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Jason Schachat just can't choose between Betty and Veronica.
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
August 27, 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.

I think there’s some kinda trend going on. Two weeks ago, I said it was “a wonderful time to be alive”. Then the next week’s comics sucked. So, I said “Wow, what a disappointing week for comics” and, lo and behold, this week’s rock.

So, yes, check out the Diamond Distributors webpage, and you’ll see that next week’s comics suck.

Oh, well.

But, this week, Amazing Spider-Man #511 finally reveals to us the identities of the assassin-types who’ve been threatening to kill Peter Parker and his family for the last few months. The issue divides its time between Peter’s test on a loved one’s DNA and Mary Jane’s day (where she largely talks about how Peter never tells her anything, in order to protect her, and how her snooping manages to save him more often than you’d expect). This issue lacks some of the punch we had last month, and the scene at Mary Jane’s play rehearsal makes for pretty bland subtext.

J. Michael Straczynski’s main conflict has been the big draw of this arc, but, if you remember enough from last month’s issue, you could see where this story was going a ways back. It’s not bad. It just lags for something that’s going to ret-con the history of Spider-Man. Mike Deodato Jr.’s art is a total 180 from Romita Jr.’s, and, though I welcomed the change, at first, I find I’m starting to miss the connection to the characters I get from the latter’s style. This is undeniably a cool looking Spider-man, yet it lacks the warmth and humor it needs to balance the grimmer elements of Straczynski’s story. Recommended, but not a must-read.

A sight that causes mixed emotions...
Caper #11 is such a must-read, it hurts. Following the destruction of Lou’s apartment complex by the villainous Men in Black, Lou, Richie, and the slightly singed Ray Ray run for cover while the MiBs raid Cleopatrick Stewart (“The Angriest Drag Queen in the World”) in their quest for the severed hand that started this whole mess. Unfortunately, laying low doesn’t exactly work out for the boys, and they’re swept away by a stampede of gun-toting pornstars on motorcycles to the home of Jimmy Buck Esterhaus: porn king, metaphor-mixing hick, and man interested in a certain infamous appendage.

Strangely, this issue didn’t have me rolling on the floor in quite as many tears as last month’s Caper, but, MY GOD, is this stuff hilarious. Again, Judd Winick’s humor is set to fire off all the rockets that make a geek’s joy fly, and the dialogue is probably the best he’s ever written. Of course, the entire meeting with Jimmy Buck is insane male fantasy, but Winick KNOWS it and revels in the humor, building off natural reactions to the extreme situations (I mention this now because the last title we look at this week fails to make similar situations either realistic or humorous).

Tom Fowler is officially on my list of artists to look for, now, having delivered three hilarious issues that never letdown on artistic quality or consistency. With only one issue left, my initial fears that this arc wouldn’t live up to earlier ones has been completely dispelled. This is a must-buy for geeks, fanboys, horndogs, and all the rest of you who read these articles.

X-geeks may also enjoy Excalibur #4, as it completes its first arc with an action-packed battle between the mutants of Genosha and the returned Magistrates. Xavier and Magneto rush out to sea to face the Omega Sentinel dropped from the Magistrates’ cargo plane while Callisto leads Freakshow and Wicked toward the other capsule which holds a mutant telekinetic who may or may not be on their side.

Forgetting the plot contrivance of the Magistrates just happening to carry this precious cargo right over hostile airspace, the issue makes for a fast-paced and enjoyable conclusion to a slow arc. Maybe things would’ve worked better if issues #2 and #3 had been merged… Nevertheless, the end result and inevitable formation of a team prove better than anyone had a right to hope. Will they be able to keep it going? Doubtful, but I can recommend it this month.

You know how you can tell a superhero’s going down? They forget to shave. Seriously; Batman got all sloppy before Bane snapped his spine, Hal Jordan conveniently forgot to pack a razor for his years as a moping drifter… Betcha Jean Grey swapped her Marvel Girl mini-skirt for those tights to cover up the acres of leg-stubble…


At last...the confrontation you waited for...
five years ago...
Well, the point is Kyle Rayner STILL seems to be working on a beard in Green Lantern #180, second to last issue of this volume and possibly the missing clue for how they’ll axe the young GL. Most of the outing is spent with Kyle and his mom in one of the dullest conversations I’ve read lately (yes, that includes our Fanboy Forums (please, Derek… not the face)) as our hero dwells on not wanting to be a hero, the loves he’s lost, and his place in the universe.

Man, what exciting fodder. Let me get out my party hat.

However, Ron Marz makes this up to us by lulling into such a feeling of “same crap, different story arc” that the abundantly foreshadowed surprise actually does the trick. The upcoming battle with Major Force (yeah, despite the cover, the real fight is next month) actually has me interested in the next issue. For once, situations are starting to feel justified, and I see a possible way out of the muddled confusion that Green Lantern has become.

It still looks like a crap ending to Kyle’s tenure (A universe full of Green Lanterns, and DC has to get rid of the most selfless and heroic one of all - remember The Ion? - who also happens to be the only one making them money.), and Luke Ross’s art all too rarely satisfies, but this is the best issue they’ve given us in a long time. Almost recommended. Not quite.

Gah! What’s going on in Love Fights #12?! Is this the end? It feels like an end. But this series isn’t supposed to end? How could it end? Is this the end? Villain’s presumed dead, superhero’s in the same boat, mystery has been solved, young lovers are together… what the hell’s going on? After last month’s powerhouse climax, Andi Watson slows things down and gives us the pacing and characterization he’s a master of, and, yes, the result is spectacular, but the sheer number of threads he’s tied up have me dancing around like a child who can’t find the bathroom after downing a Double Gulp.

Where can we go from here? Will Jack and Nora’s troubles continue and multiply? Is the next issue going to be a cold start with a different couple? Is Watson going to move the story away from its superhero elements and focus even more on Jack and Nora? Is that possible? Have I become a crack addict for this series? Did I mention it’s one of the best books this week? Can’t I stop asking these stupid questions? Gah!

Settling down, Sam Keith delivers the first issue of his latest mini-series, Ojo (to all the gringos and gringas, that’s Spanish for “eye”), and I find myself at a lack of words for the summary... Well, it’s about Annie, a nine year old girl who lives with her grandfather and older sister after the death of her mother. She tries to adopt various pets, but winds up accidentally killing them and begins to believe death follows her wherever she goes. Then she finds a strange creature under their mobile home…

Now, I know that may sound like a reasonable pitch for a story, but this is Sam Keith, and, as any fans of The Maxx know all too well, he can lace even the most mundane subject with enough introspection and creepy yet endearing characterization to make it an epic. You get a warm feeling reading Annie’s childish take on the world around her, and then the underlying themes come swirling out of the darkness and wrap you even tighter in the story. Sadly, this pleasant feeling eventually gives way to a frightening reveal at the end. Still, I can definitely recommend this odd little tale, though I’m guessing it may start appealing more to horror fans next month.

Speaking of fans, I’m not a Savage Dragon fan (weak segue, I know. I’ll do better, next time). Never have been. I think I watched the cartoon when I was younger, but, even without Erik Larsen’s sloppy style to bog it down, I just couldn’t get into the story of a big green cop with a fin on his head.

Savage Dragon: God War does a few things to sidestep this. First, it starts out with a story that has nothing to do with anything, seating us with the poor schmoes stuck on a commercial jetliner. Second, it rams said plane into the invisible forcefield surrounding God Town (not quite best described as a combination of Valhalla and New Genesis, but let’s not dwell on better ways to explain it). God Town crashes to Earth, only slightly cushioned from its fall by Denver, which provokes a hyper-reactionary president (Gee, wonder who that’s supposed to be…) to immediately declare war on them.

Oh, and the Cask of Ancient Evil has been opened, freeing the Forever Serpent, so that doesn’t really help.

Robert Kirkman takes humorous jabs in all directions, but I have to confess the plotting isn’t quite up to snuff. By the end, I found myself a bit tired and not really interested in what came next. The bigger problem was Mark Englert’s art. Sorry to say, but it just ain’t happening for me. Kirkman’s stories are always very character oriented, and Englert’s people look almost as odd and unnatural here as they did in Capes. I guess if it’s not supposed to look human, he seems to do well enough… Not much of a comfort, is that? Mildly recommended for the humor, but not the powerhouse Invincible and The Walking Dead are. …man, I wanted to REALLY enjoy a Kirkman book this week…

Oh, hell, let’s just break alphabetical order and do another Kirkman book--

Kirkman recycles well...
SuperPatriot: War on Terror #1 reunites Kirkman with E.J. Su, his artist from last year’s phenomenal Tech Jacket, on a mini-series that’s both similar to and totally unlike Kirkman’s run on Captain America. Things kick off when SuperPatriot is ambushed by agents of Hydro and the former head of G.U.A.R.D. (See?) while trying to rent some videos (again; see?). SP dispatches them quickly enough, and the story splits off to follow a quiet, shriveled, little old man the world has conspired to crap on.

Then we go back to SP watching movies with the wife until he’s called upon to battle the disembodied, telepathic brain of Adolph Hitler (whose body was destroyed when the nuclear reactor that powered his battle armor exploded, leaving his intact brain to be pumped full of chemicals so it could be fitted into the jar-encased head of a gorilla which took so well to the chemicals it forgot it was Hitler for forty years until a flying saucer crashed into the gorilla body, forcing him to acquire a robot gorilla body…).

Fans of SuperPatriot: America’s Fighting Force should love the ties between the two series and newcomers will find their ignorance only increases the joyous absurdity of the story. Kirkman’s deliriously ludicrous approach, while going too far for Captain America, fits SuperPatriot like a glove. Cap, despite all his years of poor treatment, dopey villains, and constant references to fallen sidekick Bucky, still has fans who take him seriously. SuperPatriot? People, the man has frikkin’ arms that turn into guns, pile drivers, grappling hooks, can openers, or whatever the hell else he wants. The less serious you are about him, the better.

E.J. Su’s linework is just as brilliant as it was on Tech Jacket, but the overall production is even higher quality, making it all the more painful that Tech Jacket is on indefinite hold while Su’s talents are only glimpsed by the nostalgia crowd picking up Voltron, Masters of the Universe, and G.I. Joe vs. Transformers (especially sad when, unlike the artist on this week’s Transformers #7, Su can draw both a picture-perfect Optimus Prime AND a proportionate human being). Definitely one to buy. If nothing else, pick this up to show Image they need more books like this and less like NYC Mech.

Steve Niles may have all but cornered the horror comic market in the last couple of years, but, unfortunately, that doesn’t guarantee every drop that dribbles from his pen is pure gold. In this case, I’m talking about Secret Skull #1, a new horror/hero book with some intrigue, a touch of wit, and plenty of viscera.

Samantha, the grown daughter of the local precinct’s detective captain, has disturbing nightmares about murders that have yet to happen. Or maybe it’s Secret Skull that has the nightmares. I’m not too sure, since the narration has a strange flow. Regardless, Secret Skull can see murders ahead of time and uses this knowledge to fight crime. Samantha’s father has been hunting him for two and a half years with little yield, but one of his detectives (who also dates Samantha) may have a link to the Skull.

And that’s about all that happens. The ending gives us a solid hint at who the Skull is and what challenges face him, yet the story lacks a strong conflict and the only antagonists are standard thugs who’ll most likely get their asses handed to them. Niles’ writing may have flown straight by “subtle” and into the realm of “huh?” on this outing, though I’d like to think it’ll redeem itself with time.

Chuck BB’s chunky, scratchy lines aren’t quite the perfect counterpart that Ben Templesmith’s (30 Days of Night) are, but this is a case where the style proves more interesting than the substance. BB’s coloring gives Secret Skull a chalky texture with a strong Mexican feel. Though I can’t recommend the issue, I’m still planning on running to the shop for it next month.

Every Ultimate Marvel book has to get past two hurdles: a) How does it relate to the regular Marvel book? B) How does it relate to the other Ultimate Universe books? Ultimate Elektra seemed to be a carbon copy of her regular incarnation in Ultimate Spider-man and Ultimate Marvel Team-Up (sorry, gang, still haven’t gotten around to reading Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra), doing her standard badass assassin schtick.

Say, that black leather looks just like the movie...
Maybe that’s why it’s so nice to see Ultimate Elektra #1 reinvent the character, setting her up as the daughter of a simple Greek immigrant with a dirty-dealing cousin who drags his clothes laundering business into a money laundering scheme. Meanwhile, young Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson get their first summer internships at the law firm who’s new client just happens to have the books to ruin Elektra’s cousin.

Mike Carey established himself as a smart writer a long time ago with Lucifer and Hellblazer (his current run on the latter being the fourth longest to date; only a year and a half off from tying Garth Ennis’ 43 issue run), but who knew he could bring his plot-threading and complicated story arcs to the Ultimate Universe intact?! I was amazed to flip back through the book and realize it was, indeed, just a 22 page comic like any other, yet there’s more going on here than in any three issues of Ultimate Spider-Man.

By introducing a few characters and settings, Carey subtly lets us know this story takes place before anything we’ve seen in any other Ultimate books, thus working around the odd situation of Daredevil being the oldest hero in the Ultimate Universe (not counting Captain America’s decades as an ice cube) while Elektra often appears almost girlish.

Salvador Larroca pulls off an artistic offering that almost makes me forgive his recent sins on X-Men, rendering the first GREEK Elektra I’ve seen in years and generally fitting into the book’s non-superpowered world better than the spandex-laden settings he usually gives us. However, I think a lot of credit has to go to the coloring team from Liquid, who give Larroca’s work a lot more weight and tone than we usually get from Udon’s “shine and glow” contributions to his pencils on Uncanny X-Men and X-Men. A recommended book that will hopefully influence other Ultimate books to follow in its plot-oriented footsteps.

Oh, fine, I’ll admit that Ultimate Fantastic Four #10 has some plotting. It kinda has to, after last issue’s extended fight scene, though. This month, we get a lot more story to make up for it with Reed figuring out Victor Van Damme’s been hiding out in Denmark since the accident that created the Fantastic Four. Of course, the army plans to take on Van Damme without the “kids’” help, but Reed figures out a way around that, if only he can convince the others to come along.

I don’t think I need to praise Warren Ellis any more (at least not THIS week), so I’ll just say that Stuart Immonen makes up for his lazy pencils last month with work much closer to the beauty of his first issues on this arc. The characters are much more solid and, damn, do I love this robotic/alien/satanic Dr. Doom. While this issue mostly serves as a build up to the upcoming showdown, it easily qualifies as one of the stronger Ultimate Fantastic Four outings and whets the appetite for “Doom: Part 5." Get it.

There are times where I, as a critic, fully realize that I like something only because of my personal biases and not the true quality of the work. I was completely prepared to say just this about WE3 #1, since I’m an animal lover (strictly platonic, I assure you) who distrusts most governments and almost always goes for Grant Morrison’s comics. But, dammit, I can’t. This is just too damn good. The new three-part mini stays completely silent for its first twelve pages as we witness the assassination of a foreign dictator by a mysterious trio of robots--- but they’re not robots. They’re cybernetically enhanced housepets.

I know, I know; it sounds like Morrison is playing with us. Think about it, though. The idea is brilliant. In comics, we’ve repeatedly seen it proven that turning a man into a killing machine is a bad idea, but, on the other hand, real life has shown us that creating robot brains and bodies for combat situations just isn’t feasible. What HAS been shown are the amazing things you can get animals to do when you implant enough electrodes in them. Morrison’s approach here is about as Hard Sci-Fi as he gets, exploring territory we might associate more with Warren Ellis, but infusing it with the tension and socio-political relevance that’s all his own. This is powerful stuff.

Frank Quitely’s art is something people either love or hate, and I haven’t exactly been a fan of late, but his work on this issue is easily as exciting as his team-up with Grant Morrison on New X-Men. He avoids most of the pitfalls he usually encounters (extreme redesigns of well-known characters, an over-abundance of people with saggy skin, a tendency to give everyone round, stubby noses, etc.) and steps right up when Morrison throws down the gauntlet. The first two-page splash will knock you down, and, just when you’re getting up, Morrison has him hit you with six pages of nearly silent 15-panel layouts that’ll have your teeth chattering. Like I said, WE3 is powerful stuff, a great deal, and the best comic of the week.

Sure, it's titillating...but is it any good?
So, why did I read WorldWatch #1?

Was I fooled by Chuck Austen’s recent work for DC that he was an author worth following? Did I long for yet another JLA re-imagining along the lines of Stormwatch? Was I just looking for a book I knew I’d be able to trash? The answer could quite possibly be all of the above. This… thing is offensive on so many levels, I know I’ll only be able to cover a couple.

It proclaims up front that it’s a graphic novelization of a tell-all book written by War Woman, a boob-tacular Wonder Woman clone who leads a team of heroes stationed on a spaceship that orbits the Earth. She narrates the story with all the maturity of a fourteen year old boy (Can you say “key demographic”," Billy?), telling us how she and her team bicker all the time as they defeat the super-villain Pharaoh, only to have him slip through their fingers.

They head back to the satellite, bicker some more, and then all the female heroes gradually strip down and have sex with various male heroes. No, I’m not kidding. There isn’t one woman in the main cast we don’t see topless and in a compromising situation in this first issue. In every case, the woman is the one who strips down and gets busy.

Now, I hate the word “slut." I don’t believe we should rag on sexually aggressive women while single men can hit it whenever they want. However, there’s a point where overt sexuality just gets ridiculous. To portray every woman in this book as raving and wanton while men are allowed a broader range of dispositions oversteps the boundaries of “empowered” and “assertive” into downright sexist male fantasy.

If this were idiotic porn, I wouldn’t be so bothered by that (and, yes, Chuckles has been involved in softcore comics before), but Austen is honestly trying to make a scintillating superhero story. Frankly, I’ve seen many FAR more sexy and interesting erotic comics floating around (Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss, for one, and Juan Bobillo of She-Hulk has some hardcore credits to his name).

Tom Derenick’s women are pretty and voluptuous, but his ideas of perspective can be laughable and some of the characters are hideously disproportionate (and not in sexy ways, either). Superhero books don’t seem to be his strong suit (he’s done better on Smallville), but these mistakes are fundamental problems and he needs to get past them. Final verdict? If you want a superhero book, look elsewhere. If you want porn, look elsewhere. If you want superhero porn… well, you should probably just look for it online and save yourself the $2.95.

Hot Predictions for Next Week: Avengers #501, Majestic #2, Milkman Murders #3, and Y: The Last Man #26.

Jason Schachat

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