The Something Something John Buys Comics

I've shuffled the comics and fed the cat and now it's time to revieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwww!

Detective Comics No. 854

WHOOOEEE! Good goddam! This, my friends, is a pretty, pretty comic.

JH Williams is the arteest on this one and has just destroyed it. The art style shifts to reflect mood and tone! The panel layout is astonishing (and enough too make my poor rectangular-marquee-using panel sampler's heart cringe with sympathy for the mento-bloggers of the future)! Batwoman's outfit actually looks like black leather, rather than a thin sheen of body paint! Actually, all of the clothing looks pretty darned good.

On top of this, Dave Stewart, the World's Greatest Colorist, is on the job. If you've been reading DC comics at all this month then you've probably seen the preview for this book. Well, it continues in that incredibly vibrant vein. Woo Dave!

Meanwhile, the story. Basically, it boils down to the Church of Crime setting up shop in Gotham again and Batwoman wanting this not to happen. You know, because they stabbed her in the heart that one time. The Crime religion is something that could have some legs, I reckon - this might end up being a pretty damn good run. But even if it isn't, even if this story ends up going nowhere... I can maybe forgive that if it keeps looking this good. Anyway, the dialogue is decent and they don't avoid the fact that Batwoman is a lesbian, so I shall wait and see with my trademark optimism.

ALSO: there's a Question backup to this tale, featuring Renee Montoya taking a missing persons case via her website (which is also the Web's shtick... that's two similarly themed comics on the shelves in August again, DC. This is a weird pattern).Looks like it's shaping up to be a decent detective tale with good art by Cully Hammer, but I'm going to have to pass on going into specifics while still under the lead story's influence. These two-featured books are making me happy so far - now to wait impatiently for the Doom Patrol/Metal Men book to come out.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink No. 2

You know, I'm still not too sure what to think about this comic. It's a decent book, sure, but it just doesn't have the high-concept trappings of Escape or the intriguing subject matter of Run or Dance. Super-villain turned super-hero attempts to remain heroic in the face of adversity, that's not a bad theme, just not a new theme. Still, the Tattooed Man was always an interesting if slightly goofy villain and it was nice to see his newest incarnation get some time in the sun in Final Crisis. Hopefully this series puts him in something like a good position at the end and doesn't just turn him back into a cheap and/or rage-filled villain again, like my John-sense is warning might happen.

Good thing there are lots of interesting uses of the tattoo superpower to keep me interested. Bat-winged skull ahoy!

The Actress and the Bishop No. 1

I bought this one one a whim, I must admit. How could I pass up that title, huh? How?

The Actress and the Bishop live in domestic bliss in a wee house in a British suburb or small town, stock characters from a dozen jokes brought to life and drawn real nice.

I mean, really, really nice. Brian Bolland did both the art and the writing on this, and he has produced some damn fine black and white pictures. The whole thing reminds me strongly of the Italian comics that I have read like Dylan Dog or... okay, mostly Dylan Dog. We need more translations of Italian comics. Back on track: as in these Italian comics of which I speak, Bolland has drawn this thing with a lot of clean, precise, beautiful art, lovingly detailed (check out the neato illustrations on the Bishop's robes) and inked. Be warned, prudish-at-heart: the "MATURE READERS" tag on the front is code for "there are some boobies".

As for plot, well, there isn't really one. As I said, the Actress and the Bishop are stock characters living in a house, so this is one of my favourite set-ups: a strange situation with no explanation and no apologies, just further strangeness. The A and the B take a trip, throw a party and have something living in their shed - no origin story necessary. AND: the whole thing's told in rhyme! Pretty decent rhyme, too, though I reckon that I say a few words with a different number of syllables than Brian Bolland does. Curse you, regional differences in the English language!

(UPDATE: I guess that this is collecting appearances of the Actress and the bishop from other places. I felt that I should mention that, in case rabid A&B fans got mad at me after buying it for more A&B action and found none)

Superman No. 689

Hot damn! now this is the sort of thing that I've been talking about! I don't know if there's some sort of editorial mandate to show off more of the super-human--infested world over at DC but they've been doing a decent job of it for the past month or so. And in this issue things get crazy, as Mon-El, newly interested in the joys of life and the pleasure to be found in experiencing new things, takes a trip around the world, encountering old favourites like the Rocket Reds, Freedom Beast and Rising Sun as well as a wide selection of (as far as I know) new international characters including a super-cool German paranormal detective type named Will von Hammer (!!!) and a disturbing new Blockbuster. Seriously, James Robinson could write a monthly series consisting entirely of one-page super-hero vignettes. Especially if he had the same art team. But Blockkbuster should not wear Daisy Dukes.

Good lord I hope that some of these characters/concepts get expanded upon in the future and not just trotted out as cannon fodder during the next crossover. DC! I will buy The Very German Mysteries of Will von Hammer! For real!

Gotham Sirens No. 1

Cue mixed feelings.

I have no idea whether Birds of Prey was cancelled in order to make room for this book. I hope not, because they could have played off of one another in interesting ways, as the good and the bad-ish ladies of the DCU went about their business. I'm also not sure whether this book is supposed to sell based on T&A potential, but that doesn't seem to be its mission statement, cover aside. Am I conveying my problem here? I want to be cynical about this comic, especially given its kind-of-lousy name, but none of my snark seems to be panning out. The basic idea behind the story - Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy teaming up in the face of the dangerous times going on in Gotham - is sound enough to pass, given the characters' history. Hell, they even bothered to set it up during Battle for the Cowl.

So I can't find anything ideologically wrong with Gotham City Sirens, so what? What's up with the contents? Well, they're not bad, not bad at all. Paul Dini and Guillem March team up to write and draw these characters with a good deal of individuality - Ivy is cold and slightly inhuman, Harley is goofy and slightly insane, etc. There are lots of good facial expressions (particularly on Harley and chump-super-villain-of-the-issue Boneblaster), plenty of nice kinetic fight scenes and yadda and yadda and yadda. The colour ain't up to Dave Stewart levels, but it looks real pretty.

You know what the trouble with this issue is? It's a set-up issue. It's concerned with getting the characters to the physical and interpersonal places that they need to be for the rest of the series to play out. So while the lameo title and cheesecake cover and the vein of cynicism that runs through my tiny heart say that there is way too much potential for terribleness here to give it a pass, the characterization and potential for nutty fun and the inventiveness that's been shown so far swing me back the other way. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to reserve judgement for now. Check with me after Issue 2.

The Last Days of Animal Man No. 2 (of 6) - You know what's really nice? The occasional tale set in a non-apocalyptic future. Here's Animal Man, some time in the future, and there hasn't been a giant war or a plague or a zombie uprising. Time has continued to pass and things have changed somewhat, as is the nature of comics (blue whale Green Lantern is possibly the best idea of the week. Okay, tied with Will von Hammer), but being set in the future has not been taken as license to destroy the world to a level just below that of the average issue of What If? or Elseworld featuring the Justice League. Good show, guys. May this book continue to be a good time for the next four issues.

Buck Rogers No. 1 - This looks like it could be a very good time. We shall see how the old "stranger in a strange land" scenario pans out over the next few issues as Buck figures out a) that he is in the future and b) that this is an opportunity to kick a lot of ass. Features a cybernetic bear and an air force man too dumb to wait until a plane lands to try to commandeer it.

Viking No. 2 - Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein have put together another incredible comic here. Amazing and atypical art and colouring, crazy-good and definitely not comics-norm story... This is fast becoming one of my go-to comics for giving people who claim not to be into comics. Man, and the final page on this one is incredible. I don't often lust after original art, but... damn.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold No. 6 - Batman plus Kid Eternity! Plus - thanks to the Kid's powers - Vigilante and Shining Knight and Viking Prince and GI Robot! Versus General Immortus! This series is doing a great job of capturing some of the down-home good times of the cartoon, including the great dumb jokes and the very loose adherence to DC continuity in favour of reinterpreting characters as necessary to tell a better story. Good show!

Rapture No. 2 - The post-apocalyptic fun continues! Our heroes, Evelyn and Gil, are struggling to survive in a world that has been devastated and subsequently abandoned by its super-heroes. Evelyn seems to be becoming some sort of devine avenger type, righting wrongs and fighting cannibals. Gil plays his guitar. Featuring! A very amusing old man named Old Man! This series looks like it's going to be a good time, as superheroics in the rubble so often is.

Battle for the John Buys Comics

Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight No 2 of 3

You know, this isn’t half bad. I didn’t pay too much attention to Azrael the first time out but he had some interesting history, with the secret religious order and the mental conditioning and so forth (and wouldn’t it have been a great idea for DC to have brought him back a few years ago, during the height of Da Vinci Code fever?) but was way too tied into the spiky Early Nineties sensibilities for my taste. Not that I won’t read all his stuff eventually - my quest to read All Batman Ever is a heavy burden to bear.

So this series is concerned with Michael Lane, one of the prospective replacement Batmen from the Morrison run, being offered the role of Azrael by a splinter faction of the Order of St. Dumas. Hey, there’s some cursed armour, some flaming swords, some personal tragedy - lots of fun. Oracle puts in a much better appearance here than she does in her own book, which must be set in the future or the past or something, I guess. Best of all? The League of Assassins! Those guys don’t get used enough, I assure you, and they have the Hook with them to boot, in one of the few comics that I’ve read where the Hook neither kills Boston Brand nor is killed himself. I think that the Hook might just be one of the most frequently-dead characters in comics. Also, Leland McCauley, who is a Legion antagonist, appears, I think.

Anyway, given my expectations going in, this was an enjoyable time.

Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum No 1 (of 1!)

I was going to lead into this one by saying that just like it was interesting to read a story featuring the Hook wherein he doesn’t die it would be so to read a comic about Jeremiah Arkham not going mad, but I’ve changed my mind. All of the best Arkham Asylum stories have ol’ Jeremiah and the very best ones imply that he’s completely off his rocker without stating it outright.

So the Asylum was blown up during Batman R.I.P. and now Jeremiah Arkham is wandering around in the wreckage remembering the good old days when costumed maniacs used to taunt him. It’s a decent enough comic but it’s definitely the final nail in the coffin for Battle for the Cowl as any sort of accurate title for this whole mess. As far as I can make out, the actual Battle for the Cowl comics and maybe Azrael are actually concerned with actual battling for an actual cowl. The rest of these comics (Commissioner Gordon, Man-Bat, etc) are like unto a separate series about what Gotham is like sans Batman - why not call the World Without a Batman and get on with things? Oracle I think is just kind of tacked on because she’s part of the Bat-family.

This issue is notable because it features a new version of No-Face (no doctor, this one), thus showcasing my astonishing prophetic abilities. And he’s interesting! Also, Humpty Dumpty!

Supergirl No 40

WHAAAA? Superwoman is… whaaa?

Neat! Good reveal! What a twist! I have one important question that is totally a spoiler!

You know what I like about the Superman titles right now? That the bad guys are just so thoroughly rotten - even Cat Grant, though I’ll bet a dollar that she’ll have a life-changing experience and mend her ways some day. I’m still a little sad that Agent Liberty is dead, but I just like having as many different superfolk running around the DCU as possible (and it’s not like someone else won’t end up in the suit PDQ). I think I’m going to have to go back and read me some more Supergirl - I’m late to this particular ballgame.

Invincible No. 61

So: last issue insane villain Angstrom Levy brought in a bunch of alternate versions of Invincible (and have I ever mentioned how fond I am of alternate versions of characters? If I were a super-hero I’d eat lunch with a different alternate-universe Johnathan every day. Even the evil ones surely couldn’t resist a good sammich) and they all fought basically everyone in the shared Image Universe and wrecked the whole damn place. I’m sure that you’ve gathered that I’m not fond of the crossover event as a whole but this one was pretty well done, all-in-all, possibly because it was so blessedly short. And this issue was great. Invincible is another of those great series that actually change over time - heck, the status quo has been stood on its head about seventeen times so far, and for good reason. Half a dozen nigh-invulnerable, super-strong dudes slugging it out with dozens of super-heroes? Of course a few cities are going to be leveled, and now we get to read about all sorts of delicious aftermath. Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley are a heckuva team - I’m very sure that this comic would swiftly go off the rails into unreadability if someone else tried to write it.

Mister X: Condemned No. 4 of 4

Man, I almost wish I hadn’t picked up the first issue of this when it came out a few months ago. It’s great - visually interesting and full of terrific weird characters and set in a city that drives people mad and there are retro-future robots and such everywhere - but as I soon learned it has a lot of prior history and now I’m going to have to go back and read it all to satisfy the information demands of my own fevered brain. Not that it was hard to follow: Mister X has been out of circulation for a while so this story acts as a very effective introduction to the setting and to some of the cast, setting the mood along the way. People use the word “noir” a lot when they talk about this series and it’s very appropriate - lucky for me there appears to be a trade or three on the horizon so’s I can catch up.

Oh! There was an Art Frahm joke in the first issue! Tell me how I could resist that.

Viking No. 1

Good times! This is a gorgeous damn comic, with all kinds of painted art and super nice (non-glossy!) paper. Hell, it even smells good for some reason.

The writing is good and - and I hope that this comes out right - will be better after a few more issues come out. Hmm, wait. By which I mean that once I come back and read this again after getting to know the characters involved and so forth I’ll appreciate it even more. There’s no short story to set the stage and no text box pops in to tell me who every character is as they appear so things must be figured out contextually. It’s a good technique if done well, and Ivan Brandon has managed to do it quite well here. Also, he hasn’t fallen into the trap of over-romanticising the past: the characters aren’t noble, honour-bound warriors speaking solely in archaic terms and neither are they grunting, blood-soaked savages. Like most people in history they speak colloquially and are concerned with making money and dealing with their crazy family and having a good time. And fighting with spears. Big thumbs up, JOHN APPROVED.

Warlord of Io and Other Stories

Oh, good show James Turner. You can always be counted on to write and illustrate something very strange and very wonderful, like the very odd Nil: a Land Beyond Belief or Rex Libris, a book that makes the part of me that loves working in libraries very happy indeed.

The title story, "Warlord of Io" features a lad named Zing who becomes ruler of that whole damn moon when his father retires to the pleasure domes. There are lotsa good weird aliens and space facts and such... I sure hope that this continues as is promised at the end of this chapter, as Turner's imagination is very appealing to me. The rest of the comic follow suit, demons and Tiki Pirates and all.

I mean, just check out the map on the inside cover - there's something called The Great Steel Anenome Brain... can you afford to miss this?

Ho ho ho, what's this?

Showcase Presents: legion of Super-Heroes, Volume 3!

Hooray! And how, you ask, do I feel about this?


Also this week: Batman: The Brave and the Bold No. 4, which remains a very good comic adaptation of a cartoon based on a comic book character, which is a surprisingly failure-ridden subset of the comics field. I am extraordinarily fond of the cartoon and this comic does a great job of capturing some of its energy. And being able to hear Aquaman shout “Outrageous!” in my head enhances the experience to no end.

Johnathan... out!