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Jason Schachat strained himself lifting a DC Archive edition...

Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
July 30, 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.

Friends, you know you’ve been playing too much City of Heroes when reading a couple dozen comics in a row seems like a break. Of course, you know you’ve been working too much when stressing out for hours on City of Heroes seems like a break. Still, you can’t really tell when you’ve been reading too many comics, ‘cause work never feels like a break. I think. Dammit. Lost myself in the metaphor…

The original Army of Darkness graphic novel adaptation was always a big disappointment for me. It followed the plot of the film to a ‘t,' and the painting was very well done, but the soul of the film was completely lost. Nothing seemed funny or exciting. It just read like an odd horror comic. Army of Darkness: Ashes 2 Ashes does just the opposite by embracing the cartoony wackiness that made Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness stand out from the other low budget splatterfests.

Andy Hartnell’s story starts right where we left Ash in Army of Darkness, making out with a babe after blasting away a deadite. But, wait; it seems that his mispronunciation of the sacred words also dragged the old wise man forward through time, where Ash still has yet to visit the cabin which holds the Necronomicon. What WILL they do? Nick Bradshaw draws Ash and company as outlandish caricatures, and Hartnell’s dialogue paints him not as a hero but the arrogant, sarcastic heel we’ve come to know and love. Unfortunately, some of the paneling is a bit confusing, and the backgrounds are so detailed they’ll almost give you a headache. Still, there’s enough done right here to make Evil Dead fans soil themselves in delight.

Wolverine's secondary mutation?
The power to appear in every third title Marvel produces.
Or maybe you’d rather get frustrated at the X-Men title that’s actually good-- but could still be better; yes, Astonishing X-Men #3 is the book for you, friends. John Cassaday’s art is drool-worthy as ever, but the backgrounds and, indeed, most of the scenes in general are too stark for their own good, even pushing the limits of what Laura Martin can do with her colors. Joss Whedon’s writing manages to squeeze out some of his trademark wit after a few misses, but a lot of the story is old territory, making a better read for fans of the movies than the diehards. It’s not bad and certainly better than most of the X-books on the market, but they need to give us more. Especially after the revelation on the last page. I’d refrain from spoiling it, but when Marvel Previews blares “Which mutant returns? Check Marvel.com on 8/25 and find out!” what’s left for me to spoil?

When Marvel spoiled Avengers #500 by proudly proclaiming “one of these heroes will die in this issue," I couldn’t help but be reminded of a one-shot Grant Morrison and a slew of artists made called Doom Force (an early ‘90’s parody of Rob Liefeld’s X-Force barely tied-in with Doom Patrol) that cheerfully announced the same thing. And, considering how David Finch’s art sometimes seems like what Liefeld would do if he could learn how to draw, maybe that isn’t an entirely unfair assessment. Though I have to admit Finch doesn’t really let down, using his knack with explosions and big action-filled panels to make the issue an exciting read. Sadly, it’s Bendis’ writing that feels a bit lackluster, here. I mean, how can ANYONE write so many stories about superheroes being divided and conquered by a mysterious foe in just one year without it feeling old hat? It’s not bad, mind you, just not as fresh and new as we might hope. The bigger sin is the complete slap in the face to Avengers fans… but, no, I’m not going to spoil that for you.

Unfortunately, I can’t spoil the surprise for you in Batman #630, either, since it’s really the whole reason to read it, save to say Scarecrow will occupy a new residence in the realm of fear as a new villain is borne onto the streets of Gotham. Judd Winick’s arc should satisfy fans of “Hush” who’ve been hungering for more changes to the world of Batman without losing the well-loved scum and villainy he hunts. I was never a fan of “Hush," though, and this constant hinting at the return of Jason Todd (aka the second Robin) is proving more annoying than intriguing. Batman resorting to powered-armor yet again also feels like more of a hackneyed device than a special moment, but I’ll be damned if Dustin Nguyen doesn’t draw one of the slickest Batsuits to date - A perfect, Mignola-flavored counterpart to the bristling, ragged Scarebeast. Not the greatest issue we’ve seen in a while, but a worthy conclusion to the four issue arc.

Babes, barbarians and bugs. Excellent.
But Conan #6 ends the series’ ‘Hyperborea’ arc with an uncommon mastery. Kurt Busiek’s expansion on the works of Robert E. Howard capture the same sense of wild adventure, and Cary Nord’s rough pencils still charge the work with that raw energy we felt all the way back in issue #0. The bittersweet ending strikes just the right chord and leaves us knowing that Conan’s return to Hyperborea is inevitable. A true must-buy, this week, whether you’re a Howard fan, Savage Sword of Conan geek, or just a lover of high adventure.

You know, for a second there, I thought I was going to enjoy Green Lantern #179. Sure, it starts out a bit slowly, and then forces a confrontation between Kyle and John Stewart that feels a bit… forced. But it was nice to see Kyle get some aggression out -- Until Ron Marz reminds us why he’s such a maligned GL scribe: this stuff is pointless, choppy, and inconsequential. I don’t really give a damn about the feud between Kyle and Major Force, and we’ve all gotten the message that Kyle no longer fits in on Earth. Like I said before, they should just keep this book with Kyle and put him in space to continue re-building the Green Lantern Corps. Get a writer who can handle sci-fi, and you’re golden. But this slow, plodding journey to either his death or banishment is both boring and frustrating. Marz once said in an interview that the GLC should be like the Jedi, and I jumped at the idea that he might do that with Green Lantern. Well, it ain’t happening yet. At this rate, I wonder if it’ll happen at all. The odds against seem damn high.

If The Nail has anything going against it, it’s probably Rob Zombie’s name on the cover. Kinda ironic when you consider it’s supposed to be the main selling point of the book, I guess. But the Rob Zombie label brings to mind half-assed attempts at horror comics, an obsession with zombie splatter-films, those ugly action figures, and the dancing midgets from the Dragula music video. Okay, well, maybe that’s just me - point is it doesn’t bring to mind a fun, intense horror story, which is what this is.

Issue #2 continues the hybrid zombie/slasher antics as our ‘70’s wrestler heroes realize the true origins of the deadly biker gang as the demons chase their Winnebago, torment the local populace, and cover the town in blood. Steve Niles co-writes a solid script, bringing his mastery of comicraft to what could otherwise be another cheap Evil Dead ripoff. Nat Jones art solidifies the work, occasionally layering the cluttered textures we might expect from someone like Sam Keith onto a style akin to Tony Moore’s work on The Walking Dead. Of course, it’s not the jaw-dropping paragon that The Walking Dead is (more on that later). Still, a definite recommendation.

Aquaman's seahorse goes insane,
and only the DC Heroes can stop him!
I’ve been talking up DC: The New Frontier for months now, so you probably don’t want to hear more about how much I’m enjoying Darwyn Cooke’s art or his inspired interpretation of the early Silver Age. I’ll just note that, in issue #5, Hal Jordan fans have yet another reason to hit the shop, as Cooke flings both Hal and ourselves into the light of the Green Lantern. It’s easy to forget that a lot of Hal’s strength was drawn from the pure optimism of the character (which, ultimately, explains why he couldn’t survive either the Bronze Age or the Modern Age), but seeing him here, youthful and unspoiled... Well, let’s just hope this is the Hal we get back, rather than the mopey drifter or low-rent Superman.

Let’s also hope that Planetary picks up a little next time around, ‘cause this recent attempt at doing an arc was just hurtful. Issue #20 will read great when collected into trade paperback format, but, as a single issue, it’s so simple and subtle it’s frustrating. Unlike this month’s Astonishing X-Men, Cassaday’s work here is absolutely flawless - gorgeous - wonderfu l- orgasmic! Aliens, angels, hives of giant insects, mountainous thrones of stone; it’s all here. …and now we have to wait a few months for more of it.

Warren Ellis does a great job of trusting his artist to carry the story through silent panels and sparse exchanges of dialogue (not always a wise move: see this month’s Ultimate Fantastic Four), but he answers none of the questions unanswered in issue #19 and doesn’t do enough to draw us back for issue #21. We’ve now been introduced to Jacob Greene (Planetary’s horrific answer to the Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm), but this feels more like half an issue than a whole. Maybe Ellis split his original story to accommodate Cassaday’s visuals, but on a frequently late quarterly book, that’s a risk you shouldn’t take.

Powers #2, another frequently late book (though, if you lost track, this is the second volume, now) further develops the story of Retro Girl’s return from the dead, the changes that come in a world where even heroic use of superpowers is illegal, and the continually strained relationship between detectives Walker and Pilgrim. Bendis just… wow. You may need to have followed Powers from the first arc to understand the impact of this issue (and, my god, the man FINALLY managed to tie up the only thread annoyingly hanging from “Who Killed Retro Girl?”), but what’s happening here is simply brilliant.

Pulling from the last arc of volume one, we can now understand that Retro Girl is truly more than an icon of innocent superheroics or a sacrificial lamb for a world lost to us: she is the spirit of justice and altruism in the human heart that will never die. While most of the issue slings some standard cop drama and politics around, the flowing theme and Retro Girl scenes at beginning and end will leave you ravening for the next issue.

Ben Templesmith presents us with a creepy post-apocalyptic tale in the first issue of Singularity 7, a new series that could be great if it’s limited, but may run into trouble if it’s meant to be ongoing (seems Diamond Distributors listed it as ongoing, but it’s hard to imagine the story lasting long). Set in a nightmare future where a few strong individuals stand up against an all powerful tyrant, it harkens close to elements of The Matrix, The Terminator, and 12 Monkeys, but manages to distance itself enough to not seem derivative. If anything, it owes more to anime and manga with its biotech foundation and ronin warriors. However, Templesmith’s scrawly, swirling, splattered painting style (familiar to us from 30 Days of Night) distances it from practically any work in the genre we’ve seen before. Singularity 7 may not have enough juice to run for years, but this first issue is promising and I’ll be waiting on the next one.

"I want to grow up and be Sir Lancelot..."
But, despite being a hardcore Warren Ellis fan, I won’t be waiting on next month’s Ultimate Fantastic Four with bated breath. Issue #9 left me so cold, I had to swaddle myself in heating blankets just to get moving again (hey, that’s a significant metaphor when you’re in So Cal in July). Stuart Immonen’s pencils looked sloppy and painfully undetailed, and far too many of the characters appear inconsistent and inexpressive. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much if Ellis hadn’t made the entire issue a formless race through the Baxter Building as our heroes fight a swarm of Dr. Doom’s robot insects rather than the fascinating mix of pseudo-science and drama he’s given us the last two months. The dialogue is still witty and maintains just enough of that hard sci-fi/out-there fantasy amalgam to keep me interested, but this is not an issue I’d really recommend.

And what the hell’s with all the kiddie advertising, here? Does anyone else feel dirty seeing Ellis’ writing crammed between adverts for the Disney Channel and Nicktoons magazine? At least tell me I’m not the only one perplexed to see a Justice League DVD ad in Ultimate Fantastic Four.

Truth be told, the only thing I’m REALLY confused about is why all of you didn’t pre-order The Walking Dead #9. No, seriously! Well, you sure as hell better hunt it down, people, cause this is why we’re reading comics. The Walking Dead is the new gold standard, and you don’t wanna miss a single issue. Kirkman’s social drama is a pure and chilling example of graphic narrative, binding us to the characters in such subtle ways that we can’t know how much we feel for them until he brings harsh realities crashing down upon them. Issue #9 gives us a perfect taste of the bittersweet recipe that makes The Walking Dead the best comic out there. The supreme effort it takes not to rush through this pulse-pounding issue is overwhelming, and the blows Kirkman lands to our fragile sensibilities are unexpected and heart-wrenching.

So, just remember: if you can’t set aside a few measly dollars from X-book spending to treat yourself to The Walking Dead, you will burn in hell for all eternity like the foul, worthless beast you are.


Hot Predictions for Next Week: Blue Monday: Painted Moon #2, Queen & Country #26, Runaways #17, Ultimate Nightmare #1, and Ultimate Spider-Man #63.

Bonus Note: Starting on August 4, 2004, to August 17, 2004, if you walk in to Brian's Books (see ad on our sidebar) in Santa Clara and drop the code phrase "Doctor Light," you get 15% off of all DC hardbacks.

Jason Schachat

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