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Jason Schachat forgot to say "Doctor Light" at Brian's Books.
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
August 6, 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.

Marvel continues to flood the shelves with books in the hope of pushing everyone else off the shelves, DC does the same old same old, and Image wises up and starts re-printing The Walking Dead issues for all the slackers out there. What a wonderful time to be alive.

Another month, and another issue of Amazing Fantasy limps through the door, still plodding through the origin of a new Spider-Girl. This book may be the definition of mediocre, as everything its doing has already been seen in recent runs of Amazing Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man. Mark Brooks' art occasionally manages to transcend the look of the latter title, but the story is sadly eclipsed by Straczynski and Avery’s work on the former, morphing the Spider-Man legend from outdated pseudo-science to modern fantasy. This second issue lacks the humor and charm it needs to get off the ground, and its portrayal of teenagers is so forced and unrealistic I don’t see how kids will even go for it. Well, smart kids, at least. Maybe just smart kids with a sense of dignity.

Nice thorax.
Ant, on the other hand, has become a title I find myself extremely guilty for enjoying and issue #3 is no exception to the rule. We find young Hanna (a little girl who KNOWS she’ll grow up to be a superhero and will write about it until she does) ripped from the arms of her father after he’s arrested for murdering his boss. Children’s Services can’t retrieve her journal from their apartment, and Hanna caves in on herself without the solace of writing the adventures of Ant. However, her deadbeat mom finally gets a clue and breaks into the apartment for her, only to open the journal to be sucked into Hanna’s power-fantasy. Mario Gully’s story and art are strongly reminiscent of the glory days of Image comics and the ‘90’s boom. In fact, from the start, it made me think of Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn and Sam Keith’s The Maxx (though it’s far closer to The Maxx, story-wise). But in a good way. Of course, if I ever say the same about the new X-Force mini, feel free to send your flaming hate mail to Derek. (Because by then we will have had Mr. Schachat "taken care of...")

Batman: The 12 Cent Adventure, much like Batman: The 10 Cent Adventure of two years ago, starts off this summer’s Bat-crossover with a prelude narrated by a young woman struggling to understand the dark knight as a new threat is unleashed upon Gotham City. But, this time, that woman is Spoiler (aka the fourth Robin, until two weeks ago) and writer Devin Grayson uses the situation more to examine the role of Robin and Spoiler’s personal battle than focus on the Kobra attack at a charity event Bruce Wayne just happens to be attending (and, I’m sorry, but does anyone else ever find they confuse DC’s Kobra with Marvel’s Hydra terrorists as much as I do?). The book makes an interesting read for newcomers and fanboys alike, and, at only twelve cents, it’s a nearly impossible impulse item to pass up.

Beckett Comic’s latest attempt, Fade from Grace #1 hurt me on a number of levels. The story is essentially a case of a man gaining super-powers and the uncontrollable desire to be a hero after saving the woman he loves from a burning building. But the whole issue deals with her thinking something’s wrong with their relationship. He seems to be able to become intangible or super-dense at will, but we really don’t know anything about him. Beckett’s attempt to structure their comics differently than most mainstream companies makes it hard to read at times, and Jeff Amano’s blocky art style suits Gabriel Benson’s script just a little more than the bizarre computer coloring. At times it looks like flash animation, or some art hobbyist’s online portfolio. With a price of $.99, it’s hard to get so down on a book, but the story just doesn’t go anywhere and ultimately leaves you feeling no obligation to buy the next issue.

Amazingly enough, Guardians #2 STILL has me wanting the next issue. I may have seen the plot twist at the end of the last issue coming from a mile away, but Mark Sumerak has somehow managed to work the interaction between his characters so well, you can’t help but be intrigued by this story of a group of children who meet an alien and grow up with everyone thinking they’re nuts for believing in such things. The realism of the situation takes center stage while the aliens and spaceships hide in the wings, yet I find myself more intrigued by the human drama than the cosmic adventuring. And this is a Marvel book, for god’s sake! Who ever saw that coming? A strong read that hopefully won’t be cancelled in the aftermath of Marvel’s market-flooding campaign.

You'll believe a man can fly onto the sales charts.
However, if a cosmic story is what you desire, Majestic #1 kicks off a four part mini-series dedicated to the Wildstorm hero trapped in the DC Universe. After some quick exposition for those who never read Abnett, Lanning, and Kerschl’s run on Superman, they plunge into a story that deftly alternates from humor to cosmic adventure. Karl Kerschl’s pencil’s hit that rare balance between stylized and realistic art that works so well on DC books, but it’s the work of Carrie Strachan’s coloring team that makes some of these images simply sing. The cover may not do much for you, but crack it open to that first page and you’ll see what I mean. I’d like to think Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning will have cornered the market on cosmic storylines by the time this mini finishes, but, at the same time, their take on Mr. Majestic’s struggle to escape the happy-go-lucky Earth of the DCU could have a charm all its own. Whatever happens, I recommend it, so far.

The Milkman Murders #2 isn’t about milkmen. It isn’t about murders, either. What is it? About the creepiest damn horror comic I’ve read lately, even though it has no zombies, bloodlettings, people with extra appendages coming out of places they don’t belong, or be-tentacled demon monsters. This story of a housewife in one of the most f*cked up domestic situations imaginable rolls along its own psychotic rollercoaster with an originality that would make me want to shake writer Joe Casey’s hand if not for the fact his mere presence might put me in mortal terror. Of course, more credit may be due to Steve Parkhouse, who makes every panel grimy with filth and designs characters so subtly grotesque you just want to curl up and die after looking at them for fifteen minutes. It’s one of those cases of knowing something’s art, but not knowing if you like it. Recommended? For anyone who wants to be sincerely creeped out, hell yeah. Others, handle with care.

A far less disturbing but suddenly unsettling book, Runaways climaxes at #17 with an all-out, mindbending clash of heroes and the long-winded villain lecture we’ve been waiting for all this time that both explains how everything came together but also leaves us weeping and shouting into the night “Say, it ain’t so, Alex!”. If nothing else, you have to admit Brian K. Vaughan has balls to first come up with this book, then, at the last moment, reveal the main character is really the bad guy, and NOW he ties the whole series up, leaving just enough room for falling action and reflection in next month’s conclusion to the series (of course, sales skyrocketed when they put Runaways in digest form, so volume two is due to start a bit later this year). I have to admit that Alex’s betrayal hurts more than a little; this kid was our hero from page one of the first issue, and the sudden turn of events is so jarring that it almost takes down the coolness factor a notch. But, again, Vaughan and Adrian Alphona deliver an ending with so much guts and glory you can’t help but love it. Definitely one to get.

DC Comics Presents Superman #1 gives us two different tales based on the concept cover of Supes fighting “The Phantom Quarterback”. Stan Lee wisely chooses to tell the more lighthearted of the two tales, with Darwyn Cooke delivery a cartoony style of illustration that balances with Lee’s jabs at Silver Age conventions. Still, the story tends to drag a little and lacks the laugh-out-loud humor of Brian Azzarello’s contribution to DC Comics Presents Green Lantern #1. The second story, unfortunately, is even weaker, and nothing Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen do seem to help it take off. While there’s some charm to this issue, I’d hold out for next week’s more promising DC Comics Presents Flash #1 if I were you.

This doesn't look a thing like my ultimate nightmare...
But what’s the big gun, this week? The one you have to get or your fellow comic geeks will give you a swirly in the foulest toilet at the bathroom on the far side of campus (woah… flashback). Why, Ultimate Nightmare #1, of course. Trevor Hairsine’s eye-popping art alone is worth the price of admission, but combining it with Warren Ellis’ blend of real-world sci-fi, covert ops, and otherwordly creepiness makes it the most promising Marvel mini we’ve seen in a long time. Is the world coming to an end? Has an alien power crashed to earth? Are psychics around the world committing suicide because a traumatized mutant teenager is having bad dreams? The amount of mystery introduced here could end up hurting the story later on, but if these guys can give Sam Wilson one of the coolest re-imagined debuts we’ve seen in an Ultimate book, the sky’s the limit.

Ultimate Spider-man #63 continues it’s “Carnage” arc with part four, reaffirming right away that the Ultimate Universe’s Gwen Stacy is truly dead, leaving both Peter Parker and Aunt May devastated at their failure to save the unfortunate new member of their troubled household. Though Bagley doesn’t quite deliver on the staggering number of facial expressions he has to give us, the pacing of the panels appropriately brings down the tension after last issue’s harrowing climax. This is probably the best arc of Ultimate Spidey we’ve seen, and Bendis’ nail-biting murder of Gwen (almost offscreen; reminding us of the tease he gave us with Mary Jane’s “death” a few years ago) makes this such a must buy, I don’t think you need me to tell you.

And, since I clearly haven’t done enough Ultimate titles this week, let’s talk about Ultimate X-Men #50 for a while. The good? Well, despite losing Brandon Peterson’s fine skills, I’m glad to see Andy Kubert back on art duties for an Ultimate book. Brian K. Vaughan is still filling the title with that great X-Men feel, but he goes deeper into the lives of these teenage X-Men and their raging hormones, which actually proves to be a good thing. However, this is the long awaited issue where they introduce Gambit to the team. I hate Gambit. Oh, I understand there are tons of Gambit fans out there who’ll rally to defend their favorite Cajun, but, honestly, what’s so special about him? The accent? C’mon! What disturbs me even more is that I’m forced to defend Chuck Austen (*cringe*), who first introduced the character to the Ultimate Universe as a friendly street kid forced into heroism. Vaughan and Kubert’s Gambit is NOTHING like the one we met a few years ago, and I just don’t care enough about him to ask why. I’ll chalk some of this up to personal bias, and I still recommend the issue, but let’s just pray Vaughan isn’t going to bring in Ultimate Cable next.

Wait a minute...garden...snake...what could this mean?
Oh, and , since I clearly haven’t done enough titles by Brian K. Vaughan this week-- picking up on a theme, here? Y: The Last Man #25 concludes the two-part “Tongues of Flame” arc, ruminating on sex, the sexes, and their place in organized religion. Oh, and Yorick also has to deal with the fact that he finally slept with someone for the first time since all the other men died two years ago, even though he still believes his girlfriend is alive in Australia. All the ideas and arguments brought forth in this story make it one of the best jumping-on points in the series. Brian K. Vaughan’s script is just so smart it hurts, and, even though I had some doubts after reading the last issue, events are still in motion and paths are crossing. Somehow, he keeps finding just the right way to keep us from expecting what will happen next- but it still makes perfect sense. As long as he and penciller Pia Guerra can keep the threads weaving back and forth (unlike the numerous, almost unconnected arcs since “One Small Step”), the third year of this series will be irresistible. Definitely the best book of the week.

Hot Predictions for Next Week: District X # 4, Fables #28, Identity Crisis #3, Powers #3, and Supreme Power #12.

Reminder: Until 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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