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!


Elections are meaningless

I would love to see the Iraq elections succeed. Despite my hatred of Bush's regime and all that he does to spread freedom overseas while denying it to his own people, if the Iraqis want democracy, I hope they get it. But just like our excitement about the elections in Afghanistan should be tempered, so should our excitement about the elections in Iraq. Why? Because elections are meaningless.

Democracy is a hard process. The point is not free elections, although those are nice. The point is voluntary transfer of power. We have seen plenty of countries hold nice, free elections, and then, four or five or six years down the line when his term is up, the president says, "Whoops, there's a national emergency -- I'm gonna have to hold onto power for a while." Ten, fifteen years later, he's still there. That's why democracy is hard -- people who have power don't often want to give it up. That's why we should really reflect on the Founding Fathers more and appreciate them -- you can think what you want about George Washington (I think he was a lousy general and a feeble president) but he could have become king if he wanted to. He chose not to, and set a wonderful precedent. We were still having problems with elections for years after we had our first one -- the election of 1800 was ridiculously contentious, and people weren't sure if Adams would give up the office, and the election of 1876 was a mess as well. It's not good enough to have free elections. The real work comes afterward.

That's why I'm not confident about Iraq. I could argue that in 1776, the colonists were steeped in a tradition of participatory government that stretched back at least to 1215 (Magna Carta) and even, theoretically, to ancient Greece. The people of Mesopotamia have an even longer tradition of despotic rulership. Maybe they want to change, but it's tough going against tradition. It can be done, but it's hard work, and will require an American presence there for years. Are the American people willing to prop up a democratic government long enough for it to become part of the political culture in Iraq? I don't know. We can look at the great post-war success stories, Germany and Japan, and say yes, but the Germans had a long tradition of 1) a fractured national identity, which led to rudimentary democracy; and 2) a tradition of Germanic tribes that was not completely tyrannical; while Japan's emperors weren't ever really dictators, and the country had a long tradition of at least an oligarchy working together. Iraq has neither.

I'd like to be optimistic, and it's nice that so many people came out and voted. I'd like to see a couple things from Iraq: 1) Continued voter participation, even if threats continue (it's easy to vote the first time, when the emotional high is there, but not as much when your life continues to be at stake); and 2) Bush to respect the new government, even if they tell him thank you very much, but we'd like you out of our country. That won't happen, since the initial government at least will be a creation of the United States, but it would be interesting to see what Bush would say to that.


What I've been reading

The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners that Shook the World in the Summer of 1900 by Diana Preston
436 pages, Berkley Publishing Group, 2000

One might think all I read is history books, but it ain't true -- I just happen to be the middle of a bunch of them (I read my books in alphabetical order according to author, for reasons that are too weird to get into here). After I finished this book, I started an actual fiction novel, so soon I will tell you all about it.

This book is a straight, popular history book, and it's well done. I knew very little about the Boxers going into it, and I don't know much more about them now. Then how is it well done, you ask? Well, Preston herself admits that the Boxers left very little evidence of why they did what they did -- they were rural peasants, so they weren't big on writing. In fact, the major weakness of this book is the lack of sources from the Chinese side -- even the Imperial Court left little to illuminate their stance. This is not necessarily a book about the Boxers and the Chinese, despite the title.

Where the book succeeds is from the Western viewpoint. For those who don't know, the Boxers were peasants who, in 1900, began killing Christians in China. They had plenty of reasons -- religious, economic, cultural -- and they attacked with savagery. The Dowager Empress, Tzu Hsi, sided with the Boxers, since she was upset about foreign domination of her country and thought she could use the Boxers to drive the foreigners out. The Boxers entered Peking (Preston uses the spelling since everyone in 1900 did) and began killing foreigners. They besieged the foreign legations (embassies) and cut the Europeans inside off from the world, and eventually, the Chinese army took over the siege, which lasted for almost three months. Finally, an international relief force managed to march from the coast to Tientsin and then to Peking, driving the Imperial Court into the countryside and rescuing their ambassadors and the thousands of Chinese Christians trapped in the city. It's a dramatic story, and Preston uses the many primary sources left by the besieged Europeans to tell a gripping story of sacrifice and fear. The siege of the legations is central to the book, and Preston does an excellent job showing how it affected the people and how they dealt with it.

Preston also explains the political situation in China that led to the rebellion. China late in the 19th century was weak yet full of economic potential. The European Powers (and the U.S.), having already forced the Chinese to export opium and give up territory, had established themselves in Peking and brought hundreds of missionaries to the country. Christianity clashed with Chinese local religion, and the Powers clashed with the Chinese political structure. Chinese racism (the Chinese thought they were natural rulers of the world, and everyone else inferior) clashed with European racism (well-documented), and it didn't help that the Chinese began to realize they were being exploited economically. There were two ways to alleviate this problem: change or die. The Chinese Emperor tried changing, but he died young and the Dowager Empress seized power as regent. She was a reactionary, and when the Boxers rebelled, she did little to stop them, as their views coincided with hers. Preston also makes the point that the Boxers were a true nationalistic movement, and the Chinese rulers had been since 1644 Manchus, from Manchuria, and therefore technically not Chinese. The Empress probably feared that if she did not support the Boxers, they might turn their wrath on her. She gambled and lost.

As I mentioned, the siege takes up most of Preston's book. Here the book shines, as several members of the legations kept copious diaries, even through the worst part of the siege. It's fascinating to read the various perspectives, from the cynical reporter who was trapped in Peking, to the many women who helped out wherever possible. Women played an important part of the defense of the legations, and overcame the typical chauvinism of the age to earn respect from several male defenders. When we start to admire the besieged for their staunch resistance, we read that the thousands of Chinese Christians who were trapped in the legations with the Europeans and were the true targets of the Boxers were often denied equal shares of whatever food was left. Despite dying together, the Europeans could not overcome their institutional racism. It's fascinating because it belies a common notion (at least as portrayed in popular entertainment) that differences are put aside when people face a grievous enemy. The Europeans tried to help the Chinese when they were injured and comforted those who lost loved ones, but giving them equal food seems never to have occurred to them.

The relief force that eventually rescued the legations is also given a good deal of space. It's an interesting parallel to today's world, in the days before even the League of Nations, that the Powers were able to work together despite almost insurmountable differences. The British, Americans, French, Russians, and Japanese all contributed mightily to the relief force, and each nation worked together despite not quite trusting each other. When we look back at the Boxer rebellion and its consequences, we might think a little more about what we're doing in today's world. The Powers invaded China for a noble reason -- rescuing their embattled ambassadors -- but did not consider the consequences. The decided to restore the Manchus because a stable China, they felt, was better than anarchy, and this led almost directly to the Revolution of 1911. It's interesting, with elections being held in Iraq, to see once again that we may not have learned much from history (the situations aren't really parallel, I know, but there are similarities).

Ultimately, the Boxer rebellion was far greater in what it meant for China and its relationship with the world than its rather pathetic display for a few months would lead us to believe. China was a vast nation just beginning to wake up to nationalistic yearnings, and the European Powers handled it quite badly. The Boxers were unwitting agents in beginning a century of turmoil, and Preston's book is a good place to get a sense of just how the world was changing during that highly charged summer.


Comics you should own

Alias by Brian Michael Bendis and (mostly) Michael Gaydos, with occasional art by Bill Sienkiewicz, Mark Bagley, Art Thibert, and Rick Mays, and covers by David Mack
Marvel, 28 issues (Sept. 2001-Nov. 2003)

I love Marvel MAX. I love the idea of it, and think it's a shame it hasn't been more popular. The idea that Marvel characters curse and fuck was, apparently, too much for some hardcore Marvel fans, and these days we just have The Punisher and Supreme Power in the MAX line, and Supreme Power doesn't actually exist in the Marvel Universe. A grand idea, created mostly for Brian Michael Bendis so that Marvel could give him the keys to the kingdom, which they now have (he writes every Marvel book not connected to the X-Men, doesn't he?).

Alias is the crown jewel of the MAX line, and although it just ended a little over a year ago, it reminds me of a time when Marvel truly was churning out some of the best comics around. Alias, Morrison's X-Men, Bendis's Daredevil (which he still writes), early issues of Ultimate X-Men, the X-Factor mini-series, Busiek and Perez's Avengers, Straczynski's Amazing Spider-Man -- from about 2000 through 2003 or so, Marvel was really publishing some good stuff. Now? Eh.

So. Alias. The story of a superpowered private investigator (Jessica Jones) who gave up the superhero life because she wasn't really suited for it. She still has powers, but doesn't use them. This series is a way for Bendis to do what he does best, write noir crime fiction, but in the Marvel Universe (and, presumably, for more money than he got working for Image). Bendis made his name writing Powers, which I don't like all that much, and before that he wrote such non-superpowered stuff like Jinx, Torso, and Goldfish. Alias follows along from those titles.

Before I examine this and tell you why you should own it, I'll break it down into its component stories (it ran 28 issues, after all):

Issues 1-5: Jessica is tricked into filming Captain America when he changes from his civilian identity into his costume. Murder, frames, appearances by Luke Cage and Matt Murdock, and presidential politics are involved. It set the tone for the series with a brilliant concept, gritty art, Jessica making bad choices, and the story not really ending satisfactorily. Bendis seems to have a problem with ending his stories well.

Issues 6-9: Jessica is hired by Rick Jones's wife (and it's not Marlo!) to find her husband. She tracks him down in Greenwich Village playing guitar at small clubs. Mayhem ensues, especially when he thinks she's a spy sent to kill him for his role in the Kree-Skrull war.

Issue 10: A hysterical stand-alone issue in which J. Jonah Jameson hires Jessica to find out Spider-Man's secret identity and gets more than he bargained for. Funny stuff -- the best issue of the run.

Issues 11-14: Jessica is hired by a woman in upstate New York to find her daughter, who has disappeared. The girl, a high-schooler, was giving everyone the impression that she was a mutant, and in this God-fearing community, mutants are an abomination. The girl's not dead, but Jessica doesn't expect what she gets when she finds her.

Issue 15: Another stand-alone issue, as Jessica argues with Luke Cage (with whom she had a memorable one-night stand in issue #1) and goes on a date with Scott Lang. Another very good issue, as it allows Bendis to do what he does best -- write lots of revealing and realistic dialogue.

Issues 16-21: A story about a girl dressed in a Spider-Woman costume who shows up in Jessica's apartment one night. She disappears, but Jessica feels obligated to find her. Drugs, sex, a desperate J. Jonah Jameson (the girl's guardian) and a fighting mad Jessica Drew (the original Spider-Woman), plus an appearance by Speedball, of all people (if you don't know who he is, good for you -- a totally lame Marvel hero who was once in the New Warriors).

Issues 22-23: The Secret Origin of Jessica Jones. Not a bad story, but kind of pushing the coincidences of the Marvel Universe. Jessica has a crush on Peter Parker, but he doesn't notice her before he wanders into a science experiment. She almost gets run over by a truck carrying radioactive material, which has a date with destiny (and Matt Murdock). She's in a coma and wakes up just as Galactus arrives the first time. Cute, but a little too cute.

Issues 24-28: The big fight with the Purple Man, who can make anyone do anything he wants. Jessica has big issues with him, and we find out what they are in a series of flashbacks featuring art by Mark Bagley, whose style jars with the serious tone of the flashbacks (which is the point). Jessica finds out she's carrying Luke's child, she has a big confrontation with the Purple Man, and Bendis engages in some breaking of the fourth wall that's not as effective as, say, Morrison's in Animal Man. Still, a good story and a good way to wrap up the series.

These are just short little overviews. Alias works so well because the general themes are present throughout the series without Bendis really beating you over the head with them. The major themes are identity and power. I'll get to identity in a minute (the series is, after all, named Alias). Power is always a trope in a superhero universe, and some writers handle it better than others (most writers of Superman, it seems, ignore it). Bendis does some interesting things dealing with how superheroes and people in general handle power. Jessica is a very strong individual who flies. She's a superhero. Throughout the book, "normal" people ask her why she's not a superhero anymore -- it's kind of a running joke. Bendis shows us the dark side of having power differently than some other writers. Jessica, simply, does not have a heroic personality, yet she has powers that enable her to be a superhero. People who have read the book might say, "Well, she's a good person," but that's not what I'm talking about. Of course she's a good person, or she would have become a supervillain. She's not heroic, which is different. She even admits she's not heroic. Bendis created a complicated person who smokes, drinks too much, has more than one one-night stand, and is rude to people who help her, and then gave her superpowers. This is much more interesting even than Peter Parker and his attempts to pay the rent and stay in school. Jessica rejects the lifestyle her power could give her because she's not that kind of person. In her own way, she is taking control of her life by refusing to use her power. The powerless in Alias don't, and can't, understand this.

Bendis contrasts her rejection of power with examples of others either rejecting it too or abusing it. Carol Danvers, Jessica's best friend, abuses her power as an Avenger in minor ways to help out her friend (and Jessica often treats her poorly). Clay Quartermain also abuses his power in SHIELD to help her out. Neither of these abuses is that serious, but it shows what connections in the world will get you. So much of getting ahead in life is based on who you know, not what you do (talent helps, but there are lots of talented people, and most are unknown), and Jessica has people who are willing to ignore her abrasive personality to help her. Matt Murdock gets her out of a murder rap in the first story. He later employs her as his bodyguard when he's outed by the media as being Daredevil (Bendis does this a lot -- uses continuity within the books he's writing). The "bad guy" in the first story abuses the power that he has to try and manipulate the presidential election. Of course, the Purple Man uses his power for cheap sex and humiliation. The relationships between people are often based on power, even in seemingly innocuous ones, and Bendis milks that dynamic fully. As you read Alias, it's interesting to note when Jessica has the power and when she doesn't. When she has power, she is often brutally mean -- and this is usually when she's dealing with men (but not Luke Cage -- damn straight!). She fucks a sheriff in the story about the missing girl, then treats him like dirt (true, he made her sleep off her hangover in a jail cell, but if that's as bad as she's been treated by a man, she's lucky). She gets real pissed at Scott Lang whenever he tries to help her, not trusting him even though he's given her no reason not to. She doesn't act this way only with men, but obviously the Purple Man and his lurid manipulations really did a number on her. When she doesn't have power in a relationship, she lashes out with anger or acts pathetic, trying to whine her way out of a problem. Soon after sleeping with Cage, she shows up at his apartment, but he's with another woman (Cage is totally a playa). She whines, he rejects her. Cool! Later, she gets in a big argument with Cage, but he points out that they're not dating, so she should shut it. Jessica comes off poorly in the whole thing, and Bendis again reminds us that when people don't have power, they act petulantly.

The major theme of Alias is identity and a person's quest for it. Again, identity is an important part of much of superhero comics, but it is rarely explored with such depth as it is here, and Bendis goes past even that to examine what identity means to each and every one of us. Jessica, obviously, rejected her former identity as a costumed hero. Before that, she rejected a chance at a "normal" life when she became a costumed hero in the first place. She is, of course, an orphan (her family was killed in the accident that gave her powers), and therefore a quest for "who she is" is part of her nature. Each story reveals a bit more about a quest for identity. Captain America's secret identity is a crucial part of the first story (later, of course, he revealed it himself). Jessica has a chance to reveal it, but doesn't. Steve Rogers yearns for a "normal" relationship, and he realizes that it might never happen. In the second story arc, Rick Jones is desperate to hide his identity, even though he's not actually Rick Jones. The idea of "becoming" a celebrity or someone else is explained at the end of the story by someone who is doing the exact same thing, but can't see it. Bendis springs stuff on us like this, highlighting the main storyline with small details. Issue #10, when Jessica is hired by The Bugle, is ostensibly about the search for Spider-Man's identity, but Jessica turns this on its ear and shows that identity might not be all that important. This is the first time in the title that Bendis introduces an element of doubt to his theme. How important is our identity? Jessica is searching for an answer to her life -- it didn't work as a costumed hero, and it's not working too well in her private investigator life either. Even as she discovers Captain America's identity, reveals that Rick Jones isn't who he thinks he is, finds a runaway who has changed (or finally understood) who she is, helps Maddie Franklin (the teenage Spider-Woman) break out of a spiral of drug abuse and more twisted things, and overcomes her past by confronting the Purple Man, she is always looking for an answer to her problems, despite avoiding them for most of the book. But how important is it? Bendis never answers this question, leaving it for us to decide. That's the way it should be.

Jessica is not necessarily a nice person. She's sympathetic, but with an emphasis on the "pathetic" part. She makes some good choices and some poor ones. Bendis doesn't ask us to like her, just understand her journey. This we can do. Bendis also wants to play with the Marvel Universe in a new way, and that's what the MAX line is for. This is a Marvel Universe where bad things happen, and the good guy doesn't always win. Jessica usually solves the case, but she doesn't always understand why things happened the way they did. Bendis ended the series with Jessica pregnant with Cage's child, setting the stage for The Pulse, which features Jessica going to work for Jameson at The Bugle because she needs health insurance (a great reason, by the way). The Pulse isn't as good as Alias, but it's interesting. Alias is a gem of a comic, and again, it's a shame that the Marvel U. can't stand up to this kind of scrutiny. Some of the title is out in trade paperback (I don't know if the whole series is out, because I bought the individual issues), and if you're a fan of the Marvel Universe, you should check it out.

Shoot, I didn't mention the art. Gaydos is rough and gritty. Very nice -- you get the sense that this stuff is actually happening. His superhero fights aren't terribly good, but luckily for us, Bendis doesn't write a lot of those. Still, it's a nice murky tone that fits well with the noir themes that Bendis has going on.


Random thoughts, or why I shouldn't read the newspapers because the news depresses me so

David of Clandestine Critic makes nice comments on this blog, and he dropped my name in his review of Warren Ellis's Apparat books, which apparently he and I and only about ten other people on the planet even read, so I thought I'd give him a shout-out. Check him out here. If I ever figure out how to set up links on my sidebar, I'll put him there. Thanks, David!

So my wife sent me this story. I am the proud father of a young daughter, with another one on the way, and I think I would rather be staked to an anthill and covered with honey than allow any daughter of mine to leave the house dressed like this. A lady in the article says she would allow her daughter to wear this to her prom. Sometimes I'm totally on board with conservative Christians about how our country is sinking in a moral cesspool. Of course, then they go and call SpongeBob gay, and I can smile again.

Moving on, we get this story. You can actually click on a section to see some of the artist's work. This is a 17-year-old girl who is pretty damned good, if I do say so myself, and certain teachers want to censor her because they think she's picking on Christianity. Well, maybe she is, maybe she isn't. Two points about this: are we really trying to stifle a teenager's creativity? Shouldn't we be amazed by how impressive this girl is? And why do Christians (the ones who make the papers, that is, and not a majority of them) seem so insecure about their faith that they must crush someone who might challenge it? Shouldn't they just say, "Whatever"?

Finally, I heard on Pardon the Interruption today that there is a state senator in Ohio who wants to bring back cockfighting because he says outlawing it a few years ago put a lot of people out of a job. He wants to put small boxing gloves on the roosters so they don't really hurt each other. Yeah, read that one more time. I haven't found the news story in cyberspace, but I hope it's true. Can anyone confirm it? As Kornheiser said, how do you run on that platform -- "Vote for me, because I brought back cockfighting!" And just so you know that I don't only bash Republicans, he's a Democrat. Unglaublich.


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!


Interesting obituary

This man lived two doors up from me when I was growing up in beautiful Warminster, PA. It's a fascinating obituary, and just shows that your neighbors might be really interesting. Who knew, when I was growing up, that he had done all this stuff?

Just when I think Americans aren't as stupid as I think they are, they do something that makes a Big Ol' Snob like me stand by in astonishment

The title of this post is harsh, I suppose, but what else can you say aboutthis? I wish the headline had read "Conservatives say that kids should be able to call other kids 'faggots.'" I mean, that's what they really want. I can't believe some people are actually against telling kids it's not all right to taunt other kids. But in a country of "moral values," this is what we get. Of course, there's also the guy who's pissed off about SpongeBob SquarePants and his sissy friend Patrick. This is what we should care about in this country. I suppose you could look at it two ways: 1) We're so secure in our wealth and power and safety that we waste our time worrying about little crap like this; or 2) We're slowly circling the drain as a country and this is what dying societies do, worry about crap like this instead of trying to reverse the slide. I wonder which we are.


Super Bowl thoughts

I watched the Eagles go down in ignominious defeat 24 years ago in Super Bowl 15 (yes, I know Roman numerals, but isn't it getting a little ridiculous?), so I am very happy that they finally made it back there. Of course, most "experts" are already saying the Patriots are going to beat them in a walk, which is pretty much what most of the "experts" said about the Eagles 24 years ago (Philly was a pretty big favorite, because Oakland was a wild card team -- they were the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl -- and the Eagles had a better team, just not on that day, the anniversary of which is tomorrow, the 25th), so I have some hope. Here's how the Eagles will win:

1. Stop Corey Dillon and the New England running game. Philadelphia just held the number one rushing team in the NFL to 99 yards rushing. Since their loss to Pittsburgh, they have been excellent against the run. They can do it. They might not stop Dillon, but they have a good shot.

2. Commit no turnovers. New England thrives on turnovers (most good teams do). This is easier said than done, since the Patriots are good at forcing turnovers, but again, the Eagles can do it. They don't turn the ball over very often, and McNabb is the first quarterback in history to throw more than 30 touchdown passes with fewer than 10 interceptions. If they don't turn the ball over, they have a very good chance to win. Look at the AFC Championship Game. Pittsburgh turns it over three times in the first half, New England gets 17 points off of them, and it's 24-3 at halftime. If the Steelers don't turn the ball over, it's probably 14-13.

3. Go deep. New England's weakness is its secondary. It's not much of a weakness, but it's still a weakness. Over a week after the fact, and still no one can explain why the Colts didn't throw the ball deep. This used to be something Andy Reid was reluctant to do, but not any more. If they can hit a few deep balls, everything else opens up. Of course, they'll have to protect McNabb, but their offensive line is very good and McNabb is more mobile than either Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger.

I just don't see a blowout. I think New England should win, but there are plenty of reasons why they won't. I want the Eagles to win, and as we get closer to the game and the talk of a New England dynasty gets more heated, I will want the Eagles to beat them by three or four touchdowns. Right now I just want them to win. Stranger things have happened!


Straight cash, homey!

My homer prediction: Eagles 28, Falcons 18. Take it to the bank!


Comics for 19 January 2005

Crap, I bought a lot of comics yesterday. Good thing my New Year resolution wasn't to buy fewer comics. Let's get to it.

Kingdom of the Wicked by Ian Edginton and D'Israeli
$15.95, Dark Horse Comics

This came out a few weeks ago, and it's a very nice book and the kind of book more companies should put out. Edginton and D'Israeli also did Scarlet Traces, which came out a while ago and has a sequel showing up soon, and they make a nice team. This is a beautifully done book with a hard cover, and it's the kind of thing I would give to people who don't read comics.

You can get what you need to know about the book from the back. Christopher Grahame is a children's author who's as famous as J.K. Rowling. He once suffered from extreme headaches and blackouts, and he suddenly begins to experience them again. When he blacks out, he finds himself back in Castrovalva, the fantasy world he created when he was a kid. He finds it almost destroyed, however, with teddy bears fighting in World War I trenches and assassins lurking in the supposedly "safe" zones. There's an evil general who is taking over Castrovalva, and Chris is acclaimed as the hero of the story, but he doesn't know what to do about it. Suddenly he's stuck there, and he has to figure out a way to save the world he created and also return to his own world.

This is a wonderful story, although I don't know about the ending. It's a little farfetched, but I suppose it's possible. More important, the story is a fantastic fable about childhood and what it means to be a kid and what it means to grow up. Chris goes on a Grail quest and eventually finds things out about himself and his history. Anyone who ever had an imagination will probably enjoy this, and anyone who believes things were better when they were children may like it too. It's an interesting look at our fantasies and where they go.

The art is beautiful, too. D'Israeli (why does he call himself that?) has done a lot of nice work, and his art is cartoonish without looking goofy. He captures the horror of war nicely, but also the fanciful delicacy of a child's imagined world. He also does well with the "real" world scenes, washing out the colors a little (which is a cliche in comics, but what the hell) but keeping everything grounded.

This is a book that, if you're not a comics fan, you can hunt down and enjoy as a good read. If you are a comics fan, it's something to support that's not standard superhero fare.

Okay, now this week's haul:

Containment #1 by Eric Red and Nick Stakal
$3.99, IDW

I guess this is "Eric Red's Containment," although why he deserves his name above the title, I don't know. This is a sort-of creepy little horror story set in space (just like Alien!). It's a four-issue mini-series, so the question is, does it make me want to buy three more issues at four bucks a pop?

Well, sort of. I'll buy the next issue, but we'll see after that. It's an okay issue, with nice rough art that lends itself well to the claustrophobic atmosphere that Red is going for (it would be much cooler if it actually were "Eric the Red"), and it has a nice pace to it that throws the characters relatively quickly into the mess that exists on this spacecraft (which is in year 26 of a 32-year mission to Saturn). Even the pseudo-science works. Still, for a four-dollar book, it's a little flimsy, especially because there's a rather lame vampire short story (with no pictures? you mean I actually have to read it?) at the end. IDW continues to publish some nice stuff, but for the money, there should be more here.

Daredevil #69 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
$2.99, Marvel

It has been reported that Bendis and Maleev will leave this title this year, which, given this storyline, might be a mixed blessing. It's not like this whole Alexander Bont story is bad, it's just that it's not as interesting as their other stories have been. The art is as spectacular as always, and Bendis still has a great grasp of the characters, but it's going so freakin' slowly that I'm getting annoyed. It's like Bendis, who has decided to chuck any characterization in New Avengers, has decided to chuck any plot advancement in Daredevil. Strike a balance, Bendis!

So what do we get? Well, Bont was so strong when he first showed up because he was taking Mutant Growth Hormone. I forgot about MGH, but I'm glad Bendis didn't, because it's a good explanation. We see the dead White Tiger in action, because we're still doing flashbacks to "the 1960s," or whenever Bont was supposed to have been put away. We see, I think, Karen Page. We find out why Melvin Potter is helping Bont kick the snot out of poor little Matt Murdock. And Hector Ayala's niece wants to know why Daredevil does what he does, and he sort of tells her. It's all just ... there. It's not dazzling. It's moving toward a conclusion (that would be next issue), but it doesn't feel terribly consequential. What's the point of this story?

Human Target #18 by Peter Milligan and Javier Pulido
$2.95, DC/Vertigo

So Human Target has been cancelled, as of issue #21. Peter Milligan doesn't sound all that disappointed, although I'm sure he can't be terribly happy with it. It's a shame, but at least we those of us who bought it can go back and read the issues. I get depressed when good comics are cancelled, but I'm also happy that they exist. Anyway, this is a stand-alone issue (Milligan writes really good single issues, kind of a lost art these days) about terror suspects and American paranoia after 11 September 2001. Milligan has written a few stories about 9/11, and I wish more mainstream comics writers would tackle it. Of course, there's still only been one movie about the first Gulf War (and if you haven't seen Three Kings, why the hell not?), so I'm not holding my breath that we're going to see stories about terrorism and the state of America these days. Anyway, there's a Muslim who is dragged away by three punks who just want to beat up people who look different. Christopher Chance impersonates a Hindu who was attacked by men who were looking for terrorists. The stories come together quickly, and things go pear-shaped soon after ("pear-shaped" means FUBAR, although I don't know why -- are pears inherently bad?). It's a tidy little story that manages to show a lot about the American dream and even throws in some parenting tips! Milligan is not terribly subtle, but he's not trying to be -- he's making a point, and he only has a limited amount of pages to make it. It's still a powerful little story.

I won't mention the art, because I'm not a big fan of Pulido's work on this title. It's okay, but the coloring is bizarre. It's just ... bizarre.

Anyway, only three more issues. I'll be there. Do yourself a favor and buy the last three issues. It's good reading.

Pigtale #1 by Ovi Nedelcu
$2.95, Image

I bought Pigtale because it's set in beautiful Portland, Oregon, and Nedelcu actually uses city landmarks in the book (the Ringlers Annex gets smashed -- oh no!). I will probably buy issue 2, but unless something really cool happens in that issue, I'm not going to keep it up. It's not a bad book, it's just not something that blows me away. The art is very cartoonish and I'm not the biggest fan of that style, but it's a charming story with a weird twist at the end, which is one of the reasons I'm on the fence about this book. The twist was maybe too weird. But that's for next month, I guess.

The story centers around Boston Booth, a down-on-his-luck private investigator who lives with his grandmother. He has the hots for a barrista at the coffee house he frequents, and although he's a goofy yet sweet guy, he actually gets a date with her in the first issue, which is nice. He also shows a knight-in-shining-armor side, which is also nice. Boston's a nice guy, if you haven't guessed.

There's a mystery. It ties into the twist at the end, and I won't go into it now, but like I said, it better take off next issue. It's a charming little book, and I'll see if I keep it after next issue. Oh, Boston rides around on a Vespa, if you like that sort of thing.

Samurai: Heaven and Earth #2 by Ron Marz and Luke Ross
$2.99, Dark Horse Comics

I read Luke Ross's real name somewhere (he's Brazilian) and I wish I could find it again, because I would use it. There's no need for an Anglicized pseudonym, and I wish he didn't.

Anyway, this series blew me away in the first issue, and it continues to impress. It's still a little short for three dollars, but it packs a lot into its pages. Shiro, who survived the Chinese attack last issue, goes to China to find Yoshiko, who has been taken to Hsiao's harem to be pawed over by the icky Chinaman. Ewww! Good Japanese don't allow that! So he finds out where Hsiao is, sneaks into the harem, resists the sexy charms of all the other scantily clad women Hsiao has locked away, and finds the Chinese warlord and demands his love. Hsiao holds up from ordering his death long enough to tell Shiro that he sold Yoshiko to an Arab slave trader (whom we see in the beginning) because she was uppity. Damn slave women -- what's the world coming to when they don't know their place? Hsiao then bores of their witty repartee and orders his men to kill Shiro. Much carnage ensues. Who do you think is left standing?

This is a really nice book. The art is absolutely beautiful, and the story moves along quickly. Marz doesn't mess around with a lot of characterization, because Shiro is a stereotypical inscrutable Oriental who doesn't indulge in a lot of reflection. He has a job to do, and he does it. It's kind of cool. I'm sure we'll get more throughout the series, but it's nice to see the action just propelling the story even though there's a nice little love story behind it. Just go buy the first two issues. You won't be disappointed.

Small Gods #6 by Jason Rand and Juan Ferreyra
$2.95, Image

The story of Bobby Pope, small-time loser but also telepath and empath, continues, as Bobby gets taken along by the crooked cops to a meeting with a bunch of drug dealers. The cops want Bobby to let them know if the bad guys are going to make any false moves. What do you think happens? Sure, the meeting goes to shit, and Bobby makes a run for it. He ends up in a bar, and is accosted by his (probably) ex-girlfriend, who's one tough bitch (we know this from the back-up story). That's it.

Small Gods is a very good book. The art is moody and gritty and the characters and well defined, and the implications of telepathy in the "real" world continue to play out slowly, which is fine with me. I wonder if we'll see the cops from the first storyline again, or if each story is going to be self-contained, but I guess we'll find out. It's a cool little book.

Clive Barker's The Thief of Always #1 by Kris Oprisko and Gabriel Hernandez
$7.49, IDW

Okay, it's a lot of money for an adaptation of a book. I've never read the original novel, but I like Clive Barker, and I've always heard good things about this, so I thought I'd pick it up. It's okay, but I'm not sure if it's worth the price, especially when I can just buy the original for less money than this would cost.

Harvey Swick is a bored little boy who yearns to break out of the cage of his existence. One day a Mister Rictus shows up and says he'll take him to Mr. Hood's Holiday House. Harvey goes along, although Rictus is awfully creepy. Maybe Harvey should have asked for some references. Anyway, off they go, and soon Harvey is at the house, which of course has lots a fun rooms and weird corners and places to play. It's technically in the same town where Harvey lives, but of course it isn't. Harvey calls his parents, who are fabulously happy that he made it to the house and let him know that they planned the whole thing. Let me tell you, I'm not buying it. There are two other kids at the house, Wendell and Lulu, and they're both weird in the own ways. Wendell cares nothing about the questions Harvey has about the house, and Lulu seems a little vacant sometimes. Harvey has a grand old time, and he celebrates Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all in the space of a few days. It's a little kid's dream!

There are weird things, of course. The lake and its fish are weird, as is the fact that no one ever sees Mr. Hood (what is he, Satan?). Harvey sees a strange shadow that looks like a dragon and flies over the house. It's all very mysterious.

I don't know ... it's nice-looking, the art is okay, and it has a childlike quality to it. But man is it spendy!

Trigger #2 by Jason Hall and John Watkiss
$2.95, DC/Vertigo

The second issue moves things along nicely, and I like it. Deirdre, the reporter who wants to nail Ethicorp to the wall, is told that she needs to back off, because, well, her editor has no balls. Carter Lennox, who we saw in a problematic situation at the end of last issue, can't figure out what happened and spends the issue trying to find out what he did. Meanwhile, Vi is having some problems. Isn't everyone? Deirdre is trying to prove the existence of the Triggers, and she gets in a little over her head at the end.

It's tough to review a book like this, since it's all about mysteries. Watkiss's art is magnificent, and the atmosphere of paranoia and oppression that Hall is building is well done, even though we see that it's not as bad as we might think. One of the problems I had with 1984 was trying to envision Orwell's world where people lived normal lives, since they obviously did. It just seemed everyone was lurking around looking over their shoulders. Here, Hall and Watkiss show that the influence of Ethicorp and the Triggers is insidious and not necessarily overt. It's nicely done.

Weird things are going on in this book. I like what I'm reading so far. I'll keep it up for now, and hope the quality stays up.

Wanted #1-6 by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones
$2.99, Image/Top Cow

I wanted to like Wanted. I read the first issue way back when, and now it's finally done (issue #5 came out in September and #4 came out in June). Jones is apparently ridiculously slow, but it's gorgeous, and almost worth the eighteen dollars I spent on it. Almost. However, Millar ruined it. He ruined it all!!!!

Okay, I'm angry. I'm not even just angry, I'm insulted. Millar has built his reputation on in-your-face writing, and he apparently wants to be a rock star. Well, let him go and become one. I won't be along for the ride.

So why am I so angry? Well, Wanted starts off okay. Wesley Gibson is a loser with a girlfriend who cheats on him with his best friend, a dead-end job with an annoying boss (also female; I'll get to that in a minute), and no hope for a good life. Suddenly he finds out that his father was a super-villain who has been killed, and he stands to inherit millions of dollars if he becomes a super-villain himself. He has to learn how to kill and steal and rape and be an all around unpleasant person. He takes to it with much vigor.

For much of this mini-series, Millar has some interesting takes on the "grim 'n' gritty" trend that overtook comics in 1986 with The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. He has some very nice points to make about comics and the world in general, and also about wasted lives. Gibson is a pathetic loser who needs a kick in the ass to get off his and seize life by the cajones. We also see lots of analogues of various DC superheroes (I don't think any Marvel ones show up, but I could be wrong -- Wesley himself might be the Punisher) and the story eventually involves a war between the super-villains, which comes off nicely. So there we go.

So why am I so insulted? Well, Millar basically spits on his audience. He writes "God, you're such an asshole, and I speak from experience ... You're killing yourself working twelve-hour days, getting fat on cheap take-out food, and your girlfriend is almost certainly fucking other guys ... Even this comic was just a fifteen minute respite from how hard we're working you ... You're just going to close this book and buy something else to fill that big, empty void we've created in your life ... [turn the page and see Wesley, looking like Eminem, which is apparently deliberate] ... This is my face while I'm fucking you in the ass." End of Book! How cool Millar is!

Well, Mark, you're an asshole. I'm not working twelve-hour days, and my wife is not cheating on me. If you got screwed over by a women, maybe you should look in a mirror. I could even forgive this book's misogyny except for the ending. There are basically three women in this book -- Wesley's girlfriend, who's cheating on him; his boss, who's described as a lesbian; and the Fox, a super-villain who's basically Millar's version of a real man you can also have sex with. Then, to basically call anyone who bought the book that provides his livelihood a loser ... nice work. Well, Mark, I guess I will be a loser no more. I hereby renounce anything written by you. No more Ultimates, even though I like the book. Sorry, but I don't want to be a loser who sits on his ass reading comics all the time when I could be out ... I don't know, what exactly do you do all day, Mark, except write comics and drink and bitch about how no one loves you because you're an asshole? I wonder. I guess I'll never find out.

It's a shame, really. Millar used to be a talented writer. Some day I will tell you why you should buy his run on Swamp Thing. Brilliant stuff. But apparently his fans no longer matter to Millar. He's too important. Fuck him.

Waterloo Sunset #3 by Andrew Stephenson and Trevor Goring
$6.95, Image

I'm going to zip through these last two, because this post is too long. Sheesh, I have to cut some titles I'm buying. This is still a good book, and I think next issue might be the last one (I could find out, but I can't be bothered). Many questions are answered, Esau and Nina go on a Grail quest of their own, and there's some action. This has a lot of potential to be a neglected classic, especially if it ends as strongly as it's been going. Again, it's a mystery why comics fans don't seek things like this out and try something new. Maybe it will be collected in a trade and gain a nice audience.

X-Men #166 by Peter Milligan, Salvador Larroca, and Danny Miki
$2.25, Marvel

Holy crap -- a year after I swore off the X-Men, I'm back. Milligan does not have a good track record in "normal" books (Elektra, anyone? and I don't count X-Force/X-Statix as a normal book), but I have some faith in him, and I'm willing to see if his initial storyline can impress me. I know Larroca's art is going to be purty, so what's the story like?

It's okay. Enough to get me back next month. Something horrible is happening at a mutant outpost in Antarctica. Something that has to do with something or someone called "Golgotha." Yes, it's all very religious. I'm sure Milligan will take shots at organized religion, because he likes to. Whatever. It's a sufficiently eerie issue, with a strange appearance by Emma Frost at the end, who apparently gets to Antarctica from New York in a matter of minutes. The interplay between the team is fine, but the story is what drives the issue, and it's, like I said, enough to get me back. We'll see. It's better than Austen. It's probably better than Whedon, since from what I've read, Whedon's simply recycling Claremont. Am I wrong?

God, that's a lot of books. I'll have to do some culling in the near future. Be here to see which books make the cut!


Girls and boys

Maureen Dowd wrote a column recently about why men marry below their social station and seem to ignore women who are their intellectual equals (she's counting herself in that category, I guess). Now, I love Maureen Dowd. She's "on my list" (if I can make a Friends reference). I think she's married, so perhaps she's not bemoaning her own fate. However, this column interested me.

Now, I'm not going to pretend to be any expert on women. Hell, I'm not an expert on men, either. I've been married for almost eleven years, however, so I know some things. I love my wife, and she's at least my intellectual equal, if not my superior. Dowd says that men aren't interested in stimulating conversation when they marry, they just want a woman who's going to serve them. Well, maybe. I'd love to have a woman who serves me, but I'm not stupid, and my wife and I help each other out. Maybe I don't fit Dowd's criteria, one of which is that the men are "ambitious." Maybe I'm not ambitious enough.

Dowd also mentions that even men who aren't at the top of their profession expect to be served. So it's not that these men are the elite and expect everyone to serve them. She seems to think it's a male problem. Maybe. I wonder, however, if Dowd might want to look in a mirror.

Like I said, I'm no expert. I love women, and think smart women are way sexy. In fact, intelligence and personality goes a long way. I've known a lot of women who are not classic beauties, but I think they're beautiful because they are smart and fun. However, a lot of men have been hard wired to think that all that matters are looks. I don't know where they get it from: Society? Women's magazines that claim you're not desirable unless you look perfect? Who's to blame around here?

I also think Dowd should know better. Doesn't she know about men? Most men are idiots. I know a lot of them. I am sometimes one of them. She mentions that men secretly want their mothers. Duh. It's freaky and sick, but that's the way it is. My mother is visiting us right now, and she automatically starts cleaning up. I had to warn her away from touching the dishes (yes, yes, I do the dishes in our house -- save your jokes). Who wouldn't want a woman who automatically starts cleaning up? And then you get to have sex with her!

Women have a lot of power in this world. If they keep giving it up to men, men are going to keep taking it. Maureen Dowd might have a legitimate beef, but women also have to realize that it's all about them. If they don't, men are going to keep ditching smart, successful women for bimbos. Discuss!


I really try to be less angry, but ...

Okay, I'm not that angry. The world may be going straight to hell, but at least I have a beautiful wife and daughter. Why is the world going straight to hell, you may ask? Well, there's this.

What the hell's going on in Romania? Should people be allowed to have children when they're this old??? I pity that child.

There's the Arizona legislature, that wants to make English the "official" language of our fair state. Whatever. God forbid we make all school children learn more than one language, since it's a global world. We must force everyone to learn English, because English rules! Interestingly enough, for a long time in the 18th and early 19th century, it looked like German might become the predominant language in this fair country. Language is such a politically charged thing these days (what the hell isn't?). When the Arizona legislature says they want to make English the official language of the state, what they mean is "We want all you Mexicans to go home." Arizona has a huge illegal immigration problem. This is a sneaky way of disguising racism.

Arizona also wants to do the old constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, even though gay marriage is against Arizona law. I simply do not understand a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. You can hate homosexuality all you want -- this is America, after all, and being an idiot is a constitutional right! No one, however, not even our esteemed president, has been able to explain to how enshrining marriage in our Constitution (marriage being a Catholic sacrament, after all, so it shouldn't have anything to do with government) makes it stronger, or how gay people are a huge threat to marriage everywhere. Can anyone explain it without resorting to "the Bible says it's wrong"?

On the other hand, the world may be going to hell, but we can laugh along the way. I really hope everyone has already seen this. The X-ray (not shown here) is the coolest thing I've seen in a long time!


Where's Fox Mulder when you really need him?

I love this story. It's actually spooky.


What I've been reading

The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force by Douglas Porch
HarperCollins Publisher, 1991

I've been slogging through this massive book for a while now, not because it's bad, but because it's over 600 pages long and I usually only read at night when I'm going to bed. So it's taken me a while, but it was worth it. This is a fascinating look at the Foreign Legion, which if Americans know at all they know from 1930s movies, which (and I'm going out on a limb here) probably don't show the reality of being a legionnaire. It's also trendy to deride everything French these days, but the Foreign Legion is a very interesting group of mercenaries who have fought well in the past and continue to provide support for various military endeavors around the world (at the time this book was published, they were in the Persian Gulf).

I enjoyed the book, because Porch doesn't simply settle for a blow-by-blow narrative, although he doesn't shy away from it. He examines what it means to be a legionnaire, and why the Legion attracted certain types of people, and how the Legion itself promoted a myth of high adventure in the deserts of North Africa and what that meant to the legionnaires. As a group of mercenaries, the Legion never enjoyed the kind of good press "national" armies enjoyed, as the public tended to look down at it because the men weren't fighting for a "cause" even as Hollywood and books romanticized the idea of being in the Legion. Porch ably demonstrates this dichotomy throughout the book, as uses first-hand accounts of legionnaires who joined for the adventure and found the reality was unexpected. There is a great deal in the book about who the men were, where they came from, what they expected, what they got, and how they dealt with it. The Legion is much more than a Beau Geste myth, and Porch does a fine job explaining this.

He also does well with the actual military campaigns of the Legion. The force was created in 1831 to respond to the need of the French to pacify their new possession in Algeria, and from there it expanded to fulfill France's desire to create an overseas empire. Porch argues that the Legion was necessary for France's imperial glory, as successive French governments, from the Second Empire to the Fourth Republic, were unwilling to send native French troops to faraway places to die (although a large percentage of legionnaires were, in fact, French). So the Legion was used whenever the French believed things might get messy. Porch devotes a long chapter to the Legion in Spain in the late 1830s, a part of European history I was unfamiliar with. He also goes into the Legion in Mexico in the 1860s, the conquest of Tonkin in the 1880s, and the Legion's adventures in Dahomey and Madagascar.

The bulk of the book is devoted to the twentieth century, because the sources are better and defeat is usually more interesting than victory, and France has seen its share of defeats since World War I. The Legion was used in both World Wars, and Porch writes diligently about their actions, even a strange expedition to Norway in 1940. He also gets into the split that occurred in the Legion, like in France, when the government capitulated to the Nazis in 1940. He goes over the Rif War in Morocco in the 1920s, when the Legion was building its own legend thanks to propaganda written by the behest of its top commanders. This returns to the psychology of being a legionnaire, and how the Legion saw itself as a kind of priesthood, with rituals and relics that were almost worshipped. Part of this, Porch argues, is why the Legion felt so betrayed when Charles de Gaulle gave up Algeria.

Of course, the two longest sections of the book deal with Indochina and Algeria. Dien Bien Phu gets its own chapter, as does the Battle of Algiers. These two wars killed the French empire, and almost killed the Legion. Porch examines the military failings of the two wars, as well as shows how the Legion fought well despite these failings. In fact, Porch argues that France was on the cusp of destroying the drive for Algerian independence when de Gaulle simply let North Africa go, which led to open rebellion against the Fifth Republic in 1961. It's an interesting part of history that, naturally, doesn't show up in American schools (not because American schools are bad, but because it's not in any way connected to American history).

Porch's book has drawbacks. First, the maps are bad. When I read a history book, especially one as massive as this, I'd like better and more maps. The map of Dien Bien Phu is two chapters before the one about the battle! The maps are poorly drawn, as well. It's a minor criticism, but it bugged me. Second, Porch, although he admits he's interested in writing a straight narrative history of the Legion, still drops the ball in this regard a few times, especially when it comes to the larger backstory of French history. I would have liked to know the circumstances of how the French ended up in Algeria in the first place. Porch treats in like a fait accompli, even though the French went to Algeria in 1830, only a year before the establishment of the Legion. Porch also doesn't really explain why Dien Bien Phu ended French rule in Vietnam. We know it did, but why? He just goes over the battle and then assumes we all know why the French abandoned Southeast Asia. It bugged me. He also ignored the Legion's "conquest" of Morocco in the early 1900s (I put it in quotes because I'm not sure the Legion had anything to do with it). He mentions the Moroccan crisis of 1907-08 a few times (which almost led to war with Germany) but doesn't really do into it. As there were a large percentage of Germans in the Legion, it seems that it would warrant more than just a mention.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of the book is something Porch did not know he was writing about, and that's how the book reflects the political situation in the States today. I'm not going to get into the shithole Iraq has become, but it's fascinating to read about the situation in Vietnam in the 1940s and '50s and Algeria in the 1950s and '60s and compare it to how the Bush administration is handling the Iraqi insurgents. It amazes me once again that although I can accept that Bush doesn't read the newspapers, he doesn't have anyone around him with the balls to read history and explain it to him. I mean, Condoleeza Rice is a smart woman, isn't she? She knows history. When you read about the Viet Minh and Mao's tactics on fighting a guerrilla war and the FLN in Algeria and how they ultimately turned the population against the French, you can't help but think about the situation in Iraq. It's interesting.

Overall, this is a good book if you're interested in military history or French history or even European history in general. It takes you inside a force that's unique, at least in modern history (mercenaries were commonly prior to Napoleon). Go buy it! What are you waiting for?


Comics for 12 January 2005

I know so many people get their semi-daily dose of righteous indignation from this blog, so I apologize for the lackluster showing recently. The Demon Child (my lovely daughter) is taking up a lot of my time. I'll explain soon. Meanwhile, I still want to get my thoughts out about comics, so here's this week's batch.

Angel Stomp Future #1 by Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp
$3.50, Apparat/Avatar

All four Apparat books by Ellis were supposed to be out in the same week, but that didn't happen. The first two were released and I told you about them here and here. This week we get the last two.

Angel Stomp Future is the first (the title is explained in the book, fret not). It's also the weakest. Not for the art, which is stunning, even in black and white. It reminds me most of Geoff Darrow's art in Hard Boiled, and visionary piece of graphic literature. The details of Ryp's work are difficult to believe, as he gives us a standard yet deeply troubling dystopian vision of the future. So much is in the background that it takes a while to get through this book (not that there's anything wrong with that) while you look at it all. Take the mating robots in one panel, or the alligators in the sidewalk, or the guy carrying a pig. It's breathtaking.

Ellis's story is what lets us all down. It's not actually a story, anyway, it's just Ellis being didactic about his favorite subjects, specifically memes. The main character, Angel Antimony, walks around town telling us about the difference between genes and memes, and it's all very dull. It's just Ellis telling us what cool things he's thinking about without actually sitting down and coming up with a story around it. Because it's Ellis, it doesn't totally suck, and there's actually a poignant moment near the end, but it's not much to write home about. I'm sure very few people are buying these comics (which is a shame), but if you're thinking about buying any, buy this only for the art.

Angeltown #3 by Gary Phillips and Shawn Martinbrough
$2.95, DC/Vertigo

I'm along for the ride on this one, since it's only five issue (I'm a sucker, I know), but it's not thrilling. It's perfectly decent, but it feels like it should have been a graphic novel, like Selina's Big Score. Maybe then it would move a little faster and I would be more involved and I would be able to keep track of everyone. At a monthly pace, it's just not working for me. Nothing really happens in this issue. Everyone's still looking for Theophus Burnett, and we learn more dirty sex things that people like to do, and we learn that Burnett's aunt might be part of the whole thing, and Nate has an "open" relationship with more than one woman, and he gets a chili dog in one of the most useless pages in comics history (I kept waiting for his stop for a chili dog to tie in somehow to the rest of the story -- I hope it does, because if it doesn't, it is inexplicable why we see him eating a chili dog for an entire page). Like I said, nothing much happens. I want to see if, when the series is done, if I can read this without this issue and still get the entire scope of the series. Somehow I think I will be able to.

The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty #6 by Gabriel Benson and Mike Hawthorne
$1.99, Beckett

This issue speeds along to what almost feels like a penultimate issue, which makes me wonder if the series has been cancelled. I mean, we have a confrontation last issue and people die, and suddenly, we're in the village where Sleeping Beauty is and things seem to be wrapping up. It feels way too rushed -- first Cole is incapacitated by a mysterious Indian, about whom we learn nothing, then Red gets to see Beauty, and then, on the last two pages, something weird happens that I can't really explain (not because it will give anything away, but because I don't get it). I like this comic, and I wish more people were buying it (it's TWO DOLLARS, people!), but I really wonder if it's wrapping up. It feels rushed. I look forward to next issue, because I want to know what's happening, but I have a feeling it might be the last one.

Gorgeous cover, by the way.

Fables #33 by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha
$2.50, DC/Vertigo

This is the last issue of a storyline, which took me by surprise, because it also feels a little rushed. It's still a pretty good issue, but things moved kind of quickly to a conclusion, and it's not like Willingham hasn't set up stuff for future issues. It's just a little weird.

We find out who the killer is. It's a little too easy, but it does explain a weird statement made some issues ago, which I hoped would be explained. I wondered why the Fables accepted Bigby's father so readily, and I fear he will cause difficulties in the future, but for now, it's strange. We get more of the problems with the new regime, which is nice, and it sets up the next story. In all, it feels like a transitional issue, even though the murder mystery (which, after all, wasn't that important) is solved. Bigby's dad calls a gust of wind a zephyr, which is the west wind. I know the other three winds have names, and it would be nice to see one of them. Everyone knows what a zephyr is!!!!

Gorgeous cover, by the way. Really pretty.

Hero Squared X-Tra Sized Special* by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Joe Abraham
$3.99, Atomeka
* "Because an 'X' on the cover never hurts," as the cover says

I try not to read reviews of comics before I do my reviews, because I don't want to be influenced by them, but I read one for this yesterday, and I'd like to address what the reviewer wondered about, namely, how the authors feel about superheroes. I don't really believe that Giffen and DeMatteis have contempt for the superhero genre, but I do think they recognize the inherent silliness in it, which makes their satire of the genre since Justice League funny. This issue is typical of that. Captain Valor is a superhero who gets shifted to another dimension after his arch-nemesis takes over the world, and he meets his alternate ego, who is not a superhero Much of the issue, unfortunately, is taken up establishing what a loser Milo is and how he doesn't believe Captain Valor is actually his doppelganger from another universe. So when the action comes, it's quick, and the secret at the end will come as a shock to absolutely no one. However, that's not really the point, is it? The point is Giffen and DeMatteis (who, if you believe the first JL trade paperback, writes the jokes) riffing on superheroes while we wait for their arc on JLA: Classified to come out. With that said, this isn't really worth it. They're actually better on the DC stuff, maybe because they have more characters to work with and can maintain a manic energy, and also because the personalities of established heroes works better when they subvert it (just think about Batman cracking jokes in Formerly Known as the Justice League -- in this issue, Captain Valor has to tell us he has no sense of humor). Just keep waiting for their new work with Blue Beetle and Booster Gold and Fire and Mary Marvel and (sniff) Sue Dibny.

The Pulse #7 by Brian Michael Bendis and Brent Anderson
$2.99, Marvel

Boy, that's a cool Steranko-esque cover. Really cool. Comics should be more visually stunning, because art is, after all, a major part of it. And no, I don't mean we need more Greg Land cheesecake covers (although they're beautiful). We need more covers like this one. It just makes you want to pick the book up.

Anderson's interior art is okay. It's kind of sludgy, which works for the most part in this story, since everything's kind of muddled, but Jessica looks bizarre -- Anderson puts her in some weird poses, and for the rest of the issue, she looks ... bizarre. I can't explain it, but it's off. Other than that, the art's fine.

This is "Secret War," part 2, and I guess it is tied into the five-issue mini-series that started, apparently, eight years ago and has yet to reach a fourth issue. Jessica spends the issue trying to figure out what happened last issue. No one's around! Luke Cage is gone, and now Jessica can't find Danny Rand or Misty Knight or Matt Murdock. She and Ben Urich wander around piecing things together, and then Jessica finds something out about Nick Fury and SHIELD that makes perfect sense. Bendis, who has taken over the Marvel Universe, often writes crap, but this is an example of why Marvel allowed him to take over the company in the first place. It's a nice issue that slowly builds suspense yet never feels like he's just treading water. There's even (gasp!) some social commentary!

Simon Spector #1 by Warren Ellis and Jacen Burrows
$3.50, Apparat/Avatar

Simon Spector is Ellis's version of guys like The Shadow and Doc Savage and The Spider, pulp heroes from the years before superheroes. So there's strange drugs giving great powers, a woman in distress, and a big fight. Nothing terribly groundbreaking, nothing terribly shocking, but good solid storytelling. Simon gets some freaky powers when he ingests his exotic drug, and it's nicely written out by Ellis. The fight scene is rendered beautifully by Burrows, whose lack of mainstream recognition continues to baffle me (unless he doesn't want it). It's a good comic.

Apparat was Ellis's grand experiment of writing comics as if superheroes weren't the dominant paradigm in comics. It's a nice idea, and it's kind of sad that Ellis needs to go back to mainstream stuff to make a living. This is where he belongs -- doing weird crap like this and introducing us to new artists (whether I like them or not). Ellis is trying, singlehandedly, to drag comics to a new level, and I applaud his efforts even if I don't always like his work (it's rare, but it happens). Go buy one of these issues if you don't want to drop $3.50 each on all four.

Two Bits #1
$.25, Image

This is a black-and-white flip book with previews of two new Image series -- The Imaginaries and Lullaby. I wish more companies did this. Marvel and DC did it a few times with Daredevil and Batman and some others, but I wish they would do it with upcoming comics. I don't know if I'm going to buy either of these books, but it's nice to check them out.

Lullaby is about a girl who ends up in a land where fairy tales are alive. Yes, it's a bit of a rip-off of Fables, but who cares? She rises in the service of the Queen of Hearts and decides to go searching for her parents, whom she remembers only as if from a dream. The art, by Hector Sevilla, is dazzling and kind of manga-esque, and I don't like the fact that the girl is flashing her midriff, since Image is marketing this as an all-ages book, but oh well. I want to see the colored pages, but it's kind of intriguing.

The Imaginaries is something I doubt I'll be buying. It's an okay concept -- where do imaginary friends go when kids throw them out -- but it's just not thrilling me. It looks okay, and could have a potential for some funny stuff, but I doubt it. The main character is a superhero who gets thrown away and must disguise himself as a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper (Clark Kent, just like Superman, is an archetype) and has to adjust to the fact that his creator threw him away. If this sounds like your thing, check this book out in March. Like I said, this is a nice thing for companies to do. It's just another reason that Image might be the best publisher out there right now.

The Ultimates Vol. 2 #2 by Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch, and Paul Neary
$2.99, Marvel

Well, it has Captain Britain, who is still related to Psylocke in the Ultimate Universe, even though she's dead. Natasha's a bitch. A total bitch. Boy, I don't like her. Unless she's joking. Captain America's a jerk. Not a total jerk, because he actually uses his head before going completely postal, but I wonder -- Millar is trying to make him a more "simple, 1940s-kind of guy," which is nice, but does that mean he's a jerk who doesn't care about due process? I suppose. Thor remains an enigma and the most intriguing thing about the book. Bruce Banner is pretty much guaranteed to get the death penalty. Can't he plead insanity? I wonder.

It's an okay issue, but as usual, it's tough to ratchet up action when you have assembled the most powerful people on the planet and you can't find a threat for them. Millar is setting things up, but I still fear this book will lose steam because Millar's focusing so much on the soap opera aspect of the book -- I read Noble Causes, so I don't need soap opera here. Grant Morrison understood this on JLA, when he threw action at those bozos until the fans were begging him to stop (I wasn't, but some were). Thor is interesting here, but I want ball-and-ass kicking action! That's really what Hitch is born to do! The art, as usual, is beautiful. Why so slow, Hitch????

Non-comics-related posting soon, I promise!


Football thoughts

Just a few quick thoughts about the weekend of football. I didn't watch every single minute of every game, but I watched some. ESPN really ought to hire me, because I'm so much more controversial than their guys!

1. Peyton Manning is a selfish player. Yes, he's very good. But on the first touchdown pass he threw, why did Denver even think it was going to be a run? Manning wants touchdown passes, you fools! Why anyone buys a run fake down there on the goal line against the Colts is a mystery. He's going to throw, because he wants stats! Sheesh.

2. Randy Moss has no class, but mooning the crowd at Lambeau Field was freakin' funny. It's kind of like Adam Sandler -- no, he's not funny in a long movie, but he's mildly amusing in one-minute takes. Moss is ridiculously annoying, but that was a funny, if tasteless, move. Peter King of Sports Illustrated says that mooning the Lambeau Field crowd is like mooning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Please. They're football fans, meaning they are just as crude and stupid as every other bunch of fans. I'm so sick of everyone treating the Packers like God's gift to football and Lambeau Field like a cathedral. Give me a break. Tasteless? Sure. Funny? Yes. And anytime the Packers lose at home it's a good thing.

3. Speaking of Nancy-Boy Favre, he hasn't made up his mind to retire. I say, come back, Brett! The longer you play, the worse it will be for your legacy and your team. Green Bay will not compete as long as #4 is calling the plays. What a train wreck he has become. I have never liked him, but he used to be decent. Four interceptions, and a completely Nancy-Boy move at the end of the half, when he chickened out and threw a ball well over the line of scrimmage just so he wouldn't get hit. Please come back, Brett! Who else could throw 17 interceptions (and four in a playoff game) and still get mentioned as a elite quarterback? You need to come back to make all the "experts" look even dumber!

4. Sean Salisbury is already predicting a Vikings win at Philadelphia this weekend. I hope more people jump on the Vikings bandwagon. Part of the Eagles' problem the last few years is all the pressure on them. They need to be the underdog for a change. So, all you experts -- pick Minnesota! Boy, that Daunte Culpepper -- McNabb sucks compared to him! And the Randy Moss -- yes, he's on one leg, but he can burn anyone! And that Minnesota defense -- wow, it's like the '85 Bears!


Comics for 5 January 2005

I have a lot on my mind, and suddenly, I'm very busy (it's the child -- she has new things to do!). I wanted to get this week's comics out before I got into life in general, however (and aren't comics more important than life in general anyway?), so here we go!

Holy crap, it's the first Wednesday of the year, and already I've spent too much. Why oh why did I start looking through Previews? Meanwhile, there are two egregious grammatical errors in the comics I bought this week. I hate grammatical errors. Just another indication that our language is going down the toilet.

Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril #2 by Joshua Dysart, Sal Velluto, and Bob Almond
$2.95, Penny-Farthing Press

I just can't get over how jazzed I am about this series. Not because it's the greatest thing ever (it isn't) and not because it's so ground-breaking (no again). I just like it because it's so unlike so much of what's coming out, and it's adventurous and fun and exciting and more comics should be like it in the sense of doing something different. And the art is gorgeous.

More of the same this issue, as Chase DuBois goes off to Egypt (and, it turns out, points west) to find something to do with the "power of the Vril," which, as it happens, may have something to do with Captain Gravity's powers. Her boyfriend, the oh-so-understanding suave German from last issue, turns out to be a Nazi (I'm glad Dysart got that out of the way quickly, since we all knew it was coming) and kidnaps Chase, even though she's supposed to be spying on him for the U.S. government, so I guess she doesn't mind. Josh has followed her to Cairo and eventually to Libya, where the bad guys are, and of course, other governments (the Commies) are interested. It's all played out in early 1941, which presents a problem, since Cairo seems awfully peaceful, and although I don't know WWII as well as I should, it seems the war should be affecting things a little more. Maybe not. The Russian spy says he's from St. Petersburg, which I thought by then was called something different (was it Leningrad yet, or Petrograd?). A minor quibble.

I'm hoping Dysart does a little more with Josh being black. He doesn't have to make it a big thing, but it's interesting that in the late '30s/early '40s, a black man could just hang out on a director's yacht with the white director and white starlet and it mean nothing, even if they're friends. Now that the action has moved to Africa, it's probably going to be less of an issue, but I wonder if Dysart will address this. Anyway, this is a fun book, and you should hunt it down (even if, as I mentioned, it rips off Indiana Jones movies -- there are worse things to rip off).

Detective Comics #802 by David Lapham, Ramon Bachs, and Nathan Massengill
$2.95, DC

Yes, it's depressing. Yes, it's gloomy. Yes, it's even nihilistic. I have read some complaints about Lapham's first issue of Detective Comics. Well, it's freakin' Batman. Go read Archie comics if you want happy happy joy joy. Batman comics should be depressing, because, let's face it, Batman's a pretty depressing character, and Gotham City's a pretty depressing place. People die there for no reason. If you don't like it, go read something else. Sheesh. Sean Penn wins a freakin' Academy Award for the gloomfest that is "Mystic River," and nobody says "boo." Lapham writes a very good Batman story and everyone whines and says they need Prozac.

Anyway, it doesn't get any better for our hero in the latest installment of "City of Crime," Lapham's opus. Oh sure, he gets offered tea (and I'm sorry, but seeing Batman sitting in a kitchen with a housewife pouring tea made me laugh, even though the context is, as usual, gloomy), but he doesn't drink it and it gets cold, and doesn't that just suck? Sure, Robin shows up, but he's too happy, and Bruce tells him to shut up and think of all the depressing things in the world. That Bruce -- always the downer.

Actually, this continues to be a well-written story with a lot of twists and turns and it appears plotted out the wazoo. Oswald Cobblepot shows up, as does Mr. Freeze. The fire that started last issue and which takes up a great deal of page space in this issue is central to the plot, and Batman finds six pregnant girls in the building who shouldn't be there. He only rescues one. There's a dirty cop (of course) and a dirty lawyer (are there any other kind? -- except mine, of course) and there are dirty politicians (naturally). It's all very noir.

And then there's the grammar. Grrr. On page three, Lapham writes, "[Robin]'s thinking about the family of five he just saved on the fourth floor. Him and the big men with axes." HIM?!?!?! That's like saying "Me and my wife went to Hawaii on my honeymoon." Lapham, or the editor, should have known better. It's a minor point, I guess, but it's not the only grammatical error in comics this week.

The Gift #9 by Raven Gregory, Tyler Kirkham, and Sonia Oback
$2.99, Image

I'm still on the fence with The Gift. It's okay, I guess, but Kirkham's art isn't the greatest, and although I appreciate the single-issue stories, they're becoming familiar. I'm also sick of dirty cops in comics. They show up in this issue. Yes, I know there are dirty cops, and I'm not the biggest fan of police, but I'm sick of it (I'm also sick of it in movies, but that's a whole different post). Anyway, the Ancient One shows up, gives a girl who survived a police massacre of her stoner friends the power to gain revenge, which she does. It's interesting, however, because we learn that the Ancient One could have stopped the massacre, but didn't. According to Gregory, the next issue will begin to answer some questions, so that's something, but we'll see. This is the kind of comic that if you're interested, you might want to wait for the trade paperback.

The Incredible Hulk #77 by Peter David, Lee Weeks, and Tom Palmer
$2.99, Marvel

Peter David's back on The Hulk, and maybe all will be right with the world. After Bruce Jones stumbled to the finish line with his run, it will be interesting to see what David does returning to the title he wrote for twelve years, one of the greatest runs on any title in the past forty years. The fact that Weeks is penciling it is also pretty cool, since I've liked Weeks' art since his work on Daredevil years ago.

So ... does it hold up? Well, it's certainly a decent start. It's Lost! Actually, it's Monster Island (which is actually a peninsula)! Actually, it's The Tempest! Okay, David has said it's sort of a take on the Shakespeare play, with the big green fella, I guess, as Caliban. Good old Hulk is wandering around the ocean bottom (why? we don't know -- be patient) and he does Hulkish things -- rips a shark in half, tears some arms off a very mutant-looking octopus -- before washing ashore on an island. He turns back into Banner (do we even know what triggers his changes anymore?) and two people find him as he's about to be eaten by a two-headed lizard thing. At the end, someone familiar shows up. That's it.

Okay, it's not bad. It's pretty good, actually. Nothing like David's other title, Fallen Angel (why aren't you buying that?), but a good start. It's intriguing and mysterious and doesn't feel terribly slow, even though not a lot happens. There's some flashbacks to Bruce's teenage life, although he doesn't look like a teenager, and I'm curious if David will do anything with the fact that the Hulk is in the flashbacks -- if it's an actual flashback or just Bruce melding all sorts of thoughts together. Anyway, it's interesting. It's enough for me to pick up part 2 (of 5) because I trust David.

The Intimates #3 by Joe Casey, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Sandra Hope
$2.95, Wildstorm

More fun at the Seminary! Empty Vee has a crush on Punchy, but he thinks it's Destra, and of course, such teenage hijinks can lead to no good, and it does. We learn about Kefong's powers, and they are pretty clever. Kind of unfortunately, that's pretty much it for plot. I'm still on board with this book, but I hope things start happening a little more quickly. It's still a wickedly fun book, and the stuff at the bottom of each page is still good reading, and the art is very nifty, but I wish more was going on. I want this book to sell well, because Casey deserves it, and I hope people give it a chance. It's fun to read (since people are complaining about Detective, here's a fun read).

Noble Causes #6 by Jay Faerber and Fran Bueno
$3.50, Image

Well, it's still too much money, but it's a pretty good issue. Liz leaves Race for a while, but they have a heart-to-heart and say some interesting things about a relationship between a superhero and a non-superhero, one I wonder if Clark Kent and Lois Lane have ever had (I don't read any Superman comics, so I don't know). We revisit why Doc Noble is acting so weird. We find out a little more about the mysterious bad guy that Invincible stopped last issue, and it's not a good thing. We also find out a little more about the alien world where all the heroes are. All in all, it's a good issue. Faerber, I think, is trying a little too hard to keep a lot of balls in the air, and although I like multiple storylines in one issue, maybe one fewer would help us keep track of everything a little better. This is still a good comic, and I'm sticking with it, and I think more people should be buying it, because it's an interesting look at celebrity superheroes that does a better job of it than, say, Fantastic Four.

The Question #3 by Rick Veitch and Tommy Lee Edwards
$2.95, DC

Ah, grammar. Proper usage of the English language. Apparently that's not a super-power Vic Sage possesses. Let's open to PAGE ONE, PANEL ONE. "They're laying low, Metropolis," opines Mr. Sage in his wonderfully wacky internal monologue. Now, I know the whole lie/lay thing makes some people's heads hurts, but really, Vic? Aren't you a journalist?!?!?!?

At least it's the first panel, and then we can move on. The art continues to be spectacular, and there are thought balloons! I miss thought balloons. Veitch comes up with an interesting way to keep drug deals and other illegal activities away from the prying eyes of Superman, but he really beats us over the head with it, like he's trying to prove how clever he is. I know very little about the Question, but I didn't know he had X-ray vision, like Veitch implies on page 2. Anyway, that's not the issue in this issue -- Sage does little except beat up bad guys. We learn more about what Luthor is doing, and Lois checks out some chi, and we get a kind of explanation for the yellow panels with Sage's silhouette. We learn a little more about the Subterraneans, who are (shocking!) working with Luthor. The bad guys are a neat concept, although I can't help wonder where I've seen Minos before. Is he the bag guy on Space Ghost? Help me out, people!

There's been a lot of talk about Veitch "ruining" Ditko's creation. Whatever. This is an interesting series, and I'm actually hooked for the whole thing. If you don't want to get the individual issues, look for the trade paperback, because I'm sure it will be out sometime.

Ultimate X-Men #54 by Brian K. Vaughan, Stuart Immonen, and Wade von Grawbadger with Scott Koblish
$2.25, Marvel

Dazzler rules. That's all I have to say. She ruled last issue, and she rules even more this issue. Dazzler bleepin' kicks ass. Okay, she's flying on the cover (?), but she still rules.

So what's going on in this issue? Well, Vaughan is doing the Ultimate version of Longshot and Mojo, and I'm waiting to see what happens with this before deciding if I'm keeping the title. Vaughan also brings in Genosha, as Longshot is a Genoshan mutant accused of killing a politician, for which he is sentenced to be hunted on Krakoa, an uninhabited island, while Mojo films him for a "reality" show. Of course, he's remarkably lucky, so he keeps surviving. The X-Men find out about this and don't actually intervene, instead going to Genosha to investigate whether Longshot (he has a real name, but it's more fun to call him this) is innocent or guilty. Colossus thinks this sucks, so Xavier grounds him. He also acts all snotty with Jean when she questions him. Is Ultimate Xavier going all Onslaught on us???? After Jean, Scott, Bobby, and Kitty leave to investigate, Dazzler suggests the rest of them steal a jet and do some of their own investigating. That, my friends, is why she rules. Of course, Vaughan will probably kill her off, because she rules too much. The lame characters (yes, I'm harping on Cyclops again -- even Ultimate Cyclops is lame) they keep, but who needs cool characters?

The art is pretty, although not as nice as Immonen's on Superman: Secret Identity. Vaughan puts in a wonderfully witty defense of decompressed comic-book writing. Of course, Mojo the villain makes the argument, but it's still funny. And there's a Doug Ramsey reference!

Pretty good stuff, better than the last arc, even though it had Fenris in it. We'll see how it plays out.