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This Week's Haul

On Wednesday, comics writer Ed Brubaker tweeted:

Seriously, anyone not picking up Casanova and Scarlet this week doesn’t want good comics.

Neither of these books had really been on my radar, but since I’ve developed a great deal of respect for Brubaker’s writing over the past year, his recommendation was enough to make me give them a try. So what did I think? Read on…

  • Batman and Robin #13, by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving (DC)
  • Brightest Day #5, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Ardian J. Syaf, Joe Prada & Vicente Cifuentes (DC)
  • Secret Six #23, by John Ostrander, R.B. Silva & Alexandre Palamaro (DC)
  • Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #2 of 6, by Peter Hogan, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Casanova #1, by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon (Marvel/Icon)
  • Fantastic Four Annual #32, by Joe Ahearne, Bryan Hitch & Andrew Currie (Marvel)
  • Hercules: Twilight of a God #2 of 4, by Bob Layton & Ron Lim (Marvel)
  • Scarlet #1, by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev (Marvel/Icon)
  • Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier #1, by Ed Brubaker & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Irredeemable #15, by Mark Waid & Diego Barreto (Boom)
  • The Boys #44, by Garth Ennis & Russ Braun (Dynamite)
  • Hellboy: The Storm #1 of 3, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
The main thing I have to say about this week’s Batman and Robin is: Yaaaggggh! I can’t stand Frazer Irving’s artwork here! I like it even less here than in his issue of The Return of Bruce Wayne. The fake-looking expressions, the stiff coloring job (apparently also by Irving), the images of Dick Grayson and The Joker that barely look like them (how can you draw a Joker that barely looks like The Joker? Irving somehow manages it), the barely-rendered background. Greg Burgas loves his art, but then, this is far from the first time that I’ve been at the opposite end from him.

Like Francis Manapul’s art on The Flash, Irving’s art may soon be a signal to me not to buy a comic.

The story’s okay; Morrison brings back Professor Pyg from the first story, which suggests that he’s going to wrap up Dick’s tenure as Batman very soon. He also throws in a teaser about Bruce’s father coming back, having not really been killed, which is nearly impossible to credit, as the guy would have to be around 80 by now (not to mention that it would substantially undercut Batman’s backstory), so obviously there’s something else going on.

Casanova ran as a comic from Image a few years ago, and it seems this series is a reprint of the earlier issues. The premise – as best I can figure it out – is that Casanova Quinn is the son of Cornelius Quinn, the Nick Fury-esque leader of the global spy agency E.M.P.I.R.E. Casanova’s sister, Zephyr, is E.M.P.I.R.E.’s top agent. Casanova, meanwhile, is a thief. The story opens with him on a mission, when Cornelius’ right-hand man, Buck McShane (who resembles Fury’s right-hand man Dum Dum Dugan), shows up to take Casanova down. The reason is that Zephyr has died. This leas to a confrontation between Casanova and his father, followed by an adventure in which Casanova takes down a crime lord in a mental duel, then gets recruited by Newman Zeno, the leader of the global crime organization W.A.S.T.E., ends up in a parallel timeline, and tries to pull off his original heist again.

The story reads a lot like another series Gabriel Bá drew, The Umbrella Academy. It’s the sort of story I file under “madcap nonsensical adventure”. More precisely, the story seems to revel in its being just too darned clever, but doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to actually making sense. Like Academy, Casanova starts off being intriguing and amusing, but Academy rather quickly devolved into a muddled mess, its storylines pointless and its characters uninteresting (and certainly not sympathetic). So the question is: Will Casanova manage to pull together, gain some focus, and work through some themes and characterizations in depth? Or will it, too, become a muddled mess? That it ostensibly emphasizes a single protagonist gives me hope that it will be the former. But the execution of the first issue makes me worry it will be the latter, and that I’ll stop caring pretty soon.

Brian Michael Bendis’ mainstream comics writing drives me almost as crazy as does J. Michael Straczynski’s. Bendis’ Marvel work, especially his Avengers titles, are little more than a massive dose of navel-gazing continuity clutter, and his affectations in writing dialogue – emphasizing uncertainty and starts and stops while speaking – feel especially out-of-place in Marvel comics, especially titles like The Avengers. On the other hand, Bendis does have one genuine great series to his name, Powers, which is creator-owned, like his new title, Scarlet.

The premise appears to be that the the main character sees the problems and corruption in society and decides to do something about it, sparking a revolution. This issue begins with her and her friends – as young adults – having an unfortunate encounter with a corrupt cop, and the cop kills her boyfriend and injures her. So that’s the spark that sets her off, and from the text page it sounds like the story will get bigger and bigger as it progresses. Scarlet isn’t some superpowered maniac, she’s just a normel person (albeit with some ridiculously big firearms).

The first issue is a little annoying in that Scarlet spends most of it talking directly to the reader, and saying we’re going to help her change everything, an affectation that just seems cheesy – a simple first-person testimonial-style narrative would have worked better. But Bendis’ narratives are often full of affectations, so that just comes with the territory I guess. Otherwise the set-up isn’t bad. I’m not particularly blown away, and Scarlet isn’t a very interesting character, yet, but there’s some potential here. Unlike Casanova, which is all over the place, Scarlet stays in one place but doesn’t get very far. But hopefully that will change after another 2 or 3 issues.

Alex Maleev’s art reminds me a lot of Tony Harris’, with its ultra-realistic poses and breakdowns, but stylized linework and finishes. The murky coloring job (also by Maleev?) doesn’t bring out the best in the lines, though, rather burying them under fairly bland tones. His figures and expressions are actually less peculiar than Harris’ tend to be (Harris’ faces sometimes feature some rather silly grimaces, while Maleev’s faces look much more genuine), it’s just disappointing that the whole doesn’t live up to the promise of its component parts.

So there’s certainly some potential here. I’m hoping Bendis isn’t going to drag out the build-up of the storyline across a year or two, and rather goes for the jugular sooner rather than later. I’m not sure the book will hold my attention if it stays at this level for more than a few issues, unless the characters develop suddenly and dramatically (and, uh, unless we end up with more than one major character). I’ll give it a few issues and see how it shapes up.

Ironically, Ed Brubaker’s comic out this week is better than either of the ones he touted in his tweet. It’s starting to amaze me how much Brubaker is able to plumb the depths of Captain America’s past, yet not seem like he’s going to the well too often. Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier has a stupid title, but the story itself is quite good. Steve Rogers, of course, was the original Captain America, but when he returned from death (or wherever it was he was, I haven’t read Captain America Reborn yet) he let Bucky Barnes keep the title (and the shield). Now Steve’s the leader of the Avengers and “America’s top law-enforcement agent”, which I guess means he’s on a par with the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. without all the paperwork. Of course, we can’t blame Brubaker for the convoluted backstory (well, mostly not), but you can boil it down to “superhuman government agent who’s just not Captain America anymore”.

But the source of this story is that the grandson of the man who gave Steve his powers has apparently replicated the formula and is putting it on the market to the highest bidder, and Steve breaks into the hotel where the auction is supposed to take place to stop it. But not only have things already started to get out of control, but it turns out something rather different is going on – something Steve will have to figure out in the coming issues. It’s a pretty good set-up, and fits in perfectly with Brubaker’s other Cap stories.

I keep thinking Dale Eaglesham’s art ought to be better than it is. His linework varies from nuanced (especially in his use of shadows) to strangely simplistic. His compositions are fine, but occasionally his figures seem stiff and overly posed. This was my impression when I first saw his work in Justice Society of America 3 years ago, but oddly I don’t think he’s advanced a lot on that time. His work here seems influenced by Jim Steranko, which is a good thing (and probably not a coincidence), but it’s still not entirely successful.

The worst part of the comic, though, is that awful costume Steve’s been saddled with. It’s like Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. outfit fought Captain America’s costume, and both lost. But I can get past that.

Being the fill-in artist for Darick Robertson is going to be a tough job for almost anyone, but the guys who have filled those shoes on The Boys haven’t really come close to reaching Robertson’s skills. To my surprise, though, not only for Russ Braun do a creditable job this week, but his style is so close to Robertson’s own that it’s hard to tell the difference, at least at first glance. Braun’s style is a little “shinier” than Robertson’s, and his characters are a bit more idealized, not having that Shawn McManus-esque quirkiness to their figures, but otherwise it’s really close. Quite a pleasant surprise.

The story is kicking into a higher gear, as Butcher is having trouble trusting Wee Hughie, Hughie is still reeling from his encounter with Malchemical last issue, and Hughie’s girlfriend is about to drop the bomb on him. It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like all of Ennis’ set-up is going to start paying off.

This Week’s Haul

  • Final Crisis #3 of 7, by Grant Morrison & J.G. Jones (DC)
  • Avengers/Invaders #4 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Steve Sadowski (Marvel)
  • Hulk #5, by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #7 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • Echo #5, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • The Boys #21, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Star Trek: Assignment Earth #4 of 12, by John Byrne (IDW)
Final Crisis #3 I’m not sure two reviews of Final Crisis #3 could be more different than Brian Cronin’s and what I’m about to write. Cronin loved it, while I, well, didn’t.

Almost everything Morrison does here is either boring, or has been done before. A few people seem to be impressed with how he’s handling bringing back Barry Allen (the silver age Flash), but c’mon, it’s not like Barry hasn’t been popping up from time to time for the last 20 years anyway. The guy’s a time traveller! Maybe he’s back for good, but – so? Hal Jordan (the silver age Green Lantern) died, and came back not once (as the Spectre) but twice (as Green Lantern again, complete with his own ongoing series). There’s nothing in this to get even a little excited about.

Almost everything in the series feels like it’s been done before. The running subplot involves bringing back characters from Morrison’s Seven Soldiers series (and what a mess of a narrative that was). The main threat is of Darkseid and his minions of Apokolips conquering the world – “the day that evil won” as the series’ tag line goes. But Morrison used this exact same premise – and used it very well – in his own run on JLA a decade ago!

This issue also features the conscription of superheroes to fight the threat, hearkening back to the formation of the All-Star Squadron (which is explicitly referenced), but doing so makes no sense: Far direr threats have arisen in the DC universe in the past without resorting to such measures. Why this, why now? History suggests that simply putting out the call to all hands would be sufficient – these are the DC heroes, after all.

This series is just one instance after another of things that either don’t make sense, or just aren’t fun or exciting or thought-provoking. The longer Final Crisis goes on, the more pointless it seems. If this really is the “final crisis” of the DC universe, it’s because the concept has jumped the shark – there are no more interesting crises to tell.

Avengers/Invaders #4 Alex Ross/Jim Krueger projects don’t have a good track record in my estimation, going all the way back to my bitter disappointment with Earth X, but I keep trying them out anyway. Project Superpowers over at Dynamite has been pretty awful, but to my surprise I’m rather enjoying Avengers/Invaders. The premise is that the Invaders from World War II – Captain America and Bucky, the Human Torch and Toro, and Namor the Sub-Mariner – have been accidentally brought forward to 2008 New York City, along with (and without their knowledge) a US soldier of that era. This is problematic since in the present Marvel Universe, Cap is dead, Bucky is the new Cap, Namor is King of Atlantis and has withdrawn from the surface world, and, well, I don’t know what the status of the Human Torch and Toro are, since it seems like it changes every few years. Moreover, the Invaders think this is all some Nazi plot, especially since Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. capture them while trying to figure out how to return them to their own time. And frankly, after the Civil War I can’t really fault anyone for accusing Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. of being Nazis. Anyway, two groups of Avengers end up fighting over the Invaders which is where this issue leaves off.

I think what’s winning me over with this series is that it’s treating time travel seriously and not as some sort of gimmick: The adult Bucky finds the Invaders Cap’s shield and shows up at the end of this issue, clearly having memories of this adventure. The current Namor also recalls what happened and deliberately sends his younger self off without help from Atlantis to fulfill his destiny. And the soldier meets his future self – who’s nearly 90 years old – and compares notes. It’s all played for drama rather than convenience, and with the hint that the Invaders’ removal has also changed history, with dire consequences on the way once the changes catch up to the current day.

Admittedly, none of this is especially original, but it’s a lot less ponderous than the usual Ross/Krueger fare, with good art by Steve Sadowski. 12 issues might end up being too long if there aren’t some new plot twists in store, but so far, so good.

The Twelve #7 Speaking of heroes transported from World War II to the present day, J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve starts its second half this month. Like Ross, Straczynski’s another comics writer whose stuff I find to be too slow without much ever happening. (His current run on Thor is a perfect example of this.) The Twelve isn’t exactly gripping, but the mix of plot (which is shaping up to be a murder mystery of sorts) and drama (the heroes meeting their old – now very old – friends and their descendants) is nonetheless engaging. The gorgeous artwork by Weston and Leach helps quite a bit, too.

This issue continues the theme of characters reconnecting with their past 63 years later, as Captain Wonder meets his former sidekick, Tim, now an old man. The guy’s hard a rough time of it, as his wife and sons all died before he was revived. But the ongoing story makes some progress as Master Mind Excello tells the Phantom Reporter of some premonitions he’s had regarding the group, and the Reporter both investigates a murder in the city and then confronts the Black Widow about her nighttime excursions.

There are lots of hints that funny things are going on: Dynamic Man might be involved in the aforementioned murder, the Widow is being used by some demon as an angel of vengeance, and the inert robot Electro apparently has been wandering off as well, but who’s been doing what is still unclear.

The main thing I regret about this series is that the cast feels too large for its scope, as several characters seem both fairly generic and don’t get much screen time, which makes me wonder why they’re there. With five issues left to go perhaps they’ll play a role. But although the series superficially feels a bit like Watchmen, the storytelling is pretty standard and not very dense, so there’s only a limited amount of space per issue to tell the story, so perhaps not. Still, I’m certainly enjoying it enough to want to see how it turns out.

The Boys #21 I’m still enjoying The Boys, Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson’s brutal take on amoral superheroes, but the current story, “I Tell You No Lie G.I.”, has been somewhat disappointing. Early on it seemed like the world was overrun by superheroes, who mostly (maybe entirely) got their powers from a special drug which seemed to have gotten leaked to many companies and governments able to produce these supers, and The Boys were a covert group trying to rein in the worst abuses, especially a few corporate-run American superheroes.

This story reveals a lot of the series’ backstory, and the book’s scope is narrowing to being a conspiracy story: The drug which creates heroes is mainly controlled by a single company (Vought American), which is using it to become a major player on the national and world stage. I find this disappointing because giving the heroes a major villain and target (Vought American) seems just too simplistic; having a few foes who are representative of the larger problems – but a problem which is too big to be tackled by a single covert team – would be much more interesting, I think. The series is feeling more and more like Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, only with superpowers and some gratuitous sex and violence (well, okay, even more gratuitous sex and violence than in Transmet).

Or maybe I’m just tired of this sort of conspiracy story.

This Week’s Haul

  • 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

  • Countdown #31 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen, Manuel Garcia & Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Countdown to Adventure #2 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Eddy Barrow & Julio Ferreira, and Justin Gray, Travis Moore & Saleem Crawford (DC)
  • Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #34, by Tony Bedard & Dennis Calero (DC)
  • Astro City: The Dark Age vol 2 #4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Annihilation Conquest: Starlord #3 of 4, by Keith Giffen, Timothy Green II, & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Golden Trilobite HC vol 6, by Phil & Kaja Foglio (Airship)
  • The Boys: The Name of the Game vol 1 TPB, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Boneyard #26, by Richard Moore (NBM)

Astro City: The Dark Age vol 2 #4Wow, the last issue of Astro City came out back in April. I know there are many good reasons why it comes out so slowly, but it’s still frustrating considering this is one of the best comic book series ever published. This is a pretty good issue where the stuff hits the fan for our protagonists, the Williams brothers, as well as suggesting what the scoop with the Silver Agent is. One more special is up next, and then the third and final mini-series to conclude The Dark Age Can’t wait! I hope they can get it all out in the next year.


Girl Genius vol 6Speaking of excellent comics, I finally got my hardcover copy of volume 6 of Girl Genius. This is a hefty volume concluding Agatha Heterodyne’s adventures in Sturmhalten, including the truth about her mother, Lucretia Mongfish, the plans her mother left behind after she disappeared: Specifically, the plan to return her consciousness to life in the body of her daughter.

Unfortunately, though there’s a lot to like here, the story is both padded and confusing. Most of the padding is in the form of Agatha’s allies who spend much of the book wandering around in the sewers of Sturmhalten, an expedition which is sometimes amusing, but which does absolutely nothing to move the story forward. Most of the confusion comes in trying to figure out when we’re watching Agatha and when we’re watching Lucretia, and in trying to figure out exactly who did what, and why. The motivations here are slippery things, and I think the Foglios overextended themselves in trying to be too clever with what amounted to the mechanical aspects of the plot. I think I finally got it all figured out, but it shouldn’t have been this hard.

Those frustrations aside, the book is still tremendously entertaining, very funny, and full of action, adventure, and things blowing up real good. And the secrets of Agatha’s family history are slowly emerging, although – again – the issue of motivation is central to the goings-on, and it’s not at all clear to me what exactly happened in the war against The Other all those years ago. Are the revelations herein supposed to be taken at face value, or is it all a blind for something deeper? That’s the problem with a story that has games-within-games, you can never tell when you’ve reached the center, and that can be really annoying. Eventually the Foglios are going to have to make it absolutely clear in the story that “this is what happened, and there are no more secrets to be revealed”. I hope that’s where this is all going.

(I had a similar problem with Babylon 5: When it was revealed what the Shadows and the Vorlons were really up to, my reaction was, “Nah, that’s silly! It’s gotta be a blind for their real motivations. But in fact, silly or not, that was it. But directions had reversed so many times that it was hard to believe.)


The Boys vol 1The Boys didn’t really register on my consciousness until the controversial decision by DC to cancel it from its Wildstorm line, resulting in the book moving to Dynamite. While I’ve enjoyed Darick Robertson’s artwork in various places, I’ve not read much by Garth Ennis, who is probably best known for his series Preacher, which, well, I haven’t read. However, the brouhaha and a flip-through in the store made me decide to pick up the trade paperback, which collects the first 6 issues.

The first three words that come to mind about this book are not for children. This is a grim, edgy, extremely violent, and often gratuitous story about a world in which superheroes are real, and their fights and whims take a huge toll on normal humans. Ennis doesn’t shy away from just about anything he can imagine super-powered people would do with their powers, and Robertson illustrates it in graphic detail. So if any of that is the sort of thing you wouldn’t be able to appreciate, then The Boys is not for you.

“The Boys” themselves are five people who work as a covert team to put the fear of god into superbeings, through threats, blackmail, and sheer force. Needless to say, some of them are powered themselves. Their leader, Billy Butcher, is assembling the team anew after it having disbanded some time previously, and he recruits three of his old mates as well as a new recruit, Wee Hughie, to start executing his plans. His first target is an out-of-control teen group of superheroes. Even as Hughie is getting his first taste of working with the Boys, a charming midwestern superheroine named Starlight is recruited to join the Seven, the country’s premier super-team (with the usual analogues to members of the Justice League), who learns that playing with the big boys isn’t at all what she’d expected.

The Boys reminds me strongly of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, not just in its approach of an undercover team fighting the forces which dominate the world, but in giving the story an “everyman” point of view: The story (almost) opens with Hughie seeing the woman he lives brutally killed during a fight between two superbeings, much as Jack Frost is the young ne’er-do-well who joins the Invisibles. Ennis is more deft at characterization than Morrison is, but then, Morrison had bigger fish to fry than following Jack through the series, while The Boys is fundamentally very much about the perceptions and reactions of the characters.

It’s probably inevitable that The Boys also be compared to Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, as both books take place in which certain trands have resulted in a seriously damaged world in which our heroes (who are anti-heroes in both instances) operate, plus of course they’re both drawn by Robertson. Robertson’s artwork has advanced considerably since Transmet; it no longer feels like that of a darker Shawn McManus, it feels more realistic and more expressive, especially in his faces. I don’t think this book would have worked with anything less.

Does it work? Well yes, it does. As I said, there are many gratuitous elements: Nudity, sex, drug use, violence, which often don’t contribute directly to the story but serve merely as a backdrop. But every so often Ennis drops in that one “whoa, holy shit” moment which demonstrates that the book isn’t all about sex-and-violence, but that there are really things worth fighting for in this comic. The panoramic view of New York City part-way through was the moment that I realized the book is being serious. As I said, if you can’t get past the less-important moments, or if seeing horrible things done to good people with little immediate hope of justice being done is something you can’t stand, then this book is not for you.

Contrasting The Boys with Warren Ellis’ major works is I think most worthwhile: Ellis’ stories are, fundamentally, about people pursuing the right ends for the right reasons. His stories really are about heroes, although those heroes sometimes use questionable means to achieve their goals, but they are usually reluctant to do so, or feel that they’ve been backed into a corner and have no other choice. The Boys are about people pursuing the right ends, but maybe not for the right reasons, and certainly not choosing very clean ways of going about it. Both Butcher and Hughie have a revenge motive, and also a motive to keep what happened to their loved ones from happening to anyone else. (The motives of the other Boys are so far unknown.) And their frank vigilanteism (even if tacitly supported by shady arms of the government) is not exactly admirable. But I think the point of the story is to see how far these characters can be pushed in a decidedly hostile environment, and the story in this volume is the set-up for what comes next.

Am I thrilled to be reading this book? Well, it was pretty interesting, and a little nauseating at the same time. But also compelling. I definitely think there’s a lot of promise here, and I’m going to pick up the issues that Dynamite has published since.

If you’ve been waiting for the superhero equivalent of Transmetropolitan, then The Boys may be the book for you.