This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 3 October 2007.

  • Countdown #30 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Keith Giffen & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Metal Men #3 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Welcome to Tranquility #11, by Gail Simone, Neil Googe & Irene Flores (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Annihilation Book One TPB, by Keith Giffen & Mitch Breitweiser, Scott Kolins & Ariel Olivetti, and Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kev Walker & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Ms. Marvel #20, by Brian Reed, Greg Toccini & Roland Paris (Marvel)
  • Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #2 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Jason Armstrong (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #7-10, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Atomic Robo #1 of 6, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
  • Modern Masters: Jerry Ordway TPB vol 13, edited by Eric Nolen-Weathington (TwoMorrows)

Metal Men #3I feel like Metal Men is getting a little too byzantine for my enjoyment: It’s becoming harder to figure out what time period events are occurring in, and why they’re all part of the same story. There’s the present day, a few years ago, and then quite a few years ago back when Will Magnus was creating the Metal Men. Rouleau’s art is really neat, but I think the story’s structure is essentially reducing the characters to caricatures (Magnus’ final line in this issue – “you jerk!” – ring completely false for him). There’s still plenty of time left for everything to work out, but I wonder if Rouleau’s ambition has exceeded his writing talents here.

Having enjoyed the current Annihilation Conquest event at Marvel, I’m picking up the trades of the first Annihilation series. I haven’t finished this first one yet, but it sure does have terrific artwork. As with the current series, I like how Giffen and company have carved out this space in the Marvel Universe to play in so they can tall big, character-changing stories without needing to tie closely into the main Marvel continuity.

Ms. Marvel #20I think Ms. Marvel #20 is the last issue of this series I’ll be buying. There’s just been too much thrash and not enough progress. In many ways I think this series was just cursed by the Civil War, but it also feels like writer Brian Reed doesn’t have a firm idea of the direction the series is going in. After 20 issues, I feel like the story should have gotten somewhere, and it hasn’t. The last page suggests that it might be getting close, but only regarding one of its many story elements. The central theme of the series’ launch – that of Ms. Marvel trying to become one of the premier superheroes in her world – seems to have been lost along the way.

For an opposing opinion, here’s Aaron Glazier’s review at Comics Nexus. It’s like we’re reading different books: I hate how Machine Man is portrayed here, I find the characters weak and the storylines very muddy and directionless. I do agree that the art is quite good, but that’s not enough for me.

The Boys #10The Boys #7-10 comprises the third story arc in the series, and it’s a lot worse than the first two (which are in the collection I reviewed last week). It opens with Tek Knight, a superhero with a severe sexual dysfunction – but this one not only feels gratuitous (and not a little bit ridiculous), but it’s almost entirely irrelevant to the overall story. Here, Butcher and Hughie set out to find some justice for a young gay man who was found dead in the street some weeks previous, taking them on a short odyssey into the personal lives of several local heroes. That part of the story is actually rather good, and it throws some light on a particular dark facet of what superheroes might be pressured to do through their public image as do-gooders. But the Tek Knight elements are just superfluous. It’s like Ennis felt the story wouldn’t be shocking without the sexual deviancy, but even if less shocking, it would have been a much better story had it been shorted and focused to just the investigation of the presumed murder.

Atomic Robo #1Atomic Robo is pretty neat: Early in the 20th century Nikola Tesla builds an atomic-powered sentient robot who (the book’s introductiont tells us) helps shape the rest of the century. This issue introduces the character in 1938, who at that time is not yet considered a free person, but basically the story is an adventure: He’s sent to the Himalayas to stop a Nazi plot. Although the dialogue is full of anachronisms, the book generally taps the same sense of fun and period adventure as Captain Gravity and some segments of Hellboy. Wegener’s art of reminiscent of Michael Avon Oeming’s at its best (Oeming did the cover of this first issue), although many panels are background-free. Overall it’s a fun issue, and there’s plenty of promise here, although there’s definitely a sense that this might just be a frivolous adventure yarn without a greater purpose. But that’s not the worst thing in the world.

(Why is it that I can enjoy a book, and yet lament that it doesn’t feel like something that will be cohesive in the long term, or have some ultimate direction or destination? Can’t I just enjoy it for what it is? Well, I can enjoy it, but it’s the books that deliver more than their basic narrative that end up sticking in my memory.)

Lastly, if you’re a fan of comic book art in general, I do recommend TwoMorrows’ Modern Masters series. These slim paperback volumes consist of extensive interviews with their respective creators, and a large collection of often-previously-unseen-or-rare artwork by those artists. So you learn a lot about the artist’s career and philosophy, and get to see a lot of art you might not have seen before. I’ve been cherry-picking the volumes of the artists I’m really interested in, which means I’ve picked up about half the volumes.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 1 August 2007.

  • Countdown #39 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Jim Calafiore & Jay Leisten (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #8, by Geoff Johns, Fernando Pasarin & Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Metal Men #1 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Welcome to Tranqulity #9, by Gail Simone, Neil Googe, Leandro Fernandez & Francisco Paronzini (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Ms. Marvel #18, by Brian Reed, Aaron Lopresti & Matt Ryan (Marvel)
  • Thor #2, by J. Michael Stracyznki, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #3 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr., & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • Elephantmen: Wounded Animals HC, by Richard Starkings, Moritat, and others (Image)


Justice_Society_8.jpgUsually I find “special character spotlight” issues to be tedious: exposition and incidental adventure which mostly feels just-plain-obvious. But this month’s JSA is better-than-usual: Although nominally spotlighting Liberty Belle (the former Jesse Quick), it’s more interesting for its handling of Damage, one of the more tragic characters in recent memory, whose face is so badly scarred that he wears a mask like the original Atom’s to hide his appearance. After the predictable flashbacks to Belle’s early life, Damage confronts Zoom, a recent Flash villain who’s responsible for his disfigurement, in which we get to learn both something about both his character and Belle’s. Pretty good stuff.

Except for the cover. The Alex Ross “pose” covers got boring a long time ago.


Metal_Men_1.jpgSo who exactly is Duncan Rouleau and where has he been hiding? I picked up Metal Men #1 because I liked his clean, dynamic artwork when I thumbed through it, but it’s an all-around fun comic: A mix of action and adventure (the Metal Men take on a nanotechnological menace), danger (then they’re confiscated by the government), drama (a flashback to Will Magnus first unveiling the Metal Men and what it meant to his career), and mystery (a familiar-looking figure apparently ready to wipe the Metal Men from the timestream). That’s a lot of stuff for a first issue, but it should be plenty to keep the series busy and enjoyable for 8 issues. If it delivers on even half its promise, then it should be lots of fun.

Oh, and Rouleau’s art is just as good as it looked at first glance.


Ms. Marvel introduces a couple of new superhumans to her S.H.I.E.L.D. unit, including the current revision of Machine Man who both (1) looks really boring, and (2) is a stuck-up, obnoxious prig. Which is really annoying since Machine Man’s hallmark has always been that inside he’s as human as any of us. He’s a lot like Brainiac 5 from the current Legion of Super-Heroes, except that Brainy’s always been a little annoying that way, while for Machine Man it goes completely against character. Gah, what a waste.

Thor #2 is mostly a lengthy sequence with Thor returning to Asgard (sort of), and talking with the locals in the middle of nowhere. Nothing happens, really. Didn’t I mention that Straczynski’s comic books drive me up the wall? Get on with the story already!


World_War_Hulk_3.jpgMan, World War Hulk sure is fun, and #3 has about four times as much story in it as I’d expect: Doctor Strange’s plan comes to fruition, the Hulk fights the US army, Hulk’s warbound comrades take down a while slew of Marvel heroes, and the last page promises some serious ass-kicking next issue. And there are still two issues left!

It takes a lot to make a big slugfest worth reading. Admittedly “Planet Hulk” tried a little too hard to give the Hulk’s fury a sense of righteousness, but plopping it on top of Civil War made it just effective enough.

(Comics Should Be Good thinks World War Hulk is the second part of a Hulk trilogy, which raises the question: What the heck would part three be?)


I have no idea what Elephantmen is going to be like. It’s gotten good word-of-mouth and the art style has always intrigued me in the previews. I wonder if I’ll miss a lot because I haven’t read the earlier Hip Flask material?

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 5 July 2007.

I couldn’t wait for Wednesday, so I went and picked up last week’s comics last night. I walked in on the gang processing thousands of comics they’d just bought. I told them I expected the store to be spotless when I came back on Wednesday. Good thing they like me, ’cause they outnumbered me.

  • All-Star Superman #8, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Countdown #43 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Manuel Garcia, David Lopez, & Don Hillsman (DC)
  • Welcome to Tranquility #8, by Gail Simone, Neil Googe, Jason Pearson, Chriscross, & Georges Jeanty (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Ms. Marvel #17, by Brian Reed, Aaron Lopresti & Matt Ryan (Marvel)
  • Thor #1, by J. Michael Straczynski Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)

Both Greg Burgas and Chris Sims were disappointed in this month’s All-Star Superman, and I’m with them: Devoid of the madcap zaniness of the classic Bizarro stories, saddled by the bleak imagery of Quitely’s artwork, and with nothing particularly deep or insightful to say about the Bizarro world, the whole issue just feels like a pointless aside to the already rather loosely-assembled story which comprises the series. All-Star Superman has certainly had its high points, but this is its nadir.

Ms. Marvel #17 actually has enough stuff in it to get me interested again: A.I.M. undergoes a transformation, Ms. Marvel turns blue and speaks with a different voice and then wakes up normal and has no idea what happened, her S.H.I.E.L.D. team is decimated and she faces a crisis of confidence, her would-be boyfriend is up to something, and a couple of A.I.M. wackos concoct an odd-looking scheme which is surely not going to end well.

If only the first 16 issues had had this much story. I just hope all this goes somewhere over the next few months.

And lastly:

J. Michael Straczynski’s comic books drive me crazy.

There’s always the germs of some really excellent stuff in there: The metaphysical underpinnings of Spider-Man’s powers. The spot-on handling of Peter Parker’s wit. The complex world of Rising Stars. The characterization of the Thing.

But Jesus, his stories take so-fricking-long to develop. It took years for the relatively-simple story of Spidey’s powers to play out, and while that stuff was really good, the stuff in between wasn’t. Fantastic Four never really went anywhere (but arguably got shanghaied by Civil War). And along the way he often hits as many wrong notes as true ones: The inevitable-yet-tedious battle for domination in Rising Stars, or the stilted and cringeworthy characterization of Mr. Fantastic. Really, only Midnight Nation – probably his most personal book – worked all the way through.

Thor brings the god-turned-hero back to the Marvel Universe after an absence due to, well, I really neither know nor care what happened to him, but apparently the other Norse gods are gone, and Thor is back to being bonded with Donald Blake. Straczynski provides some interesting theoretical backbone to Thor’s return and the nature of godhood, and some nice grounding to Blake’s humanity. And then, the questions lurking in the background are just as interesting: What will Thor think about the Civil War that occurred in his absence, and the role his closest human friend – Iron Man – played in it? How will Donald Blake pick up the pieces of his life after years of absence?

But the book noodles all over the place, starting with someone (Blake?) picking up Thor’s hammer in the middle of the desert (a scene set up in Straczynski’s Fantastic Four run), followed by a lengthy encounter between Blake and Thor in the limbo they’ve been lingering in for the last few years, followed by their return to Earth. But it’s all set-up: There’s hardly any actual story here. Straczynski’s Supreme Power played out excruciatingly slowly (I gave up after two depressing years), and I worry that that’s what’s going to happen here.

Still, it’s a first issue, and it’s got some promise. And Coipel’s art gets prettier with each new project: Remember how quirky and grim his style seemed back in Legion Lost, with those severe, undifferentiated faces? Oh yeah, he’s come a long way, that never would have worked on Thor. But as with most comics these days, I just hope that Straczynski’s got a plan, and that Thor is going to go somewhere. Because this sort of meandering will get boring by about issue #3. I also hope he lightens up on the gravitas a little (and boy is it unusual for me to be wishing a book were a little lighter), because it often feels like his books should have a funeral dirge as their soundtrack.

Greg Burgas seems to agree, but says so in fewer words than I do. So, there you go.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 7 February 2007.

  • 52 #40 of 52 (DC)

    The long-running Luthor/Steel/Infinity Inc. storyline apparently comes to a conclusion here. Oddly, it seems entirely disconnected from the rest of the series’ storylines, so either there’s something else going on, or not everything is connected. The latter would be kind of lame, I think.

  • Justice Society vol. 2 TPB (DC)

    The completion of the reprint of All-Star Comics from the 1970s. This was and still is one of my all-time favorite superhero series (starring the Justice Society of America). Although in some ways too blunt and not very sophisticated, this was the seminal series exploring relationships between multiple generations of heroes, and was one of the first series to consider that heroes will eventually retire. A lot of series in the decades since owe a lot to the ground this series covered. If it has a downside, it’s that Joe Staton’s pencils in this volume (following the Wally Wood-dominated first half) seems a little too cartoony and simplistic. It’s still a fun read, though.

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two #2 of 4 (DC/Wildstorm)

    The halfway point in this lengthy series (which will consist of three 4-issue series), it’s running a little late. I’m starting to wonder where Kurt Busiek is going with this particular story; although it focuses on the pair of brothers – one a crook, one a cop – and their lives in the 1970s, there’s a lot more that I hope gets resolved here. I think it will end up being either very ambitious, or rather scattered. But based on the series’ track record in the past, I’ll hope for the former.

  • Fantastic Four: The End #5 of 6 (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hulk #92-95 (Marvel)

    I’ve heard good things about the “Planet Hulk” storyline which begins with these issues, so I decided to pick them up. (They’re about a year old now, so I have some catching up to do.) The Hulk is exiled by other heroes to a peaceful but uninhabited world, but something goes wrong and he lands on a barbaric world with a variety of creatures, and is captured and turned into a gladiator. But clearly as he regains the strength he lost from his journey, he’s going to become a player.

    It’s not a terribly subtle story, but writer Greg Pak keeps his eyes on the prize: The Hulk is entirely self-absorbed, doesn’t trust anyone, but isn’t (any longer) a fool, either. Which makes him a very dangerous contestant who’s not willing to play by anyones rules. (This also explains why the Hulk isn’t taking part in the Civil War “event”.)

    So this seems like a promising beginning to what they say will be a 14-issue story. I suspect it will have the usual disappointment in that eventually the Hulk will have to return to Earth and leave behind anything he’s gained on this other world. But that’s the downside to ongoing series.

  • Ms. Marvel #12 (Marvel)

    The first year of this series has been extremely haphazard, in large part because the Civil War disrupted it a great deal. Writer Brian Reed says in the letter column here that the second year will take the series in a different direction, as our heroine comes to grips with the less-than-ideal conclusions of some of her battles. I’d be happy if it just becomes a more cohesive series with more direction.

  • newuniversal #3 (Marvel)
  • Dr. Blink: Superhero Shrink: Id. Ego. Superego! vol. 1 TPB (Dork Storm)

    This is a collection of the very funny superhero satire by John Kovalic (Dork Tower) and Christopher Jones. Kovalic leaves no turn unstoned among the mainstream heroes, with both obvious and subtle humor worked in. Jones’ artwork straddles the line between dynamic and cartoony, and although it’s not stellar, it has some fine moments. (It’s reminiscent of Michael Avon Oeming’s work on Powers, actually.) The book is dedicated by Bob Newhart and Kurt Busiek, and it certainly feels like a twisted reflection of Busiek’s Astro City.

    The collection features a mix of 2-pagers (or thereabouts) and a few long-form stories; the latter are by far the more successful, as the short gags get a little repetitive after a while. But it’s still a fun little package, and it’s in color, yet! I’ll certainly be on board for the second collection.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 31 January 2007.

  • 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

Comic books I bought the week of 18 October 2006.

  • 52 #24 (DC)
  • Ms. Marvel #8 (Marvel)
  • Thieves & Kings Presents: The Walking Mage (I Box)
  • Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall (DC)

This week’s 52 involves the short lifespan of a new Justice League incarnation, and a few short asides, and overall other than an interesting appearance by Booster Gold’s robot Skeets is pretty ho-hum. Nice art by Phil Jimenez, though. This issue did make me think that superheroes for whom public relations is important (such as Booster Gold and – in this issue – Firehawk) really need to be 100% successful on their missions or they’re just going to get hammered.

Ms. Marvel coulda been a really good comic book. The heroine is a recovering alcoholic who recently had the opportunity to see what her career could have been like and decided to try to bring it up to that level. Instead it turned out to be a pretty good superhero adventure book with pretty good art. And then the big Marvel crossover event Civil War happened. Civil War saw the US government pass a superhero registration act, and those who signed it became duty-bound to arrest those who didn’t. Ms. Marvel is one of the collaborators (as are Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic), and this has completely sucked the life out of the series. I find the actions of the collaborators to be completely indefensible, and this series has become not-fun in an awfully big hurry. The creators could have salvaged it by (for instance) having Ms. Marvel become a collaborator because she had been an “outsider” before due to her alcoholism and she was afraid of not having anyone trust her again. It would have been tragic, but much more believable and powerful than her just happening to agree that if it’s the law then it’s right. Instead, I’m afraid this series has been wrecked by Marvel’s ill-thought-out publicity stunt.

Thieves & Kings has been one of my favorite independent comics, although it’s stumbled in recent years and feels a bit directionless. The Walking Mage is the first of what I guess with be a series of spin-off stories from the central story. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks like it could be very entertaining.

1001 Nights of Snowfall is a hardcover graphic novel featuring characters from the series Fables. It’s probably the second-best graphic novel published this year, and I’ll discuss it – and the best graphic novel – in later posts.