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

26 April 2011

DC July 2011 solicitations (collected editions)

Leaving out the “new editions” this month:

Will buy:

Once again, nothing this month. Sorry, DC! Might buy eventually:

  • New Teen Titans: Games (hardcover): A new OGN by the classic New Teen Titans team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Color me intrigued. ($24.99)
Might buy if the price is right:

  • Joe the Barbarian (hardcover): Is Joe an 11-year-old hallucinating diabetic, or is he a fantasy hero? With Grant Morrison, you never know. ($29.99)
  • Team-Ups of the Brave and the Bold: It’s fashionable — and correct — to dump on J. Michael Straczynski currently, but that doesn’t mean he can’t write. ($17.99)

  • Deus Ex ($17.99)
  • Resident Evil: I was going to say something about the irrelevancy of video-game comic books until I read the last line of the solicit: “Veteran mercenary Holiday Sugarman is sent to remote Grezbekistan; when his team is wiped out by G-Virus infected militiamen, he must face G-Prime – alone.” I cannot take Grezbekistan or “Holiday Sugarman” seriously as names, and it makes no sense to me that “Holiday” is a “he.” I mean: obviously, “Holiday” is a girl’s name. ($19.99)
  • World of Warcraft, Book 4: Written by the Simonsons (and Mike Costa), the solicitation is full of that fantasy cliché: the name with the apostrophe in it. What does an apostrophe mean in the middle of Med’an and Cho’gall? For that matter, what does the double “a” in Meraad mean? Do I stretch out that last syllable? Muraaaaaaaaaad. ($14.99)
  • World of Warcraft: Curse of the Worgen (hardcover): Oh no. The Worgen. Why are they cursed? What are they? I don’t play WoW, so this is not aimed at me, but I was curious as to what they were; they are exactly what I thought they would be: wolf men. ($22.99)
The Rest:

  • 99 Days (hardcover) ($19.99)
  • Batman: Impostors: The contents of this one are “collected from Detective Comics #867-891.” I was set to criticize DC for not telling us the actual contents of the 128-page book, but then I realized Detective is up to only #880 in July. Typo! I assume that should be #871? ($14.99)
  • Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories: According to Amazon, the hardcover version of this Paul Dini / Bruce Timm Batman Adventure collection is out of print. These are highly regarded stories, so it’s a good thing DC put it back in print. ($17.99)
  • Batman: Under the Red Hood: Oh, joy. The Red Hood. Can’t wait. ($29.99)
  • Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!: Back in Black: Written by Art Baltazar, who does the Tiny Titans. Could be good. ($12.99)
  • Brightest Day, v. 3 (hardcover): The final volume of the “spectacular” series. Yay! ($29.99)
  • Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story ($19.99)
  • Doom Patrol: Fire Away ($19.99)
  • Fogtown: This is a noir comic set in 1950s San Francisco, with a an allegedly “deeply closeted” PI. It ends, according to the solicitation, with a “horrifying, gender-bending truth.” Vertigo! ($12.99)
  • Green Lantern Corps: The Weaponer (hardcover): “Learn why no one in the universe messes with Sinestro and lives to tell the tale!” Except that Hal Jordan messes with Sinestro all the time and has lived (except that time when he was dead, but Sinestro had nothing to do with the little yellow space bug). ($22.99)
  • Justice League of America: Omega (hardcover; $24.99)
  • Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth Omnibus, v. 1 (hardcover): It’s odd — the same sort of completist nostalgia I find normal in Marvel material I find baffling with DC. My prejudices showing, I suppose. In any event, it’s a Jack Kirby omnibus, which will drive up sales no matter how goofy I find the premise. ($49.99)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes 2: Consequences (hardcover) ($24.99)
  • Madame Xanadu, v. 4: Extra Sensory ($17.99)
  • Supergirl: Bizarrogirl: Bizarro! I love you! ($19.99)
  • Superman / Batman: Night and Day ($17.99)
  • Superman: The Black Ring, v. 2 (hardcover): Another volume of Paul Cornell’s “Lex Luthor starring in Action Comics.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. ($29.99)
  • Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane Archives, v. 1 (hardcover): Ten issues for $60. Eh, no thanks; that price tag killed any curiosity I might have had. ($59.99)

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22 April 2011

X-Factor, v. 8: Overtime

Collects: X-Factor #46-50 and X-Factor Special: Layla Miller (2008, 2009)

Released: April 2010 (Marvel)

Format: 168 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785138372

What is this?: Madrox’s sojourn in the Summers Rebellion ends, and the present-day team deals with the mysterious Cortex.

The culprits: Writer Peter David and penciler Valentine de Landro

The third volume of X-Factor is a title that has changed a great deal from its original concept. In the beginning, writer Peter David made the X-Factor into the name of a detective agency helping those in Mutant Town, a sort of mutant noir book. And then Mutant Town went away when Scarlet Witch made mutants go away. And then even dealing with former mutants and whatever crap was going on with Sentinels and the like in other X-titles wasn’t part of the book either.

So I’m up to X-Factor, v. 8: Overtime, and what do we have? Time travel. Layla Miller. A dystopic future. The Summers Rebellion — a plot idea dropped by Bishop in the early ‘90s, for Magneto’s sake. As Madrox might say, time travel isn’t very noir.

X-Factor, v. 8: Overtime coverOvertime’s story is spread over two threads in two different time frames. In the future, Madrox tries to find out why one of Scott Summer’s soldiers vanished from time and space for a few seconds. This is quickly forgotten once Madrox enlists the help of the near-senile Victor von Doom; Doom tinkers and the interpersonal dynamics mark time until the climactic fight scene. In the present, an assassin from the future toys with the team during a big fight scene … until the fight scene in the future needs one of the participants.

I’m selling the present-day fight scene short, actually. It features David’s usual wit, and it gives each character something to do against Cortex, an assassin who annoyingly is invulnerable to physical damage. These kinds of fights tend to have unimpressive resolutions — there’s a scientific device that works against the villain’s weaknesses or the heroes eventually punch the villain enough or there’s some sort of cheat. In this case, David combines the first and last of these in a way that doesn’t feel like a cheat or a cheap resolution. Cortex’s invulnerability does give the fight scene a reason to continue through four issues, and it allows some great character moments from M and Siryn. On the other hand, the revelation of Cortex’s identity, while unexpected, isn’t one of the top reveals I’ve ever seen; it feels like a clichéd resolution, even if it isn’t. I’m also not too wild about giving Shatterstar a new power — teleportation doesn’t fit too well into the power set of an otherdimensional gladiator, but these things happen in comics all the time.

The future storyline feels padded, although there are a few parts that are affecting. The reader feels Madrox’s frustration after he realizes he’s meeting mass murderer Trevor Fitzroy before he became evil yet can do nothing to stop Fitzroy’s dark future. Watching Victor von Doom slide into and out of senility was both sad and amusing, but fortunately, David elevated his appearance above that of a one-note joke. The romantic scenes between Layla and Madrox mostly worked from Layla’s point of view, but it seems a little soon after Jamie accepted Siryn’s marriage proposal (which, to be fair, was implicitly rescinded) for another romance. I sympathized with Layla’s frustration at watching events play out as she remembered them, feeling helpless to change anything.

When you have a character like Layla, who “knows stuff,” you have to make sure everything fits together at the end. And it does — the villain’s motivation is tied up with his origin, Fitzroy has a reason for the terrible things he does, and Layla’s knowledge and abilities are explained. The Layla Miller one shot takes her story from when she made Madrox abandon her in a mutant concentration camp during Messiah CompleX until she shows up at the end of X-Factor, v. 7: Time and a Half. I’m surprised how this issue ties everything together; looking back over the character's history, it’s amazing how David has managed to take Layla Miller from a plot device in House of M into an actual, breathing character. Now, if he could only do the same with some of the adversaries he comes up with …

The art comes from Valentine de Landro, who has been the title’s regular artist since the end of v. 6: Secret Invasion. I find it hard to get worked up about de Landro’s work. It’s good, professional quality work, and it generally tells the story well. On the other hand, it frequently makes Madrox’s dupes unrecognizable as dupes. In a couple of scenes, his “angry M” looks more like “middle-aged M.” Still, I have no overall complaints about his work, and any artist I don’t have a few nitpicks about probably doesn’t have a style.

I’m still not convinced by this direction — this time travel and Summers Rebellion stuff — but parts of it were dictated by line-wide crossovers, and most of it ends with this book. (Unless you count the Layla Miller plotlines.) David has done a good job with what he has been given — especially the Layla part — and now we can shuffle it into the background and not have to worry about it again.

Rating: X-Men symbol X-Men symbol X-Men symbol (3 of 5)

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19 April 2011

Marvel July 2011 solicitations (collected editions)

Will be picking up:

  • Avengers Academy, v. 1: Permanent Record: This is more what I had in mind when I picked up Avengers: The Initiative (sans the stupid Initiative crap): a genuine team of superpowered youngsters, mentored by real Avengers. ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785148906)
  • Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis, v. 3: It’s titled “Alan Davis,” but the contents contain a significant portion of Scott Lobdell. Just so you know; I don’t want you caught off guard like you were with that “Taco Bell” and “beef” shocker. ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785155430)

Might buy eventually:

  • Avengers Academy, v. 2: Will We Use This in the Real World? (hardcover): Won’t know if I want this until I pick up the first volume; it would seem to me that you’d want to have the TPB out for a month or so before putting this out, since it would let readers realize they like the title and want to read the next volume when they see it on the shelves. At least this does come out one week after the TPB. ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785144960)

Might buy if the price is right:

  • Spider-Man: The Complete Ben Reilly Epic, Book 1: I think this renaming of the Clone Saga is a smart idea — at some volume number, people’s innate caution was going to get in the way of their curiosity and stop people from buying more volumes. Giving it a new name separates it from the increasing stink the Clone Saga generated as it went along. ($39.99; ISBN: 9780785155454)


  • Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Strange Tales, v. 5 (hardcover) ($64.99; ISBN: 9780785150169)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk, v. 6 (hardcover) ($59.99; ISBN: 9780785150435)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The X-Men, v. 3 ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785150701)

Already have or read:

  • Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, v. 5: Other than the Death of Jean DeWolff, I remember the issues in this volume (#97-114) being a bit of a downswing for the title. Does have some of Peter David’s first comic work, though. ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785118862)
  • New Mutants Classic, v. 6: Contains the shocking issue where Larry Bodine is encouraged to commit suicide by Mary Worth. (I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether Mary Worth is doing the encouraging, or if “Mary Worth” is a method of committing suicide. If you decide the latter, please leave a comment telling me what that method involves.) ($29.99; ISBN: 9780785155447)
  • New X-Men by Grant Morrison, Book 3: Rolling through one of Morrison’s most impressive mainstream successes. ($14.99; ISBN: 9780785155034)
  • X-Men by Chris Claremont & Jim Lee Omnibus, v. 1: I can almost hear Marvel saying: Why can’t it the late ‘80s, when occasionally a comic book issue would sell hundreds of thousands of copies, the X-Men were on the top of the heap, and everything made sense? (Except for some of Claremont’s long-term plots, that is.) ($125; ISBN: 9780785158226)
  • X-Men: X-Cutioner’s Song (hardcover): The first comic book issue I ever bought was part of this crossover — X-Men #14 — so I have an irrational fondness for X-Cutioner’s Song. Still, you couldn’t get me to pay $50 for a hardcover edition of the story. ($49.99; ISBN: 9780785156109)

Licensed books:

  • Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Circus of the Damned, Book 2: The Ingenue (hardcover): That’s a mouthful of a title. Actually, I think there’s more action in that title than there is in the book. ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785146902)
  • Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead (hardcover): Bring out your dead! Orson Scott Card wants to speak to them! ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785135869) Oz: The Marvelous Land of Oz: I’ve been there. Not so “marvelous.” Tourist trap, really. ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785140870)
  • The Stand: No Man’s Land (hardcover): The Stand juggernaut rolls ever onward, whether or not you actually want it to. ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785136248)

The Rest:

  • Art of Marvel Studios (hardcover): This four-book collection actually contains last month’s Captain America: The Art of Captain America: The First Avenger plus the “art of” titles for three other movies: Thor and Iron Man 1 and 2. Unless you are interested in production artwork or are in that profession, I can’t see why you’d want to drop this much money on a collection like this. ($150; ISBN: 9780785153320)
  • Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine (hardcover): It took almost a year to put out five issues of this miniseries, but they did manage to get the hardcover out only two months after the final issue came out. Good job! ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785148906)
  • Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, v. 1 ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785145042)
  • Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, v. 2 (hardcover): This actually comes out a fortnight before v. 1. Well played, Marvel. And by “well played,” I mean the opposite. ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785145042)
  • Black Panther: The Man without Fear, v. 1: Urban Jungle: Will this be the relaunch of Black Panther that will finally bear fruit? (Hint: No.) ($16.99; ISBN: 9780785145233)
  • Black Widow: Kiss or Kill ($12.99; ISBN: 9780785147015)
  • Captain America: Hail Hydra: “Hail, HYDRA! Immortal HYDRA! We shall never be destroyed! Cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place! We serve none but the Master — as the world shall soon serve us! Hail HYDRA!” Sorry about that. I have no idea what this series is about, but I just wanted to type that in. I love it when a terrorist organization takes its mythology so seriously. ($14.99; ISBN: 9780785151272)
  • Captain America: Red Glare (hardcover): I am a little frightened by the lack of Captain America titles this month, given that this is the month the movie actually comes out. Cap gets only three titles, and in one of those (X-Men / Steve Rogers: Escape from the Negative Zone), he doesn’t even get top billing. Oh, wait — there’s a fourth: Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier, although that one doesn’t exactly sell the Captain America brand all that well. ($29.99; ISBN: 9780785158950)
  • Casanova: Gula: Reprinting the first four issues second volume of Casanova. ($14.99; ISBN: 9780785148630)
  • Daken / X-23: Collision (hardcover): Spawn of Wolverine, unite! ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785147077)
  • Deadpool Pulp ($14.99; ISBN: 9780785148715)
  • Deadpool, v. 6: I Rule, You Suck: Only two Deadpool titles as well … something’s wrong here. ($15.99; ISBN: 9780785151364)
  • Fantastic Four: 1234 (hardcover): Do you remember this one and the furor it raised? Unless you’re a diehard Grant Morrison fan, I’m betting the answer is “No.” (I bet the answer is “No” an awful lot. That’s why I’m rich enough to pay the bills with reviewing trade paperbacks.) ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785158967)
  • Hawkeye: Blindspot ($15.99; ISBN: 9780785156017)
  • Incredible Hulks: Planet Savage ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785151593)
  • Marvel Point One: This one should have “Miscellaneous: For Completists Only” stamped on the cover and the spine. ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785156260)
  • Millar & McNiven’s Nemesis: Oh, look who’s Mr. High and Mighty, has to have his name before the name of the book. Has Mark Millar really gotten to be that important? (I do appreciate that he’s included Steve McNiven in the title; it’s only right.) ($14.99; ISBN: 9780785148661)
  • New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, v. 1: More Bendis! That makes three Bendis-titled Avenger volumes this month alone! Oh, happy day! ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785148739)
  • Onslaught Unleashed (hardcover): This book stars the Young Allies and Secret Avengers. Of course it’s named “Onslaught Unleashed.” ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785157762)
  • Secret Avengers, v. 1: Mission to Mars ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785146001)
  • Spider-Man / Fantastic Four ($14.99; ISBN: 9780785144236)
  • Spider-Man: Am I an Avenger?: I think this volume will answer its own question just by the title alone. And that answer is “No.” ($29.99; ISBN: 9780785157496)
  • Spider-Man: Big Time: Is it usual to have two Amazing Spider-Man TPBs come out in a month? I’m not sure … ($14.99; ISBN: 9780785146247)
  • Spider-Man: Blue: A Loeb / Sale joint. You know if you want it or not. ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785110712)
  • Spider-Man: Origin of the Species: Big Time reprints barely a month’s worth of comics, but Origin is a couple of months worth. Why not space these books out a little more? Is there some crunch coming in the months ahead? Is Marvel trying to catch up? ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785146223)
  • Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier ($14.99; ISBN: 9780785148791)
  • Thor: Black Galaxy Saga: And there’s only two Thor volumes this month. Weird. Spooky. Where will the next movie push come from? ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785150954)
  • Thor: Spiral ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785150893)
  • Thunderbolts: Violent Rejection ($15.99; ISBN: 9780785152217)
  • Wolverine by Jason Aaron Omnibus, v. 1 (hardcover): I do love the idea of omnibuses, but is there a market for a Jesse Aaron Wolverine book? I think of omnibuses as vehicles for older material and for critically acclaimed runs, and I haven’t heard that much about Aaron’s run, really. ($99.99; ISBN: 9780785156390)
  • Wolverine: The Best There Is: Contagion (hardcover) ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785144465)
  • Wolverine: Wolverine vs. the X-Men (hardcover) ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785147862)
  • X-Factor: Scar Tissue (hardcover): I get X-Factor in TPB, not hardcovers, but I always get X-Factor, so I have nothing to say about this one. ($24.99; ISBN: 9780785152835)
  • X-Men / Steve Rogers: Escape from the Negative Zone (hardcover) ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785155607)
  • X-Men Legacy: Aftermath (hardcover) ($19.99; ISBN: 9780785156352)

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12 April 2011

A few notes on the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, A-Z, v. 1

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, A-Z, v. 1 coverI’m slowly working my way through the first volume of the new, hardcover The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, A to Z, and even though I’m barely into the B’s, there are a few things I can tell you about it as opposed to the previous edition:

1) The entries seem to have a greater level of detail than the original, which frequently had only a paragraph or two about the history of minor characters while concentrating on powers and vital stats. I don’t know if my perception here is correct; maybe I’m wrong, or maybe there has been so much history over the past 20 years that the entries had to grow.

2) That level of detail does expose some truly idiotic character twists over the past quarter century or so. Every character who has more than a one-page entry has a history that advances in two or three different ways, then gets reset before the next avenue of development can be explored. I applaud the Handbook for unflinchingly laying this stupidity in front of his, and I know the purpose of a reference book isn’t to make excuses or justify the material it’s recording, but there are times when I just want the book to try to give an overriding reason for all these stupid directions. I do appreciate the occasional moments when the writer gives up trying to make sense of what’s going on, adding phrases like “for unknown reasons” or “strangely” to the histories.

3) There are too many entries that make me groan at the thought of reading. Do I want to read three pages about the Annunaki, the Babylonian pantheon, or the 2020 A.D. timeline? (That’s one page more than the 2099 timeline, which supported multiple titles.) No. No, I do not want three pages about either topic. I don’t want to read one page about them, really. And sometimes these drier entries go on too long; the original Handbook had two pages on Atlantis and two on Atlanteans, while the new edition combines the entries into five pages on Atlantis.

4) And there are questionable choices. There’s no entry on Attilan, but minor Goliath / Iron Man villain Atom Smasher and Infinity Abyss plot device Atleza get their own pages? I suppose Attilan could be in the Inhumans entry, though, and I do enjoy minor villains getting their due.

5) Speaking of getting their due: all pictures are credited to the artists on the same page as the illustration. Even the smaller and inset drawings are credited … to the correct penciler, at least.

6) The original Handbook had large pictures of the characters accompanying each entry. The new version scales down the size of these pictures while still keeping them a useful size.

7) There are other areas of design that have been improved. The paper is better, the text is larger, the margins and spacing have been adjusted to add more white space. The headings for each entry’s sections are in red print, setting them apart from the mass of black text.

8) That being said, these advances come at a price. The original, definitive Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Deluxe Edition (OHotMUDE) came in 20 issues, each retailing for $1.50, and I was able to find them for less than that today online. Each volume of the new Handbook retails for $24.99, and there are twelve volumes. (Each set had their additions afterwards, but we’ll leave those aside for the moment.) So the original goes for about $25 or $30; the new Handbook set retails for about ten times that, although if you can get a discount, you might be able to knock it down to $180 or $200. That’s pretty steep. But it does look pretty, I have to admit.

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08 April 2011

Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic, v. 1

Collects: Ghost Rider, v. 2, #1-10 (1990-1)

Released: November 2009 (Marvel)

Format: 264 pages / color / $29.99 / ISBN: 9780785137351

What is this?: A new Ghost Rider, proclaiming himself the Spirit of Vengeance, takes to the streets of New York.

The culprits: Writer Howard Mackie and penciler Javier Saltares

Part the First: Why was this so popular; or, The ‘90s were a weird time

Despite Gambit Classic not being a very good book, I can understand the popularity of the title character — Gambit is a mysterious rogue who appears to be on the side of heroes, appearing in the most popular comic book of the time. He’s anti-authoritarian. He shows himself equal and similar to Marvel’s most popular mutant, Wolverine. I don’t necessarily agree with that popularity now. But the rationalization makes sense.

Ghost Rider, v. 2 … It’s a nice visual. I get that. But the stories that started the series, reprinted in Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic, v. 1, aren’t good. At all. Was it just that we enjoyed unfettered violence against criminals? Or were we looking for something empty of deep thought, a sort of guilty pleasure that wasn’t a pleasure and should have made us feel something deeper than guilt? (A super-guilt, perhaps.) Maybe after a decade out of circulation, the public was in the mood for a new Ghost Rider, someone who aped the outward form of the character without any of the (God help me) depth the Johnny Blaze version had?

I don’t know. I don’t think I’m going to figure it out either.

Part the Second: Howard Mackie; or, The architect of sins

No, I’m not going to think about writer Howard Mackie right now. For all my sins, I don’t deserve that.

Ghost Rider: Danny Katch Classic, v. 1 coverPart the Third: Ghost Rider himself; or, The old hero is a new flame

Who is this Ghost Rider? He’s the Spirit of Vengeance, or so he says. Beyond that? I don’t know. Does he have any connection to the previous Ghost Rider? Not that I can see, and in ten issues, he doesn’t really seem to care that much. He does like vengeance quite a bit, and he’s big on the innocents. He has a “penance stare,” which essentially sears the souls of evildoers. Nothing wrong with that, but everyone uniformly calls it the “penance stare” for some reason, without that name being publicized or, you know, obvious. Perhaps he also likes long walks on the shores of Hell and pina coladas. I don't know.

And what about the new host, Danny Ketch? Who is he? I don’t know much about him, either. You would thing, as the hero, we would get to know him. After ten issues, what we know is:

  1. He is a bike messenger of some sort. I think. When the series started, I thought he was a high schooler, but evidently, he’s 19.
  2. He lives at home, with his mother. She’s not bothered when he mysteriously brings home a motorcycle.
  3. He has a … girlfriend? I think that’s the role Stacy Dolan is supposed to fill, but she doesn’t act affectionately toward Danny, and he doesn’t act like he notices she’s a member of the same species, let alone a female. He certainly gives her no reason to like him, and she doesn’t come across as someone that interested in Danny.

That’s it. Ten issues, and that’s it. Danny has the internal life of a goldfish and a good deal less personality.

Part the Fourth: Villians; or, How to make Ghost Rider look well developed

These are who the Ghost Rider fights: Deathwatch. Blackout. Kingpin. Flag Smasher. Masque. Scarecrow. A serial killer named Zodiac. (Or Zodiak — both spellings are used.) Mr. Hyde. The H.E.A.R.T. Corporation, a group of female mercenaries, for Mephisto’s sake. With the exception of the Kingpin, who was about to fall anyway, to call these villains sad is to demean sadness.

The original adversaries are the worse. The H.E.A.R.T. Corporation is an embarrassment, a team of bad girls without the lack of restraint or T&A to appeal to the audience they were designed for; since they appeared in the early ‘90s rather than the late ‘90s, perhaps they were just ahead of their time. Zodiac is utterly generic, except he was given the name of a real, attention-loving serial killer who murdered five people in the Bay Area twenty years before Ghost Rider and was never caught. Blackout is the real nemesis of Ghost Rider, doing him the most damage, but his ability to shut off the lights and his feral nature don’t really work together as well as they should — instead of being creepy, he’s annoying. Deathwatch is a generic corporate thuglord.

As for the pre-existing characters, the Kingpin comes across as a generic corporate thuglord. The Scarecrow, a minor villain, gets a grim ‘n’ gritty makeover and becomes emblematic of the ranting morons who opposed the more violent comic book heroes of the ’90s. Masque never shows up, having the good sense to stay in a Rob Liefeld book. (Not often you can say that.) Flag Smasher is Flag Smasher; nothing that happens is a discredit to such a goofy villain, and the idea of arming inner city youth to destroy a country isn’t the worst in the world.

I will, through gritted teeth, admit to enjoying Mr. Hyde’s issue. He’s trapped as his alter ego, Calvin Zabo, but he still acts the same way he did when he was Hyde — hitting on waitresses and picking fights with bikers. That goes about as well as expected, and we get the same kind of scenes with him as we usually do with inexperienced heroes: the civilian ID huddling in some corner and hoping, almost praying for the superpowers to kick in. It almost makes me feel sorry for Hyde, and then he starts hurting people, so that goes away. And then Ghost Rider shows up, and I don’t know what the hell to think.

Part the Fifth: Howard Mackie (again); or, If you have nothing nice to say

Howard Mackie has a family and friends who care about him. Presumably, he has parents and children who love him very much. They shouldn’t have to hear about what I think about Howard Mackie. Therefore, I will pass over Mr. Mackie at this time.

Also: Mark Gruenwald seemed to believe in Mackie’s talent. That’s something I have to digest before I say anything about him. On the other hand: Did you know Mackie wrote Ghost Rider for more than 5 ½ years without giving the Ghost Rider an origin? I have trouble believing in 5 ½ years of mindless violence on top of mindless violence, but it actually happened!

Part the Sixth: The art; or, I blame YOU

Danny Ketch has a great art team, with Javier Saltares providing the pencils and Mark Texeira doing the pencils. Saltares and Texeira are the only real draws for this book. Saltares has the sort of look you want for a book like this: gritty yet vivid, exaggerated while maintaining some sort of grounding in the real world. This is exciting art, although it does have its problems; subtle emotion — not that the script seems to deserve or call for it — seems to give Saltares trouble, and there are times when I just can’t figure out what the hell is going on. Like when some street punks squirt a homeless person with a water pistol and her jacket catches fire. What’s in that squirt gun? Or was it supposed to be an accelerant, which was lit on fire by something else? That makes sense, given that the punks later flip lit matches around.

A little off topic there, sorry. I’m not sure how that little thing annoyed me when there was so much out there to … Anyway. Texeira is a great artist, but I don’t know how to evaluate his inking here. Since the art looks generally excellent, I’ll assume he’s a good part of it.

Part the Seventh: Children in jeopardy; or, Is there a subtext in here?

There is a lot of violence against children here. A teenage gang / social club are menaced by the Kingpin and Deathwatch’s goons, and one of them (and Danny’s sister) get stabbed through the chest. Blackout murders an entire family — mother, father, and child. A subplot has Scarecrow murdering children. Flag Smasher arms kids, which necessitates Punisher and Ghost Rider beating some of them up. Zodiac isn’t really bad until he murders a child; the other four people, evidently, were understandable. Masque kidnaps kids for … I say “I don’t understand” a lot, but #8 and #9 are baffling. Why does Masque want kids? Why doesn’t he ever appear? Why do other mutants wander through the issues? Why does X-Factor show up without doing anything? Why is Pixie killed? I don’t know, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to know. Anyway, the kids seem to get the short end of the victim stick here.

About the time Mackie started writing Ghost Rider, he and his wife had their first daughter. Is it the concern of a new parent for his child? Resentment for the loss of youth, taken out on fictional surrogates? Or is violence against children just a topical news trend expressed on the comics page? I don’t know.

Part the Eighth: Howard Mackie (yet again); or, I can’t omit this, nor can I resist

Ghost Rider was Mackie’s first regular writing assignment. It shows. Although the these are recognizably, undeniably comic books in every way that matters, they don’t maintain that coherence once you start looking closely at them — much in the way a pointillist painting only resembles a representational canvas when you look at large parts of it but dissolves into meaningless points of color once you focus in too closely.

The characters are ill defined and raise not one iota of sympathy or even interest in the reader. Their emotional bonds are tenuous at best, dissolving into nothingness at the every panel border. The villains are cardboard at best and seatfillers at worst. The dialogue contains phrases no one has ever said before in the history of this or any other sentient species. The plots are meaningless violence piled upon meaningless violence, with deaths that are occasionally noted before the plot moves on.

Yet this series was popular, and its popularity allowed Mackie to get gigs writing Gambit, various Spider-Man titles, and X-Factor. I blame society, and by society, I mean everybody but me. Surely you need to step up and take responsibility, even though I bought this book and you might not have. Shame on you.

Part the Ninth: The Verdict; or, Good God, don’t buy this

Like many people, I’ve talked about how many comics creators have aped the “mature” approaches of Alan Moore and Frank Miller without understanding the subtleties of what’s they are doing. Danny Ketch Classic is a master class on that idea. The deaths pile up with little emotional weight. There’s nothing here that asks the reader to empathize or engage with the material on the page. Things happen; the Ghost Rider shows up to put an end to them; and then more things happen. It’s a pointless cycle without reason or an end. What is supposed to be the Ghost Rider’s moral gray area turns into a moral vacuum; not only are there no strong moral figures in the book, there’s no real expression of strong moral values.

I really disliked this book. I found it vacuous and bad and … and … agh my head hurts. Danny Ketch Classic is a leading cause of deep hurting.

I guess what I’m trying to say is if you’re looking for Saltares art, buy something else.

Rating: Half Marvel symbol (½ of 5)

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05 April 2011

Dark Horse and IDW June 2011 solicitations (collected editions)

Will be picking up: Nothing. Sorry, IDW and Dark Horse! It’s not your fault I have provincial tastes!

Might pick up eventually:

  • Dungeons & Dragons, v. 1: Shadowplague (hardcover): Comic adaptations of D&D are generally, well, crap. (Sorry, DC and everyone who worked on their ‘90s D&D comics!) Still, the idea of fantasy comics is a worthwhile one, as the various Conan comics point out and CrossGen noticed. So I might manage to pick this one up eventually and see if it’s a good story or if it’s awkwardly adapted game mechanics and traditions. ($24.99, 9781600109225; IDW)

Might pick up if the price is right:

  • Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities and the Ghastly Fiend of London, v. 2 ($15.99; Dark Horse)
  • Next Men, v. 1 (hardcover): This is the new series rather than a reprint of the series in the ‘90s. For those of us who didn’t read the original, IDW is also reprinting Next Men, v. 1, #1 for $1 under their 100 Penny Press banner. ($21.99, 9781600109249; IDW)

Competing 1940s Archie collections!:

  • Archie Archives, v. 2 (hardcover) ($49.99; Dark Horse)
  • Archie: Americana, v. 1: The '40s (hardcover): Which to choose? The IDW book is a compilation of two “Best of the Forties” books, according to the solicitations, and the Dark Horse book reprints material in chronological order. For the casual Archie enthusiast — and you know who you are; yes, you, sir, in the back of the Nebraska — Americana is probably the best idea, but the hard-core Archie fan (the ones who like their malteds double strong) will look forward to the Archives. ($24.99; 9781600109317; IDW)


  • Drifters, v. 1 ($$12.99; Dark Horse)
  • Eden: It’s an Endless World!, v. 13 ($12.99; Dark Horse)
  • Gantz, v. 18 ($12.99; Dark Horse)
  • Oh My Goddess!, v. 39 ($10.99; Dark Horse)

The Rest:

  • 30 Days of Night Prestige Edition: For those who want prestige in their horror comics. ($50, 9781600109560; IDW)
  • Angel, v. 3: The Wolf, the Ram, and the Heart ($24.99, 9781600109447; IDW)
  • B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, v. 1: New World: Tough to go wrong with Guy Davis art — I mean, if you can’t have Mignola, Davis would be in my top three choices — but for some reason I resist the BPRD books. Perhaps I’m recalling gradually getting sucked into auxiliary X-titles in ‘90s and transferring the dislike to all spinoff titles. ($19.99; Dark Horse)
  • Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery Archives, v. 6 (hardcover) ($49.99; Dark Horse)
  • Caniff ($49.99, 9781600109201; IDW)
  • Danger Girl Campbell Sketchbook (hardcover): There are people out there that still want this? Really? When did the last Danger Girl come out? (*checks notes*) OK, a mini in 2007, but J. Scott Campbell hasn’t drawn the book since a one-shot in 2004, and he hasn’t worked on more than Danger Girl issue in a year since last century. And why isn’t this coming out from Wildstorm / DC or Image, which are the companies that published Danger Girl in the first place? ($19.99; 9781600109218; IDW)
  • Deadworld Classics, v. 2 ($24.99, 9781600109256; IDW)
  • Flash Gordon Comic Book Archives, v. 4 (hardcover) ($49.99; Dark Horse)
  • G.I. Joe: Cobra, v. 4: Death of Cobra Commander ($17.99, 9781600109881; IDW)
  • Jericho: Season Three: Somewhere there is a Venn diagram that shows the overlap between Jericho fans and comic book readers, and I suspect that overlap is pretty tiny. ($19.99, 9781600109393; IDW)
  • Jurassic Park: The Devils in the Desert: I realize IDW is making a John Byrne push this month, but this is the best Byrne property it could find? ($17.99, 9781600109232; IDW)
  • Little Lulu, v. 28: The Prize Winner and Other Stories: Twenty-eight volumes of Little Lulu? Huh. ($14.99; Dark Horse)
  • Locke & Key, v. 4: Keys to the Kingdom (hardcover) ($24.99, 9781600108860; IDW)
  • Something Monstrous! ($17.99, 9781600109287; IDW)
  • Space Family Robinson Archives, v. 1 (hardcover): Collecting issues from Gold Key Comics … of an idea more famously adapted as Lost in Space. I ask this sarcastically sometimes, but I truly wonder who the audience for this collection is: comics historians? Nostalgic 40- or 50-somethings? Is this a lost gem that I just don’t know about? ($49.99; Dark Horse)
  • Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago..., v. 4: I’m not interested in this, but I have to admit, $25 for eighteen full-color issues is an excellent deal, even when you take the non-standard size into account. ($24.99; Dark Horse)
  • Star Wars: Knight Errant—Aflame ($17.99; Dark Horse)
  • Suicide Forest: Not to be confused with IDW’s Suicide Girls series. This sounds more like an American attempt at J-horror. ($17.99, 9781600109478; IDW)
  • Transformers Classics, v. 1 ($24.99, 9781600109355; IDW)
  • Transformers Prime, v. 3 ($7.99, 9781600109607; IDW)
  • Transformers: The Complete All Hail Megatron (hardcover) ($75, 9781600109553; IDW)

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