If you're daunted by Penman's long works (and you really shouldn't be, but it's possible), I recommend checking out these two books to see what she's like. Then you can tackle the massive volumes!


Comics for 10 November 2004

Sheesh. Lots of comics this week, but did any really blow me away? We'll see. I'm going to try to keep this short. Again, we'll see.

Angeltown #1 by Gary Phillips and Shawn Martinbrough
$2.95, DC/Vertigo

If you like pulp detective fiction, you'll probably like this. Lots of characters, a murder, intrigue, a story that could go many different ways, and nifty art. Martinbrough doesn't get enough credit. Nate Hollis is a cool character, and it will be interesting to see how the racially charged atmosphere of Los Angeles is brought into this. A black basketball star is wanted for questioning in the murder of his white ex-wife. O.J. references are naturally included. There's a lot going on in this first issue, and I'm going to check out the second issue to see if Phillips keeps all the balls in the air effectively. I don't know if this is a five-issue mini-series or an ongoing series, but we'll see what happens with this. It's worth checking out, especially because there's not a lot like it out there.

The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty #5 by Gabriel Benson and Mike Hawthorne
$1.99, Beckett

Kind of a letdown after last issue, but still interesting. Not a lot of exposition in this one. It's almost all action, although we learn some crucial things about Red's plight and where Cole used to live with his now-dead wife. There's a trip on a railroad, which allows Drake to go all Snidely Whiplash on Red's ass. People die. Things come to a sort of a conclusion, which makes me think there will soon be a trade paperback collecting the first five issues. Man, the state of comics these days, with the slavish devotion to the trade paperback, makes me sick. I actually miss the days when Claremont could keep three or four plots going for issue after issue! Oh well. Support your local independent comic! Buy The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty!

Fables #31 by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha
$2.50, DC/Vertigo

This book is still $2.50? Man, it's totally worth it. Anyway, I think Steve Leialoha is the first guy in comics to use the old "Buy this comic or I'll shoot this ________!" in ads for Coyote back in the days of Epic Comics. He's been around a while. Buckingham's looking a little more Bachalo-ish this issue, which isn't a good thing, considering how bizarre Bachalo's art is looking these days. I'm being incoherent, aren't I?

Bad things are on the horizon for our fabled bunch. Bigby is not happy. Uh-oh. Snow leaves for the Farm with her kids, since they're too weird to stay in New York. Bigby doesn't like the fact that his kids are being treated like second-class citizens, and since he's not allowed on the Farm, he leaves Fabletown. Unhappily. Uh-oh. Little Boy Blue has also left, presumably back to the Homelands to find what's-her-name, his girlfriend (crap, I can't remember which fable she is -- I suck). I like that he took the Vorpal Sword with him. Anyway, bad things are happening. Even Colin the dead pig shows up and tells Snow that bad things are coming. Uh-oh.

Fables is one of the better comics out there. If you're not buying it, why not?

Forsaken #2&3 by Carmen Treffiletti, Kristian Donaldson, and Nick Zagami
$2.95, Image

I didn't get Forsaken #2 last month, so I got them both this month. I'm not totally sold on the comic yet -- it seems a little Alien Nation to me -- but I'm giving it a try for now. The art is bizarre and cool, and the story's pretty good. Lots of mystery. I wonder if the characters are a little "too-cool-for-school," but so far they haven't pissed me off. In these issues, we learn why these five people (four humans and one alien) have been recruited, and they head off on their first mission. It does not go well, to say the least. There's an interesting diatribe by the leader of the bad guys about "aliens" in our midst, which I suppose you could read as a clever dig at not allowing residents of other countries on Earth into our America, but only if you want to. Anyway, it's another interesting title from Image that I may keep buying. It's not as good as Rex Mundi or Small Gods, but it's kind of neat.

The only thing that could really turn me off the book at this time is the atrocious lettering, or more precisely, the atrocious punctuation. I'm serious -- it makes me cringe whenever I see it. Commas are your friend, people! Maybe some people don't care about that sort of thing, but it really bugs me.

The Gift #8 by Raven Gregory (he's a man, baby!), Cristina Lopez, and Sonia Oback
$2.99, Image

The Gift is a weird little book about a strange and mysterious man who wanders the Earth (or more specifically, the U.S.) giving strange and awesome powers to people who have been wronged in some way in order for them to wreak revenge (or not). Wait a minute -- it's 100 Bullets! Okay, it's more supernatural and theological than 100 Bullets -- is the old man God? Is he Satan? We don't freakin' know! But that's okay, because it's all part of a larger set-up. I can wait, because I don't mind teases by writers as long as they pay up later. I've been wondering about the theological issues brought up by this comic, because it's rare to see anyone in comics addressing spiritual issues (DeMatteis does it quite often, especially in his brilliant Dr. Fate, and Ostrander did in The Spectre, but it's still rare) and I wonder what Gregory is doing with it. I stick around for a while to find out.

This is a weird issue. I didn't get it. Okay, I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I still didn't get it. Did the guy become fictional so that his kid could become real? If so, was the kid ever real? If not, then what the heck happened? Is this supposed to be Gregory's life? He tells us after the issue that he has two boys, so I guess it's not him. So what's the point? I know it's supposed to be all "Cat's in the Cradle" and make us a little weepy, but it didn't. Maybe I'm being harsh. I just didn't get it.

Identity Crisis #6 by Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales, and Michael Bair
$3.95, DC

I don't hate Identity Crisis as some bloggers do, nor do I think it's the greatest thing DC has published since Watchmen, as Wizard seems to think. It's okay. The best thing about this issue is the page where Batman holds Tim Drake over Mr. Drake's body. It's touching and a little creepy all at the same time. We learn two important things in this issue. One's important, and one is, well, whodunit, so I guess that's pretty stinkin' important too. It's nicely done, actually, and a lot of smarty-pants will have to shut up. I don't even try to guess whodunit. I'm not that bright. Anyway, next issue is the big finale, and I'll be interested to see what happens. The DC Universe will never be the same!!!!!!

Ocean #2 by Warren Ellis, Chris Sprouse, and Karl Story
$2.95, Wildstorm

This is better. After last issue's slow pace (which is being nice), we pick it up a bit. Not too much -- God forbid -- but a bit. More characters are introduced, more exposition is exposited, Kane (I mean Jackson King, I mean Ultimate Nick Fury -- I know I mentioned this last month, but Ellis's obsession with bad black men is a little weird) learns more about the "coffins" in the ice, Kane and Fadia go on a field trip, and we find out why a weapons inspector is out there. Ellis gives us a nice little story that he honestly could have given us last issue, but what the hell. The art is gorgeous, there's a nice sense of developing tension, there's a conflict, and there's cool sci-fi crap going on. A neat series. If you don't want to buy it piecemeal, wait for the inevitable trade paperback.

Strange Killings: Necromancer #1-6 by Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer
$3.50, Avatar

Ellis started writing these mini-series for Avatar a few years ago (2000, I think) and since then he's done about one a year. These series tell the weird tales of William Gravel, combat magician. He's a Black Ops guy for the British who does all the jobs not even S.A.S. will handle. "Combat magician" means that Ellis gets to have him kill dozens of people in gruesome ways, rendered beautifully in black and white by Mike Wolfer. This series is no different from the other ones except that Gravel gets lucky. A British scientist has gone a little nutty in the Filipino jungle and is creating zombies, who prey on the locals and the occasional tourist. Gravel goes in the stop it. I like the Strange Killings 3-issue mini-series more than the 6-issue ones, because they're tighter, but Ellis knows what he's doing regardless. These are interesting little sidebars to his main stuff, and they deserve to get more attention. They haven't really been that disturbing since the first one (Strange Kiss), but check them out anyway.

X-Men: The End Book One: Dreamers and Demons #5 by Chris Claremont, Sean Chen, and Sandu Florea
$2.99, Marvel

Oh, Claremont. What have you done? I was with you on this one, I really was. All the characters we either had never heard of or who have been in limbo for decades, all the peripheral characters dying (more this issue!), all the plots thrown at us with little rhyme or reason -- I was with you. Even though this is planned as 18 issues (three 6-issue mini-series), I was with you. And now ... I don't know if I'll pick up the last issue of this mini.

Well, I probably will. But unless it really pulls the fat out of the fire, it will be the last issue of X-Men: The End that I buy. Why? Three reasons: Ahab, Madeleine Pryor, and Stryfe. They freakin' show up in this issue. Madeleine Pryor was interesting back in the mid-1980s, the first time she showed up. Then she became the Goblin Queen and it all went to shit. Ahab was interesting for a microsecond when he was Rachel Summers' master, but then he went to shit. And Stryfe sucked from the moment Rob Liefeld (probably, unless it was Greg Capullo, Liefeld's clone) put him down on paper. And they all show up in this issue. Blech.

I can't even talk about the wacky plot. There are Skrulls. I just can't get over those three horrible villains. I can't. Say it isn't so, Claremont!


Pulp Fiction vs. Forrest Gump

My wife is astounded that the Democratic Party is now seen as the party of the elite, which may have turned off the "meat-and-potatoes" voters that care about God, country, and family. I don't know why she should be. For years the Democrats have courted celebrity endorsements that make them look hip but don't do anything to sway voters. Why, if you're the Democrats, align yourself with two sections of the populations (entertainers and young people) who traditionally don't vote? Every year you hear about these entertainers who tell us to vote yet don't bother to cast a ballot themselves. The voters who went Republican might like to be entertained by these people, but they don't want them telling them how to live their lives. So it's not surprising that the Democrats are seen as the elite party. What is surprising is how the Republican power base, many of whom are ridiculously wealthy CEOs, have managed to deflect the "elitist" criticism that could rightly be leveled at them. In today's world of an uninformed public (on both sides) the Republicans are just better at hiding their faults. The Democrats need to stick to their liberal guns but put all the celebrities back in the closet.

What does this have to do with the title of this post? Well, the way I see it, although the problems facing our country are many and complex, the way of looking at how you approach these problems can be boiled down to whether you prefer Pulp Fiction or Forrest Gump. You remember 1994. Grunge was just about to start its downward slide, Newt Gingrich tried to take over America and failed miserably (take heart, liberals -- conservatives have overreached before, and look what happened), and there was no World Series because millionaires couldn't decide how to split their filthy lucre. Ah yes. It was a good year for movies, too. Pulp Fiction came out and basically changed for the better the way movies worked. Yes, there were many awful imitators of the movie, but the non-linear approach to storytelling, which Tarantino didn't invent, obviously, became another way to challenge audiences. Interesting movies that didn't spell everything out for the audiences became more popular -- again, we had always had them, but they had fallen out of fashion for a while. Without the success of Pulp Fiction, would we have had The Usual Suspects, Seven, Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, or Memento? (Just to name a few.) I don't know. Pulp Fiction took a way of telling a story and stood it on its side, making the end of tale of redemption even though it doesn't take place chronologically at the end. We also know the consequences of both Jules and Vincent's actions at the end, so we appreciate their choices far more. It's a bit of a puzzle, but it's worth it. This is a movie that wouldn't have been as powerful if it had been told chronologically.

Then there was Forrest Gump. Not the worst movie of the year, but just kind of ... blech. A homily to a more innocent time that never existed. A "feel-good" parable about God, country, and family. (Yes, I'm not subtle about where I'm going with this. So sue me.) Tom Hanks was okay in the title role, but he didn't deserve his Oscar for it any more than he deserved his Oscar for Philadelphia the year before (Denzel's performance was far better, but he wasn't gay or afflicted with AIDS, so he didn't win it). It showed a borderline mentally retarded person pulling himself up by his bootstraps, innocently finding himself in all sorts of historical situations, and showing what a simple boy from Alabama (or wherever the hell he was from; it's been ten years since I've seen it) could do with just his faith and naivete. Robert Zemeckis, the director, should be commended for melding historical footage with Hanks and other actors, but in the end, this is a simple-minded movie that made people feel good because it re-affirmed their stereotypes. (I'm not going to go as far as Dave Chappelle in Undercover Brother, but he has a point.) A paternalistic attitude toward black people. Forrest treats Mekhi Phifer (wasn't it him?) okay, but the tone of the movie is that Forrest, even though he's retarded, can run his life better than Phifer can. There's also this attitude that retarded people don't need any professional help to become superstars -- they just need a little fear in them to "Run, Forrest, Run!" Speaking as a father of a disabled child, it's more than a little insulting.

Now, you may say I'm taking it too seriously. It's a fable about one man. Well, maybe. But that's not the point. The point is, in this culture war we're supposed to be currently engaged in, you have the Forrest Gump fans and the Pulp Fiction fans. I have heard people actually dismiss Pulp Fiction not because it's too violent, but because they don't like to think when they watch movies. I rarely say anything to that, because what can you say? These are the people who watch reality television. These are the people who watch professional wrestling. These are the people who don't like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon because they don't like subtitles. These are the people who think People magazine is good literature.

Do you really need to think that much to watch Pulp Fiction? Of course not. It's not a Bergman movie, for God's sake. What you need to do is pay attention. People who like Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction are more likely, in my view, to vote for a president who says everything's fine. They don't want nuance, because "nuance" is a fancy foreign word (probably French) that means "I hate America." In Forrest Gump's world, Robin Wright can die, but it's okay, because she was punished for her actions! She lived an amoral life, and God struck her down. Sure, it's sad and all, and we weep along with Forrest, but she got what she deserved. Gary Sinise can lose his legs, but the film is never bitter about the government sending him over to Vietnam. There's not even really a moral center in Forrest Gump, because we never get the feeling that Forrest would ever do anything differently than he does them. He never makes a choice. He's like a baby. People who like Forrest Gump believe in Forrest as a metaphor for the country. We just go on and do the right thing because that's the way it is. We never think about our choices, because the way is clear. If we screw up, like Robin Wright (Jenny, I think her character's name is), then God will punish us. But ultimately, America (as represented by Forrest) is right. People who question him are ultimately swept away.

There is a moral center to Pulp Fiction, despite the violence, drug use, foul language, and gang rape. Yes, the wicked (represented by John Travolta) are punished. But he is only punished because he had a choice, a choice that Samuel L. Jackson made differently, which led to his survival. Forrest does good because he's never really confronted with evil. Jules does good after realizing that his life is evil, and it truly was evil. Bruce Willis makes a choice for good, and survives. He didn't have to go back down into the cellar, but he did. Put Forrest in that situation (not that would be funny!) and he doesn't even hesitate. Willis is a real character because we can imagine ourselves doing what he does. Forrest is a fairy tale because no one can imagine themselves as him.

Ultimately, those who like Pulp Fiction understand that the world is not black and white. Our president, and those who voted for him, would have you believe that it is. I don't think the people who voted for Bush are stupid, like a lot of liberals seem to, but I do think there's a yearning on their part for a return to a simpler time, when these "issues" we are dealing with didn't exist. That time is not a specific era in our history, because these issues always have existed. What these people want is a return to childhood, to that innocence that permeates a middle-class upbringing in a socially and racially homogeneous environment. I know about this, because it describes my upbringing. I would love to live like Peter Pan in my childhood neighborhood, circa 1980. It was a great time. I had no worries. But people who voted against this president know that, unfortunately, the problems of today won't go away simply by ignoring them or legislating against them. We need to look at our country and our world in new ways, and come up with new solutions. It will require hard work and, just as important, hard thought. Hard thought is, unfortunately, something that a lot of people don't want to engage in. And so we get the situation we have today.

Go rent Pulp Fiction if you haven't seen it or never liked it. Watch it carefully. Come on over!

Postscript: I heard this morning that NASCAR is considering selling advertising to hard liquor companies. I thought NASCAR was part of the whole "values" community who all voted for Bush. Advertising hard liquor (and beer, which they already do) in a family-oriented "sport"? As usual, business rules all. Both Democrats and Republicans are ruled by the all-mighty dollar. Republicans just do a better job hiding that fact.


What I've been reading

The latest book I've finished is American Aurora: A Democratic-Republican Returns by Richard Rosenfeld. It's a massive book, with the narrative coming in at just over 900 pages, plus over 2000 endnotes and a bibliography and index, so it took me a while to read. It was well worth it, however.

American Aurora tells the story of a Philadelphia newspaper published in the 1790s and early 1800s. It is must reading for anyone who likes American history, and should be must reading for anyone who believes in one version of history (like our current president). Anyone who thinks George Washington is the most virtuous and wonderful person in American history might want to read it, too. The author accuses him of murder in this book, as well as being an incompetent general who had to be goaded into fighting a battle with the British during the Revolution.

The Aurora was published by Benjamin Franklin Bache, Benjamin Franklin's grandson, and later by William Duane. This book shows the contentious beginnings of the American Republic and the battles fought and lost by those people who wanted to establish a pure democracy. It largely concerns itself with the later days of John Adams' presidency (Adams comes off the worst of all the Founding Fathers; Rosenfeld has nothing nice to say about him) and the controversial election of 1800, which was the first in American history with a change in political party at the top. Adams is accused of wanting to establish a monarchy, and the Aurora sees itself as the leading mouthpiece of the Democratic-Republican party, led by Thomas Jefferson, which wants to take power away from the central government and give more to the states. It was the biggest issue in the founding of the Republic, and remains an issue today. The book also goes over the American Revolution and the Constitutional Convention in a fresh way, focusing on the French contribution to the war and how Ben Franklin was defeated at the Convention when he tried to establish a one-house legislature.

There are many interesting things about this book. One is the way it's structured. Rosenfeld takes the role of William Duane, the second editor of the Aurora, and creates a first-person narrative. However, Duane's voice is a minor part of the book. Most of it is edited sections of the Aurora and two Federalist papers in Philadelphia, which hurled invective back and forth at each other for years. Rosenfeld also quotes extensively from letters, so that most of the book is simply the primary sources recreated for the reader. Occasionally Duane's voice will intervene, but usually the sources speak for themselves.

This method does two things. One, it makes the book difficult to read. That's part of the reason why it took me so long to finish it. There's no narrative thread pulling everything together. Some of the sections Rosenfeld chooses to insert are tedious -- do we really need to know how many toasts were drunk to Ben Franklin's memory? The other thing Rosenfeld's method does is make the tension seem much more immediate. Despite the difficulty in getting through the book, you really are drawn into the factious fighting of the day. These were newspapers that didn't even try to hide their affiliations, and the insults to each other were printed on the front page for all to see. Compared to today's world of restrained politeness, it's rather refreshing.

The book is, of course, ridiculously one-sided. Ben Franklin is the saint who could have ushered in a utopian paradise in the U.S. if only he hadn't been thwarted by evil, small-minded men like John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. The obvious slant is fine with me, however, because you know it's there. The book is also remarkably relevant to the present day (it was published in 1997). We think that we're divided in this country today. Well, we always have been, and occasionally it's been worse. The years 1798-1800 saw the Alien and Sedition Acts (worse than the Patriot Act) and the country on the brink of war with France. It saw riots in the streets and a newspapermen jailed for daring to question the president's policies. It's amazing to read the arguments both for and against the government in this book and realize we really haven't come all that far. We're still unwilling to compromise and examine the position of the other side. Reading this book may depress you because you realize we haven't changed, or it may elate you, since you realize we've been fighting like babies for 200 years and the country's still going strong. Either way, it's a book you should read.

American Aurora is a fascinating look at early American history. Certain people (unfortunately, many in positions of power) want us to believe that there is one version of history. This book proves there's not even one version of the history we all think we know. Just for that, it's worth reading.


Comics for 3 November 2004

Big week this week. When will the spending stop? (That's what my wife probably thinks.)

Catwoman: When in Rome #2 by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
$3.50, DC

I usually don't read mini-series individually when they come out, preferring instead to read the first issue, decide if I like it, then wait until all the issues are out and read 'em at once. I am a man with a Very Little Brain, and I can't keep track of what's happening in my favorite comics month to month, so this makes sense. However, I have a duty to you, the reader, to keep you informed about every issue, so that is what I will endeavor to do.

I have liked the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale combination for most of their collaborations. The Superman one was kind of eh, and their first story, about the Challengers of the Unknown, was obviously the work of some very young and raw talent. The Batman stuff is amazing, and therefore I have high hopes for this spin-off.

Issue number 2 brings more Italian intrigue for everyone's favorite soft-core porn dominatrix queen (don't tell me that's not what Catwoman is, especially as she's drawn these days). Catwoman runs from the estate of Don Verinni, who was killed in a way to suggest the Joker did it (the big grin thing). She returns to her bedroom to find Edward Nigma doing ... well, it would spoil the surprise, but it's kind of weird and a bit kinky. She dreams about the big bad Batman and wakes up to find the blonde hitman from issue 1 in her room. Nigma bursts in to tell them the hotel's on fire, and they all jump out of the window into the pool. Selina's naked for all this, of course. Blondie (his name's Christopher Castillo, but Selina calls him Blondie, so I will) says Don Verinni's son wants her dead, because he thinks she killed his father. So they head to Anzio to hide out, but it's a really bad hiding place, because they're getting shot at after a week. Selina goes all Catwoman on them, and some strange-looking albino shoots her with Mr. Freeze's ice gun. What a cliffhanger! Who is the albino? Will Selina freeze to death?

That's the plot. There are some nice parts, like the Riddler, who comes off as pathetic and weird and just a little perverted. It's not a Riddler I particularly care for, but it would be an interesting character if Loeb hadn't made sure it was the Riddler. Selina strikes me as overly modest -- she's really worried about people seeing her naked. Isn't she still a reformed prostitute, or has that origin also been scrapped? I don't know anymore. That's what bugs me most about this kind of story. It's supposed to take place early in Batman's career. Okay. Maybe that's why Nigma's kind of pathetic. And this is when Selina supposed to be dating Bruce Wayne (or at least interested in him) but she doesn't know he's Batman. All this retconning makes my head hurt. She knew who he was in the classic Alan Davis issues of Detective Comics, but somehow that got swept away. In the present day, she knows who he is, but not in this mini-series. And people apparently don't know that she's Catwoman, even though Catwoman conveniently shows up right after the bullets start flying at the end of the book. Ye gods.

It's still a decent murder mystery, although weighed down by the idea of fitting these characters into a "early Batman but not too early" time frame. The art is what will draw a lot of people, and it's typical Tim Sale -- very pretty. It's strange, though -- sometimes it looks painted, and other times it looks pencilled and inked. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, either -- when Selina's at the estate and when she dreams of Batman, some of it looks painted -- but not all of it. I'm not sure what's going on, but it's a bit disconcerting.

This is not a Loeb/Sale masterpiece like their Batman work. It's better than there Marvel work, which was lackluster. It's better than Superman: For All Seasons. There you have it. Precise commentary!

Fallen Angel #17 by Peter David, David Lopez, and Fernando Blanco
$2.95, DC

Man, that's a cool cover. Mike Kaluta, who does not get enough work. Maybe he doesn't need it. Maybe he does other stuff. Whatever. The man does beautiful covers.

Interesting issue, with a brutal shocker at the end. I still don't know if this title is going to last, but it would be nice if it did. I also still can't figure out why DC didn't make this a Vertigo title. It might not help it, but it doesn't seem to be set in the regular DC Universe, so I can't see why not. I suppose I could go to Peter David's blog and ask him. I guess I have an assignment!

Sorry -- I got off track. Interesting issue, with a brutal shocker at the end. Things continue to progress, as we get a little more of Shadow Boxer's back story -- his dad thinks he's the Devil, you know, the usual stuff, and then we get some panels of Boxer sitting in the dark, doing nothing. Where is he? Well, that would spoil the surprise, now wouldn't it?

Dolf and Juris have a conversation, and Dolf learns about Juris and Lee's relationship, and their impending child. They speak mysteriously about their own relationship (this being a Peter David book, much is mysterious), and then they see that Lee is wreaking some havoc in the hopes that the Hierarchy will come out of hiding and confront her. She gets her wish when Mr. Kind (what a great name!) shows up. Mr. Kind pulls out a lightsaber (sorry, but that's what it looks like) and they fight. It's actually pretty cool, as Lopez shows only a double-paged spread of the very beginning of the fight and David describes it in kind of apocalyptic terms. He also pulls a nice twist when, for a brief instant, you think Mr. Kind has triumphed, but then we realize he's the one who has lost. It gets all very Macbeth-ish (at least three references to the play) and then comes the shocking ending, where we learn where Shadow Boxer has been. All very cool.

Like I said before, I wish more people read this. It's a DC title, so it can't afford to continue to lag in sales terms like some titles from the smaller companies, and David, I don't think, has enough pull around comics circles to force DC to continue publishing it even if it doesn't have the greatest sales. It's a shame. David is one of the most versatile and interesting writers in comics, and although not everything he does works, it's nice to see someone willing to go out and take chances. Fallen Angel rewards patient and careful readers, something all too lacking in comic book fandom today. Pick this title up. You won't be disappointed.

Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort #2 by B. Clay Moore and Nick Derington
$2.95, Image

The first Hawaiian Dick mini-series made minor ripples in the industry, mostly positive ones. I picked it up because it looked different, and it was different. The second mini, after many months of waiting, is more of the same, which is not a bad thing. There's mystery, intrigue, a bit of the supernatural, all in an exotic and tropical setting. Neat stuff. It's not your normal superhero comic, which is a good thing, and it's not your normal detective story, which is also a good thing. Hawaiian Dick is just another one of those titles that Image puts out these days that seem to make Image the best publisher out there. How the hell did that happen?

More goings-on this issue, as Mitch Byrd gets deeper and deeper into his involvement with two separate gangs. Moore has a nice sense of Hawaiian history and culture of the 1950s (at least it seems like he does; I haven't asked anyone who lived in Hawaii in the 1950s about this book), which is what makes this book unique. Hawaii's a weird place anyway, since it's not really American, even now. So the mystery draws you in, and the details about the culture clash keep you coming back.

The only complaint I have with this issue is the art. Derington is okay, I guess, but nothing great. Considering I don't like Steven Griffin, the original artist, all that much, this might be a weird complaint. Griffin, however, brought a unity to the art, and his rough pencils actually made the book more exotic and strange. Derington's art is just there. And it's been many months since the original mini-series, and Griffin couldn't finish the art on this one? He did the first issue. What's going on? I hate mini-series with guest artists. It's a freakin' mini-series!

Anyway, Hawaiian Dick is a cool book. The trade paperback of the first series is out there, so get it and check it out.

The Intimates #1 (or Issue de Premiere, if you read the front) by Joe Casey, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Jim Lee, and Sandra Hope
$2.95, Wildstorm

The Intimates has been getting a small amount of press because of Jim Lee's involvement, which is minimal. Why it should be getting press is because it's a very fun read. It's somewhat lacking in plot, but Casey throws such much else into the mix that you just want to keep reading to find out where he's going with it.

The central idea, of a superhero training school, is a good one, although I wish the first issue was more of how the teenagers got there rather than starting off in class. But that's okay. Casey uses this idea to satirize both teen soap operas like The O.C. and superhero comics in general. He does it well, too. We get typical teenagers who are snotty, stuck up, clique-ish, and occasionally unpleasant. I read one reviewer who was less than thrilled with the book because there were no likeable characters. But they're teenagers. Anyone who finds these characters unlikeable probably shouldn't be a high school teacher. For me, the characters rang true. I'm sure they'll become more likeable as the book progresses.

As I said, there's not much of a plot. We're introduced to the main characters, including an invisible one called Empty Vee (say it out loud -- get it?). They're in class, they wander the halls, the chat on the Internet, they talk to guidance counselors, and they get in and try to stay out of trouble. A character is introduced at the end of the book who, I assume, is supposed to be sort of menacing, but I don't know why. I guess we'll learn more next issue.

The look of this book is what makes it so neat. The art is very nice, reminiscent of Casey's last major collaborator, Dustin Nguyen (of the late, lamented Wildcats 3.0). Camuncoli packs a lot of visual information in here, with the only complaint I have is in his depiction of Destra, who is apparently wearing some sheer, diaphanous shirt, but whose breasts magically stay where they are. It's not that I'm terribly prurient, but it's kind of weird -- I wish there was something holding both halves of her shirt together, because if she were actually wearing that shirt, she'd be flashing people left and right. It's a minor complaint. The art pops off the page, which each character sharply drawn and vibrantly colored. There's also a ton of information on each page, thanks to a cable-television-news-like crawl along the bottom of each page, which includes information about the characters, some plugs for other Wildstorm books, and some mildly subversive instructions for teens. There's also origin sequences dropped in between the main story, and even a few pages of a spy comic that Punchy reads (for which Lee does the art).

This is a fun book, and unfortunately, likely to go the way of the last two Wildstorm books Casey wrote, Wildcats 3.0 and Automatic Kafka, both of which, like The Intimates, offer a skewed look at the superhero universe and mindset and deserved a longer life span. This book deserves an audience, as well.

JLA Classified #1 by Grant Morrison, Ed McGuinness, and Dexter Vines
$2.95, DC

If you're frustrated by the meager plot in The Intimates, you can always pick up JLA Classified, which is packed with nothing but plot. It's a wild ride through the always-fertile imagination of Grant Morrison, and if you like his work, you'll probably like this, and if you don't like Morrison, you may like this.

I like Morrison, and was a big fan of his run on JLA, so I enjoyed this. It's not on par with We3, which is unbelievably excellent, but it's still a great time. It really doesn't have much to do with the JLA, as it stars the Ultramarines, whom Morrison created while he wrote JLA and having been doing much recently. I have no problem with that -- I like the idea of superheroes out there who don't have their own book but can be used by writers in certain situations. The Ultramarines are kind of a non-American version of the JLA -- they replaced the Global Guardians, if that helps at all. In this issue, they're confronted with a maniacal Gorilla Grodd, who has destroyed Kinshasa. Fun stuff.

It's generally a big fight scene, with enough mad ideas thrown in to make your head spin. It doesn't matter if you don't "get" Morrison (I sure don't all the time -- see my Very Little Brain comment), because he flings stuff at you so fast that even if one of his thoughts is too wacky, you can just move on and read about the next one. Here we have a giant Japanese superhero who speaks not only in haiku but also mathematical and chemical equations, Gorilla Grodd eating hostages (not on-panel; it's a Code book, after all), all sorts of wacky weapons like a microwave gun and a quantum keyboard, a guy called Neh-buh-loh (is he a Morrison creation? Grodd seems to know who he is) who comes from the region of the Vampire Sun, and of course, Batman.

I don't know if Morrison has ever expressed an interest in writing a Batman title, but I have a feeling the DC editors wouldn't dare let him write Batman on a monthly basis. He obviously loves the character -- he was always the best JLAer in Morrison's original run. I don't have a problem with Batman being the ridiculous genius that Morrison portrays him as, nor do I care that he has a "sci-fi" closet that the G.C.P.D. doesn't know about. Okay, it's kind of strange, but I doubt if he would use a boom-tube generator to fight Gotham street crime. He also tells a joke, which some reviewers have objected to as being out of character. Well, he does tell jokes occasionally, you know. In Formerly Known as the Justice League, he told a bunch of jokes, and they were hysterical. Mike Barr gave him one of the funniest lines in comic book history (I'm totally not joking!) in his magnificent run on Detective Comics with Alan Davis (that's the second time I've referenced those books -- hmmmm). So he can be funny. He's the only member of the JLA to show up, and it sets the stage nicely for the remaining two issues.

JLA Classified is a load of fun. I haven't mentioned the art, but McGuinness does a nice job keeping up with Morrison's ideas. Alfred looks a little too much like a robot (Jeeves from the way old Captain Britain series springs to mind), but other than that, it's okay. A fun read all around for this inaugural issue.

The Question #1 by Rick Veitch and Tommy Lee Edwards
$2.95, DC

I have never read any incarnation of Vic Sage's alter ego. My only real association with him is in the Huntress: Cry for Blood mini-series, where he mentored Helena and got some action on the side. Now he's in a mini-series, and I wasn't going to pick in up, because I've never been the biggest fan of Veitch, but I took a look at this book and was sold on the art. It's gorgeous.

Edwards has been a decent artist, but what he does he is remarkable. He's painted some of it, and he uses sidebars with silhouettes that really pop off the page. It's very neat to look at, and it makes you slow down and appreciate each panel.

The story is fine. As I said, Ditko's Question means nothing to me, so I don't care if Veitch has messed with the original character. Maybe he has, but this Vic Sage is a good character in his own right. The story is split into two parts -- in the present, Sage is traveling to Metropolis on a train, and he is dealing with the fact that he's a celebrity and everyone recognizes him. Look out -- it's irony! He can simply put on his other "face" and become the Question! Wow! In the other story, it's the previous evening, and he's tracking a mysterious villain, who dies (maybe) but not before pointing him toward Metropolis. The only problem I have is the conversation the Question has with this guy, because it's like they're sitting in a cozy room sipping brandy instead of fighting in a slaughterhouse. It's weird, but I suppose it gets across the point that the Question is unflappable.

I'm interested enough in this to see where it's going. Lois Lane shows up, so I'm sure an appearance from the Big Blue Boy Scout can't be far behind, but that's not enough to deter me (I'm not the biggest Superman fan). If the story continues to intrigue and the art continues to astound, this should be a good read.

Rising Stars #22 by J. Michael Straczynski and Brent Anderson
$2.99, Image (or Top Cow, but really Image)

Holy crap, it's an issue of Rising Stars. It's been, what? two years? Wow. It's nice to see Straczynski finally getting a chance to finish this, but I'm afraid the epic's momentum has died in the hiatus. I can't wait for the final two issues so I can sit down and read the whole thing as it's meant to be read, but I have a feeling JMS just wants to finish this and get it over with. That would be a shame, since it really has been quite the ride. I'm kind of sick of the superheroes taking over the world to save it motif, but JMS has always done it well in this title, and since we knew from the beginning it wouldn't end well, it's been more interesting seeing how the characters react to their powers. In this issue, Ravenshadow becomes president, and naturally, the big bad military doesn't like it. Standard stuff for this kind of story, really. I'm a big old liberal, but wouldn't it be nice if the left wing was offended by superheroes taking over the world? It would be an interesting change. Anyway, I'm much more interested in what Poet shows Chandra. That's the mystery in this issue, and the more fascinating one at that.

Anderson's art is fine. It's not as expansive as it is on Astro City, but that's because JMS doesn't give him much to cut loose on. This is a build-up issue, and it's actually not a bad place to start if you haven't read Rising Stars before. Perhaps it will pique your interest in the series as a whole. The only complaint I have, as I said, is the hiatus. This could have been, and was for a while, an epic and important series. I hope it will be considered in a better light when it's completed.


"But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

As some of you may know, I lean more than a little to the left politically. I like to think I'm rational about it, and I'm not as left as some, such as my wife, but there it is. So you can understand why I was disappointed in the results of the election. I've been thinking about it for most of the day, and I have tried to figure it out. Well, here it is:

People are sheep.

A bit harsh, you say? A bit elitist, you stupid beret-wearing, clove-cigarette-smoking Francophile? Well, I don't wear hats, I don't smoke, and French people smell bad. But people are still sheep.

Don't think I'm not including myself in that category. I like to think I have my own mind and make decisions based on rational thought, but I know it's not true for some aspects of my life. Why do I like Philadelphia sports teams? Because I was raised near Philadelphia. There's no rational reason for me to cheer for the Phillies and Eagles, especially since for most of my life both of them have been really, really bad. So in some ways, I'm just as much a sheep as anyone else. But this isn't about me.

It's about the sheep who voted for George W. Bush. Now, George Bush may be a great guy to have a beer with (which seems to be the reason a lot of people vote for him; maybe they all know personally, since it seems like he drank with a lot of people in his day), but is that really a criterion on which to base your choice of president? Other sheep feel safe because Bush is "tough on terror." Hmmm. The worst terrorist attack in history (not just American history, either) occurred while Bush was president. I'm not saying it was his fault, I'm just pointing out a fact. How exactly is he tough on terror?

Basically, what Bush and his bunch of ultra-conservative pals (I won't call them Republicans, because two of the three greatest presidents EVER were Republicans) are peddling is the politics of exclusion. You can talk all you want about Bush being tough on terror and not allowing the damned Frenchies and Krauts to push us around, but essentially a vote for Bush is a vote for exclusion. I don't know how anyone who voted for Bush can deny it.

Well, maybe they can try. But consider: in Bush's world, gay people are stuff you wipe off your shoe. Now, I don't really care if gay people can marry or not -- I'm not gay, so it doesn't affect me. Since it doesn't affect me, let them marry -- who cares? It's not like straight people are so good at marriage. But the sheep who voted for Bush -- and passed man-woman marriage definition amendments in 11 states -- cannot stand the thought of gay people existing. Since gay people aren't going away, ultra-conservatives must marginalize them. They're proud of it. The politics of exclusion.

Here in Arizona, we passed a weird little proposition that requires people to have proof of citizenship for a raft of perks (like voting) for which they already need proof of citizenship. Yes, illegal immigrants are swarming over our borders to vote (it reminds of Anthony Michael Hall's character in The Breakfast Club, who has a fake I.D. so he can vote). The same people who voted for Proposition 200 would scream bloody murder if the state went after the companies who employ illegal immigrants, because then their greens fees would go up because the companies would have to charge more to water the golf courses. The politics of exclusion.

Ultra-conservatives want our children held to higher standards in school. No Child Left Behind and all that. Great. Now pay for it. As a teacher, I can tell you that we are leaving plenty of children behind. But because they don't look like nice, upstanding citizens and are probably pregnant anyway, who cares? The politics of exclusion.

The rest of the world? Fuck 'em. That's the Bush way. Unless, of course, they do exactly what we want them to do. If they have a democracy and the democracy votes not to join us in our little Iraqi adventure, then they're cowards. Fuck 'em. We're Americans!

Why are people sheep? Why do some of these ultra-conservatives proclaim to be Christian but only help other Christians (if that) who are in need? Why do they want to return to some bucolic world that never actually existed? Why has Bush betrayed the roots of the Republican Party? In my mind, we have had three great presidents. Yes, only three, because "great" is a word that gets thrown around too much. The three great presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (interesting that two are from the same family). Lincoln and Teddy would be horrified by what the Republican Party has turned into, and would be mocked by the Republicans of today. So why has it come to this?

Because people are afraid. The voter turnout was nice, but all it did was show the fear. Democrats feared a Bush win, and Republicans feared a Kerry win. If Bush was such a great president, the voter turnout would have been less, and Bush would have won more handily. Yes, I know he's the first candidate since 1988 to get over 50% of the vote, but 51% isn't exactly a landslide. The point is: sheep are afraid of change, of anything that's a little weird in the world, and of making sacrifices. Americans these days want everything handed to them without paying for it. We don't want to know the cost of the war in Iraq. We don't want to know the cost of making us less dependent on oil. We don't want to know what it costs to educate our children. These things make us afraid, and Bush tells us we can do all these things -- fight a war, get cheap gas, destroy the environment -- without paying for it. That's what Americans like to hear. The third great president, FDR, asked Americans to make sacrifices so that the soldiers fighting a real enemy -- Nazi Germany and Japan -- could have it a little better. Can you imagine Bush asking Americans to sacrifice for our troops? The support for his little war, even among hard-core conservatives, would evaporate. So he bankrupts our future so he can play "Risk" on a global scale.

There is good news. Progressives have already won. Ultra-conservatives think they've won, with their four more years of cheap oil and no gay marriage. But they haven't. Human life progresses. If not for liberals (a great word that Democrats can't seem to reclaim, even though it's easy), we'd still have slavery. That's why Lincoln was a liberal, even though he was a Republican. If not for liberals, we'd have unregulated industries pumping all sorts of toxins into our atmosphere. Oops. We still have that, but it would be worse if not for T. Roosevelt and liberals that followed him. If not for liberals, we'd still be denying blacks the vote. Gays will eventually be tolerated more in society. No, the discrimination won't go away anytime quickly -- are blacks accepted everywhere? -- but it's going to happen. And we're going to run out of oil sooner rather than later. And people will change -- they won't like it, but they will. Ultra-conservatives (I suppose we should call them reactionaries) will always lose. Always. It's because of evolution (another word reactionaries don't like, but it's still a good word). Evolution of knowledge. The more we understand, the less they will be able to defend their policies. They can stick to them, but they won't be able to defend them, and soon, people who want to discriminate against gay people will be as marginalized as the KKK. Sure, they'll still be there, living in the past, but the rest of society will have moved on.

That doesn't mean I'm happy about the election. People, Americans in particular, are sheep. We like to pretend we're not, but we are. Everyone misses their mommies and daddies making the monsters go away when they're little. Well, no one wants to grow up, so we find surrogate daddies. That's all Bush is, and that's all Kerry would have been. Kerry might have been a more benevolent daddy, but still. Americans wanted Bush, and now they have him. Enjoy it.

I hope Bush goes even more psycho than he already has. I hope the death toll in Iraq hits 5 figures. All the soldiers voted for Bush, so fuck 'em -- they can die for something as stupid as that. I hope gas prices continue to rise, because then Bush will have to give more and more subsidy money to oil companies (you pay a huge gas tax, you just don't know it) to keep prices artificially low. I hope Bush erects a huge fence on our southern border to keep all the swarthy people out. I hope Roe v. Wade gets overturned. I hope more and more discrimination exists against gay people. I hope Cheney's daughter feels it. Fuck her, why should she be special? I do not hope the terrorists hit America again, but it wouldn't surprise me if it happened, because terrorists don't necessarily hate America, they hate George Bush. I hope all this stuff happens so normal people who voted for Bush for one reason -- because he made them feel "safe" -- can realize what it's like to live in a reactionary Wonderland. It's what we wanted.