Friday, December 28, 2007

What Looks Good?

Remember, your 4 Color Goodies are delayed until Friday this week (and next) due to the holiday. So shake yourself out of your post-Xmas downswing and check out all the goodies at your local comics retailer.

Flash #235 -- After a bit of a breather last issue (insofar as the Flash can have one of them), it's back to the main alien invasion story as Waid demonstrates why he knows Wally West better than any other writer.

Freddy vs Jason vs Ash #3 -- Last issue featured a group of Christmas carolers being hacked to pieces and decapitated, followed by not one but two couples having premarital sex in a spooky abandonded house. 80s horror, I adore thee.

Essential Power Man And Iron Fist v.1 -- I personally will not be buying this, since I own all of the issues in question, but all I have to say is "Sweet Christmas!"

Iron Man #24 -- Mike Sterling reports that sales of this title have fallen off almost completely at this shop. My take: that's his customer's loss.

Marvel Adventures Iron Man #8 -- Have you ever said to yourself, "You know, I could get behind the concept of Iron Man, but only if he was all steampunk." If the answer is "yes," then buy this comic! Also, even if your answer is not yes, buy this comic!

So what looks good to YOU?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What I Read This Week?

Batman And The Outsiders #3 -- My thoughts on the method DC used to handle the creative shake-ups on this team is well documented, so I will not go into them here. What I will say, however, is that Chuck Dixon can write some solid superheroics. This particular issue is indicitive of that -- a complete tale with a beginning, middle, and end, but also containing ties to previous and future issues as well. There's some muddled continuity -- just what the heck happned between the end of the last issue and this one in regards to Batgirl is the most glaring -- but the talky bits (with Batman arguing with Hawkgirl as well as a psuedo-reunion of most of the original Outsiders) and the fighty bits (with the combined teams tackling the advanced OMAC) are handled strongly, with Lopez's pencils tighly addressing both. The continuity thing bugs me, but otherwise this is a good comic.

Superman #671 -- Enter: The Insect Queen. With the two "big" stories Busiek was telling finished up, you might think that things will get easier for Supes; unfortunately, you'd be wrong. Then again, problems for our star means good things for his readers. These are the kind of Superman stories I like, with a lot of action and use of the big guy's power. Busiek looks to be having fun fleshing out his baddie and her army, in addition to tying it back to developments with Lana and Chris. New penciller Peter Vale handles strength and grace with nicely fluid motions and fits right in with the story. I guess if you want really ground breaking stuff than this is not for you. Me, personally? I enjoyed it quite a bit and am intrigued just where the heck this story is going.

Captain America: The Chosen #5 -- Morrell and Breitweiser continue to spin their tale about modern day bravery and courage in the face of war as the spectral Captain inspires and pushes Corpsman Newman to overcome his fears despite the harrowing circumstances. This series was hyped on Morrell's background, but so far the truly standout aspect has been Mitch Breitweiser's stunning pencils. There is a half-double page spread (that is, it's a two page spread, but it only covers the top half of those two pages) depicting the attack on Pearl Harbor which is equal parts dynamic and horrifying; I'd love to see him render a Sgt. Fury or Enemy Ace comic. Not that Morrell is not up to snuff; his story comes in bits and pieces, and is allegorical more than narrative, but it's an interesting read that betrays a lot of his personal views. I'm really curious as to how this one will wrap up, and a bit bummed that it means no more of the artwork after that.

Iron Man: Enter The Mandarin #4 -- When we last left, Tony Stark was shot in the chest by none other than the Mandarin's son, Temugin! But as Iron Fans know, Tony often wears a certain protective article on his chest! More action of the Siler Age-y variety, with the showdown between Iron Man and the Mandarin brewing and about to boil over once more. There's a very weird bit in the recap page, where Anton Vanko is referred to as Vanko Savage -- a pun on Vandal Savage, maybe? In any event, Casey and Canete continue to crank out high quality work here, with a nice mix of art deco and cartoony extremity. The subplot with Temugin is a nice nod to long term Iron Fans, and oddly enough does fit in pretty well with the continuity, if you care about such things (as I apparently do). Very cool series which is a refreshing breather from the heavier Iron Man outings in the mainline Marvel U.

Terror, Inc. #4 -- Poor Mr. Terror... things are just not going his way lately. And things are only getting worse, what with his undead girlfriend stealing her metal-encased arm back from him in order to rise up a Void of nothingness over the whole of creation and all that. There's plenty of typical MAX stuff this time out, with quite a bit of blood being shed and more than a few naked boobies on display. I think if you like the character of Terror then you are probably already reading and enjoying this series -- and nothing here will convince you if you don't fall into that category anyway.

The Pick Of The Pile is Superman, which mixes adventure, nice character bits, and a neat villain to produce a very attractive package. Not everyone may agree with me, but Busiek has been somewhat-quietly producing some very intriguing Superman stories.

So what did YOU read this week?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday Blogging, Cont.

I hope everyone had a happy and safe Christmas, doing whatever it is you decided to do for it. My wife and I watched a lot of Christmas movies, since, really, when else can you watch them? I was lucky enough to receive several nerdy gifts, which I would like to share with all of you.

Showcase Presents: The Flash -- My wife got this for me without having to be prompted or otherwise given a hint, so I guess she does known me and my tastes after all. Once I finish the trade I am currently reading (Harvey Comics Classics Richie Rich), I am definitely going to be poring over this one for a while.

My brother sent me a large, unwrapped box containing, amongst other things, a pile of Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear reprints. I'm a big fan of these olf ECs, as loyal readers well know, and these reprints are very accurate and substantially easier to get ahold of than the originals or the hardcover reprints. Between these, my collection of Magnus, Robot Fighter and my brother's previous gift of nearly a full run of Marvel's Robocop, I can safely avoid the back issue bins for some time.

My brother also got me the Fantastic Four: The Complete 1994-1995 Series DVD set. The first season, with it's inane theme music, is nothing special, but the second season is a very well made mid-90s Marvel cartoon, a nice sort of overview of the Lee-Kirby years on the First Family. Rounding out the wackiness from the 90s, my brother also got me a somewhat Mint on Card copy of everyone's favorite reptile-esque hero, the Crusading Chameleon. Tick, we hardly knew ye.

Finally, my mother in law got me a set of Star Wars M&Ms Christmas ornaments -- the Dark Side, specifically. Now I can look forward to M&M-ized versions of baddies such as Darth Vader and General Grevious adorning the tree next year. She also bought my wife a Marvel comics cocoa set featuring two group shot adorned mugs -- although if the cocoa contains unstable molecules or not I do not know.

So did any of YOU get any geeky gifts this season?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday Blogging

As I sit here, basking in the warm glow of my monitor, wearing my Santa hat, I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. Posts will be back later in the week with thoughts on last week's comics, and what looks good this week. In the meantime, enjoy this tale of one Martian discovering the true meaning of Christmas! Have a great holiday everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Everybody's Linking For The Weekend

My Thrillpower is off the charts! 2000AD is available online in downloadable, subscribe-to-own PDF format! For my money, this beats the pants off of Marvel's unfortunately named "DCU" program. You can click right here to get the first prog, the 100 page 2008 Christmas Mega-Special. This Earthlet is very, very happy by this news!

Kevin's Recommended Reading List, Part 1 and Part 2.


G. Kendall's Not Blog X is back, baby!

Damian shows that the Atom can be defeated by a mere iron!

Sometimes, you see an advertisement which just makes no sense. Rick shows us one such piece of nonsense.

Bully shows off Luke Cage in the holiday spirit.

And finally, Frank has a brush with greatness.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

4 Color Cinema

Batman Begins

By now you no doubt have seen the trailer for the new Bat-flick The Dark Knight. So I figured now would be a good time to look at the film which spawned that sequel, the re-Bat-boot known as Batman Begins. To be fair, I had been thinking about writing up this post for a few weeks now, ever since my wife suggested popping BB into the DVD player one night. We had seen it in the theater, but had not watched it since, so I was interested in seeing how the film held up to a second viewing.

As many of you remember, BB was appropriately released to a lot of hype and hoopla, since Christoper Nolan was reinventing the entire franchise by going back to the basics after the disasterous overindulgence of Joel Schumacher nearly a decade earlier (To be fair, I liked and still like Batman Forever, but Batman And Robin was just too much, as my wife likes to say). Ditching the colorful and over-the-top art design and costumes, along with gimmicky casting jobs, Nolan and his crew set out to make a Batman film for the Blade Runner set. And to that end, it's an unmitigated success.

The plot, for those who don't know it, revolves around young Bruce Wayne, fresh from getting his crap handed to him in an Asian prison camp, coming under the tutelage of Henri Ducard and his master, the enigmatic Ra's al Ghul. Things don't go so well, though, as Ghul wants Wayne to join his League of Shadows, and the whole thing ends with Ghul's compound in flames and Ducard near death. Wayne returns to the decaying Gotham City and, with the help of his faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth, Wayne Corp. R&D guru Lucius Fox, ADA (and childhood friend) Rachel Dawes, and Detective Jim Gordon of the Gotham PD, begins a crusade against crime and corruption. Things get interesting when psychiatrist Jonathon Crane is thrown into the mix, and a dangerous prototype microwave emitter is stolen.

One of the major components of this film is the art design and overall visual look. Moving away from both Schumaker's garish glam and Burton's somberly grand gothica, Nolan pushes towards a gritty urban look, with harsh cityscapes and filthy back alleys. There's very little glamour in Gotham City anymore, giving the town a sort of Rust Belt aesthetic which works very well on the big screen. Even the technology is given an overhaul, most famously with the tank-like "Tumbler" replacing previous sleek Batmobiles. It's a change of pace which finds it's own distinct appeal -- a car chase involving Batman being pursued by the police is handled in a manner no previous cinematic Batmobile could have hoped for. This grimy basis sets the tone for the proceedings, and establishes Nolan's visual vocabulary in such a way that the viewer is almost hardwired into the Bat-mythos (this also provides an interesting contrast to Bryan Singer's depiction of Metropolis in Superman Returns, but that's another post).

The majority of the film involves Wayne's personal journey of discovery and self-actualization. He starts out trying to ignore his own history, and escape his parents' death, moving then to an unfocused, angry young man, before finally embracing the concept of justice instead of vengeance. It's a pretty basic framework, but Nolan, along with co-screenwriter David Goyer, does an admirable job of investing the audience's emotion in Wayne's growth and development. By surrounding him with likeable characters who provide a contrast to his darkness, we can feel more for his outsider (no pun intended) mindset and become vested in his self-improvement. This is coupled with a rock-solid cast who turn in a round of top flight performances. Christian Bale shines as the young hero, and Michael Caine nails Alfred (and his relationship to Bruce) in such a way that it's hard to picture anyone else in the role (save maybe Efram Zimbalist Jr.). Morgan Freeman's knowing portrayl of Lucius Fox makes the character interesting to me for the first time ever, and Gary Oldham's turn as the "one good cop" in the Gotham PD is endearing. Katie Holmes takes a lot of flak for her role, but honestly, it's not her fault that Rachel has so little to do. For Maggie Gyllenhal's sake I hope the part is expanded in the sequel. And, not forgetting the baddies, Cillian Murphy has an appropriately errie affectation as the Scarecrow, a nightmare inducing sociopath who lives up to his rep, and Liam Neeson (who's "geek cred" simply continues to grow) is equally effective as both mentor and nemesis.

Therein, however, lies the film's main flaw. I'm going into spoiler territory here, but at this point I am going to assume that anyone reading this post has either seen the film or just doesn't care about spoilers. The switcheroo with Ducard really being Ra's al Ghul in the final reel is unnecessary and is more of a twist for twist's sake than anything really connected to the plot. Is anything really chnaged by having it be Ghul operating in Gotham instead of Ducard -- for anyone other than the hardcore Bat-fans who are simply marking out for the fact that Ghul is in the movie in the first place? The answer is a pretty simple "no." The fact that the microwave emitter is only vaporizing the water specifically in the water lines doesn't make a lot of sense, but I suppose one could argue that it was operating a certain wavelength which only effected that water. Or something. Frankly, I'd have been just as happy if the main plot of the film involved Scarecrow dumping fear toxins in the water and driving everyone in the Narrow insane.

Still, that's nitpicking. This is easily the best Bat-film since the Burton opus in '89 changed the way we think about superhero movies. It's a brooding and dark piece of fiction, bathed in shadows and darkness like it's titular hero. Things start to come off the rails a little bit (again, no pun intended) towards the end, but for the majority of the running length, it's a hugely entertaining spectacle which doesn't forget that it's the human element which has made Batman so enduring a character. Given this pedigree, I'm very much looking forward to see what Nolan, Bale, and company have in store for the followup.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What Looks Good?

Attention! Attention! There's only 6 more shopping days before Christmas! So why not head on down to your local comics retailer and spread some holiday cheer?

Aliens Omnibus v.2 -- Not buying this one (need the first one), but man, I do lioke these Dark Horse Omnibi. I'm really hoping they bring out one for their Robocop stuff!

Batman And The Outsiders #3 -- The Outsiders apparently have a new member in Batgirl, about whom I know nothing save that Deathstroke gave her evil mind-control drugs, or something.

Superman #671 -- Camelot has Fallen. There's a Third (and fourth, and canine) Kryptonian. Time to move forward with more Big Blue Boyscout fun.

Captain America: The Chosen #5 -- Not written by Ed Brubaker, so don't expect this to get any attention at all.

Iron Man: Enter The Mandarin #4 -- This lovingly-retro Shellhead story has all sorts of rewards for those who spent way too much of their life reading Iron Man comics. Like some bloggers out there.

So what looks good to YOU?

Monday, December 17, 2007

What I Read This Week

X-Men: Die By The Sword #5 -- Considering that the Fury Prime appeared on the last few pages of the previous issue, it's not much of a surprise when everything goes to hell in this one. And go to hell it does. Claremont is game -- this is his kind of story -- and there's a lot of shakeups in the Omniverse scene, setting up some new status quos which may or may not be summarily ignored when the two teams relaunch. Santacruz's pencils are okay but a little rushed. Overall, I enjoyed this series much the same way that I enjoyed the HoM tie-in from Uncanny a few years back, which was much of the same type of stuff from Claremont. Only Excalibur or Exiles fans need bother reading this series, as is par for the course.

Transformers: Beast Wars: The Ascending #3 -- It's #3 of 4, so that means it's time to set up the Big Fight At The End. Of course, this being Transformers, we also get the Big Fight In The Middle as well, as the Angolmois-infected Razorbeast, along with Unicron's heralds Ratorata, Elphaorca, and Drancron do battle with the Maximals and Predacons on prehistoric Earth. A lot of action and a ton of characters, as usual, but the overarcing story is a good backdrop for the proceedings. The artwork is the standard IDW Beast Wars fare. Enjoyable for Beast-fans, but others, including G1 afficianados can safely leave it on the shelf.

Wonder Woman #15 -- More backstory starts things off, as we are introduced to Hypolita's Royal Guards, 4 women who swore blood oaths to protect their queen at all costs. Back in the present, Agent Diana Prince must deal with Captain Nazi -- without her powers -- while her mother faces the threat of a Nazi invasion of her home. The good stuff continues from Simone, who packs a lot of interesting details and developments into the alloted space without feeling like a complete data-dump. The Dodson's artwork is consistant -- about the only consistancy this title has seen -- and handles both the action and talky aspects well. Overall very enjoyable, and readers who want to start reading the Amazon Ace's solo series would be well served with picking up this issue and the previous.

The Pick of the Pile is a tough one for me. I really liked both Wonder Woman and Die By The Sword, for different reasons. WW is the better comic, all told, but DBTS tugs at nostalgic heartstrings for me. Since this is my blog, I get the final say, and so I'm picking Wonder Woman. Gail Simone is working hard on making this a top dog at DC, and her effort is paying off.

So what did YOU read this week?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Not Blog Ex?

In honor of my fellow blogger G Kendall of Not Blog X, I present to you Not Blog Ex?, where we take a look at that oft-ignored X-spinoff title, Excalibur. Owing to the fact that my favorite X-Man, Nightcrawler, was a member of the team, Excal was the first "serious" (so to speak) comic book series I ever collected. So let's take a look back, shall we, and see how the group from across the pond holds up 15-plus years after the fact. Presented here is the first issue of Excalibur I ever purchased, along with the second part -- which I finally found years later!

The Ghost of Braddock Manner
Credits: Alan Davis (Script), Alan Davis (Pencils), Mark Farmer (Inks), Glynis Oliver (Colors), Michael Heisler (Letters).

We begin by catching up with all of Excalibur's members, each dealing with their personal issues in the hours before a housewarming party welcoming them to their new home of Braddock Manor. Captain Britian spars with his sister Psylocke while lamenting how he always resorts to violence, and reminiscing about their family life. Nightcrawler practices his martial arts in a very aggressive manner, surprising Kitty and Meggan, who have been out shopping for the big shindig. Kylun mourns at his life-mate's grave while Cerise tries to figure out why humans form emotional bonds. Kylun then leaves for Scotland before the party. The party gets underway and there are lots of guests, all dressed to the nines -- including Inspector Dai Thomas, Emelia Witherspoon, Alysande and Alistaire Stuart, Courtney Ross and her right hand man Nigel. Alysdane, it seems, is being court-martialed for supposedly selling secrets to SHIELD. The festive mood is soon dashed when Alysande is attacked and found dead, and soon it is clear that the Manor is under siege. Once the entire team (save Kitty) is incapacitated, Courtney is revealed to be Sat-Yr-9, and her weapon of choice is none other than Jamie Braddock.

The cover is actually the first page of the story (labeled "0" at the bottom, as you can see). Editor Terry Kavanagh apologizing about that always made me smile. Note also that Terry's name is trademarked!

Continuity Note
There's a looot of past adventures and events alluded to within this pages which make no sense unless you have been reading this title regularly. Very obscure for the first time reader -- a common complaint for Excalibur. Widget pops in for literally one panel. This issue also begins the romantic angle between Nightcrawler and Cerise.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority
Right after Alysdane is found dead, Psylocke gets shot at point blank range -- turns out that they are just tranqs, but that is not spelled out here.

This is a transitional type of issue. Starting with Davis' return in #42 through the big blowoff in #50, the team was moving in new directions, moving away from the lighthouse and picking up new members. The first half of this comic is sort of a "game reset" for readers, to re-establish who these people are and what their general personalities entail. There's a ton of great character moments in here. The sparring match between Brian and Betsy is sweet without feeling forced. One of my favorite comedic moments in the entire run of the title happens in this issue as well. When Courtney arrives, she immediately lays a giant kiss on Brian. Meggan sees this, and in a fit of jealous rage, also grabs Brian and kisses him. This leads Cerise to ponder if "lip massage" is an important part of human ritual, then grab Nightcrawler and kiss him for 10 solid minutes. When she looks up to see everyone staring, she meekly asks "Did I not do it right?" Alan Davis also shines in showing off everyone's fancy duds -- all the gals look gorgeous and glamorous, not slutty or provacative. The second half picks up the pace, as everything goes wrong in very quick manner. There's no fighting, per se, but Davis does create a lot of mood and suspense before the reveals on the villians.

Still, for someone who is not already familiar with this team and its history, this is a hard story to follow and care about. Maybe because it was originally created with Chris Claremont at the helm, but Excalibur was always continuity-heavy, with a lot of callbacks and references in the narrative. Sat-Yr-9, for example, gives a little exposition as to who she is be referencing the conept of the Omniverse, saying she is a counterpart to Saturnyne, but then she doesn't say who Saturnyne is. Similarly, none of the guests are introduced -- we learn that Emelia is psychic because she has a psychic flash, and that Alysdane runs WHO, but that's about it. As a young reader these were very frustrating stumbling blocks, and they still remain that way today. If you want to get into Excal, don't start with this issue. It's a good story if you know what is going on already, but not if you're new to the series.

Things That Go Shriek In the Night
Credits: Alan Davis (Script), Alan Davis (Pencils), Mark Farmer (Inks), Glynis Oliver (Colors), Michael Heisler (Letters).

Trapped inside Braddock Manor in the thrall of Jamie Braddock, Excalibur is helpless as Sat-Yr-9 begins to plots her siezing control of Earth-616. First, though, she sends her troops to capture the still-missing Kitty Pryde. Nigel is jealous of Sat-Yr-9 using Captain Britian as her personal toy, thinking him a musclebound moron. In his mind, Cap is reached out to by Betsy, and he tells his sister all about Sat-Yr-9 and her plans before Sat puts an end to that. Kitty manages to avoid capture and grabs the gear of one of Sat-Yr-9's guards. Nigel, planning on killing Cap and taking his place, is repayed for his treachery by Sat-Yr-9. Meggan is able to free herself from Jamie's "living dream" by using her shapeshifting powers, and pounds on Jamie until he is forced to release his grip on Excalibur and the guests. Before Sat-Yr-9 can attack them, Psylocke uses her psychic blade on Jamie, and Kitty shoots her with a poison dart, forcing Sat and her crew to retreat. At the funeral for Alysdane Stuart, Nick Fury shows up and says that she was setup from the inside.

Continuity Note
Brian winds up giving a lot of the backstory to the reader by explaining to Betsy how Sat-Yr-9 bragged about her accomplishments, including how she came to Earth-616, replaced Courtney Ross, and planted Nigel as The Vixen -- events which happened behind the scenes years ago, real time. We also see flashbacks to Jamie's run in with Doc Croc, which helped turn him into the nutjob he is today. Brigadier Alysdane Stuart is really, truly dead. As far as I know, Sat-Yr-9 has yet to reappear after this issue.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority
Sat-Yr-9 impales Nigel on his own knife, leaving a bloody residue on the blade.

This one, thanks to the large chuck of exposition provided by Brian, reads much easier and faster than the previous issue. There's also a bit of action as Kitty goes as all "Metal Gear" on us and sneaks around the Manor avoiding capture and taking out guards. It's also very nice to see Meggan and Psylocke (who I always thought was handled much better in these pages than she was in the regular X-Books) shine -- the women were usually portrayed very well on this team and this issue is no exception. Brian being paraded around in a sort of "love slave" variation on his uniform was a nice comedic touch.

All in all, these two issues make a pretty decent little Excal story, but only if you know some of the background. This issue is far superior in that respect. Neither of these comics are standouts or classics, but when it comes to your regular dose of Excalibur antics, they are pretty good. Worth grabbing if you are alreayd fan, but otherwise, go back a bit earlier. Like, to the beginning of the series.

A Century of Mediocre Comic Book Blogging

Feel The Power!  IRON MAN #100

Okay, so maybe a "century" is a bit of an overstatement, but in honor of my 100th post here at the Bunker, I present the 100th issue of my all time favorite series, Iron Man. Not the greatest period in Shellhead history, but a milestone, and iconic image, nonetheless. Thanks to all my readers (you know who you are!), and here's to the next 100!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Everybody's Linking For The Weekend

Marvel, Del Rey go all manga on us with a pair of X-Men comics in the Japanese style. Further information here. Probably not going to pick these up, but the Kitty Pryde one does sound amusing.

Frank tries to pull a fast one.

Creator's Commentary for the second issue of Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash.

rob over at The Aquaman Shrine has a sit-down with one of my favorite comic scribes, David Michelinie.

The Incredible Shrinking Damian -- who runs The Atom: Home of The Tiny Titan blog -- shares a bizarre story about a Argentinian Atom trading card. Sometimes, you just can't make this stuff up.

So you want a Division 1 Football Playoff, huh? Check out this simulator powered by AccuScore and see how things would play out.

Rick takes a break from teaming-up to hold up his pants.

DC makes another series of bids to take all my money, not once but twice. (Showcase Presents: Flash v.2! Batman vs Two-Face! O.M.A.C. Hardcover! LOSH: 1050 Years Of The Future! Showcase Presents: House of Secrets! Justice League International v.2! All-Star Superman v.1 TPB! What the HELL, DC?!)

And finally, check out this mega-super-wowie-wow trailer for the upcoming Iron Man video game by Sega. Man, I really hope they make a GBA version! (Yes, I live in the past.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fair Trade -- GI Joe: A Real American Hero v.1

Yo Joe!  GI JOE v.1
One of the tasks I had pencilled in to complete this weekend was not really much of a task so much as it was a nostalgic pleasure. Something which produced squeels of delight from your's truly and inspired this post.

See, when we were growing up, my brother and I had a devastatingly large collection of GI Joe toys. Whole battalions of Joes and Cobras (plus some Dreadnoks and Iron Grenadiers to boot!) with massive amounts of armor backing up each side as well. Coupled with the Sunbow cartoon airing in syndication nearly every morning before school (the DiC one as well, but that came later), our playroom often resembled a military base. To say we were enthusiasts of the 3 3/4" Joes is a major understatement.

Earlier this year, Hasbro, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the original "RAH" toys, released a new set of toys, each modelled after the original figures, but with the detail level and articulation in line with the new millenium. And, I don't mind telling you, these toys are awesome. The "task" I was charged with was opening and displaying my new toys -- at least, once I was done playing with them, as Duke, Stalker, and, my favorite, Gung-Ho were done storming the edges of my coffee table and opening fire on the cat. Peow ptow ptow!

I would be remiss not to talk about Larry Hama, and the Marvel comic book series (the subject of the post!). Before the cartoon series started, the comic was already solidified and creating the world of the Joe team. Hama concieved the series as a mainstream Marvel title, to be called Fury Force -- the concept being that the son of Nick Fury would lead an elite squad of counter-terrorists against HYDRA. The concept morphed into the familiar Joe-vs-Cobra battle, and the rest is history.

But what could have been just another licensed toy tie-in became something much, much bigger, again thanks to Hama. In addition to creating the characters (most famously the filecards issued with each toy, spelling out their background and personality), with the comic Hama designed and deployed a real fighting force. This may have been tied to toys, yes, but the subject matter was always treated seriously and usually strived to portray war as not just glory and explosions. Hama didn't write down to the target audience, and drew upon his own military service as inspiration for the Joes adventures. (Not that he was allowed free reign -- in an interview with, Hama explains how his line of "A soldier's job is to do the impossible, and then be forgotten" was replaced with "...and make it look easy," a saber-rattler's comment.)

This volume collects GI Joe #1-10, and like any good comic book from the early 80s, establishes what the series is about and who the major players are going to be. It's hard to look back now and be objective (a fan finds themselves too enamored, really), but the pairing of Hama's solid scripts with workmanlike, interestingly utilitarian pencils by Herb Trimpe (and later Mike Vosburg) proves to be a winner. With a high action and lingo quotient in each tale, these early issues stand up well to more "respected" War comics, such as Sgt. Rock or supernatural titles like Weird War Tales. The characters shine through, from fan-favorite mystery man Snake Eyes to the quirky Zap, from the tough guy who can back it up Stalker to the dangerous and intelligent Scarlett -- these are real people. Besides the characters and armor, we're also introduced to such lasting concepts as the Oktober Guard (the Soviet equivalent of the Joe team), the Inuit tracker Kwinn, the Joe HQ known as the PIT, Cobra's lovely and lethal Baroness, the brainwave scanner, and the Cobra-controlled town of Springfield ("A nice little town"). This is not merely the domain of Hasbro, but a vital, compelling adventure.

Is it helped by the fact that I like the property? Yes. But even if you never had the pleasure of waging war on a 3 3/4" scale, those looking to try something a little out of the ordinary in the War genre -- ironically, from a more innocent time! -- would be well served in tracking down this volume, as well as the four subsequent ones Marvel published, carrying all the way out to #50 -- amazingly not even one third of the way through this series, which ran until #155.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to kick some Cobra goons' fangs down their throat. Yo Joe!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What Looks Good?

Take some time off from all that hectic holiday shopping and buy a little something for yourself! You deserve it.

Wonder Woman #15 -- What new adventures does Simone have in store for Our Favorite Amazon? Well, one hopes it doesn't involve pumping gas.

X-Men: Die By The Sword #5 -- Yeah, I know, Luke, how can you read this, Claremont sucks, yadda yadda yadda; well, I like Captain Britian, and Excalibur, so nyah on the naysayers.

Transformers: Beast Wars: The Ascending #3 -- This series is so good, it makes me want to break all my Beast Wars toys out of storage and wage an epic, living room scale war.

Light week -- Good thing, as that aforementioned holiday shopping has been taking it's toll. so what looks good to YOU?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Discount Bin Finds: Outsiders v.1:no.4

Thank God for Hard Currency!  THE OUTSIDERS v.1:no.4
I picked this one up almost at random one day at Borderlands. I had been awaiting the release of the Outsiders Showcase volume, and decided to pick this up as a sort of prologue to that. Well, that didn't work out, as I didn't get to read this until this week, but better late than never I always say -- just like Joe Quesada!

Our story opens with the shady Bad Samaritan speeding on a jet over the Pacific, being closely pursued by the Force of July, who in turn are being pursued by our heroes -- Geo-Force, Katana, Black Lightning, Halo, Metamorpho, and Looker. Turns out that the Samaritan has stolen printing plates for both American and Markovian currency, and intends to deliver them to the Soviets in order to wreak havoc on the Western economy! Forced to put their differences aside for the good of their respective missions, the Outsiders and the Force have to work together to stop the Samaritan as well as the stinkin' Commie bastards. But can two teams with so much bad blood co-operate at all?

Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo (who else?) present a fairly typical Outsiders tale, as we get a Barr team of bad guys, a plot involving political crime, and the specific use of the Cold War as a backdrop to the Soviet threat. There's two big action sequences -- one atop a Soviet submarine, and the other at a remote facility deep inside the Soviet border -- and both teams get to show off their various skills at kicking butt. Barr (that magnificent bastard) shines the spotlight on his creations, as is typical, but we get some nice moments out of it, a nice relief in the middle of all the combat. The Force of July gets a little screen time as well, and, honestly, though Barr got a lot of flak from Conservatives (including in the lettercol this issue) about them, I really like them as a team. They make a nice counterpoint to the Outsiders and deserve better than the fate they each eventually ended up with. Are they jingoistic? Yeah. But they are patriots too, and it becomes a question of ends and means, which is more depth than I think most suspected of them.

Aparo is Aparo; he could probably have drawn this team in his sleep at this point, but that's no reflection on the dynamism and power of his work, which is still super-pleasing to the eye, especially on the heavier Baxter paper it's printed on. Funny how even in today's world of high gloss paper, the Baxter still has a nice, heavy feel to it -- a nicely tactile experience.

There's also a short Metamorpho backup, done in the old Fradon-Haney sytle by Barr and Joe Staton. It's amusing but for an eight page back up it's a little light. That's okay though, since it's mainly a comedy piece with a little bit of that "Morpho Charm," so to speak.

I liked this comic quite a bit, but in the last few months I have in short order discovered and became a fan of the Outsiders, so that's not really surprising. Maybe its the "honeymoon" period as a new fan, but if Dixon's new BATO was in this style, I would be a very happy reader. Barr and Aparo pull off a nice balancing act of "social awareness" and superheroics, and it looks crisp and clean even 20 years after publication thanks to the "deluxe" pricepoint. Outsiders fans or those looking for a little DC action could do a lot worse than to check this comic out.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What I Read This Week

Justice Society of America #11 -- "Thy Kingdom Come" continues here, as various characters -- KC Superman, Power Girl, Damage, the new Judomaster, and another new legacy character -- strive to find their place in this world. Johns and Eaglesham consistantly pump out solid, entertaining superheroics every month, and make it look effortless in the process. It's been mostly a quiet story so far, but this issue amps up the violence a bit, as Judomaster battles a team of Yakuza assassians who would make Mike W. Barr (that magnificent bastard) proud. Speaking of which, could this by one of the reasons why Katana changed her costume? I always have a good time reading JSoA.

Steel Watch: Not much for Nate to do this time out, as he gets some panel time, but lines or real action. Ah well, at least he is prominent on the cover.

X-Men: Die By The Sword #4 -- It's more fighting and talking in the Classic Claremont style, with lots of thought baloons an blows to the face. This issue is a bit scattered, with three disparate storylines all going on at once. None are all that groundbreaking, but they are nice enough. The art is by "Cafu" (Carlos Alberto Fernandez Urbano), who I am not familiar with, but it matches up well with Santacruz's work from this series, and has a nice style to it. The finale is set up, and while I tend to enjoy this kind of Excalibur story, it's really not for everyone. I get the feeling that this was supposed to run in New Excalibur #25 and Exiles #100 as a pair of double-sized issues crossover.

All-New Atom #18 -- Ryan Choi usually has enough on his plate in the backwards backwoods burb of Ivy Town (Motto: We're Cautiously Optimistic!), but when the Amazon Ace rolls in, things get even weirder. Simone and Norton turn in another fine Atom-ic adventure, with plenty of inanity which should satisfy most of the target audience. ANA is a title which keeps things light and airy without condescending to the reader or constantly winking at them. The innuendo and other silly "sex" talk in this issue (centering arounf Ryan's not-entirely-out-of-place fantasies, and his inability to stop blabbering like an idiot) could have come off as crass, but Simone makes them bubbly and charming. And Norton draws a powerful and elegant Diana without making her look like a stripper, so that's a big plus, too.

Annihilation: Conquest #2 -- The galaxy is going to hell in a handbasket, so who do you call in? Why Starlord and the Suicide Squad of Space, of course! So while Pete Quill and his team clandestinely organize the resistance on Hala, Ultron makes his move to eliminate one of the biggest threats. DnA are firing on all cylinders here, piling mystery on top of mystery, all set up on the foundation of cosmic carnage. Raney's pencils have a noticeable bit of a cartoon-y influence at times (especially on Quasar), which is a different take for this series, but not bad. Great adventure and intrigue, without any wannabe politicking -- I'm sold.

This week's Pick of the Pile is A:C. JSoA made a legitimate threat (Judomaster... *swoon*), but the Cosmic Crew had the right mix and got just about everything right. Plus, Blaastar!

So what did YOU read this week?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Everybody's Linking For The Weekend

Rick goes back to the future, Marvel style! Part 1 and Part 2.

Alan Davis doing more ClanDestine? Yes, please!

G Kendall brings all your favorite wacky videos to one spot.

rob shows off an Aquaman story that's a complete disaster. No, really!

Frank shows off his Hembeck not once, not twice, but thrice.

Mike Sterling shows the power of consistent exposition.

Congratulations to High Moon for winning the first round of Zuda. A Werewolf Western, new strips will be going up soon, apparently. (No, I will not make fun of Zuda simply because it is not perfect. It's a pretty neat model which has so far produced some cool comics. If you want cynicism, I suggest you go elsewhere.)

And finally, Sims brings the questionable.

Indy Cred

I was reading the letter column in Wizard the other day (what? Yeah, I read Wizard, I've been reading it since 1992 -- you got a problem with that?), and a reader raised an interesting point: If you only read Dark Horse and Image, are you an "indy" comics reader?

It's something I have thought about myself a few times. I mean, I read a pair of "small press" comics regularly, but can either Moonstone's The Phantom or Bongo's Futurama Comics truly be considered "indy" comics, what with being licensed and all? The same goes for a lot of the Horse's output: they traditionally and still to this day make a lot of bread off of their licensed comic properties. But they are very often touted as the top dog indy publisher. And what about Image, which remains the poster child for creator owned work, the definition of indy?

The argument is one which works better reversed. Not "what is indy?" but "what is mainstream?" Marvel and DC plainly fit this bill, with their easily recognized armies of superheroes, just waiting for the right screenplay. Archie and his teenaged cohorts, too, is simply classified -- Archie might be a "small press" publisher as far as Diamond is concerned, but a publisher who is found on nearly every checkout line in supermarkets across the country is not indy (and is it just me, or do you also grab the Jughead Double Digest when on a long line at the checkout?). That still leaves a large swath of the comic industry in this country to look at.

The thing about the modern Dark Horse is that while they are still known for their license work -- Star Wars, natch, as well as Conan and Buffy -- which sell a lot of copies and no doubt produce a lot of profit, their catalog also includes a lot of strongly non-mainstream work. Hellboy is the closest thing they have to a mainstream non-licensed product, thanks to the movie, but if you ask a dozen people in the street, maybe two or three would know that Hellboy's a comic book character. Beyond that, it's a weird group of titles which cover a large range -- Umbrella Academy, The Goon, Rex Mundi, Grendel, Apocalypse Nerd and so on. That's pretty solid indy cred right there.

Image is the same way. Their days of mainstream are long gone -- does anyone who jumped on the bandwagon in the mid-90s really still remember or care about Spawn? And the other Image property with any real non-cartoon exposure (Withcblade) isn't even with Image anymore. They still serve as a sort of clearing house for creator-owned work, but even that comes with a catch, since you have to essentially pitch a series still. So Image is like the "mainstream indy" publisher -- like how you can find a sampler CD filled with a dozen "indy rock" bands all signed to one label, and who magically seem to pop up in the denoument's of hour long TV dramas. Not that there's anything wrong with that (other than the music, of course), since Image provides a higher profile for work which might not have gotten any attention otherwise, including Parade (With Fireworks) by Mike Cavallero, Dynamo 5, Mice Templar, Noble Causes, and Invincible. That sounds "indy" to me.

Beyond those two there are plenty of other publishers out there, toiling in relative anominity save for licenses and the occasional breakthrough which grabs headlines over at Newsarama or whatnot. IDW works hard chruning out the Transformers and Star Trek stuff, to the delight of fans, but also has 30 Days of Night; same with Devil's Due and G. I. Joe, responsible for causing no small part of the 80s nostalgia wave. Dynamite has stuff as varied as Battlestar Galactica and the Lone Ranger, and even little Moonstone has Kolchak, Buckaroo Bonzai, and Sherlock Holmes in addition to the Ghost Who Walks. These are certainly indy publishers, but I can't really see these titles as indy comics.

So what's the answer? There isn't one, of course. Indy is in the eye of the beholder. I might call Jim Valentino's Drawing From Life the epitome of indy comics, but Joe Bloggs down the street might consider it utterly corporate. I won't call Transformers: Beast Wars an indy comic because it is a license of the most popular boys toy of the year, but someone else might say "Well, Beast Wars is obscure enough, and the print run is small enough, so it's obviously independant." It's all a matter of taste and what you enjoy reading.

The moral of the story? Read what you like, and don't worry about whether something is "too mainstream" or "off the radar." As long as you think it's worth spending your hard earned money on, that's all that matters.

So what about YOU? What small press or "indy" stuff do you read?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

What I Read Last Week Part 2

Supergirl and The Legion of Superheroes #36 -- Finally, my boy Lightning Lad goes to town on some poor schmuck! Well... kinda. Ah well, plenty of time for that now. Calero and Bedard finish their transitional storyarc as things get setup for Jim "The Shooter" Shooter to retake the reins next month. And considering the "fill-in-y" nature of the story, they do an admirable job shifting from the "Supergirl and..." bit back to the regular Legion, wrapping up the three-pronged story admirably and enjoyably. While I would have very much liked to have seen these two really have a shot at creating adventures for the Legion long-term, they did very well in the short term, and nothing will change that.

Freddy vs Jason vs Ash #2 -- The main thrust of the three-way horror crossover begins here, as the story shifts into gear and starts to pick up some steam (if you'll excuse my triple-mixed-metaphor). As Ash rants to anyone who will listen (and a lot of people who won't) about the Deadites and the Necronomicon, a certain Mr. Voorhees is on a quest to find the Book of the Dead as well. And woe to anyone stupid (and nubile) enough to get in his way! There's gore galore and not one, but two couples attacked mid-coitus, and while in any other setting that would be questionable, it's the exact level of gratuitousness needed here. In a series featuring the main characters from three different horror franchises, calling something over the top is superfluous. Jason Craig's art shines in this issue since he gets to draw more blood and dismemberment, which seems to be his forte (not a bad thing). And Kuhoric's dialogue rings true for established characters -- Freddy's snake oil salesman routine is nice, as is Ash's never-ending self narration and aggrandizment. Fans of these franchises will want to buy this, but non-gorehounds will be turned off to it.

Superman Annual #13 -- "Camelot Falls: The Finale!" Yeesh, it's about time. No matter how enthused I have been over the actual fill-ins, the fact that there have been so many fill-ins has caused the main thesis to become so elongated and stretched out that some elements of it need some serious refreshing. (The fact that since the last installment of "Camelot Falls," we have also had the complete "Third Kryptonian" story doesn't help matters either.) Anyway, after some future-time pep talking with the Phantom Stranger, we return to the present where Superman brings the fight to Arion's undersea doorstep. Can the Man of Steel overcome the Atlantean sorcerer's magicks? And more importantly, can he prove that his deeds are not bringing about the doom of the entire human race? Busiek and Pacheco do their level best here, but overall the lead story is somewhat underwhelming -- as Arion says, it's not a problem you can solve with punching. The climax is nicely handled, but it's that old-style Marvel "resolution without a resolution," which I saw coming but still am not happy with. Readers who haven't been following this story will also be mostly lost, too, unfortunately. I'm happy to read the end, but it would have been more impactful a few months ago, honestly. The backup details a day spent on an unihabited alien paradise by Clark, Lois, Kara, Chris, Jonathon, Martha, and Krypto. It's a sweet story, very quiet; Nicieza and Busiek offer little character moments which are familiar to Superman readers but not unwelcome. Of note is Renato Guedes' portraly of Supergirl -- she has knees! And a stomach! And, most bizarre of all, normal sized breasts for a teenager! I'm completely taken aback by this development. This is also the most interesting I have ever seen this Supergirl written. We also get profile pages of Subjekt-17 (am I the only guy who likes him?) and Khyber, who apparently Busiek has more plans for. Casual Superman readers can safely pass this one, but if you have been following "Camelot Falls" then grab it.

Trails of Shazam! #10 -- With two challenges remaining, Freddy has to come to terms with the fact that his rival Sabina is now nearly on equal footing with him -- and this is a situation which puts a lot of people in a lot of danger. Meanwhile, Sabina, on the hunt for Mercury, runs across someone a little more feline who wants her stopped. Lives up to it's rep of being dark and gritty (moreso than the vast majority of the rest of this series, despite what bloggers who don't read it would have you believe), new artist Mauro Cascioli's work retains Porter's painted look but is decidedly more severe. Winnick's script is pretty good for that is essentially half a book of setup and half a book of a brawl; his new take on one Mr. Tawky Tawny should please fans with it's Narnian aspects, but won't because it was thought up by Winnick. Two issues, two trials, and I'm looking forward to see how it plays out.

The Phantom #20 -- One of the main strengths of the Phantom property is that our hero, Kit Walker, is not the first man to don the purple and black. Being the 21st Phantom, it allows for stories like this, which can take place historically without being an "Elseworlds" or "What If?" style -- they are just memoirs of Walkers past. Taking a breather after the intense "Invisible Children" arc, Kit reads to his children from the Chronicles of the 13th Phantom, and his battle against a trio of Musketeers (but not that trio of Musketeers!) who have stolen a certain priceless treasure, The Heart of Lafitte, to regain the favor of King Louis XVIII. I dig the pacing of this series, as scribe Mike Bullock takes a story which would have been two parts from creators and effectively tells in it one. The pencils are by Zeu, an artist who's work I have never seen before but now want to see more of -- the only work of his I recognize is Infiniteens. He does great fisticuffs, and has a handle on the female form that is beautiful without being the typical ghastly combo of giant boobs, wasp waist, arched spine and permanantly swiveled hips. And, this issue is totally appropriate for All Ages readers, to boot -- I just wish it was easier to find on the rack!

THe Pick of the Pile has got to go Phantom. LOSH made a play at it, but the Ghost Who Walks takes it this time, with a solid mix of action, history, and romance, all told in a done-in-one which the whole family can read and enjoy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What Looks Good?

We now return you to your regularly scheduduled capitalism! Head out to your LCS and spend, spend, spend!

All-New Atom #18 -- Gail Simone? Writing Wonder Woman? NAH, never happen!

Justice Society of America #11 -- Why, a week without the JSA is like a week without sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows! Well, maybe not quite all that. But I always look forward to this one.

Annihilation: Conquest #2 -- I get to leave the mainstream Marvel U, with all it's politics and heavy-handed allegory and inanity behind? Score one for the good guys! Unfortunately, it's the only one they'll score...

X-Men: Die By The Sword #4 -- I get to leave the mainstream Marvel U, with all it's... err, wait. Claremont doing what Claremont likes to do, but what will be left of Excalibur and the Exiles when it's all said and done?

So what looks good to YOU?

Monday, December 3, 2007

What I Read This Week, Pt. 1

Batman And The Outsiders #2 -- Chuck Dixon throws everything in the blender and spits it back out as he pushes the new Outsiders team in his own direction. Lopez's pencils are nicely matched with an action story, and although there is a weird panel here and there, it's nothing distracting. The script has some abrupt bits -- Catwoman's departure makes sense, but Manhunter's, not so much -- and some weird continuity questions -- do Metamorpho and Katana not know that Bats is Bruce Wayne anymore, or are they playing dumb? -- but the action is good fun and the last page cliffhanger is nice, even if it pushes the title further into "Bat-Book" territory; I'm not overly happy with that as the strength of of the old series in my eyes was that it was not a "Bat-Book." But I'm keeping an open mind to see where things are headed.

Scream #1 -- I picked this up on a whim, mostly because I'm always trying to keep an eye out for new Horror comics if I can find them. This one, with words by Peter David and art breakdowns by Bart Sears (whoa... double 90s flashback) is a play of sorts on the Hulk archetype, with a small man, Danny Duncan, stuck in a meaningless job at the Post Office, returning to work after a stay at a sanitarium. The problem is, he doesn't exactly remember his time there, and weird things continue to happen around him. And where does the savage red monster who seems to show up whenever he is angry fit in? A pretty interesting concept, but overall I wasn't too terribly impressed. Sears' linework is great for the fantasy stuff, but here, rendering the real world, he is out of place. I might get the rest of this series, but right now I am on the fence.

What If? Annihilation -- What happens when last year's two biggest miniseries in the Marvel Universe collide? You get this one-shot, which details the chaos and terror of the Annihilation Wave unleashed on Earth. You know thigns are going to be good when Nova effectively points out how mind-boggling stupid the "Civil War" was in the span of about two panels. Mico Suayan's artwork is dark and harsh, which fits the story but is not pleasing to the eye. I am not sure if he uses the same style over on Moon Knight, but it's better suited to that character than the bright colors of the mainline Marvel crew. David Hine seems to have a real knack for the Watcher, who acts not only as the narrator but has a role in the story as well. In the end, obviously this What If? is just that -- a What If, a possible road which Marvel Editorial could have taken, and it has all of the expected carnage inherent when all bets are off. And yet, it's satisfying at the end, seeing Captain America and Iron Man side by side instead of at each other's throats when the chips are down. Fans of Annihilation will want this, but those happy with the current MU, or with CW in general should avoid this special.

Graveslinger #2 -- Frank Timmons is a strange man in a strange time. And here we learn just why things are as strange as they are, as we get the origin story and background information as to just why there are undead cowboys roaming the prarie and eating people. Cboins art remains obscure and hard to penetrate, but I like it on this title as it mixes the gruesome with the vast (and possibly desolate) in a nice manner. Denton and Mariotte's script, though, is interesting but uninvolving. It's a hard call, because it's partly because Timmons is not really a likeable guy, so hearing his story is not all that exciting for me. The next issue promises a little more action.

Captain America: The Chosen #3-4 -- The mystery of why Captain America is dying -- and why he is appearing to an American soldier in Afghanistan -- deepens here, as Corporal Newman tries to keep his wits and sanity about him in order to rescue the surviving members of his unit. Morrell doesn't seem like a first time comic book scribe. His work in the more pulpy literary fields serves him well as he retells Steve Roger's origin as well as detailing the events leading to his current "one foot in the grave" situation -- and handles it in a way that not only can I buy in a Marvel sense, but considering what we know about the military, I don't really doubt in the real world, either. Par for the course is Mitch Breitweiser, who's pages are super-detailed despite being covered in an inch of grime. While equal parts Cap and War Story, this tips a bit towards the latter, and becomes that much more interesting because of it.

Countdown to Mystery #3 -- The Doctor Fate lead story is a self-contained adventure entitled, humorously, "Self, Contained." When the new bearer of Fate's helmet visits an arcane shop, he is taken to another dimension (kinda), where he must survive the grim and strange world in order to achieve enlightenment from the King and Queen. Gerber and Justiano turn in what seems like a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo at first, but, in a fairly subtle way ties back to Kent V. Nelson's background as well as to the current state of magic in the DCU. Overall a very enjoyable little "done in one." The backup opens with Jeanclipso attacking Jack Ryder, then quickly segues to Plastic Man going toe to toe with Batman. Its not clear what Jeanclipso is doing (though a team of Plastic Man and the Creeper would be hilarious if nothing else), nor what Spectre and Crispus Allen are doing, either. A very strange installment in what has been a strange back-up, but not nearly as bad as I would have predicted based on Jeanclipso being the star.

Heroes For Hire #15 -- With Humbug more bug than man, Coleen and Tarantula imprisoned and tortured, Paladin looking to collect, and the rest of the team in a general sort of "bad way," things do not look good for the HFH. And they get much, much worse. A depressing and distressing comic from start to finish, as the Heroes for Hire are dragged through the mud and left filthy in the inglorious send-off to the series. A complete downer, lacking any of the humor or ironic zaniness which was the hallmark of the title for it's all-too-brief run. It may have been doomed from the start, but like so many other Marvel titles I have read, it deserved a lot better. Supposedly there is more stuff coming for Misty Knight, but it's more World War Hulk nonsense which I won't be reading. Collectors of the series should buy this, but everyone else can and should leave it on the rack.

Flash #234 -- After all the doom and gloom of the What If? and HFH, I open the cover here and am immeditately blown away by the brightness. While Wally is out surveying the damage done to Central City, he discovers a new power connecting him with his kids. Meanwhile, his son Jai is shouldering some very bad news he was not supposed to know. Waid and Williams deliver a clean, solid superhero story, even with some of the heavier elements with Jai which are quite sad. But Waid's exploration of the superhero family is a lot of fun. Same goes for the backup by John Rogers and Doug... let me check... Braithwaite detailing Barry and Iris Allen visiting the alien world from last time. Of note is the return (of sorts) of the Flash Fact!

Futurama Comics #34 -- Welcome to "Planet Michelle!" When Fry discovers that in the 30th Century, he is not only rejected by women, but also by alients, mutants, and gender-confused robots, he seeks solace with a clone of his overbearing ex from the 20th Century, Michelle -- on a planet inhabited only by the two of them! Meanwhile Bender becomes a "date doctor" in order to swindle innocent losers out of as much money as he can. Futurama may have returned to TV screens, but as long as Bongo continues to create quality comics like this, I will support the printed version of the Woooooooorld of Tomorrow!

Iron Man Annual #1 -- Welcome to Madripoor, Mr. Stark! Christos Gage and Harvey Tolibao go all 007 (by way of Albert R. Broccoli moreso than Ian Fleming, but still!) in this 48-page Annual. Tony is joined by SHIELD Agents Senyaka, Jones, and Eaton -- all gorgeous and dangerous, natch -- as he infiltrates Madripoor in an effort to embolden the local resistance to Madame Hydra in order to cause her to be overthrown. The problem is, of course, is that Billionaire Playboy Tony Stark is still known to be Iron Man, and Madame Hydra has taken measures to protect what is hers. This is the kind of story I want to see out of an Annual: a one-off, one-shot story which can be read and enjoyed by regular readers, but can also be skipped if the price is too much or what-have-you. Tolibao's pencils are lush and evocative, and he seems equally adept at drawing technology as he does cheesecake (and beefcake -- there's a loving shot of Tony's undersheath-clad butt at one point) without looking awkward or lurid. Gage shows off more of his neo-Busiek stylings, and together everything just gels.

The Pick of the Pile is What If? I understand that this selection is motivated strongly by my enthusiasm for Annihilation and my lack thereof for what became of Civil War. I think this one-shot provides a little peek into what could have been, and in the end reminds us that whether you like what's going on right now or not, they're all just stories -- and subject to change at any time.