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Jason Schachat was raised thinking a gypsy was his mother.
Jason Schachat's Independent Breakdown
December 17, 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.

Orson Scott Card is writing Ultimate Iron Man, eh?

Maybe the Mormons really ARE taking over.

I guess this explains Derek’s five-year exclusive Marvel contract…

And, while I poke fun at my esteemed editor, let’s talk about how he pointed out in his Spotlight that Angeltown felt a bit… odd… being a Vertigo book with no supernatural horror in it (Bah! Someone must not be reading Human Target, 100 Bullets, or The Losers; half the Vertigo regular titles.) But I can see his point: most Vertigo detective stories have some twist to them. They’re set in the future, star vampires, involve aliens, or have something to do with mystical forces. Angeltown has none of these. And I really wish it did.

Angeltown #2 is more of the same wannabe-noir we got in the beginning. An O.J. Simpson/Kobe Bryant amalgam is on the run from the law, following his ex-wife’s murder, and it’s up to private dick Nate Hollis to find him and learn what he was up to before things go from bad to worse.

Nate gets a visit from the obligatory evil bookie our sports superstar supposedly owes money, but he beats the bookie’s goons up in a very macho and intimidating way. Meanwhile, the newspaper editor he’s boinking gets one of her crack reporters on the story with information she’s squeezed (both literally and figuratively) out of Nate. Nate’s high-priced lawyer continues to be sneaky and dodge his questions about what’s really going on, but that will probably change after the bombshell that’s dropped at the end of the issue.

If there’s one glaring flaw in L.A. detective stories, it’s that they’re too much like the city itself: flashy, exciting, and giving an illusion of importance while having no substance or complexity beyond the surface. L.A. is about illusion, and, thus, is a hard city to know. New York and Chicago have prided themselves on being more “upfront” than the City of Angels, but the fact of the matter is L.A.’s full of people trying to please people. It’s a cipher. It’s whatever it has to be.

Angeltown, however, isn’t so hard to pin down. It rips off the work of Mickey Spillane on a superficial level and fills the rest of the pages with attempts to be “street” and weave a larger story. But it isn’t coming together. Only the end of this issue made me curious as to who killed the ex-wife. And, still, it has to be a red herring to come out this early in the series.

Otherwise, they played the card too soon, and we’re left to wonder how the series might have worked better with demonic interventions or monkeys wearing jetpacks. If you want a good detective-styled story that uses the many faces of L.A. as a theme, check out Human Target. If you want to spend a few bucks watching modern characters use stilted dialogue in an attempt to be old school noir… No, even then, pass on Angeltown.

I was just as ready to pass on Nightcrawler when it first came out. The character’s always been one of my favorite X-Men, but let’s be honest; nobody knows how to write for him. Given that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was the chosen scribe, my hopes didn’t get high, even though Darick Robertson was on art duties (still gotta collect those last few issues of Transmetropolitan…). So, three issues in, how’s the book progressed? Not too shabbily.

'Cuz you gotta have faith...
No, Nightcrawler #3 doesn’t really blow me away, but the story rings true to the character as he struggles to uncover the mystery of some disturbing child murders. Nightcrawler first takes a quick break for some fencing then has a heart-to-heart with Storm before returning to his investigation of the one boy to survive a seemingly demonic attack on a group of hospitalized children.

The little Haley Joel Osment clone gets ready to leave his institutionalized setting with the creepy Aunt (who conveniently turned up when Nightcrawler’s investigation dug too deep). But then aunty suddenly wigs out and attacks the even creepier Dr. Childs on the sidewalk, clawing at his eyes and screaming for him to undo a magical circle binding them together that prevents Nightcrawler from interfering. Good thing he can teleport, eh?

There’s still a lot of murky storytelling here, and Robertson hasn’t quite settled into his handsomely-rendered Nightcrawler (as opposed to the long-faced version from early in his Wolverine run), but the plot has developed nicely. Nightcrawler seems to slip into mystical stories whether he wants to or not, and I think he’s one of the few mutants that can pull it off.

As for the future of the series (yes, it has another arc after this one, so you know it’s definitely not a mini), it’s hard to see where things can go. There’s a lot of continuity floating around in the background, but this is essentially another mutant-detective comic using Xavier’s as a home base. Like Wolverine, it’s content to give us a smaller story but doesn’t have any illusions about expanding the plot or the character, which makes it accessible yet still not particularly exciting. Mildly recommended.

Having finally given Nick Fury his balls back (oddly enough, balls which no one imagined missing…), Garth Ennis continues his “Mother Russia” arc in Punisher #15 with the “unofficial” raid of a Russian nuclear missile base holding the single greatest biological weapon ever conceived by man.

Frank Castle and new partner Martin Vanheim blaze through the lazy base security and rescue the six-year-old girl who’s been injected with the dormant bacterium, and we get to see a softer yet still true side to the Punisher as he quiets the child and carries her through the carnage in the halls. Vanheim, however, blows the clean escape by getting trigger-happy just as they’re about to make it out.

Meanwhile, in a far more arid part of Russia, the base commanders meet with a Kingpin-wannabe by the name of Zahkarov. Apparently, he ran Kabul during the occupation of Afghanistan and, if the occupation had continued, very little of Afghanistan would be around today. Oh, and he has a creepy Mongolian that follows him around and is rumored to be really, really dangerous.

Too bad for the base commanders their first report is the six-year-old Typhoid Mary has fallen into enemy hands…

The rest of the issue is, for the most part, a lesson in how many weapons a man can carry simultaneously, how many explosions you can fit onto one page, and how many Russians you can kill in a limited amount of time (see Six String Samurai for previous record holder). As in most of the new Punisher, Ennis is more concerned with keeping the stories brief and bloody than building an epic. Excellent strategy for the character.

But I think the one who’s really benefited from this is Nick Fury. True, his appearances have been limited to cameos in this arc, but the sight of a gruff, strong-willed, cursing, cigar-chomping, whiskey-drinking Nick Fury is a helluva lot better than the typical device as “I Need You For A Mission” Man. Yeah, he gives Frank a mission. Yeah, he gives him a briefing and then fades into the background. He also appears in a king-size bed with three naked women at the end of this issue. ‘Nuff said.

If I had to find a weakness, it would probably be Dougie Braithwaite’s art. It still works, but it doesn’t push my buttons like in the previous issues. True, Ennis only gives him so much to do; it just doesn’t look that hot when he draws it. The grit is there, but very little really leaps off the page and the proportions on the six-year-old girl’s face are just too adult. Final verdict: Punisher’s still good and making strides… just nothing earth-shattering. Mildly recommended.

I’m proud to announce that Rising Stars #23 puts the story back on track. Unfortunately, it’s the penultimate issue, so there isn’t much track left to run on.

The story starts with some minor reminiscing on the salad days of the Specials teenage years, but quickly yanks us back to the present, where the whole group is about to be awarded the Medal of Freedom for all their hard work. John and Chandra share a tender moment looking over the New York they’ve remade and beautified in the last three and a half years. Meanwhile, President Randy Fisk learns a hard lesson in economics and why it’s good to have a little unemployment.

Of course, those unfriendly military conspirators are still plotting in their dark, smoke-filled rooms, and it looks like they’ve found the final solution to removing the twenty surviving Specials from power: a nuclear bomb. One so small they can’t sense it, encased in so much concrete no sniffer can detect it, and deftly incorporated into the very building where the Specials will receive the Medal of Freedom.

JMS gives us a nice build to the ending in this issue, and there are some great conversations and philosophical musings, but these have to be the ugliest visuals ever done on Rising Stars. I don’t’ know what’s going on with the art team, but Brent Anderson’s inking has reached the zenith of sloppiness and Brian Buccellato’s colors only make matters worse. The people look chunky and unreal, and there aren’t enough pyrotechnics to distract you from Anderson’s weaknesses.

Luckily, there isn’t much story left to tell, and it looks like it will feature more explosions and fewer close-ups. The end is nigh, and it looks pretty damn cool. Recommended.

The joke I had here simply sounded too dirty.
Man alive, I hope the She-Hulk hiatus will be just that and not a cancellation or re-working. This book is so good that She-Hulk #10 manages to rock on without series artist Juan Bobillo OR jokes. That’s right; this story isn’t concerned with being humorous or mocking Marvel continuity but instead delves into the origins of She-Hulk nemesis Titania.

We open on Zoma (the Watcher assigned to the Outer Rim territories) surveying his portion of existence when an unknown tyrant in a spacesuit blasts out of hyperspace and begs for the answer to a question. The Watcher sees no reason to comply, but the villain promises that such aid would lead to the death of one the Watchers loathe; one responsible for the banishment of the Watcher Qyre.

He means to kill She-Hulk.

Zoma agrees to answer the question and presents the villainess Titania (who we saw get flicked into the stratosphere by Shulkie last issue). But our mystery villain also wants to know what makes this badgirl tick, so the issue then delves into the untold history of Titania. How she was born prematurely and suffered as an underdeveloped outcast throughout her youth. How her comic book-fueled imagination prompted her to pretend she was Spider-Woman. How, during Secret Wars, Dr. Doom came upon her and her equally outcast friend and turned them into weapons of supervillainy.

Like I said, the amazing thing here is that Dan Slott chooses to make a comic well-known as the most intelligent and well-written laugh factory out there just… just intelligent and well-written. I was NEVER a She-Hulk fan before this volume (downright loathed her, sometimes), so I don’t know much about Titania, but this story makes a stock villain someone we can easily sympathize with.

To see her first live vicariously through comics and then, after childhood, fight a never-ending struggle to be the best will ring true to comic fans and just about anyone whose childhood was less than empowering. It’s a daunting task to make a cackling villain endearing to readers; especially without gutting the character and destroying their continuity (see Emma Frost), but Slott and Paul Pelletier deliver. Once again, it’s not too late to dive into the joy that is She-Hulk, but the trip is coming to an end soon. Let’s just hope the next one isn’t too far off.

X-Men Unlimited #6 offers up two stories by one team you’d expect good things from and one you might not be so sure of, but both amount to little, in the end. Tony Bedard and Paul Pelletier’s cute little story is witty and fun until it hits a plotpoint we saw miles away. Meanwhile, Paul Benson and Alex Sanchez’s story… is… uh… in a hospital… and…. stuff.

“Tempest in a Teapot” recounts the events of Kitty Pryde’s SECOND date with Peter Rasputin, giving us a comedy of errors before the big reveal that she’s recounting it to other X-Men trapped in a sunken plane with her. Emma Frost tells her story in a fashion that displays her contempt for the fuglier sex, Sage acts robotic, and Storm is paralyzed by claustrophobic fear of the barely contained ocean around them. Fun, fun, fun!

“Contact” finds Rogue and Rachael Summers bringing a wounded man to a hospital when, suddenly, Rachael flips out and starts flinging junk around with her telekinesis. Rogue grabs her and thoughts are absorbed, revealing someone else is at in the driver’s seat.

As one might expect, both of these stories are pretty forgettable. “Tempest” is well drawn and Bedard makes it a fun ride, but its deus ex machina is the same damn thing we get from the X-Men every other month. Worse yet, it provides yet ANOTHER example of how screwed up Emma Frost’s continuity is (yet it’s still more entertaining than what we get in Emma Frost).

Benson and Sanchez’s story just isn’t worth reading. Disproportionate, muddled art with nothing interesting or entertaining in its progression. And, of course, it stars Rogue and Marvel Girl; two of the least qualified headliners in the X-clan. Expectations can’t be too high for a 13-page story, but this one makes the first half of the issue look revolutionary by comparison. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll pass on X-men Unlimited.

Aieeee!! It burns! It burns!
Okay… Maybe the SECOND Worst Drawing of The Thing ever:


We waste a lot of words ragging on X-Force and Rob Liefield, but I think this Michael Jackson-nosed butchering of a beloved character says it all.

Just remember...you are not alone...

Hot Predictions for This Week: Ex Machina #7, Identity Crisis #7, Madrox #4, Ocean #3, and Ulitmate Spider-Man #70.


Jason Schachat

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