Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
Schachat tells nothing but pre-Crisis stories...
December 2, 2004
week, Jason Schachat takes you along for his ride on the
four-colored pulp pony. Feed the addiction, and the addiction
anyone else find it funny how “War Games” and
“Disassembled” have ended, yet we’re still
getting pre-War Games and pre-Disassembled stories? I know
we shouldn’t expect every title to suddenly link up
chronologically, but, when some of Batman and Captain America’s
own books still can’t get it all straightened out,
I think of that whole “room full of monkeys banging
away at typewriters” gag…
every other DC Focus title has been ripped clean off the
racks, Hard Time keeps chugging along (yes, it’s
almost lasted a year!). This month with Hardtime
#11, the wonderfully plotted superpowered-teen-in-prison
drama investigates the links between Ethan, the crazy old
man that claims his powered are derived from ancient Sumerian
deities, Alyssa (one of the victims of Ethan’s unintentional
shooting spree), and the dreams they share.
And that’s before Ethan’s lawyer
proposes marriage to Ethan’s mom, Curly’s estranged
granddaughter visits the jailbirds, and the Aryans drive
the latino Diablos to murderous rage!
one title could survive the death of DC Focus, I’m
glad it was this one. It was the best of the bunch, and,
if it goes to the DC mainline, it’ll be one of the
best there, too. Few books manage to create such a massive
cast, much less weave them in and out of such an involving
story. As if that weren’t enough, the creators seem
to have finally broken past the fear of cancellation *crosses
fingers* and are developing Ethan’s powers in a way
that’s both surprising and natural.
the face! Not the face!
In fact, I can’t think if a single
complaint for this book. Steve Gerber’s writing here
is the quality premium cable dramas aspire to, and Brian
Hurtt’s bold art keeps it from being lumped in with
superhero books while playing to the strengths of comic
styles. Trust me when I say this book has been a joy to
read every time and doesn’t look like it’ll
let up any time soon. Strongly recommended.
first book I reviewed from DDP’s new Aftermath Universe
left me pretty cold. It promised to be a new kind of superhero
story and failed very early on. Infantry #1
doesn’t exactly strike me as boldly different, either,
but it’s already off to a better start. Our first
moments are spent with an odd couple pair of investigators
rummaging through the remains of a burnt down drug lab in
the South Pacific. Apparently, a pharmaceutical company
was testing allergy medicine in such a way they needed total
isolation under the cover of dense jungle in the middle
segue to Los Angeles where a supervillain is hired to assassinate
a political candidate by a paramilitary group calling themselves
“Nemesis." Then a van crashes through the wall
and an armored vigilante proceeds to pummel the living snot
out of the baddies.
Now, while many of the trappings are very
familiar, I have to say this story hits some original notes
every here and there. Joe Casey’s supervillain is
a very interesting character, and it’ll be a shame
if he doesn’t figure into the story in the future.
Rarely do we see a reasonable criminal with such a clear
head. Our hero, for the most part, comes across as a silent
one man army, but it looks like they’ll delve into
his origin story a bit more next issue. What they DO get
across here is an atmosphere of (for lack of a better term)
some of his proportions seem off in perspective shots, Clement
Sauve’s art packs a lot of action onto the pages and
manages some impressive layouts without getting confusing.
Quieter scenes don’t work so well, and some character
designs are a little… off, but, ultimately, it flows
with the story. I can’t say if this book will last,
but the storytelling’s certainly stronger than Defex.
didn’t have any great hopes for New Avengers
#1. It’s not that Avengers
ended in a way that closed the book forever. It’s
not that I thought the Bendis and Finch team couldn’t
make it work. It’s not that I didn’t like the
roster. I DIDN’T like the roster, but that didn’t
mean the book would suck.
Logan, Logan...keep those things sheathed during
an electrical storm...
my great worry was this would be another money-minded re-launch.
Marvel brings out the big guns of Spidey and Wolvie, shaves
off some confusing continuity, and keeps the beloved powerhouses
Iron Man and Captain America. Sure, Bendis threw in Spiderwoman
and Luke Cage for a bit of Alias nostalgia, but
it’s hard to argue that putting the most popular X-Man
of all time on the Avengers isn’t selling out.
But, man oh man, does Bendis do us right.
with a one page recap of “Disassembled," summing
up that Scarlet Witch went nuts and the Avengers disbanded.
The book then avoids any connection to Avengers for the
rest of the issue. We get a quick meeting where the perennially
ridiculous-looking Electro accepts a job in the stereotypical
“dingy warehouse office” and kindly disappears
until the end of the issue.
Meanwhile, Matt Murdock, Jessica Drew, and
Luke Cage (aka Daredevil, Spiderwoman, and… well,
Luke Cage) meet outside The Raft supervillain penitentiary.
Drew escorts them in to the facility, droning on about how
impenetrable the facility is, allowing Luke Cage a tense
moment looking into the eyes of the Purple Man, before the
lights suddenly go out. Then the lights go out in Manhattan.
Then the lights go out in the rest of New York. Then a massive
lightning bolt blasts one side of the prison into kibble.
I think you get a pretty good idea what
happens from there.
was one worry fans had when Bendis came onboard Avengers,
it was that he didn’t write anything like typical
Avengers scribes. No one should pigeonhole him
as a gritty crime writer, but you have to admit it was a
strange marriage of fan-favorite and franchise. The result,
of course, was the loud and chaotic “Disassembled,"
and it was pretty… “eh”… for the
the beginning of New Avengers, Bendis and Finch
make it clear “Disassembled” was just them wiping
the chalkboard clean to teach us a new lesson. This is the
beginning of something different. Gone are all attempts
at compressed storytelling, old school plotting, and standard
team formation. Just as Mark Millar’s Marvel Knights
Spider-Man and The Ultimates have revamped
standard Marvel heroes, New Avengers immediately
does the same— Bendis-style.
only thing preventing me from going ga-ga and forcing everyone,
at gunpoint, to get this book is the typical Bendis method
of plot maximization (wherein any three pages of a Silver
Age book translate into a full issue of a Bendis book).
Technically, very little happens in these pages. But what
does happen is friggin’ awesome. I questioned the
wisdom of slaughtering the old Avengers wholesale when Ultimates
still seemed to be bringing new readers to the old book,
but this first issue gives me hope (despite the fact that
David Finch’s Matt Murdock looks way too much like
Scott Summers). Recommended.
less permanent attempt at reinvention, Superman/Batman
#15 continues its romp through
an altered reality (where Batman and Superman dominate humanity)
with the fight for freedom hinted at last issue. Wonder
Woman leads Uncle Sam to the mound where Abin Sur was buried
and retrieves the green lantern and power ring. They then
gather Phantom Lady, The Ray, Doll Man, and The Human Bomb
to their banner and launch an attack on the stronghold in
Supes and Bats slaughter Zatanna and imprison
Deadman in a distant arctic wasteland, but quickly rush
to the battle between the freedom fighters and their brainwashed
Legion of Superheroes lackeys. The tide begins to turn,
but Wonder Woman takes out Batman, sending Superman into
a rage. The only question: did the fight distract the villains
long enough for the surviving freedom fighters to set things
to admit this is a weird time for me to be reading this
story. It feels like I’m reading alternate reality
books all the time. Exiles and the Elseworlds books
usually do enough to satisfy my cravings, but the reality
hopping going on in Teen Titans, JLA, and Superman/Batman
are pushing me over the edge. As alternate reality stories
go, it’s okay, but nothing special really happened.
Next month promises bigger developments, but, what with
the new volume of Marvel’s What if…?
coming out, I’m going to need more from Superman/Batman
than “Look! It’s an alternate reality!”
It’s a pity, too, because Carlos Pacheco’s
art is beautifully clean. When he needs to inspire hope
in us, it comes shining through. When the art needs to be
terrifying, we get a double helping. Unfortunately, this
issue plays out as the sagging middle of a larger arc, and
no amount of pretty art can make up for that.
if you’re like me, every month without a book drawn
by Bryan Hitch is agony, and, since Ultimates only
comes out once in a blue moon, that means I buy Excedrin
by the truckload. However, the end of the last volume was
so lackluster, I had to question what drew me to it in the
first place. You can’t deny that Hitch’s artwork
is gorgeous, but what about Millar’s story?
out The Ultimates #1 of this second
volume with a quick romp through Iraq with Captain America.
This prompts the press to scream and shout about the use
of America’s superheroes in foreign affairs, but Tony
Stark attempts to defuse this by appearing on Larry King
Live with a large thermos full of martinis and the drunken
charm he imagines is so endearing. Thor, however, has publicly
protested the actions of the Ultimates and officially resigned.
Of course, Thor also appears to be talking to himself when
he thinks he’s conversing with gods, so why should
anyone listen to him?
Cap and Jan Pym pull their lives together
with a few dates, and Hank Pym tries to run away from his
own by working on his Ultron and Ant-man projects with Bruce
Banner. Hawkeye, Black Widow, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch,
and Nick Fury pop in just long enough for us to remember
they exist— Hell, everyone’s here!
Except the plot. It must be on vacation.
that may be kinda harsh, but this is a cold start that doesn’t
give us a thrilling mini-adventure like Cap’s World
War II battle in the first volume. Instead, we check in
with all the characters, see things haven’t changed
much since last issue, and get an inciting incident towards
the last pages. In a monthly book, that’s torturous.
In an irregular not-quite-quarterly like this one, it’s
I try to keep in mind that Millar has entertained
me in the past, but his recent work on this book simply
rubs me the wrong way. The dialogue tries too hard to be
irreverent and audacious, resulting in moments that are
too unrealistic and madcap for us to link with the characters.
I can believe it when a few characters make brazen sexual/excretory
jokes in public, but so many different characters doing
it in so many different settings doesn’t sound real.
It sounds like the writer speaking through the characters.
Hitch and company do the same bang-up artwork they’ve
been giving us since they wrapped Stormwatch six
years ago, and it’s an especially great feat since
so damn little actually happens. If you’re buying
this title for the look of it, this is money well spent.
But, if you want a new Avengers story that promises big
widescreen action with clever storytelling, just pick up
one thing Y: The Last Man doesn’t
typically do, it’s give us answers. The plot just
smartly dances around them. What happened? What’s
happening? What’s going to happen? It’s all
been a big damn mystery that’s been delighting and
torturing readers for two and a half years. But then the
creators drew our attention back to the story’s beginning
by having Yorick lose his “magic” ring. Then
they brought his schizophrenic sister Hero back into the
mix, gave Yorick the plague, destroyed the “magical”
artifact that supposedly killed all the men off in the first
And now, in issue #29, we finally learn
the true cause of the plague is… botulism!?!
Nah, but that gotcha, didn’t it?
As Yorick recovers in his sickbed, Agent
355 and Hero continue their threeway standoff with the Setauket
Ring (a rogue splinter group of 355’s own clandestine
organization). Hero accuses 355 of being a traitorous murderer
and is about to throw her to the wolves when it comes out
that the Setaukets killed 711 (355’s former partner
from the “Safeword” arc).
Meanwhile, Dr. Mann continues to examine
Yorick for possible clues as to what’s killing him
but keeps coming up short. Ampersand continues his monkey
duties of shrieking and jumping out from around corners,
distracting Dr. Mann from the ninja outside the window,
and digging through the garbage. However, it’s that
last chore which draws Mann’s attention to a dented
can of tomato soup. A can which Yorick ate from. A can which
gave him botulism, not the plague.
Of course, she figures out what REALLY caused
the plague by the end of the issue.
This arc hasn’t had the amazing economy
of this summer’s “Tongues of Flame”, but
it’s easily made up for it with the constant revelations—
or should I say false revelations? It’s dripping with
so many fake-outs, half truths, and implications I don’t
know what’s real. Hero could be good or bad. Dr. Mann
could be tied to the mysterious ninja who works for “Dr.
M” (especially since her real name of Matsumori just
SCREAMS “my parents hire ninjas”). Heck, for
all I know, Yorick could’ve avoided the plague by
eating out of the same bowl as Ampersand.
as always, the constant tension of the story hooks us like
the unsuspecting trout we are. This issue is still a little
light on plot movement or the powerful characterization
Brain Vaughan occasionally graces us with, but it shoves
the story along with such gusto you gotta love it. Recommended.
Review of the Week
sitting on a telephone wire...
week, we try to do a review in response to the requests
you lovely fanboys post on the Fanboy Planet forums. Though
I didn’t manage to work Detective Comics #800
into my Breakdown, “RAM’s” request inspired
me to look at David Lapham’s continuing work on the
Comics #801 steps away from the meticulous
investigation stories that characterized so many pre-War
stories to delve into the dark uneasy that characterizes
Gotham City. Many rolled their eyes and shook their heads
in disgust when “War Games” closed with the
dissolution of the Bat-Family, knowing that a solo Batman
always attracts disenfranchised youths. However, this run
shows the promise of a Batman book where he doesn’t
have a computer network or armies of caped teenagers assisting
The main story follows Bats through the
eerie Gotham night, pointing out the few lives he can save
as he prowls the city before then showing us those he can’t.
Later, we’re whisked off to a charity event where
Bruce Wayne sticks to himself yet still attracts the attention
of a spoiled teen heiress.
He ignores her, thinking her a foolish child
playing adult and flatly telling her so. But, as he later
reflects over her corpse, he didn’t remember that
she couldn’t go back to being a child. That she didn’t
know how. That she desired the attention of a fatherly man,
and, when she couldn’t find it, instead went for a
younger one with a dose of heroin.
The backup story opts for a less macabre
tone, but keeps the creep factor high with a story of murder
at a freakshow. A group of traveling carnies come to the
outskirts of Gotham and set up camp, but the lovable dog-faced
boy meets with a sad end. The leader of the troupe is enraged
when the police laugh the case off as the accidental death
of a freak, and the carnies band together to seek out the
While Mike Carey’s story and John
Lucas’ art on the second tale are captivating and
far better than so many backups we’ve skimmed over
the years, it’s David Lapham and Ramon Bachs’
main story that makes this issue so special. Pulling from
the same poetic stylings that made last month’s backup
so interesting, “City of Crime” gives us one
of the darkest workings of Batman I’ve seen in years.
This isn’t a bloody story or one filled
with gratuitous violence. Batman doesn’t spend the
entire issue viciously beating thugs or wading through piles
of dead bodies. What makes this so powerfully dark is in
the implications and single-panel events. Lapham and Bachs
create a Gotham so thoroughly devoured by crime that fear
and hatred loom over it like a fog.
then there’s Batman, so consumed in the fight for
his city that he virtually becomes the city. Unfortunately,
the title page informs us this story is pre-War and reaffirms
that with an appearance by Robin, but I definitely think
this is the direction the post-War Bats should move in.
Lapham’s work on Stray Bullets and Murder
Me Dead should have been a clue, but I never expected
him to pull off such a terrifying, suffocating vision of
Gotham. Hell, I don’t think I’ve been this creeped
out by a Bat-book since Grant Morrison played around with
the character all those years ago. Definitely recommended.
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