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Jason Schachat even now plots his revenge...
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
September 10, 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.

Jason turned this one in on time, but due to the effects of a surprise staff meeting at Derek's day job, it didn't get posted until Monday. Ever so slowly, Jason advances closer and closer to an unsuspecting Derek with piano wire held taut between his meaty hands...

Let me just start off by saying that Image or Diamond or somebody really needs to get their act together, ‘cause, wouldn’t ya know it, Wanted #5 DIDN’T come out this week, but Walking Dead #10 DID.

Oh, and, if you didn’t buy it, God will smite you with holy fire and send you to the festering pits to rot for all eternity blah blah blah…

So, let me ask you a question: How did comicdom manage to go so long without Fallen Angel? How did we get away with calling Gotham spooky and atmospheric? How did we trick ourselves into thinking our superhero books had intrigue and mystique? How did— Well, okay, that’s more than one question. But you have to admit it’s surprising to see a totally new book from DC’s main line distinguish itself so by issue #15. Even Gotham Central had the benefit of the entire Batman history to help it along. What Peter David’s managed to pull off so far is two steps away from miraculous.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Fallen Angel tweaks the superhero genre into a gray area known as Bete Noire, a city that’s not so much a New Orleans clone as what you’d get if you blended the most interesting parts of 1940’s New Orleans and San Francisco and used it as the setting for a slightly mystical Casablanca.

Confused yet? Good.

The cast of characters is colorful, diverse, multicultural, and absolutely teeming with villainy. Even the Angel, a woman named Lee, finds herself in the bed of Bete Noire’s manipulating magistrate, Dr. Juris. But then, he only seems to be keeping peace in the city; so does her reckless vigilante crusading make HER the real villain? Better yet, if she’s teaching phys ed at a local junior college and seems normal in most ways, what’s the deal with her super strength, lightning aura, inability to set her bare feet on the ground, and the twin scars on her back. Is she an angel? Is she a hero? Is she dead?

The best book you're not reading...
This month’s mystery opens with a flashback to the troubled childhood of Shadow Boxer, Dr. Juris’ chief enforcer and the Fallen Angel’s most dedicated foe. After some hints to what twisted the young English boy into an enraged brawler, we float out to see Lee spying on the city below her; two lonely, brightly lit streets converging in the distance. Pulling back, we see the two are part of a larger pattern forming a pentagram centered on Bete Noire, lightning flashing until a bolt crashes down and leaves a non-descript man standing where it struck. A man named Mr. Kind. A man who works for The Hierarchy: the group that directs Bete Noire (which, in turn, directs the whole of the world) to be more “interesting”. And, following Lee’s almost single handed destruction of the city’s drug trade, the man who very softly orders her immediate death.

Peter David’s opening to the “Hurlyburly” arc has me captivated. This may very well be the best beginning of any Fallen Angel storyline to date, and the addition of The Hierarchy throws some delicious spice into the mix. David Lopez, always coming through, outdoes himself, here. The silent opening sequence and sly “camera movements” entice you throughout the whole issue until the incendiary last page. If there was one book I’d get this week, it’d be Fallen Angel #15. Best comic of the week, no question.

Now, much as I praise a series so strong from the start as Fallen Angel, you have to appreciate the work Judd Winick’s done to flesh out Green Arrow. True, Kevin Smith’s “Quiver” gave us a great resurrection and the filmmaker’s best foray into comics (sadly, it’s also his only decent one), but Winick used the last arc’s consequences to finally create some forward momentum.

Following the demonic conquest of Star City that left both criminal organizations and the police undermanned and fragile, Danny Brickwell, a consummate second tier super-thug, has taken control of the underworld and now moves to take the city itself. Green Arrow manages to get cornered by Brick’s goons and finds himself desperate for some of those trick arrows he threw away years ago when a not-so mysterious masked Mia bounces down from the rafters and pulls his butt out of the fire. Naturally, Ollie immediately tries to dissuade her from the hero’s life, but how do you tell a former child prostitute who grew up on the streets that she isn’t grown up enough to make her own decisions?

It’s funny how powerful threading can be. We take it for granted, but the constant flow of a story is what keeps us coming back to these damn things month after month. Green Arrow lacked that continuity, and, after Winick’s first arc, I was pretty damn sure I’d be dropping the title. Now, I look forward to it. As of issue #42, the story has evolved beyond Mia being Ollie’s annoying adoptee while he and Connor build their father/son relationship. Conflicts are dovetailing between arcs, the drama is building, and, just maybe, we’ll see more character growth. Unfortunately, we still lack regular background characters or villains, but the book finally feels more like an old school Batman instead of another meandering revival.

Phil Hester’s artwork can be both glorious and unimpressive, but he’s got his footing on this issue and milks both of Winick’s shocker sequences for all they’re worth. Still, I can’t help but feel like Star City needs more personality. Green Arrow’s old school crimefighting here can, at times, feel like Frank Miller’s original Daredevil run, but the town just seems too generic. Hell’s Kitchen stood out. Gotham always stands out. Bete Noire has enough personality to make New Orleans look like Fargo. Star City? Skip that goofy star on the bridge, and it could be anywhere. That said, it’s a place I’ll be visiting again next month, and I definitely recommend going there.

On the inside, she's a little girl...
But you say you wanna go to JLA #105? Hunnnnnh…

Let me start off by stating that Chuck Austen’s DC work, while superior to his bungles in the Marvel Universe, has been following a pattern. For about half the issue, I’m recoiling in disgust at odd dialogue and gross mischaracterization. For the other half, I’m cheering at battles and pulse-pounding sequences like a sycophantic little boy who just downed a bag of pixie stix. I’m generally a forgiving soul, which is why I’ve given Chuckles the benefit of the doubt, going so far as to dive into the bottomless abyss that is WorldWatch. But I think the time has finally come for me to just say no.

This issue is fifth in a row to showcase a hero dealing with a crisis, messing up somehow, and then needing a shoulder to cry on. However, we now find ourselves alongside Wonder Woman, in a deathmatch with some unknown female villain. After much struggling and grunting, she wins, then starts bawling like a little girl and falls to her knees. She goes up to the JLA satellite where almost everyone’s oblivious to the fact that something’s bothering her.

Okay, I’ll just say SPOILER NOW, in case you don’t wanna know what’s wrong with her…

You ready?

She’s all upset and weepy because she’s scared of dying. Yeah, you heard me. All the heroes get to show weakness in this run, but it’s the WOMAN who feels helpless and alone because she’s scared. Superman wasn’t thinking enough, Flash wasn’t fast enough, Green Lantern couldn’t be everywhere at once, Martian Manhunter was just too alien… but Wonder Woman is the one consumed by fear. I’m sorry, maybe this is supposed to continue the irony because she’s supposedly fearless, but it feels like Austen’s turned one of the strongest heroes in comics into some kind of wilting flower. When you consider what crybabies Wally and John have been in recent years, it’s all the more maddening that Diana was the one to crack.


The writing, though it has some strong moments, is just too weak for me to give a thumbs up. Ron Garney’s art is nice if not 100% consistent (Diana’s shorts seemed to be re-tailoring themselves between a few panels), but there are some powerful, iconic images that more than make up for it. All in all, not as painful as WorldWatch, but, still, JLA #105 is not recommended.

JSA #65, on the other hand, gives us a justice-filled outing that you can’t pass up, and justice and balance are truly the name of the game as Rex Tyler, the original Hourman sacrifices himself to save his dying son. To summarize, RICK Tyler, the second Hourman, was granted a special device by the Hourman android from the future (hey, it’s a popular superhero name, alright?) that granted him a total of one hour of time in a stasis vault with his dead father, snatched from time just before his fatal battle with Extant. Unfortunately, Rick was fatally wounded during the “Black Reign” crossover, and he swapped places with pops in mid-battle, leaving Rex stranded in our world with no way to rescue Rick.

Now, the Hourman from the future has finally received word of their plight and whisks Rex, Flash, and Doc Midnite off to save Rick. If there’s time, that is.

I have to confess time-travel is a pet peeve of mine. It’s a cute device, but its total impossibility makes use in most stories frustrating as all hell. By the end of this issue, Geoff Johns has wandered back into that zone of time paradoxes and alternate timelines guaranteed to have you reaching for some aspirin. However, this is a captivating story that’ll pull at your heart strings in true JSA fashion. Don Kramer’s pencils are gorgeous, Ketih Champagne’s inks are surgically clean, and John Kalisz’s colors are quite simply perfect for the style. Definitely one to check out.

I haven’t exactly been advising people to pick up Marvel Age books (with the notable exception of Mary Jane), but Marvel Age Hulk #1 actually has a few things going for it. First, it isn’t a ripoff of an old Stan Lee script. Second, it doesn’t attempt to sound “street” in a hopeless attempt to make kids think comics are the shizz-nit. Third, it isn’t a ripoff of an old Stan Lee script. Fourth, it gives kids a quick and dirty introduction to the Hulk that communicates the basic concept and doesn’t get mired in Marvel history. Fifth… well, you know.

The series kicks off with a wandering Bruce Banner entering a small town where a young scientist comes up with a pesticide formula that will make crops grow as it kills off crop-damaging insects. He recognizes the incognito Banner from lectures at college and Bruce later agrees to guide him. Unfortunately, our wacky little scientist decides to try the stuff out before Bruce can tell him its insect-killing powers are negligible, even though its ability to mutate living things to gigantic proportions is-- Long story short: “Hulk SMASH giant bugs!”

I have to be frank and admit this book isn’t all that different from the other Marvel Age entrees, but the differences are what make it tolerable. Not great, mind you, but good enough for me to recommend it to kids. Adults should look to the regular Incredible Hulk for more mature and nuanced stories, but there’s a strange childlike wonder and complete incomprehension of science that makes this a charming if light read (menacing cover image aside).

Wolverine in eighteen books this week + Spider-Man
I smell a Clone Saga coming on!.
Despite a cover featuring the Astonishing X-Men on Marvel Knights Spider-Man #6, they’re not in it. Well, that’s not entirely true; after Peter escapes a mob of cops out to collect the reward for his secret identity, he meets Mary Jane at a café and the four less conspicuous members of the team pass by the window in the background of one panel. Oh, and the Fantastic Four also pass incognito through the foreground in that scene. So, now that I’ve ruined that surprise for you, what’s this issue about? Well, a lot of talking. We see MJ show what a fighter she is, J. Jonah Jameson demonstrates amorality while being generous, the imprisoned Green Goblin proves he’s still a monster without the mask, and Venom has a change of heart that could ultimately lead to lots of people getting killed.

The Dodsons’ art has me pining for Frank Cho, but I honestly can’t complain. A few repeatedly female face templates aside, things look spiffy. The plot still doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in a hurry, but, when it comes to getting your money’s worth, this issue delivers. Recommended.

Bendis once wrote that fight scenes were a way to cover for sloppy writing. I find that a rather harsh assessment of what’s really a visual medium, but, reading Outsiders #15, you can really see his point. Sure, Psi-Mon gets a long-winded speech and there’s some wrap-up; yet the bulk of the issue is just a huge fight between the Outsiders and the Fearsome Five (well, Four since the death of Gizmo). Nightwing has to out-coordinate Psi-Mon, Grace has to out-pummel Mammoth, Arsenal has to outshoot Jinx, Shift has to out-whatever Shimmer… It’s a standard slugfest.

Winick’s choice to have the villains fire a nuke at Vancouver isn’t as cute as he’d hoped, and the argument that the target is neither political nor economic nor close enough to where they sleep to matter doesn’t really hold water. (Personally, I think Mexico City is ripe for a nuking. You wanna mercilessly slaughter millions of people without making an overt political statement? Tenochtitlan it is!)

Tom Raney’s art is a welcome sight. Not enough to keep this book from falling into mediocrity, though. I can’t say what DC’s doing on this that they’re not doing on Caper, but maybe it’s time to take the muzzle off Winick. The man has proven time and again that his best work comes with a certain degree of freedom, and I refuse to believe that a mature reader label is the only difference between Caper and Outsiders. Then again, maybe the guy just needs to cuss. In any case, that’s not what we’re seeing in this comic.

The freedom, that is. Though cussing might be nice…

And, for the first time in a long while, a typically great book FILLED with swearing has a less than stellar outing. Sadly, I’m talking about Powers.

I suppose it was inevitable, what with the repeated reliance on cliffhangers and last month’s big reveal. Issue #4 does make for a tasty little snack, answering our lingering questions of where all the heroes went when superpowers were deemed illegal (an idealized version of Scottsdale, Arizona, by the looks of it) and giving Walker a chance to do some detective work, but most of it’s pretty slow and tired.

I’m still holding out hope Deena’s recent behavior and subsequent kidnapping will lead to a revelation that her brush with Super Shock “changed” her. Or maybe Bendis will be able to do something interesting with The Bug. If he doesn’t, well, the driving plotline ended last issue, and we’re riding on fumes. Recommended only if you’re already following Powers or just can’t turn a Bendis book down.

But the better Bendis book this week is The Pulse #5. Yes, folks, after nine grueling months, the “Thin Air” storyline comes to a close, almost meshing with the events of Marvel Knights Spider-Man while setting us up for a convergence with Secret War. The Green Goblin attack from last issue culminates with Jessica going into a berserker rage at the thought that her unborn child has been killed during the battle. However, an ultrasound reveals Jess is as tough inside as she is outside, and the little tyke is fine. Of course, that doesn’t really matter much to Luke Cage; you don’t mess with family.

Bendis may be breaking his own “no fight scene” rule yet again with this issue, but it feels damn good, and splitting the art duties between Mark Bagley on breakdowns and Scott Hanna on finishes delivers the best art we’ve seen on this series. Again, it hurts something awful to think we have to wait two months until the next issue, but the pains of last issue’s wait are dulled by a satisfying conclusion. One to pick up, for sure.

Punisher #11 delivers a solid firefight and beard-strokingly intelligent ponderings on the Irish fight for independence. Of course, it’s Garth Ennis, so what do you expect? We can certainly recognize the Machiavellian female characters and nigh-unstoppable madmen from his prior works, and setting the blazing battle on an aircraft carrier deck was so lovably Ennis I got a bit misty, for a moment...

Most of this outing focuses on bringing the villains together as their various armies are cut to ribbons and the playing field is leveled. However, the heaping pile of dialogue exchanged between British soldier Yorkie and IRA rookie Michael Cooley accounts for most of the reading time and, thus, the thoughts dancing around your head afterwards.

Which is a really good thing, since this arc initially felt like another attempt by Ennis to force an Irish story down our throats. That’s not to say Ennis doesn’t do them well, but mixing Punisher with the IRA could easily be a recipe for disaster. The tone of this story gels nicely with Leandro Fernandez’s art, and, for the first time in a while, I’m really looking forward to the next issue.

The choice to move the skull-emblazoned vigilante to the Max line seemed smart, in the beginning, but completely separating him from the Marvel Universe (for the time being) may have done more damage than anyone would’ve imagined. I mean, this guy is a freakin’ Spider-Man villain. Who knew the kids would identify so easily with a remorseless mass-murderer? After adding Micro to the hitlist, he moved so far away from the concept of “hero”, I was worried Ennis had nowhere to go (especially without Steve Dillon to bring out his sly humor). Now, it seems like he might have somewhere to go.

Is it the equal of Punisher volumes 3 and 4? At times, but, let’s face it: nothing will ever top The Russian. However, though the laughs are missing, Ennis still makes Marvel’s dullest star twinkle a bit. Recommended, if you can spare the change.

The other best book you're not reading...
Oh, but you damn well better have enough cash for She-Hulk #7, which gives us Adam Warlock a second time this week as the Our Lady of Ultimate Greenness moves from earthly concerns to a Universal court of law. Continuing to babysit Southpaw after last month’s prison break, Jen is visited by the Magistrati, a race of adjudicators who control the highest courts in all existence. Learning of the extreme honor of such a position, she gladly accepts their offer and is whisked away to decide cases of intergalactic child custody, temporally-charged disagreements, and claims that the Watchers are peeping toms. Meanwhile, Adam Warlock sends warrior after warrior to face Champion, the greatest fighter EVER, in the ring. The price of failure? The death of a world. But, if Beta-Ray Bill and Gladiator can’t stand up to the tyrant, who can?

Nothing like giving the regular artist a break to realize how much you miss him. I know some people out there may have a problem with Juan Bobillo’s soft, curving style (note: from what I’ve seen, these are often the same people who find bulging neck-veins and 50-pack abs realistic), but the most important aspect of a comic’s art style is how it fits the script, and Bobillo’s work gives Dan Slott’s story even more humor and character.

She-Hulk is now seven for seven, delivering a strong issue every time, which is more than I can say for all but one or two other comics on the market. If Marvel could only figure out a way to use this book’s critical raves and die-hard following as fodder for a decent ad campaign… Until then, you’ll just have to listen to a grumpy bastard like me when I tell you it’s a must buy.

Teen Titans #15 concludes “Beast Boys and Beast Girls” in style. Sorry to say, but I’m not going to spoil the cool moments in this issue for you, and the story follows along the lines you’d expect, Beast Boy at the mercy of the evil Dr. Register after being stripped of his morphing powers while children throughout San Francisco transform.

So, what CAN I tell you about?

THE SHAPESHIFTER BATTLE SPECTACULAR! It’s not every day you get to see a T-Rex fight another T-Rex before they fall into the water and continue the fight as a shark and dolphin, and I’d just like to thank the Teen Titans creative team for re-creating the one scene from The Sword and the Stone I would annoy my parents with by incessantly watching as a child. A fun issue, indeed.

About five pages into Victory: Series 2 #1, I came down with a splitting headache. So I put it down, rested for a bit, and started from the beginning again. Then I had to read every page twice to figure out what was going on. Then the headache got worse. And, you know what? I still don’t know what’s going on.

The story seems to be about some hottie warrior elf (with perfectly spherical breasts wider than her shoulders) who’s been transported to our dimension after the events of the last series. Now, she hangs out with a bunch of wannabe Yu-Gi-Ohs who play every type of RPG in existence, bicker a little, and get depressed. To fill in for the lack of plot, the creative team whips out every bizarre anime/manga convention in the book, from “action” lines, to the over-sized sweat-drop, to super-deformed midgets and disembodied heads.

Aside from shamelessly setting up a “believe in your friends” moral and an internal conflict for our elf chick, nothing happens in this entire issue. It’s like reading one of those old complementary comics where every page diverges from the plot to advertise a Mattel product, but they alter the name of every video game, CCG, and RPG they mention, so it just serves as something to make baby otaku giggle (yeah, you heard me, you damn baby otaku).

Who’s gonna like this? I honestly can’t say. The short attention span required to avoid brain tumors fits the child-preteen demographic, but the occasional blood and boobs will earn the scorn of many a soccer mom. There’s some nice production, here, but it’s too off the wall for the old guard. Real manga fans will want real manga, hentai looking for globular boobs will be disappointed, and the college kids will tune out after reading the first few pages of loud proclamations and smug asides. I guess this book might appeal to Yu-Gi-Oh wannabes, but only after some good hard whacks to the head.

Hot Predictions for Next Week: Identity Crisis #4, Mary Jane #4, Strange #1, Ultimate Nightmare #2, and Wanted #5 (again).

Jason Schachat

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