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Jason Schachat hopes to be bitten by a genetically-modified anteater.

Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
July 16, 2004

Each week, Jason Schachat takes you along for his ride on the four-colored pulp pony. Feed the addiction, and the addiction feeds you.

Jessica Alba as Sue Storm? This just in: Jack Kirby’s desiccated corpse has reached 100,000rpm, cored through the planet, and shot out the other side, leaving this world and its evils behind. …oh yeah, and then some comics came out this week…

Action Comics #817 picks up from last month’s slugfest and death of Superman with his miraculous revival at S.T.A.R. Labs, where a twitchy Jack Black- er, I mean, Mohlman reiterates that Kal was pumped full of liquid kryptonite that has left him in a weakened state. Naturally, sleazy TV reporters broadcast this information, it attracts every villain in creation, and a huge battle royale with big, big explosions ensues.

Chuck Austen’s plotting and characters still do nothing for me, and, like so many things he does, this reeks of his TV writing background. However, it’s a lot more fun than Chuckles’ usual fare. He lets Ivan Reis pencil some vibrant action sequences and Guy Major’s colors bring it to blazing life. There doesn’t seem to be any big plan at work here, and we still have no clue as to why Gog’s running around, but it makes for a much better read than X-Men.

Awakenings #1 isn’t such an enjoyable experience, however. It takes place in the future. I don’t know why. It’s told as flashbacks and flashbacks in flashbacks, and I don’t know why. It also seems to be skirting around a very obvious lycanthropy story, and, dammit, I just don’t know why. This new mini is relying heavily on mystery story devices to prop up something that just doesn’t have legs. The black and white art is desperately in need of grayscaling (or a more liberal inker, perhaps), and the plotting needs to flow better. Still, for a small press title, Awakenings manages a professional production and more realistic dialogue than we usually see. Not recommended, but things could come together next month.

Bloodhound #1 doesn’t make a much more promising debut, but at least it’s got Dan Jolley and Leonard Kirk to spice up the mundane story of an ex-cop in jail who’s offered a second chance by the FBI. Almost half of this issue feels like a TV police drama, but it picks up when Kirk manages some intensely violent imagery. Still, I don’t see where they can go with this book. The main character’s a cipher, there’s currently no connection to the rest of the DCU, and I’ll be damned if I can tell you what the story is besides “Let’s go get ‘em.” They’re clearly aiming at mystery and hard-bitten cop stories, but the plot doesn’t kick off in any way other than establishing the anti-hero as a killing machine with enemies on both sides of the law. From this issue, I can’t really say if this is a series worth following or not.

In the heat of battle, Dave looked over his shoulder and noticed the cameraman.
I’m also of a few different minds concerning Captain America #29. In one sense, it’s nice to see Cap running around, kicking ass, and not stopping to take names. It’s also nice to see a few jabs at the slimy politicians slithering around in the shadows while Cap makes the world a better place. But the series continuity at work here is… odd. Cap seems ready for another girlfriend swap (not a new speed record for comics, but definitely pushing it), he’s moved on to aid the presidential hopeful for 2008 (strange considering he’s been palling around with the Democratic nominee for 2004), and the lessons he’s learned (or re-learned) in the past few years have been swept aside, setting Steve Rogers up more as a boy scout than the embodiment of the American spirit.

And, in a way, that’s not bad. Kirkman approaches the material in a fashion not unlike Invincible or other Image superhero books he’s done (this arc is titled “Super Patriot” *wink, wink*). Penciler Scot Eaton trades in Cap’s heavy scale-mail armor for a more Kirby-esque costume, and the general approach seems pretty neo-Silver Age. I don’t think it’s necessarily where the title should go, and it may cause a bit of a headache for fans of the past year’s Cap, but it’s entertaining and not painfully ridiculous, which is more than I can say for the last couple of issues.

District X #3 continues its exploration of a world-more-mutated as a gang war heats up, the limits of human/mutant interaction are tested, and a mysterious new character steps onto the scene. This book is doing a lot for me, attempting to answer the often ignored question: If mutants are EVERYWHERE in the Marvel universe, why the hell do we only occasionally see small groups of them wearing tights and duking it out? District X feels almost like Gotham City at times, dark and lovably lawless, but it also delves deep into the soap opera roots of Marvel’s mutant books. Unfortunately, this issue actually gives Bishop some screen time to play detective, and the result is less than awe-inspiring. Recommended, nonetheless.

And Fables #27 is a must-read, this week. Ending the eight month long “March of the Wooden Soldiers” arc, it treats us to the intense battling we’ve craved since Fables: The Last Castle, while delivering the brilliant plot threading that makes the book such a delight to read. The false Red Riding Hood’s true identity is revealed (yes, you could’ve guessed it a few issues back… but you didn’t!), a good number of heroes fall in battle, and Bigby Wolf rocks it like a hurricane. The way Bill Willingham writes Bigby, I can’t help but dream of him working on a Wolverine story. I mean, this is what Wolverine is SUPPOSED to be, people. And the way he sets up the next arc… yum. So buy it. Or I’ll hunt you down.

Freaks of the Heartland #4 gives us some more clues about the origin of Will, the misshapen boy in question, and the other deformed children he and Trevor keep hearing about. The story is beyond leisurely and needs to be read slowly so you can drink in the art of each panel, but, if you let the mood sweep over you, it provides for a haunting read. Steve Niles tells a tale of innocence, fear, prejudice, and hope with few words to get in the way of Greg Ruth’s soft watercolors and harsh brushstrokes. Freaks of the Heartland may not be for everyone, and I’d rather read it as a trade paperback than separate issues, but it’s worth looking into. This is the kind of unique and subtle tale we need more of, in comics.

You got served.
Speaking of creepy graphic narrative, Identity Crisis #2 downright chills. Brad Meltzer’s run on Green Arrow never really hooked me, but what he’s doing here is powerful. Following the death of Sue Dibny (wife of the Elongated Man. Yes, you can laugh at that.), one of the many incarnations of the JLA bands together to hunt down the murderer, Dr. Light. How do they know it’s Dr. Light? Simple: the League perpetrated an almost equally unforgivable crime against him in the past. But was it justified? And was it justified the other times they did it to other criminals?

Ooh, Meltzer, do you ever push the right buttons! Rags Morales pencils the characters deftly, easily matching and, at times, surpassing his work on Hawkman (though I still can’t quite forgive him making Power Girl’s breasts as big as her head in the Hawkman/JSA crossover…). And the Michael Turner cover actually focuses on the main characters, this time! Definitely one to check out.

JSA #63 gives us deeper looks into the mind (not the cleavage) of Power Girl, the amulet of Dr. Fate (which now imprisons rather than houses the god Nabu), and the rocky layers of the Earth’s crust which hold Sand, former chairman of the JSA, deep within the planet. I keep feeling that JSA lost its stride when David Goyer left writing duties solely to Geoff Johns (the second time, that is). It’s not that I don’t like Johns, but the big “Black Reign” crossover was pretty slow moving, and his last arc had far more to do with The Spectre and Hal Jordan than the JSA. That may be changing, now, but all the Sandman things they’re doing have me more worried than hopeful. Lyta Hall has no memory of any events from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, and I can’t help but feel a bit robbed. I’m onboard for whatever happens next, but this isn’t the rollercoaster ride we’re used to.

It’s probably coincidence, but, the way this first arc of Marvel Knights Spider-Man has gone, I can’t help feeling like we’re seeing a miniaturized version of Batman: Hush. Hero’s identity is compromised; he dukes it out with some misled heroes, faces old stand-bys from the rogue’s gallery, and ends up in bed with a sexy leather-clad cat burglar. Well, sorta.

Mark Millar may have a great knack with putting a modern gloss on old stories, and his use of subtext tickled me on the first few issues, but Marvel Knights Spider-Man #4 lacks plot and the supremely witty dialogue we expect from Spidey books. For the most part, it’s an extended fight scene with some poor story wrap-up and not so interesting lead-ins to the next arc. However, Terry Dodson’s art is exciting as all hell (no, I don’t just mean the amount of fan-service we get from Black Cat) and gives enough visceral action to make the issue a decent buy.

You know, if you'd wear looser undergarments, your eyes wouldn't bulge so much...
Now, I love Bendis - I think everyone here loves Bendis - but The Pulse #4 left me wanting to rip my hair out. I should’ve been paying attention to the fine print by the publication date on the title page, so I would’ve noticed it switched from being a monthly book to a bi-monthly (meaning once every two months, not twice every month). This storyline is so slow and gradual… and then, when you get to the last page, you realize hardly anything has happened and you’ll have to wait ANOTHER month - no, two months, now - for any resolution.

Bendis gives us solid characters and dialogue, and Bagley draws Spider-Man as only someone who’s worked on the character so long could, but these are table scraps. I want the steak. The Pulse is a good book, but when your core story focuses on finally putting Norman Osborn in jail, and that already happened three months back in Marvel Knights Spider-Man, you’re dragging ass. Not pretty.

Of course, anyone who’s browsed Scurvy Dogs knows there probably isn’t an uglier book on the market. Scrawled out, slapped together, and seriously lacking backgrounds, this is one of the crappiest looking regular books out there. It’s also funny as hell. Operating under the motto “pirates are the new monkeys," creators Ryan Yount and Andrew Boyd shoe-horn their mutinous gang into the modern world and douse them with all the obscure pop-references they can muster. Issue #5 finds the crew at the mercy of a not-so familiar face from the Buck Rogers TV series who throws them headlong into fame and fortune. Oh, horrors! I’d still like to see Yount develop his style more, but the comic timing works great and the paneling is solid. Not a must-buy, but lots of fun.

She-Hulk, on the other hand, has proven itself to be a title you can’t ignore. Issue #5 starts up the title’s first arc (only a two-issue one, though) with Paul Pelletier filling in on pencils. His style works for the story, but he makes Jen Walters a bit too much of a babe, so it’s hard to understand why she’d rather spend her time as She-Hulk. When John Jameson tells her he’d rather hang with Jen than rock out with She-Hulk, it seems more like he’s prejudiced against green women than tired of keeping up with the party girl. The art also lacks the cartoony zing Juan Bobillo gives us, but it still looks great, so I can’t really complain. As ever, Dan Slott’s writing is witty, inventive, and wordier than the Bible. He manages to squeeze so much into a single issue… Believe me when I say you’ll regret not giving She-Hulk a chance.

Hot Predictions for Next Week: Daredevil #62, Plastic Man #8, Robin #128, Seaguy #3, and Top Shelf Conversations #1.


Jason Schachat

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