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Jason Schachat vowed revenge on the clown that killed his dad.
Jason Schachat's Independent Breakdown
December 10, 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 read the news today. Oh, boy…

The Flash movie adaptation is slated to be directed by David Goyer and star Ryan Reynolds. If these web rumors are true (bwahahahaha!), I get the feeling Warner will be re-thinking things in the wake of Blade: Trinity.

Usually, I join Derek in supporting industry whipping-boy Chuck Austen’s run on Action Comics, but I have to pass on this issue. The Lana/Clark/Lois love triangle is annoying enough in its own right, but the desertions of the Preus plot (racist Kandor cop gone amuck, not the Toyota hybrid), Doomsday’s rampaging, and the continued meddlings of Gog are just nonsensical.

Summary of Action Comics #822: Clark learns that Jimmy Olsen, not Jack Ryder, took his job. Lois finds another woman’s panties in their apartment, they pack up and go for a visit to Ma and Pa Kent, and, in the ONE thread from last issue that weaves in, the repo-man Gog “gifted” hulks-out and goes on a rampage.

Lotta rampaging.

So, just to keep the chronology straight, Preus appears while Doomsday causes a citywide evacuation of Metropolis, then takes out Martian Manhunter while Supes is glued to Lois’ bedside… and now everything’s magically better? The last issue ended with a damn “to be continued…” and NOW we just dive into “Repo-Man part one” without any explanation of what happened to Manhunter, how Doomsday was stopped, or whether Preus is still taking over the world or not?!?!

I’m sorry, but this is going too far. It’s one thing to mess up the continuity on crossovers and references to old runs, but to be THIS poorly thought out from one issue to another is criminal. It’s SO out there, it overshadows the meathead characterization of Supes in this issue and the question of what the hell kinda kryptonite turns scrawny geeks into Jason Giambi.

There’s still a chance for Chuckles to flashback and tell us how the last few conflicts were resolved, but that’s sloppy writing and everyone knows it. Avoid this issue like the plague and give up any hope that Austen will pull his threads together with any coherence or efficiency. I may be going out on a limb here, but this could be the worst Superman story of the year.

Hmm...kind of Aquamanga.
On another book that explained awkward events through flashback, Aquaman #25 gets half a new team as Patrick Gleason returns to the drawing board and John Arcudi takes over writing chores after John Ostrander’s two-issue arc. So, what’s the word on the sunken streets? Drugs! (You may roll your eyes… now.) Yes, the first story from the new team finds Aquaman battling a submarine smack dealer in the struggle to bring harmony to Sub Diego.

Arthur and girl-friday Lorena cruise around the waves in a rare time of relaxation, but that’s quickly disturbed when they spot a scavenging frogman with a bag full of loot. They interrogate him best as one can underwater, and he points them to a playground where respectable citizens are frolicking like children as empty vials and syringes float in their wake.

It’s not long before we find out someone’s peddling narcotics on Aquaman’s turf. But what can he do when the people of Sub Diego live in such doldrums? And what will he do when he tracks down the dealer and his gang of sharp-toothed henchmen?

Last time I reviewed this book, my big complaint was we kept seeing the same old thing. If it’s underwater warfare, we’ve most likely seen it already. If it’s standard eco-terrorism, that’s nothing new. And, yeah, I’m sorry to say it, but fighting drug dealers doesn’t suddenly freshen up because it takes place underwater.

I’ll give Arcudi credit for trying to throw some science and common sense our way, but when homeless people file their pearly whites down and suddenly have teeth like sharks, you’re not on grounds where science reigns supreme. Heck, when malnourished people in trenchcoats are zipping around underwater like speed force-wielding dolphins, you KNOW logic has been thrown out the window.

But then, Aquaman never was a character built on logic, and you’d have a difficult time changing that. So, you should probably make his story as fantastic as possible. The sinking of San Diego? Fantastic notion! But underwater drug dealer? If not for the air bubbles and murky backgrounds, this could be a Bat-book. Next month sees a new arc begin, so new and old readers shouldn’t regret missing out on this standalone issue. Pass.

Jason Schachat vowed revenge on the clown that killed his dad.
I have many regrets about Demo, but none come from reading it. I regret not having read all of these oneshots. I regret not having caught on to them earlier. And, most of all, I regret that Demo #12 will be the first and last part of the series I get to review.

I never followed any of the press releases or other reviews that have been written through the last year, but the linking theme has been much like the concept behind DC’s failed Focus line: Superpowers, but not superheroes. Only Demo does it right. The stories take very simple, honest approaches to the amazing powers and struggles of the characters and never once make you think people are going to don tights and cackling villains.

The final issue divides its efforts between two love stories: One poetic and airy, the other darkly comforting. “Mon Dernier Jour Avec Toi (My Last Night With You)” sings a song of tender, perfect love, following a young couple through a day and night in Brooklyn that will be their last, yet never ends.

“Marie & Mike” revisits the couple from the very first issue (“NYC”), finding them living not necessarily happily ever after, yet well enough. Marie’s headaches continue, and the world looks as harsh and unforgiving as ever, but they’re together, they’re getting by, and they’re fine being “different”. The series comes full circle; loyal readers will take a calm breath and smile.

Maybe I haven’t been giving writer Brian Wood his due (hey, the guy wrote a Vampirella/Witchblade book; that doesn’t exactly scream “revolutionary”), but I’m definitely going to take a closer look into his work, as well as that of artist Becky Cloonan. The chapters of Demo have been more diverse than any run I can remember coming across, and the appeal has never faded.

These stories aren’t just designed for the superhero-filled racks of the comic shops; they could easily fit amongst the novels at any bookstore. Demo never attempts to alienate readers with convoluted continuity or notions that belong in an alternate reality: this is the supernatural come to our world. And, in a bold move for the comic medium, it’s moving and original.

That said, this probably isn’t the best place to start. This last issue gives us quiet love stories, and that’s just not the best way to head into a series that’s been so exciting, scary, and outspoken in its other issues. If anything, I’d recommend you go back and collect the rest of the series first (I know I will) before grabbing this. But, if you need just a little taste to get you started, buy any copy of Demo you can find. Definitely recommended.

You know the one thing you have to love about Marvel Age Hulk? You really CAN hop on any time. If there was one thing that made comics too much of a burden to follow, it was the never-ending plotlines that wouldn’t give you a good point to leave the series. Sure, that strategy kept you reading, but it also insured you never came back after you broke free.

Marvel Age Hulk #4 dumps us into the middle of a TV broadcast showing a giant green monster rampaging through Texas. While the citizens of Pecos aren’t particularly happy about this, Bruce Banner is even more upset. You see, he’s never been to Texas. He takes the first bus he can find to Pecos and examines the scene, finding that the monster left a calling card for Banner to follow. One that tells him it’s his former lab assistant Emil at work.

Bruce tracks the monstrous footprints to a cave and, sure enough, finds Emil transformed into a gamma ray gargantua. But how? Banner destroyed all his research before becoming a fugitive. All except what Emil learned watching his old master, that is. Yes, the bosses wanted him to recreate the project, and Emil did that to a ‘t’. But now he wants to be changed back, and he’ll beat Banner to a pulp if that’s what it takes to get a cure out of him.

Uh oh… Hulk no like that…

All you need to know going into this is that Bruce Banner does a Jekyll & Hyde when he gets angry and stays on the run so he won’t hurt anybody/can find a cure. No intelligent Hulk, cousins needing blood transfusions, superteams, interdimensional conflicts, or sudden shifts in skin pigmentation; this is the Hulk, plain and simple.

Does it have the depth which Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creation reached? No, it’s a simple comic for all ages. And it’s fine that way. In the end, most of the appeal of the character was just hearing him say “HULK SMASH!” and then watching cars get tossed through the air. In that respect, I think writer Mike Raicht could fit some more humor into the story, giving adults more reason to read it, and Ryan Odagawa’s pencils don’t really work for me, but it’s still a good book for the kids.

If nothing else, it gives them an adventure their weekly allowances can afford that won’t force them to become comic crackfiends like the rest of us. (RUN, CHILDREN! RUN!!!) It doesn’t really cut the mustard for those of us who demand more of graphic narrative, but I can definitely recommend it as a stocking stuffer or reading material for that long ride to gramma’s.

Spidey's in the mush pot...
As one who does demand more of graphic narrative, I may not be fond of Mark Millar’s recent work on Ultimates, but that won’t keep me from saying that Marvel Knights Spider-Man #9 rocks. Set up to be the final arc in the series (at least, as far as we can tell), “The Last Stand” opens with some heartfelt characterization and then dives into one of the coolest quasi-revelations we’ve had in a while.

We flashback to a time when young Peter Parker still had Uncle Ben’s shoulder to cry on, and the thought that he would lose his surrogate parents so quickly due to their advanced age is enough to drive the poor boy to tears. But then we remember the more violent end that snatched Ben away. And the one that befell Gwen Stacy. Then Peter remembers the laundry list of friends and loved ones he’s had to bury over the years…

And how he won’t let the same happen to Aunt May.

On his morning jog, Parker gets a surprise visit from an out-of-costume Scorpion and finally finds himself face to face with May’s kidnapper. However, it turns out that Spidey’s own actions are what caused the torment of the last year: Norman Osborn always had a contingency plan set up if he should run into trouble (yes, one that doesn’t involve genetically enhanced twin offspring taking up his mantle).

Scorpion then launches into a minor history and examination of the role of supervillains that would be the stuff of any tired comic book encyclopedia if not for the fact that it’s so damn entertaining. These are the kind of logical scrutinies that open readers’ eyes to a whole new dimension of meaning. They’re the kind of common sense notions we forget all the time, but just saying the words invokes a powerful spell. It’s something Millar does well (when he does it at all), and you’ve gotta love him for it.

Having been down this road before, I’m not holding my breath in the hopes that this arc will end with the same panache it kicks off with, but this is an issue ANYONE can dive into and get a lot out of. It’s also the best thing Millar’s put out in quite a while. Strongly recommended.

Sensing that it was time for another big team-up, the folks at Marvel give us X4 #1 (aka X-Men/Fantastic Four #1) this week. Bringing in a crew from Dreamwave Studios (the same people who made Transformers cool again), Pat Lee and Akira Yoshida put all their ingenuity into a story that… that… well, seems to be doing the same old thing all over again.

Things kick off with a space shuttle on a return trip from Mars docking at a big ol’ space station. Then it blows up. Or, rather, part of it blows up. The Fantastic Four then rudely awaken Wolverine the next morning when they come to speak with Xavier. Of course, they don’t know Xavier isn’t around any more, but that doesn’t stop little misunderstandings from erupting into the big obligatory team vs. team fight.

Emma Frost chills everybody out long enough to get them to discuss what the Fantastic Four want, and we hear another telling of the space station incident. Apparently, communications are down and they want a telepath to scan and see if anyone’s alive up there. No dice, but the X-men DO have a space-worthy craft in the garage. The catch: it only has enough seats for six, and more than two X-men are coming along.

That’s right: it’s a collision course for wackiness!

Honestly, I don’t see what the thought process here is. When they pick the team, all the “energy-emitting” people get benched so they can avoid hull breaches. Oh, but Wolvie, Thing, and Gambit are okay ‘cause they’re “resourceful” “heavy hitters”. And since when can the Fantastic Four not get into space on their own? This is Reed frikkin’ Richards here! He could make a Klingon Battlecruiser out of old beer cans and pipecleaners, but noooooo; they need to borrow the X-Jet!

And what they find when they get up there… oy. The art was a little unclear for me to be positive, but I should’ve known better than to expect NEW threats to suddenly come to us from Mars. If the rest of this mini is anything— and I mean ANYTHING like the first part, you’ve seen it before, and you’ve seen it done better.

I’ve never been a fan of Pat Lee’s art and this is no exception, but I do have to give the Dreamwave crew some credit. The combined efforts still don’t make the characters work for me, but there’s some nice production to be found and the inanimate objects look very nice, indeed. Especially the opening sequence with the shuttle. I’d still rather stare at the pretty pictures in an issue of Transformers, though. Not recommended.

Did we mention we're mentioned?
Requested Review of the Week

RAM wrote in again to tell us about some of the books he’s been following and one of the titles he brought up was Powers. Yeah, yeah; that’s pushing the definitions of “request”, but, considering that I didn’t intend to review it this month AND we got a plug in the letters column, I’m bumping it up to the top!

But I’m not the only shill here, as Bendis uses Powers #7 to not only kick off a new story arc but also work in new character Geoffrey Johns of the law firm Johns, Winick, Brubaker, and Meltzer (aka DC’s hot writers) and has some cops call officers Hine and Kirkman for backup (aka Marvel’s hot young writers). Oh, and it’s hard to read, but there’s a license plate that says Chakin (aka… well, you should know who Howard Chaykin is by now, kids). But this has become a tradition on Powers, so we can’t really complain.

Detective Walker gives some sagely advice to the new Retro Girl after she successfully but messily dispatches with yet another superpowered petty crook on the rampage: Mainly, it comes down to how you intimidate while keeping your spandex-clad goodies from getting gawked at on TV.

We then rush off to the murder scene of Blackguard, a hero considered retired well before superpowers were declared illegal. What’s truly odd is that neighbors report he was fighting The Joke, a villain who’d have to be on social security by now. And there’s a “Shadow Man” involved too? What about this isn’t adding up?

The main reason I avoided reviewing Powers for so long was I found myself predicting everything that was happening. When Chris Garcia first introduced me to this series, I instantly looked at the image of Walker standing next to swat cops and said “Oh, he’s a retired hero”. With the restart, I predicted what would happen in issues #3 (history/nature of Retro Girl) and #5 (Power Deena) and started feeling the same lack of momentum that dragged the first volume’s beginning down.

But I’ll give Bendis credit on this one: the storytelling’s sharp and involving, and I’m back to a point where I can’t say what’ll happen next (my favorite place to be). Volume two had a comparatively quiet start after the epic events of the two prior arcs, but we can see the creators were simply trying to make it easy for new readers to get involved. The lack of complexity was there for the same reason it was in the beginning last time around.

But, just as ‘Who Killed Retro Girl?” gave way to “Roleplay” and the “Groupies” arc that got me hooked for good, so, it seems, will this new arc move us back toward the intricacies that make this title sing. And, hey, maybe we’ll see if Bendis can keep an original storyline going beyond thirty some-odd issues…

Kidding! Just kidding! We love Bendis, as our forums no doubt show, so head over there if you wanna see more Bendis lovin’ and, oh, maybe tell us what comics YOU want to see us review.

Jason Schachat

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