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Jason Schachat now has it in for donkeys...
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
September 3, 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. This week Jason was late because of a weird confluence of Hurricane Frances and Paramount Pictures. It was such a wacky excuse that it had to be real. So pretend you're reading this last Friday...

For some reason, I had the “Batgirl Theme” from Batman: The Animated Series trilling through my head for days last week, and I haven’t seen any of those episodes in years.

Is the DVD god commanding me to buy the new boxset?

Praise be…

Marvel’s premiere team continues to disassemble this week in Avengers #501, which lands half the team in hospitals, morgues, labs, and warehouses while the rest crumble under the absurdity of what’s going on. Iron Man is forced to resign as Secretary of Defense after his drunken tirade in the last issue, then conveniently shows up to one-punch the rampaging She-Hulk and drag Captain America out from under a truck. And then they all squabble and cry for the rest of the issue. Now, I may have painted this as poor drama, but Brian Michael Bendis DOES strike some chords and delivers a well written destruction of the beloved team.

However, we still have to question if “Disassembled” is necessary. Do the Avengers really need to go through hell again? After the strides made in She-Hulk, the last thing I wanted to see was her on another ill-timed berserker rage. Tony coping with alcoholism, Yellowjacket grief-stricken at Wasp’s bedside, Cap playing the silent, well-intentioned, ineffectual leader; it’s just not a ton of fun.

Avengers fans were going to be pissed off, no matter what, but the way Marvel’s reveling in their promised bloodbath may chase a lot of old schoolers away. At the same time, there are far too many references and old conflicts at work to attract new blood. And THEN they have to slap “Disassembled” on every damn book associated with the team, ruining a bunch of other series for a conflict they don’t even seem to tie into.

And, yes, I’ll use this as an opportunity to go on a rant: Crossovers need to stop. Sure, there has been the occasional novel idea that’s justified a crossover (the Bat-books’ “No Man’s Land” kicked off really nicely with the opener that Back to the Future scribe Bob Gale did), but crossovers have rarely been designed to do anything other than make money by dragging readers from one title to another. Well, kids, you know what happened after I read the first few issues of this summer’s Batman crossover (“War Games”)? Aside from Robin, I dropped every Bat-book I’ve been reading. Now, this might just be my own kooky brain at work, but I can’t imagine other fans wanting to slog through these expensive and unrewarding endeavors any more than I would.

“Disassembled” has thankfully kept its involvement in running storylines to a relative minimum, and we haven’t needed to buy other titles to understand the Avengers plot, but even the stupid logo has been enough to make me think twice about picking up a title. Avengers #501 makes for a decent read, and David Finch’s art (aside from the horrible faces) is great, but I have no idea who to recommend this book to. Bendis-junkies, I guess.

Oh, and a note to Marvel and DC: You want to tell big, expensive cross-title stories? Just cram ‘em straight into anthologies. These crossovers are broken, old warhorses that need to be put down.

Case in point: Captain America and The Falcon #7. The thoroughly uninteresting war on a drug cartel has been momentarily placed on hold to catch-up to the events of Avengers #500, and I’m still confused as all hell. Christopher Priest has Falcon acting like a street pimp while Cap hallucinates through the day after opening new romantic doors with Scarlet Witch, yet otherwise remains well-intentioned and ineffectual. And, dammit, they keep dwelling on damn Bucky Barnes, again. By the end, it seems like they’re dovetailing into Tony Stark’s UN speech, though the timing may not match up quite as realistically as they’d like to think.

I will admit that Joe Bennett’s art has made this series a few thousand times better than it was with Bart Sears at the helm, but there’s still NOTHING happening. They just sit around. They argue. They sit around. They mouth exposition. They sit around. JUST FRIKKIN BLOW SOMETHING UP, ALREADY!

So, no, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Maybe it’s just me, but Firestorm is feeling more and more like DC’s answer to Ultimate Spider-Man. The pace, the main character, the small-world problems overwhelming a super-powered youth… Firestorm #5 continues Jason’s crisis with Casey, his polymorphic first fan/nemesis. Of course, our young hero can’t summon his “nuclear” power if he doesn’t absorb someone, so he nabs a female jogger in the park who turns out to be a cop. Nice. Then he discovers that his touch has twisted the already murderously unbalanced Casey into an unstoppable rock monster. Double nice. Oh, and later Superman shows up to give him a stern talking to a la Ward Cleaver. Man, everything’s coming up roses for Jason.

The pacing on Firestorm has been gradual to a fault, so I only ever find myself just so hyped about it. However, Dan Jolley’s approach to the “teenager in over his head” story is just different enough from the slew of others piled on the racks to keep readers around for the long haul. In a lot of ways, this issue is similar to last month’s meeting with the JLA/battle with Casey, but there’s a sly build up going on, here. Ultimate Spider-Man is about Peter’s constant struggle against being a superhero, even though he’s pretty good at it. Jason is a terrible superhero wielding nearly limitless power, yet he’s positive he’s making the world a better place. This could be fun…

Chris Cross’ pencils take over wherever Jolley leaves us hanging, and you just have to love the way he makes Casey feminine yet pants-wettingly terrifying (…not that I… Moving on--). Chris Sotomayor’s colors exploit every shine and glow Cross offers, and, considering this is a book about a man with a flaming head, that’s a helluva lotta glow. I have my doubts as to where the next month’s tie-in to Identity Crisis will lead us (starting to have some doubts about Identity Crisis, for that matter), but I can pretty safely recommend this issue. Unless you have something against Superman talking down to another superhero like he’s their father, of course.

Now, kids, I recently said I wasn’t a Gambit fan. And I stand by that statement, even though it may make me seem a bit biased going into Gambit #1; let me assure you that, despite the fact I have no clue what the appeal of said Cajun is, I judge a comic more on the quality of the story than any attachment to a character. (For example, I like Garth Ennis’ run on The Punisher even though I find the character to be shallow, pointless, and dull. Ain’t I just nutty?)

Seriously, though, I put aside any lingering hatred I had and whole-heartedly absorbed Gambit’s return to New Orleans and the lifestyle of a gun-for-hire, and, much to my surprise, found I almost liked it. Almost. I’m not upset by the references to Magneto and Gambit’s lack of physical disabilities setting this either well in the past or somewhere in the future, but the story doesn’t build much on the character’s history (which may actually be a good thing, when you look at where that’s landed us in the past) and left me feeling like any number of comic book heroes could be filling-in, here.

The plot is the usual tale of a romantic scoundrel coming home for some sin and excitement, and there’s a lot more potential here than I would’ve imagined. However, Georges Jeanty’s smooth pencils don’t cover for the lack of conflict throughout most of the issue. If you’re a Gambit fan or think you can stick it out to see if things pick up by next issue, go for it. Anyone else should beware the voodoo.

Say, that looks suspiciously like the Thunderbolt after too many days eating at the Circus Circus buffet...
Breaking the curse of the DC Focus line, Hard Time has grown into a title I look forward to so much, it nearly makes up for this week’s drought. The story, for anyone unfamiliar, asks what would’ve happened if, in a high school shootout like Columbine, one of the gunmen not only never fired a shot, but also survived the incident so the law could send him to prison for life. Oh, and the incident awakens telekinetic abilities, too. Sounds crazy, no? Sounds like more fodder DC threw on the pile to justify a new imprint, doesn’t it? Why, just the very notion probably makes you want to laugh!

You make me sick…

But, no, really, this series captures the slow yet suffocatingly rich prison drama that comics and TV are perfectly built for. Not as scary as OZ or as warm and fuzzy as The Shawshank Redemption, Hard Time pushes the limits of DC’s non-Mature Readers books while proving that comics can be better when they revel in the world of a prison rather than focusing solely on action-packed breakouts.

Issue #8 builds upon the story, showing Ethan (our super-powered convict in question) pushing his power to the limit as he discovers his mother in the arms of his appeal counselor. Unfortunately, his reverie is broken and he finds he can’t re-enter the trance, making his remaining days in solitary confinement… well, punishing. Swift, the Neo-Nazi who made Ethan’s first days so unpleasant, continues to smack around his “girlfriend” Cindy when Turo, rising member of the latino Diablos, overhears his boss has a beef with Swift that, if resolved, could help Turo find a home for his pregnant girlfriend.

Hard Time accomplishes what every monthly title needs to if the current comic format is going to survive; strong characters, numerous intertwined threads, steady mysteries, and nearly limitless potential that’ll keep us coming back every month. I was late in getting to this book, and I’ve regretted it ever since. Whether the Focus imprint survives or not, we can be sure that, as long as Steve Gerber and Brian Hurtt can keep it going, this book will last for a while. Strongly recommended.

Okay, so, this may be a stupid question, but what the hell’s the point of Hulk & Thing: Hard Knocks #1? After all the weeks of seeing those damn banner ads with The Thing chewing on Hulk’s head, I had to know what was going on, but, now, I’m even more confused than I was going in. It seems to be about The Thing tracking down Bruce Banner so he can have another freak to talk to. Or maybe it’s about the two of them brawling for some reason. This issue, however, seems to be about The Thing jawing-on about some fight with Dr. Doom where he got called a name.

See? It’s just-- why?!?

As uninspiring as Bruce Jones’ writing is, Jae Lee’s art is just confusing. Having visited many red rock deserts, I have to call them on creating one (in America, mind you) where featureless red dirt stretches out to the horizon in all directions, except in the one opening shot where pinnacles and a cactus make it look like Wile E. Coyote’s Monument Valley. If this were Krazy Kat, I’d be fine with that, but it just looks bizarre juxtaposed against the realistic foregrounds. Then Lee follows the grand tradition of bad movies and makes every vehicle outside the café a 40’s relic with tires that screech as they tear down a dirt road. But the greatest sin has to be the sheer confusion the panel transitions create. When you can’t even tell what you’re LOOKING at, it’s time to put the book down and head home. That’s what I’m advising, in this case.

Speaking of a welcome return home, Jubilee #1 finally gives fans of the spunky Chinese-American mutant what they’ve always wanted-- okay, that’s a lie. Frankly, I don’t think anyone wanted this series. And, no, I don’t think there is such a thing as a Jubilee fan. Well, at least I’ve never met one. Could be one of those things like Bigfoot…

Anyways, the story lands Jubes in L.A. with her estranged auntie and a brand new high school that isn’t quite ready for her kind. (So original it HURTS, dammit.) She soon makes friends with the school geek, crushes on the handsome yet sensitive alpha-jock, and brawls with his insanely jealous, popular girlfriend. (Indeed, comics may never be the same.)

This book isn’t as D.O.A. as Amazing Fantasy, but it has none of the charm or joy that makes me hold Mary Jane so highly. It’s a title that proves just how bland an “All Ages” book can be. Robert Kirkman’s signature sense of humor is completely absent from this tale, and there just isn’t any synergy with Derec Donovan’s artwork. In fact, if this issue does one thing, it proves what amazing finds Kirkman’s prior collaborators have been, as Donovan demonstrates decent artistic ability (Jubilee actually looks Chinese. How often does that happen?) that doesn’t meld like Kirkman’s work with E.J. Su, Tony Moore, or Ryan Ottley (It doesn’t help that Donovan draws all the teenage girls like supermodels, though). In case you don’t already know it, steer clear of this one, folks.

(While we’re on the subject of Robert Kirkman, I don’t think it’s necessary to review Invincible #15 and crab about how not enough people are buying it, but I’ll still recommend it; especially to people who’ll enjoy the tie-in to last week’s SuperPatriot: War on Terror #1.)

Kinetic #6, the OTHER DC Focus book that’s justified its existence (yeah, looks like there are only two), sinks young Tom deeper into the pits of super-powered teenage depression when he attempts to apologize to the girl he’s crushing on after snubbing her in the school cafeteria. Sadly, as is Tom’s fate, his efforts are thwarted when his perch outside her window ends up being the perfect vantage point when she decides to undress. Our hero then uses his powers to help his mom move furniture and mopes around outside the mall, pondering how he could use his new abilities to better the world before realizing he’d rather just drop-kick the fat guy taking up half the bench he’s sitting on.

I know, it sounds pretty weird, and Kinetic is a pretty weird book, but it honestly feels like what an introverted young teen would be going through once he got super-powers. This isn’t an X-book where some kid suddenly discovers he can melt things with his sweat and suits up in brightly colored spandex. This is a high school drama where a virtual bubble-boy is cured and has to adapt to the new world around him.

My only qualm with this story is the languid pacing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a style that suits the book perfectly, but it feeds the argument of not getting “enough bang for your buck." Warren Pleece’s art fits the moody, stark nature of the book and Kelley Puckett’s restraint as a wordsmith is to be admired, but it doesn’t leap off the shelves like one of Marvel’s mutant teenager tales and lacks the explosive moments that keep stretched out narratives like Ultimate Spider-Man selling. Definitely recommended, but I fear this ugly duckling may not survive the rigors of the monthly format much longer.

"Who is this 'Groundskeeper Willie' you speak of?"
Mr. Majestic’s misadventures in Metropolis take a “normal” new twist in Majestic #2 when, failing in his attempt to return to the Wildstorm Universe, Majestros settles in as an elementary school groundskeeper. The story then shifts back and forth between his youth on Kera, Eradicator’s reboot and latest bid against Majestic, and the wanderings of the Daemonite who started this whole series of dimensional leaps.

It’s fun to revisit the elements that would eventually come together in the first WildC.A.T.S. team, and Majestic’s attempt to create a secret identity somehow manages to avoid the completely cookie-cutter path laid out in front of it, but I think nearly all the credit this time has to go to the art team. Karl Kerschl is just too damn good not to be getting more high profile work and, once again, Carrie Strahan’s colors are spot on.

I will give props to Abnett and Lanning for using this mini to give the superhero without an alter-ego a taste of what he’s missing, but, looking at the small picture, things are moving very slowly and gradually. I can appreciate the way this let’s Kerschl’s art sprawl across the pages, but there’s a lack of excitement and tension to give the story a push. I’m not saying it needs fight scenes shoe-horned in, but you get the impression issues #2 and #3 of this mini will mostly act as filler. A mildly recommended read.

Swamp Thing #7 picks up from Andy Diggle’s stripping the franchise back to basics with its own two-issue fill in about a cryptozoologist and a rare animal hunter’s attempts to track down the mysterious Swamp Thing. Will Pfeifer’s story, while drizzled with nice little cryptozoological tidbits, fails to go well beyond the numerous Swampy stories done in this vein. Richard Corben’s art is as cartoonily filthy as anyone familiar with his underground stories would expect, but, without knowing just what’s going on now that Swampy’s a lonely plant elemental once more, it’s hard to pull much more from this than a few fond grins mixed with queasy moments. It’s okay, but not strong enough to recommend.

Reading Sylvia Faust #1 was kinda like squinting at a standard “young mystic ventures out into the modern world” tale after spending an entire day in an over-chlorinated pool. The art was just so roughly drawn, I kept rubbing my eyes to make sure they were working, but that only made it worse. Eventually, I started to get into the story of the bar owner trying to nail down an indie filmmaker scheduled for a big screening event at the bar, but Sylvia didn’t do much more than the generic stuff we expect. This book feels more like Sabrina the So-Called Teenage Witch in the Big City than a comic you’d pick up every month.

And, again, the art was just hard on the eyes. I’m guessing the roughness is intended to cover up the extreme photo-reference work, but, man, this is so thoroughly photo-referenced it looks like tracery, half the time. Take a look at it if you want to know what a young Kyle Baker and Brian Michael Bendis on meth might doodle on bar napkins together. Otherwise, pass.

Entering the downer/hangover after The Fury’s attack, what do we get in Uncanny X-Men #448? Can you say “cheap wrap-up," boys and girls? Yes, the team meets with Brian Braddock and Meggan to discuss whatever the hell brought The Fury back to life. Only problem: Brian has no idea. Why, things are just peachy keen around Braddock Manor! So, the X-Men trot off to dinner with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, only to stumble into the clutches of Viper, who whisks them away to the deathtraps of Murderworld.

So, yes, we’ve moved all the way from old school into cliché. Thank you, Chris Claremont. The saddest thing about this issue is it doesn’t have Alan Davis’ gorgeous art to prop up the author in his time of need. Olivier Coipel doesn’t do a bad job, but there’s no way it can compare to Davis unleashed. I’m not going to say that Uncanny X-Men had redeemed itself after being at the bottom of the barrel for so long, but there was enough going on to make me take notice.

Now? Well, I can’t think of a single reason to read this. It is the definitive mediocre X-Men comic. Been there, done that. Of course, if you’ve never been there, you might possibly find it amusing. Everyone else should wait ‘til District X #5 comes out next week.

And Y: The Last Man #26 is the best comic of the week. Yes, Y tops it again.

Allow me to rage for a moment: There was a rather high profile article in July 11th’s New York Times called “Not Funnies” that a lot of people in the online community touted as vindication for the years comics have spent as a bastard art form. I was hyped up and excited about such glowing praise from a “legitimate” source… until I got to the part where it slammed superhero comics, specifically citing Y: The Last Man as (and I’m paraphrasing, since you now have to purchase the article for 3 bucks in order to VIEW it online) some fantasy where the last man on Earth battles Amazon lesbians. Now, far be it for me, a lowly webcritic, to claim Review Editor Charles McGrath isn’t an expert on the subject of graphic narrative and sequential art -- but Chuckles can cram it with walnuts.

Y: The Last Man is brilliant storytelling (wholly unrelated to superhero books or power fantasies) beyond the status quo of popular television, cinema, literature, or even the dreary, depressing, masturbation-filled “graphic novels” certain pompous culturati think we’re not smart enough to understand.

This month’s issue takes us on the trip we’ve been anticipating for nearly two years: the story of Yorick’s sister, Hero. Brian K. Vaughan begins his story with a flashback to the siblings’ childhood, when Hero took Yorick to a statue she called Queen Victoria which she then used to reprimand Yorick for taking their parents’ attention away from her; “Snips and snails…” Flash-forward to Hero’s mid-teens, where she struggles with both her unusual name and acute acne, but still manages to wipe her tears away after an embarrassing party and bed the host’s college-aged brother.

Flash-forward to college grad Hero’s argument with her parents that she’s going to abandon a possibly lucrative career as a writer to become a Boston paramedic. Unfortunately, the folks see it’s just another instance of her following a boy, and Yorick’s attempts to break the tension only piss Hero off more. Flash-forward to Hero’s final patient — her paramedic boyfriend who died with all the other men. Flash-forward to the store where Hero struggles to open a can of cat food, the first meal she’s seen in a week, only to be ambushed by Amazon gang members, fighting until their leader, Victoria, breaks up the brawl and welcomes her into the fold.

From there, readers can remember Hero’s time as an Amazon and how she later attempted to murder Yorick, but the blanks that are filled in… oh, it’s good. And the irony of Hero’s name (after the wrongly accused maiden from Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”) twists and turns enough in this issue to make your head spin.

Y: The Last Man has transcended the stigma of entertaining comics having to center on muscles, flying people, fantasy monsters, or mass destruction. We’ve known this for a long time. But, this issue is a simple, exemplary proof of the power in this material. Humans thrive on conflict, and much of our conflict arises from obvious differences between people. But what could be more unendingly divisive than gender?

I’ll say it now so I don’t have to say it again: Y: The Last Man is a classic. It’s passed from blockbuster debut to sophomoric musing to crowning glory of the Vertigo line, and it stayed true to itself the whole time. I don’t give a damn what critic attempts to label it without even cracking open an issue; this is the whole reason we read comics.

Hot Predictions for Next Week: District X #5, Fables #29, Pulse #5, She-Hulk #7, and Wanted #5.

Jason Schachat

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