John Buys Comics: The New Look John Buys Comics

 In the wake of the near-death experience of not having a damn computer for two weeks I am retiring John Buys Comics, I think. It was conceived of when there were several people doing reviews on this site every week and the format that I set up for myself, loose as it was, was a bit too chore-like. And let me remind you: I grew up on a farm, where the word “chore” was taken literally, as in “pile up a cord of wood after school” or “shovel several times your weight in horse manure every day” and a young man can develop creative procrastination to a fine art.

So instead of writing a pocket review for every damn thing I read and saying the same damn thing over and over again, I’m going to pick out a few extraordinary or noteworthy or terrible books per week and give them the business. And maybe I’ll make up some semi-arbitrary categories to fill out, because I like doing that. Huzzah!

I might still call it John Buys Comics, but we'll all know it won't be the same.

Incredible Change-Bots Two (Top Shelf)

Why's It Here: Because it's the sequel to one of my favourite things. Also, the original comic is one of the most accessible books that I own - more people have read it just because it was lying around on my coffee table than have tried any of the many books that I occasionally feel the need to wax rhapsodic about in mixed company. There's just something about those slightly goofy-looking giant robots that immediately draws in basically anyone who has watched cartoons over the last twenty or so years.

The Non-Spoiler Summary: The Incredible Change-Bots return to Earth! Shootertron isn't dead! There are further political allusions!

The Very Best Thing About It: More face-time for Microwave, Popper and Soupy, my very favourite robots ever.

The Very Worst Thing About It: I can never shelve these books with the rest of my comics because they're so small - the other books end up bending over them and getting all weird looking. So they just kind of float around in a pile with all of the other odd-sized books until I maybe some day install a tiny shelf for them to have to themselves. 

Who Made It? Jeffery Brown, the scamp.

Closing Comments: Oh man I just found this trailer for the first book: check it out.

Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish (Dark Horse)


Why It's Here: Because I love Hellboy with all my little blackened heart, that's why. And furthermore, I love Hellboy one-and-done stories even more than that. Even more than the main storyline, the one-off stories convey the sense that Hellboy live in a complex and interesting world that we are only seeing a piece of. All of the monsters and zombies and - in this case - aliens have crazy back stories and motivations and so forth and we only get to see a little bit of the picture before Hellboy punches them to death. It appeals to the part of me that used to scour the library and used bookstores and so forth back in pre-internet days, piecing together bits of information on one topic or another. With more punching.

Non-Spoiler Summary: It's a Hellboy yarn featuring aliens.

The Very Best Thing About It: The flying pig. Unquestionably. 

The Very Worst Thing About It: That Mike Mignola didn't draw it? But that's just whining, because the fact is that every non-Mignola artist that has been working on these books for the last few hears has been doing a phenomenal job. And hell: there is absolutely no way that we would be seeing one to three books per month from the various Hellboy series if one guy were still doing everything, so I'll just shut my big mouth, I guess.

Who Made It? Mike Mignola did the writing and... Heck, it looks like Kevin Nowlan did everything else, including letters and presumably colouring, because there's no credit for that here. Now I'm even more embarrassed about wishing for Mignola art.

Closing Comments: Looks like Dave Stewart  did some colouring as well. Thanks, Dark Horse web site!

And that's that for this week because I also bought that enormous Usagi Yojimbo box set that came out last year with all of the Fantagraphics stuff in it and I want to get back to reading it in enormous, three-hour instalments.

"John Buys Comics!" he exclaimed.

Hellboy in Mexico


I have no idea when I first encountered the idea of Hellboy spending some time fighting monsters in Mexico with three luchadore brothers. It may have been as recently as last year in the Hellboy Companion or it might have been hinted at in a letters page back in 2002. The exact date is, in fact, immaterial because I have been craving this so hard since whenever it was that it felt like forever ago.

And now it’s here! And it’s good, as all Hellboy one-shots are. I think that it’s a natural law, as-yet unquantified by our science. It’s not terrifically deep, of course, but who needs deep, especially when the other series in the Hellboy universe are concerned with portents of doom and the deferral of monstrous destiny. As much as I love all of that, sometimes it’s nice to sit down with some old-school monster-punching action.

That’s not to say that this book is only about punching. There’s enough abridged exploration of loyalty, friendship and vengeance here that it could have made a fair-sized miniseries. But it didn't have to be: everything is there and everything is fantastic. The punching and assorted moves that I no longer know the names of (early 90s Johnathan is slightly ashamed of this) are executed with admirable skill, even when not compared to books in which fight scenes are mere bundles of unresolvable limbs. It is wonderfully and abundantly clear what each character is up to in this book.

izombie No. 1

There’s a pretty good chance that you caught the preview for this that was floating around the last month or so but just in case, here’s the skinny: it’s written by Chris Robeson and drawn by Michael Allred, and it’s about a girl who is a zombie, but not the corpse-lookin’-lurch-around-the-countryside type, just a bit pale, a bit dead. The catch is that unless she eats a fresh human brain each month, she will become the lurching and mindless sort of zombie. To facilitate her pursuit of brains, Gwen (that’s her name) works as a gravedigger.

The preview also set up the fact that there would be mystery-solving in this comic, as Gwen must placate the echos of the people whose brains she eats, absorbed during that super-gross process. What I did not know ahead of time was that this was going to be a girl detective kind of story, complete with Sixties-era ghost sidekick, nerdy were-dog love interest and crypt HQ! Even if I hadn’t read old Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon adventures throughout my formative years, I would be all over this.

I don't really know what else to say. If fun writing, Allred art and plucky supernatural girls solving mysteries isn't enough to get you interested in this one then I guess that we're very different people.


How happy was I to see this collection? SO HAPPY. I used to have access to the individual issues of this comic but then lost them in what can only be described as a messy roommate divorce. What fun to have them again!

Superf*ckers is an incredibly satisfying book, essentially about what a group of super-powered teenagers would probably really be like, and while it’s certainly not what I want to encounter when I pick up an issue of Legion of Super-Heroes it’s nonetheless very cathartic to read about over-indulgence, petty politicking, mind games and misfiring hormones in a similar context. I was a pretty innocuous teen, but I'm pretty certain that given the chance and the powers I'd have been smoking grote and engaging in ethically questionable behaviour just as readily as Jack Krak or Orange Lightning.

All the old clichés get illustrated, Kochalka-style: tryouts, super-romance, disgusting sidekicks, too many rules. I think that it gains a lot by being adorable and brightly-coloured as well - not having to waste energy on being grossed out and offended leaves a lot more for delighted clapping and squeals of glee.

Sparta U.S.A. No. 3

THIRD ISSUE RECAP: Sparta is a town in… another dimension or a fantasy land or the future, I’m not sure. Or maybe someplace else. Wherever it is located, it appears to be a football-obsessed small American town. Look a little closer, though, and there are a lot of strange things about the place, like the fact that its citizens are encouraged to get ahead by any means necessary, up to and including murder, as long as they don’t get caught. The people of Sparta don’t know anything about sexual reproduction - their babies are delivered on a semi-annual basis by the Maestro, their sinister blue Governor. And nobody leaves town because they’ll probably be eaten by yeti.

The hero of the book, Godfrey McLaine, has left town and learned about the birds and the bees and so forth, and now he's come back in order to free the people from the Maestro. So far this has involved getting his ass handed to him by the entire town (who just wanted to watch football, dammit), but he subsequently formed a militia out of the only people in town willing to have more faith in him than the Maestro: all of his former lovers.

Having written this out I now realize that it is all very strange. I assure you, however, that it is strange in a good way. Every issue has more yeti than the last!

Brightest Day No. 1 - Nobody said "Brightest Day", so one point to them.  

Batman and Robin No. 12 - Good job, Grant Morrison. You caught me completely off-guard.

Astro City: Dark Age Book Four No. 4 - Holy poo! Dark Age is done! Not that I didn’t enjoy it but it must be said: I am incredibly excited to read some

Orc Stain No. 3 - Fully half of this issue reads like a video game, in the best possible sense. That is, not like most comics based on video games. It’s like… like when you’ve been playing a game for a while and you’re on a level that’s giving you some trouble and then suddenly you just nail it. You fly through the level like it was nothing. That is exactly what the action in this book felt like to me. Astonishingly good.

Secret Six No. 21 - Hey, Dwarfstar! Always good to see someone keep on being a super-villain even after the series they started out in was cancelled. Also: there is a joke in this issue that is so good/bad that I guffawed, though subsequently I learned that it was impossible to explain to someone who doesn’t read comics, no matter how fast you talk or how many times you assure them that what you're talking about makes sense.

Batman Confidential No 44 - My, but that Sam Keith story was interminable. It’s good to get back to reading short, unconnected Batman stories. Hey, check it out, it's the second-best zombie from Return of the Living Dead!

Good Comic, Bad Movie: Surrogates Early DVD Review


Films about robots usually fall into two categories. The first is a thoughtful exploration of artificial intelligence and what it means to be human, with a healthy dose of technology run amok (Blade Runner, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence). The second offers yet another excuse for Hollywood to blow stuff up real good, with plenty of opportunities for robotically-assisted, consequence-free violence (Alex Proyas’ I, Robot, Transformers). Occasionally, as with the better Terminator films and the first RoboCop, both categories can be covered at the same time, but this is rare. The 2009 Bruce Willis vehicle Surrogates has a premise that could have easily lent itself to an interesting exploration of some of these ideas (as did the 2005 Top Shelf miniseries that inspired it), but is far more concerned with guns, chases, and property damage.

The Surrogates comic series, by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, told of a future where nearly all humans live their lives through robot duplicates that they control from their homes. These surrogates, or “surries”, represent their idealized body image, and have revolutionized everything from police work to the dating scene. However, a mysterious assailant has begun destroying people’s surrogates with a strange electrical weapon, forcing their operators to live life through their actual bodies again. A detective named Harvey Greer, himself living through a surrogate body, is assigned to the case; Greer seeks to uncover a connection between the assailant and a rabid anti-surrogate cult known as the Dreads, but he soon learns that they might all be pawns in a larger conspiracy. Well-paced, thoughtful, and resolutely downbeat, The Surrogates is closer in tone to Se7en or the aforementioned Blade Runner.

Surrogates, the film (which drops the The for some reason) adds a lethal twist to the comic’s scenario; the disabling of the surrogates through the use of the assailant’s energy weapon destroys the user as well. Bruce Willis plays Greer, whose first name is now Tom and who is also now an FBI agent. Assisted by his partner Peters (Radha Mitchell), Greer seeks the killer while investigating how the original inventor of surrogate technology (James Cromwell) might be involved. Willis’ Pulp Fiction co-star Ving Rhames appears as the leader of the Dreads, and there’s a subplot involving Greer’s strained marriage (Rosamund Pike plays his wife, who can’t stand the thought of living in her flesh-and-blood body for even a second). There are also hints of military-industrial intrigue, but that subplot fizzles out pretty quickly.

Surrogates is directed by Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, U-571), no stranger to slick, generic thrills, and the script was written by his T3 collaborators John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris. The film sidesteps any potentially interesting philosophical questions about identity and self-image, as well as other possibilities like a half-developed idea about intrusion of privacy in the name of law enforcement, and is instead concerned with action and explosions. This might be acceptable if any of those actions or explosions were particularly cool or exciting, but everyone involved in Surrogates seems to be operating on autopilot. At 89 minutes, it somehow feels much longer. The history of the surrogate technology is told in an opening credits sequence that is punctuated with title cards reading “7 years ago” and “5 years ago”, culminating in a title card that reads “Present Day”. Huh? What year is it again? This movie takes place right now? Shouldn’t those cards read “7 years from now”, etc.? Anyway, there are a few striking images in Surrogates that stay with you past its running time—the streets filled with perfect supermodel pseudo-people who drop like puppets with their strings cut when they are disabled en masse, Greer’s mangled surrogate body displayed on a crucifix by the Dreads, Greer literally punching the face off of a laughing surrogate party-boy—but not much else makes an impact. CGI is utilized to give the surrogates a waxy, artificial look, but this instantly negates any suspense about who may or may not be in a real body. Surrogates’ best scene happens during a car chase, where Greer, driving up onto a sidewalk, begins piling hapless surrogate bodies onto the hood of his speeding automobile. It’s a funny scene in an otherwise humourless movie. For the most part, though, Surrogates might as well have been written and directed by robots.

The Best of 2009: A Last-Minute Addendum

 Way back in late summer 2009, I was thinking ahead to the inevitable Year’s Best list we at LBW would be working on (it was convention season, and at the time, we were being inundated with major releases). I knew that, when the time came to write them up, I would have a difficult time remembering stuff that came out earlier in the year--this is, after all, why the movie studios save their award hopefuls until December—and that I should start compiling an ongoing list of things to write about when the time came. I only got around to one entry (so much for ongoing), and most everything I jotted down (Batman & Robin, Tales Designed To Thrizzle, Parker, Asterios Polyp, Wednesday Comics) got at least a mention from my fellow bloggers or myself in last week’s “Best Of 2009” entries. However, despite all my smug boasting about how useful this list would prove to be, I never actually consulted the danged thing, relying instead on my memory. And this reliance on my increasingly faulty brain, dear readers, is how I ended up ignoring a pretty obvious contender for any “Best Of” list…League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. III: Century Book One. 


I favorably reviewed LOEG: Century when it was first released, added it to my preliminary “Best Of” list when the time came, then…promptly forgot it when I was assembling my final list. An argument could be made that, since I didn’t remember it in December, then it wasn’t all that memorable to begin with. While I may not have enjoyed it as much as previous installments—a lot of the characters and references were lost on me this time around—I still dug it a lot more than most of the superhero books from the Big Two in 2009, and more than a lot of indie titles besides. I love the rejiggered format being tried out by new publisher Top Shelf (three self-contained 80-page albums, roughly a year apart, comprising one big, century-spanning adventures), I love the continuation of Captain Nemo’s career through his mysterious daughter, I love Kevin O’Neill’s fastidiously detailed and grotesquely populated artwork, and I love how Alan Moore, as he’s done so well in V For Vendetta and Top Ten, perfectly incorporates musical numbers into his narrative (not too many writers in this particular field have mastered this one—I’m actually hard pressed to think of any, but I feel like there’s a really obvious one that came out this year that I just can’t recall right now).

 So, I messed up. I blame all the holiday turkey and holiday booze, ‘cause, man, there was a lot of both going around as I was assembling my list. I also would like to say in my defense that, for me to forget about an Alan Moore comic at year’s end means that 2009 was a particularly great year in the funnybook field. Great job, everybody!

It's The End, The End Of The Century: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Returns!


In the final weeks before the release of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume III: Century Book One (whew!), I thought I’d look back at the previous LOEG books, ‘cause, you know…any excuse to read that stuff again. Contextually, though, it turns out it made a lot of sense, as the series keeps changing and evolving, so a look at its development might provide proper context for where it is now/where it’s heading. So, this time around, I’m going to examine what’s come before, and then have a look at what’s going on now, with LOEG Vol. III (which is actually the fourth LOEG project, but more on that in a bit).

Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill kicked off this series in 1999 (ten years ago? Seriously? Jeez!) under the DC/Wildstorm imprint America’s Best Comics, a Moore-created label that he would eventually abandon because of his, shall we say, fractious relationship with parent publisher DC. The initial six-issue miniseries was a fairly high-concept adventure tale that introduced Moore and O’Neill’s Victorian-era covert military unit, comprised of famous literary heroes like Mina Murray (heroine of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Allan Quartermain (star of H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines), Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and the Invisible Man. The first LOEG series is a pretty straightforward three-act adventure—the team is assembled, they go on a mission to thwart Fu Manchu, and they eventually regroup to take down their true nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (who is also their employer, the mysterious spymaster “M”). The inaugural volume quickly establishes that the League’s adventures take place in an alternate universe where all fantastical fiction of the era resides side-by-side—look for allusions to Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, and literally hundreds of other authors and their works. To truly appreciate the scope of what Moore and O’Neill have done, be sure to check out Jess Nevins’ remarkable annotations of all the LOEG books (or buy the old-fashioned book versions of same, available now from Monkeybrain Press).

LOEG Vol. II picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of the first miniseries, although it’s constructed very differently—the framework of its plot is built around an existing narrative, namely H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. When the Martian tripods launch their assault, the League is there behind the scenes, participating in the campaign against the invaders and inevitably helping to destroy them (although the League as we know it is pretty much undone in the process). Moore and O’Neill are careful not to interfere with the events in Wells’ novel, but they do find all sorts of cool ways to integrate those events into the League’s larger fictional world. New characters, like Wells’ Dr. Moreau, are introduced, and not all the heroes from the first series survive.

With the third book, Black Dossier, the original intent was for Moore and O’Neill to create a sort of sourcebook for the fictional universe the League inhabits, but the creators got a bit more ambitious; the Dossier of the book’s title forms the basis of the sourcebook, detailing several centuries of the League’s different incarnations and adventures. However, this is contained within a framing sequence set in the 1950s, where the two surviving heroes of the first series steal the Dossier from British Intelligence, and are relentlessly pursued by James Bond, Emma Peel, and Bulldog Drummond. The Dossier excerpts are mostly told in prose, and include an unfinished Shakespeare play, a P.G. Wodehouse-style short story where Jeeves and Wooster meet Cthulhu, a Kerouac pastiche, and a Tijuana Bible inspired by Orwell’s 1984. There’s even a 3D section at the end (glasses included!), and a flexi-disc original song recording was planned but was abandoned during a long and ugly fight with parent company DC. The Black Dossier tried the patience of a lot of fans with its extended prose sequences, but if you can make time for them, it’s worth it. Among some of the fascinating details Moore and O’Neill reveal about their universe: Prospero, hero of The Tempest, was the first agent of the Crown to be codenamed 007, Dean Moriarty of On The Road was a distant relative of Professor Moriarty, and the England of the LOEG world went to war in 1939 not with Adolf Hitler but Adenoid Hynkel, Charlie Chaplin’s character in The Little Dictator. Granted, it would definitely have been cool to see the League take on their German and French counterparts, but we’ll have to settle for the abridged recaps in the chapter titled The Sincerest Form of Flattery.

Which brings us, finally, to the latest LOEG adventure, Century. The first of three 80-page volumes—stand-alone adventures that comprise a larger story spanning 100 years—Book One takes place in 1910. The current incarnation of the League, which includes a now-immortal Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain, gentleman thief A.J. Raffles, and gender-bending, ageless adventurer Orlando, acts upon the ominous visions of their psychic teammate Thomas Carnacki, who has seen that a sect of mystics may have engineered events to bring about the end of the world. Also, a plague of Jack the Ripper-style slayings besets the East End of London, and the rebellious daughter of former League member Captain Nemo finally inherits her position as the Captain of the dreaded Nautilus.

This newest LOEG series runs the risk of alienating readers drawn to the initial high-concept of the earlier books, as the cast of characters grows increasingly obscure. That shouldn’t be seen as a deterrent, however; Century has plenty of humour, violence, and portents of a dark future to satisfy fans. The apocalyptic plot conceived by the Crowley-like mystic Oliver Haddo and his sect probably won’t truly bear fruit until the end of the series, which will take place in the present day, making that portion of the story a bit unsatisfying (for now, anyway). In the meantime, though, Moore’s depiction of his heroes bickering like the world’s weirdest dysfunctional family is hilarious, and his gift for using song in his narrative, used to great effect in V For Vendetta and Top Ten, is on full display here—much of Book One’s plot is told in the form of Threepenny Opera, incorporating lyrics and characters from Mack the Knife and Jenny Diver. Kevin O’Neill’s artwork here is the tightest it’s been in a while, packed with obscure detail (is that the fertility idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark in one panel?) and terrific character detail. The dockside siege of London by the Nautilus’ pirate crew is particularly exciting, and pretty gory to boot. The text piece at the end, which ties together several fictional narratives and characters involving the moon, has lots of surprise cameos as well, like Stardust the Super-Wizard (last seen in Fantagraphics’ amazing collection of Fletcher Hanks comics, I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!). New publisher Top Shelf has put together an appealing square-bound format for this book, and I can’t wait to see what the always-reliable publisher has planned for the inevitable collected edition. The new, extended format of this series will hopefully tide people over in the wait between volumes, but as long as Century doesn’t take 100 years to finish, I’ll be happy to wait.