3.29.06 Reviews

Queen & Country #29 (Oni Press): Well, that certainly took a long time! Ok, last time I'll take a cheap shot at the ridiculous publishing schedule of this title. For me, this was good. Enjoyed seeing Tara withdraw deeper inside herself. Enjoyed the Dr. evaluating her. Enjoyed Paul Crocker's understanding of what drives Tara and his gamble of a play with his superiors. Enjoyed the fact that we're getting some material that connects the dots between the novels. Like I said, for me, this was good. Because I've read both novels. But, this is risky, risky, risky business, Greg Rucka! What about people that read the comic but not the novels? What about people who stumbled across the novels but don't read the comic? There are major story gaps for these people! Now perhaps this isn't a very large group of people I'm talking about, but this seems like a dangerous marketing approach. Granted, the payoff could be enormous if we successfully cross the audiences over, but what if we don't? No guts, no glory I suppose. Then there's the timing to consider. Wouldn't this have ideally been published after the first novel, but before the second novel? Not that I'm a continuity hound, but dude, we already have mini-series spin offs that go back in time vis-a-vis the main title. And now we have arcs of the main title that go back in time vis-a-vis the novels. Samnee's art was good, but not great. His use of negative space, shadowing, and the illusion of detail that worked so well in Capote in Kansas seemed painfully lacking here. Was it the larger size format? Did those qualities fade away when we moved from digest size to regular comic size? Grade B.

New Avengers: Illuminati Special #1 (Marvel): I still really dig the high concept here. The idea of the Avengers, X-Men, FF, Inhumans, Dr. Strange, Namor, and Black Panther forming a secret cabal to determine the fate of the world is not only believable, but raises some interesting philosophical debates. They even worked the forming of the group into previously established continuity nicely. However, we didn't get much time to explore these ideas, did we? Feels like we barely scratched the surface and more of this interesting debate was sacrificed for an obligatory fight scene between Namor and Iron Man. Will there be more of these, Marvel? Is that why it's listed as a #1 and not a one-shot? Feels like Tony is really the primary instigator of all of this and the information he injects, along with his proposed solution is ultimately why it falls apart, loved his "let me tell you the future" monologue. Wonder what the personal backlash to him will be? See, what I'm saying? Feels like we just got rolling on this 0 to 60 dash and never left second gear. Too bad I don't care enough to buy a jillion crossover books to find out. Competent and moody pencils, with one confusing sequence involving Blackbolt. Grade B-.


Manga Gone Wild!

Li Jun: Martial Arts Epic is the debut work of my pal Grant. At times reminiscent of Blade of the Immortal, at times depicting a subtle influence from Scott McDaniel's early work, and at times a throwback to 1960's Kirby style 3 dimensional forced perspective that makes objects "pop" off the page! His kinetic lines and eye for camera placement tell an adventurous and fun-filled story that takes the best elements of manga storytelling tropes and infuses them with a modern sensibility. Want proof? Take a look at page 3 of Chapter 1, my personal favorite, and behold the way those small daggers pierce the panel border and come straight out at you!

Check it out: www.angiecha.com/lijun/lijun.html

Favorite New Quote

"Writing is the application of discipline to creativity."


3.22.06 Reviews

X-Factor #5 (Marvel): Ryan Sook has officially left the building on interior art chores. Ryan, you'll be missed! I gotta' represent for the hometown San Jose boys done good! Dennis Calero is of course not my first preference as artist, but it is very refrshing to see a single artist work throughout an issue. By the end, I was appreciating his consistent style. All in all, this issue was fucking hot! What a creepy captor Siryn has! Very uncomfortable and disturbing dialogue, which is a tribute to Peter David's scripting ability, the notion that he can provoke an intense emotional response. He excels at these personality driven stories that focus on the effects of events on people's fragile psyches. Our relief comes with such a sweet, private, quiet, shared moment at the end, as Rictor carries Siryn off to safety. I was having a conversation over IM with a coworker as I wrote this and we were discussing how middle ground books seem to be the majority and the exceptional works are on the fringe minority. This book proves that the safe stuff like Ultimate Fantastic Four and Iron Man this week are basically boring and forgettable, while something like this sticks with you and requires further thought. That's art. Grade A.

New Avengers #17 (Marvel): Crappy, awkward, and flawed are the lexicon for this issue. Downright ugly pencils from Mike Deodato (who I used to really like), rough panel to panel transitions that pushed me out of the story asking "wait, what just happened?" along with some inconsistent looks for different characters. The most annoying thing about the art? Very odd camera placement that skewed the perspective to make 8 year old kids look nearly as tall as Wolverine or Spider-Woman. But surprisingly, the most annoying things here weren't even the art! Bendis' script was absolutely phoned in. "Russell, where you been all after--" should have read "Russell, where you been after all--" (presumably "these years"), but the last 2 words are transposed. That's just laziness, from either the writer or the editor. "Stop dealin'. Stop the hustle. Or we will beat the hell from you." We will beat the hell from you? What the hell does that even mean? Bendis can usually capture pretty convincing "street" dialogue, but this fell short. As does the whole "Luke Cage: Ghetto Enforcer" riff. Like I guess I can see Cap saying, "Hey Luke, you wanna' lead this mission? It was your idea after all." But Luke Cage as Avengers' paterfamilias *still* reads a bit awkward. And then there just happens to be a camera crew there which serves as nothing more than a framing device for Cap's expository explanation of what's going on. Which brings us to the core premise of "impact police work" as Luke Cage calls it. I hate to break out the old Criminal Justice degree here, but umm, yeah, they actually tried that in LA in the 70's and 80's and proved that it doesn't work. All it does is temporarily displace crime to another neighborhood, the overall rates usually stay flat. In some cases, it even escalated the recidivism rate because criminals would be encouraged to commit additional crime when the cops left their part of the 'hood. But I digress. Next problem. Yeah, so great pains are taken to inform us that the X-Men and FF are busy and that Alpha Flight is down. Aren't there like dozens of reserve Avengers?! Just broadcast the distress call, man. The simplest, most elegant solution is conveniently ignored. Last item, before I grow weary of this crapfest... If the fate of the world is in my hands and I have to select a leader of "Team Two" to go back to the inbound SHIELD Helicarrier and figure out how to stop this threat, and my choices are eternal doofus Peter Parker, or brilliant inventor, skilled military tactician, and CEO of a major international defense contracted corporation, Tony Stark, I'm betting the farm I'd select Tony. But no, we get Peter. For no other reason than to prove this issue is deserving of Grade D-.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #28 (Marvel): Not much to say here. Spectacular art rendering. Nifty idea to explore that Ben, as the only non-superhuman, would be the media star. All in all, crafted very well, but there's just something flat about it. Perhaps it's knowing that all of this time travel, extra dimensional hoo-ha is going to be null and void in a couple issues anyway, so it's hard to be too terribly engaged by it. Grade B.

Nextwave #3 (Marvel): Not as in-your-face funny as previous issues, but still a blast. This is just good old fashioned entertainment which shuns the decompressed storytelling technique and cuts right to the chase. It's all about what is happening, not how we got there. Look to the sign that says "Very Small School With Lovely Children Inside" as evidence. That's really all the explanation we need in a book like this, isn't it? It gets us right where we need to be in a single, smirk-inducing panel. And I don't know, there's something very Hemingway-esque about Dirk Anger. "I'm so alone" is such a crisp, short, declarative moment. Stuart Immonen offers up some great action sequences with Tabitha. "Drive on the proper side of the road, Colonial scum!" reminds us that Ellis just wants to give us a fun, intelligent ride. Literary analysis of Toto's song "Africa" in lieu of a letter column? Ha! Grade A-.

Iron Man: The Inevitable #4 (Marvel): Despite a lot of action, felt a little flat. I'm kind of starting to lose sight of what the focus of the story throughline is, but I'll blame that on feeling incredibly under the weather and not Joe Casey. I kept doing the shoulder-shrug "so what?" move that I was doing with UFF up above. For now, Grade B.

Squadron Supreme #1 (Marvel): We start with a very believable review of the team via a military briefing that reads seamless instead of expository. Straczynski then pulls off an amazing balancing act, bringing new readers and long-time fans alike quickly up to speed on the team's past. He introduces new characters, facilitates a transition to a new line of books, and weaves in strong doses of governmental control, coercion, and media spin, such as "friend of the Earth" instead of "alien" in reference to Mark Milton. Found it... interesting... the way Kingsley can't be naked anymore because the public won't understand, of course it has nothing to do with switching from the MAX line. Which sort of begs the question, did we pull of the switch and maintain the book's gritty edge? A resounding yes! I'm glad to see there are still some challenging concepts to be found here, despite the title moving away from a "mature" line of books. Grappling with those difficult concepts was really the hook and heart of this series, not the occasional exposed breast or f-word. Gary Frank's art is as strong as ever, brilliant details in the fore and backgrounds, revealing facial expressions, and believable proportions of characters. The last minute curve ball makes for an impressive new debut. Grade A.

Supermarket #2 (IDW): Beautiful establishing shot on the first page. I wasn't really taken by the first issue, but my Brian Wood high from DMZ and Local compelled me to return. My faith in the writer was rewarded, glad I was here for this issue! I like that Wood is now positioning his anti-establishment narrative as being more embedded in the character's internal monologue as opposed to him just "soapboxing" directly at the audience. Kristian's art is very solid, the mad dash out of the library was so kinetic, it reminded me of the animated sequences in the movie Run Lola Run. It's easy to empathize with the lead character as we find out more about what's going on right along side her, like the parents' vidmail from beyond the grave. Nice semi-twist to see our protagonist caught in the middle of a presumed showdown between the warring Yakuza clan and the Swedish Porno Guild. I like the ending shot which leaves us with a strong message of being off and running on this adventure. Also, cool ads for John Law and the next issue of Popbot! Grade A-.


3.15.06 Reviews

Batman: Year 100 #2 (DC): Perhaps not the grand spectacle that the first issue was, but super enjoyable nonetheless. Fantastic bits of detective work by both Batman and Gordon. Also enjoyed the appearances of down-and-dirty Robin and perhaps... Batgirl? Oracle? Can't wait for this to inevitably be collected and hopefully include some bonus material. Grade A-.

Truth, Justin, & The American Way #1 (Image): Hoo-boy. There are some very rookie efforts here from the creative team. Preface: I've self-published comics. I know it ain't easy. I also can't write humor very well. But dude, this was pretty bad. The humor felt very forced. As if bits may have read funny on paper, but when spoken they just don't sound natural. The dialogue is clunky, offering up some very awkward word arrangements. It's as if the creators spent more time stealing the high concept from 80's TV than they did dedicating time to the actual scripting process. Best example of bad dialogue construction: "Where in go tape up and send this package to our Stockholm office did you pick up use the tape gun to create a vortex of chaos in the mailroom?!" Everyone try saying that out loud at a normal pace. I defy you not to trip it up in two spots. Wouldn't a more effective choice be "How'd you get from tape up this box to create a vortex of chaos in my mailroom?!" One of the best tricks I've learned when crafting dialogue is to force yourself to physically read it out loud. Over and over. Then have someone else read it out loud. Trust me, the words and sequences that need polishing to sound more realistic will jump out at you and become very obvious. And of course the 800 pound gorilla in the room is that this is a rip off of the old TV show Greatest American Hero. Complete with theme song, the looks of the lead characters, the premise of a space suit, and a well meaning dullard who bumbles his way through situations and somehow comes out unscathed. This is topped of by CHIPS references and TV formatting (like "credits" rolling at the end) that just sit there and look at you without being entertaining. Their self admitted "love for the 80's" reads like duplication, not homage. And that, without the benefit of nostalgia goggles, makes it terribly unhip and unfunny. There are some bad panel to panel transitions here that miss some obvious jokes too. When your fiance yells "no strippers!" to you as you rush off to your bachelor party and you retort "right, no strippers" on the last panel of the page, wouldn't an obvious joke be to have the reader turn the page and immediately see you crapulously ensconced amid a bevy of strippers?! But no, instead we get 6 pages of him going from the liquor store to the hotel. 6 pages of long, drawn out story beats. Into the store. Out of the store. To the car. Parking. Up the stairs. Going to th...... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Grade D+.

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars #2 (Image/Desperado): Dug the intro text pieces on the inside front cover, which boasted a dark and regretful tone. Templesmith's art is really growing too. Between this project and Warren Ellis' Fell, he is losing the harsh sketchy lines of pal Ashley Wood and developing a more rounded, softer expressionistic palette that differentiates characters very distinctly. The idea of imagination (though borrowing from Moore's Promethea a bit) being the fuel that drives this world, providing Hatter M his powers, and even visible around the violin player, is really fun. Small details like escaping through the trap door in the stage really captures the era, as do the repeated references to Hatter as one of "Wonderland's millinery elite." Love that. If the first ish relied a bit more on high concept, this one is content to set that aside and run with good pacing, great characters, nice action, and plenty of intrigue as the search for Princess Alyss continues. I'm hooked. Grade B+.

DMZ #5 (DC/Vertigo): Read this last night and don't have it in front of me for reference, but I recall it being another pretty strong issue. The bit that sticks with me most is that Matty's presence in the DMZ is becoming known, almost as a local legend. "That reporter" traipsing around Manhattan who is neither friend nor foe. Grade B+ .


3.08.06 Reviews Cont'd

Fell #1-4 (Image): You ever see one of those ideas? One of those ideas that is deceptively simple? One that maybe shouldn't work, but does wonders? Fell is just such a concept. How about a return to self-contained single issues? How about a quick shot of entertainment? How about no ads? How about a story that feels and reads like a long decompressed arc that's been cinched up tightly into the space of a single issue? How about all this for only $1.99? I mean seriously, one hundred and ninety nine cents, can't we all find that laying under the couch cushions or in the back seat of the car? That's really something. And it's not just a gimmick. This is a damn fine read. Superbly scripted by Ellis. I love the little elements that make me feel as if he's talking to me directly. The little post-it notes and maps left on the various scenes telling me, the reader, where we are. And Templesmith's art really is a balanced treat. It's restrained in that it tells a fluid story from panel to panel (9 panel grids, thanks guys!), yet is still stylish and subtle. There are so many gems to be found, little movements of tomato slices and pints of beer in the background. What a brilliant high concept. Make a single issue entertaining again. Grade A+.

Lost At Sea (Oni Press): To my great surprise, I enjoyed this. I must admit I went into it very negatively, waiting for it to disappoint, and it just never did. I read this in one sitting and by the end was smiling and appreciative. This is really good, I thought to myself. O'Malley basically nails the lost, hopeless, directionless, insightful confusion and fleeting bouts of unexpected self-discovery that most kids go through at some point. Loved the idea of a road trip up through California to Canada. Fun to see names of towns I've known for so long. Grade A-.

Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules (Marvel): I'm still processing this. It reads a lot better collected and is so much better than I remember. It really helps to read it in one sitting to develop the long view of what happens to these people. I think I'll continue to roll this one over in my brain and do a full review for the paper. Ok, plug time. That's the East County Californian, where I host the weekly column titled "Sequential Essentials." But here are my initial impressions. There are so many cultural concepts from the 1950's intersecting here. We see the rise of the beatnik counter-culture. We see the budding seeds of feminism as women begin questioning their repressed roles of domestication. We see a generation gap form, the conservative WWII veterans pitted against the growing liberalism and artistic disposition of their children. There's cold war paranoia which idolizes science and invigorates a national movement. From a comic book industry perspective, what a grand realization, that the FF was based on real people. Maybe that's part of the reason that these characters have endured so long, the inherent strength of their realism. Johnny's rebelliousness is deeply rooted in his actual upbringing, not a writer's fictional assumption of that. Sue is risking figuratively fading into her surroundings, unseen as the powerful woman she is. Becoming invisible in the comic is just the natural physical manifestation of that fear she holds so tightly. Ben is so grounded in base human emotions, he is perhaps the most "human" of all the characters. All the more reason his dramatic alteration into the Thing is so tragic, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum of who he is. And Reed. Poor brilliant Reed. Reed is shown so clearly as a Scientist. Someone who values science and logic and data over human emotion. Sturm's extensive research comes through so clearly as well. The hidden gems of the kid sidekick to Johnny being the narrator, the splicing in of the actual author of the book's ties to the family, the industry self-aware appearances of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and the eerie images of Vapor Girl to name just a few. The old trope of "write what you know" is proven here as we see exactly how all of this may have come about. Guy Davis is a brilliant choice of craftsman for art duties. He's able to perfectly capture the time period and imbed some great emotions. Reed's ultimate discovery here is that individually "unstable molecules" have the ability to make a very stable whole. While the individual family parts may be out of whack, the family itself functions well. The strength of a family is not in isolated units, but in the interdependencies and spaces found in between them. Grade A.


3.08.06 Reviews

Fear Agent #1 (Image): Yes! This is exactly what I was hoping it would be! So much damn fun. Exceptionally strong coloring! Loved that this first installment was a basic prologue which effectively set up the world, touched on origin, and set the "attitude" of the book squarely up. *Loved* Remender's wonderfully focused and acutely accurate afterword which proves that this creative team is accomplishing exactly what they set out to do. Grade A+.

Doll & Creature #1 (Image): Yeah, not so much on this one. I didn't really "get" this one, the high concept is lost on me. Heebink's art looks great in spots, but the story just doesn't connect with me. I'll stick with Fear Agent for now, thank you Rick Remender. Grade C+.

Teen Titans #33 (DC): There are some wonderful moments here that really pull on the ol' heart strings if you're a Dick Grayson or Conner Kent fan. Loved the duality of the narration. This was a great character driven issue that reminded me of something that I think I read way back in some crossover book, in which Dick said something to the effect of "the JSA teaches you how to be a hero, the JLA teaches you how to fight, but the Titans teach you how to be a family." Conner sees Dick as an out of touch elder. Dick sees Conner as a punky kid who isn't terribly self-aware. See Dick and Conner learn to recognize eachother as equals. Dick: I'm not one of those statues, "I'm a Titan like you." Dick becomes a true mentor and Conner finally grows up, learns how to trust himself and not be an arrogant prick. This is where everything changes, where Dick and Conner fulfill their destiny. "The end of today, the beginning of tomorrow" in the DCU. Highly enjoyable. Grade B+.

Powers #17 (Marvel/ICON): Cool download of info from the Millennium Guard people. Awesome to see Walker finding comfort in Calista's presence. The Dennis Miller style rant of the stand up comedian was a great bonus. Deena is all kinds of rogue with her stalking of the Internal Affairs chic and is strung out on power confronting some known criminals. Not much of a review was that? Well, this was great. Grade B+.

Captain Atom: Armageddon #6 (DC/Wildstorm): What a hot love scene between Atom and The Engineer! Loved the hot oozing liquid metal as metaphor for umm... you know. Dug the little things like the media references from Shen and Jack Hawksmoor. I like how Atom is slowly courted and won over by The Authority's results-oriented methods. Great moment when Angie refers to him as "fallout boy." Cam's art is literally improving leaps and bounds with each issue.
Enjoyed the metatextual comments to Mr. Majestic about "the old ways don't work anymore." Classic cliffhanger ending as we assume Nikola is the new Void. Grade B+.

Down #4 (Image/Top Cow): Hamner's art really falls apart in spots, especially the big shootout which looks extremely rushed and really lacks some detail in the foreground characters. And the backgrounds are just, well, non-existent. Which is kinda' lame considering how late this is. Ellis drives a known point home really strongly, which is "you can't look into the abyss without it looking back and altering you." The ending tone reminds me of Roger Ebert's comments about Scorsese's Goodfellas. That the true sin is not in committing the sin itself. The true sin is committing the sin, understanding the bad outcome and ramifications, but ultimately craving to do it again. I finally noticed something about Ellis' work too. The true impact of his creativity is one that hits you during the journey, during the arc, not at the destination or conclusion of the story. If you go into it expecting a long build up with a pay off at the end, it reads in a very anti-climactic fashion. However, if you choose to enjoy the ride and open yourself up to the consistently strong moments throughhout, it reads quite strongly. My enjoyment is directly tied to my mindset going into it. Great story from Ellis, but really hindered by Hamner's wonky art. Compare the first page with those pages about the shootout and you'll see a big difference in quality. Grade B.

American Virgin #1 (DC/Vertigo): I'm really not sure I can buy the whole premise of the book being "don't have sex until God shows you who you can have the perfect sex with." I actually find that comically absurd and sickly offensive. This is a tough pill to *ahem* swallow, as are the cliched supporting characters like Mom, Earl, and the other trailer park relatives. I do have faith in Seagle's writing ability though, It's a Bird is one of the strongest works to come out of this medium in the last few years. Hoping that he takes these hokey conventions and turns them upside down. Hoping that hating these people and their belief system was the point. Hoping that he does not pull punches and really kills the girlfriend in Africa. Those hopes and Becky Cloonan's refined art, which looks fantastic in full color, are the only things even remotely nagging at me to try another issue or two. Grade B-.

Fantastic Four: First Family #1 (Marvel): Chris Weston's art definitely has its moments here, but the story itself just feels like tired rehash of the same old FF elements. I just don't see the point or anything unique. Grade C.


3.08.06 Comics!

What a ridiculous week for comics. I bought so many cool books! I don't remember a week like this in quite some time. Granted, I was catching up on a few items I'd missed, but still. It's ridiculous! I don't know if I'll get time to review everything this week, so here's a quick run down of what I did pick up. Stay tuned for reviews in the next few days! Ridiculous!

La Perdida (Pantheon Books): Probably my pick of the week. Have been waiting for this collection since the original series debuted from Fantagraphics years ago. Jessica Abel's masterpiece about extended travel in Mexico.

Fear Agent #1 (Image): Keeping true to my word last week, I hunted for the first 2 issues and could only find the first. Can't wait to read it!

Powers #17 (Marvel/ICON): Anxiously awaiting this read. Series has been heating up in the last couple of issues.

Down #4 (Image/Top Cow): Finally the last ish of this great undercover cop mini-series from Warren Ellis.

American Virgin #1 (DC/Vertigo): Was excited about the Quitely covers and Cloonan interior art, Lee's (of Lee's Comics) review of the writing lessened my excitement, but still curious.

Captain Atom: Armageddon #6 (DC/Wildstorm): You all know how I feel about this series. Yay!

Fantastic Four: First Family #1 (Marvel): Historically not a big Marvel guy and not an FF hound either. *But* this is Joe Casey on writing and Chris Weston's art looks just different enough to intrigue me.

Fell #1-4 (Image): Only issue 4 came out this week, but I decided what the hell. Strong buzz around this being one of Ellis' best and I'm also interested to see Templesmith working the art chops away from IDW.

Teen Titans #33 (DC): I have generally not been into all things Infinite Crisis, especially the ancillary crossover titles, but hey, this passed the casual flip test. I'm such a sucker for all things Nightwing. And besides, what's $3 more amid this huge pile?!

Doll & Creature #1 (Image): Already on my recent Fear Agent high, I got this too. Another offering from FA scribe Rick Remender, and artist John Heebink is nailing these 1950's creepy/kookie/sexy covers just like Tony Moore on Fear Agent. And ya' know, it's only 3 more dollars!

Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules (Marvel): Ok, ignore what I said about not liking the FF. The exception here is that when it wins an Eisner Award and is by James Sturm and Guy Davis, it's great. Picked up the single issues way back and have been meaning to get the collected version. What week could possibly be better?

Ex Machina: Volumes 1 & 2 (DC/Wildstorm): One of my favorite series. Own all of the single issues. Finally decided to break down and pick up the trades to make some space. Figured another $30 or so wasn't going to matter one way or the other this week. I'm still hoping DC decides to do an Absolute Oversized Edition of this collecting the first 12 issues or so.

The Placebo Man (Alternative Comics): I didn't know this was coming out. I don't know if it's a collection of Bipolar issues or what. But anything from Tomer Hanuka is worth buying. A steal at a mere $14.95.

Mom's Cancer (Abrams Image): A collection of the web comic that won a 2005 Eisner for Best Digital Comic. Attractive package, sure I'll check it out.

Lost At Sea (Oni Press): Oni's original graphic novels are *extremely* hit and miss for me, with about 80% of them landing on the "miss" side. Came out a while back, but I've been meaning to read this.

Brownsville (NBM/ComicsLit): A great looking graphic novel about the Jewish Mafia. Amazing looking art from a creative team that's new to me. The pull quotes from Carla Speed McNeil and others on the dust jacket actually pushed me over the edge and influenced me to purchase, first time that's happened in a looooong time.

Woo-hoo! Got some readin' to do!


3.01.06 Reviews

Local #4 (Oni Press): This issue didn't connect as strongly with me as the previous two have. But what I did appreciate about this was that it was deliberately stripped down to focus on just one or two base emotions. It was extremely powerful, but just didn't resonate with me personally. Grade B.

Nextwave #2 (Marvel): Immonen's art has some great energy in the action scenes and Ellis really steps up the smart ass tone in the scripting department. It's been a long while since a comic book has made me laugh out loud, but there were plenty of fun examples here. Dirk Anger's "I have hard bits." And Fin Fang Foom's "Fin Fang Foom need bathroom. Fin Fang Foom... eat too many people?" My favorite was Machine Man's deadpan delivery of "My robot brain needs beer. Also? I want to die." Ellis is having a ball and so are we! Grade B+.

Infinite Crisis #5 (DC): This book is so difficult to review. It's like watching a 30 second clip of a movie that has nothing to do with any of the other clips surrounding it. The first page had some very interesting dialogue about faith with Mr. Terrific and Ragman. There was also a great page with Superboy and personal fave Nightwing stepping up. Other than those two single pages, it was tons of Superman and Wonder Woman hoo-haa that bored me to death. Let's hope it all pulls together in trade format. Grade N/A.

Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #5 (DC): Decent enough ending to a fun series. Not sure about all of the "reverse polarity solar incantation" jibba-jabba with the Spider Guild, but this is a fun ride that sorts out which of the various Earth-based Lanterns will be doing what and where, setting the stage for more ongoing series. Grade B-.

Untold Tales of the New Universe: Starbrand (Marvel): Another odd one. Pretty slow and boring opening scenes. When it takes a turn toward a self-referential send up of a failed line, it's kind of campy fun I guess. Ellis' soon-to-be "reimagining" (Marvel's word, not mine) of a failed line of books from 20 years ago makes me wonder if Marvel Editorial is really that strapped for ideas that they feel forced to scrape the barrel for this sludge or if Ellis really has some fresh concepts to offer. Grade C+.

X-Factor #4 (Marvel): I find myself not caring too much about what's going on in Mutant Town post-decimation event. The jarring feeling of Ryan Sook's art being in and out on every page is also getting more annoying. But damn it, I'm still pretty engaged by a Peter David script. Great dialogue and pacing. Seems like all of the letters hate Monet as a character, but I find her presence and interaction with Jamie one of the strongest points of the book. Do your thing, Pete. Grade B.

Queen & Country Declassified: Volume 2 #3 (Oni Press): *Sigh* What's up Oni Press? This book is ohhhh, about 8 months late now? And after all that we're treated to numerous typos, one even in the indicia (Fenruary 2006?!) . What happened to the roster page? Am I expected to recall what happened in the first two issues? It pains me to say that all of these little issues were completely distracting me from what would otherwise have been a great little story with energetic art about the British Empire's handover of Hong Kong. Hopefully the main title will get back on track now with March's issue #29. We're always hardest on the ones we love. A sorrowful Grade C.

Ex Machina #18 (DC/Wildstorm): Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris... I love you. All the rest of y'all creators who got shitty grades this week can learn a thing or two from the Ex Mach crew. *This* is how you do a fucking comic. The realism of the activation of the Emergency Command Center. Addressing real social issues in a non-preachy way. Having the nerve to have your characters voice unpopular, but commonly held opinions. The misdirected anger and blind bigotry of the confrontations that is reminiscent of the film Crash, it's really that powerful. Ex Machina continues to be intelligent, relevant, and entertaining. Bravo gentlemen, bravo. Grade A+.

Hellboy: Makoma #2 (Dark Horse): I really enjoyed Corben and Mignola's ethereal and secluded work. It's tough to extrapolate how this impacts the greater Hellboy mythos, but is highly enjoyable nonetheless. Anxiously awaiting what looks to be a strong year for Hellboy books. We have the new mini-series Darkness Calls. Another trade collection of recent short Hellboy arcs. And a new BPRD series that addresses Roger the Homunculus' recent "demise." Grade A-.

Godland #8 (Image): Feels like this book has lost a little of it's charm. The "Iboga is the origin of the universe" rant went on a bit too long without much humor. I did enjoy Basil Cronus' head on Discordia's body though. Grade B-.

Fear Agent #3 (Image): Decided to give this a spin based on positive word of mouth and a really cool cover image. Any time a 1950's style "ray gun" is burrowing a hole through a robot's head it grabs my attention. I imagine the "woooo-oooo-OOOO!" noise in my head and smile. Gotta' say I was pleasantly surprised by this. A rockin' good time that reminded me a little bit of Firefly/Serenity in that our hero is always one step behind where he needs to be and is generally getting his ass kicked. Dug the sarcastic, if expository, narrative. Will definitely pick up issues 1 and 2. Grade B.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Battle Hymn: Farewell to the First Golden Age (Image Comics): B. Clay Moore, best known for his Hawaiian Dick detective series, and Jeremy Haun, of Paradigm fame, offer up something really special here. Their story about the first gathering of WWII era heroes, the Watchguard, is a real dichotomy of themes.

To the left, we see the hopeful optimism of that era. The feeling that anything is possible, that the future is open to influence, and no obstacles are insurmountable with a healthy dose of American conviction. To the right, we see something far more disturbing. We see a seedy underbelly. Political posturing and back room deals, a government’s hidden agenda and disreputable motives.

This work that could easily be passed over as a traditional Golden Age superhero affair starts innocently enough. A government sponsored team is being assembled with some familiar archetypes. We have the superhuman aquatic being Quinn Rey, the speedster and media hound Johnny Zip, the ultra patriotic Proud American, the nuclear powered android The Artificial Man, and the token British representative named Mid-Nite Hour, who may just be the only true reluctant hero, often serving as the lone voice of reason.

The archetypes are quickly turned upside down and made uncomfortable. The egotistical Proud American proves to be little more than a figurehead; he can’t even be bothered with actual field work and has a stand in named the Defender of Liberty for the dangerous bits. Betty Jablonski was blackmailed into joining the team to initially tempt Quinn Rey to join. “Jablonski” later becomes “Jones” for the press; her surname we can only assume was too ethnic and did not sound “American” enough for the PR department. Her role on the team was unclear from the start, ultimately we discover she was deliberately planted as a “comfort woman” because of her known promiscuity and she goes on to sleep with at least 3 members of the team.

All of these character shifts really underscore the dark side of man’s inner nature. Ultimately it is not the Nazi war machine or secret missions that tear the team apart, but each other. The very nature of their personalities and their own government’s agenda are what drives them to death or disbanding. The mysterious government figures are evaluating their field performances which add no real tactical value to winning the war. They are little more than PR stunts designed to prove that the government can control the “freaks.” The entire scope of the project appears to be a ruse to test the capabilities of numerous weaponized Artificial Men. This team is completely expendable if it doesn’t suit a PR image. And we see that evidenced by the demise of several lead characters, only two or three actually make it out alive by the end of the series.

The dark tone of the narrative is really enhanced by the realistic pencils of Haun and a color palette featuring heavy reliance on deep browns and greens, which feel very weighty, as if the future of the free world is depending on their actions.

Overall, I believe that Battle Hymn serves as warning tale. It reminds me of Lincoln’s emancipation remarks, which I’m admittedly paraphrasing, that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. This book is iconic in its brutal handling of an aptly titled goodbye. Goodbye to an era of selfless golden deeds, which is a bold comment on the possible collapse of the American Dream.

This was my favorite mini-series from last year, which has recently been collected in this single volume. There’s a rumored follow up project to this featuring some of the same characters which I really want to be published. I want to see the next project advertised from B. Clay Moore and Jeremy Haun that is not connected to Battle Hymn, they’re an impressive team of creators. I also want the grading scale to go higher than Grade A+.