Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Shortbox 11/30/06

Criminal #1
writer: Ed Brubaker
artist: Sean Phillips
Icon/Marvel Comics, released 10-4-06
As much as I enjoy the science fiction, fantasy, and superhero genres, my favorite will probably always be crime stories. If it's well-crafted noir, gangster, or espionage, I'm almost always sold in an instant. The new ongoing series Criminal from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is a crime comic and, to put it mildly, I'm in love. I've reread this first issue 5 times since I've gotten my hands on it. I reread a lot of my comics, and some of them I've read more than 5 times, but never in less than a month's time. There is magic within the pages of this comic, and I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to describe why I'm so head over heels for it.
It's no secret to those of you who have read my articles here at LowBrow Media that I think Brubaker is writing at a level unparalleled in comics at the moment. Everything he's been putting out has been truly phenomenal. Then re-team him with the brilliantly talented Phillips, who has done some really fine work on Marvel Zombies since their collaboration on Sleeper from Wildstorm/DC a few years back. (I still have yet to read all of Sleeper, but I have to say its one of the best things I've ever read.) It sure looks like Criminal, with it's cast of creator-owned characters under the anything-goes Icon imprint, has the potential to be the perfect comic book series for someone like me.
I'm not going to get into the plot in this review. I'm sure other review I'll write will cover that in the future. I'm going to tell you what I know about this title and why I think it's going to be great. First off, its closest comic cousin is probably Sin City. It'll be focused on the underworld of society, a real world with guns and blood, but no superpowers and no miracles. There is not a main character. Sure, each arc will focus on a character or two, but then it'll move on to someone else's story. These stories will overlap in time and the most characters will interact eventually. I bet that a couple of characters who are referred to in this first issue who do not appear in panel we will not meet until ten issues into the series. The first arc's main character is a guy named Leo. He's a main character, not a hero. If you can tell the difference and you can appreciate that difference, this comic is for you. In fact, if any of this sounds good to you, this comic is for you.
And then there is what may be my favorite aspect of Criminal -- the covers. Phillips has absolutely outdone himself here with these. Issue one and the advance peeks of subsequent issues look gorgeous. They have that old movie poster feel to them, which has fallen out of favor for some reason amongst the studios. I swear I can see Lee Marvin's mug lurking in the background of each one. Just beautiful stuff.
In conclusion, buy Criminal. Buy a bunch of copies. Give a copy to your friends who only read superhero comics. Hell, give a copy to your friend that doesn't read anything, let alone comics. Just get this title off the ground. I can't believe I have to wait a whole month for each issue. It's just not fair.
10 out of 10

X Isle #3 (of 5)
writers: Andrew Cosby & Michael A. Nelson
artist: Greg Scott
BOOM! Studios, released 10-11-06
Halfway through this mini and things continue to get more intriguing. BOOM! has been coming out recently with a really diverse collection of titles. X Isle has been billed online as a Lost knockoff, which I could see saying after the first issue, but after the third it's not a very accurate description any longer. I think this comic is a bit closer to a sci-fi island version of Land of the Lost, only the people they dropped off are actually interesting. It's difficult to pinpoint what the purpose of this group of people on this island is, but if they continue to be attacked by plant monkeys, I'll be satisfied. (That's right, plant monkeys.)
7 out of 10

The Damned #1 (of 5)
writer: Cullen Bunn
artist: Brian Hurtt
Oni Press, released 10-18-06
When I first read the solicitation for The Damned, I had dreams of two of my favorite universes colliding: The Godfather mixed with Joss Whedon's daemons. Of course, it falls short of my personal grand vision, but it's still worth checking out if you're up for some genres combining that usually don't. What newcomer Cullen Bunn brings to the table is a gripping tale of a cursed man who can't die, but can get even. Eddie is damned, for lack of a better term, to never die. Sure, he can take a dirt nap for a few days, but if he's dug up again, he's back up and doing the bidding of mob bosses. Mix him up with a couple of crime families and an ex-girlfriend, and you've got the base of a pretty good story going. My one gripe about Bunn's work is the dialogue of a few of the supporting characters. It's a bit too much like a James Cagney movie for my taste, but thankfully I couldn't pick out an Edward G. Robinson amongst the cast. Meanwhile, Hurtt's art is solid throughout the issue, but none of the character designs appear to be entirely original; that said, I'm not certain that they are supposed to be. The characters very well could be drawn to evoke a classic feel to a world that is very unfamiliar. In the end, take a chance on it if you're in the mood for something a little different.
7 out of 10

Casanova #5
writer: Matt Fraction
artist: Gabriel Ba
Image Comics, released 10-18-06
I'm checking back in on this title that I gave a perfect score to it's inaugural issue a few months back in The Longbox, and all things continue to be a go. I love this title. It's crazy and I have to reread it before totally absorbing everything Fraction and Ba pack into each issue, both visually and structurally. This issue was particularly fun. The mission for Cass this time around is to infiltrate the last island of savages left on the planet, kinda like Kong Island in King Kong, but it still exists just like that in modern times. I really, really want to spoil this for you right here, but I won't. I think it's pretty safe to say you won't guess what comes next; I sure as hell didn't. It's fun, it's smart, it's violent, and it's has some really touching moments as well, as it resolves the fate of Casanova's mother. It'll take a bit for new readers to wrap their head around the world of Casanova, but it's completely worth it.
9 out of 10

Doctor Strange: The Oath #1 (of 5)
writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Marcos Martin
Marvel Comics, released 10-4-06
Doctor Strange hasn't really done anything cool in any story that I've read with him in it. He more often than not has been used by writers as a deus ex machina, and because of that tactic, I've developed a involuntary "oh, come on" syndrome every time he pops up in a panel. I didn't lay down $2.99 so some mystical dude can pop up out of nowhere, wave his arm, say "bibbity, bobbity, boo" and Iron Man is suddenly out of his jam. That said, because he's constantly being used tells me that once upon a time he was bad ass. That knowledge swimming in the back of my head combined with one of my favorite authors out there right now penning this miniseries drove me to pick up this one that I would have passed on most any other time. And I am glad I did. First off, the art is fantastic -- a bit cartoony, yet somehow not -- and full of color. Meanwhile, BKV mixes humor (Iron Fist chatting with Arana was just plain great) with full-force drama, unapologetically delivering the unique world of Stephen Strange to us behind an intriguing mystery -- who shot and robbed the doctor, stealing the exilir to cure Wong's cancer, and who orchestrated the whole she-bang. Add the answer to these questions along with Night Nurse and you can count me in for the whole series.
8 out of 10

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Shortbox 10/6/06

Birds of Prey #98
writer: Gail Simone
artist: James Raiz
DC Comics, released 9-20-06
I finally think I've gotten a good grasp on the ladies of BoP since their one-year-later jump, but it's taken longer than I'd have liked it to. Now that Black Canary is back in the fold, things are getting back to normal, meaning that there is plenty of craziness to unravel. The big twist this issue is the appearance of a new, mysterious Batgirl. The inclusion of Rose Forrest/Thorn for a scene earlier in the book is a pretty sad fake hint as to the identity of the new Batgirl. For one, Thorn lacks the transportation ability that Batgirl possesses, as well as the freckles adorning her nose and cheeks visible beneath Batgirl's mask. Cassie (the most recent, yet currently retired Batgirl) is busy being an assassin, so it's not her either. Frankly, even by the end of the issue, I don't really care who it is. Issue #99 will have a lot of work to do to get me excited for what one would expect to be very big issue #100.
6 out of 10

Claws #2 (of 3)
writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
artist: Joe Linsner
Marvel Comics, released 9-13-06
Eventually, someday, I will buy a mini series featuring the Black Cat and not be horribly disappointed. The first issue was nothing special, but I could still see the potential for at least an enjoyable read by the end. This issue shattered that. All Wolverine and the Cat are doing is avoiding being killed by a bunch of nameless hunters in a very uninspired fashion. This does not live up to the standard of the film Surviving the Game, the best people-hunting-people story I've ever been exposed to. However, the disappointment of this series is mainly due to the reveal of the villain, who has very likely been contracted by someone else with a legitimate vendetta against Logan and Felicia. This villain should be regulated to Marvel Adventures titles, not the Marvel Knights imprint. Even if there was a good reason to slap these two protagonists together, it has not even been hinted at yet. This is a very underwhelming effort given by Palmiotti and Gray, who have shown themselves to be a solid writing team, which is evident in the highly enjoyable Heroes for Hire and Daughters of the Dragon books. With the exception of a few funny visual gags, this mini is flat out not worth your money or time.
3 out of 10

The Cross Bronx #1
writer: Michael Avon Oeming & Ivan Brandon
artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Image Comics, released 9-6-06
Set in the eponymous section of New York, The Cross Bronx is an intriguing premise. Our main character is Rafael Aponte, a detective who seems disillusioned -- by what, we are yet to discover; however, due to the repeated inclusions of moths and religious iconography, I'd have to say it's got something to do with a combo of those. What does religion have to do with moths? Hell if I know; go ask a Christian entomologist. Anyway, Rafael is following the trail of a gun involved in a multiple murder case, leading him to the former owner's family. Further coincidences between the family and the murder are teased, followed by some more mysterious killings.
There is plenty of moody art in this issue. Because of Oeming's style, I can't help but be reminded of he and Bendis' fantastic Powers while reading this, but I believe after another issue, the differences in tone between the two will become more prevalent, thus separating it from his creator-owned masterpiece. The depictions of violence here are gruesome, and he has done a wonderful job with it.
I think this book has some real depth to it and, depending on how events progress in the mini, could even be turned into an intriguing ongoing series. This is not one to be missed.
8 out 10

Jack of Fables #3
writers: Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges
artist: Tony Akins
Vertigo/DC Comics, released 9-27-06
It took a few issues, but it now looks as those Jack of Fables does have enough legs to stand apart from Fables on its own. Many fears I'd presented in a Shortbox article a few months back have been laid to rest at the close of this issue. There is certainly a foe worthy on the same level as the Adversary in Fables with the Librarian and all of his employees. Jack has grown on me as a hero, but it's still hard to relate to him. He's simply too perfect. I prefer a hero I can relate to, which is why I like Daredevil fighting to serve justice and his own desires in the midst of the chaos that his life constantly brings. Jack may reach similar hardships in time, but right now he is the dashing, incredibly handsome guy who always wins a battle of wits, not to mention that his has a healing power akin to Wolverine. (I only have the incredibly handsome thing going for me.) That said, Jack is likable enough to root for, and I expect the more I invest in his character, his likeability will only increase. Pick this one up now, as well as the first two issues; they are probably still on the stand at your local shop.
8 out of 10

Union Jack #1 (of 4)
writer: Christios Gage
artist: Mike Perkins
Marvel Comics, released 9-20-06
Moving along to the other book in my stack featuring a lead character named Jack, comes the international terrorism thriller Union Jack. This mini spins out of the recent "Twenty-First Century Blitz" arc from Epting and Brubaker's Captain America. It takes place afterwards that storyline, though how long is unclear, and in the end unimportant. What is important about Joe Chapman is, unlike the two men who wore the uniform before him, he comes from a blue-collar background as opposed to the British aristocracy that they belonged two. Social class, while certainly causing instances of contention here in the states, is a much larger source of conflict in Great Britain. This Union Jack is a man of the people more than he is a mere vampire and werewolf slayer. While I have to admit I was kinda bored with most of this issue (the rest of the cast just is not very interesting to me yet), the last few pages really hooked me, especially considering that the man of the people just wrote many of their death warrants with a decision he made. I absolutely love a character that majorly screws up; it gives them the greatest motivation to make up for it, if they ever can. Now it's Jack's turn to do just that.
7 out of 10

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Shortbox 9/29/06

Squadron Supreme #6
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artist: Juan Barranco
Marvel Comics, released 8-9-06
Six issues into this title, and I'm still waiting for things to get started. Typically after only six issues, a story with this much depth failing to explain everything wouldn't bother me. However, in this case, it's pace flat out irks me because Squadron Supreme is really at issue #24, being an extension of the fantastic, 18-issue Supreme Power series from 2003-05. The white elephant in the room for me is the amount of characters. Because there are 11 members in the group right now (not to mention the supporting cast), the development of both the characters and the plot is being spread too thin in order to cover all of them.
That said, Nighthawk finally makes an appearance in this issue. His most entertaining scene is one that would send Bobby de Niro's character from Taxi Driver into fits of violent jealousy. Though he may be nothing more than an African-American Batman, he's still the most interesting of the bunch to me. More Nighthawk can only be a good thing. Keep that in mind, J. Mike.
6 out of 10

Hellblazer #223
writer: Denise Mina
artist: Cristiano Cucina
Vertigo/DC Comics, released 8-16-06
I'm suggesting this as a jumping on point for all of those of you currently not reading the adventures of John Constantine because this issue was where I've begun reading as well. In this one-shot, Mina displays a fantastic ability to depict the insane with the villain here. I have a suspicion that we've not seen the last of him either. She's also reinvigorated Map in this issue, a minor character that I'm told had not been greatly utilized in recent runs by other writers. He appears to be placed on a path of great importance after the events at the close of the issue. That said, because I'm incredibly new to the title, I could be way off base. Either way, I dug the issue and can't wait to wrap my head around this world a bit more.
8 out of 10

New Avengers #23
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Oliver Coipel
Marvel Comics, released 8-23-06
If this issue is any indication as to what Bendis' proposed Spider-Woman series will be like, all I can say is, "Yes, sir! May I have another?" New Avengers #23 rocked my shit (that's a good thing, I think), and that's saying something considering how much I've enjoyed the Civil War-related N.A. issues already. Following the excellently scripted #21 and #22 about Captain America and Luke Cage, Bendis continues to focus on a single Avenger per issue. This round revolves around Jessica Drew and how the life of a triple agent is further complicated by the Registration Act. Although the Spider-Woman: Origin mini was seemingly unspectacular when I read it a few months ago, I now realize how important Jessica's past is to her relationship with the Avengers. I hope if you haven't read SW:O you enjoy this issue, but I can't see how -- you're missing out on so much without her backstory. She is on the verge of insanity by dividing herself between the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the folks over at Hydra. Hopefully she can simplify her life by choosing the side of Civil War that she does. I just don't see that happening though.
10 out of 10

The Boys #2
writer: Garth Ennis
artist: Darick Robertson
WildStorm/DC Comics, released 8-30-06
I haven't read any of Preacher yet, but when I read that Ennis had proclaimed this book would "out-Preacher Preacher" I had to give it a look. Without delving into what that statement actually means, what I know about Preacher, besides it being one of the best reads of the 90s, is that it was considered insanely violent both in subject matter and the methods in which that violence was depicted in. Don't know about you, but I can usually go for a nice dose of insane violence every month, so I slapped this baby on my pull list. The second issue introduces us to the rest of the Boys who weren't shown to us in #1. A lot of what is going to happen in this book is totally out of my range of prediction, at least as of right now. That said, it's a great setup for a series after the first two issues. Although there's plenty of subjects here that Ennis isn't the first guy to tackle, mainly critiquing of the Superhero in a modern landscape, there's also plenty to like. The Boys is certainly not for young boys and girls; in fact, it's really not for mature readers either. This is the perfect book for people over the age of 18 that still like a good dirty joke or a display of unabashed brutality.
8 out of 10

Heroes for Hire #1
writers: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
artists: Billy Tucci & Tom Palmer
Marvel Comics, released 8-23-06
The idea behind this new ongoing really intrigued me -- bounty hunters collecting on villains because the big heroes of the Marvel U are too busy fighting with each other to do the dirty work -- and toss in the fact it would be a direct descendent of the very enjoyable Daughters of the Dragon mini from earlier this year, I made sure I put it on my pull list. Colleen Wing and Misty Knight are the new front women, taking over for Iron Fist and Power Man/Luke Cage (who were busy being pushed into A-list status to bother picking up their old mantle). Joining them are an interesting bunch -- Black Cat (as I've mentioned in previous columns, an inexplicable favorite of mine), Shang Chi (no idea), Paladin (ditto) and the new Tarantula (I've never even heard of the old one, but whatever), as well as favs of mine from the DotD -- Humbug, Orka and, of course, Otis. It's a solid introduction issue and you definitely do not need to hunt down the mini to figure out what's going on. It is bogged down some in seriousness as opposed to the pure fun of the mini due to the landscape of Civil War, but I think more humor will eventually slip in. I am calling for an Otis spin-off in the near future, however. I love me some Otis.
7 out of 10

Monday, September 25, 2006

Low Blows 09.25.06

“American Virgin” #5
DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Steven T. Seagle
Artist: Becky Cloonan

If you’ve never heard of the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Josh Harris, then count yourself lucky. Its author earned himself a fair amount of fame and money, as well as moral authority, in the Evangelical Christian community around 1997 or so with his Bible-twisting and fearful message of a return to the relatively ancient practice of courtship in lieu of the modern dating paradigm.

I’m absolutely certain that Steven T. Seagle had Harris in mind when he created “American Virgin”’s protagonist, Adam Chamberlain. He, too, is hip and in his mid-twenties, and has made millions of dollars after publishing a book about the virtues of preserving your virginity before marriage. But unlike the image Josh Harris has constructed of himself, Adam is not perfect. He swears, gets frustrated easily, and sometimes gives in to lust -- well, in his thoughts, anyway. And most recently, his life has gone to hell.

Now, I’m no stranger to Christian fundamentalism, and I’m also no small critic of the same -- which is probably why I find myself responding so strongly to this book. It is to Steven T. Seagle’s credit that he has, thus far at least, not made fun of the protagonist, but in fact made him someone that I’m rooting for. Adam has real emotions, and makes no attempt to conceal that due to recent developments, he is adrift in a sea of uncertainly regarding where his life is going. All he has left is his faith, but he continues to find himself in contexts which the Bible does not offer pat, easily-digested answers for. It’s one thing to spurn the sexual advances of a groupie after a pro-virginity rally, but what does the Bible say about what to do when a mercenary under your employ provides you with a potential opportunity to confront the terrorist who severed your girlfriend’s head in South Africa?

There’s a lot going on in this book. Adam has just returned from an overseas trip, where he retrieved his deceased girlfriend’s missing head at no small cost to his sanity. His step-sister, the only one who can really trust in his family, is involved with a drug deal gone bad. His manipulative, money-grubbing mother is trying to get him to attend a Christian speaker’s convention in Australia. It appears that his step-father was involved in pornography in his younger years -- and it’s his deadbeat brother and cousins who provide him with rather visceral evidence of this. And Cassie, the aforementioned deceased girlfriend, keeps appearing to him in visions.

Beautiful, charming art by Becky Cloonan and a ghostly cover by Josh Middleton compliment this story well. Cloonan (whom I have only previously heard of from Brian Wood’s “Demo” series) is a master of expressions, and her distinct character work, reminiscent of Paul Pope but more accessible, gives the series a look all its own. I’m not sure if I’d like the series quite as much without her involvement.

I don’t want to give the impression that “American Virgin” is a downer. It’s not deadly serious, and there is some pretty heavy satire at work here. I have absolutely no idea where the series is heading, but my theory is that it’s somewhere dangerous and controversial. And I’ll be reading it every step of the way.

[9 out of a possible 10]

“Ghost Rider” #1
Marvel Comics
Writer: Daniel Way
Artists: Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira

Though I wasn’t crazy about Garth Ennis’ somewhat half-baked miniseries that this new ongoing series picks up from, it laid an interesting foundation. You see, Johnny Blaze, the original Ghost Rider, has died, and is in Hell, stuck in his “flaming skull and magic bike” form. He spends most of this issue trying to escape the Pit, for obvious reasons. And I don’t think it spoils anything for me to say that, when he finally does escape at the end of this first issue, it brings with it a load of complications.

I’ll be upfront about this: it turns out that I do like Daniel Way after all. And, now that I’ve gotten that out, I’ll go ahead and say that his “Ghost Rider” is pretty good, too. Furthermore, with the advances in computer coloring in the last decade, legendary 1990s “Ghost Rider” artists Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira are looking better than ever -- really playing off each other’s strengths, much more so than when they were drawing “Wolverine” together not too long ago. This is the best-looking Ghost Rider I’ve seen in a long time, if not ever. All of which adds up to a really enjoyable book, but also one which I’d be surprised if it breaks any sales records.

It’s not real hard to pinpoint why Daniel Way isn’t exactly Marvel’s most popular writer. I think a lot of it stems from his lackluster “Venom” series from a while back, and perhaps even his middling “Hulk” and “Wolverine” stints last year. His two Bullseye-centric miniseries with Steve Dillon on art were a whole lot of fun, except that he seemed to borrow a bit too much from the atmosphere of Garth Ennis’ “Marvel Knights Punisher” in writing these instead of developing a voice of his own. I was spurred to give this new series a chance on the strength of the first few issues of Way’s “Wolverine: Origins,” though, and I’m glad I did.

“Ghost Rider” is probably never going to be one of Marvel’s top-tier titles, but sometimes, all I really want to read is a comic where the main good guy is a glowing skeleton on a motorcycle, and the main bad guy is the Devil. Way himself has stated in an interview that he’s trying to aim for something fun and middle-of-the-road. Well, with this premiere issue of the new series, I’d say he has definitely succeeded.

[7.5 out of a possible 10]

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Low Blows 08.27.06

(It's been a while, and I've got some catching up to do...)

"100 Bullets" #73
DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Eduardo Risso

"100 Bullets" is my favorite comic that I have no idea what's going on in, month after month. Some might argue that Azzarello reads better in trade paperbacks; I just say that a lot of comic readers are lazy -- myself included -- and can't be bothered to dig back through their collection and do some re-reading. But that's not to say that this book isn't enjoyable. It's violent, funny and intriguing, and the crime noir trappings of the first 50 or so issues of the series have more or less given way (for the time being, at least) to an exploration of the inner workings of the Trust, the conspiracy behind Agent Graves' own personal conspiracy.

Issue #73 is the fourth part of "A Wake," in which it seems we are meeting yet another Minuteman for the first time. Parallel plot threads including the above-mentioned awakening of a sleeper agent, South American beef bandits, a pair of warring small-time crooks who happen to be brothers, and the selection of a new member of The Trust fill this book to the brim with story. Decompressed it's not, though it does still feel as if the story is unfolding at a slower pace than your average comic book. But then again, this is no average comic book.

There's not a lot new about "100 Bullets" that I can say, really, as the book prepares to enter the final quarter of its 100-issue run. Azzarello's dialogue continues to be lyrical, streetwise and obtuse, his plotting perhaps moreso, but in a good way. And, what can I say -- Risso's fluid, dangerous art couldn't be a better match. I'd be a liar if I said that this would be a good issue for a new reader to start with, though, as it's too involved in the mythology of the series to provide any kind of good entry point into the story. In fact, I'd say "100 Bullets" is probably well past its new reader-friendly stage. Instead, I'd recommend that the new reader start from issue #1, as I'm about to do (for the third time), and experience the "100 Bullets" saga from the beginning.

[7.5 out of a possible 10]

"Ares" #5 (of 5)
Marvel Comics
Writer: Michael Avon Oeming
Artist: Travel Foreman

You've heard of Mike Oeming -- he's the artist of "Powers," and the writer who killed Thor and wiped Asgard off the map. Travel Foreman, on the other hand, is probably best known as "that guy who dropped the ball on that awful 'Doctor Spectrum' miniseries."

It so happens that I really enjoy "Powers," (though I realize that Oeming's artistic prowess most likely has little correlation with his writing skills -- point in case, the majority of Image Comics' founders) and I had also heard that Ares may be joining the New Avengers in the future, so I decided to give this miniseries a try.

I'm glad, too, because I was rewarded with a truly interesting story about warring Eastern and Western pantheons, centered around the betrayal of sons to their fathers. The character art and backgrounds in these five issues has varied in quality between merely serviceable and outright stunning, but I blame this inconsistency on deadline pressures rather than any lack of talent on Foreman's part. My only other complaint lies in the fact that Zeus seems to die about three times in battle over the course of this story, only to return quickly to his allies' side -- but perhaps this is just a piece of the mythological underpinnings to the story that I'm unaware of.

This final issue ties things up nicely, and leaves me wondering exactly how Ares might fit into a modern team context. My money's on him filling the "tough guy" role in the new "Mighty Avengers" book that Bendis and Frank Cho are going to be putting out after the Civil War runs its course. What actually sold me on the story wasn't the plentiful action scenes, but instead it was the relationship between Ares and his son, whom he fears will follow all too closely in his footsteps. I only hope that this narrative thread, and also the larger story of the Marvel Greek gods, isn't lost when Bendis takes over the reins.

[7 out of a possible 10]

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Longbox 8/25/06

Lethal Instinct #6 (of 6)
writer: Romulo Soares (with Bart Thompson translating)
artist: Alex Borges
Alias Comics, released 7-5-06
You know, you read a lot of gripes online at comic sites and message boards about how everything in the industry revolves around superhero titles and the small, out-of-the-mainstream books never get noticed. These are accurate complaints to a degree, as some of the best stories being told in any medium can be found from the independent comic publishers. Exciting work has been coming out of Oni Press for quite some time, most recently in the form of new series Wasteland and the upcoming Damned (a book that sold me on its gangsters and daemons concept from the moment I found out about it). Boom! Studios with their X Isle mini-series and IDW Publishing picking up Peter David's Fallen Angel, among other titles, are two other comic houses to keep an eye on these days. What all this means for us, the fans, is we have more places to look to spend our money when perusing around the local shop (assuming your shop carries books other than the big sellers). You'll find that this has some drawbacks, as I find that I've been dropping more cash on comics each month because they are just so damn good I can't control myself, but that is the nature of the beast because more comics equals lower drinking funds (thank god I live in a college town where booze is cheap to find).
However, among all of those great books I've been getting, I have come across a few stinkers, the worst of which is being reviewed in this article.
See, about year and a half ago when I began to become serious about reading comics, I wanted to spread my horizons and get some books by lesser-known publishers. At that time, two were just putting up shop: FC9 Comics and Alias Comics.
FC9 intrigued me with Hell, Michigan, which told the story of a town that bred evil within its boundaries, causing a few citizens to band together to combat it. Sadly, I only ever received two issues and though it wasn't as great as the premise, I'm still disappointed that I never found out how it ended. A quick look at their website reveals that they've been as stagnant as Britney Spears' music career over the past year.
Alias, on the other hand, offered up Lethal Instinct, a tale about a paranormal-investigating policeman who just happens to be a werewolf. And issue #1 was only 75 cents! How could I resist?
The first issue was released on June 6th, 2005. Over 13 months later, I finally received the concluding sixth installment. Wow, was it NOT worth the wait.
Really I have only myself to blame for this. I knew this issue would be bad. I've known it was going to be a horrific display of inconsistent art and cliche-ridden storytelling for over a year now. But I ordered it anyway. Why? So I could tear it apart in this column.
*** Part of me feels a little guilty for what you're about to read. I really do try to support independent publishers and always root for their success, even Alias in their future publications. However, this atrocious comic must be lambasted and reviled in every possible aspect. Continue reading at your own risk. ***
First off, because this comic is so immeasurably horrendous, I couldn't bring myself to dig out the previous five issues and reread them. It's taken me all the willpower I possess not to burn them so that no other person would be subjected to the shear amateurish nonsense contained on these pages.
Lethal Instinct was originally published in another country and this is the American adaptation. As a result, all the Spanish (or was it Portuguese? can't remember) has been translated. The problem with this is that Bart Thompson either had absolute shit dialogue to translate from, or didn't know how what the proper translation would have been, instead incorporating every pathetic line from recent Eric Roberts strait-to-video cop movies. However, I may be giving Mr. Thompson a little too much credit. You see, when you have such gripping dialogue as, "You're informant's timing sucks!" on page two of this issue, and since it just happens to have a glaring grammatical error as the improper utilization of "you're" as opposed to "your," you kinda lose all potential credibility. In prior issues, the lettering itself would inconsistently waver from bubbles overloaded with text to gigantic balloons with hardly anything within them, obstructing the sub-par artwork.
Speaking of the art, it truly is some of the worst I've ever seen. Issue #6 thankfully is without some of the obvious blunders of past installments. I recall a panel in issue #3 or #4 where our hero, the werewolf, is locked in a cage, but for some reason his shadow was going the opposite way of the shadow the cage was casting. And to top it off, the cage depicted on the next page failed to even have a shadow.
The remainder of Borges' pencils in the series are not significantly poor; they're simply uninspiring -- action scenes have no sense of drama or impending doom, werewolf transformations appear routine, and every big-breasted bimbo is generic in virtually all imaginable ways. Unfortunately, lackluster art is the rule with this book.
I think that most artists rise to the occasion of the script they are given, so blame of Borges can only be taken so far. I believe the majority of the finger pointing belongs to Soares. His original story is probably just as weak as what the American version has turned out to be. Within the precinct, Frank, the werewolf cop, is constantly having his chops busted (I swear that phrase was used 40 times in the entire series) by his unsympathetic sergeant, who coincidentally looks a lot like Samuel L. Jackson, ala the Ultimate version of Nick Fury. Frank is the police detective in every B-movie you've ever seen, only worse. He's given the wisecracking jokes (if they really can even be called that) and puts the obscure pieces together to solve the mystery before anyone else does. Then there's Ingrid, the beautiful new partner who is actually working for the bad guys, but at the end of the day sees the light not only in doing the right thing, but within Frank as well. LAME.
The only remotely interesting aspect of Lethal Instinct is Daniel, Frank's friend who grew bat wings at the end of the series. There isn't anything in particular that makes his character worth continuing the saga further, but a guy with bat wings fighting a werewolf cop would be kinda cool, even if it was depicted in a shitty art sequence.
Welp, that's about all the complaints I can muster up, so stay away from this title with all your might. Now I'm off to the backyard to have myself a little barbecue.
1 out of 10

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Shortbox 8/7/06

Daily Bugle: Civil War Newspaper
various writers and artists
Marvel Comics, released 7-19-06
I almost didn't pick this little guy up after my disappointment with "The Pulse" newspaper that came out during House of M last summer. Not that that one was horrible; it just didn't completely win me over. This Civil War issue, however, is a completely different story. I think Marvel learned a lot from last year's experiment and improved remarkably upon this concept. For those not in the know, this is a mock issue of the "Daily Bugle," complete with articles and editorials regarding the current state of the Marvel Universe -- the issue is an actual newspaper, right down to the paper it's printed on. There's an article giving us a quick synopsis of each Civil War-related book in the Marvel U, clearly a marketing ploy, but it also allows someone like me who is not getting every
tie-in issue to have a better understanding of what the other titles are up to. Some highlights from the many articles inside include Wolverine's hunt for Nitro, a debate over whether heroes are to blame for teens begin inspired to put on costumes and then getting themselves killed, and a very entertaining Fifth Page, much of which is dedicated to lambasting Mary Jane. Perhaps the best article, however, is an editorial "written" by J. Jonah Jameson vilifying Peter Parker for misrepresenting himself to the "Bugle" for so many years, creating doubt around the paper's legitimacy, ala the Jayson Blair incident with the "New York Times" a few years back.
special issue has a lot going for it. It'll be interesting to see if Marvel can put out one similar to this without having a huge event to fall back on like House of M or Civil War.
7 out of 10

Wasteland #1
Antony Johnston
artist: Christopher Mitten
Oni Press, released
This new series from Oni Press is very intriguing. After a yet-to-be-explained apocalyptic event, the entire known world is left as a big 'ol desert. Our hero is a wandering soul; quick with a gun and light on the dialogue. He also happens to have a mysterious understanding of a cryptic, ancient language. Anyway, he arrives at a town, meeting the other main character and future love interest, Abi, who in addition to being the town cutie pie just happens to be the sheriff -- a hottie who can tussle with the big boys. The town inevitably comes under attack before the stranger can leave, and a pretty-damn-cool battle ensues. Wasteland is mixing elements reminiscent of spaghetti westerns, The Road Warrior, Dune, The Gunslinger, the Tatooine scenes of Star
Wars, and Waterworld (minus the water, of course) together for something entirely it's own, which is no small feat. While there are more questions than answers at this point, I gather that's the way it's supposed to be.
8 out of 10

X-Men #189
writer: Mike Carey
artist: Chris Bachalo
Marvel Comics, released 7-26-06
I've heard a lot about Mike Carey being one of the top writers in the industry, so when this new X-book run started up, I decided to hop on the bandwagon. While I can't say this issue and the first part of the Carey run, #188, are bad, I am saying I'm thoroughly confused at this point. This is due in part to my relative ignorance of the X-Men in general. I know the main group from the movies and cartoons of the 90s, but outside of the characters featured in those mediums, I'm mostly at a loss. I know Rogue and Iceman. I know Mystique's role in the Marvel U has been expanded greatly since Singer infused her into his two X-movies; although exactly what that role is, I'm not entirely sure. As far as Cable and C
annonball go, I essentially have no idea who they are -- I don't think I even had heard of Cannonball before. And then there's Sabertooth. I think he's the lynchpin to success on this first arc of Carey's. If whatever Creed is up to makes sense and is worthwhile, you'll see me raving about this title. If not -- well, I'm never against saving myself $2.99 a month. That said, Rogue seems to be a good change-of-pace choice as leader of the group, so I am holding out hope that her growth into that role is one of the stronger points of the run. The rating is based on the merit of this issue alone, but the series is a long way from being foregone.
5 out of 10

Jack of Fables #1
writers: Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges
artist: Tony Akins
Vertigo/DC Comics, released
Spinning out of Fables is the new on-going Jack of Fables from the mind of Bill Willingham. I'm still behind on the monthly installments of Fables because I've been reading it in trade, but Jack's story here picks up exactly where I left him a few weeks ago (in my time, not the release of the original issues). About half of this issue was dedicated to establishing just who Jack is for new readers and a brief explanation of what a fable is in Willingham's world. Once that stuff is out of the way, the story does begin to come together. Probably my favorite panel in the book was a classic character in the background toward the end of the of the issue -- you'll know it when you see it. It sure will be exciting to see Jack interacting with new fables.
I was never totally enamored with Jack in Fables as many others were, but he is an enjoyable rebel. He's the obvious choice for a spin-off to be based upon, even though I personally would like to see more background on Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf, respectfully. I hope this series will be
one that I look forward to each month, but based on this initial issue, I'm not convinced. Other than introducing additional fables, I don't see what the big adventure for Jack is yet.
6 out of 10

Runaways #18
writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Adrian Alphona
Marvel Comics, released
A Runaway dies in this issue. While that character was probably the one I least wanted to go (well, one of three -- who am I kidding, they're all awesome and I didn't want any of them to die), I still can't be disappointed in the way events turned out, especially when I think about how this affects one character in particular. This is just more outstanding work from Vaughan and Alphona, as I expect out of them each month. I suppose I should start catching on to
Vaughan's penchant for killing off his most dynamic characters, however.
9 out of 10

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Longbox 7/28/06

Casanova #1
writer: Matt Fraction
artist: Gabriel Ba
Image Comics, released 6-20-06
It's not too often when you finish a comic book and you sit for 10 minutes thinking about what it is you just read. But Casanova pulled it off. Reading this was comparable to the effects I was left with after listening to OK Computer for the first time -- it's like instantly knowing you've come into contact with a piece of art you're sure to cherish for years. It didn't quite go as far as handing me the mindfuck that an initial viewing of a Kubrick film typically does, but I wouldn't be shocked if this title eventually takes me to similar places. It clearly has that anything-can-happen vibe going for it.
So what is this budding, unpredictable masterpiece all about? Well, the short of it is that we'll be following Casanova Quinn -- a time-traveling, womanizing, scoundrel extraordinaire. He's essentially James Bond living in Doctor Who's universe with many of the complexities exhibited in Jorge Luis Borges' short story "The Garden of Forking Paths."
His story begins here with a contract to steal the Seychelle Ruby. Too bad for his client that the provided info has led him to the residence of Ruby Seychelle. But that's not Quinn's problem, he'll deliver her regardless. In the middle of his escape with Ruby, a high-ranking soldier of E.M.P.I.R.E. comes to arrest him at the behest of Cornelius Quinn, our hero's father and Director Supreme of E.M.P.I.R.E. Turns out Casanova's twin sister, Zephyr, was killed while investigating a tear in the time continuum. Quinn now takes it upon himself to solve his sister's murder through combining his underworld contacts with a few less-than-honorable methods of information extraction. This, of course, leads to mentally dueling with a mutant brain, jumping out of a flying casino, meeting with the leader of a "global theft and terror network," and hopping into additional streams of reality, among other adventures. All of this happens between quite a few surprising, yet earned, twists and before we discover the truth behind Zephyr's fate. Pretty damn memorable for a first issue, in my book.
All of this craziness is depicted wonderfully by Gabriel Ba, who I don't believe I've had the pleasure of being exposed to before. His work on this book is really quite impressive. Not only does he handle standard action scenes effectively, he even makes the mental duel mentioned above incredibly exciting, which I find very impressive since the scene is basically comprised of two people sitting down at a table. Another aspect of Ba's art that must be addressed is the color scheme. The entire issue uses only black, white and a dull green, but this limited pallet is hardly noticeable after a few pages in. He makes great use of shadow, which is reminiscent of Mike Mignola, but this is no rip-off. It is very evident here that Ba employs his own style.
Just as I had never picked up something by Ba previously, I hadn't heard of Matt Fraction before either. I was totally blown away by the scripting of Casanova, not only by the plot itself, but also the layout of the panels. First off, this issue is jam-packed with story. It doesn't take a break and action panels never takeover the page. They are strategically placed between key plot points and sly jokes (I laughed out-loud a lot when reading this issue). Probably my favorite feature in this book is the little panels of a character's head below a bit of text, usually from their perspective, explaining either who they are, what importance they have to Quinn, or another great joke. Some even contained all three in the span of two sentences. I've never seen that utilized before, but it's a fantastic method of storytelling that would be most effective in comics than any other medium. I hope it remains a standard feature of Casanova.
Finally, I have to address Fraction's afterward on the interior back cover. In it, he vaguely explains where the ideas for Casanova came from, including discussions with Warren Ellis and Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." For those of you not familiar with Spector, he was a prominent music producer in the 60's for pop groups such as the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, and Ike & Tina Turner, and pretty much all of his production featured various layers of music that created an extraordinary and unique sound, one that no one else during that era could duplicate well. Spector's Wall of Sound is the impetus that gave Fraction the ideas that we see as Casanova. I found this revelation absolutely fascinating because I've never heard an author in any medium cite a style of music as the construction of their story, and it's the Wall of Sound!!! Who is this crazy man that thinks of reality-jumping men of espionage when he's listening to "Be My Baby"?
But, you probably don't care about the Ronettes, so I'll wrap this review up. Based on everything that went on in this book, Casanova looks to be on the path of a great run -- as long as you all pick it up off the stand, that is. I fear that titles such as this one will be ignored by fans for not being published by one of the big two and for residing outside of the superhero genre. I also believe that Fraction will be a big name in the world of comics if this one takes off or if he starts writing a high-profile book for Marvel or DC. Either way, pick up Casanova the next time you're at a shop. You won't be sorry.
10 out of 10

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Shortbox 7/20/06

Uncanny X-Men #475
writer: Ed Brubaker

artist: Billy Tan
Marvel Entertainment, released 7-5-06

Is any writer in the biz as on as Brubaker is right now? If so, let me know about them because I'm not reading anything by them. From Sleeper to Captain America to Daredevil, Bru's been knocking everything he touches out of the park. (Slight spoiler warning for those not having read Deadly Genesis yet). Picking up where his X-Men: Deadly Genesis mini left off (another recommended pickup), we find a walking, powerless Prof. X forming a new team of X-Men. Comprised of Nightcrawler, Warpath, Marvel Girl, Havok, Polaris and himself, Xavier's new squad is on the hunt for Vulcan, the third Summers brother, who is traveling straight into Shi'ar space to enact his own brand of revenge upon them. While there's not a ton of action in this issue, it really sets the stage for a potentially classic X-Men run. I have no idea where he's going with this collection of characters, and those stories are usually the ones I end up loving the most when all is said and done.
Also, I sense that I'll eventually grow a little tired of the Civil War overload during the next few months from my Marvel titles, but with this team gallivanting
in deep space, I suspect it'll be a nice change of pace from the rest of the company's books in my stack.
8 out of 10

Green Arrow #63
writer: Judd Winick
artist: Scott McDaniel
DC Comics, released 6-14-06

The ferocious battle between Green Arrow and Deathstroke that started last issue comes to a great close in this one, and that happens by page six. The remainder of this installment brings the return of Brick and the continuation GA: Star City mayor. I've really been enjoying the one-year-later jump for Ollie, particularly compared to the other DC titles in my stack. It actually makes sense for a man in Oliver Queen's millionaire playboy position to make a run for mayor and win under the mantra of simply rebuilding his city. Of course, politics are never simple in fiction, and while it's unlikely Winick will take the complexity of GA's maneuvering to levels seen tv shows such as The Wire or Brotherhood, I hope he doesn't abandon this political arc too quickly. Another solid Green Arrow effort from Winick and company.
8 out of 10

Star Wars: Legacy #1
(with review of companion issue #0)

writer: John Ostrander
artist: Jan Duursema
Dark Horse Comics, released 6-21-06

For all the enthusiasm I had for this new Star Wars title once I heard the Republic team of Ostrander and Duursema was being reunited, the initial image of its hero, Cade Skywalker, really had me worried. He looks like a smack-addicted pretty boy with a Jack Sparrow complex. How I could have been so foolish minded after experiencing Ostrander's phenomenal work with the conflicted Jedi knight, Quinlan Vos, I now have no idea.
Legacy takes place roughly 130 years after the Battle of Yavin (the end of A New Hope for those less intimate with the Star Wars timeline). In that time, a few generations of Skywalkers have come and gone, as have threats from legions of Sith. Cade, once trained as a Jedi, has left that path behind him and is now a smuggler by trade. Of course, we have yet to see any of the current exploits of Cade because this first issue finds him at a time when he first reveals hints of being a descendant of Anakin Skywalker through his inability to control his anger and brushes with the dark side. #1 is a good introduction issue and is in the process of laying the groundwork for an incredibly complex world. I know that it'll be intricate after reading the 25-cent #0 issue. In it, Ostrander gives quick overviews not only of Cade, the Jedi and the Sith, but also members of the Empire, the Imperials, Bounty Hunters and Stormtroopers, among other aspects of Legacy's world.
There's still a lot to prove here for Duursema and Ostrander, as this entire web of characters could fall apart, but I'm betting against it. They clearly have a grand scheme already in place this time out as opposed when they took over Republic, so as long as they have the creative freedom from Dark Horse to tell their tale, you'll be sorry if you don't jump on with this title now.
#0 - It's 25 cents! Pony up that friggin' quarter!
#1 - 7 out of 10

Brave New World #1
various writers and artists
DC Comics, released 6-28-06

What's that? 80 pages of comics for how much? A whole dollar!?!? Count me in.
I have to admit, this is a great marketing ploy by DC and one I'm surprised isn't done more often in comics. For one dollar you get previews of six new minis/on-goings: Martian Manhunter, OMAC, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, The All-New Atom, The Trials of Shazam!, and The Creeper. Out of this bunch, OMAC probably has the best chance to hold my interest with it's Total Recall-esque plotline, but for $1, I certainly can't complain. In the future, however, I hope they offer a more interesting selection in this format.
It's a dollar! Do you really need a rating to pick it up?!

New Avengers #21

writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Howard
Marvel Entertainment, released 6-28-06

After reading a slew of Civil War-related books that focused primarily on Iron Man and Spider-Man, I was really starting to wonder what Cap was up to because his own title has yet to catch up to the Civil War continuity. Well, my curiosity was filled once I opened this book -- he's holed up in a secret Nick Fury bunker. Normally, I probably would have loved an issue like this, but Chaykin's art really turned me off. The way he draws faces are all too boxy for my taste, and with each turn of the page, my annoyance quickly escalated to wrath (well, as much wrath as reading a decent comic book will allow). Eventually, even my enjoyment of the fairly exciting escape scene at the close of the issue was affected. Really, I came to appreciate two things after reading #21 -- unless Alex Ross and Steve Epting are busy, no one should be allowed to draw Captain America in a book he is featured prominently, and today's news of Frank Cho doing the art on the brand spankin' new The Mighty Avengers title will kick some major ass! (Had to toss that one in there; I've been thinking about it all day.) I just hope Chaykin's time on NA is short.
6 out of 10

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Low Blows 04.27.06

“The Thing” #4
Marvel Comics
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Andrea Di Vito

“The Thing” #5
Marvel Comics
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Andrea Di Vito

I'm going to be a little harsh at first here, but please hear me out.

This book is in trouble, and I'll tell you exactly why: the editor approved a lackluster storyline featuring the "wacky" villainy of Arcade, bow-tied, freckled and tired as ever, as the first arc, and then allowed it to go on for three whole issues -- way too long for an introduction to a series that was most likely a hard sell to its potential readers in the first place.

And this is not to mention that an important cast addition, that of the Inhuman dog Lockjaw, was held off until the fourth issue. By then, I imagine many, if not most, people had already given up.

And it's a shame, because the last two issues have been dynamite. These are the stories that should have kicked off the series -- tales of Ben Grimm, the rock-skinned Thing, interacting with his Fantastic family and getting used to the idea of being the wealthiest superhero in the world. Dan Slott gets a lot of praise for being a writer who "puts the fun back into Marvel Comics," but I'm not so sure that's really his strong suit. Sure, the stories are enjoyable, but they're far from fluff, as the "fun" label implies. It's the rich characterization of the Thing (and supporting cast) that has become the strength of this book.

I just wish, for the sake of Marvel's continued publishing of "The Thing," that this had become apparent sooner. Just ask Jon -- I rarely even consider dropping a book, unless in the case of a radical creative team change, but I almost did this one until I was won over by issue four's heartfelt lesson dealt by Mr. Fantastic (and son Franklin) to his best friend Ben. Oh, and did I mention the huge, teleporting dog? Issue five continues the upward trend, as the "kazillionaire" Thing tries to give something back to his hometown at Yancy Street, which doesn't seem to want his help in the least. Great stuff.

The art by Andrea Di Vito has improved with each installment as well, really hitting a high point in these last few, but he has unfortunately been moved, mid-storyline, onto a higher-profile book. As I said before, it's a shame, really. Kieron Dwyer is taking over with issue six, and if its absence from July's solicitations is to be believed, the title looks to have already been cancelled as of issue eight.

That is, unless you give it another chance. Even if you were disappointed by the first few issues, "The Thing" is worth another look. I swear, that little bitch Arcade is nowhere to be found in these issues, only the very human Ben Grimm trying to come to grips with his sudden superhuman wealth. Check it out.

"The Thing" #4: 9 out of a possible 10.
"The Thing" #5: 8.5 out of a possible 10.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The (Really Short) Shortbox 4/15/06

(*** I actually wrote this a couple of months ago, but never finished the rest of article due to life getting in the way, but you can chalk it up mostly to laziness. Hopefully, this will not become a regular message. - 7-21-06)

The New Avengers: Illuminati (one shot)
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Alex Maleev
Marvel Entertainment, 5/06
As part of the upcoming super-event Civil War, we've been introduced to the Illuminati -- a collection of leaders from the most important Marvel U teams made up of Iron Man, Namor, Prof. X, Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt, and Dr. Strange. While this group has existed for years consulting eachother on many of the greatest threats to occur in Marvel's past, this is the first glimpse we've ever gotten of them. Illustrated wonderfully by Alex Maleev, I can't help but wonder if his talents are wasted on a relatively actionless tale of Bendis going into his talking heads mode. The issue is meant to give us background on this group that I assume we'll be hearing more about in the pages of Civil War, but as a stand-alone story it leaves me uninterested in the group. That's really a shame considering the members involved. I may feel differently about this issue after Civil War gets underway, but until then it may be wise to hold off from picking this one up. There's just not enough here.
6 out of 10

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Longbox: Sin City - Family Values

Frank Miller's Sin City Vol. 5: Family Values
writer and artist: Frank Miller
Dark Horse Comics, 2005
When I began reading comics a few years ago, one of the first collections I got a hold of was the original Sin City trade, now available as Sin City Vol. 1: The Hard Goodbye. That story makes up one third of the Sin City film, if you're more familiar with that aspect of Frank Miller's creation. At the time, I loved the artwork -- particularly his use of shadows -- but overall I was less than impressed with it, partly because it had come so highly recommended, but it probably had more to do with my tastes being attuned to the prose of the likes of William Faulkner and Irvine Welsh instead of the blunt, noir dialogue Miller employs. If I reread it today, maybe I'd feel the same way, but I doubt it, based on my feelings after finishing this volume.
Family Values is a Dwight story, the character Clive Owen played in the movie adaptation. This is an entirely different story, however, and I hope that it's included in the future Sin City film sequels that we'll get in the next few years. You see, Dwight is on another mission of revenge -- not the type of revenge we expect from the outset of the book, but revenge nonetheless (have no fear; spoilers will be kept to a minimum). A woman has been murdered Sonny Corleone style and Dwight's going to figure out who did it and then make sure they get theirs. He's joined silently on his quest by Miho, the pint-sized Asian assassin from Old Town, the section of Sin City ruthlessly run by the hookers who walk its streets.
Dwight goes about solving this murder mystery by visiting all the places you'd expect -- bullet-ridden diners, seedy bars, backseats of mob cars -- all the while extracting the info he needs from everyone who's had a hard-knock life (as if there were any other kind in Sin City). He goes about all of this by any means necessary, whether it be by flirting with a woman past her prime or calmly degrading the man pointing a .45 at his temple. And every line is an utter joy to read. Miller's dialogue in Vol. 5 is running on all cylinders. The excellent dialogue carries over to the overall plot of the book as well. Family Values truly has a satisfying conclusion, all questions answered and all loose ends tied. I don't think I've ever enjoyed anything he's written in the first person more, and that includes all his Daredevil work -- books I'm an unabashed fanatic of.
Then, of course, there's the art. I mentioned earlier how much I was impressed with his use of shadow in The Hard Goodbye, and he is still uses it in a consistent manner. Drawn completely in black and white, as opposed to the splashes of red and yellow in other volumes and I never felt that it needed those highlights. Another aspect of Miller's artwork that is impossible not to admire are the gloriously violent killings. Never conventional, you can't help but gasp at what's happening, just as if you were watching it play out on a screen.
I haven't read any of the other volumes of Sin City, with exception to Vol. 1 and this one, but that's going to change very soon. Now that the movie has been out for awhile, I'd expect that some deals could be found on eBay or other online retailers since interest will have died down by now (I love my comic book stores, but let's be honest -- they rarely have good deals on anything you really want to buy). But even if you can't find a good deal on the Sin City books, I doubt you'll be sorry if you get them at full price. They really are classics in every sense of the word.
10 out of 10

*** Now that LBM has expanded beyond comics, I've retooled some of the columns for the sake of simplicity. This was originally part of a feature I did called "Graphic Novel Grab Bag." I only ever wrote five, so I've re-tagged them as Longbox entries. Enjoy the early days of LBM that I've somehow resisted the urge to purge. -- JA, 1/20/10 ***

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Longbox 3/25/06

Star Wars: Republic #83
writer: John Ostrander
artist: Jan Duursema
Dark Horse Comics, 2/06
Now that Episode III has been released, supposedly ending the Star Wars film franchise, Republic, which was effectively born when Episode I hit theaters, has now come to an end as well. The series has been very inconsistent, ranging from the incredibly dull to some of the most intriguing storylines to unfold in the Star Wars universe. For my money, the best of the series (which I've read almost every issue) came when John Ostrander was doing the scripting. While not all of the other writers were awful, none were memorable. One of the most impressive aspects of the series once Ostrander took over was his use of seemingly forgettable characters and giving them enough background and personality to become integral elements of Republic. Take Villie, the swindling rouge who appeared early in the series but who's broken English (a Star Wars staple) became annoying upon his introduction. However, in the hands of Ostrander, he became a character who you always wanted not to trust, but due to the various precarious situations our hero was placed in, always had to despite better judgment. Along with the do-I-trust-him-or-not scenario that always seemed to present itself while he was included in Republic, he often supplied the much-needed comic relief, which in the movies is usually regulated to Chewy or the droids. Previous storylines never touched on such important aspects of what makes Star Wars one of the most-loved franchises in history.
That said, the greatest improvement that Ostrander made was the inclusion of a Jedi hero who was engaging and mysterious, but clearly not just another Skywalker clone to go on adventures that were essentially rehashes of the film plotlines. He gave us Quinlan Vos, a Jedi who walked a dark path eclipsed only by Anakin Skywalker. Introduced to the series with a case of amnesia, Vos was never even himself sure if he was a dark Jedi or not. He was constantly put in positions to be a double and triple agent for the light and dark sides of the Force. Over the course of Republic, he came in contact with Obi-Wan, Count Dooku, and Yoda among other favorites from the movies. With all of these elements, Republic became one of my most anticipated books each month.
All of this culminates in #83, the final issue of the series. Quinlan and Villie are on the Wookie planet Kashyyyk along with Yoda during the battle depicted in Episode III. The clones turned against the Jedi forces a few issues back and Vos is stranded alone in the jungle preparing himself for certain death, as he has been feeling the deaths of the other Jedi knights through the Force. After focusing himself, he goes on an absolute tear against small groupings of clone soldiers. These scenes are magnificently depicted by Jan Duursema, whose art has been another strongpoint of Republic. Drawing both accurate renditions of characters from the movies and repeatedly exciting lightsaber battles cannot be an easy thing, and Duursema is in prime form with this issue again -- heads were flying all over the place, literally.
I'll leave you the read the details, but we did get the obligatory happy ending with this series, which to a degree went a little overboard, but understandably so. In the end, this was one of the great finds I've come across in comics, and I haven't found much written about it on the web, which is a shame.
I'm sorry to see it go, but Ostrander and Duursema will be teaming up again in the Star Wars universe for the upcoming series Star Wars: Legacy. Although it will apparently be focused on yet another Skywalker, it will be 100 years after the events of Episode VI, and hopefully that will allow Ostrander to create another unique Jedi, different from Quinlan Vos and the Skywalkers.
8 out of 10

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Shortbox 3/24/06

Runaways #13
writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Adrian Alphona
Marvel Entertainment, 4/06
This stand-alone issue focus' on Molly, the youngest member of the teen superhero group, and as usual with Runaways, it's a fine story. Essentially a modern, sci-fi take on Oliver Twist, Molly wakes up and is forced to steal along with some other, similarly kidnapped runaways, only these kids have no special abilities. It was nice to get a little focus on Molly, the least interesting of the team due to her being significantly younger than the rest, and to see all that she really wants is what the other kids she rescued in this issue wanted -- to go home to Mom and Dad; to stop being a runaway. But Molly can't go back home like they did.
It's an entertaining issue despite not contributing to the grand arc of the Runaways lore. Pick it up if you haven't been reading the series; it's a good jumping on point.
8 out of 10

Giant-Size Ms. Marvel #1
"Moment of Clarity" (2006)
writers: Brian Reed & Roberto de la Torre
artist: Jimmy Palmiotti
reprints of Captain Marvel #18 (1969), Ms. Marvel #1-2, #20 (1977-78)
writers: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, & Chris Claremont
artists: Gil Kane, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, & Dave Cockrum
Marvel Entertainment, 4/06
While I find reprints of old comic stories tedious to read, even such classics as the "Kree-Skrull War," I understand why we're presented with them. The history of a character is essential to understanding how they've become who they are today, and Ms. Marvel has come a long way from the pages of Captain Marvel where she first appeared. The other stories included here explain the early, duplicitous nature of Carol Danvers when she changed into her alter-ego, as well as her costume changes and how she befriended Mary Jane Watson. But the reason why I'm recommending this title this month is the new story included. I've been a fan of Ms. Marvel ever since she showed up in Bendis' Alias a few years ago. Reed immediately dives into what the new series will focus on, which is Carol becoming one of the greatest superheroes on the planet, a mantle she held in the alternate universe of the "House of M." Now that she knows she has it in her to be that kind of hero, she's going to do her best to realize that potential.
Meanwhile, Palmiotti's art is absolutely fantastic. He has a great battle sequence between her and the Traveler (who seems to be a really awesome bad guy that I hope returns at some point in the new series) that nicely contrasts Carol's quiet moments of reflection on her terrace.
If the level of production on the art and scripts continues at this level, I have some very high hopes for this new on-going.
"Moment of Clarity" - 9 out of 10
reprints - 5 out of 10

Hellboy: Makoma (1 of 2)
writer: Mike Mignola
artists: Mike Mignola & Richard Corben
Dark Horse Comics, 2/06
If you're not buying this, you're a fool.
10 out of 10

The Amazing Spider-Man #529
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artist: Ron Garney
Marvel Entertainment, 4/06
As of right now, I am not getting any title focusing on any of the big three -- Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man. When I've posed the question as to which title to pick up to people who get titles with one of the big three featured, I never get an enthusiastic, "Oh, man, you have to get Action Comics! I can't believe you aren't already!" or something along those lines. These numerous titles clearly don't excite people anymore, and they sell on tradition more than anything else. So I've never gotten any of them.
However, due to a shipping error by my comic supplier, I got a copy of this issue. According to Mike, this issue is selling out all over the place, and I can see why -- Spidey's got himself a new costume. Compliments of Tony Stark, Peter is given a new high-tech suit, similar to the Iron Man suit of armor, right down to the color scheme. On a test run, he gets himself caught up in a New York City car chase and takes out the low-level criminals with great ease.
And you know what? I liked it. It was simple, but fun, and the allusions to the upcoming "Civil War" mini has me really intrigued. So, now I'll be finishing this arc, and maybe even add it to my pull list if it maintains being enjoyable.
But we all know that suit isn't going to stick around for long. It looks amazing though, and I bet Marvel finds a way to give it to another character, a la Venom.
8 out of 10