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Jason Schachat blames society.
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
October 27, 2004

Each week, Jason Schachat takes you along for his ride on the four-colored pulp pony. Feed the addiction, and the addiction feeds you.

Alright, already. I was late with the Breakdown. Really, really, really late. Like I NEED to go off my nut every damn week. Make a federal case out of it whydoncha…

It’s funny, but no sooner do I say it looks like Adventures of Superman may finally be going somewhere then they go spinning off in another direction. Issue #633 begins with a pretty creepy scene of two innocent teenagers metamorphosing into wannabe Parasites, but then we find Clark bumbling through his useless civilian identity. Lois is all better, their parents hang around the apartment, incessantly baking, and Clark… well, he’s pretty much useless. Supes joins the hottie lieutenant interrogating Xlim in hopes of learning the location of Ruin, but nothing much happens there, either.

Then it suddenly occurs to Supes that he should be looking for soundproof rooms lined with lead, since those would be the perfect places to hide. He’s been hunting Ruin for two months, and only now does that occur to him. Just how friggin’ stupid is he supposed to be? I mean, Supes has been badly written before, but this is Greg Rucka, man. I can’t remember him letting us down like this before.

And how many damn times is Lois Lane going to be on death’s door this year? We’ve got her dead in Superman, shot and miraculously healed in Adventures of Superman, marked for death in Identity Crisis, and nowhere to be seen in Action Comics. And, frankly, the “nowhere to be seen” approach is working best. Is Lois in jeopardy all the time? Yes. Do we care? Sorta. Do we care now that she’s been dead for a year in one book’s continuity? I sure don’t. Magic superweapon took her out? Great, so why should I worry that Parasites are after her? Don’t waste any time on this one.

Oy. I wasted the last week in the company of fellow Planeteer Chris Garcia for reasons that now escape me (free booze, most likely), but I do recall one of the myriad debates we had concerning modern comic coloring. He maintains the belief that the comic coloring of the 80s and 90s is far superior to the “flat” and “sterile” work being done today. I considered beating him within an inch of his life, but instead offered the work on Conan as some of the most impressive ever done on a monthly series.

‘Cause, regardless of what side you take in the debate, you’d have to be blind to deny the mastery of the coloring on this book. We talk a lot about what an amazing job Kurt Busiek’s done channeling Robert E. Howard and how perfect Cary Nord’s rough pencils are, but this book would be nowhere without Dave Stewart’s colors to simulate the vivid textures of the paintbrush. A moment of silence for the colorists…


There's an art to mindless mayhem...
Conan #9 finds Conan in the pale streets and candlelit taverns of Nemedia, making his living as a thief well after the events of the last arc. Uncivilized as he is, the Cimmerian brawls and blunders his way through the town, picking fights with other thieves and the local magistrate, eventually taking it upon himself to teach them all lessons in modesty. However, he also attracts the eye of an ancient sorceress whose intentions seem less than altruistic.

The tone of the story has changed with Conan’s entrance into civilized lands that seem rather ignorant of magic and bloody combat, but the series hasn’t lost any of the elements that make it so damn appealing. The creative team have proven that they can breathe life into a property many thought long dead. Let’s just hope they can keep it going for years to come. Recommended.

As per the request made on the forums, I entered into the freshly minted Aftermath Universe this week with Defex #1. Sorry to say, I was somewhat underwhelmed. Stefano Caselli’s artwork jumped right off the page, but Marv Wolfman’s story of a group of young people used as guinea pigs in some kinda wacky experiment was so old its whiskers had whiskers.

The characters fit the general teen team setup: crybaby, rebel, nerd, mysterioso, and fillerbunny. The catalyst gives us the impression the government has its filthy mitts in this somewhere, but all we know so far is that the kids have powers. Standard superhero powers granted through the magic of nanotechnology. And shiny new outfits. Yay.

Marv Wolfman has never been my favorite writer, so this may not have been the best Aftermath book to start on, but, for a line that claims to be starting a new superhero universe different from those that have come before, it sure feels like the same old thing. A pretty dull read, but Caselli’s rich pencils almost make it worth the price of admission. Not quite. Skip this title unless you’re desperate to see Gen13 or New Mutants revisited.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was when Mike Wieringo rejoined Fantastic Four. The synergy he has with Mark Waid is what makes this run what it is. Paco Medina’s pencils just weren’t right. And Karl Kesel may be a fine inker, but his co-writing during the last arc made for an underwhelming adventure that didn’t have the charm of the Waid/Wieringo issues. Fantastic Four #519 (which still has that stupid “Disassembled” logo on it) is a perfect example of how humorous, innovative, and exciting the team can be.

After Zius (who still reminds me of a certain orangutan doctor from Planet of the Apes) and his anti-Galactus squad convince Sue Richards to sacrifice herself for the good of sentient life around the galaxy, we find her strapped into a big ol’ death machine. Ben and Johnny try to help, but the aliens outnumber and overpower them. So, Reed bursts through the wall of the ship with a ridiculously huge raygun, which he then fires right at Sue, blasting the machine to pieces and taking away her powers. All seems well. But it isn’t…

It may annoy readers to learn that this arc isn’t ending so much as dovetailing into the next one, but it’s worth the trouble. This is satisfying storytelling. All the junk the comic companies dump on us sometimes makes it hard to tell what’s worth reading and what’s just another marketing ploy. Fantastic Four doesn’t need crossovers or spinoffs as long as it has this creative team. It’s just a great goddamn comic. Definitely recommended.

Hmm...who could that outline be?
Brother Power, the Geek?
Identity Crisis #5 covers all its bases, giving us the death of a hero, big developments in the Captain Boomerang sub-plot, a nice twist on the spouse-killing trend of previous issues, and a Michael Turner cover that would ruin the ending if not for the elegiac nature of the story. The last entrée in this mini left me pretty flat, what with its repeated threats on superhero wives, dangling threads, and unfair treatment of Superman. This one makes up for it.

Following further supervillain roundups, the reunion of Ray Palmer and Jean, and the startling revelation that Captain Boomerang’s son can run at super speeds, the issue devotes most of the story to Tim Drake (the third and now, technically, fifth Robin) and his dad. Meltzer achieves the same wicked pacing that made the first issues such pulse-pounding reads, tormenting us with the smart storytelling that makes this book compare so favorably to Watchmen.

Rags Morales skimps on background art a touch more than he should, but his characters don’t disappoint, and you have to applaud the way he puts detail in their masked expressions where any other artist would opt for solid white Batman-eyes. Identity Crisis will still need a slam-bang ending to pull off this audacious yarn, but it looks like things are moving ahead strongly after a mid-season slump. Recommended.

Identity Disc also hits issue #5, this week, but wraps up its story with an ending unexpected only because the device has become so tired out. While the mini always bore a very vague resemblance to The Usual Suspects, choosing to rip off the infamous climax of that thriller just feels lazy. We may have always suspected this low-key supervillain team-up story was put out just to capitalize on Identity Crisis, but now we can be sure there wasn’t any greater goal for the series.

Worse yet, it has me confused over how many illegitimate children The Vulture has running around. His whole motivation in Marvel Knights Spider-Man was raising money for his grandson’s leukemia treatment, but that’s his son’s son. And now he has a daughter, as well? I mean, this is the friggin’ VULTURE; wrinkled curmudgeon of the Marvel Universe. Who the hell has sex with The Vulture, much less bears his child?!

And Nick Fury calling Sabretooth a criminal mastermind? Sure, Fury has made his bad calls in the past, but what kind of spymaster would accuse Sabretooth of thinking? The whole wrap-up just stinks of convenience and bad cross-continuity. I guess this is what happens when a book featuring Deadpool suddenly decides to take itself seriously. Robert Rodi should’ve done us all a favor and stuck with the humorous tone of the third issue. Attempting this “clever”, spooooky ending with such a motley crew of supervillain dunces isn’t worth the time, effort, or your hard earned pesos. Only buy this if you were suckered into the mini-series early on and need the complete set to feel at ease.

Madrox #2’s constant references to film noir probably wouldn’t sit well in anyone else but Peter David’s hands. Maybe he’s earned the right to have characters announce “this is noir” after what he’s done on Fallen Angel. Not sure. In any case, the result is fresh, entertaining, and the best use of X-Factor alumni… well, probably ever (not counting the original team, natch). Which is, admittedly, sort of a backhanded compliment…

This issue finds Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, scouring the streets of Chicago to learn who’s responsible for the death of one of his duplicates. He saves a guy who looks like Steve Buscemi from some thugs, and together they try to piece together what the dupe was up to in Chicago. Back in New York, a creepy tattooed assassin appears on the scene, apparently, to hunt down Madrox and all his duplicates, while, at the XXX Investigations office, Madrox and company are hired to track down a husband who’s cheating on his wife through astral projection.

Peter David’s early introduction of so many threads and plot twists makes Madrox a dizzying read that’s already more involving than the majority of X-books. The disorientation makes sense, when you consider we’re reading about a guy with thousands of different personalities knocking around the recesses of his mind, but it gives the story a meandering quality that doesn’t bode too well for a five part mini. If this were a long-running book, the approach would be great. As a limited, it means the plot won’t get the opportunity to spread out.

Unfortunately, I’m not enough of a dreamer to think a Multiple Man series would put dollar signs in Marvel execs’ eyes, but, hey, at least it’s better than X-Force. Or Sabretooth. Or Gambit. Or Rogue. Or Excalibur. Or Alpha Flight. And, honestly, who wanted a new Alpha Flight book? Especially one like that? Damn canucks. They’re like brits without the pomposity and smugness.

The '60's are BACK!
And, speaking of Warren Ellis, I don’t know what the hell he’s doing in Ocean #1. The story starts us out smartly with the discovery of some kind of alien graveyard on the Jovian (that’s Jupiter to you and me) moon of Europa. Then we get some semi-hard Sci-Fi that feels like an amalgam of 2001 and Total Recall as we join a U.N weapons inspector who’s been assigned to investigate the strange happenings on Europa. Though, by the end, we still have no inkling of what those happenings might be. Ellis’ sprinkling of fun facts keeps the lack of plot-oriented information from getting TOO annoying, but his characterization of Inspector Kane as a childish tough guy gets old really fast.

Fortunately, the art team delivers. Chris Sprouse’s pencils are clean and uncluttered, Karl Story’s inks are sharp and solid, and Randy Mayor’s colors are rich and weighty. One of Ellis’ greatest talents is knowing how to step back and let the artists take the reigns, and they certainly don’t disappoint. If only I could say the same for the story. I’ll wait a few issues to make the call, but there isn’t enough happening in Ocean to make me recommend it. I suppose you could buy it on the merit of Ellis’ reputation alone. ‘Cause that’s what I’m doing.

Toe Tags #1 surprised me. And not in a good way. I’m an avid fan of The Walking Dead, so it only seemed natural for me to pick up the new book from the master himself: George Romero. But it just isn’t the same caliber as Walking Dead. Nothing’s missing, but I think that’s the problem; this issue is packed full of too many zombies, explosions, and overlapping panels. The story begins with rotted corpses being blown apart and doesn’t take a break from the carnage to let us be scared or remorseful.

Tommy Castillo’s art is nice and dirty, but it still harkens closer to the action genre than horror. It looks great when the blood’s spraying, but the quiet moments don’t build up tension or keep the characters entirely proportionate. I’d drone on about how ridiculous it is for the female heroine to have a sexy thong slung high on her hips after battling zombies for three months, but it seems pretty obvious this is complete fantasy. And that’s the problem; it’s unbelievable in a few too many respects.

We get a revelation about one of the protagonists that’s… well, kinda strange. It pushes the story from something that feels real enough to be scary into fanciful horror. I guess Romero writes differently for comics than he does (or did) for film. If you go into this expecting social commentary, human drama, or the creepy chill of torturously waiting for zombies to strike, you’ll be sorely disappointed. If you expect streets littered with shambling corpses that are then blown apart by heavy ordnance mounted on an elephant that then journeys on to the next neighborhood for more of the same, this is the book for you.

Ultra #3 continues our heroine’s slow, slow trip down lovers’ lane with Pearl’s date with Jason. And, yeah, I’ll admit I wouldn’t mind swapping places with THAT Jason, but the pacing on the book is glacial enough to give me second thoughts. This issue breaks down into roughly four scenes: the cute intro that has nothing to do with the main plot, a conversation about superhero romance, the aborted coffee date, and the post-date wrap-up.

Pearl might be what you’d call endearingly generic. An everygirl living a typical romance-impaired working life. Her dialogue is a lot less forced than her buddy Aphrodite’s, and I think that’s contributed a lot to the more natural conversations of the last two issues. Still, this story may be too subtle for it’s own good. I’m a major proponent of superhero stories with real-world spins, romantic focuses, and human concerns, but this one is just dry. It has nothing on the smart storytelling of Love Fights and hasn’t worked superheroics into the narrative like Powers or Invincible would.

And that’s what it comes down to. This still isn’t really a story about superheroines. This is a story about celebrities. The troubles they have fitting into regular society and relating to the little people. I’m fine with that, but it’s the kind of thing you can find on your TV at any time of day. The superhero allegory is cute, but there isn’t enough wit or clever plotting to set it apart from the rest of the pack.

The Luna brothers have succeeded in making a superhero book that stands apart from the rest. No argument, there. It’s just not so special when we’re inundated with celebrity stories in every other medium. You’ll get some chuckles, and it’s probably even worth the cover price. Then again, I could say the same of a Friends rerun. And that’s free. You be the judge.

A hidden gem.
And don’t ask me how it happened, but I ended up reviewing another book where people ride around on an elephant in a post-apocalyptic zombie world this week. Thankfully, Wonderland: Children of the Future Age puts these oddball ingredients in a quirky little oneshot that’d be steampunk if only they were clearly using steam.

The tale centers on a group of kids whose father wanders off into the midst of this post-apocalyptic London, leaving them with only their elephant, twin-tailed mutant cat, robot, and abandoned department store fortress to face off against the army of mutants that lurks about the city at night.

The kids do the best they can just to get by, but they notice changes in the mutants’ (who they call Slinks) behavior. Attacks are no longer limited to the night hours. Large groups coordinate to ambush the children when they’re out gathering supplies. Then, one night, the Slinks surround the department store, calling out for the children. And one of the Slinks is carrying their father’s compass.

Wonderland moves leisurely through its plot, and the big surprises of the climax aren’t really unexpected. At 61 pages, it feels like more should’ve been happening throughout the narrative. However, it works as a oneshot, giving us a quick story and tying it up cleanly. Kit Wallis’ artwork is what you might expect if Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night) were animating FLCL; dark and gritty, yet warm and cartoony at the same time. Derek Watson’s narrative is paced well enough and his characters are simple and uncomplicated, but the plot is too plain for it’s own good.

This is a book that will do well with the kids raised on Jhonen Vasquez books looking for more serious fare or fans of the recent IDW and DDP lines. Steampunkers looking for the next Popbot and Hot Topic refugees desiring a new Gloomcookie will barely recognize similar elements in Wonderland, but anime fans should feel right at home. Very mildly recommended.

Hot Predictions for This Week: The Authority: Revolution #1, Daredevil #66, Planetary #21, Sleeper Season Two #5, and WE3 #2.



Jason Schachat

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