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Evil fears the Schachat.
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdowns
February 8, 2005

You know what almost makes up for spending all those hours watching the Eagles lose the Superbowl? Seeing my dad get all wide-eyed when the Batman Begins ad played, and, after a brief silence, say “Cool”.

Of course, he said the same thing after the Constantine ad… and the Verizon ad with the monkeys…

Okay, so maybe it didn’t mean that much.

Adam Strange #5 brings us some more space-thrills this month with battles, revelations, and lots and lots of alien spiders. It may be a little late for people to try jumping onto this miniseries, but you still gotta give it a flip and drink in the awesome art.

When last we left our hero, he and the Omega Men had found the stereotypical giant space thingey floating around where a star had once been. Following some minor investigation and huge leaps in pseudo-science, Adam Strange figures out that they’re dealing with an Omega Beam Device: a teleporter with limitless range and ability. Powerful enough to, say, transport an entire star system to another universe.

But this staggering revelation is cut short by the appearance of the Spider Guild; a nasty race looking to punish the Omega Men for their transgressions and “freedom fighting”. Strange and company realize they’re doomed and rush to find the coordinates of the Omega Beam’s recent teleports before they have to blow it up to prevent it from falling into the Guild’s claws.

This issue gives us a lot of bang for our buck, answering questions, raising a few new ones, dragging more spacebound elements of the DCU into play, and giving us lots of big action. Andy Diggle’s writing is of the caliber we’ve come to expect, but Pascal Ferry’s art is what will blow you away. The Futurist touches he places throughout this series give it a hint of Golden Age magic without drowning us in nostalgia. Hell, I think this is the first time a character with a fin on his head has gotten a loyal costume update that looks cool.

Hmmm...that's Strange...
If you’ve missed all the other issues, you may want to wait for a trade paperback… but I sure wouldn’t. Many titles on the racks this week don’t deserve your attention, but Adam Strange should be one of the first you crack open. Recommended.

I wanted to like The Amazing Joy Buzzards #1. I really did. The promise of giant monsters, evil robots, Mexican wrestlers, a group of rock band detectives, and pinups by Scott Morse and Jim Mahfood was enough to get me onboard. Then I read it. Oy.

It all begins when an evil pink robot puts “something” in the drink of Stevo, bassist for the Joy Buzzards, at a concert. The rocker then mutates into a mop-topped giant monster who then apparently swims of to England (hard to tell, since he steps on both Brit punks AND American tanks). The remaining Buzzards and their Mexican wrestler bodyguard meet a Professor to find a cure and then hop into a biplane so they can medicate Stevo and turn him back to normal.

And that’s about it.

There’s a confrontation in the end, some backstory (despite the book’s pretension in announcing it won’t waste our time with an origin story), and a link to the next issue, but the plot’s pretty much limited to what I summarized.

While the concept of having a Scooby-Doo/Josie and the Pussycats/Jabberjaw/Speed Buggy group of young detectives is always somewhat amusing, The Amazing Joy Buzzards tries WAY too hard to be funny and fails at every possible turn. None of the gags or references are particularly humorous, and there’s no comedic timing to the jokes.

Burritos aren’t inherently funny. Saying “burrito” outloud with a funny voice, on the other hand... And, if a guy doesn’t look anything like a giant ghila monster, it’s kind of a leap to call him one. Following that with a Japanese tourist calling him Godzilla seems more observational than humorous. And a pink robot wanting revenge for being turned pink? You gotta work hard to sell that one-liner. But all this wouldn’t be so awful if the creators hadn’t sacrificed the story in the unending effort to make us laugh.

One of the big problems here is demonstrated during the rock concert. It just doesn’t translate to a medium where music is non-existent. This is not to say we haven’t seen music performed well in comics, but it relies on words to get any message across. Showing us panel after panel of guys holding guitars in silence just doesn’t work.

The Amazing Joy Buzzards, as a whole, seems to suffer from this problem: it doesn’t look like it knows what it’s doing, but it keeps trying to reassure you it does. The plot doesn’t flow well enough to tell a story, the panels don’t flow well enough to tell a joke, and, at 31 pages of graphic narrative, it gets boring really fast. You want a real rocker detective story? Pick up Hopeless Savages. Aside from some fun art by Dan Hipp, this one’s a dud.

With all those birds, you need an umbrella.
On the other side of the racks, David Latham and Ramon Bachs continue probably the best Batman story since Batman: The Long Halloween in Detective Comics #803. Once again, I’m baffled that they handle it with such ease. Aside from some more bone-chilling subject matter than the usual Bat-story, “City of Crime” doesn’t stray far from the normal routine. But, wow, what great, dark storytelling.

This issue immediately divides the story into four threads: One following Batman on his investigation of the baby-ring that’s kidnapped a pregnant young girl; one with Mr. Freeze leading a cleanup crew to ice and bash apart all evidence of the baby-ring; one with a bald stranger who carefully makes a face-mold of a man tied to a bed; and one where The Penguin curses the sudden strikes against his criminal operations. Of course, he did bring it down on himself by starting a baby-ring in the first place…

As Mr. Freeze betrays Penguin and ices the cleanup crew upon finding the pregnant teenager, Batman applies some psychological torture to one of Penguin’s lackeys and learns that the baby-ring sells infants to the wealthy and childless. He spends some time at the scene where Freeze took out the crew and learns from the remains of a thawing man that Penguin is involved. But then, that mysterious bald man making the face-mold knew that all along, didn’t he?

You gotta love the way Latham weaves his story. It’s chilling, suspenseful, poetic and everything else a Batman story should be and usually isn’t. I invoked the memory of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween earlier because, frankly, that’s how long it’s been since we’ve had a story arc deliver on so many levels (Dark Victory built up to an ending that wasn’t there, No Man’s Land was more about Gotham than the Bat, and don’t even get me started on Hush).

Is “City of Crime” revolutionary? In the sense that it’s brought us back around to how you can tell a dark Batman crime story, oh HELL yes. Will it change the way they write Batman stories? I doubt it. Again, the concept of this story isn’t all that different from what we’ve been reading. But the method is masterful. Definitely recommended.

Remember Shanna the She-Devil and her jungle adventures? Me neither! Which is probably why Frank Cho deemed it necessary to revive the savage goddess in his first comic book series. Actually, I suspect it had more to do with Shanna’s resemblance to Cho’s work with Budd Root’s Cavewoman, but, whatever the cause, we still get a scantily clad vixen running around fighting dinosaurs in Shanna The She-Devil #1.

A sample from Cho's work on Cavewoman, strictly for historical and not prurient interests.
True to the wisdom of starting afresh rather than catching everyone up with the character’s history, Cho presents us with a lost military unit wandering through what may be the Savage Land when they find some sort of abandoned science lab. Naturally, the first sights to greet us are a Nazi banner and eight bubbling cylinders—each containing a clone of a young woman.

The soldiers stumble around and trigger a sequence that brings the lab thrumming to life, forcing them to rescue one of the clones from drowning in her cylinder (good thing they save her, too, ‘cause the other seven died in hibernation). The woman immediately slips out of consciousness before they can learn anything about her, but the half-eaten corpse and traumatized German scientist they discover give them some clues as to why the place was abandoned.

Story-wise, this first issue keeps it very simple. Soldiers show up, discover Shanna, battle ensues, etc. There’s no reason given for why any of this is going on, but keeping us in the moment allows an air of mystery and suspense to dance around the uncomplicated plotline. Shanna fans (all five of them) may be somewhat puzzled at how this fits into the continuity, but newcomers shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Of course, the main attraction here is Frank Cho’s artwork, and he doesn’t disappoint. It’s not as titillating as one might expect (a definite lack of fan service for a book that technically begins and ends with naked women), but the tasteful censoring of feminine naughty bits works pretty well. I’d say the bigger success is found in Cho’s dinosaurs (again pulled from his work on Cavewoman), which, like so much in this book, owe a lot to Dave Stewart’s colors (sadly, the cover of this issue only features Cho’s name, since he wrote, penciled, and inked).

All in all, I’d recommend Shanna the She-Devil, but the plot’s pretty light, as is its crafting. Cho’s sense of narrative still seems pretty limited, but, hopefully, this miniseries will let him prove himself as more than just an artist of cute animals and busty women. Well, more than just cute animals, anyway.

Keeping the religious imagery subtle since May 2005.
I remember being disappointed by the Batman: Hush story because it meandered through all sorts of pointless sidestories just to keep us from complaining that the mystery villain was so painfully obvious. As Jim Lee and Brian Azzarello’s current run on Superman winds down with Superman #213, we find that, yes, we’ve been running around in circles in yet another story that shouldn’t have lasted a year, but, no, this time we wouldn’t have guessed who the big villain was. We probably shouldn’t care, either.

After a brief interlude where Orr (the covert ops guy who keeps popping into the story) finds and interrogates Halcyon (the mystic chick who sent out giant elementals to beat on Superman), we return to the land of the Vanishing. Without any warning, it’s sprung on us that Supes’ Kryptonian parents are here, too (apparently to explain what the heck is going on).

It turns out this land is part of the Phantom Zone. A Heaven created out of Hell by Superman’s imagining of a way to spare Earth’s inhabitants from suffering as Krypton’s did when their planet died. It’s a place without poverty, hunger, strife, or need of a superhero.

Oh, except that General Zod’s running around with an army and Clark Kent strapped to Equus’ back.

I really have no idea what’s going on in this book, any more. This issue was supposed to be the big reveal, and I’m more confused than ever. Superman imagined this place and it suddenly came into existence? And someone just happened to construct a machine that zapped everyone there? Even supposing Zod was behind all that, why are Jor-El and Lara there? If Superman can recreate dead loved ones here, why did he stop with his parents? If this land’s made up of his deepest desires, why does it seem so hollow?

I can appreciate the continued biblical stylings of Azzarello’s concept, but it probably looked a lot more impressive as a pitch than it does on the page. And that’s saying something, when you have Jim Lee prettying everything up. Maybe this will read better as a whole story, when it finishes. For now, it’s just weird.

I didn’t put Supreme Power on last year’s top ten list due to some botched deadlines and a couple lazy issues. But, damn, the issue they put out on December 30th made me regret that decision, and this month’s Supreme Power #15 fills me with even more grief. Why? Because there currently isn’t any sign that #16 will be coming out.

Following “the killer” Redstone’s (known in the Marvel Universe as Nuke; though there are about 5 different Nukes in Marvel continuity) capture last time around, General Alexander interrogates him in a facility built to hold Hyperion. Meanwhile, Nighthawk and Hyperion argue over the latter’s choice to hand the killer over to Doc Spectrum and the government after all they did to bring him to justice.

The argument comes to a head when Nighthawk says he pretty much thinks Blur is an Uncle Tom—just as Blur speeds through the door. Blur and Hyperion then decide to cool down, all the while discussing issues of “might makes right." While General Alexander keeps squeezing backstory out of Redstone, Doc Spectrum stops by and receives a new mission: to find and capture Kingsley (Amphibian) and Zarda (Power Princess). Still, that’s not nearly as thrilling as what happens to Redstone…

Now, before I start a wave of panic by saying that Supreme Power has been cancelled, let me reassure that it IS on an odd release schedule, which could explain the lack of solicitation info. Issue #14 ranked 23rd on the December sales charts, and there’s no reason to think the title isn’t financially viable.

However, according to Marvel’s website, this should’ve been issue 3 of 6 in “The Squadron” arc. Instead, despite an issue that weaves threads in and out, deliciously drawing characters together, the final page says “The End."

I really hope it isn’t. Despite all our expectations for Amazing Spider-Man and Rising Stars, Supreme Power has been the best JMS book in recent memory. Definitely recommended.

Jason Schachat

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