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Jason Schachat wants Hal Jordan to work on it some more...
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
September 17, 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 feared this week.

Oh, you laugh all you want; when you have a dozen X-Men spinoffs and “Disassembled” tie-ins staring you down from the racks, you’ll be wetting your pants and crying for mama like the four year old I knocked down to get my copy of The Batman Strikes #1 did.

DC let Marvel rule the shelves, no question.

So, of the two DC titles Diamond neglected to list this week, it appears only Adventures of Superman #632 actually shipped (yes, Superman/Batman #12 has been delayed AGAIN). Does it live up to expectations? Well, what do you expect to happen after Lois Lane gets shot?

Supes rushes to the warzone the instant his super-hearing picks up the gunshot from around the world (Hey, it could happen!), and he whisks her bloodied form to the nearest army hospital, where wounded soldiers beg him to heal with his touch. Meanwhile, the Metropolis S.C.U. cleans up after last issue’s showdown with Ruin, carting he and Xlim (or is it Xilm… whatever) off to prison. But, as the Justice League scrambles to treat Lois’ in their own facilities, Ruin sucks the life from his guards and tracks down his hostages to complete their hideous transformations. And Superman? What can he do but sit by Lois’ bedside and wait?

Greg Rucka’s run on this book has been pretty bumpy. Blending the realistic reporter story with standard hero elements made for an awkward read and adding the seductive S.C.U. lieutenant and an appearance by Mr. Mxyzptlk pushed the book to the limits of schizophrenia. Of course, that tends to happen when you drag in a multi-dimensional imp, but let’s not dwell.

The power of this entrée comes from Superman’s reaction to Lois’ injury. Identity Crisis helped bring back into perspective the danger superhero spouses face every day, yet Superman is a very special case. Without Lois, the man has very little to tie him to humanity (though Ma and Pa Kent help out). Besides kryptonite, Supes’ number one problem is that he thinks like a human being when, for the most part, he’s a god. Love and morality are both his most appealing aspects and his greatest weaknesses. The way he caves when Lois falls… it rings true. In the constant struggles with remnants of Krypton and flavor of the month baddies, we tend to forget the only way to truly destroy the man. It’s good to be reminded.

The Odd Couple of comics...
Let me remind you of something else, in case you forgot: I hate Cable. Know how I said I hate Gambit? I hate Cable at least as much. Few characters have made such a mess of comic continuity, and, frankly, no other bastard child of Rob Liefeld has survived like ol’ one eye, so it’s only justified to project my hatred onto him. That said, I actually liked Cable & Deadpool #7 and feel a bit dirty for admitting it. Especially considering how the issue ends. Blooargh!

Nevertheless, there’s something appealing about Cable’s new role as an all-powerful uber-messiah (think Neo at the end of The Matrix, before the sequels showed us he was just the same old dork with the ability to fly). Following his genetic merge with Deadpool, Cable’s used his new healing ability to ward off the technovirus and unleash the full extent of ever-growing telepathic and telekinetic powers. Refugees have been saved, villains thwarted, rain forests preserved, and he even got his old spaceship back! Deadpool, meanwhile, crosses swords with The Cat, another stealthy assassin-type who’s seeking out the same piece of technology DP’s hunting for.

Now, I’d rather not summarize Deadpool’s fights and endless banter, but it really is the driving force behind this book. Cable’s tenure as mystery man, brooding soldier, and gun-toting renegade have never interested me in the slightest, and the new characterization can only last so long before his powers get nixed. Fabian Nicieza’s writing for this series has been strongest when he stops trying to take things even remotely seriously and mocks everything in existence. Does everything hit? Nah, but enough did to make me laugh out loud. Of course, this could all change next month, what with the new contenders introduced at the end of this issue. Recommended for now, anyways.

Daredevil #64 wraps up damn near everything that’s been going on for the last year. Matt Murdock’s brownstone gets broken into by Jigsaw and his gang, but, rather than face them and prove to the world he’s Daredevil, Matt patiently phones the police. Black Widow’s storyline comes to a close with the almost lackluster nabbing of Quinn, the chatty assassin who’s been hired to kill her, yet things move along at such a breakneck pace you hardly have time to be disappointed. Matt’s estranged marriage? Yup, they tie that up, too.

Which begs the question “What’s gonna happen in the big 60th anniversary issue next month?” Since most of the threads have been pretty well tied in this issue, I can only surmise that a big new conflict lurks on the horizon (remember how excited we all got when Bendis introduced Black Cat in Ultimate Spider-Man #50?), but it could just peter out in a few issues (remember how bored we were when Bendis wrapped the Black Cat story in Ultimate Spider-Man #53?). Definitely recommended, but don’t think it’ll rock your world.

Human Target, however, comes through strong this month by avoiding its two most readily available pitfalls: 1) Stories that AREN’T about identity and the layers of a person’s psyche. 2) Stories about L.A. What’s all the more impressive is this new arc about a young California messiah practically had booster rockets waiting to thrust it off in either direction, but Peter Milligan makes his story much more an examination of religion and persona.

Issue #14 starts out pretty smoothly, introducing young Paul James as an awkward youth looked upon with suspicion by the members of his community-- Until he lays hands upon a terminally ill child and instantly cures her, that is. Some time later, Paul leads a new religious movement, attracting the hopeless and hopeful alike, including the daughter of a wealthy man; an insanely wealthy man who wants his child back from this so-called cult, even if it means Paul’s death. Sound like someone could use Christopher Chance as a body double?

One of the best things about this arc is the return of Cliff Chiang, who’s brushwork has had me hooked since his gorgeous miniseries Beware the Creeper. Which isn’t to say that Javier Pulido isn’t capable, but all his work on this series pales in comparison to the clarity and style of Human Target: Final Cut (though, to be fair, that book had Dave Stewart doing the same amazing coloring he’s been treating us to on DC: The New Frontier).

Milligan continues to write this series as a smart examination of our society, which may sound a bit pretentious but is sleek and rarely preachy on the page. Having plumbed the depths of identity crises in 1999’s Human Target mini and peeled aside the façade that hides the ugliness of L.A. in Final Cut, it’s nice to see the franchise has grown so far past simple musings on how fake people can be. Definitely recommended.

Hmmm...it looks like Wonder Woman is about to go to war...
a SECRET war...

This summer’s big Identity Crisis continues the superhero spouse killings with styling issue #4, yet I find my interest is starting to wane. Oh, again, there’s no doubt that Brad Meltzer’s storytelling is damn fun to read. His insights and little heroic moments (like when The Atom cuts a taut noose by burrowing into the cords and enlarging himself) are a joy to read and quite refreshing after all the other crap I’ve been slogging through.

However, this is another one of those issues that’ll send some people running for the hills. Like last issue’s battle with Deathstroke, it sets up the non-superpowered heroes as forces to be reckoned with while Superman acts like a meathead and Wonder Woman’s just a chick with a magic lasso. Green Arrow again gets most of the screen time, narrating the story as they investigate Atom’s ex-wife’s pad for more clues, discovering yet another former Suicide Squad’s M.O. at work. Supes figures that makes it open and shut, but Arrow and Batman aren’t buying it.

Boomerang continues his “estranged son” side story and villains are still freaking out or gloating, depending on where they stand, but most of this issue is about simple character interaction. Villains arguing with villains, heroes arguing with heroes, the proliferation of Dr. Light’s mindwiping tale… It’s all nice, I guess. The only part that really tickled me was Ollie’s conversation with Hal Jordan (hey, if they’re gonna axe one Green Lantern, I might as well root for another).

Rags Morales art is still beautiful, and I have hopes for the next issue, but this one wasn’t anything special. Especially once you get to the cliffhanger. Recommended to anyone already following the series who can take Supes playing the fool while Green Arrow gets the spotlight.

JLA Secret Files & Origins 2004 makes it clear that, no matter how many crises or zero hours we have, DC history will never be coherent. I know that sounds a little unfair, but when this one-shot can give us a pre-Crisis tie in to JLA #107 while Superman/Batman is still re-introducing us to a newly minted Kara Zor-El, honestly, what the hell is going on?!

However, the bulk of the issue centers on a Justice League Elite adventure involving the Spear of Destiny and yet another covert plot to take over the world. How the Spear relates to Norse mythology is beyond me, though the story tries to draw more attention to Flash’s dual membership with the Elite and the JLA. That’s nice and all, but I still can’t get past how a quest for the spear that bled Christ while he was on the cross conjures up zombie valkyries or how it connects to the lineage of Adolf Hitler.

Sure, everyone knows Hitler was obsessed with antiquities (if you don’t, you clearly haven’t watched enough Indiana Jones or played enough Wolfenstein), but I can’t recall any story suggesting his blood was this strongly connected to the Spear. I’ll even forgive the fact that all those years of rigorous documentation never once recorded Der Fuhrer having a kid because, dammit, comics rely on these leaps of faith. But, when the end result is this muddled, all those shortcuts downgrade a fun read to a mediocre one.

The second story tells the tale of the last nation to fall before the might of the Crime Syndicate of Amerika. Er, sorta. It really spends a lot more time refreshing our memories of the alternate Earth where good guys were bad guys and vice versa. Well, until the multiverse was trash-compacted into the cluttered mess it is now… Anyways, the CSA runs amok and takes over the world, finding they have no heroes left to fight after all their hard work and, thus, no purpose. Alas, Johnny Quick (think evil Flash) gets thrown forth and back in time, returning with news that, shucks, nothing even exists in their future.

See, this is one of the reasons I hate time travel. Crisis on Infinite Earths was supposed to be retroactive. Dimension hopping got nixed for all but a few, time travel was limited, and things like crossing the threshold of pre/post Crisis were effectively forbidden. Did it have to happen in the first place? No, but the constant reneging makes it a friggin headache to remember what exists and what doesn’t. Granted, future comic fans may not have these problems, what with the new multiverse that’s creeped onto DC.

Me? I just want some Tylenol. Despite some enjoyable moments, this book is too confusing to justify the price tag, and only Elite completists should look into it.

Spidey-completists may not be buying Mary Jane, but it’s such a fun little teen drama, it hurts to hear about the proposed hiatus. This is really the only Marvel Age book I have any faith in. There’s something for the manga otaku, something for the romance people, something for the superhero geeks, something for boys, something for girls... In fact, if I were going to give ANY comic to a girl ages seven through fourteen, this would be it. What’s even better is I can tell just about anybody to pick it up and know it won’t turn them off.

Don't let her get away!
Issue #4 finds MJ late for school when she spots Spider-Man crawling out the window of the main building. She seizes the opportunity and finally asks him to the Homecoming Dance, his rejection leading her to ask his identity, which, of course, ends the conversation. It also leaves her feeling pretty awkward when boyfriend Harry tries to give her a goodbye kiss later on, but things only get worse when Liz tells her Flash Thompson seems to have a crush on someone else. Of course, MJ doesn’t have the heart to tell her she found Flash’s notebook full of “Flash+MJ” doodles…

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that Mary Jane is anything more than it sets out to be. This is a girls’ romance comic to the core. What’s notable is how thoroughly it succeeds in the attempt where all other books from the big two are dismal failures (die, Emma Frost, die!). All-too-often I speed read through the parts in comics where kids get dialogue, but writer Sean McKeever actually has me caring for these brats. They aren’t the fish kid from X-Men, the dumb jock from Amazing Fantasy, the chola from Jubilee, the urchins from Excalibur, or the dozens of forgettable drones from the other Marvel Age books, and I’ll be sad to see THESE whiney teenagers go.

Takeshi Miyazawa, Norman Lee, and Christina Strain’s coloring team also get big props for making a great looking Spidey who wasn’t carbon-copied off the pages of Amazing Spider-Man or Ultimate Spider-Man. Recommended.

If you cloned and crossbred a random selection of cyberpunk and Sci-Fi anime, the inevitable result would read something like Megacity909. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but the proposition of a future where mankind has adopted cybernetic implants that reign in our baser instincts, giving rise to a golden age where everyone thinks eternal peace has flowered (“They were wrong.”), only to find non-corporeal lifeforms called Pulses have risen up to slaughter mankind willy-nilly-- Gee, I think we’ve read this book before.

The hero’s a member of a squad that hunts the Pulses (who take root in a human host and give spoooooooky smoke powers), and, as it turns out, was himself taken over by a Pulse as a child. This first issue dances around for a while, but, seeping around the action scene and obligatory gym visit and female-agent-bathing scene, we get a taste of themes indicating the Pulses aren’t demonic so much as creatures from the id amplified by the futuristic wetware. Or sentient computer viruses. God, I hope they’re not sentient computer viruses…

Neo Zen City looks like the latest incarnation of NeoTokyo, the team owes some of their look to Ghost in the Shell, the Director wears sunglasses and speaks into his folded hands when addressing a board room full of black and red monoliths JUST like in Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the number of leather and vinyl outfits confirm that, in the future, love handles have been eliminated.

On the surface, the art’s very pretty, but more than a cursory glance will find flaws in anatomy and a bunch of inconsistencies from panel to panel. Hopefully, this book can pick up some more story for the next issue. Otherwise, it’s only the decent pricetag that makes this worth your buck. Very mildly recommended.

I’m not sure why, but New X-Men: Academy X #5 seemed ripe for failure. This is, after all, the least action-oriented of all the X-books, and that damn cover speaks volumes about its soap-opera/romance leanings. It may sound hypocritical after going on about how Mary Jane is so refreshing, but the X-Men have a long and boring tradition of running melodrama through the wringer until there’s nothing left to squeeze out. New X-Men looked to be cranking away when it spent so much of the last issue building up love triangles, crushes, and flirtation.

Surprise, surprise; the book still works. There’s a bit of tension during New Mutant team members Josh and Laurie’s date that could have sunk into the abyss when Rahne Sinclair arrived on the scene, but conflicts center on Kevin, the boy who can rot organic matter with his touch, and how the FBI has tracked him down for the murder of his father. Not giving in to stereotypes, the writers show that he loved his father dearly and, when the other students gossip about how he’s a killed, it’s Hellion, of all people, who comes to his defense.

And I think that’s what this book comes down to: not giving in to stereotypes. We’ve seen a lot of these threads before. Young mutants get in trouble, unrequited love creates enemies, pompous students become acolytes of Magneto; it’s in the telling that New X-men remains interesting. There’s no clear cut evil, no major revelations we can see a mile away, and no five page long discussions about how “he doesn’t love me any more”. Instead, we get the solid rebellious teenager foundation with just enough of a twist to spice things up. Recommended.

Another tried and true tale, but for thrifty comic fans, Strange #1 gives enough story to choke a whale in a mere 22 pages by flooding its layouts with panels and huge word balloons to hurry along what already looks to be a massive origin story.

We open with young Stephen Strange working at a small volunteer camp in Nepal. He notices a ruined monastery on a faraway cliff one day and makes a point of hiking to it when he meets a wizened old man along the way. They discuss Strange’s choice to become a doctor and visit Tibet, but the old man probes deeper, hoping to discover what the young doctor really WANTS. They’re interrupted by Stephen’s friend and, when Stephen turns back, the old man is gone. Later that night, he vows to return to Tibet. Three years later, he still hasn’t. More and more time passes and it becomes clear that Stephen chose the wrong path when he went into cosmetic surgery and, as the reader can see, he indeed has the power to do more.

There are some plusses and minuses to this story. It’s well written, but old schoolers are already familiar with Strange’s tutelage under the Ancient One and may be itching for an immediate adventure. The slow start has a certain charm in its attempt to tell a complete story, but newbies may get thrown off, wondering why they should care for this pompous bastard. A lot of plot and character development is delivered, but it makes the book an exhausting read that STILL ends with a cliffhanger. I can recommend it for the fine writing and great art that, admittedly, doesn’t always mesh. However, if we don’t start hearing words like “Dormamu” soon, this series could move from exhausting to comatose.

Wanted was a bit of a sleeper, for me. The first issue didn’t really sing, and then Mark Millar went and botched the ending of Ultimates’ first volume. What’s more, I’ve always felt that a more human supervillain team would make such a good long-running series that yet ANOTHER mini seemed insulting. And the hero looked like Eminem. I mean, c’mon, that’s what he looks like! But, somehow, Millar kept the supervillain-ruled world of Wanted interesting enough to keep me on this year long journey (though we still have one issue left), and I still don’t regret it.

Issue #5 plays out mostly as Fox and Wesley’s big stand against Mr. Rictus after his hostile takeover of the American branch of the supervillain Franchise. Rictus gloats a bit to the other heads of the organization and a few villains gab about how good it feels to finally create some mass destruction after nearly twenty years of occasional murder. Then Wesley blows their heads off with a high-powered sniper rifle. He and Fox finish off the group scouring the city for the two rogues and finally hit their former base to take out Rictus and the scores of super-powered maniacs defending him.

Millar hits and misses in this one. His underlying point that supervillains could never maintain the world simply because so many of them are completely nuts satisfies, but he said enough of that last time. Wesley’s ability, as The Killer, to blow away anything that comes near him is undeniably cool, but it makes his fight just a bit too easy. There really isn’t any doubt in our minds that he’ll come away without a scratch when he suddenly finds himself up against fifty guys. He’s just THAT good. As this is only a miniseries on its penultimate chapter, we can forgive, but it kills my desire to see Millar make this a franchise. As an issue goes, this one’s alright, though anyone who missed an issue might just want to wait for the trade paperback. A solid read, but not a must have.

Ya gotta keep yer pimp hand strong...
The first issue of Ultimate Nightmare introduced a possible conflict, but gave us no solid information to go on. Damn near anything could be happening. They left us with the X-Men and the Ultimates getting ready to speed off to a remote area of Russia where they’d figure out what’s going on. By the end of issue #2, all they’ve done is open the door to the secret facility. No revelations, no big enemies, no secret plots; but, damn, does it work well.

Warren Ellis pens the story with that showy brilliance that makes him so dangerous. Tidbits of historical, technological, and military fact make it hard to tell whether he’s making crap up or not. He manages to give Colossus more lines than he’s had in a long time, explaining how Tunguska is the Russian equivalent to Roswell; an area believed to be an alien crash site that also has strange ties to mutation. Ellis also continues the magic with Sam Wilson (The Falcon), elaborating on Sam’s studies of dream lore and as he ponders the possible connection between the worldwide terror broadcast of last issue and South American rituals that claim to open the mind to visions of another dimension.

Of course, the work of Trevor Hairsine has been indispensable and the images he creates here are no less stunning than his work last time. I don’t care how ridiculous it is to have a thoroughly un-aerodynamic S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicruiser that looks like a naval vessel with some rockets mounted to it— the damn thing looks AWESOME when it bursts through the clouds and dumps a helicopter out its ventral bay doors. Some faces still look just a tad awkward, at times, but Hairsine deserves as much credit as Ellis for fashioning Sam Wilson into one of the most interesting additions to the Ultimate Universe. One to buy.

X-Men #161 makes me want to buy a crowbar and bludgeon a small child. Well, to be fair, a lot of things do, but this is just such a dumb soap opera loaded with images of young mothers protecting their annoying children that I’ve been pushed over the edge. Following last week’s sly hint that Juggernaut may not be trustworthy (shock, horror!), we dive into a big sloppy battle with a NEW Brotherhood of Mutants (shock, horror!). We see just enough of Nocturne for non-Exiles readers to wonder why the hell Nightcrawler’s working with bad guys (note: Nocturne is Nightcrawler’s daughter from an alternate future) before the team beats the tar out of them and goes about whining through their botched relationships and thoroughly uninteresting personal lives.

One positive thing about this issue are LIQUID!’s colors, which, as on Ultimate Elektra, give a much needed weight to Salvador Larocca’s thin linework. Chuck Austen’s story, however, remains as shallow and tepid as a kiddie pool in a trailer park (bear with the metaphor, I won’t be much longer). Maybe it’s an inability to handle multiple threads or his insistence on making character interaction melodramatic or just plain dull, but I think Austen should just lay off the team books for a while. Maybe forever. Hell, Chuck, just scribble out some more Superman stories and be happy you can at least do SOMETHING right.

Hot Predictions for Next Week: Conan #8, Ex Machina #4, Plastic Man #10, Runaways #18, and Ultimate Fantastic Four #11.

Jason Schachat

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