Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

28 February 2009

Batman: Strange Apparitions

Collects: Detective Comics #469-79 (1977-8)

Released: November 1999 (DC)

Format: 176 pages / color / $12.95 / ISBN: 9781563895005

What is this?: A memorable — or so they say — Batman run of the ‘70s.

The culprits: Writers Steven Englehart and Len Wein and pencilers Marshall Rogers and Walt Simonson

Batman: Strange Apparitions is a seemingly random slice of late ‘70s Batman stories — more than a year’s worth of Detective Comics in one volume.

Ostensibly, it’s a showcase of writer Steve Englehart’s Detective run. According to the book’s introduction by Englehart, after he was hired away from Marvel, Englehart had planned to make this run his comics swan song. With penciler Walt Simonson, Englehart planned to tell a story involving Dr. Hugo Strange, Boss Rupert Thorne, and Silver St. Cloud. Simonson bowed out after two issues, so Marshall Rogers was brought in.

Batman: Strange Apparitions coverEnglehart thinks pretty highly of his work, which he says formed a bit of the basis of the first Batman movie. (I don’t see it, even if Vicky Vale is supposed to be a proxy for Silver St. Cloud, but I’ll take his word for it.) But is it really that good?

There are definitely some iconic Batman stories here. The Joker’s battle to patent his Joker Fish (fish chemically treated to have the Joker’s grotesque smile) is one of the great Batman stories, rightly reprinted in “Best of” anthologies and the origin of one of the best Batman: The Animated Series episodes. The battle with Hugo Strange is nothing special, but its aftermath is exciting: Strange, who has discovered Batman’s secret identity, dies rather than give it to Rupert Thorne, then haunts Thorne until he confesses his crimes.

But the Penguin and Dr. Phosphorus stories are Silver Age stories with Bronze Age trappings, and Len Wein’s Clayface III story, which wraps up the collection, could have come a Spider-Man book, with its tragic villain, self-pitying hero, and near empathy for the villain’s plight. Batman’s battle with Deadshot is fun, involving a giant electric typewriter (no manual typewriter in the ‘70s, no no), but most of the story is given over to Bruce Wayne’s romance with Silver St. Cloud.

That romance is the thread that ties the entire volume together. Its believability and impact is what could transform the book from tripe to treasure. Unfortunately, I’m not sure where I stand on the matter. Bruce quickly falls for Silver, and vice versa; her dedication to him helps save him from Hugo Strange. Fine; that makes sense. But in a moment that truly does link Strange Apparitions to Tim Burton’s Batman, Bruce reveals his secret identity after Silver has figured it out. And immediately after, she’s written out. No consequences! No romance! I don’t know if this sort of storyline was common back then, but it’s not the type plotting I expect from a premier title like Detective Comics, although it’s common in consequence-free, continuity-light mini series and annuals.

I’m not entirely convinced by the art, either. Both Rogers and Simonson draw certain characters as dynamic, important, beautiful — Batman and the Joker, for example. They seem almost to be drawn in a house style. The other characters … are not. They seem to be appearing in another book, by other artists. The rest of the art almost seems locked in an even older style. Sometimes everything comes together, atmospheric and beautiful. Other times it looks like a mishmash. There are more of the former than latter, but it doesn’t take many of the latter to spoil the whole bunch.

Also: Why aren’t there any covers? I find this a major problem. At least when the Dark Horse Chronicles of Conan lacked the covers, you know it was probably because of rights issues. Is it some sort of artists’ compensation difficulty that prevented DC from showing the original covers? Did they just run out of room? There are worse sins when reprinting old comics, but this is a quite noticeable one.

I’m not as impressed by this volume as I think I should be. However, there are too few trade paperbacks covering this interesting period, after Batman starts being taken seriously and before Crisis. For that reason, I’m giving Strange Apparitions a bit of a bump on the rating.

Rating: Batman symbol Batman symbol Batman symbol (2.5 of 5)

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24 February 2009

Essential Hulk, v. 5

Collects: Incredible Hulk #171-200, Incredible Hulk Annual #5 (1974-6)

Released: November 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 616 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785130659

What is this?: Hulk smash! as usual, all around the world, vs. supervillains, Commies, and puny Banner.

The culprits: Writer Len Wein (and others) and pencilers Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema

The Marvel Essentials line concentrated, in its early years, on the company’s Silver Age core and a few later classic titles, such as Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine. (Yes, I know Wolverine’s not really classic, but work with me here.)

Most of those Silver Age titles have wandered into the ‘70s. Overall, the ‘70s were a fallow time for Marvel; yes, X-Men were picking up steam with Chris Claremont and Captain America had some well received stories, like the Secret Empire, but the big titles — Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers — were not at the creative peaks that preceded and followed the Me Decade.

Essential Hulk, v. 5 coverWhich brings us to Essential Hulk, v. 5. For most people, Incredible Hulk didn’t really get memorable — from a story perspective, at least — until Peter David took over the title in the ‘80s; it’s the TV show, with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, that draws the attention before that. But I admit to a fondness for the Hulk title. As I mentioned in my review for the previous volume, all that mediocrity really doesn’t matter.

The Hulk fights supervillains. He travels the world. He gains friends, loses friends. He’s always wandering, getting out of stuffy New York to see the world. The only thing casual readers have heard of from this volume is the debut of Wolverine in #180-2, but the Hulk is not just doing the same things over and over again.

Roy Thomas wrote #171-5 (and plots #176), followed by Gerry Conway for three issues. Thomas, being Thomas, couldn’t resist bringing back forgotten or stranded characters, like the Juggernaut and the Cobalt Man. Conway got to write the results of the first time a group with Black Bolt shot the Hulk into space for his good and the good of society; it didn’t work either, but it was a lot less destructive to society than Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. (The first outer space exile is a boring story set on Counter-Earth, where Adam Warlock gets to play a very obvious golden-skinned Jesus. Don’t ask. Just … don’t, OK?)

Then Len Wein settled in for a long run, running through the end of the volume. Wein introduced Wolverine, which is one of the most significant moments in Marvel history, but most of the book is uneventful. I am fond of some bits. I enjoyed the return of Glenn Talbot, which included saving a nonplussed President Ford from a bomb and a breakout from a Soviet prison that featured a talking, rhyming orange dinosaur named Droogi. The Russians aren’t paper enemies; they manage to deal the imperial running dogs a good deal of damage, even taking out the Hulkbuster base and its commander. The story with the Shaper of Worlds, in which he and his protégé create a paradise for the Hulk that is ruined by the Toad Men and the Hulk’s own demands that “if paradise is not real … then it is not paradise!”, is touching.

The less said of Hulk vs. the Loch Ness (sorry, Loch Fear) Monster, the better. The same holds true of the two-issue story featuring Man-Thing and the Collector. Yes, calm down, form a line — there are copies enough for everyone.

The art comes from iconic Hulk pencilers Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema, with Trimpe providing the work for all the stories up to #193 and Buscema doing the rest. Personally, I prefer Buscema, who is my favorite Hulk artist and one of my favorite comic artists of all time. There’s something about his ability to get across the Hulk’s power and frustration with a world that makes no sense. Trimpe, though, has a memorable Hulk, even if he does have a fondness for oddly shaped heads. As I mentioned in the review for v. 4, you can see a big difference in Trimpe’s work depending on the inker. I prefer the inking of Jack Abel, who worked on #171-81.

My recommendation for this title is the same as the previous volume: I like this volume because I like this style of Hulk. It’s occasionally strange, not infrequently boring … but it’s rarely the same for more than two issues. It’s like the weather; if you don’t like it, wait a while. That being said, I’m deducting a half point because of the “Adam Warlock as Messiah” thing.

Rating: Hulk head Hulk head Half of a Hulk head (2.5 of 5)

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23 February 2009

May 2009 Solicitations

May 2009 solicits are out! From Marvel, I’m looking forward to the Essential Spider-Man, v. 9 (finally past issue #200!) and X-Factor, v. 6: Secret Invasion. Can’t say I’m excited about the price of Essentials going up to $20, though.

From Dark Horse, there’s Usagi Yojimbo, v. 23: Bridge of Tears by Stan Sakai. It’s the latest Usagi TPB, collecting issues #94-102 — a good sized book. (Although the trades are way behind — the Usagi comics will be all the way up to #120.) Image has the G-Man, v. 1: Learning to Fly digest by Chris Giarusso, who wrote the Mini Marvels book I loved so much.

Nothing catches my eye from DC, though.

Although it isn’t a trade paperback, the description of Votan by John James from Dark Horse sounds intriguing. The book also has an introduction from Neil Gaiman, who selected this book to be brought back into print. This is the second of six books in the Neil Gaiman Presents line; the first will be The Twilight of the Gods and Other Tales by Richard Garnett.

Anyone else see anything interesting? Requests for reviews, perhaps, or something that just catches your eye?

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21 February 2009

Fables, v. 11: War and Pieces

Collects: Fables #70-5 (2008)

Released: November 2008 (DC / Vertigo)

Format: 192 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9781401219130

What is this?: The battle for the Homelands begins as the Fables in exile take the fight to the Adversary

The culprits: Writer Bill Willingham, penciler Mark Buckingham, and artist Niko Henrichon

Anticipation, like fame, is a difficult beast. It’s hard to capture and harder to hold onto, and often it turns out to be a bit of a burden.

Writer Bill Willingham, penciler Mark Buckingham, and a host of other artists have been building the story of the exile Fables for the past six years, telling stories of the community of exiled storybook characters as they first resisted the Adversary who drove them from their homelands and then put themselves into a position to return the favor. Willingham has been building to this volume — Fables, v. 11: War and Pieces — which I’ve read was originally supposed to end the series. (I can’t find a primary source, so you’ll have to take my word for that.)

Fables, v. 11: War and Pieces coverBut ultimately, War and Pieces disappoints, for the same reason The Good Prince disappoints. The hints and mysteries have all come to an end, and there is not enough suspense to replace them. There seems little danger, little challenge for the Fables during their war. They have their plan, which involves a flying ship filled with mundy weapons, and it is nearly unassailable. It all works too well. Willingham tries to make it appear anyone can die — and there are casualties — but one or two small reversals can’t create that atmosphere. It may seem like a spoiler to say the outcome’s never in doubt, but it’s obvious from the beginning, and there aren’t enough red herrings in the actual story to deceive. The anticipation of a tale of love and glory, a case of do or die, is blunted; I don’t think War and Pieces will live up to whatever story the reader has built up in his mind.

More enjoyable is the two-part story that kicks off the action, “Skullduggery,” in which superspy Cinderella retrieves a “package” in Tierra del Fuego. There is the action, the suspense, that the main story lacks, that the larger story of Fables has only rarely lost. Willingham and Buckingham do an excellent job with these little caper stories, and this one is no exception.

Buckingham’s art, as always, is a joy to see. It’s pretty, obviously, but Buckingham gives the story his usual attention to detail, interesting panel layouts, and page borders. Niko Henrichon supplies the art for the first issue in War and Pieces; it’s hard for me to give it a fair shake. It isn’t to my taste — a bit scratchy and imprecise for me — and the polished, smooth work from Buckingham only emphasizes the qualities in Henrichon’s work that I dislike. Fortunately, the subject matter — it’s a story about relationships — is a better fit to his style than the action pieces that follow.

This is a definite finish to the storyline that started in 2002, and it’s all wrapped up tidily, despite the narration’s insistence that there’s still a wild ride ahead. (I don’t doubt that there is; it’s just it spoils the ending, the triumph, the creators have spent so long building toward when they add a discordant note that late in the story.) This story is not a flop, like Episodes II and III of Star Wars; it isn’t even the disappointment that surrounded Episode I. It just isn’t as good as the overall, 75-issue story Willingham and Buckingham have created.

Rating: Vertigo symbol Vertigo symbol Vertigo symbol (3 of 5)

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17 February 2009

Runaways, v. 8: Dead End Kids

Collects: Runaways (v. 2) #25-30 (2007-8)

Released: January (2009)

Format: 152 pages / color / $15.99 / ISBN: 9780785134596

What is this?: The young heroes find themselves transported back in time a century and struggle with the culture and villains to return home.

The culprits: Writer Joss Whedon and penciler Michael Ryan

When last we saw our heroes — almost two years ago for those who, like me, read the collected editions but are too cheap for the hardcover — Iron Man and his goons had just busted into their headquarters, saying some nonsense about registration.

This story doesn’t pick up from there. I have no idea how that played out. If you want those answers, go to Wikipedia. (And yes, I’m a little peeved Marvel offers no references. When you release stories in collected form, it doesn’t hurt to direct readers to previous efforts. If they think they’re missing a volume, they might stop reading the series altogether.)

Runaways, v. 8: Dead End Kids coverInstead, Runaways, v. 8: Dead End Kids picks up with the kids in New York, about to strike a deal with the Kingpin for protection. He has them steal an object for a client, which causes them to run afoul of the Punisher, ninjas, and eventually the Kingpin himself … before things get even worse.

Writer Joss Whedon seems a perfect match for this title. Young, sassy protagonists, strong female characters, sexual identity and authority issues … yep, they’re all here. It doesn’t give Whedon the chance to cast Eliza Dushku or Nathan Fillion, but other than that, great fit. His customary style of dialogue fits perfectly with the characters, and the plot is fantastic: the kids go back in time a century and find out superpowered violence and gangs are not just a product of the post-war world. Whedon even manages to tie the time-travel plot into the characters’ back story, which is impressive and fun. In fact, I would like to see more of that early 20th century powered world, populated with “Wonders” such as the Swell and the Yellow Kid (yes, that Yellow Kid). The climax of the story seems to rule it out, though.

The dialogue and characters of 1907 New York are so enjoyable, as a matter of fact, that they conceal some severe weaknesses in the plot. The hinge on which the story swings — two non- or low-powered characters living for much more than a century — seems farfetched. Nico’s subplot, in which her powers are expanded, is improbable, and the plot isn’t given enough space to make it believable.

Whedon gets the characters, for the most part, which is always a concern when a new writer takes over for a series creator. Whedon also emphasizes that the past is a different country, showing the reader how they do things differently there — sweatshops, child brides, lower standards of sanitation. One relatively sympathetic character from the past, Klara, freaks out when she sees two female characters kiss.

Whedon’s style is not for everyone. It can be grating, even for someone who enjoys it. Do people really talk like that, all of the time? It’s hard to believe. Yet the humor and wit do win out over the dialogue’s implausibility. Sometimes the jokes are a little tired: making fun of the Kingpin by having him interrupt a serious monologue with a chocolate bar, for instance, or playing up the effects of Molly punching the Punisher a little too much. The 1907 Adjudicator is a superior parody of the Punisher, in any event. And for God’s sake, would it have killed Whedon to get the issues out on time? (It could have been the artist’s fault, I know. But his Astonishing X-Men had the same problems.)

Kingpin's freaky hands -- with disappearing and magically appearing rings!I can’t really put a more definitive finger on what bothers me about Michael Ryan’s artwork; although I don’t like it, his style fits the title very well — modern, slightly manga, lean and glossy. On the other hand, sometimes his work is a little too manga for me to take seriously; for instance, he uses the comically oversized sweat beads on characters’ temples at moments of stress. And there are moments of art dodginess as well, as when the Kingpin displays a hand with five fingers but no thumb. However, I suppose I have to give Ryan tentative approval.

As a whole, Dead End Kids is a mixed bag — engaging plot, great characters, occasionally overindulgent, with plot holes that should have been caught and an art style I don’t quite appreciate. The delays work both for and against it — anticipation built to such a height can never be achieved, but readers are thankful to get something. But that missing reference to what the hell happened after Iron Man burst into their headquarters is what really sticks in my craw and keeps me from overlooking the story’s flaws and seeing an essentially enjoyable story.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol (3 of 5)

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15 February 2009

Anticipation Week

Up next week: two books I’ve been anticipating for some time. On Friday, it will be Fables, v. 11: War and Pieces, which I’ve been anticipating because the exiled Fables finally begin their war for the Homelands, an event the entire series has been leading up to. On Tuesday, I’ll review Runaways, v. 8: Dead End Kids, which is highly anticipated because I’ve waited so damned long for the thing.

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13 February 2009

Essential Silver Surfer, v. 1

Collects: Silver Surfer (v. 1) #1-18, back up from Fantastic Four Annual #5 (1967-70)

Released: 1998 (Marvel)

Format: 528 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785120087

What is this?: After Galactus imprisons him on Earth, the Silver Surfer tries to escape to get home to his love.

The culprits: Writer Stan Lee and pencilers John Buscema and Jack Kirby

I’ve never found the Silver Surfer all that interesting.

Noble? Yes. Powerful? One of the heavyweight heroes of the Marvel Universe (and Heroclix). But he has the personality of a head of cauliflower. He started his existence as a plot device, and he hasn’t advanced much since then.

Essential Silver Surfer, v. 1, does not do much to change my opinion of the Sentinel of the Skyways.

Essential Silver Surfer, v. 1 coverThe Surfer was a personal favorite of co-creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with Stan jealously guarding the Surfer. When he finally relented and decided to have a Surfer ongoing series, he pulled rank and wrote the series himself, assigning John Buscema penciling duties. Kirby was, understandably, a little miffed. This is very nearly the last interesting thing to happen with Silver Surfer, v. 1.

Lee used Silver Surfer as his platform for social idealism, and like most soapboxes, it is inherently uninteresting. Stupidity and silly misunderstandings abound, and the Surfer is repeatedly used as a pawn. The plots are simple and formulaic. There is a lot of bizarre pairings in this volume — the Silver Surfer vs. Mephisto (essentially the Devil), vs. the Flying Dutchman, vs. the most recent Baron Frankenstein, vs. an incompetent witches’ coven. But instead of being examples of those moments readers smile and think, “Only in comics!” these are dull confrontations of cardboard villains (except Mephisto) with elaborate costuming.

It is entirely possible, I think, to sum up a Silver Surfer plot by using the following, mixed and matched as necessary:

    *SPUMMM!* The Silver Surfer hits an invisible space wall
  1. I must escape Earth!
  2. I must see my true love, Shalla Bal!
  3. When will you humans give up your violence?
  4. I must help the humans! (Usually immediately after the preceding line.)
  5. I won’t give up my soul, Mephisto!
  6. *smack!* (This is the sound of the Silver Surfer colliding with Galactus’s invisible barrier, which keeps him from leaving Earth.)
You may think I’m joking about that last one, but the Surfer, time and again, in ignorance and in frustration, literally beats his head against that barrier. If you had a dollar for every time it happens in this book, you could probably pick up the Essential Silver Surfer for free. I had to pay a bit more for it, but not much more.

On the positive side, the book does feature the creation of Mephisto, who is at least an interesting enemy for the Surfer — the Devil vs. alien was probably an original pairing at the time. I’d be lying if the Surfer doesn’t grow as a character; his naiveté is completely worn away by the end of the book, although that doesn’t mean he can’t be fooled for plot purposes. I also admire Buscema’s beautiful art, smooth and sleek while suggesting the immense power at the same time. He can also capture the absurdity of the Surfer’s attempts to blend in with human society.

Kirby arrives the issue before cancellation to ugly everybody up. I’ve never been a fan of Kirby’s art, and compared to Buscema’s work, his Surfer (and everyone else) looks squat and homely. The true shame is that Kirby, one of the few people who could match Lee for imagination, would have been a perfect fit as writer — if there is one thing you could never call Kirby, it’s boring. (Or formulaic, although that’s a second thing you couldn’t call him.) Kirby left for DC soon after his work on Silver Surfer #18, where he created the Fourth World.

Essential Silver Surfer ranges from the boring to the absurd, and even the absurd doesn’t provoke laughter — or any reaction at all, really. The first five issues, which are all double sized, are nearly impossible to choke down. It gets easier after that, but Essential Silver Surfer never gets better than bland.

Rating: Silver Surfer head (1 of 5)

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11 February 2009

Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle

Collects: Iron Man #120-8 (1979)

Released: 1989, re-released June 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 168 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9780785120438

What is this?: Iron Man battles Justin Hammer and the bottle.

The culprits: Writer David Michilinie, writer / inker Bob Layton, and pencilers John Romita Jr. and Carmine Infantino

I picked up Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle because it’s a major storyline for a character who doesn’t have very many major storylines. Really, Iron Man has Armor Wars and his various battles with Dr. Doom, and that’s it.

So many fans have been clamoring for Demon in a Bottle to form the nucleus of the next Iron Man film. That’s fine; it’s inevitable it will be used sooner or later in the film series, and it is one of the standout stories for the character. But how does it measure up to the rest of the Marvel Universe and the comics world in general?

 coverNot as well as Iron Man fans might hope. The story gets its power from the idea: hero as alcoholic. But liquor isn’t Tony’s only enemy; no, he has to battle rival industrialist Justin Hammer. And boy, does Hammer school him.

But he’s upstaged by Tony’s personal problems. As a 21st-century reader, Tony’s battle with alcoholism is disappointing at some level. While some children in the ‘70s were probably getting their first glimpse of the damage alcohol could do, even to a great man, alcoholism isn’t as shocking to modern, adult readers. There’s also a risk of insensitivity; judging from Demon, there’s a very fine line between liking to drink and becoming a dysfunctional boozehound. I have a feeling it’s not quite that black and white in real life. Even though I admit writers David Michelinie and Bob Layton don’t have a lot of space to devote to a very real problem, I don’t think it’s developed well enough. I realize that’s subjecting the storyline to a critical viewpoint it was never intended to endure, but given the current demographics of comic-book readers, I think it’s fair to look at Demon from the adult point of view.

The real interesting conflict is between Iron Man and Hammer, who was introduced by Michelinie and Layton in this storyline. Hammer not only crushes Tony’s reputation and drives him to the bottle, he also manages to recruit an army of colorful second-string villains that deserves to be celebrated. I mean, any time you see the Beetle, Leap Frog, Blizzard, Whiplash, and the Constrictor together, that has to bring a smile to your face.

I really enjoyed penciler John Romita Jr.’s work on Demon. I’m a fan of his early work on Uncanny X-Men and Amazing Spider-Man, and his work here is just as excellent as his well-known runs on those titles. Iron Man is sleek, powerful, and always in motion. Even at a young age (he was 23 when this storyline ended), he can handle a crowded fight scene with aplomb. He can even handle subtler emotions. I might not enjoy his work in the ‘90s, but man, he was on top of his game here.

The structure of the storyline shows it obviously isn’t meant to be looked at as we see it today, in TPB form. There’s an issue in the middle of the collection that simply recaps the Iron Man story. It starts with a two-part story with Namor that doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the story, except for Tony’s fondness for martinis and the introduction of Hammer. The tight weaving of the alcoholism and Hammer stories, each of which would be excellent on their own, leaves each of them a little strained for space.

Still, there’s too much good stuff here to deny Demon is worth reading. It’s a product of another time; it’s a portal to a different world. Quibbles aside, it’s an entertaining story, and there are aspirations here to something beyond a good story. I might argue it didn’t quite do the job, but it’s impossible to argue Michelinie, Layton, and Romita Jr. haven’t done something unique here.

Rating: Iron Man helmet Iron Man helmet Iron Man helmet (3 of 5)

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Filthy Flagellum and Evil Robot James Buchanan

I missed putting up a review; a review of Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle will be up tomorrow. You, the loyal reader, deserve a better excuse than “my personal life was crazy” or “I was crushed by the amount of work I had to do this week.” Frankly, you can get those kind of excuses anywhere, and we all know they’re lies, just excuses for being too lazy to put in the kind of quality work an unpaid “labor of love” deserves. So you get a better excuse. Like this one:

The Filthy Flagellum gang, hired by the Evil Robot James Buchanan (whose thought patterns are based on the brain waves of the evil President James Buchanan), invaded my gastrointestinal tract. The gang resisted all manner of antibiotics, emetics, palliatives, placebos, and panaceas, so I was forced to send a tiny drone — of my own design, naturally — to battle the gang and its eponymous leader. Evidently, the drone was successful, as I feel much better, but I’ll have to wait for recovery of the drone to discover whether the drone was able to destroy Filthy Flagellum or merely cause him to retreat.

I … I’m not looking forward to drone recovery.

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09 February 2009

Excuse Me

I missed putting up a review on Friday. I’m sorry, and I’ve decided that you, the loyal reader, deserve a better excuse than “my personal life was crazy” or “I was crushed by the amount of work I had to do this week.” Frankly, you can get those kind of excuses anywhere, and we all know they’re lies, just excuses for being too lazy to put in the kind of quality work an unpaid “labor of love” deserves. So from now on, if I miss a Tuesday or Friday review, you’ll get a better excuse. Like this one:

The review was late this week because I was nearly devoured by hyperintelligent cheetahs. Now, you might think their speed is their greatest asset, but that’s not true; their cerebral dampening nets they use to trap their prey are murder. If they only had the opposable thumbs to actually throw the things or use their gauss rifles, I would have been in real trouble.

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03 February 2009

Batman: Hush, v. 2

Collects: Batman #613-9 (2003)

Released: October 2004 (DC)

Format: 192 pages / color / $12.99 / ISBN: 9781401200923

What is this?: As Batman seeks Hush’s true identity, Hush involves even more of Batman’s enemies in his plot to destroy Batman — and Bruce Wayne.

The culprits: Writer Jeph Loeb and penciler Jim Lee

Hush, v. 1, started the Hush storyline off with a bang. But getting the reader’s interest is only half the game — it’s easy to think it’s the easy half, if you’ve ever read Scott Lobdell’s work. The other half is finishing the deal.

In Batman: Hush, v. 2, writer Jeph Loeb, penciler Jim Lee, and inker Scott Williams attempt to do just that. They pull in the rest of Batman’s rogue’s gallery, with the exception of the Penguin. They throw moral dilemmas at Batman and big revelations at the reader. They test Batman’s weakest points: his loneliness and his isolation.

Batman: Hush, v. 2 cover In v. 2, Loeb completes a story that feels like part of a miniseries. That’s not a complaint, just a description; Hush, v. 2 has a scope that feels bigger than what is usually allowed in an ongoing title without a crossover. Loeb and Lee bring in plenty of villains and allies, raising the stakes and making the events feel like they matter. That’s tough to do, and it can be overdone if it’s desperate — see X-Men: Deadly Genesis for an example — but Loeb and Lee pull it off … mostly.

They successfully obscure the villain of the piece, although the red herring they use is deeply stupid.25 The changes in the relationship between Batman and Catwoman feel important at the time, especially when viewed through the prism of his relationship with Talia al Ghul, but less so at the end. Bruce’s childhood friend, Dr. Elliot, still feels pressed into an important role he’s not quite suited for. Hush, as a villain, falls short for me — an impressive build up that doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

It stumbles at the end. The ending hinges on so much that seems not quite there — the development of Elliot, Two Face, the old supporting character Harold, and Hush feel like they’ve been overlooked. There are just too many villains and heroes crammed into the final seven issues. Harold is briefly introduced, and just as quickly rushed off the stage. Hush, with his whisper-thin motivation, is a mastermind who rushes onto the stage at the end, expecting applause, only to find out the audience isn’t quite sure about him. Two Face has a pivotal role but is barely shown.

It all falls into place; it all makes sense. But with an important story like this, it has to more than make sense. It has to fit well, it has to make the audience feel not only the weight of its importance but its craftsmanship as well. And Hush, v. 2, falls just short of that.

Lee’s art is, as in Hush, v. 1, a selling point. There’s not much to say about it that I didn’t say in the previous review, except I see now where the art for this Heroclix figure comes from.

Hush, v. 2, is a slight disappointment when compared to v. 1. Still, it’s not a bad read — just not as good as it could have been.

Rating: Batman symbol Batman symbol Batman symbol

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100 reviews!

Last Friday’s review, from what I can tell, was the 100th review post on Trade Talks. Yay.

By publishers, those reviews were about books from:

Well, I was right. It’s mostly Marvel.

The distribution of ratings favors the lower end, I’m pleased to report — more 1s than 5s,more 2s than 4s. In fact, more than a quarter of the books I reviewed got a 2. The mean of all the review is slightly above 2.5, though (2.7).

It’s taken me almost three years to get to 100 reviews. Hopefully, but this time next year, I’ll be passing 200.

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