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Jason Schachat is not the droid you're looking for...
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
September 24, 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.

You know those days when you order a Star Wars Trilogy DVD Boxset, and you wait for your Star Wars Trilogy DVD Boxset, but the Star Wars Trilogy DVD Boxset doesn’t come, so you read some comics to get your mind off the Star Wars Trilogy DVD Boxset, but all you can think about is your Star Wars Trilogy DVD Boxset?


Avengers #502 confirms many of our worst fears: A) The United Nations UNANIMOUSLY voting to disavow the team in the span of a day summarizes the painful sloppiness of this whole concept. B) The sudden appearance of an angry Kree battle fleet sets new standards for Plot Convenience Playhouse. C) The disgustingly unsurprising death of a team member who dates all the way back to the days of Jack and Stan (…two American kids doing the best they can…) proves Bendis isn’t even in this for the shock value. D) The cliffhanger involving an ally’s epiphany that THINGS ARE NOT WHAT THEY APPEAR whacks us in the face with a huge “Hey, kids, you’re being f***d with!” sign.

I’ll be as fair as can be, here. I’m not a longtime Avengers reader. I don’t feel a bond to these characters that goes all the way back to my childhood, I can’t name about half the members of the extended team who showed up last issue, and I’m all about seeing Captain America as a man of action rather than a quiet, thoughtful team leader (leave that to Black Panther).

Aside from what is admittedly an awesome death scene for a long time Avenger, this issue is a boring fight with stock villains bookended by some “What the hell’s going on?” dialogue. Bendis’ “Chaos” arc has committed the sin of copying Alan Moore’s immortal Superman “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” story with half the excitement, half the intrigue, and double the issues. Only check this one out if you’re REALLY desperate for a few pretty pages of big explosions and laser blasts.

Hmm...the cuffs don't match the tartan...
I’ll also admit a lack of knowledge concerning the works of Brian Pulido. All I know about Pulido is he does Lady Death, and all I really know about Lady Death is I had to constantly clean drool off the countertop underneath her poster at the comic shop I worked at. Brian Pulido’s Belladonna #1 seems to be following the same guideline that putting a busty avenging angel in skimpy undergarments and a cape is grounds for a comic series.

This time around, we get a story set in the aftermath of Norse raids upon Ireland in the 10th century. On Samhain (Halloween), a woman dressed in the garb of a Celt appears from the shadows to claim revenge for a Norseman’s cruel murder of an innocent Irish family. However, when vengeance is had, Belladonna reflects on her rage and her power, asking what has become of her. Is she a ghost? What happened to her former life? Are these Norsemen responsible for destroying the last hope for peace in Ireland?

To tell the truth, I don’t really care. The story’s all very standard “I must have my revenge, blah blah blah” that doesn’t give us any characters we particularly care about or a strong enough conflict to keep us involved. And it’s been a while since I’ve brushed up on my Norse mythology, but I could swear that Hel was a person rather than a place, so when Bella tells a Norseman his kin are rotting in Hel… well, that’s not GOOD, but I don’t think it means what Pulido intends. Besides, doesn’t every realm in Norse mythology end in “–heim”?

See, this is what happens when you make a comic that’s even remotely close to historical fiction and don’t give it enough plot to keep these questions from bobbing to the surface. I don’t know what the creative team’s intentions are on this book, but if you buy it for anything other than a voluptuous Irish chick bursting out of the Celtic equivalent of a bikini (which really has to chafe, when you think about it… (See?! I’m thinking about it again!)), you’re wasting $3.99 on this 22-pager.

Wanna talk about a different kind of waste? Well, after Catwoman managed to grab 13,000 new readers last month, I figured it might be worth taking a look at what all the commotion’s for. Wasn’t ‘til after buying it I looked at the cover and realized friggin’ “War Games” is still going on (this is what I get for having the clerk pull issues for me). Worse yet, the Catwoman entrees in the story haven’t been the series at its best, and I doubt the new readers will stay past the crossover.

Issue #35 finds Spoiler in chains, Orpheus dead, Catwoman battling Cheshire’s old gang, Batman taking over Oracle’s communications center to order the Gotham City PD around, and lots of explosions and fire and stuff. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you now realize why it’s not a good idea to review issues in a crossover.

Ed Brubaker fares better than he did with last month’s obligatory car chase and big reveal, but Paul Gulacy’s art is still an eyesore. He gives us some nice detail here and there, but his sense of proportion is schewed, fight choreography is hard to follow, and characters are capable of about three expressions: bored, stunned, and screaming. Of course, I’m still pissed at how his minor tweaks of Selina’s costume have shifted it from the realm of practicality into unrealistic quasi-fetish gear (unless you consider skintight leather jumpsuits with giant belt buckles (yet no belt) and huge O-rings mounted just beneath the chin in perfect position to loose someone’s head from their spine practical, that is).

Not having read the rest of “War Games” I can’t really say if it’s a must have for those following it, but the issue seems important enough (especially since it features Bats’ most fascist move I’ve seen in a while). The rest of us need not bother.

I’ve refrained from reviewing the City of Heroes comic because it hasn’t been particularly stellar, and I previously thought you could only get it free with subscription to the game. This month… well, nothing’s changed, but since ICv2.com ranked the last issue as the 271st best selling comic in July with 1,891 sales, it’s open season! (There are enough CoH subscribers to put the comic in the top ten if they counted free issues, so I’m assuming 1,891 people actually bought the damn things.)

City of Heroes #4 continues the book’s second arc with the hunt for Carnivale villains for… some reason. Can’t really remember. Something to do with drugs. Anyways, Apex, War Witch, and Horus run around the city beating the tar out of various types of baddies from the game in more of an attempt to pander to the gamers than accomplish anything heroic. The big appeal of this issue was rumored to be its first ever inclusion of a player’s hero character. I’m guessing the newly introduced Kayla is said hero from the way she suddenly appears and disappears, but her look is too different from the CoH models to be sure. She’s dull enough to fit the bill, though.

As a comic, City of Heroes suffers from a lot of the same weaknesses as the game. The heroes and their missions lack depth, villains usually seem to be there so the heroes have something to do, and it doesn’t take long before you realize they’re giving you the same thing over and over again. With the game, I can understand it takes a long time to implement design changes that’ll advance the story beyond smacking bad guys around and facing the same old cackling archvillains in their dark lairs. With the comic, they really don’t have that excuse.

Rather than pull from the interesting initial concept of, oh, a CITY FULL OF HEROES, City of Heroes follows buddy-cop formulas and generally ignores the backstory and intrigue that keep the game involving. In the attempt to be accessible to non-players, a story that had some appeal in the preview issue has become so watered-down even the gamers won’t have any interest beyond the history lessons in the back of the book. The art isn’t awful but isn’t great, either, and the dialogue is neither as clever nor as humorous as it tries to be. Frankly, you should only be reading this if you’re subscribing to the game. But don’t subscribe beyond a recurring monthly plan or start off playing as anything other than a Blaster or Scrapper. Trust me on this.

You think you've had a bad day?
Last month’s Conan wrapped the Aesir/Hyperborean arc so completely, Kurt Busiek and company decided it was best to head back in time to Conan’s childhood for issue #7’s “Born on the Battlefield”. We return to the Prince and Wazir of issue #0 pouring over the scrolls that tell of Conan’s rise from lone barbarian to mighty king. But the Prince interrupts his Wazir and commands that he tell of the hero’s childhood (despite the Wazir’s insistence that such tales will be largely myth). The story then follows the boy Conan from his birth in the heat of battle to his early experience with the sword as he proves, even at that age, to be one blessed with abilities that draw men and women alike to his side.

Perhaps the greatest difference with this issue is Greg Ruth’s gorgeous artwork. The roughly painted style harkens very close to Cary Nord’s work on the series, but the feeling is quite different. Nord’s work felt raw, rough, and savage. Ruth’s work leans more to the artist’s photo-realistic mastery and details it with a few layers of dirt and grime. The color palette is a bit duller than Dave Stewart’s, and the overall effect is a darker, less adventuresome tone.

However, the story doesn’t suffer at all and it makes for a nice jumping-on point as well as a surprisingly good fill. One to buy.

Unfortunately, I can’t give Cosmic Guard #2 the greenlight. I say “unfortunately” because I really had hope for this series based on the first issue’s promise of a new Green Lantern/Captain Marvel (Marvel’s Captain Marvel… er, Marvel’s OLD Captain Marvel, that is). This month demonstrates a closer tie to the power fantasy rather than the space adventure.

Ray, our newly appointed Cosmic Guard, learns of the evil Genociders who threaten all life in the galaxy— but then he also discovers he’s still just a twelve year old orphan who needs to will the power of the Legacy if he’s going to fight anybody. So, most of the issue follows Ray through the orphanage as he gets acquainted with a few of the local psychos and learns of a fiendish plot involving unwilling organ donations.

Naturally, I’m disappointed by the way the story seems to be heading (at least for the immediate future), but this issue fails even more in the art department, relying on ugly gradients for most of the coloring, undetailed/photographic/absent backgrounds, and some freaky character designs. Jim Starlin’s Dark Paladin is a far more interesting sight than Ray, and I’d rather see the Genociders decimate another planet than stare at the bizarrely decrepit walls of the orphanage. Hopefully, this book will veer back towards the cosmic in a hurry. The page where “a new player enters the game” was enough of a tease to keep ME coming back, but this book needs to ditch Earth and give us some more robots and aliens if it’s going to make it to issue #4.

Brian K. Vaughan uses Ex Machina #4 to make one hell of a statement about art vs. the “art world”. Oh, and he also has the hero save a guy from a fire and builds up the whole mystery of the man killing snow plow drivers. That’s cool, too. But, man, does he give a nice slap in the face to critics and culturati when Journal confronts the artist responsible for the “*igger Lincoln” painting that’s brought so much heat on Mayor Hundred. It’s a great commentary on artists and art scenes, but also serves as a slick examination of the human condition and lack of communication in today’s uber-communicative society. Journal wears a silly hat while doing it, too!

And Tony Harris draws people better than anyone has a right to. We all know he has the ability to give us completely photo-realistic art, but the compromise he makes to give subtlety and nuance to these characters is near perfection. Ten years ago, work of this kind was still overshadowed by the heavily hatched monstrosities that ruled before the refinement of computer color. Man, is it good to see THOSE tables turned. Definitely recommended.

Here there be dragons...
On the other hand, anyone hankering for some fantasy from old school masters is sure to get a kick out of Michael Moorcock’s Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer #1. Set as a prequel to Moorcock’s Elric saga, this new mini finds the Prince of Melnibone as an anemic youth struggling against a treacherous cousin and faithless father to attain his rightful place on Melnibone’s throne. But what Elric lacks in brawn he makes up with sorcery and cunning. Entering the first of four dreamquests, Elric finds himself in the foundling days of Melnibone during a conflict with the dwarves which centers around a certain mystical runesword and its involvement with the dragons that live in the earth.

After god knows how many years of limp fantasy and shallow adventures which manage to wedge a few dragons onto their pages, it feels damn good to get a solid High Fantasy hybrid from a couple of the masters. This is some definitive Walt Simonson, here, and nothing feels tired or trite. The dragons, dwarves, demons, giants, and demi-gods are unique and powerful designs, and the world of Elric taps into fantasy trappings without looking like another Lord of the Rings clone.

Moorcock’s approach to the story pulls from the strengths of sword and sorcery, setting up medieval power struggles in the background while the dreamquests drive the narrative. The result is a captivating adventure that delivers visceral action AND the strong storytelling of literate fantasy. Definitely recommended.

So, what would happen if Martians harvested Adolf Hitler’s brain, grafted it to the body of their emperor, slowly infiltrated America in the 1950’s and declared outright war in 1969? Well, clearly, Mr. Monster would rise up to save the day as he does in Mr. Monster vs. The Nazi from Mars (“or Mr. Monster: Worlds War Two whichever you feel is the catchier title”). Blending the wacky lack of sensibilities that characterized WW2 propaganda comics, cheesy pulp Sci-Fi, and 60s/70s underground comics, Mr. Monster boldly strolls through a bizarre alien invasion with the look of Mars Attacks! and the joyful bloodletting of a Duke Nukem game.

Duke Nukem… wow, I’m getting old…

Nevertheless, Mr. Monster is a delightful pleasure for anyone hankering to see new ways to kill Nazis. It’s a bit shallow and action-heavy for the price tag (not to mention scientifically flawed in every possible respect; probably intentionally), but it works for anyone desperate to see Martian Stormtrooper brains splattered across the pavement by a chainsaw sword.

In this week’s edition of “Deserving Characters Who Finally Get Their Own Series”, we take a look at the all-too-long awaited Nightcrawler #1. Following the bloody murder of a hospital room full of children, Storm gives Nightcrawler the task of investigating the mysterious incident (figuring his gentle demeanor will more than make up for his ghoulish appearance). But, upon reaching the hospital, he finds a vixen night nurse, a night watchman with a dark secret, a brooding, suspicious supervisor, and a traumatized child whose reaction to Nightcrawler may be a clue to the evil forces at work.

I’m pretty torn by this issue. I’ve loved Darick Robertson’s artwork from JLA to Transmetropolitan to Wolverine, and, despite an odd looking Nightcrawler in the latter title, he really comes through on this issue. But Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa doesn’t really give him much to do. The story’s very simple and the art follows it. Yet… it almost pains me to say it… but this is one of those characters that would actually work if Marvel tried to Manga-fy him.

Hear me out on this one; Nightcrawler is a good looking, sensitive young demon guy who’s earned his stripes as a swashbuckler. And the girls go for him. Give him a samurai quest or something and you’re on the road to manga. More importantly, Nightcrawler’s sensitive side gives you an opening for romance that young women might go for. Of course, you’d have to abandon the gritty, realistic look to make him a bit more appealing. Hence, manga.

Of course, longtime X-fans may scoff at such a thing, and I can understand them wanting Kurt to play a dark detective role, but I just don’t think that suits him. The whole irony of Nightcrawler is that he’s the nicest guy in the world yet looks like a monster (a cuddly one, admittedly). He’s not a killer or a brooding chronic depressive. This man loves people and the world we live in. Nightcrawler is nice and all, but the approach isn’t particularly exciting. It’s a decent read, but I can’t see it lasting a long time unless things change soon.

In this week’s edition of “Characters Who Don’t Deserve Their Own Series But Get It Anyway”, we take a look at Rogue #3. Figuring that if her old flame Gambit could start his own series without giving me an aneurism, she deserved a shot, I caught up on this series and found it to be remarkably less than revolting. Not earth-shattering, but this exploration of Rogue’s roots (her background, not her dye job) finds some appeal in its odd journey into shamanism and dreamwalking.

We pick up where we left off when Rogue encountered her doppelganger and let her slip away just before the mysterious new Gambit-wannabe in her life strolls up and tells her where the shaman her mother and father followed to the “Far Shore” can be found. Unfortunately, the old native is comatose, so Rogue has to whip off a glove and reach into his memories to learn that it was her father’s hubris that took her mother away from them and dispersed the commune they lived in.

Oh, and then weird ghost things attack when Rogue snaps out of her trance.

As comics go, Rogue isn’t one I think I’ll be reading much, and I still don’t feel it can last as an ongoing series, but I will admit that scribe Robert Rodi has played to the character’s few strengths very well. Far too much of Rogue’s career has been spent as a whiner, musclehead, or both. Most stories use her as a plot convenience or showcase her ability to steal powers when the far more interesting story device is her memory absorbing ability, and Rodi knows it all too well.

There are too many loose threads and perplexing elements whipping around right now for me to recommend Rogue to any but Rogue fans, though I will say it’s better than I would’ve expected and trounces recent stories on the main X-books. Not that that’s hard to do.

Hey! That's not the cover I got...
Lacking significant bloodshed or wall-to-wall swearing, Sleeper #4 earns its “Suggested for Mature Readers” label this month by spending nearly half the issue in a titty bar! Which is not to say the book doesn’t regularly feature more strip clubs than the entire Marvel catalog combined, but this issue is more of a quiet intrigue builder than a shootout.

Holden, our good guy turned bad guy turned good guy turned bad guy (or triple-crossing sleeper agent), figures out that former boss and spymaster Lynch has used his buddy Triple X-Ray as a go-between to set up a secret meeting. Of course, Ray would also be screwed if he told anyone Holden was working with the good guys again, but Holden’s more concerned about getting his friend out of harms way when Lynch’s “distraction” comes barging into the club, allowing him to slip away in the chaos. Holden doesn’t really have anything to say to the old man, of course, but Lynch has some interesting information involving a wayward alien and how it might be able to extract the super-powered artifact that both gave Holden superpowers and completely ruined his life.

All in all, this is a pretty quiet issue, but, let’s face it; ever since we got over the confusion of the Sleeper season one #1, there’s never been a bad issue. Ed Brubaker keeps us delightfully in the dark about damn near everything but shows enough of Lynch and Holden’s backstabbing to keep readers hooked. With next issue’s promise to delve into the feud between Lynch and Tao (Holden’s criminal mastermind employer and a former member of WildC.A.T.s), Sleeper’s as addictive as ever. Even on a day off. Recommended.

There’s an old comic writing guideline Stan Lee went by which Alan Moore also adopted that has been recommended by Warren Ellis, as well: Try to stay under 23 words of dialogue per panel. (For anyone keeping track, that roster stretches all the way back to the Golden Age and could be called fathers of the Silver Age, Bronze Age, Modern Age, and Fourth Movement (aka they have a good idea what they’re talking about)). It’s a simple, logical, straightforward concept to make people sound natural and keep the story flowing.

…and The Walking Dead has pissed on aforementioned guideline more times than I can count. It’s still frickin’ brilliant.

Following the relatively quiet change in locale last month, issue #11 finds us on a farm where the patriarch keeps his undead neighbors in the securely locked barn. This revelation stuns Rick, whose solution has always been to kill the zombies, but things come into focus when the farmer says his fallen son is in the barn. Rick still pleads that the farmer’s son died and the zombie is nothing more than a monster, but the farmer angrily insists he has to keep them locked away until a cure can be found.

Most of the characters begin to settle into the comfortable surroundings of the farm, but Allen, the man whose wife died the last time things got “comfortable” still teeters on the brink of madness, questioning whether he can even go on living, even if it’s just to care for his young sons.

Rick starts up another shooting lesson with the latest additions to his weary band, and things seem fine until the farmer rushes out to stop them from damaging property, only to notice a withered form staggering out towards the sounds of gunfire…

The Walking Dead could probably feature an entire issue about proper kitty litter maintenance and it would still be riveting. With the constant threat of zombies and unfriendly survivors lurking around every corner, readers can’t help but be on constant alert. Especially when it seems like there’s no reason to be. But Robert Kirkman’s unapologetically wordy human drama gives us so much in one issue it’s impossible to be let down (please be impossible, please be impossible…). Charlie Adlard’s art still doesn’t thrill me like Tony Moore’s did, but there can be no doubt that it fits the book and delivers every time.

The Walking Dead is the best book this week. The Walking Dead may be the best book every week it comes out. Hell, The Walking Dead may just be the best comic book, period.

Hot Predictions for Next Week:
Adam Strange #1, Caper #12, Daredevil #65, DC: The New Frontier #6, and Guardians #4.

Jason Schachat

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