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Jason Schachat loves The Walking Dead so much, he should marry it.
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
November 12, 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 still haven’t seen The Incredibles because some friends of mine insist I need to “wait for them.”

My life is agony…

Speaking of agony, how do you write for Aquaman? Honestly. You can’t go dark; we just did that. Do you make him campy? Do you make him an environmentalist? Do you make him a king? Do you try to play it straight like John Ostrander’s been doing? Is that what’s kept the character in the low numbers alongside Alpha Flight and Venom? Or is this just a nigh impossible character to write these days?

Aquaman #24 plunges us back into battle with the new Marauder as Arthur tries to keep him away from Sub Diego’s sunken nuclear arsenal. With the aid of some fish and the new Sea Devils, he manages to cool down the U.S. military long enough to figure out a plan that’ll both secure the SPAWAR system and capture Marauder. But will they survive?

Next month, John Arcudi takes over the series, and I feel as sorry for him as I did for Ostrander. What can you say about a character who was such a hard sell they had to cut off his hand to toughen him up? The sinking of San Diego was a risky move that’s at least opened up more possibilities for underwater conflict, but how appealing is high tech underwater war when Finding Nemo and Shark Tale are the closest we’ve gotten to a submarine movie in a decade and Sealab 2021 has run out of underwater clichés to parody?

Aquaman’s desperately in need of a solid new direction, but I’ll be damned if I can say what that would be. The character’s a DC mainstay. Has been since the ‘40s. But do we really need more stories about masked villains who are UNDERWATER? Doesn’t it seem like the property needs to have more to do with the sea and less to do with cackling criminals? Hey, I may be wrong, but it worked for Swamp Thing.

If you want an Avengers book that firmly announces “it’s over," Avengers Finale is the book for you. The mansion is destroyed, Tony Stark can no longer afford to fund the team, members are dead and lives are ruined. She-Hulk, Falcon, Wasp, Yellowjacket, and Captain Britain plan to retire. Thor has disappeared. The team reminisces on their greatest moments, have a last drink and say goodbye.

Avengers fans who burrowed underground to avoid the carnage of “Disassembled” should pop their heads out and breathe a sigh of… Not a sigh of relief, perhaps, but a sigh of acceptance. I’m not sure whether Avengers Finale was intended to run before fans went apesh*t over the traumas of the team’s end days, but Bendis makes it clear that he loved the Avengers and their adventures, even if he didn’t write the team quite the way readers hoped.

If I had one complaint about this book, it would be the way it affects how characters operate in their own series. Jen Walters saying she no longer wants to risk helping the Avengers as She-Hulk completely changes the dynamic of her own book. Falcon stepping out of the spotlight doesn’t bode well for Captain America and The Falcon, and I’m still a little puzzled at the changes in Tony Stark’s life. It seems a little chaos magic worked its way into his origins, as well (more on that in Iron Man #1).

This is a fitting tribute to the Avengers and, along with Avengers #503, makes the end of this team a little less painful. It’s touching, and I think we all need that after all that’s occurred. Recommended.

Departing with the common wisdom of reading a series from a jumping on point, I took a peak at B1N4RY #3 and was relatively pleased. Pretty confused, but pleased. It’s about a guy who does a Tron and gets turned into the world’s first digital superhero against his will. Well, maybe he does more of a Freakazoid… anyway, he’s turned all computery and now has to fight against the evil Hackers who are out to destroy the program that created him as well as various other things.

After reeling from the shock of his transformation, our hero rushes to the friend who tricked him into doing it so he can beat the tar out of him. When he learns there was a purpose to his “accident”, he still doesn’t settle down, but the sudden appearance of the Hackers convinces him to fight. That, and the nuclear missile that mysteriously just launched.

Jim Sutherns opts for a graffiti-influenced cartoon style and, when combined with Len O’Grady’s colors, I have to admit that the simple, blocky images do gain some appeal. But I don’t know if they fit Richard Emms’ somber writing style. The art is an example of extremes, but the words aim more for drama than comedy or big action. I’ll have to give this one another look when I have a better idea of what’s going on, but I can say it’s worth a good flip.

Zombie soldiers. Really, who could ask for anything more?
There’s something missing from B.P.R.D.: The Dead #1. It’s not Hellboy. We’ve learned to live without Hellboy. If anything, I’d say it’s Mignola’s art, which is why I’m a bit torn by this new series, because Guy Davis’ art is great. The lines are creepy, the characters are true to his prior work, and Dave Stewart’s coloring makes the book look like it was painted. But it’s just not the dark Mignola style that drew me to the franchise in the first place.

Our story opens with another infestation of “frogs” being found out in the Midwest, signifying the creatures’ migration further and further away from the B.P.R.D.’s east coast base of operations. The solution? We’re moving the team out to a shiny new base in Colorado (which is actually an old base left over from the Cold War). Of course, now that Abe Sapien and Dr. Corrigan are running around the country trying to learn about Abe’s past, the team also needs a new leader. A strong leader. A military man. A zombie. Enter undead former marine, former green beret Captain Benjamin Damio.

It’s cute, and you gotta love some of the little jokes at work, but it’s a slow start that isn’t creepy beyond the opening scene. As a chapter in the continuing chronicles of the B.P.R.D., it serves its purpose, but the plot is just a touch too light up front. I can recommend it for franchise loyalists, but this isn’t the place for newbies or anyone looking for good chills to go.

It’s been a long time since I reviewed Emma Frost, so I thought I’d look at Emma Frost #17 to see how things have developed. Well, Emma’s gotten reacquainted with the old high school professor she had a crush on, made friends with and alienated a roommate, discovered another mutant telepath running around campus, and had yet another tragic altercation with a guy she’s dating. So, aside from finally meeting another mutant, nothing’s really happened. And I don’t say that because it’s so easy to summarize the events of the last few months. I say it knowing that the storytelling here is mediocre at best.

What we get this month is Emma’s big move on the former high school teacher that her roommate Christie’s been dating. She convinces him to break up with her and feel a bit “Frosty," then runs off to brag to her telepath pal. But the boasting leads her friend to question whether Emma got back together with her true love through subconscious mind-tweaking or not. Emma has no answer to that, and goes into her standard montage of self reflection and gets in a big fight with her jilted roomie.

Reading this thing’s like watching that lame sitcom that comes between your two favorites: it sounds like a decent idea, at first, and it’s easy to just hop onto, but there’s nothing to keep you coming back. No fire, no passion, no wit. I don’t expect every X-spinoff to have huge explosions, guys with claws ripping each other apart, or mandatory cleavage. Plot always comes first, and books like District X, New X-men: Academy X and Madrox have proven that you CAN start with third tier mutants and, through clever storytelling, make them interesting again.

But when you’re handed a major character like Emma Frost and have so little development a year and a half into the series… I mean, she’s grown, and there have been some defining moments, but it’s as if the character goes back to square one the second a crisis ends. And, until a crisis DOES happen, the plot drags on with little or nothing to show for it. What pains me the most is that this book keeps going while Mary Jane got the axe. Granted, it was a hard sell, but it was a far superior girl’s comic (and I can’t imagine why any guy would want to read this one). Skip Emma Frost, and keep skipping it until it sinks to the bottom.

The kids at Vertigo were nice enough to give us a couple months of light plotting after a truly massive arc of Fables, but the mad developments of the last issue bear fruit in Fables #31. Snow White has given birth to Bigby’s “litter” and must take the children to the Farm (the one place in the world Bigby is not allowed to go). Prince Charming has won the Fabletown election, ousting King Cole, Snow, and Bigby from their seats of power. Bigby, meanwhile, has decided to go off into the Mundy world, leaving the rest of the Fables behind.

Interrogating one of the Wooden Soldiers, Bigby and company learn that The Adversary keeps our world locked off from the others he’s taken because we possess something which could turn the tide: technology. He fears the way our guns and advanced weapons distribute power among the common folk, while his magic can only be wielded by the powerful. Potentially, a Mundy could someday face The Adversary himself.

Though much of this issue could still be seen as cleaning house from the events of the last few arcs, it’s weaved so deftly that new threads sneak up on readers without breaking the flow of the overall story. The ending kicks off a new subplot that could easily justify more spinoffs like Fables: The Last Castle and may in fact have to, what with all the doors Bill Willingham has suddenly opened. Fables has long been one of the jewels of the Vertigo imprint, and this new arc reaffirms that not only are they not going to reveal The Adversary or solidify Snow and Bigby’s relationship any time soon but things are still only just beginning. Strongly recommended.

Shadow of the moron...
Having weathered “War Games” without devoting a single issue to it, Gotham Central #25 catches us up to the catastrophic events of the Bat-crossover. Due to the actions of Batman, many police died in the gang war, including one of our friends in the MCU. The Dark Knight took over the police radio band and ordered cops on suicide missions. When the police had Black Mask surrounded, Batman stepped in and Black Mask escaped, only to become the undisputed kingpin of the Gotham underworld.

So, yeah, Bats screwed up bigtime.

In the aftermath, the MCU argue amongst themselves whether Batman is a hero or a madman, but Commissioner Akins takes it upon himself to once and for all remove the Bat-signal from the roof of the Central Police Department. Arguments continue to break out, especially between Cris, who, as an outsider, believes Batman is just another one of the “freaks," and Montoya, who, having grown up in Gotham, sees Batman as what inspired her to make a difference. Reporters grill the Captain, the Mayor chews out the Commissioner, and only one thing remains clear: the GCPD no longer trust Batman.

This is the kind of issue that makes Gotham Central stand out. The “freaks” are what make the series more than a graphic novelization of TV cop dramas. The “freaks” are what set Gotham City apart from any other place in the world of fiction, and the fact that Batman is once again considered a true enemy to the police promises to charge this series with even more tension than before. Kinda funny how the best Bat-book technically isn’t about Batman, eh? Recommended.

Judd Winick throws us another curveball with Green Arrow #44 and the further development of Mia’s H.I.V. Rather than interweave the plot with the continuing rise of Brick, the new crimelord of Star City, the storytellers play it simple, examining how Mia and Ollie generally slip into denial while Connor pushes them to face the facts. Luckily, they seem to have discovered the virus at a very early stage, and Mia’s prognosis is “excellent” (whatever that can mean when dealing with an incurable ailment), but it’s not the drug treatments, side effects, or fear of death that are bothering Mia.

I have to admit that I was worried when I got roughly halfway through this issue and so little had happened. Most of the story’s a laundry list of H.I.V. facts and how even the advanced treatments available today have nightmarish offshoots. That, and Ollie’s fight to repress his rage while Connor, enlightened soul that he is, reminds Ollie that Mia hasn’t received a death sentence. She’s merely living with H.I.V.

But the last seven or eight pages were what hit it home, for me. To see the closely guarded Mia open up in such an honest and believable way was touching and transformed the frustratingly placid issue into a cathartic experience. Phil Hester isn’t the best at drawing talking heads, but he gives just enough subtlety to his often unreadable Mia that none of the story’s emotion is lost. Connor, however, is limited to “stoic” and “furrowed," which doesn’t help draw the reader into earlier parts of the story. Much as I’ve enjoyed his work on this series, I can’t wait to see what happens when Tom Fowler (Winick’s partner in crime from the last chapter of Caper) gets to take a crack at this material. Recommended.

Identity Crisis #6 is going to be the one that makes or breaks the series for you. There’ve been ups and downs, revelations and betrayals, ret-cons and bold steps forward; but this is where a lot of fans will draw the line. After the attack on Tim Drake’s dad last issue, we find yet another Robin has been orphaned. Captain Boomerang is dead, too, but his own super-powered son readily grasps the mantle. And the whole mind-wiping debacle? Well, it turns out another person’s brain was fiddled with. A hero’s brain. Possibly the most important hero’s brain.

That’s right; just as we start to get some closure and the series seems like it’ll quietly fade out, a shocker comes through. And THEN we find out who the real villain is! (To any who thought Captain Boomerang was the mastermind behind it all: the short bus is waiting to take you home.) But it’s not so much the horrifying logic behind why all this has happened or the “humanizing” of superheroes or even the notion that they’d turn on their own that makes Identity Crisis such a twisted tale. It’s that they HAVE turned on their own, believe their own have turned on THEM, and would willingly turn on their own again.

This wouldn’t be a surprise in an original superhero universe like Watchmen. We’ve seen it before in the Marvel Universe, and it’s run of the mill in Image and Wildstorm stories. But this is the DC Universe. This is the place where heroes act like heroes. Things actually CAN be perfect in this world. And while we’ve had our betrayals, traitors, and megalomaniacs rise from the ranks of humanity’s defenders, this new feeling that the heroes can’t trust each other is staggering.

And, frankly, it’s too damaging to actually last. The aftershocks of this series would make every team and partnership in the DCU fall apart in an instant. Wally West, who JUST learned to open up to his buddies at the JLA, would probably go into a coma trying to process all that he’s learned. If not for the fact that Tim Drake JUST came back to being Robin, I’d say there’s enough here for him to retire permanently. Batman… well, Batman can survive knowing he can’t trust anybody, but I’ll be damned if he’ll ever team-up with someone out of anything other than a survival instinct.

In short, Brad Meltzer may have destroyed the one thing that makes DC superheroes DC superheroes. On the other hand, he may have pushed them into a totally new frontier. The one thing I know for sure is a lot of fanboys will be appalled, and I can’t blame them. If you’re already reading this series, you’ll be picking this up whether I say so or not. If you’ve avoided Identity Crisis, keep doing so. This is dangerous territory and some of us may not make it out alive.

Does anybody miss the days when he looked like a can of New Coke?
Two things happened in the past year that make Iron Man #1 a pleasant surprise. First, Warren Ellis said he didn’t plan on doing many American comics for a while. He’s now signed up for a two year exclusive contract with Marvel. Second, the “X-men Reload” made it appear Marvel had no concept what the word “reload” meant. Unless they were referring to firing more shells into the bloated corpse of a long-bastardized franchise. Which they did.

But Iron Man well and truly reloads with Warren Ellis’ new arc, reworking the origins of Tony Stark and his powered armor into a story that’ll resonate more with modern readers. The action begins with some young guys injecting one of their buddies with some kind of experimental biological agent that begins to change him into God-knows-what. Then we meet Tony Stark, bickering with his snooty secretary and deriding himself in the mirror. He slaps on his armor, goes flying around, and gets a call from an old friend about a certain biological agent that’s gone missing.

In some ways, it’s just another day on the farm. The main plot and much of the characterization of Tony Stark isn’t all that different from what we could’ve been reading a few months ago. But Ellis ups the ante by connecting development of the Iron Man armor with Tony’s mistakes building weapons for the military. A documentarian interviews him for a film called “Ghosts of the Twentieth Century." As it turns out, Tony is one of these ghosts because the landmines and bomblets he designed during the first Iraqi War are still being found by children. Of course, it was those same devices that wounded him and gave rise to the Iron Man armor.

Marvel’s new fondness for painters pays off with some truly gorgeous work by Adi Granov that oscillates between powerful, beautiful, and terrifying. It’s a great match up for the range of emotions Ellis’ writing covers, and promises an exciting new beginning for a struggling book. Definitely recommended.

Marvel Knights Spider-Man #8 wraps up the “Venomous” arc in a bizarrely trite brawl between Spidey and the new Venom. Having been sold to a mobster’s wimpy son, the Venom symbiote hunts down the wallcrawler at a high school reunion, kills a bunch of Peter Parker’s former classmates, and then… well, they fight. The Bugle’s “hunt for Spider-man” and “Vulture’s sick grandchild” subplots exit the story as the mystery of Spidey’s new nemesis grows. Oh, and god only knows what they’re gonna do with Venom now.

Frank Cho once again takes over for Terry Dodson on art duties, and the result is beautiful (thanks in no small part to uber-colorist Laura Martin), but it’s also a pretty confusing read. Cho’s characters look far better than Dodson’s exaggerated caricatures, but the flow of the panels is choppy and some almost seem redundant. It’s hard to know who’s to blame, but I have to fault Cho for oddly choreographed fighting and a pivotal fake-out sequence that makes no sense whatsoever (and I still can’t figure out why Cho HAD to draw Oscar the wiener dog when Spidey has to save a “yapping Pekinese”). Still, it is pretty.

If I had to classify the Spidey books on the shelves today, I’d say Marvel Knights Spider-Man is the book that’s making the loudest attempt to move the character into new territory. Unfortunately, the journey to that new territory inevitably takes us back to places we’ve been before. Amazing Spider-Man is doing a more interesting job reworking the franchise, even if it’s pissing a lot of people off. As it stands, I have hope that Mark Millar can push the material with his continued destruction of Spidey’s rogues gallery, but that isn’t enough for me to recommend this issue.

Marvel Team-Up #1 launches a new era in— Aw, who am I kidding? This is the third damn volume of this book, not including Ultimate Marvel Team-Up or Super-Villain Team-Up. And you know what? It feels about the same; a couple of Marvel characters thrown together in a book that’s not quite their own to fight a foe neither would face alone. Writer Robert Kirkman updates the format by throwing in a heavy dose of his brand of drama, but the basic formula is still there.

The story begins in flashback, showing us that Wolverine ends up being webbed-up in an alley, fists against his face, silently cursing Spider-man and the events that led to this sticky situation. We then witness the start of the day, where Spidey saves an armored car while Wolvie tracks someone down for Cyclops. Peter Parker manages to swing into his school late and gets a good chewing out from the principal before getting hit on by one of his fellow teachers (yes, it’s an unrealistically hot female one). So, things seem pretty normal… until one of the kids in the lunchroom manifests glowy mutant powers.

This is a hard book to pin down. Not bad, but not great. It maintains the status quo, gives us some chuckles and nice art, but doesn’t make you get up and holler. I still think Kirkman does far better with his own Image books than any of his Marvel outings, but who am I to deny the man a book starring Spidey and Wolverine? He does a better job with both characters than the majority of books featuring them. That I must admit. But it still doesn’t sing like Walking Dead or Invincible. Recommended if you need a light Kirkman fix or didn’t get enough Spidey/Wolvie action from Ultimate Spider-Man.

Oh, and if you missed it the first time, Walking Dead rocks. You know this. I try to say it every week. Even when the title gets delayed. I will admit that issue #12 is a quiet, transitional entree (though that is pretty necessary after the carnage last time around) and definitely not the place for newbs to jump on, but it already has me aching for issue #13. So, I guess it’s a damn good thing issue #13 comes out next week! And, with another six issues completed, that means another Walking Dead TPB is coming our way soon. Get ready to fork out some dough!

Hot Predictions for Next Week: Captain America #1, Conan #10, Ex Machina #6, She-Hulk #9, and Walking Dead #13.

Jason Schachat

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