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Jason Schachat dreamed of his tricycle talking to him...
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdowns
January 31, 2005

Honestly, folks, why aren’t we making more giant robot comics, these days? The Japanese are slaughtering us in this market, and now Dreamwave’s Transformers is being put out to pasture. I ask you: have we learned nothing from economy car and personal stereo markets of the past?


Damn, we must be getting behind in education again, too…

Okay, well, imagine you’re writing Amazing Spider-Man. You’ve already reinterpreted Spidey’s origin, rewritten his history, and (through no fault of your own) lost the use of major nemeses to other series. It’s issue #516. The fans are crying out for your head on a pike. What do you do?

Why, you rewrite the character’s history and origin some MORE to create an ALL-NEW nemesis, of course!

If it's tingling, that means it's working...
To be fair, the seemingly impervious Charlie Weiderman did get his start last issue, but this month we see him rise from the ashes of his old lab wearing the supposedly indestructible skinsuit that promises to get some Spider-Senses tingling. When Peter Parker hears about the disastrous explosion over the morning news, he rushes out to the scene, but, as you might guess, Charlie has fled the scene, prompting a flashback sequence which reveals he may not have been such a nice guy after all.

I must say I’m really torn by this story. The present day sequences done by Mike Deodato and company look gorgeous, but half the book consists of ugly flashback sequences by Mark Brooks and a different production team. What makes it so hard to digest is the shoddy attempt to make it feel like a four-color flashback when NOTHING in the art feels Silver Age. It’s the kind of work I’d expect to see on one of the new Marvel Age titles; not Amazing Spider-Man.

And, much as I defend JMS’s extreme story choices, some of the simple details he writes here don’t work so well. Seeing someone as wise and peaceful as Uncle Ben beating the crap out of a group of teenagers just doesn’t ring true. Then seeing him suddenly and angrily forbid young Peter from being friends with Charlie puts the nails in the coffin.

As if that weren’t enough, we’re left to question why Peter would choose to defend the weak as Spider-Man when his first attempt to stick up for someone ended with them taking advantage of his kindness. Hell, we then have to wonder why Peter would help him do it on an even greater scale years later.

While I like some of the things going on and think the creators came up with a decent concept for a new villain, the execution just isn’t up to snuff. Hopefully, things will come together in an issue or two.

Then again, we said the same about the last Spidey arc, and look how THAT divided the fans.

But I don’t think anyone disagreed that the new volume of Amazing Fantasy was in big trouble, which is why the restart as Arana: Heart of the Spider #1 was quite a good idea. The original first issue of this storyline gave us a spidergirl who wasn’t Spider-Girl and did so very, very little in three issues that I gave up on the title completely. But all that’s changed, now… right?

Anya’s a full-fledged wallcrawler with her own unique powers these days (some kinda of carapace armor) and a group of spider-friends to help her save the world from the Sisterhood of the Wasp. After a standard beating of street thugs to get info on bigger fish, she and her pals saddle up to take out a crooked judge. If only Anya’s cold weren’t messing with her powers.

So, the good news is this issue gives us a definite good guy with an evil organization to fight and a mystery to uncover. The bad news is I still don’t really care. Fiona Avery’s solo work with the mystical spider origin she and JMS wrote into Spider-Man’s history just hasn’t done much for me. She’s got magical spider powers. Great. And?

Admittedly, the carapace is better than nothing, but it seems about as useful as rollerblading gear. I mean, what kind of ancient bloodline protects its avatars with a temperamental quasi-spider symbiote that leaves her torso unprotected? Sure, she’s kicking ass now, but Anya’s just waiting to be gutshot. All in all, this title’s gone from boring to mediocre. If that’s enough to earn your coin, so be it.

Somebody got a new box of crayons!
Robin #134 just weirded me out. It doesn’t push the limits of storytelling or make bold artistic strides. It doesn’t challenge notions of superheroes and their place in the world. It doesn’t force the reader to closely examine its details. Most of all, it doesn’t make sense.

Tim visits stepmom Dana at a rest home where she’s still recuperating from “War Games” (aren’t we all?), and, while she’s not well, we can also rest assured she’s not crazy. However, as Bruce Wayne discovers, she’s not Tim’s legal guardian, either. Left without a parent, Tim gets the surprise of his life when Bruce offers to actually adopt him and make him his son.

Strangely, Tim’s elated to hear this and sees it as the logical conclusion of everything that’s happened since he got involved with the Bat. He dances around Bludhaven, recounts some history for new readers, and somehow fails to notice the mysterious archer who’s shadowing him. Until he gets a chest full of arrows, that is.

So, the big question we’re left with is WHY Tim wants to be Bruce’s son after all the “I’ll never be Batman” tirades. We’ve seen these speeches a lot lately in Teen Titans and Robin, and, if it had just been Geoff Johns writing it, I could understand the sudden shift. However, getting this from Bill Willingham after Tim’s fear of becoming the Bat has driven him to Bludhaven… well, it’s pretty damn weird.

Tim’s return to high school seems like it might be a repeat of Willingham’s early arcs, but that ends when he screams at the student body to leave him the hell alone. At first, I was hoping the arrow-firing stranger might be a certain new rival of Tim’s from this month’s Green Arrow, but the method seems wrong, and I’m beginning to worry that Robin will get a new mentor in the form of his newly discovered long lost uncle (no, I’m not joking).

Robin went from being mundane to energetic and even inventive under Bill Willingham’s steady hand, but this post-War setting is starting to fall apart under a confusing characterization. Damion Scott’s art is hard on the eyes, but this month’s cover is absolute poison. This issue is much better for new readers than regular fans, but who’s going to plunk down cash when your cover looks like a convention sketch? I’m not giving up on Robin yet, but this outing won’t be much fun for anyone following the saga of Tim Drake.

The Simpsons may never end and Futurama was cut down in its prime, but the two Matt Groening series never managed the all-too-rare TV crossover. Well sir, unnecessary crossovers are why the good Lord gave us comics, and why have just one crossover when you can squeeze out more? That’s right; apparently Futurama Simpsons Infinitely Secret Crossover Crisis! wasn’t enough, so the folks at Bongo Comics are doing it again with The Simpsons Futurama Crossover Crisis II #1.

“Chapter One: Slaves of New New York” opens with the sudden appearance of every Simpsons character in the Futurama universe, prompting exclamations of surprise, “What the heck’s going on?”, and “Change the channel”. Eventually, Professor Farnsworth shows up and disperses flashback pills to explain the bizarre circumstance through a convenient plot device:

It seems the Prof. was attending yet another invention convention with his newly patented self-eating watermelon when he tripped and the stupid thing devoured itself. Thinking fast, Farnsworth remembers that the barriers between realities are still weak from the last crossover, so he rigs some pinking shears to an iPod with a shiny control nob and cuts up a Simpsons comic, releasing all the fictional characters into the real world to be used as cheap slave labor (one of the downsides of being fictional).

This is essentially a gagfest, relying on some cheap laughs, puns, reference humor, and familiarity with some characters from both series. That said, if you actually get the jokes, they’re pretty damn funny. The plot gets a little lost in the mix, but the same happens on Simpsons every week and you don’t see anyone complaining.

Most attempts at 3D comics are pretty nauseating, which is why I’m still baffled that The Symbiotes #3 works. I wouldn’t call it beautiful, masterful, or any of the other quote-friendly adjectives it clearly isn’t, but it’s damn impressive to see in a 50-page book by one artist (with some help from one other) actually come together like this.

The series’ story is both simple and absurdly complex, borrowing elements from Lord of the Rings, Total Recall, and numerous other Sci-fi plots to tell a tale of a group of rebels taking on an empire. The twist is that the rebels are super-powered part alien/part human warriors and the empire is a humans only club.

Having fought off the Human Empire’s forces in the last issue, the Symbiotes now drag along wounded human soldier Khalid after he stands up against the Empire. Meanwhile, his buddy Gustav infiltrates the Empire’s Academy after meeting with a mysterious stranger and confiding that he suspects Khalid is… different. True, Khalid did have an alien in his bloodline, but he’s still mostly human. Or is he?

There are a lot of problems with the art in this book, mostly coming from the same reliance on programs and templates we’ve seen in motion graphics since a the late nineties. Lens flares abound, cloth looks unreal, blurring covers up for mistakes, foregrounds lack detail, and backgrounds are cluttered. But, again, I’ll forgive a lot of that since it’s pretty much one guy putting the whole thing together.

And, surprisingly, it works. The plot combines enough solid elements to pull you in, weaving a bunch of threads into a fun adventure with a dose of mystery. If the creators could bring a few more artists to help on their graphics, I get the feeling this could do some good business. For now, we can just be content that the $2.99 price tag is a bargain for 50 pages of enjoyable 3D storytelling. Definitely give this one a flip.

Ultimate. Fantastic. Awesome.
I’ll admit that Ultimate Fantastic Four takes its time setting up simple events that are long-established in the Marvel Universe, but I’ll be damned if it ain’t fun. Ultimate Fantastic Four #15 finally takes us into the newly discovered N-Zone with the Four as they come to the conclusion that space is generally pretty boring. (Well, Reed and Sue are having a ball, but Ben and Johnny would rather be home playing PS2.)

Warren Ellis has had some fun applying his brilliant pseudo science to how the Four can possibly exist and how their bodies work, but here he devotes much of his exposition to the nature of the N-Zone and how it functions as a collapsing universe. Of course, he uses Reed and Sue as his mouthpieces, which drives Ben to take a spacewalk before his brain seizes up. Meanwhile, Johnny is actually having trouble staying warm, and they’ve started to pick up broadcasts that sound like an alien language.

Looks like the N-Zone is about to get more interesting…

Glad as I am to have Warren Ellis on this book, the return of Adam Kubert has given us back much of the humor and humanity that faded away in his absence. While giant alien pterodactyl skeletons flying through space make for a great sight, it’s the counterbalance of Johnny’s smirks, Reed’s earnest stares, Sue’s bewilderment, and Ben’s nearly total lack of expression that lets readers connect with their brainy adventures.

The going is still a bit slow, but when all the Ultimate Universe storylines are rehashes of general Marvel Universe plots, I’d rather enjoy the ride than rush through to Kree/Skrull wars, hero deaths and resurrections, and team roster changes. So far, Ultimate Fantastic Four is reinventing Marvel’s First Family with just the right blend of science fiction, teen comedy, and revisionist history to hook you. Recommended.

I’m going to start my review of WE3 #3 by saying it’s GODDAMN IMPOSSIBLE for me to give an objective opinion of the series finale and I shouldn’t even be trying but, hey, I have to. The first two issues blew me away, so, short of delivering a hastily scribbled diatribe on the beauty of menstruation, there wasn’t much Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely could do to ruin this book for me.

The great Scott McCloud once pointed out that simplifying the appearance of a character allows us to project our own identity on that character. That’s all well and good for cartoons, but in the world of highly detailed comics, it’s usually box office poison. Yet Frank Quitely’s oddly quasi-realistic art, when applied to household pets turned into military weapons, gives us such a strong emotional link to these characters, it’s traumatic when we see them suffer.

Having survived their initial escape and run-ins with fearful civilians, the dog, cat, and rabbit team of WE3 find themselves hiding out in a railyard where a homeless man tries to nurse them back to health. The drugs that keep their cybernetically-enhanced bodies going are wearing off, 3 (the rabbit) has taken an all but fatal shot to the head, and the military is closing in. Worse still, the government has unleashed 4, a more heavily armed dog, to finish off the wounded trio.

3 hobbles out of their hiding place in a daze and is quickly disposed off by the seemingly unstoppable 4. 2 (the cat) runs into the distance just before 1 hears their creator, Dr. Roseanne, call for him from a blind alley. Snipers get a bead on him while the doc calms him down, whispering his real name to him and bringing his memories rushing back before shielding him from a hail of bullets while he rushes off into the night.

On one hand, the very ending of this miniseries pulls a punch. It rewards us with some happiness in the face of inhuman cruelty, and, thus, doesn’t ring quite as true as it otherwise might. But a sad ending would be so psychologically crushing, I don’t think any reader could stand it. As is, WE3 accomplishes the rare feat of using the comic medium to make us think, excite us, and make us cry all in three sparsely worded issues. This book is amazing and I can’t give a much higher recommendation than the one I give now. But, again, I may be a little biased.

Hot Predictions for This Week: Detective Comics #803, New Avengers #3, Shanna The She-Devil #1, Supreme Power #15, and Ultimate Spider-Man #72.

Jason Schachat

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