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

31 January 2011

Fantastic Four: The Beginning of the End

Collects: Fantastic Four #525-6 and 551-3 (2005, 2008)

Released: April 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 120 pages / color / $12.99 / ISBN: 9780785125549

What is this?: Dr. Doom comes back from the future to tell Reed he’s screwed up the future; Diablo annoys the team with alchemy and dreams.

The culprits: Writers Dwayne McDuffie and Karl Kesel and artists Paul Pelletier and Tom Grummett

Fantastic Four: The Beginning of the End is a substantial improvement on Fantastic Four: The New Fantastic Four. Well, at least writer Dwayne McDuffie’s contribution to the TPB is.

Whereas New Fantastic Four is full of unneeded bombast and incessant events of cosmic import, McDuffie chooses a more quiet plot for the finale of his short run on Fantastic Four. Dr. Doom travels back in time to escape a Reed Richards-dominated future. Of course his objective is to avert that future, but are the things he’s saying about Reed true? Is he really a monster who loses sight of the human costs in his efforts to improve the world?

Fantastic Four: The Beginning of the End coverAt the time Beginning was written, that wasn’t such a far-fetched idea. After the nonsense of Civil War and the Superhuman Registration Act, Reed looked like a borderline Fascist (and we know how much regard Fascists generally have for borders) who believed he had all the answers. His arrogance had split the team, and The New Fantastic Four had only begun the healing. And of course, if a Doom from the future was looking for a time to prey upon the other members’ uncertainty, this was it. It’s a fantastic, intriguing idea for a story, and McDuffie exploits it to its fullest.

Unfortunately, there are a few flaws to the story. The story takes three issues for an argument with occasional punches, and it feels padded. The arrival of the Fantastic Four from the future, while a logical part of the story, puts the kibosh on the story before it has ended; when they arrive, you know all debate is truly finished. I also did not need more dickering about the nature of time travel. A recap would be fine, but I never need to hear that the generally held model of Marvel temporal mechanics is wrong or even more than mildly flawed.

None of these objections take away from my enjoyment of the story, though. That might have been influenced by my desire to believe Doom was correct and Reed was so incredibly wrong.

Writer Karl Kesel’s two-issue “Dream Fever” story from #525-6, which features Diablo as the villain, seems an odd fit here. It’s included, presumably, because they had extra room to fill at the end of McDuffie’s run and it had been collected nowhere else (it originally fit between Mark Waid’s three-year run, ending with #524, and J. Michael Straczynski’s year and a half, which lasted from #527 to Civil War). “It has to fit somewhere” and “We have extra space” makes sense if you’re collecting the issues, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. It doesn’t fit with McDuffie’s work in tone or continuity; where “The Beginning of the End” is a story that can only take place after the events of Civil War, “Dream Fever” is set well before, with a cheerier team in a story that actually follows up on character development from the Waid run (which I suspect we’ll never hear about again).

“Dream Fever” is a fill-in story that never claims to be more than a fill-in story. It tries to get some mileage out of using dreams to reveal character elements that were rarely or never discussed, and to be fair, Kesel does have some success there. But using dreams in that manner is a frequent prop for real character development, and worse, saying that all the team’s dreams are nightmares, and that having other people’s nightmares rather than your own will kill you … it seems a bit silly. Again, it’s a fill-in two-parter, so wasting effort trying to convince the reader of something that could be glossed over wouldn’t be a wise use of space, but it took away from the peril of the story. Diablo as the villain … well, in this story, he seems more like an opportunist than a credible threat or someone with a strong plan.

What is unusual is that the two essentially randomly packaged together stories both have excellent art. I praised Paul Pelletier’s work from The New Fantastic Four, and his work on “Beginning of the End” is every bit as good. His depiction of Reed’s secret workroom, with notes and equations on every surface, is my favorite visual of the book. Pelletier also gets to design future versions of the team, the Black Panther, and Namor, and although I’m not exactly fond of the changes in facial hair and / or hair length school of aging, I did like his Ben Grimm. Tom Grummett gives the fill-in art for “Dream Fever” and does a likewise impressive job. Although there’s nothing as visually arresting in his work as what Pelletier is given, his artwork is clear and bright, with a good grasp of storytelling.

I find it strange that I would prefer this hodgepodge Fantastic Four book to one that McDuffie wrote by himself. Still, it’s true. I also find it interesting that a Dr. Doom / time travel story would feel less an assertion of self-importance than The New Fantastic Four, but again — true. In any event, it allows McDuffie to end his short run on a high note.

Rating: Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol Half Fantastic Four symbol (3.5 of 5)

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27 January 2011

Comic Book Collections for Libraries -- in (online) stores now!

Comic Book Collections for Libraries is available for order on (contrary to what I said here). If this news interests you, hurry to the site and order — only three copies are left in stock!

Although I would be shocked if they didn’t get more eventually. Still: do you want to take that chance?

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25 January 2011

It's here!

Proof has finally arrived that the book I co-wrote, Comic Book Collections for Libraries, has actually been printed. My author’s copies arrived in the mail Monday (or possibly they arrived on Friday or Saturday; I was babysitting over the weekend).

Comic Book Collections for Libraries cover

Cover by Derek Steed.

As for when the rest of the world will get the book, I have no idea; Amazon still says the book will be out at the end of the month, although January 30 is absurd — who releases a book on a Sunday? the book appears to be available now! Now! Amazing!

News from the last few weeks has already made some of the information out of date, although most of it isn’t important. For instance, Joe Quesada isn’t editor in chief at Marvel any more; DC and Archie are about to withdraw from the Comics Code Authority; Wizard is heading for that old recycle bin in the sky. I’ll have to get cracking on a corrections page soon.

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21 January 2011

Fantastic Four: The New Fantastic Four

Collects: Fantastic Four #544-50 (2007)

Released: May 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 168 pages / color / $15.99 / ISBN: 9780785124832

What is this?: Reed and Sue take off for a honeymoon, so Storm and the Black Panther fill in for a couple of adventures.

The culprits: Writer Dwayne McDuffie and artist Paul Pelletier

In the comments for my review of Justice League of America, v. 3: The Injustice League, I mentioned that I would be reading more of writer Dwayne McDuffie’s work, specifically his Fantastic Four run. (Of course, I said I would be getting to it in a month or two, but it has been more like a year or two; maybe I was speaking in code like Spock and Kirk in Wrath of Khan?) Still, in fulfillment of that promise, we have Fantastic Four: The New Fantastic Four.

McDuffie is a long-time comic book veteran. I remember his work for Marvel in the late ‘80s / early ‘90s, and his work on DC’s Milestone imprint is well-regarded. Despite being one of the guiding forces of the animated Justice League / Justice League Unlimited series, I doubted he would get a chance to write a big comic book title. I was pleased to see I was wrong — and wrong pretty spectacularly, actually, since he wrote A-list titles for both Marvel and DC.

Fantastic Four: The New Fantastic Four coverI want to start out with the good things about the writing in New Fantastic Four. Bringing new characters onto the team is an excellent idea, especially if it’s only for a half year of issues or so, and Black Panther has been so closely tied with the team over the years that he makes a natural candidate. I adore McDuffie’s humor in this one: nice character interactions and self-deprecating humor about themselves and about the conventions of the genre. That’s just one sentence in the review, but it should weight a lot more in the evaluation: enjoyable humor goes a long way to smooth over whatever rough spots are in the plotting. And I especially like the use of the Frightful Four as opponents in the issues bridging the two halves of New Fantastic Four; the Wizard’s plan this time was uninspired, but a more grounded set of opponents (albeit in an exotic locale) was exactly what the plot needed between the two cosmic adventures.

The first half of the book was a sequel to McDuffie’s miniseries Beyond. I liked some parts of Beyond, but I didn’t think it needed a follow-up. Gravity is a fun new character, yes, and resurrecting him is a fine idea. But bringing the former Deathlok on the mission to retrieve Gravity was unnecessary — he doesn’t do much, if anything. And using Gravity in the second arc of the book made it seem as if McDuffie was apologizing for killing the character in the first place; when the heroes need someone wielding an elemental force, he’s the first guy the heroes think about? Really? And invoking the presence of the Watcher to make us believe the story was more important than it was is laughable, especially when the story later makes a joke about how everyone except Deathlok has been to the Watcher’s home, and a herd of Watchers show up in issue #549.

The Watchers, more than anything, serve as the epitome of why I feel ambivalence toward New Fantastic Four. On one hand, the book goes for the big stories, the ones with the traditional Fantastic Four cast of supporting characters in them: Galactus, his heralds (the Silver Surfer twice), the Watcher (twice, plus the aforementioned herd), the end of all life. And on the other hand, it does this with a repetition that distracts from the danger involved. McDuffie seems to be really hammering some ideas home — hammering them so hard, in fact, that they are driven about a foot into the plot. Gravity is important, as he briefly becomes Protector of the Universe, holds off Galactus, and helps Dr. Strange perform psychic surgery on Eternity. The Watchers make things important. The Black Panther has an intellect as great as Reed Richards and can defeat Galactus, the Silver Surfer, and Stardust (another herald) … essentially at the same time. Black Panther threatens the Watcher with the Ultimate Nullifier to get information instead of asking … because the Ultimate Nullifier shows up in important comics? (I don’t know.) Black Panther and Storm are in love (no one’s going to be able to convince me of that). Reed and Sue can be really scary — so scary they frighten their teammates, who feel as if they might do something uncharacteristic, even though they’ve known each other for more than a decade.

By using these big events, McDuffie looks like he’s trying to prove something — that he can write the big events, that Black Panther is an A-list character, that Fantastic Four should be about the cosmic challenges. I don’t know if that’s true, and I don’t need to be convinced of the first two. But the success of the issues with the Frightful Four shows that none of that is absolutely true, anyway; McDuffie and the Fantastic Four do well with grounded stories, and the Black Panther, although still pretty badass, can be humbled in battle. More importantly, Gravity and the Watcher doesn’t have to be involved. (By the way, does anyone know how the Trapster escaped the Wizard’s time loop from #519?)

I was worried about the art, looking at the cover by Michael Turner (look at Sue’s waist and how her torso is bent; that has to be painful), but I should have remembered Paul Pelletier’s work is wonderful. It’s attractive, it’s expressive, it’s kinetic, and it tells the story. Really, it’s everything you could want in comic book art without adding on the stylistic flair of, say, J.H. Williams III. Again, this is short praise — Pelletier’s work really does make New Fantastic Four so much better.

I want to like New Fantastic Four, and there are many moments I did like, as I read it. But taken overall, it’s hard to enjoy the repetition and the constant demand for the story to be considered important. If you don’t take it seriously, I think you can really enjoy New Fantastic Four; if you do, however, it may grate.

Rating: Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol (3 of 5)

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16 January 2011

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil

Collects: Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil #1-4 (2007)

Released: October 2007 (DC)

Format: 240 pages / color / $29.99 (deluxe hardcover) / ISBN: 9781401214661

What is this?: A retelling of the Golden Age origins of Captain Marvel, a boy who can turn into a full-grown superhero.

The culprit: Jeff Smith

DC’s Captain Marvel is more of a historical footnote than a viable major character. Comic fans know he was, for a time in the ‘40s, more popular than Superman. They know the basic setup: a wizard gives orphan Billy Batson a magic word, which allows him to turn into the adult Captain Marvel. They know lawsuits and Fawcett’s financial troubles kept him dormant for a few decades. They know the name has been usurped by a series of Marvel characters since the 1960s. They know that DC now owns the character and has written and rewritten his origins in their post-Crisis continuities, struggling to figure out what to do with what is essentially a second Superman. And most importantly, they know DC has done little to make them believe that the character’s popularity was anything other than a fluke, a historical abnormality.

Jeff Smith, the creator of Bone, put all of that aside when he wrote and drew Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil. Smith decided he wanted his miniseries to play tribute to the Golden Age Captain Marvel work of Otto Binder and C.C. Beck by retelling one of Marvel’s most popular stories: the battle against Mr. Mind and his monstrous minions.

Shazam!: Monster Society of Evil cover There is an inherent difficulty to revamping or retelling or re-anything a Golden Age concept; stories from that era frequently veer from hokey to insane in the blink of an eye. For the most part, Smith avoids the insane part of the equation — well, other than what is found in the origin story — and makes the story of Billy Batson more grounded. Billy’s squatting in an abandoned apartment, avoiding the predations of a street bully, and getting his money running errands for a hobo. And then into this comes the ultimate of wish-fulfillment fantasies: a magic word, superpowers, a family (in the form of a sister), a sense of purpose. And then the hobo turns out to be a tiger — or an ifrit who can take the form of a tiger or a man — and the sister gets superpowers, although not an adult form, and they fight crocodile men and colossal robots from another universe …

Hmm. Maybe Smith kept the insane aspects after all and managed to slip them by me. How did that happen? Is it something that Smith did? Or is it that I’m familiar enough with the Marvel concept specifically (and comics in general) that such things only seem strange in the aggregate in hindsight? I suspect the latter.

And that’s because I was distracted by all the plates Smith is trying to keep spinning. In one sense, he’s balancing the story in three ways: the boundless imagination of the original (somewhat tempered in Monster Society because Smith is recreating 60-year-old ideas); the corniness of ‘40s simplicity, kids’ comics ideas, and wide-eyed optimism; and the modern realities of homelessness and poverty. Smith does well enough there because those original ideas are familiar, because the optimism is part of Marvel’s character and the rest of the corny ideas (except for talking tiger Talky Tawny) are exiled to the edges of the collection, because the depressing parts are mainly Billy’s initial background. We’ll ignore the subtle joke about a news reporter enjoying the view of Marvel’s unit silhouetted in his tights; it’s just one of those adult jokes put in a children’s story that the children are expected to miss.

But Smith’s ability to fit all of what he needs to the plot to do drags Monster Society down. What is the story of Monster Society? It’s an origin story, and after the superhero boom of the last decade, I am thoroughly sick of seeing the origin stories of characters I am already familiar with. It’s a setup of the start of the Marvel Family. It’s a battle against one of Captain Marvel’s Golden Age archnemeses, Mr. Mind (and his Monster Society of Evil). And it’s also a battle against the other Captain Marvel Golden Age archnemesis, Dr. Sivana. (Who, bizarrely enough, is the attorney general of the United States.) That’s a lot to fit into one four-issue miniseries, even when each issue is 48 pages long; but it’s not like Smith is going to be hurried. Six panels on a page is a lot for him, and anyone who has read Bone knows there are times Smith will not hurry the languid pace of a setup. With that in mind, it would have made sense to cut out two of those threads and concentrate on making the other two stronger. I certainly wanted more of Captain Marvel battling monsters. I wanted more Mr. Mind, more adventure, less origin, less reality.

I want, I want, I want. A very appropriate sentiment to have for a comic about a boy who becomes an adult to fight back against all the injustices that have hemmed him in. Is it fair to Smith and Monster Society? That’s a question for another day — because I want, I want, I want. But the story is too crowded, and that exacerbates my wanting.

Visually, Monster Society is a treat. A Golden Age art style would look bizarre in modern comics, but Smith does a good job of marrying his smooth, clear, detailed style to Beck’s vintage work. Smith somehow manages to keep the art looking active while maintaining the Golden Age’s less kinetic style; the compromise makes the panels frequently look as if they were photographs, captured in the middle of one of Marvel’s short-armed swings or stiff-arms-at-the-side flight sequences. Smith also takes some of the character’s older aspects, such as Captain Marvel’s eyeless squint and media mogul Sterling Morriss’s pupil-less pince nez, and incorporates it into the art. It looks so clear, so bright, so sharp that in many ways it’s what I think the Golden Age should be.

I really wanted to like Monster Society, and there is a lot to like: Smith’s art and light sense of humor, for instance, and his desire to make this hearken back to the original character. But I think that last one led him astray and made him put a little too much into the story, and it suffers somewhat for it.

Rating: Captain Marvel symbol Captain Marvel symbol Captain Marvel symbol Half Captain Marvel symbol (3.5 of 5)

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11 January 2011

2010 in review

I had plans for a 2010 review as big as last year’s, listing my favorites (and least favorites) from among the books I reviewed this year. Unfortunately, the books I reviewed — 37 overall — tended toward the mediocre. (That’s not entirely fair; a rating of 3.5, which several books received, is above mediocre. A book that gets 3.5, in my opinion, is fun to read … but it’s not a book that inspires superlatives or a command to go out and buy the book.) So my list of books this year will be short:

  1. Birds of Prey, v. 5: Perfect Pitch and v. 6: Blood and Circuits: The antepenultimate and penultimate volumes of writer Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey run, these two were the apex of her work on the title. After finally shedding artist Ed Benes, Simone (coincidentally or not) was able to hone her characterization and sharpen her plots while retaining her customary witty dialogue. If forced to choose between the two, I would opt for Blood and Circuits because the developments in that book finally jolted the audience from some of its complacency about the safety of the team.
  2. Usagi Yojimbo, v. 24: Return of the Black Soul: Stan Sakai finally explained the origin of the demon Jei, focusing on the demon’s story for a tale that was not only frightening but surprisingly emotional. After 24 volumes of Usagi in more than 20 years, Sakai is still able to tell stories about the character and his world that are new and powerful.
  3. G-Man, v. 1: Learning to Fly and v. 2: Cape Crisis: I’m a big fan of Chris Giarrusso, so it’s no surprise I loved his two G-Man books. Filled with his distinctive humor — a combination of subtle sight gags, running jokes, and absurdist dialogue — G-Man still manages to have an interesting plot, and Giarrusso seems to never forget how the world seems to children.

I actually did better than I thought with the timeliness of the reviews, although given how badly I thought I did, that’s not saying much; still, nearly half the reviews were of books that came out in 2010. Fortunately, G-Man, v. 2, and Usagi Yojimbo, v. 24, were among those, so they’re my picks of 2010. Honorable mention goes to Batwoman: Elegy, the beautiful but occasionally flawed book by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III.

The worst books I read this year were The Pulse, v. 2: Secret War and Gigantic. Writer Brian Michael Bendis, who occasionally puts out some great stuff, also generates some of the worst, and The Pulse was about as low as this blog goes: a frequently incomprehensible decompressed mess with bad characterization, saved from a 0 rating only by art from Michael Lark and Brent Anderson. Gigantic, by writer Rick Remender and artist Dustin Nguyen, was a high-concept piece that unfortunately did not live up to the promise of the concept; the writing veered from weird to surprisingly unsurprising, and Nguyen’s scratchy art didn’t help matters either. Since Gigantic was the one that came out this year, it gets my “Worst of the Year” tag despite being better than The Pulse.

What was the best (or worst) collected edition / graphic novel you read this year?

Previous year-end wrap ups:

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10 January 2011

Buy two, by the bye

Two things I forgot to mention in my post last week about where to get graphic novels:

1. Edward R. Hamilton is an online remainderer that has recently been offering discounted graphic novels. Currently, there are more than 200 Marvel books and 70 Dark Horse books available. As you can imagine, the selection is a little sparse, but when you can pick up some Marvel Essentials for $2.95 (like both volumes of Essential X-Factor and Essential Wolverine, v. 4), then that’s not something you complain about. Most of the books are more than half off, with some being as ridiculously discounted as the Essentials I mentioned. Other publishers are also available. DC books are offered, but their discounts are generally Amazon level (which is good) rather than a ridiculous 50 to 75 percent off. Shipping is a flat $3.95, whether you buy one book or 100. To find comics, I find it easiest to search for the publishers’ names under their search box (and select the “publisher” radio box as well).

2. Your local library is a no-cost option. Many libraries are adding graphic novels, since people, you know, read them. And more of them are actually adding popular books, as my soon-to-be-released book advises, instead of copying lists of The 50 Greatest Graphic Novels. I am privileged to have access to both a public library and a university library (through my wife, who works at one), and both offer collected editions. Check out your library; check out the books to let the library know what you like. If the library has a suggestion box, suggest other collected editions to buy. If you really want a book the library doesn’t have, ask them to interlibrary loan it for you. (Since it costs them money and hours to ILL books, they’ll get the point even faster through this method). To find graphic novels at libraries, it’s easiest to shelf browse, unfortunately. Some libraries might have standard subject or name headings for their collections, though; poke around in your library’s catalog to see.

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08 January 2011

Promethea, Book 5

Collects: Promethea #26-32 (2003-5)

Released: August 2006 (DC / ABC)

Format: 200 pages / too much color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401206208

What is this?: Sophie is flushed out of hiding, allowing Promethea to finish her mission to end the world.

The culprits: Writer Alan Moore and artist J.H. Williams III

I really enjoyed Promethea when I started reading the series. Book One showed a lot of promise, exploring the novel (to comics) concepts of magic and reality using a context very similar to traditional superhero origins. The bloom was off the magic rose a bit in Book Two, as writer Alan Moore’s script became more concerned with dialogues about magic than with telling a story. Those dialogues essentially devolved into monologues in Books Three and Four, with any action or development50 shunted to the side in favor of philosophy, tarot, numerology, kabala, and other religious / magical matters. The presence of artist J.H. Williams III has been a mitigating factor in the decline of enjoyability of the book, but it couldn’t staunch my overall loss of interest. Frankly, if I didn’t finish Promethea soon, I was never going to finish it.

Promethea, Book 5 coverI was curious to know whether Promethea, Book 5 would be more like the earlier books or Books Three and Four. Fortunately, for all but the last issue, it’s more like Books One and Two. At the beginning, Sophie is in hiding from the authorities, afraid to let Promethea come out and betray her position. She has constructed a new life, has a new boyfriend, and generally seems to be OK in the fictional Millennium City, home to another of Moore’s ABC titles, Tom Strong. Strong, the perfect science hero, finds Sophie in short order after the FBI asks him to, and the plot begins.

Which is that Promethea will bring about the end of the world. Why? Because God or gods said so, although I don’t remember reading that command in any previous book, and the urgency of the command seems to come from nowhere. However, I’ll admit my memory might be hazy, and stick to the book at hand. … So Promethea flies to New York and by her very presence starts altering reality. Time is out of joint; people succumb to madness; the landscape transforms into a new, psychedelic skyline. In this post-9/11 world, the heroes have to put things right before the government nukes New York, while Promethea calmly goes about her job, talking to people while the disturbances that will end the world radiate from her.

The parts with Promethea are boring, however. She smiles, and talks, as the world falls apart around her. My interest was piqued by the efforts of Moore’s other ABC “science heroes” — including my favorite, Jack B. Quick — to forestall Armageddon. The Five Swell Guys, now down to four after 9/11, wrap up a Painted Doll loose end that was buried under Promethea’s magic quest in Books Three and Four. The Swell Guys’ and the Painted Doll’s scenes are the only ones that seem to have much life; most of the rest involves other characters being confused by everything while Promethea smiles. I will say Moore has the courage to pull the trigger on Armageddon — although after Watchmen, I’m sure no one doubted that — and he wraps up everyone’s stories in Promethea #31, the penultimate issue.

The final issue … man, I appreciate Moore was trying to do something big with #32, something memorable and possibly unique. And he gets points for that. But printing the final issue of Promethea so that the backgrounds would form two Impressionist-style poster portraits of the eponymous heroine doesn’t work out so well in collected form. There is a smaller version of the poster bound in the back of the book, so you can get the idea of what it looked like in the original. But reading each page in succession is an eye-throbbing chore that literally gave me a headache: orange and blue backgrounds, with yellow and navy line art and black, red, white, and blue word balloons is a painful, brainsplitting mess on the page. You might think that 32 pages of naked Prometheas would make up for part of that. You would be wrong.

And was it worth reading Professor Moore’s last lecture? No, not really. Moore uses #32 to sum up his arguments and make one last push at convincing the readers. It doesn’t work for me because once the story recedes and the message becomes obvious, I’m much more resistant to it. If it’s the background of the story, worked into the narrative, I’ll think about it and consider it … for at least the time it takes to read the story, if not longer. If the message is obvious, I read it as the same improbable parapsychological theories I’ve read and rejected before — as I did here.

Still, God bless Williams for sticking with Moore. This had to be a difficult task, illustrating a comic that is somewhere between metatextual criticism, magical doctrine, and a superhero story, but Williams is up to the task. He apes the styles of the other ABC artists — Rick Veitch, Chris Sprouse, and Kevin Nowlan, for instance — with aplomb, and as he has shown with previous books in the series, he can shift styles when the story demands it. I wasn’t convinced by the “realistic” style that envelops the characters as Armageddon hits, and that last issue doesn’t really work on the micro level, but Williams’s work is still the highlight of the book.

Unfortunately, Book Five is just not that enjoyable. If it hadn’t been the last book in the series, it would have been for me; there’s nothing compelling enough for me to want to read on, since I think I’ve heard all of Moore’s lecture. Fortunately, the story ran out at the same time my interest did.

Rating: America’s Best Comics symbol America’s Best Comics symbol (2 of 5)

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05 January 2011

Buy, by the bye

So for the first post of the year, I’m going to write about something I had planned to discuss at the beginning of last year: where do you get your trade paperbacks? Or maybe I should say, Where should you get your trade paperbacks?

The answer should be obvious: Your Local Comic Shop is the place to satisfy all your comic-related needs. It supports a local business, it can help center and preserve the local comic-book community, and the proprietor (or clerk) might be able to guess, from your purchases, titles that you might also like but have not read yet. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite work out for me when I tried it last year. I look for three things when it comes to purchasing locally: timeliness, price, and reliability. There are two comic shops in town, so I tried them both in turn.

The first allowed customers to pre-order TPBs and hardbacks using ComiXology’s Web site, which was a nice perk; unfortunately, pre-ordering was allowed only for the current month of Previews,, and books that were already out couldn’t be ordered. Occasionally there were miscommunications somewhere in the line, and I would go in to the shop, expecting to find a book waiting for me, and it wouldn’t be there. Since that shop was on the far side of town, where I had no reason to go, it made it seem like a chore to stop by; also, the store offered no discounts on trades, even when pre-ordered, so I decided to give the other store a chance.

The second store had advantages: it was closer to where I lived; it was in a part of town I often went to, even when I didn’t plan on going there; it was where I went to play Heroclix on the weekends. Comic Shop B offered a discount on comics that, while not reaching Amazon levels, was enough for me to overlook the difference. The problem was that since I did not have regular titles I was buying — I couldn’t tell the owner to pull all the issues of Green Lantern, for instance — I had no pull list, and my comics got misplaced … onto the sales racks, as an example that really happened. It turned out to be more of a hassle than it was worth to get the TPBs I wanted from that shop.

Which meant the Internet was my best choice, and Amazon the obvious option. But when it came to timeliness, Amazon was a bad choice — books were released two weeks to two months after they were available in comic book stores. (I don’t know why timeliness was such a concern to me; I think I had planned to review books in a more timely manner. So much for that idea …). Still, I buy most of my comics from Amazon, and as regular readers may have noticed, this site is an Amazon affiliate. There are other Internet options, but given the delays of buying from the Internet (shipping time plus the grouping of all your order into one shipment), they generally weren’t much better on timeliness, and Amazon’s discounts were as good or better. Still, over the years I have used Dreamland Comics,, Mail Order Comics, Discount Comic Book Service, Mile High Comics, and even Smoky Mountain Books, which had absurdly low prices but limited selection (and wouldn’t combine shipping). I didn’t have a good reason for stopping using any of them — except for Dreamland Comics, who kept getting orders wrong, wouldn’t ship me the comics I had paid for, and generally stopped communicating with me. (Perhaps they’ve fixed the situation since then; that was about half a decade ago.) Now, when I don’t use Amazon, I buy from My Comic because they send a discount code for certain types of comics every week and ordering from them allows me to fill in single issues that I’ve missed (mostly from ‘70s and ‘80s comics). Their prices on older titles are reasonable, which I appreciate.

So — that’s my experience with buying comics. Anyone out there have any recommendations or experiences to relate?

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