10.25.06 Reviews

Deathblow #1 (DC/Wildstorm): Interesting choice to open from the POV of the title's protagonist being tortured. I know it's the ultra-elite IO and all, but since when did The Pentagon have suites with sunken bathtubs? The Ivana bits are a little confusing. D'anda displays an awesome shot of the inbound helos and nails the military action sequences. Brian Azzarello has some fun (Az' Aralo Prison Camp), but then wonky editing kicks in with "We're here to bring back him back to the United States." At the end of the day though, we have a very nice re-introduction of Michael Cray, Codename: Deathblow, which explains his assumed "death" six years ago in the original run of his book. Surprisingly enough, what we might have here is the best of the Wildstorm relaunches to date. Grade B.

New Avengers #24 (Marvel): Let's see... The Sentry internal monologuing about The Void. Really? Again? Borrrrring. And it really should have been called "New Inhumans," because there really aren't any Avengers in here to speak of, aside from Sentry (which is a stretch) and a brief, out-of-character-as-portrayed-in-other-Civil-War-books Iron Man. Quick "neat-o!" moment as The Sentry picks up on Black Bolt of the Inhumans not fully divulging what he knows and being rather foreboding about the war, assumably from his Illuminati connections. And Pasqual Ferry's art is very nice, particularly his rendition of Crystal, but for the most part? Felt like inconsequential filler typically associated with a padded crossover book. Grade B-.

Civil War: Choosing Sides #1 (Marvel): So obviously this is just an overpriced advertisement for some other books, but let's move on. Venom Story: Overall, snappy and engaging dialogue from Marc Guggenheim, with fun references to himself, Meltzer, Firestorm, The Atom, and picking on Songbird's name. A couple minor screw-ups, most notably the term "five-by-five" being used inappropriately. It really doesn't work in the context he uses it in. This is a military term referring to a radio transmission's signal strength and signal clarity, both of which are plotted on an ascending scale of 1 to 5. While I understand it's been largely co-opted, due in large part to Joss Whedon's character Faith (Eliza Dushku) from Buffy/Angel fame, to generally mean "things are cool," it technically cannot refer to a situation, but must be used in reference to communication to hold real meaning. What a stickler I am, sheesh! I really like Leinil Yu's art, he's come a long way. His pencils boast a weird kineticism reminiscent of Olivier Coipel, which I really dig. Grade B-. Ant-Man Story: Not that funny, and terribly inconsequential overall. It was kind of neat to see Hank Pym discover that the suit is missing and connect with Fury, but I only like that since I already read the first issue. And hey, I like the Pontiac Solstice (nee: the Saturn Sky platform) a lot, but I'm already sick of seeing it in every comic now. It's practically the main star of DC's The Rush and seems to be the new "cool" car to portray with your art style. However, it's incredibly small, wouldn't fit Fury's frame, and would be a terribly impractical choice to house the tech needed to make it a SHIELD hovercraft/floating arsenal. How nitpicky I am, sheesh! Grade C. Iron Fist Story: Beautiful art choices from David Aja; mark my words, this guy is going to be a fucking superstar one day. Check out how the strike points in the fight sequence are highlighted with yellow/orange circles. *That* is incredibly simple, clean, stylish, and cool. Fraction & Brubaker actually make a brilliant choice for a "prequel" to the ongoing Iron Fist book to start with his stint as Daredevil being the transition point. The scripting captures the tone of what I want from this book perfectly and it doesn't feel like a teaser for another book, but a complete little story, unlike the first two installments of this "anthology" book. Grade A+. US Agent Story: Kollins' art isn't very... crisp, I guess is the best word. While the script captures the personality of US Agent fairly effectively, the overall look and sound of this book is way too cartoony to share the same continuity with the supposed gravitas of the whole Civil War melodrama. Interesting Alpha Flight bits, but overall... Grade C+. Howard the Duck Story: Nice Cleveland jokes (Superman being the "big" property from rival company DC coming into register in the hometown of his original creators felt just sinfully delicious), giving up cigars played all the right meta-commentary buttons, and overall this was a quite funny commentary on the illogical and bureaucratic morass that most of us are all too familiar with. Grade B+. Guiding Light Story: The Guiding Light? Umm... what? Grade: Who Cares. Overall Grade Point Average: B-.

Seven Soldiers of Victory #1 (DC): It sure feels weighty and important, and like the common thread that had been lacking to tie all of the Seven Soliders mini-series together is to be found here. And if any of those titles had come out in the last six months, I might actually care. This is really hurt by shipping late. It touches on many different pieces of DC continuity, insinuates fun things, uses inventive faux newspaper pages, and has just different enough terminology like "Caliburn Ex Calibur" to make you go "ahh!" in delight. However, all of this richly detailed information doesn't hold up well as a single issue without the benefit of other issues being in my short term memory or the whole thing being collected. Did JH Williams really do all of the pages? You mean he does his own strong thing, then successfully apes the art styles of Simone Bianchi, Jack Kirby, Frazer Irving, etc? That's fucking impressive as hell if he did. All in all, it's a fascinating read, but I don't know if it's a *good* read. I feel like I should be eating this up, but can't seem to connect anywhere. I like the weird narrator, but don't know who he is. I like all of the characters, but whatever gravitas is implied with the resolution of their arcs doesn't resonate with me because I don't understand the impact it carries. I remember Sir Justin, his Steed, Castle Revolving, and The Sheeda all being interesting bits, but when did the last Arthurian Knight become a girl? This also has a series of multiple endings that reminded me of the criticism of The Return of the King. A very I'm-not-sure-what-the-heck-grade-to-give-this, Grade B-.

Godland #13 (Image): Hrmm, just felt a little flat. The jokes are few and flat. It suddenly feels expository, and not in a kitschy retro throwback homage sort of way. I was kind of (gasp!) bored. Grade C.

52: Week Twenty-Five (DC): This issue is another mixed bag. For every small detail that I enjoyed, there's something horribly wrong to counteract it. We have Mannheim soliloquizing fabulous lines like "Crime is the natural successor to free market consumer capitalism," then go straight to a random scene of Neron rampaging through a city for no apparent reason. We have some very fun kid's halloween costumes, like the little Black Lightning, cute lines like "MMMmm. Nature's toothbrush! Chomp!" But then, that's followed by the Black Marvel Family pulling a rather deus ex machina move, coming and going without anyone really noticing or it being followed up on. In the Doctor Fate/Ralph Dibny sequence, there are some neat references to Klarion the Witch Boy, and some demons way back from Neil Gaiman's Sandman, but then we're treated to the losers from the new Infinity, Inc. That's all topped off by a very representative example of the problem with rotating artists. These guys are so comparatively inconsistent, that when I see a guy in street clothes with an eye patch lurking about in the crowd, I have no idea that it's supposed to be Alan Scott. And that lack of clarity ruins what would have otherwise been a nice character moment between him and Michael Holt. Grade C.

I also picked up the following, most of which will likely be better than what I just reviewed. Part of the problem with having very little time on my hands and my habit of saving the best for last;

Nextwave: Agents of HATE #9 (Marvel): Ellis recently announced that this series will end with #12 and then progress in a series of mini-series. Ah well, it's still hilarious!

Planetary #26 (DC/Wildstorm): Not sure why I'm still buying the single issues and not just waiting for the second oversized hardcover Absolute Edition. Oh yeah, cuz' I need my fix of Cassaday art and Ellis' masterpiece.

Supermarket TPB (IDW): One of the coolest mini-series from Brian Wood, and that's high praise considering the strength of his writing (DMZ, Local, etc.) these days.

American Virgin: Volume 1 (DC/Vertigo): I'm still having trouble with the basic conceit of this book based on the stray issues I've sampled, but my fondness for Becky Cloonan's art is strong enough to cause cash to leave pocket.

Let Us Be Perfectly Clear (Fantagraphics): I'll always pick up anything by Paul Hornschemeier, and this harcover book is *beautifully* designed.

Runaways: Volume 6 (Marvel): This digest size TPB will go nicely with the first 5 volumes on my shelf!

12 Reasons Why I Love Her (Oni Press): I have some issues with Jamie Rich's writing style, but Joelle Jones' art is too purdy to pass up, and I'm kinda' a sucker for these Oni romance books.

Meathaus: Volume 8: Headgames (Alternative Comics): Yes! The return of Meathaus, which is really the underground anthology that all self-publishing underground anthology folks aspire to be. This one is packed with talent including Farel Dalrymple, Dash Shaw, Becky Cloonan, Jim Rugg, Troy Nixey, Nate Powell, and many others!

Star Wars Omnibus: X-Wing Rogue Squadron: Volume 1 (Dark Horse): Ok, so I'm a sucker for some of the now-hard-to-find early Star Wars spin off series.

Star Wars Omnibus: X-Wing Rogue Squadron: Volume 2 (Dark Hose): Really! These small size books are so purdy and have some nice talent.

Speaking of Omnibuses... Omnibi? Umm... Omnibus Editions. There we go. I caught in the latest copy of Previews that Marvel will be publishing an Omnibus Edition of Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and others' New X-Men. How cool will that be to have a hardcover book containing 40+ issues of Morrison's "re-imaging" of the X-Men? Sign me up!


Shit! Crap! Dreck! Fooey!

After over a year of living in San Diego, I finally did it. I've been to every single comic book shop I can find on the web, in the yellow pages, by word of mouth, and by aimlessly driving around. And, guess what? For the most part, they totally suck! I just don't get it. Keep in mind, this is all in relation to the San Francisco Bay Area.

From a population standpoint, San Diego is over 3x larger than San Jose and the surrounding South Bay Area. That's 3x the people, 3x the restaurants, 3x the professional sports, 3x the inbound travelers (yes, I know San Diego is a more popular tourist spot than San Jose, but notice I said "inbound travelers," and not tourists, San Jose is just as popular a destination due to all the many business professionals en route to Silicon Valley), it's just plain bigger. There's more of everything. However, according to my loose calculations, there's about half of the comic book shops in San Diego as compared to San Jose. That's 50% of the comic shops for 200% more people! So yeah, point 1) there are fewer shops to choose from in the first place.

Point 2) The stores I've found, with the exception of a mere 2 are complete dogshit. No need to name names, that would only be providing them the slightest form of free advertisement. Overall, they are small, dirty, unorganized, difficult to find, have crappy customer service, fulfill every negative stereotype the industry should be trying to avoid, are unwelcoming to kids, unwelcoming to women, unwelcoming to any modestly discerning fan, have been co-opted by cards, gaming, sports, and anything *but* comics, lack breadth of selection, lack depth of selection, have antiquated bent up back issues full of dust, are dimly lit, musty smelling, and I don't know how they've stayed in business. One shop in a rather trendy part of town, has been there according to the register jock since the 70's. Well, it looked like I stepped into 1978! Like it's literally been sitting there, fading in the sun, gathering grime, while the rest of the modern world has marched on. How do you afford the rent? How the hell are you still in business? Why do people shop there? I'm pissed!

And don't even get me started on customer service. In one place the dude asked me out of nowhere, "what do you like better, DC or Marvel?" As if that's the only choice? I decided not to play along and rejected the whole premise of his question. I retorted "umm, I really prefer something like Oni Press actually." And you know what his brilliant response was? "Snob," he muttered under his breath. "What was that?!" I snapped back, incredulously. Of course, he didn't have the balls to respond. Instead, he started blabbing about how cool 52 is, what about 52, I like 52, do you like 52? "52?" I say. "Yeah, I read it. 52... is shit," I over-enunciate for him, turn and walk out in disgust. Dude, you don't even want to fuck with me today.

I'm apalled. This is San Diego. Home of the San Diego Comic Con-International. The fucking *Mecca* of the comic book universe in the US. And these are the stores? Pitiful. Why is it like this? I can't figure it out. Someone suggested it's because the real estate and cost of living is so expensive. Hello, bitches. I'm from Silicon Valley, the Bay Area. Where $200,000 houses sell for $1,000,000. Don't even tell me it's that, that ain't even it. It's a wash. Is it solely because SF was the birthplace of the underground scene and the entire industry has thrived under that lingering banner of culture to this day? I don't know. Possible, but seems like a stretch. I just don't get it. These places are so out of it.

So, I'm left with a mere two shops in all of San Diego that I even feel remotely comfortable supporting with my money. And really, each is strong in their own right, but it would take combining them both to achieve my favorite store in the Bay Area, Lee's Comics. I have Comickaze, which is pretty cool. It's close to my home and work, easy to get to. The staff is great, and 99% of the time they have what I want with new books. Their ordering practices are solid in terms of depth and breadth. Then there's Southern California Comics, my secret location (which I've now outed!) for all things Silver Age, including my recent Uncanny X-Men acquisitions. But again, if I take both of those, the 2 best stores in all of San Diego... all I get is Lee's Comics from the San Francisco Bay Area.

I'm just shocked.

10.18.06 Reviews (Part 2)

Queen & Country #31 (Oni Press): The delays between issues of this title are, again, completely ridiculous. The tiny font size used in this issue is completely ridiculous. I literally had to squint and move the book closer to my face to read the story. It made it seem like everyone was whispering for no apparent reason and was so distracting. There were also numerous typos. One on the very first page, "It's no trouble" became "It's not trouble." And later on there was some confusion over "you" and "your." It's a shame too, because after you machete your way through all that mess, what you have is an exceptional issue of Q&C. Samnee's art suddenly looks better than earlier issues, and it's an incredibly intense read as Crocker orders CIA gal Angela Cheng and Minder 3 into the Ops Room after learning of the kidnap of Minders 1 and 2. The proverbial shit has really hit the fan with a story that is very relevant to the current geo-political situation. Was also very fun to see rookie-no-more Chris Lankford act the badass on a mission to save his colleagues. Would have otherwise been an A+, but the totality of all those nagging little issues put us at Grade B+.

Wasteland #4 (Oni Press): I still really like this book, it's just that nothing really happens in this issue. To borrow a phrase from the guys over at Comix Experience in San Francisco, it felt like "all middle." The caravan is still on its way to Newbegin. The council at Newbegin still argues and teases an uprising of the Sunners who are slaves. Some minor hints about Michael's past, and a letter than supports my theory that "A-REE-YASS-I" could be Area 51 in Nevada, but other than that... biz as usual. Grade B.

The Exterminators #10 (DC/Vertigo): I finally checked this book out after hearing positive buzz and being impressed by the pull quotes that these guys were accumulating from all kinds of different sources. And? I liked it. It was fun. Tony Moore's art is really pleasing, and looks awesome in color (compared to say his early work on The Walking Dead). The story was fun. Has a lot of heart, but didn't take itself too seriously. Is it strong enough for me to buy it regularly amid the plethora of titles I already buy? Probably not. But can I see myself buying a trade on a slow week? Sure thing. Grade B.

I also picked up the following books, but didn't have time to read/review them;

The Lone Ranger #2 (Dynamite Entertainment): Beautiful Cassaday cover and I was pleasantly surprised by the first issue. Can't wait to read it!

CSI: Dying In The Gutters #1-3 (IDW): I'm a big fan of all things CBR (www.ComicBookResources.com), including the columns of both Rich Johnston (weekly column titled "Lying In The Gutters") and fellow columnist Steven Grant (who writes this series). Just couldn't pass up the chance to read about a murder at a Comic Book Convention, guest-starring actual writers, artists, and editors from the industry! Should be fun with Grant's sharp wit and sarcastic slant on the world.


10.18.06 Reviews (Part 1)

Desolation Jones #7 (DC/Wildstorm): Of course I'm sad to see the innovative pencils and page layouts of JH Williams go, but Danijel Zezelj has a unique style that can vibe right along with an Ellis script any day of the week, and twice on Sundays. It's suitably dark and inky for a noir-ish post-modern sci-fi espionage book. "And while you're waiting, someone will find the last friend you thought you had and kill them just because." Yeah, that's noir. Odd that it reads very close to a Queen & Country script, complete with British SIS and oblique references to "C," but I'm not complaining. Perhaps Ellis is on his way to inventing a new sub-genre, mixing Q&C with, well... some Warren Ellis shit, and getting something very cool and unique out of it. He doesn't lose his creepy Spider Jerusalem tone either, "I seen web-sites about you. You want to take my temperature?" And it tickles all my authenticity buttons when he throws around words like "tradecraft." Grade A+.

Sandman #1: Special Edition (DC/Vertigo): The thing that struck me most about Neil Gaiman's writing as I read Sandman #1 for the first time in about 5 years (after having read it countless times before) was how it completely lacks exposition. It's really a rare gift for a writer to be able to intrigue and entice without being completely forthcoming about what's occurring. It's really fun to see him begin planting the seeds that will carry this title another 70-some issues. He really does invent a genre that defies categorization, equal bits horror, fantasy, and superhero, a genre that is still being emulated today with few truly successful examples. Also a treat to re-read his introduction which shows how a few random ideas nagged at him and started to coalesce from nothing but creativity and imagination. He does have a distinct way with the language too. He's not content to merely say that they were "trying to capture Death," he has to take it a step further and add "to bind the reaper." That's just powerful imagery. And the imagery continues as Gaiman weaves together history, comic canon, and literature to form a beautiful tapestry that transcends the medium to become one of the greatest works in modern pop culture. I really enjoyed how much of the series is set in motion due to man's folly. Burgess & Co. screw up the incantation and accidentally imprison Dream, when they were actually after Death, and create the catalyst for a series of events lasting years. This 50-cent book delivers squarely on its intent. Despite having owned the entire series in single issues, despite having owned all 10 hardcover trades, here I am, tempted to once again enjoy what Entertainment Weekly calls "the best comic book ever," explore 50 pages of bonus material, and plunk down $100 for the Absolute Edition. It sounds like folly that could only be induced by the power of the Dream King himself, Lord Morpheus. Grade A+.

X-Factor #12 (Marvel):
Yes, this book is still plagued by the lack of a consistent artist. 'Nuff said. From a scripting standpoint though, the lettercol nails it. Peter David's writing is unpretentious. There is a very tragic thing happening to these characters, but it's understated, infused with subtlety, and sets the stage for the recovery and excitement teased incessantly with the already infamous issue #13. The next issue promises to emulate the much beloved X-Factor #87 from a previous run, where Doc Samson is called in to (mis)diagnose the individuals comprising the X-Factor team after enduring a psychologically damaging mission. Grade B+.

Casanova #5 (Image): Fraction's script seems somehow, I don't know.. calmer? And more focused? That's good. It loses the air of self-indulgent pretention it had and settles into a fun off-beat romp defending Coldheart Island. Seeing him learn to avoid common pitfalls in scripting provides a nice tutorial in the end piece. And, of course, still a steal at $1.99. Grade B+.

Checkmate #7 (DC):
This book has sort of an old school flair to it, with a pseudo-Suicide Squad, characters like Javelin and Punch getting knocked off left and right, a deliciously psychotic Jewelee, complete with Bronze Tiger, and Amanda Waller coming up as a power broker again. Not as much of the political espionage drama as a typical Rucka script, but pretty strong nonetheless. A few awkward panels, but Cliff Richards does ok as a fill-in artist and isn't too jarring a jump in quality. Grade B.

52: Week Twenty-Four (DC): This just might be the best issue yet of 52. It sure feels like Giffen did more than just page layouts and infected the script a bit, as evidenced by the general humorous tone and self-referential lines from Ambush Bug. That was really fun. What a shame (for the Martian Manhunter book), that the Manhunter bits here are far more interesting than anything in the actual MM comic. I liked the idea that folks like Firestorm and Firehawk, who are JLA B-listers at best, would have to step up and carry the torch, attempting to form a League in the absence of any of the big guns. Nature abhors a vacuum, after all. There was a big mis-step with a, ahem... Taylor Hicks reference. I mean, really, let's not suffer from recency in such an overt way, huh? But that aside, we had strong Phil Jimenez art, a lot of the long missing plot threads came back for a spell, it actually felt like the plot was advancing a bit, and it was all topped off by the gravitas of the Skeets-going-berserk sequence. If only they'd all been this strong. Grade B.

Wildcats #1 (DC/Wildstorm): From the first page, it does feel a little bold, full of manic Morrison story ideas. It plays a little more self-aware than other Worldstorm titles and blends the HALO Corporation bits with the good old fashioned heroics of the covert action team and millennia spanning war between the Kherubim and the Daemonites. It hasn't sold me yet, but has earned my attention for about 3 issues to win me over, which is more than I can say for the other Worldstorm titles. Oh, and by the way, Jim Lee... Cole Cash was portrayed as a Navy SEAL when he was with Team 7, so why would he have a US Marine Corps tattoo? Nitpicky, but I'm just sayin'. I realize if you're new to this title, you'll have no idea what the flock is happening here and its pimarily my fondness for the various incarnations of these characters that prompt me to say... Grade B-.

E-Man: Recharged #1 (Digital Webbing): A decent attempt at kooky fun, but sort of lacks a hook. What would have otherwise been a relatively harmless time is really hurt by the $3.99 price tag. It's all pretty middle ground; it will appeal only to die hard fans of the character. It's just not quite funny enough, or not quite campy enough, or not quite serious enough, it just misses any one thematic note and plays it pretty safe, turning into a whole lot of nothing. The behind the scenes section is actually the most interesting aspect from a pure craft standpoint. Grade D+.

The Authority #1 (DC/Wildstorm): Well, it started on page one, with me being baffled by the unexplained acronyms. From there, we go into agonizing decompression as it takes 11 panels to do what could be done in just two. It sort of serves as a harbinger of the fact that the rage of decompressed storytelling has passed, as has the whole "widescreen" action approach that The Authority was originally credited with starting. Those facts coupled together beg the question "should The Authority even be done again?" It makes the whole endeavor feel about 5 years too late; unless there's something fresh and compelling to say, whats the point? At the very least, I was expecting strong pencils, but Gene Ha really needs to pull out from his shots. They're too close up and give a claustrophobic feel. The blurried, muddled composition that can't quite decide if we're going to focus on the foreground or the background requires about 500mg of vicodin to get through. The plot may have been an interesting mystery/sci-fi romp ala Ellis' book Ocean, but it's misplaced here, having zero to do with the title of *this* book. I can only assume that's The Carrier that lets The Authority travel through The Bleed in between multiverses, but I only know that because I've read previous versions of this title. The murky art doesn't help and just spoils a reveal that was already telegraphed anyway. It does nothing for first time readers unfamiliar with the property. And talk about a misleading cover, Midnighter and The Engineer prominently displayed, yet mysteriously absent on the interior. In the very first issue of The Authority relaunch, one would expect to find... I don't know... members of The Authority perhaps? Instead, we get some guy named Ken. This was a total misfire. Grade D-.


Who's Got The Juice?

Every once in a while, a perfect conflagration of events comes along unexpectedly and makes you feel like a high-roller. Let's discuss. As many of you know, I've been putting together a high-grade run of Uncanny X-Men from #100 to #200. As of this writing, I'm about a third of the way through already, owning about 32 of the 101 issues I'm seeking. Assembling this run that has numerous key issues and first appearances is fun, but challenging. This is no small task. Finding the books at all is at medium difficulty level, and finding the books in VF/NM (that's Very Fine to Near Mint, for all you non-comic heads out there) is extremely tough. That said, when I find a stash I'm ready to spend some money if they're the issues I need.

I stumbled upon a shop in San Diego (which I won't yet reveal until I'm finished looting it for the X-Books I need!) which isn't widely known, but is a humongous warehouse of all things comic, it almost overwhelms the senses with its completist attitude toward everything. In short, it's the largest single collection of Silver Age I've ever seen amassed in one place. In fact, they just recently made an acquisition of a large collection in LA with a nice quantity of early Marvel issues. They even have a CGC'd copy (that's Comics Guarantee Corporation, a professional grading service for high end books) of X-Men #1 and even in its less than stellar condition (4.0 out of 10.0), it's still $1,200. That's how rare and sought after this thing is.

Anyway, so I'm in there last week with only about an hour to kill before I have to meet up with some people elsewhere. I'm pulling beautiful copies out of the bins and I'm pretty early in the run. I'm snagging #105 (Phoenix), #109 (first appearance of Vindicator from Alpha Flight), #118 (Sunfire), etc. And I know these things carry a price tag, but I'm not really paying attention. A combination of having about $2,400 on me and just being pressed for time. Now the bins containing these issues are pretty close to the front entrance, so the owner of the shop and his two female assistants can see what I'm doing. They're carrying on some mundane conversation about North Korea's nuclear proliferation and Kim Jong-il having a god complex. I'm half listening in to their pedestrian comments, they're trying to conjure the name of the Defense Department agency that was the precursor to the CIA, which I know is the clandestine OSS, but it's kind of amusing hearing them prattle on with other acronyms, X-Files sounding things like "The Black Bag," and confusing it with British agencies like MI-5 and MI-6. In the midst of all that, and because I'm eavesdropping, I hear them start to notice me. Suddenly there's chatter about the guy pulling a pile of expensive back issues like it ain't no thang. And I'll be honest, it's feeding my ego. Not only am I having a ball finding these issues and admiring some of the copies, but now I'm knee deep in this little cultural anthropology field trip.

I'm glad the owner's there, I think to myself. This is the third time I've been to the store and it's going to serve as a further litmus test regarding how I feel about shopping at the place. First trip, I thought he was an asshole, dismissive, and almost rude. The customer service was crap, but I ceded the fact that he may have been preoccupied processing the new LA acquisition. Second trip I found him to be much more friendly and had a nice conversation about some CGC'd Mister Miracle issues. I'm also noticing his female assistants. They're cute, look a bit younger than me, and are dressed just right. One of them is, apropos of how I'm starting to feel about this whole scene, named... Berry. That's right, her name is Berry. I'm digging that. So, they see me. They know what I'm about to do. And I'm seeing them, after hearing their little 3-way diatribe. Suffice it to say, glances are exchanged.

My pile is assembled. I'm watching the clock; I'm out of time. As I enter the room they occupy, I can feel their looks. In my peripheral vision, I can see their heads slowly turn as I stroll across the room. The owner is watching the pile, seeing only the money. But these 2 little mudhoneys are clocking me. They know I've got the juice. I shoot one of them a small smile; her big eyes lock on me, she blushes.

"The Juice." Allow me to explain. My coworker and I (who shall remain nameless) use this term all the time. Actually we use a few terms, with subtle distinctions. Sometimes we'll talk about someone having "the swing" or "the stroke." This is used in a business sense. As in "so-and-so VP really has some 'swing,' he can really get shit done." It means you have this quality, the ability to influence, credibility, the ability to navigate in high-powered circles, etc. It's an external attribute. Something you cultivate professionally. The "juice," on the other hand, is an internal attribute. It takes all the wonderful qualities of "the swing" and adds charisma, charm, power, control, a warm dangerous quality that guys want to have and girls want to be around. And of course, there's the implicit sexual connotation. In our little warped corner of the universe, anyway. ;-)

The owner beelines for me, "I'll handle this cutomer" he proclaims. His open arms greet my stack of books as the mudhoneys look up in what can only be described as awe. As I listen in to their thoughts, all I can hear is "Who the fuck *is* this guy?" in the most intrigued internal monologues I can muster for them. As the owner does some quick calculations, I motion over to a case that contains X-Men #1 and the first 4 issues of The Avengers, as if to imply "yes, I might just buy those books too."

The owner shoots out a total figure that's pretty high in the 3-digit range. I give him my best poker face and only offer a non-chalant "ok" in return. And sure enough, he bites on my feigned indifference. He says "you know what, I'm going to knock off 20% for you." Now we're talking. This is what I wanted from my third trip into this guy's pad. It's obvious he remember me from before, he makes a comment about those Mister Miracle issues we discussed the previous time. I know who he is. He knows who I am. And he knows, that I know, that he knows. We're on track. Meanwhile, the honeys are still vibing me hard. I can feel it. As he bags my purchases, I decide to spread the love a little. I give a playful little sideways glance to one of the girls and offer a simple "hi, how ya' doin?"

"Oh, I'm good," she smiles back. This one doesn't blush. This one has a black bra strap exposed against her tan shoulder. This one is Berry.

I start peeling off Benjamins as the owner wheels around in mid sentence. "Will this be cash or..." as he notices what I'm doing. "Ah, cash..." his entrepreneurial eyes dance with a capitalistic flair that brings me back to Kim Jong-il and the Communists. What an antithetical circle we've made. "If you're paying cash, then I'll eat the sales tax," he says proudly. "Oh, thanks" I say, genuinely surprised. "I really appreciate that."

Berry now inserts herself into our exchange. She lifts my bag of books, comes out from behind the counter to hand them to me, locks her glowing eyes on mine and says "Thank you... very much." And there's that pregnant pause, between "you" and "very," emphasis on the "very."

I smile a goodbye to everyone, turn and head out to my car. I'm so very happy that my third trip to the place was a pleasant consumer experience. Pleased that I found the books, found a retailer willing to hustle for his dollar and reward a customer, pleased knowing that I'll be back for more, and of course, pleased with the harmless flirtation of Berry. I chirp the alarm on my BMW and crack a smile to myself because of what I'm about to do.

As I pull my car door open and lift my seat back to place the books snugly in the back seat, I cock my head to the right sharply only to catch Confident Berry, Blush Girl, and The Owner looking out at me. They're all intrigued for different reasons. One is shy and intimidated. One is curious and playful. One is content and planning ahead. Today, I've got the juice.


10.11.06 Reviews (Few!) & Comics (Lots!)

I didn't find the time this week to read everything I picked up, but here's what I bought and a few quick impressions about the handful of books I did get to.

Tales of the Unexpected (DC): Lapham seems to be getting work all over these days and it appears to be falling flat for the most part. The lead story here is a painfully straightforward cop drama starring Crispus Allen. It borrows heavily from The Sixth Sense and throws in a spattering of Se7en. The back up story starring Dr. 13 is great though. Azzarello nails the narrative "voice" and the creepy sexual tension between Dr. 13 and his daughter. Cliff Chiang's pencils are drop dead gorgeous. It's nice to see recent attempts at 60's and 70's style books housing more than one story, but this one is hit and miss, though the Mignola cover helps. The Spectre = Grade C, Dr. 13 = Grade A, for an average of Grade B.

Powers #20 (Marvel/Icon): I don't know if it's the sporadic publishing schedule or what, but this book feels pretty flat nowadays. Maybe it reads better collected. Maybe it's past its prime. Maybe Bendis and Oeming should have pulled the plug when they were on top of their game. Nowadays it just feels like a tired rehash of earlier arcs that were inventive and fresh in their day, but now come off as repetitive and stale. Muder involving a "power," assemble the suspects, intro red herring, chase down red herring, be surprised at the 23rd hour by the real killer. Lather, rinse, and repeat for multiple arcs. Grade B-.

Fables: Special Edition #1 (DC/Vertigo): On the one hand, it's great to see DC getting behind a title like Fables and a writer like Bill Willingham, and offering up this reprint of the first issue along with a preview for the original hardcover graphic novel 1001 Nights of Snowfall for a mere 25 cents. On the other hand, the preview does not make me want to pick up 1001 Nights at all. I probably would have picked it up on faith, but now that I've seen a part of it, I'll pass. Grade B.

Worldstorm #1 (DC/Wildstorm): Somewhere very subtle in this book there's a hint of self-aware behavior. There's a hint of that post-modern, self referential voice that says "hey, we know we're rebooting a universe. We know we've done it before and it was all pretty silly. Just silly, silly superhero nonsense that was crappy, then had moments of brilliance, then sorta' just faded out. This time it might be better." Then there's heaping doses of just... "why, why, why-oh-why are they doing this?" Didn't we learn our lesson in the early 90's? I want to believe that we learned, and that we've assembled the right writers, the right artists, have salvaged the good bits, and will infuse this with a heaping dose of cool relevance. I want to believe that every one of these "new" titles will do for their namesakes what Joe Casey and Sean Phillips did for their original Wildcats reboot. And while there are fleeting moments of hope (Tranquility looks interesting with the premise and its retro-art, and I'm an admitted sucker for anything Wildcats related), none of this really looks different enough to inspire confidence. It really looks, judging solely from this book, like we're gearing up to repeat what we've already done. I mean, really. Deathblow, Wetworks, and Caitlin Fairchild? Like this? We really did that already. Oh, and PS - this book should have been a 25-center. Grade C-.

Gen 13 #1 (DC/Wildstorm): And so, the first "Worldstorm" title belts one out, clears first and second base, rounds third, and slides into home... only to be tagged out. There are isolated moments that almost play well (Freefall's t-shirt, Rainmaker's pseudo-lesbian overtones, the duplicity of the "parents"), but overall we have a confusing opening sequence, cliched origins of all the principal characters, some very dated feeling humor and pop culture references, and a last page that really doesn't ring true. And I hate to say it because it feels like a cheap shot, but the art is only slightly better than the 1990's Image house style that this was spawned from. Check out Caitlin's boobs as they appear to fly independently of her torso during her Gen-active sequence. Grade C-.

DMZ #12 (DC/Vertigo): This book never disappoints; I'm very excited to read this issue written *and* drawn by Brian Wood.

The Escapists #4 (Dark Horse): One of the best mini-series to come out in recent memory!

Rock Bottom (AiT/Planet-Lar): Know nothing about it, bought it solely because Joe Casey is writing and I'm a completist when it comes to his work.

Desolation Jones (DC/Wildstorm): One of the best Warren Ellis projects in some time, brilliant pencils from JH Williams III. Passed on my single issues and upgraded to the trade.


10.04.06 Comics

I'm back from a grueling business trip. Although I picked up most of what I wanted this week, I didn't have time to read/review much. This is everything except The Leading Man #3, which by Saturday two retailers didn't have; doesn't bode very well for this small press title. In addition to the below, I scored some cheap Silver Age books in great condition. Scored some old Strange Tales, Tomb of Dracula, and a nice run of Doctor Strange. I also embarked on a new project (thanks Mike!) to assemble a VF/NM run of the original Uncanny X-Men series, from number 100-200, which runs from about 1977 to 1985. Got a deal on about 20 of these books, including the first appearance of Alpha Flight (pictured here with #121), first appearance of Dazzler, the "Days of Future Past" storyline, etc.

Doctor Strange: The Oath #1 (Marvel): I've yet to see the definitive take on this character, but Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin sounds like a good bet.

Criminal #1 (Marvel/Icon): The new Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips series that's already getting tons of hype, hope it lives up.

Agents of Atlas #3 (Marvel): Hope it's at least as good as the first. Needs to be better than the second.

Fear Agent #8 (Image): Always fun!

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #1 (Marvel): Anxious to see what Kirkman and Hester can do with this. I think we need more books like Nextwave and this, lighthearted fun!

Giant-Size Wolverine #1 (Marvel): Bought this only because Lapham was writing it and I'm also curious to try out Aja's pencils before his debut on Iron Fist.

American Virgin #3-7 (DC/Vertigo): Becky Cloonan's pencils finally wore me down, decided to pick this title up and give it a shot.

The Incredible Hulk #96-99 (Marvel): This is the Planet Hulk run, caught an interview on Fanboy Radio with Greg Pak and he sold me, sounds interesting.

The Other Side #1 (DC/Vertigo): Managed to read this book. Cameron Stewart's pencils are always a treat, but the script boasted a remarkably healthy resemblance to the movie Full Metal Jacket and tossed in some horror elements. Grade C+.


Au Revoir Mes Amis

Hi Everyone! Just a little note to let you know that new reviews for this week's books shipping on 10/4/06 will be delayed. I'll be on business travel and most likely won't get a chance to post them until the weekend.

I did post October's Graphic Novel Of The Month a couple of days early (below) so you'd all have a chance to seek out Brian K. Vaughan's Pride of Baghdad (DC/Vertigo).

I'm also reading Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, and Takeshi Miyazawa's entire Runaways series from Marvel. This is the entire run so far, all 5 digest sized trade paperbacks which collect the first and second seasons. Thought I'd get caught up before Joss Whedon's run on the book. Though I don't know about it being the "most original book from Marvel since Spider-Man debuted in 1962," it's definitely great and I'm enjoying the pull no punches style, as well as appearances from Cloak & Dagger.

Also picked up Action Comics (DC) #841, the first of the 3 issue arc I reviewed below. It's fantastic! I don't think I recall a more straighforward and enjoyable superhero adventure in quite some time. Richard Donner (original Superman film Director) taking over this book with pencils by one of the Kubert Brothers (can't remember which at the moment) is sure to draw a lot of deserved attention, a shame though that it will most likely overshadow this little arc that was tremendously fun.

Lastly, I decided to read everything I could get my hands on that I'd missed regarding Emma Frost, since I'm digging her so much in Astonishing X-Men. Having read most of her X-Title appearances, I picked up the 3 digest sized Emma Frost books by Karl Bollers and Carlo Pagulayan. While they're hit and miss, sometimes capturing teen angst perfectly and sometimes terribly overwrought and melodramatic, it was a nice idea to do Emma's "origin" from birth all the way up until her first appearance as White Queen of the Hellfire Club. Not the greatest read, but interesting if you're into the character. This is also a credit to Marvel's digest format. I'm getting 6 issues for a mere $7.99, which is a great deal for a compact little package. "Normal" price would have been around $18-20 for regular size equivalents, which I wouldn't have done.

See you soon!