Uncanny X-Men #414
Marvel Comics — Chuck Austen (w); Sean Phillips (p/i)
After a while you run out of ways to say the same good things about the same books. I know that problem is going to be plaguing me the next time an issue of Y: The Last Man ships and it’s true here as well. Austen continues his trend of mixing the superheroic with the soap operatic and it continues to be a fun, if a bit inconsequential, read. As I’ve said before, this book is the perfect alternative to those who found New X-Men to be a bit too different for their tastes, as well as being intelligent enough to satisfy those readers whose first taste of the X-Men was Morrison’s first issue.
Austen furthers the subplot of romance between Stacy X and Archangel, though only marginally. However, it’s a good thing, as it’s building slowly and subtly, rather than simply introducing the thread in one issue and resolving in the next (though that sounds like an utterly Claremont-ian thing to do). Also, he performs the admirable feat of making Northstar into a relatively interesting character, particularly since he’s been little other than “the gay superhero” over the past ten years. As stated in previous reviews, the book is certainly worth your read if you have any sort of inclination towards these characters; to boot, this issue is a standalone story, so if you’ve missed out earlier, now’s as good a time as any to jump onboard. However, if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool hater of the X-books, Austen’s Uncanny is unlikely to change your perspective.
Artistically speaking, Sean Phillips is turning in a solid performance on the chores for both pencils and inks. However, his work simply isn’t as easy on the eyes as Ron Garney’s was in the previous arc. Regardless, so far both artists have more than eclipsed the sum total of Igor Kordey’s work for New X-Men (which I found to be wholly unsuited to the task), though it appears that Uncanny‘s sister book has finally worked out its artistic inconsistencies.
The Punisher #15-16
Marvel Comics — Garth Ennis (w); Darick Robertson (p/i)
The last time I reviewed The Punisher, I said that the element that keeps Ennis’ version of the book from losing its steam is the steady stream of gallows’ humor. That holds true in both these issues, as a Punisher sans the humor runs the risk of rapidly descending into self-indulgent clichés (different from the intentional clichés that Ennis often plays off of).
In #15, Castle is forced to deal with a tag-along reporter who wants to “break the story” of what life as The Punisher is really like. In #16, a rash of gruesome dismemberments brings our “hero” into a series of underworld hangouts in an attempt to flush out the culprits. During his mission, a chance encounter with (read: sales-spiking guest appearance by) Wolverine leads to a classic misunderstanding fistfight.
The key here in both issues is that Ennis is clearly not taking either story seriously. For God’s sake (and I don’t think I’m spoiling much here), the villains of #16 are apparently a gang of evil midgets. Both #15 and #16 offer commentaries on the psychological nature of The Punisher himself (“How many criminals will it take to satisfy Castle,” “What gives you the right to play judge with people’s lives?” etc.), with the instance in #15 seeming to be more of an answer by Ennis to critics of the book who wonder how long it can maintain its entertainment value.
The highlight to me, personally, is the way in which Ennis treats Wolverine as a walking cliché dispenser, spouting hyperbole and catchphrase after catchphrase. It’s amusing mostly because Ennis’ tongue-in-cheek manner of portraying Logan is nearly identical to Frank Tieri’s (current Wolverine scribe) attempts at writing him seriously, further highlighting what a waste of time both Tieri and his book is. I wish I were friends with Joe Quesada so I could not only write one of Marvel’s most recognizable characters, but also pitch a poorly conceived new title (Weapon X), making an undoubtedly healthy living all the while.
My distaste for Frank Tieri notwithstanding, this pair of Punisher issues is entertaining, if not terribly original or meaningful. They’re just good throwaway entertainment. It’s worth mentioning that Darick Robertson does some really rather nice work on the art chores, looking considerably better, I think, than did many of the Transmetropolitan issues he’s done in the last year. .
Saddle Tramp Press — Dave Samuelson (w); Jason Wright (p/i)
I’m a real sucker for a good western. For that matter, I’m a sucker for a simply decent western. Generally speaking, my southwest machismo story needs are met by film, or occasionally, television. Westerns in the comic book industry were once prominent and popular; today they’re few and far between (though rare gems like the recently re-released Blaze of Glory and the current Apache Skies do exist). That having been said, Holliday is nothing more than mediocre, at best.
There’s a fine line between influence and imitation and Holliday doesn’t just straddle that line, it jumps right over it. I’m sure a good portion of the comic reading audience’s most familiar image of Doc Holliday is of Val Kilmer, drawling and wheezing his way through Tombstone, AZ with Kurt Russell. Clearly it’s the most popular rendition amongst the crew at Saddle Tramp Press, since all Holliday amounts to is taking the events of the movie Tombstone, eliminating Wyatt Earp from the equation, tossing in some revenants and magic bullets and calling it a day’s work.
To be perfectly honest with you, I’m just really unimpressed with this book. I want to like it, I really do, but there’s so much wrong with it that I can’t. To be blunt, it just feels like an amateur work (which I’m fairly certain it is). The writing is passable, but falls into clichéd turns of phrase too often and it subject to some typographical errors here and there. The art, for what it’s worth, isn’t necessarily bad, it just isn’t good enough overcome a fairly hackneyed story and some stilted dialogue. If you’re a hardcore western fan (and be forewarned, this book falls into what is called “weird western,” where zombies and shamanic magic are the norm), it’s possible that you’ll find it enjoyable. Otherwise, your money is better spent elsewhere.
Noble Causes Vol. 2 #1
Image Comics — Jay Faerber (w); Ian Richardson (p); John Wycough (i)
I was a big fan of the original Noble Causes mini-series, which wrapped up just a couple months back. As a result, I was rather pleased to see that Faerber had decided to publish his book as a “series of mini-series” rather than as an ongoing. The original mini blended nicely the elements of soap opera and superheroics (the enjoyment of which seems to be a running theme of my reviews), seeming at times to be a dysfunctional version of Marvel’s Fantastic Four. However, this first issue of the new run shows promise, but falls into predictability a bit too often for me to give it an outstanding review.
However, what it does, it does well. While The Authority was widely hailed as “what real-life superheroes would be like,” and I tend to generally agree with that statement, the characters in Noble Causes seem to me to be a much more realistic depiction of what a “real-life superhero” would be like. That is, self-absorbed and image-obsessed, petty and bickering, drowning their sorrows in a deluge of drugs and alcohol, sleeping around indiscriminately and dealing with the resulting illegitimate children that follow. Much like, one could say, the life of an athlete or movie star or (God help us all) pop singer.
However, while the heroes of The Authority were unbelievable to an extent in their seemingly boundless need to correct the world’s wrongs as they saw fit, the protagonists / antagonists of Noble Causes are mildly unbelievable in their general selfishness. Despite that, it seems easier for me to suspend disbelief about a group of super-powered public figures fighting amongst themselves than it is for me to believe that a group of god-like beings single-mindedly righting all of society’s ills. If the Noble family acts every bit as immature and irrational as the cast of The Real World, one can be amused by it, but hardly unbelieving; after all, the people on MTV’s shows really are that stupid, so who’s to say that superheroes can’t be as well?
In the end, it’s an entertaining and original look at a concept that could easily have fallen flat on its face for no reason other than the fact that it’s been done before (the superhero in the real world / superhero as public figure). As well, this issue in particular utilizes perfectly that classic soap opera cliffhanger line (“Dirk, you’re not my baby’s father!” etc.). It’s worth picking up, though there are times when the soap opera melodrama is a bit overdone.
Ultimate Spider-Man #28
Marvel Comics — Brian Michael Bendis (w); Mark Bagley (p); Art Thibert (i)
My need to read Ultimate Spider-Man has been a real up-and-down thing over the past two years. When it was launched, I was rather enthusiastic about it, though I think that had more to do with the almost universally poor stories being told in the “main” Spider-Man books at the time. However, I rapidly lost interest, particularly in light of the fact that it took Bendis something like five issues to tell the same story that Stan Lee told in one and that the Green Goblin was more akin to the Hulk with Darth Maul’s facial features than anything from the main Marvel continuity. That having been said, I was really impressed with #13 when it was released (the one where Peter tells Mary Jane that he’s Spider-Man) and began picking the book up again.
Since then, I’ve begun to be less and less impressed with it, particularly the recent storyline dealing with the return of the Green Goblin. Ultimate Spider-Man is a textbook case of what I’ve repeatedly referred to as Brian Bendis Syndrome. Some weeks the new issue feels like nothing more than a retread of the previous, at which point it’s just a waste of the reader’s time. However, when this book is on, it’s on like a neckbone. And as a rule, I think the “on” issues have generally been those that are standalone stories dealing primarily with Peter’s life outside of the costume, or rather how his life in the costume affects his “real” life. This is one of those issues.
The aftermath of the last few issues is forgotten for the moment when the Ultimate version of The Rhino makes his first appearance. However, Peter is in class when the brute makes his attempt to rob a New York City bank and this issue revolves around the struggle for mild-mannered Peter Parker to make good his escape so that the Amazing Spider-Man can save the day. It’s an issue where Bendis’ trademark flair for dialogue really sparkles and Bagley and Thibert’s tradition of a cleanly drawn, fluid version of Spider-Man is maintained. The tone is light and upbeat, despite the depressing tone that the appearance of Gwen Stacy lends to the issue. Simply put, the issue’s a lot of fun and worth picking up. It’s just sad that such a high point to the series has to lead in to next month’s ill-advised appearance of Ultimate Venom.
Apache Skies #3
Marvel Comics — John Ostrander (w); Leonardo Manco (a)
Apache Skies so far has been a book that I’ve found myself unable to write a decent review for. I thoroughly enjoy it, but I question whether or not that’s tied to my aforementioned love of any western story short of terrible. However, after mentioning it as an example of a good western comic, I felt compelled to at least give it a nod this week in the column.
To put it bluntly, you aren’t going to enjoy this book if you don’t enjoy westerns. It’s just that easy. Hate John Wayne? Don’t bother. Can’t watch Clint Eastwood? Steer clear. It’s OK; westerns aren’t for everyone, just like romantic comedies aren’t for everyone (although I think there’s a serious discrepancy in the quality of the average western in comparison to the average romantic comedy, one must admit, one western / romantic comedy is basically the same as all the rest, on a fundamental level). So let’s just put it this way: Apaches Skies is a lot of fun to read and it seems to me that Ostrander must have been having a helluva good time when he wrote the book.
My one complaint stems from what I perceive as a rather anachronistic incident in the book, in that apparently every antagonist is a racist and every protagonist is an equality-minded free-thinker. Regardless of how we, as white folks, feel about the systematic abuse and disenfranchisement of black Americans by our society, it seems somehow wrong to me that go against what logic would dictate to be the prevailing sentiment of the day and make violent cowboys also defenders of the civil rights of freed slaves. I suppose I’m exaggerating a bit and probably overreacting to what is admittedly a minor complaint, but it seems to me that the Ostrander felt the easiest way for him to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys is simply via their treatment of black Americans.
Anyway, it’s a fun read and I’m enjoying it to death. Pick it up if you’re down with the western like I am.
Ultimate X-Men #22
Marvel Comics — Mark Millar (w); Adam Kubert (p); Danny Miki (i)
My sentiments about Ultimate X-Men are, in many ways, a lot like those I have about Ultimate Spider-Man. The truly good issues of the series are, in my opinion, oftentimes those that simply stand alone for a month and deal with the non-heroic lives of the team. This month the team goes through a bit of down-time, Shadowcat adjusts to being a member of Xavier’s school, and Cyclops and Wolverine have a confrontation.
I’ll start with a confession: I hates me some Scott Summers. It’s not so much as a dislike for the character himself as it is for the way that he’s traditionally written; I agree with Morrison and Millar that Cyclops probably has the most potential to be written interestingly of all the X-Men. The problem is that most writers simply treat him as “the leader guy” and leave it at that. He’s the boring straight man of the group, always predictable and never entertaining. On the other hand, I have always loved Wolverine. Maybe it’s just that I’m a short, angry, hair-covered man like Logan, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the character, despite his complete overexposure over the course of the last two decades. And I think some of my dislike of Cyclops stems from my love of Wolverine, given their strained (at best) relationship since the Claremont years. So you can imagine how tickled I was to see Logan go off and just wail on Summers like there was no tomorrow.
And yet I’m kind of torn here, because when it comes to brass tacks, Cyclops is really in the right here. Wolverine was drunk on top of it all and pushing his luck to begin with, so I can’t fault Slim for losing his cool. However, there’s just a visceral thrill to seeing that whiny brown-noser get his comeuppance. And it’s even more fun when you realize that Wolverine would have killed him, literally, had the Professor not intervened in such a timely fashion. On a related note, the continuity geek in me can’t help but be irritated by the fact that Cyclops punched Wolverine in the face without shattering the bones in his hand; shouldn’t an adamantium skeleton count for something in a fistfight?
Credit goes to Mark Millar for actually dealing with (and convincingly so) an issue that most writers simply hint at and skirt around (the Scott / Jean / Logan triangle). The reader, at least in my place, genuinely feels for all the characters involved. It’s a sad situation and it makes for such good melodrama that it’s one Marvel Universe convention that I’m glad to see carried over to the Ultimate version.
I assume that next month the Ultimate Dark Phoenix Saga will begin in earnest and I’ll undoubtedly enjoy it, but not be as impressed with it as I was with this issue. Regardless, it doesn’t change the fact that I found this issue to be one of the stand-outs of the series so far, so I recommend picking it up.
Detective Comics #775
DC Comics — Greg Rucka (w); Rick Burchett (p); Jim Royal (i)
I’m admittedly a huge Batman fan, so I’m going to enjoy this book regardless of the quality of the content, so long as it’s not absolutely abysmal. But even so, Greg Rucka’s final issue of Detective Comics is a damned good one that deals with some of the essential elements of what makes Batman who he is.
After the “death” of his bodyguard and crime-fighting accomplice, Sasha Bordeaux, Batman refuses to accept the official story and assumes (correctly) her to have been kidnapped for nefarious purposes. However, those purposes are not quite what he expects, as she is not being tortured for Batman’s secrets (which she knows) by a member of his rogues’ gallery; instead, she has been erased from society’s records and enlisted in the ranks of Checkmate, a shadow group of dubious creativity and even more suspect entertainment value. Having searched for several issues and presumably some time (the passage of time is suggested, but never explicitly stated), a resolution is provided and a satisfying conclusion to both Rucka’s reign and the Bordeaux storyline is arrived at.
I’ve always been of the opinion that one of the fundamental elements of Batman, as a character, is that he’s a case of arrested development. At some level, Bruce Wayne is still a ten-year old boy (or however old he was when his parents were murdered). Having never progressed far from that pivotal moment of his life, he is psychologically unable to deal with people in an adult manner. It explains his need for a boy sidekick; rather than the homoeroticism that has been both jokingly and seriously suggested elsewhere, Robin is an attempt to simultaneously grow up (by fathering / mentoring a child) and stay childish (in that all versions of Robin are sometimes more mature than Batman himself). It also explains his inability to ever carry out an extended romantic / sexual relationship, particularly with Selina Kyle / Catwoman, in that he is psychologically unprepared for the emotional ramifications of the mature love and sexuality that such a relationship would bring. Rucka deals with this in Detective in a way that I’d previously not given much thought to, though I’ll not spoil it here. It’s an engaging read about a character that many comics readers dismiss as outdated, despite his being what I feel is one of the most archetypical and interesting personalities in comics history. To boot, despite its naturally continuity-laden plot line (this is the conclusion of a thread that’s been running for well over a year now), it’s still explained in a manner that would be understandable to a new reader.
If you’re a fan of Batman, but haven’t read the book in a while (due to the incessant and irritating crossovers), this is as good a place as any to start. Don’t wait until Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb’s debut two weeks from now on Batman; start here. Ed Brubaker is scheduled to take over the writing duties for this book shortly and he’s thus far more than proven himself capable on Batman. Regardless, this issue stands out as one of my favorite Batman stories of the last several years (and I’ve been reading the core books every month for as long as I’ve been reading comics, basically). I’m sad to see Rucka go, as his tenure on Detective Comics brought a new focus and maturity to the book, but I’m reassured that he won’t be going far, as the promising Gotham Central debuts in December under his direction.
Halo and Sprocket #3
Amaze Ink — Kerry Callen (w/a)
Again, this is a tough one to review. I’ve been really impressed with Halo and Sprocket so far and can only complain that a) it’s a limited series and b) it’s bi-monthly. Callen’s art is easy to follow and cartoony, her sense of comedic timing could not be more spot-on. But it’s hard for me to recommend this book to my customers because I know that that majority of them wouldn’t enjoy it even if they would pick it up (which most of them won’t). It’s just not a book for everyone.
Halo and Sprocket is a story about a girl who lives with an angel and a robot and the misadventures that ensue. In a way, it’s basically just a sitcom in comic book form, as each short (and each issue has about three) tends to center on some sort of observation about human nature or a comedy of errors of some sort. It’s hard for me to put into words what exactly is so endearing about the book, but it’s just… cute, I guess. It’s the sort of thing that you get several good-hearted laughs out of and can feel like you could pass along to your girlfriend or your mother even. It’s just a book with broad appeal and a warm sense of humor. It’s exactly the sort of book that we, as an industry, should be shoving into the hands of non-comics readers, rather than giving them Justice League Adventures and Ultimate Spider-Man (although both those books are perfect for trying to encourage children to read comics again) on Free Comic Book Day.