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This Week's Haul

Haven’t felt like posting lately, so here’s three weeks of comics to catch up on.

Best bets from the last few weeks: Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier #2, The Sixth Gun #3 and Ghost Projekt #4. Oni is publishing some good stuff, huh?

Three Weeks Ago:

  • Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #1, by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasaron & Cam Smith (DC)
  • Superman #702, by J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrows & J.P. Mayer (DC)
  • The Unwritten #16, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Zatanna #4, by Paul Dini, Chad Hardin & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier #2 of 5, by Ed Brubaker & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • A Skeleton Story #1, by Alessandro Rak & Andrea Scoppetta (GG Studio)
  • The Sixsmiths #1, by J. Marc Schmidt & Jason Franks (SLG)

Two Weeks Ago:

  • Batman Beyond #3 of 6, by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin & John Stanisci (DC)
  • Brightest Day #8, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Ivan Reis, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, Rebecca Buchman & Mark Irwin (DC)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #4 of 10, by Len Wein, Jose-Luis Garcia Lopez, Dave Gibbons, Scott Kolins & Joe Kubert (DC)
  • Ex Machina #50, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fables #97, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha & Dan Green (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #51, by Tony Bedard, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #42, by James Robinson, Mark Bagley & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Power Girl #15, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Chew #13, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • The Sixth Gun #3, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)

Last Week:

  • Justice League of America #48, by James Robinson, Mark Bagley & Rob Hunter (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #4, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #26, by Matt Wagner & Chrissie Zullo (DC/Vertigo)
  • Time Masters: Vanishing Point #2 of 6, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Wonder Woman #602, by J. Michael Straczynski, Don Kramer & Eduardo Pansica (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men #35, by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning (Marvel)
  • Captain America #609, by Ed Brubaker, Jackson Guice & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #582, by Jonathan Hickman, Nail Edwards & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Echo #24, by Terry Moore (Abstract Studio)
  • Dynamo 5: Sins of the Father #3 of 5, by Jay Faerber & Júlio Brilha (Image)
  • Invincible #74, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
  • Ghost Projekt #4 of 5, by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston & Dean Trippe (Oni)
Brian Vaughn & Tony Harris’ Ex Machina came to an end this month. It’s been one of those rarities, a long-running series published less than monthly (bimonthly, in this case), I believe because Harris isn’t quite able to keep up with a regular monthly schedule. (James Robinson wrote many of the “Times Past” episodes of Starman to give Harris time to catch up or get ahead, I understand.)

The premise of the series is that Mitchell Hundred is the only man in the world with superpowers: A strange encounter in New York harbor gave him the ability to communicate with and command machines. He embarked on a brief and controversial career as a superhero, the “Great Machine”, until he saved one of the World Trade Towers from being destroyed on September 11. Retiring from adventuring, he is elected Mayor of New York City, where he has a controversial term as a populist leader who holds strong positions, always annoying the left or the right. Meanwhile, his two friends from his heroing days have different opinions about his new position (one becomes his bodyguard, the other thinks it’s a waste of his talents), and Mitch gradually learns about the origins of his powers.

The series often felt at times like a mouthpiece for Vaughan’s political views. Actually I have no idea if they’re actually Vaughan’s own views or not, but they were by far the least interesting part of the series, repetitively presenting Mitch as the voice of reason while various people were freaking out around him about his positions. It got pretty dull pretty quickly.

I always saw the political milieu as a mundane backdrop to the more interesting story, that being: Why did Mitch get his powers, and what did it mean? But Vaughan clearly didn’t see the series in the same way, as he spent most of the series dealing with the very mundane details of Mitch’s life and friendships, none of which are really deep enough or complex enough to be very compelling, and only one of which (with his bodyguard Bradbury) has a really rewarding payoff. So the more fantastic elements get shoved aside for most of the series, but completely take over the stage when they do come up. For example, the man who’s able to command animals. And then the explanations and drama over the last four issues. We do eventually learn the source of Mitch’s powers, but ultimately it’s kind of disappointing.

I think my fundamental disappointment in Ex Machina is that it feels like it was a lot of text and noise, but not very much happened. Despite Mitch (and a handful of others) with fantastic powers, they don’t really change the world (or even New York City) very much. Indeed, Mitch’s tenure as Mayor doesn’t really change him very much, besides putting some of his friends and family in harm’s way. It doesn’t feel like he really grew or changed as a character or person.

Vaughan’s other major work in comics is Y The Last Man, which is, by far, the superior series of the two. The characters are more engaging and more fully-realized, and despite characters with strong positions it rarely felt like the writer was preaching to us. The fantastic elements are omnipresent (since the premise is that every man on the planet save one has died), but serve to drive and inform the story, while still allowing plenty of space for drama and character development. Things happen, people go places, and change the world (and their lives) through their actions. And while there are some rough edges around the ending, it was on the whole moving and satisfying. Really, the polar opposite of Ex Machina in nearly every way.

To be sure, Ex Machina had one major asset, that being Tony Harris’ always-outstanding artwork, which has grown and evolved, retaining his touch for realistic figures with a stylized veneer, while slowly shedding the awkward facial expressions and compositions. Harris is one of the better artists in comics today, and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

But overall I have to say it’s been a disappointing series. It feels like it’s been playing out the string for the last couple of years, and I can’t really recommend to anyone to go back and read through it, because I don’t think you’ll find it rewarding. Pick up Y The Last Man instead, because it’s going to stay on my bookshelf, while this one’s probably going up on eBay.

(As usual, Greg Burgas and I felt quite differently about this series.)

This Week’s Haul

  • Fables #79, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Peter Gross & Andrew Pepoy (DC)
  • Ex Machina #40, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #10 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Carlos Magno & Julio Ferreira, and Ron Marz, Andie Tong & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Terra #4 of 4, by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers vol 109 HC, collecting The Avengers vol 1 #69-79, by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Sam Grainger & Tom Palmer (Marvel)
  • Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #2 of 2, by Warren Ellis, Clayton Crain & Kaare Andrews (Marvel)
  • Beanworld Holiday Special, by Larry Marder (Dark Horse)
Ex Machina #40 It’s been a while since I’ve written about Ex Machina – about a year, in fact. The comic’s tone is very low-key, consisting mostly of talking heads with the occasional action scene or fantastical occurrence. But for the most part it involves New York Mayor Mitchell Hundred blazing his own unique trail across the post-9/11 political scene, as the only person in the world (well, almost) with superpowers (he can talk to and command machines).

This issue is both a whole issue of talking heads, and yet something of a departure from the main arc: It involves the comic’s writer and artist going in to meet with Mayor Hundred to interview for the job of telling his life story in comic book form. Self-referential, with an amusing twist at the end. It’s interesting to see how writer Vaughan and artist Harris see themselves: Vaughan seems filled with self-doubt and looks to Hundred for guidance (even if he doesn’t come out and say it), while Harris is more flamboyant and self-assured. It’s a cute little aside.

Reportedly Ex Machina will conclude with issue #50, and Comic Book Resources has some info on what the final ten issues will bring. I’m glad to see that the explanation behind Mitchell’s powers will be revealed, but even with 80% of the series completed, I still don’t really know where it’s going. I worry that it’s just not going to have the payoff to justify the journey, and the journey’s been a little too laid-back to justify itself.

Terra #4 Terra wraps up this month, and it’s been a real rarity in comics these days: A fun adventure story that doesn’t have aspirations of being some big must-read event, but rather has the modest goals of setting up the new heroine’s background and plugging her in to the world around her. It also came out fast – the first issue came out in early November. Yowza!

In this concluding issue we learn a little more about Terra and the city she comes from, and she faces down the villain of the series, who turns out to be a less-than-compelling figure. But the series has treated Terra’s opponents as throw-away figures from the beginning, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that the guy who shows up in all four issues is only slightly more significant.

The issue takes the very unusual tack of spending its final third with what’s mostly a talking heads sequence: Chatting with Power Girl about where she goes from here, and then the two of them going out shopping in their secret identities (a concept Terra doesn’t quite get). It’s funny and quirky, but it feels more like the lead-in to a regular series rather than the end of a mini-series. I guess Terra’s moving over to Terror Titans, a series I have absolutely no interest in reading, so I dunno if she’ll have any more solo adventures. But if Palmiotti, Gray and Conner produce them, I’d read ‘em.

Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #2 Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes concludes with two more stories showing alternate outcomes of the first “Ghost Box” story in Warren Ellis’ AXM run. Both issues have been good stuff, but not apparently essential; mainly they convey the fact that the interloper that the X-Men stopped in the main title was the spearhead of a potential invasion force from a parallel world, and the team is fortunate they were able to stop him, since we see how much worse things could have gone.

The mini-series has taken a lot of flak for its $3.99 cover price, given that about a third of the pages are Ellis’ scripts for the stories in the issue. I can understand that, and no, I don’t think I really got great value for my $3.99, although I don’t really regret buying them anyway, since what there was, was indeed entertaining. Food for thought given Brian Hibbs’ musings on mainstream comics likely jumping from $2.99 to $3.99 per issue across-the-board soon.

Beanworld Holiday Special Larry Marder’s Tales of the Beanworld was one of the weirder independent comics from back in the day: Written in a fable-like style, with stick-figure art, it was still charming in its way. It main focus was to concoct a self-contained world with its own unique ecosystem, following the characters through their lives as various developments upset the status quo. Now, years later, we get the Beanworld Holiday Special, which I’ve heard is leading a new Beanworld series coming out next year.

Happily, it’s more of the same charm and weirdness, as the beans try to figure out why the next generation doesn’t seem to be interested in learning the trades necessary to keep their society running. It’s a good introduction to the concept, and is suitable for all ages. If you’re a comics fan who’s at all interested in stuff beyond superhero fare, you ought to check it out; you might be surprised.

This Week’s Haul

A very light week right before Christmas. I guess comics ill arrive on Friday for the next two weeks.

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #19 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Jesus Saiz & Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Ex Machina #33, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • The Umbrella Academy #4 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Primordia #2 of 3, by John R. Fultz & Roel Wielinga (Archaia)
Ex Machina #33 I don’t think I’ve written much about Ex Machina since I started FP. I originally started picking it up because of Tony Harris’ artwork (having enjoyed it on Starman and JSA: The Liberty Files), and it’s consistently been just interesting enough to keep reading. But it’s never nudged its way to the top of my list.

The premise is that Mitchell Hundred had an accident which gave him the ability to talk to and command machines. He had a brief career as the only superhero, The Great Machine, but gave it up after saving one of the World Trade Towers on 9/11. He subsequently ran for Mayor of New York City and won. The series is a chronicle of his tenure as an iconoclastic leader and public figure.

Vaughan’s story is told in 4-issue increments, usually based around a single theme or even. This latest issue is the final part of “Ex Cathedra”, in which in late 2003 – Mitchell visits the Pope and ends up as a pawn in someone’s plan, as well as under the scrutiny of the Vatican due to his abilities. Like most of the story arcs, this one feels like it ends with more questions than answers, although this one does have a couple of big bangs that it goes out on; some arcs end with an anticlimax.

Vaughan has a very understated writing style, both here and in his more celebrated series, Y The Last Man. There’s always the sense that the story is going somewhere, but not a feeling of a whole lot of progress. There are little kernels of information that someone in Mitchell’s world knows what happened to him, or why it happened to him, but I don’t feel like I really know more about Mitchell’s situation than I did at the beginning. I think that’s what frustrates me the most, and I guess it’s just a mismatch between Vaughan’s writing style and what I prefer to read. Maybe I ought to go back and read the whole thing so far at once. and see if it reads better at one shot.

Harris’ art is still terrific, and he’s an artist very well suited to a book which as many “talking heads” scenes as this one. On the other hand I think the script could push him harder, especially in rendering some more amazing pictures. (This issue does have one pretty good scene in that regard, though.)

After three years’ worth of issues, the jury’s still out on Ex Machina, which is a long time for me to stick with a series with that feeling. But I do want to know what’s going on, so I keep reading; I wish Vaughan would speed things up, though.

This Week’s Haul

Once again, I present last week’s haul this week:

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #51, by Tad Williams, Shawn McManus & Waldon Wong (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #3, by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Ex Machina #27, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • World War III one-shots #1-4 (DC)
  • 52 #50 of 52 (DC)
  • Justice League of America #8, by Brad Meltzer, Shane Davis & Matt Banning (DC)
  • Invincible Ultimate Collection vol 2 HC, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Evil Inc. Annual Report vol 2 TPB, by Brad J. Guigar (Lulu Press)
  • Hero by Night #2, by D.J. Coffman & Jason Embury (Platinum Studios)

Aquaman is a little better this month than last. I still don’t think McManus’ efforts here are as strong as in days past, but they’re better; maybe he was stretched doing a double-sized issue. Maybe inker Wong is having a strong influence. I dunno.

The Brave and the Bold: Best superhero comic on the market? Maaaaybe.

Ex Machina is definitely picking up. I’m genuinely looking forward to what comes out of the current story.

52 this week is “World War III”, where Black Adam goes to war against the world and its heroes (and villains), and does a terrific amount of damage in the process. It’s not bad. That said, the four spin-off specials are not essential. DC claims they published them because the story of World War III was too big to fit into one issue of 52, and they could cover more characters and provide more context with the extra space. It’s all horse-hockey of course, but I got suckered in anyway. If you do decide to pick up the set, I suggest reading the specials before the actual issue of 52.

Has there been, in recent memory, a more cynically packaged (even “marketed” seems too kind a term) comic than the current Justice League of America series? Meltzer is another in DC’s stable of “hot” writers (who all seem interchangeable to me), the covers are provided by “hot” artist Michael Turner (the anatomical deficiencies in whose art could fill a while entry), and the series took half a dozen issues just to introduce the new team. The artwork of Shane Davis (whom I’ve never heard of before) is out of the Jim Lee/Image Comics school of pencilling, with muscular figures, generic backgrounds, and lots and lots of crosshatching. Overall, a decidedly mediocre combination.

That said, this issue is the first part of a crossover story with Justice Society of America (also not a very good comic, but at least an earnest one), which will also feature the Legion of Super-Heroes. Since the character of Starman is one of the best features of JSA, and I’m perhaps overly optimistic that a Legion/time travel story could be a lot of fun, I’m going to give it a read. The first installment suggests that Starman and Karate Kid are time-lost heroes who are part of a contingent sent back to the 20th century on some mysterious mission, and who have lost their memories. Since the story is called “The Lightning Saga”, my guess is that Lightning Lad/Lightning Lass/Lightning Lord (and maybe the Legion of Super-Villains) will figure in it, as well. Especially since this first chapter seems to be titled “Lightning Lad” (in Interlac).

(Incidentally, the idea that Batman could take down Karate Kid is fairly laughable, but that’s the conceit that DC’s built up around Bats these days.)

The second volume of Invincible seems like the almost-obligatory resting-up-from-the-first-volume/laying-the-seeds-for-the-third-volume collection. It’s still fun, but nothing like the first volume. Kirkman’s attention to the supporting cast and the increasing number of details of their lives is enjoyable, but I hope there’s a big bang in the third volume to deliver the payoff.

This Week’s Haul

  • 52 #39 of 52 (DC)
  • Jack of Fables #7 (DC/Vertigo)

    For some reason the 2-part story begun in #6 is suspended and a 4-part story involving Las Vegas is being dropped into the middle. Weird. Doesn’t work very well as a storytelling structure, either.

  • Ex Machina #26 (DC/Wildstorm)

    It looks like this book is about to get moving: One of the mysteries has been how Mitchell Hundred, the mayor of New York, acquired his power to talk to machines. I suspect writer Brian K. Vaughan has been dropping little hints here and there, but the pacing has often been too slow to keep me watching for them. It looks like things may be coming to a head, as a mysterious character – probably from a parallel world – appears in this issue.

    While the series’ general approach of putting a unique individual in a unique position and using him as a spokesperson for a certain point of view (political and otherwise), it’s always felt to me like that’s just the way of getting us to the real story: Mayor Hundred and his powers, as the only superhuman in his world. If this is the main arc finally taking off, then I’m really looking forward to it.

  • Ms. Marvel One-Shot (Marvel)

    A basically unnecessary story a kid who can alter reality, and how a bit of our heroine’s past is pulled out to confront her. There’s nothing here to care about: Move along.

  • Archaic: Rule of the Deviant TPB (Fenickx)

    Well, this was… odd. It’s billed as a “dark fantasy”, which is about right: A cruel tyrant is rising to power in a fantasy land, and he kills one of his nephews and imprisons the other, while his grand-nephew escapes as an infant to become a potential threat. It’s sort of like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice crossed with gothic fantasy.

    While stylishly done, it’s got a lot of rough edges: Writer James S. Abrams can write some pretty good scenes, but it’s difficult to assemble them together into a coherent ongoing story: It seems like there’s a lot left unsaid, and the characters’ motivations often seem inscrutable or mercurial. Artist Brett C. Marting has a style similar to Jae Lee with maybe a little bit more Image Comics influence, but some of the panels are so dark it’s difficult to tell what’s happening.

    The creators’ commitment to the series (which is up to six issues so far, of which the first three are collected here) is laudable, but I think it would be much improved with a focus on character rather than spectacle, and some clearer layouts on the art side.

This Week’s Haul

  • 52 #26 (DC)
  • Ex Machina #24 (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fantastic Four: The End #1 (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard #5 (Archaia Studios Press)

The cover feature of 52 – featuring the Black Marvel Family – is pretty dull. More interesting is John Henry Irons confronting his daughter – who now works as part of Lex Luthor’s science-built superhero team – on a talk show. Boy, I hope she gets her comeuppance before this is over.

Ex Machina doesn’t get the press that writer Brian K. Vaughn’s other book, Y The Last Man, does, but I gave up on Y a long time ago, while Ex Machina still keeps me interested. It doesn’t hurt that it’s drawn by Tony Harris, a terrific artist who also drew the first half of James Robinson’s Starman. The premise is that a man gains the ability to talk to machines, has a brief career as the world’s only superhero, and after saving one of the World Trade Towers on 9/11 is elected Mayor of New York City. The book is part science fiction, part horror, and part political drama. Unfortunately that doesn’t leave a lot of room for deep character drama, but it’s still a good book, if a little on the slow side.

Alan Davis writes and draws Fantastic Four: The End, so you know it looks nice. Davis’ stock-in-trade as a writer is the conspiracy storyline, where the heroes have to untangle a web of villainout planning. Unfortunately I find this gets a little repetitive, and it looks like this series will be in much the same vein as his Superboy’s Legion or his two JLA: The Nail series, which means it should be enjoyable, but may not be very memorable.

I reviewed Mouse Guard on Four Color Comics back in June, and it’s nearly done. Clean artwork with a straightforward and fun story. I guess it’s been selling pretty well, and that’s good to hear.