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Jason Schachat wanders the Earth in a radioactive suit of armor.
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdowns
February 24, 2005

For anyone desiring a little of Peter Bagge’s special brand of angry cartooning, the creator not-quite-proudly presents us with Apocalypse Nerd #1. Answering that age old question of what would happen if a Microsoft programmer had to survive in the woods following the nuking of Seattle, this miniseries tells the tale of Perry and Gordo’s camping trip gone wrong.

While driving out into the Cascade Mountains, the two losers talk about their failures either with women and the job market. As they tweak the radio, hoping to catch a sports broadcast, they pick up a staticky signal that the National Guard have been summoned to deal with some kind of disaster.

Weaving away from cars rushing in the opposite direction, they come to a convenience store where the owner sits behind the counter with a rifle trained on them. Why? ‘Cause Kim Jung Il got a little whacky and decided the Space Needle would look better as vapor over a pile of ash, duh!

Bagge’s style of writing and drawing harkens back to the time of underground comics, and, as such, suffers a little when serialized as a longer story. As with many cartoonists, his rubberband-limbed characters tweak the narrative in an oddball direction, no matter what point they start from. In this case, Perry’s overwhelming fear of damn near everything gives the rather slow-moving story a manic tension.

However, the limited plot starts to drag by the end of the issue and leaves us with no idea of where the series is heading. Just for Bagge’s quirky style, I could recommend Apocalypse Nerd, but the story itself doesn’t have much to offer. It makes for a nice distraction, but there isn’t enough meat here to satisfy most readers.

Which one's Sundance?
What is it that makes Cable & Deadpool work so well? Honestly. I’m genuinely ashamed to be enjoying this book as much as I do, and, having reached Cable & Deadpool #12 without once rolling my eyes or clutching my abdomen in non-laughter induced pain, I have to wonder when this crazy train will run out of steam.

Previously, Cable had become the new messiah, bonded with Deadpool in a physical sense beyond any which two men have ever known before, and then practically got himself killed when the Silver Surfer thought his crusade might doom the Earth. Cable’s solution? Have Deadpool give him a lobotomy to keep his off the scale psychic powers from growing beyond human morality (cheesy and melodramatic as it sounds, it seemed like a good idea at the time).

But now Deadpool misses the flashy-eyed galoot and wants to resurrect him by bonding a world-devouring biomechanical alien doom baby to what’s left of Cable’s body and mind. Unfortunately, some parties don’t like that idea and have hired Agent X to prevent Deadpool and The Fixer from saving Cable. Meanwhile, the tea party inside Cable’s mind continues as he cheerfully tells the new Six Pack team who had come to kill him they’re doomed unless Deadpool can get everything back together and fix him.

So they’re doomed.

Cable and Deadpool’s relationship goes all the way back to the original New Mutants, but I don’t remember it ever being as enjoyable as this. Hell, I don’t remember Cable really being enjoyable at all—but, cut free of Rob Liefeld’s disabilities, Fabian Nicieza’s action-packed, cheap joke-filled story has gone far beyond his work on X-Force.

Patrick Zircher’s art blends explosive action, cartoony antics, and epic grandstanding in a way that Liefeld’s never could. The goofy Alice in Wonderland inspired dreamland for Cable’s tea party is a perfect example of the versatility that makes this title’s manic humor work (especially when it comes soon after Deadpool viciously disembowels Agent X and uses the entrails to spell out a message to friends watching the action from a nearby balcony).

Why does this work? What makes Cable & Deadpool succeed where so many of Nicieza’s projects have failed? I have no idea. It may be the same b-list mocking formula that made Justice League International sing back in its day (more on that later), only geared for shorter, more bloodthirsty, attention spans. But, hey, it works. Recommended.

Though I may write endless praises of The Walking Dead, the rest of the zombie genre has mostly been a walking disaster that’s plagued comics for years, depositing a few trite attempts on us every year. Damn Nation #1 is one of these attempts. Working like an American 28 Days Later, this stale little title plods along without telling or showing the reader much of anything.

Things start going to hell when a Soviet freighter, lost at sea for 16 years, floats into Miami harbor. Homeland Security dispatches a biohazard team to investigate the strangely radioactive vessel and discover hundreds of naked corpses strewn about the vessel. Then the corpses come to life.

Five years later, the President lives in exile in London, and the U.S. seems to be teeming with zombies. But, just when things look hopeless, a message comes in from a research facility on Buffalo, New York: “We have the cure."

Now, contrary to what this summary may suggest, readers will have to weed out many of these facts from the poorly paced and unfocused narrative. Like the murky artwork, you kind of have to squint to see just what’s going on, and rushing through it will leave you confused. Though J. Alexander’s paintings have a lovably filthy charm about them, too much of the photo referencing devolves into trite, Xeroxed photo art. Especially in backgrounds.

And, while I’d never suggest a zombie book needs to be filled with action scenes, it always helps to give the reader something exciting. Damn Nation is neither exciting nor scary. Kinda creepy, yeah, but it’s so completely devoid of characterization that we don’t give a damn if anyone lives or dies. The fact that we don’t really get to see the zombies also tones down the threat level.

Add to that the ridiculous notion that a Russian freighter filled with plutonium bound for Lithuania somehow bypassed all known currents and somehow landed in Miami — WITHOUT the U.S. taking a bite out of Russia’s ass for turning the Land of the Free into a free range zombie farm… well, you just can’t take it seriously, no matter how grim and gritty the art is. Pass on this one.

It's Melvin!
They say sequels never live up to the original, and this seemed to be the case with Justice League International and the reunion party that was Formerly Known as the Justice League. Sure, it won an Eisner, but it didn’t represent the best that JLI achieved. JLA Classified #4’s “I Can’t Believe it’s not the Justice League” does. Oh, man, does it ever.

With minimal exposition to acquaint us with the Super-Buddies (as they’re now called), this first issue thrusts us into a new conflict: a former supervillain is building a bar next door to our heroes’ HQ! Sue Dibny does some research online and discovers the fiendish Blackguard (feel free to scratch your head and say “Who?”) is setting up shop on their turf and immediately starts chewing out Elongated Man and Maxwell Lord, thinking they should punch him in the nose or something.

Elsewhere, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold trade backhanded compliments on each others’ new costumes (their first new costumes ever *gasp*) and discuss Fire and Mary Marvel’s plans to room together. Then Beetle changes the subject to Booster’s geriatric spouse. Meanwhile, Fire decides to take a break from house hunting and introduce young Mary to the tingly joys of coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. Bad idea.

Formerly Known as the Justice League tried to bring the old crew together in the traditional “all the old enemies are back in town” fashion, more or less, and that just didn’t work for me. The humor got pushed to one side, and Blue Beetle and Booster Gold didn’t come up with any get-rich-quick schemes or even have that much interplay. The best issues of JLI were always more about the characters than the situations they were in.

With “I Can’t Believe it’s not the Justice League”, the characters take center stage while a weak external conflict repeatedly tries to push its way past their constant infighting. Naïve Mary Marvel makes the perfect foil for the worldly Fire (R.I.P. Ice), Booster and Beetle are acting like Abbot and Costello again, Sue and Ralph are far more amusing than in their JLE days (R.I.P. Sue), and lovable robot L-Ron is more obnoxious than ever.

Better still, Giffen and DeMatteis have cleared away the cobwebs and gotten back into the old groove. The first jokes build from harmless annoyances into beautifully structured gags that will have you in stitches. The timing’s perfect, and Kevin Maguire’s grasp of expressive faces is flawless as ever. Toss in some great coloring, and you have one of the better looking and, undoubtedly, funniest books of the year. And, yes, even newbies will love this one. Very strongly recommended.

Crushing as it was to see Andi Watson’s Love Fights prematurely end after only a year, Little Star #1 doesn’t start off the new bi-monthly with the same striking storytelling that’s made his other works so enjoyable. There’s something to be said for subtle beginnings, and Watson may very well be the master of subtlety, but this book gives us very little plot and hardly any reason to keep an eye out for the next issue.

It opens with Simon, our main character, hurtling out of the solar system, identifying planets and moons as he drifts into the inky blackness. Then he wakes up. To the sound of his daughter crying out in the middle of the night. Not crying for him, but calling for “Mummy.” As we follow him through his day, we see this is not merely a bad habit, but her outlook on life: if you’re not a woman, you can’t be as good as Mummy.

Simon drops her off at daycare and heads off to his part-time job detailing china plates, reminiscing on how he used to be a specialist who painted the fine porcelain figurines. Of course, he gave that up hoping for more variety and more time to spend with his daughter. When asked what he wanted to be when he was a kid, Simon first remembers a love of Star Wars that made him want to be an astronaut, but then recalls a desire to be a mechanic. A longing for a job where things either work or don’t, unlike his current job as a father.

Watson’s been putting out great slice-of-life comics for a while, but he’s demonstrated in the past how hard of a sell these quiet, low-plot stories can be. Little Star feels almost like a sequel to Breakfast After Noon (and may be, considering the appearance of a man named Rob who bears quite a resemblance to the aforementioned book’s main character); it moves the notion of a bread-winning wife and a stay-at-home dad from an ending into whole new set of problems.

But, like Breakfast After Noon, the first issue slips us into the main character’s life without giving us much reason to want to follow him. Watson does a great job of introducing Simon and his situation, but the conflict is so broad yet subtle that it almost doesn’t feel like a conflict at all. Worse yet, the ending of the issue makes this feel like a sleepy oneshot rather than the opener for a new miniseries. Watson fans may go for it, but I’d advise anyone new to his works to start with Geisha, Slow News Day, or Love Fights before visiting this title.

Pretty average kid, actually...
Manga Darkchylde #1 re-imagines the Darkchylde character in… wait for it… a manga style, portraying her as a young girl fighting mystical forces of evil. Having never read any Darkchylde, I could only guess the main character was getting a treatment similar to Marvel’s Mangaverse experiment. Truth be told, it’s even less “manga” than that.

Darkchylde opens the issue by narrating her current state of mind, and continues to do so through the final page. Apparently, she has the power to become any sort of hellish monster you can imagine and use its powers for her own purposes. But there’s a catch: if she abandons the form of the beast, it’s free to wander the earth and do as it pleases.

When her next door neighbors’ house lights aflame in the middle of the night, she panics and becomes a werewolf to save them from the blaze. Afterwards, she leaves the monster’s body and it trods off into the woods, looking for something to maim. Luckily for Darkchylde, she can also absorb simple powers from her monster menagerie and conveniently use them to hunt down her enemies. Not so convenient for the wolf, but it sure is better than bringing another beastie into the world, though not necessarily safer.

Despite what the creators of Manga Darkchylde may think, this is hardly what I’d call manga. The paneling’s too loose and sloppy, the pacing gives us no quiet moments to reflect on, the action scenes are completely western in staging, and the character designs aren’t remotely Japanese (except for the exaggerated eyes on small children). That said, the art isn’t bad and the production’s pretty enjoyable, but it doesn’t feel too different from the old Image style.

The story provides a nice starting point, but that’s about it. All narrative is sacrificed for style, and, in the end, it’s not really worth it. People looking for another pseudo-manga that’s low on story might get some thrills from Manga Darkchylde, but it’ll leave true manga enthusiasts baffled and wanting.

We get another changing of the guards this month in Tom Strong #31, as Michael Moorcock and Jerry Ordway take the reigns and lead Tom’s crew back in time for some piracy on the high seas. It may not be Alan Moore’s baby now, but the spirit of adventure is still going strong.

Part one of this two-issue arc finds Tom’s home of Millennium City being battered by the worst storm in its history. Trusty ape companion Solomon King patrols the metropolis in one of Tom’s helicopters and notices a rather out of place zeppelin parked outside and English pub. Upon further investigation he finds that, indeed, in the pub there is an Englishman who piloted the zeppelin — from the future.

He tells Solomon that his time travel is responsible for the tempest that’s thrashing Millennium, but far more is at stake than the well-being of one city; his nemesis Count Zodiac has set into motion a series of events that may very well ruin the whole multiverse. Their only hope is for Tom Strong and Solomon to travel across dimensions and stand-in for alternate versions of themselves who joined Zodiac’s pirate fleet.

Truth be told, I’m still not entirely happy with Tom Strong’s evolution from a bold Alan Moore experiment to a showcase title. True, the teams to take over the book have all done good jobs, but none of it has lived up to the larger arcs that defined the series and made it so wonderfully addictive.

In this instance, Moorcock and Ordway masterfully set up the story, but let the excitement fade somewhere around the middle. Granted, there’s a lot of plot movement for a single issue (in these days of hyper-decompressed storytelling), but it all feels rather rapid and not as rich in detail as one might hope.

However, it’s the first issue in quite a while to recapture that extended Golden Age feel Tom Strong is famous for, delivering a tale without any damaging elements of present day storytelling. It makes you wonder what they’d be able to do given more issues… While I may have some reservations, it’s still worth recommending.

Wolverine #25 brings the “Enemy of the State” story arc to a close with a one-two punch that’s sure to change the status quo (which makes sense, since that seems to be writer Mark Millar’s new calling). Wolvie’s rampaged through high security military installations, the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building HQ, and even Matt Murdock’s brownstone, but now he brings the killing spree to the Xavier Institute.

Having learned of Hydra’s plans to assassinate the President, S.H.I.E.L.D. forces cordon off Washington D.C. while the Avengers act as personal guards. Meanwhile at Xavier’s, they’re still on high alert following Hydra’s brainwashing of superheroes all around the U.S. Kitty Pryde and Rachel Summers lounge in front of the TV and catch us up with a little exposition before Kitty heads off to bed and leaves Rachel alone.

Alone except for the “cloaked” Wolverine sitting on the couch cradling a primed nuclear device, that is. As it turns out, Hydra’s plan for taking out the Commander in Chief was even more artful than first suspected; Wolvie’s just going to plug Rachel into Cerebra and have her give the Pres a massive brain hemorrhage. If she doesn’t do it, Wolverine nukes the school.

At its best, this story has harkened back to Frank Miller’s work of the early ‘80s. The rough yet dynamic pencils, Klaus Janson’s sloppy inks, the throwback outfits on nearly every character, Wolverine in Japan, piles of dead Hand ninjas; it was practically a timewarp. And, looking at the end of this issue, the journey is far from over.

Mark Millar’s done another magic act of tossing characters into bizarre and risky situations and shaking up a big Marvel franchise. The deaths that occur in this issue may force Wolverine continuity to finally match-up, and Wolvie’s new vocation, however temporary, will be a lot more fun to follow than the tepid attempts at ronin wanderings.

I will confess that this issue isn’t quite as pleasing as the last couple were, but that may just be my weakness for seeing Elektra and Daredevil slaughter legions of ninjas. The body count’s far, far lower, this time, but the impact should be a lot more lasting. Recommended.

Hot Predictions for This Week: Batman #637, Conan #13, Fantastic Four #523, Sleeper Season Two #9, and Ultimate Nightmare #5.

Jason Schachat

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