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Jason Schachat's first appearance is worth $4 when slabbed in mint condition.
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdowns
February 15, 2005

Seven words from the “House of Ideas” that prove they need a new nickname:


…‘cause there HAVE to be better ways to separate a sucker from his four bucks.

Oh, the damage Chuck Austen did in his short time on Action Comics. True, all the Superman books seem to be meandering through gargantuan stories that have accomplished very little in the year since they started, but, damn, did Chuckles pile on a lot of ingredients without bothering to check if the oven was working. J.D. Finn comes onboard to try to work out the mess with Action Comics #824, but his approach, while satisfying, tends to highlight why this arc is such a mess.

We open with Repo Man (lord, are we gonna have to keep calling him that?) shackled into place inside the JLA Watchtower while Aquaman pulls monitor duty and gives Supes a peptalk (much needed since the Man of Steel has aged 30+ years in a span of days). Choosing to face his problems one at a time, Superman flies out to help Jimmy Olsen, leaving the rest of the League to battle Doomsday (as if that ever worked in the past).

Unfortunately, Jimmy neglected to mention he’s being held captive by Kryptonian madman Preus and the army of gun-toting cultists he’s amassed to throw themselves at Superman. Oh, yeah; and then there’s the little problem with Gog…

For a hybrid car, the Preus looks pretty dangerous.
A better title for this past year’s arc of Action Comics would probably be “How To Write Yourself into a Corner.” You trot out Gog? That’s a big battle heating up. Throw Doomsday into the mix, you have a bigass team-up on your hands. Add Preus… well, you’re probably going too far.... Spend two issues on Repo Man? You lost it, son.

Austen spent a long time building up these confrontations and simply couldn’t bring it all back together. Finn’s attempt to wrap it up is economic and kinda exciting, but, ultimately, devalues the villains by forcing a hasty ending. Preus is still a newbie, so seeing him get taken down fast won’t be much of a surprise, but Doomsday and Gog have the rare honor of being the only villains to soundly defeat Superman and deserve more than a single issue battle royale.

With one issue left and a cliffhanger ending on this outing, my biggest worry is that Supes will need Batman to save the day. A lot of Finn’s narration hints at that, and, while I always enjoy the notion of Batman The Mastermind, Superman should be the hero in his own comic. Still, we’ll have to wait and see. If nothing else, it should have some big action, which is why I can recommend this issue, despite my qualms.

Green Arrow #47 starts off like a jumping-on point, but quickly backs up into the continuing war between Danny Brickwell and Ollie Queen’s family of archers. All in all, the issue’s pretty simple, not building up an epic plotline, but giving us one longass fight after readers have spent months dealing with Mia’s HIV.

Brickwell learns that “Team Arrow” is bringing Star City’s crime to a screeching halt, so he regales us with a tale of his youth and how he solved a similar problem back then by keeping an “enemy” too tired to fight him. This time around, he calls in some extra help from the villain-for-hire community in the form of an eight-foot Texan calling himself the Duke of Oil (an old Batman and the Outsiders villain).

Meanwhile, Roy argues with Ollie about the wisdom of letting an inexperienced kid like Mia become Speedy and join the Titans. Ollie simply lets him know that Mia has HIV and is going to make the most of her life. Roy reflects on his own mistakes (*cough* junkie *cough*), but the teary moment ends before it starts when a certain giant cowboy robs a certain bank.

Green Arrow has lost a good amount of the momentum it picked it before Mia’s situation came to light, so this issue feels like a cold start. Yes, we recently had a major confrontation with Danny Brickwell, Mia’s just become Speedy, and Ollie may be struggling with denial, but overall plot movement slowed down in recent months.

Another element putting some strain on the story is new artist Tom Fowler. He and writer Judd Winick were a perfect matchup on the last arc of Caper, but Fowler may be struggling to find the right style for this book. It’s certainly not as humorous as what he did on Caper, but it’s still far from the normal superhero style.

While the expansion of Green Arrow from the story of a lone archer to a group of crime fighters smacks of the same chemistry that made Mark Waid’s Flash and James Robinson’s Starman such addictive reads in their time, this book still has yet to keep the momentum going beyond a couple arcs. It’s good, but not the magic we’re hoping for. Mildly recommended.

Artificial Lifeforms in Love...
Following in the recent trend of putting awful cover art on beautifully drawn comics, Outsiders #20’s wrapping belies the clean lines of underappreciated guest artist Karl Kershl. It’s too bad, really; following last arc’s horrible art by Carlos D’Anda and the embarrassing guest appearance by John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted fame, this issue’s a godsend.

The team relaxes and recuperates after their defeat of a child smuggling ring last time around, but Jade and Starfire insist on patrolling the Outsiders’ HQ and accidentally walk in on Shift and Indigo making the beast with… well, many backs, in this case. Following some barely restrained nausea on the part of the two ladies at the sight of an elemental man and an android making love, we get a tender moment with these two youngest members of the team before they decide to go out and paint the town red.

Ah, but this wouldn’t be a standalone issue if things went smoothly, and, sure enough, a villain pops up to ruin their fun. Only this villain has been lurking around inside the HQ’s computers for a while, and his presence alerts the team to some interesting facts about their corporate sponsor Optitron.

Plot-wise, this is a rather quiet little tale. No shifts in team leadership, kidnapped daughters, traumatizing near death experiences, or reappearances of old nemeses. But it’s also the best issue of Outsiders we’ve had in a long time. By themselves, Judd Winick and Karl Kerschl are accomplished comic professionals. Together, they made this issue sing.

We got our big throwdown with a baddie, tastey hints about the nature of Indigo, an answer to the mystery of the team’s benefactor, and what must be the best moments in Shift and Indy’s scenes (though the conjugal scene wasn’t necessarily one of them). Outsiders has been struggling to find the right artist for a long time now, and I’d like to think they’ve finally got their man.

And, honestly, the fact that Kerschl hasn’t had regular series work is a crime. I don’t know how well he works on a schedule, but this guy’s putting out some of the most distinctive, crisp artwork in superhero comics. He delivers on character, background, action, and emotion. The last arc of Outsiders featured probably the worst artwork of Carlos D’Anda’s career. This issue of Kerschl’s more than makes up for it.

If DC and the book’s editors can keep Kerschl onboard, we may finally have a reason to keep reading Outsiders. As things stand, this is one of the best issues so far and should give readers hope for the future. Recommended.

If the first volume of Ultimates was the rebirth of Marvel’s long-running team, the second volume can probably be called the re-death. It began with the loss of Thor to his own international ideals. Then Hank Pym (Giant Man/Antman) was being given the official boot from the team. Now, Bruce Banner’s trial for his crimes as the Hulk comes to a conclusion in The Ultimates v.2 #3.

They saved Hulk's brain...
Though Bruce isn’t allowed to appear in court, cameras broadcast back and forth the dog and pony show using him as a scapegoat for the failures of the Ultimates. Matt Murdock tries to defend Banner as someone clearly not in his right mind as the Hulk, but the prosecution portrays him as an uncontrollable drug addict who could repeat the incident at any time. Naturally, the kangaroo court prefers the latter explanation.

The other Ultimates gather in Tony’s mansion and feel pity if not sympathy for their soon-to-be-executed comrade. Despite her usual methods, Betty Ross goes even further, visiting Bruce and demanding to be allowed into his cell; demanding to be forgiven for the mind games she played on him. But Bruce knows what he’s done is unforgivable AND entirely his fault.

He’s pleasantly surprised when Nick Fury marches through the door to tell him the judge threw the case out. That the Ultimates marched into the courtroom and stood up for the man who almost single-handedly stopped the Skrulls. That all is forgiven and Bruce will be released from his cell so they can show the whole world the real man. That they’ll toast to their success and move on.

Too bad the champagne they toast with knocks Bruce out cold so they can take him to his execution.

In my review of the first issue of this new Ultimates volume, I said the decompressed storytelling was inappropriate for a quarterly book. So, Marvel made me eat my words by releasing the damn thing monthly. And, hey, I love getting a new issue of the Ultimates every month, but it demonstrates some other flaws.

First off, speeding up issue releases doesn’t change the fact that the story still lacks momentum. Second, the production quality has gone down, meaning it’s still good, but every panel isn’t going to make you wet your pants. Third, there hasn’t been an action sequence since the first few pages of issue #1.

All these faults are easily forgivable, and I must admit that Millar is doing a nice job putting pieces in place for the chaos to come while setting up the solo books to be spawned from Ultimates, but this story just isn’t that exciting, right now. Hitch’s art is still very good, but it won’t wow you like the first volume. More to the point, Laura Martin’s colors seem less nuanced than they used to be.

Is Ultimates the must-buy it used to be? No. Is it a bad book? Not at all. Should you get it? Yes, but don’t expect the earth to move when you read it. The story isn’t any better than the other Ultimate Universe monthlies, but it’s still a nice tale with some solid art.

With only one issue left, “The Most Dangerous Game” arc of Ultimate X-Men looks to have beaten the odds and seamlessly turned some of Chris Claremont’s most embarrassing creations into pure gold. The Ulimate Universe versions of Mojo, Longshot, Arcade, and Spiral have come about free and clear of the inherent goofiness and nonsensical nature of their Marvel Universe counterparts. (Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus).

Ultimate X-Men #56 pits Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, and Shadowcat against the six very capable hands of Spiral, who quickly reveals that she was behind the political assassination Longshot was framed for. Mojo continues to whine about his reality TV manhunt being off the air, but tempers his tantrum with just enough murderous intent to keep us from laughing.

Meanwhile, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Dazzler escort Longshot out of the Genoshan jungles after making sure thrillseeking power-gamer Arcade won’t be following them. Yessir, it’d be “Mission Accomplished” if Angel hadn’t wandered away from the X-Wing and gotten himself captured.

We’ve seen a lot of characters get a new lease on life (or at least a better origin story) through the magic of the Ultimate Universe, but Brian K Vaughan has turned the practice into a personal mission and, in just over half a year, reinvented more characters than any other Ultimate series has done in twice that amount of time. And it works!

Stuart Immonen’s pencils were giving me a headache back on Ultimate Fantastic Four, but they’ve been great on this entire arc. While I can definitely give him credit for delivering a cleaner product, this is a case of having a truly great crew working on the book. Wade Von Grawbadger’s inks, Justin Ponsor’s colors, and other contributions on these issues has given Immonen’s work far more depth and dimension than I would’ve thought possible.

Uncanny X-Men may be confusing as hell and unsatisfying at the moment, but Vaughan and company’s Ultimate X-Men gives all you pay for and then some. In fact, it may be the only X-book worth buying, right now. Definitely recommended.

The Walking Dead #15 offers us a big clue that the quiet times are about to end with this month’s cover (featuring Rick roaring down a lonely road on a motorbike). No sooner can we ponder its meaning than it plunges us right back into the story: Tyreese’s daughter has come back from the dead immediately following an unsuccessful suicide pact with her boyfriend.

Tyreese pleads to give her a chance; that maybe he can communicate with her. But the boyfriend gets skittery and blows her head off, throwing Tyreese into a murderous rage and prompting the third human-inflicted death in the entire series. Rick lies to the others about Tyreese’s actions and finds himself regretting it the next morning when Tyreese is cheerfully burning the bodies of his daughter and her lover.

However, this new understanding of the undead unsettles Rick. If the dead can come back without being bitten, it means everyone has already been infected with whatever makes the zombies come to life. In that case, even those that they buried may have returned to life. And, in that case, Rick has some business to take care of.

While the first pages of this issue are chilling and continue the slow build of the series, it’s the last pages that will take your breath away. Robert Kirkman has adopted an extremely useful storytelling/character development device that few writers ever appropriately hone: kill off your cast. The more often a significant character dies, the more concerned we are when one gets in trouble.

Death of a villain? That’s nothing. Kill off the retiring cop? Bah! But if you take out a significant character totally out of the blue (meaning they don’t suddenly get an issue full of exposition to make us care about them), the reader will be hooked. With a massive cast like that in Walking Dead, Kirkman can spend a few years keeping us trembling in mortal peril. Very strongly recommended.

Backstreet's BACK!
So, what’d I expect when I picked up Young Avengers #1? Crap. I expected complete crap that would at its very best be Avengers seen through a New X-Men: Academy X lens and, at worst, be the team version of Arana: Heart of the Spider. Let’s just say it’s far better than I expected.

The Avengers have disbanded. We all know this. But some new teen heroes who seem ready to take up the mantle have appeared on the scene: Patriot, Asgardian, Hulkling, and Iron Lad. J. Jonah Jameson immediately takes notice and assigns Jessica Jones to get to the bottom of the story, learning who these young punks are and just what they think they’re doing.

Of course, the Young Avengers don’t seem to have much of a clue themselves. Heck, they didn’t even choose to name themselves after the Avengers, but events have been set in motion, pushing the team to fight crime until they’re ready to face a villain who’ll soon come to threaten the entire world. At least, that’s what they’ve been told…

I’d enjoyed Jim Cheung’s art in the past, but the name of Allan Heinberg was unfamiliar to me. Still, even if I’d known he was a big Hollywood writer who’d done Party of Five, Sex and the City, and The OC, I don’t think my expectations for this book would’ve been much higher (Especially since I live in Orange County and know for a fact that it’s less exciting than dryer lint).

Once again, we’re given a book with a familiar subject: new youth team forms to fight evil. The way it’s handled is quite interesting, however. The first half of the issue plays out like The Pulse (before that title became a Secret Wars sidestory, that is), while the second part is more like Teen Titans or The Legion. Unlike the X-books, these kids are operating without adult supervision, yet they also seem to be moving towards a specific goal.

It could spell out a short lifespan for this new Marvel book (all the more tragic when Arana keeps on trucking and sucking), but this approach is bold and exciting for a Marvel title. It avoids the X-book and Ultimate formulas and actually gives the reader teenage heroes who *gasp* act like teenage heroes: Selfless, seemingly godlike, clumsy, unsure, manic, and worshipful of the heroes who came before them.

Admittedly, it feels more like a DC book than a Marvel book, but that’s what makes it different. We don’t need Jim Henson’s Avenger Babies or Academy Avengers, but a Marvel spin on the Teen Titans formula… well, that might just work. I don’t know how far this puppy’s going, but I’m along for the ride. Recommended.

Hot Predictions for This Week: Astonishing X-Men #8, Authority: Revolution #5, Ex Machina #8, Green Lantern: Rebirth #4, Runaways #1, and She-Hulk #12.

Jason Schachat

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