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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 02/01/06
brought to you by Brian's Books of Santa Clara

Each week we look through the upcoming releases to offer our two cents as to what's hot and what's not. You can agree with us or not, but spend your money wisely.

Thunderbolt Jaxon #1
writer: Dave Gibbons
artist: John Higgins

Three witches meet on a rainy moor. Except it's more of a rainy bus stop somewhere in England and not Scotland. Still, the comparisons to Macbeth will leap to mind before jumping even further back, of course, to the Fates.

Only a page in and Dave Gibbons and John Higgins have me hooked with a comic both literate and fun. Dare we have both? More amazing, from the text piece in back, Thunderbolt Jaxon is based on a pretty simplistic British comic book character from the late '40's.

I have to take Gibbons' word for it. As an American comic book reader, I haven't had that much exposure to the classic characters of yesteryear that British readers cherished. The cover includes a little subtitle, "From the world of Albion," making this a sister book to Alan Moore's last willing act for DC.

But that previous title assumed that we knew a lot about the tropes of British comics. Though it had its moments, the series was a bit confusing, playing around with metafictional conceits which wouldn't work for the majority not knowing the source material.

Thunderbolt Jaxon starts cleanly. The mysteries here are a mystery to its protagonists, three youths with varying levels of quality in their home lives. Using a metal detector at the ruins of a recently discovered ancient church, they discover three items of gold jewelry.

Comic book readers will recognize those items immediately as talismans of power, though their origins aren't readily apparent. Conveniently, each takes a piece of bling. For now, the key piece would be a golden belt, taken by the boy named Jackson. You can probably do the math from there.

Though Gibbons clearly has affection for the original character, he isn't interested in just a warm look back at childish pleasures. Like a Vertigo book, the mystical aspects feel just grounded enough in reality that you wonder if there really are hidden historical elements to them. Or that could be The Da Vinci Code talking.

Gibbons mixes the metaphysical with what appears to be common thuggery. Jackson's stepfather beats him for the slightest infraction, and seems to come straight from a British mob film. Then it becomes apparent that much more is going on beneath the surface.

Sometimes it seems weird that an artist as powerful as Gibbons has switched over to writing without illustrating, but Higgins' art feels absolutely right for this project. Reminiscent of Carlos Ezquerra but far less cartoonish, it has a grit that gives the burgeoning hero a sense of raw power. Yet physically helpless characters look believable. He captures a range of emotion and personality, and it just feels cool.

Disconnected, perhaps, from the mainstream yet part of it, Thunderbolt Jaxon makes me want to give that "World of Albion" another chance.


The Exterminators #2: Merely showcasing the daily battle between men and assorted vermin could have been creepy enough, at least for a few issues. Tony Moore certainly makes it creepy, with the most disgusting - albeit probably only - cockroach dissection scene in recent memory. Yet one creepy idea does need a little more to keep it going, so writer Simon Oliver layers in a good dose of believable conspiracy theory. Then for good measure we have some juxtaposition with, of all things, the Khmer Rouge. Where The Exterminators is headed seems unclear, but it's worth hitching on for the ride.

Hard Time Season Two #3: 'Tis the week for young romance in comic book time. Certainly, if there were still newsstands, this week's shipment would probably hit them right around Valentine's Day. So it makes sense that Hard Time would remind us that in prison, love stinks. Likely that's because at least one suitor leaves not just broken hearts but broken bodies behind him. This continues to be a cool series.

Marvel Romance Redux #1: Taking old romance comics and adding new dialogue isn't all that new. But it's still pretty funny, with a perfect cover gag by Keith Giffen. The opening story of a go go dancer by John Buscema and John Romita Sr. features some great classic draftsmanship. However, the re-imagining of it by Jeff Parker, turns it into brilliance. "President Stripper" plays as parody of romance comics and insidiously cogent satire. The rest of the book, while featuring some clever lines, starts to become repetitive in theme. Yet the book earns an extra point for the story title "I Was Inked By Sparky Hackworth." If only the Marx Brothers had worked in comics…

My Mutant Heart #1: Like Marvel Romance Redux, this book is not quite as clever as it thinks it is. Yet if you're a fan of the X-Men, this has much to offer. It's possible that the Wolverine solo story serves as an explanation for Mark Millar's recent tribute to Will Eisner. The Cannonball/Lila Cheney story is actually quite sweet, and a blast from the past for fans of the old, old New Mutants. While clever, the whole Doop thing just has me scratching my head, and I loved X-Statix. It's the weakest link of the three, but the book still makes the list.

Underworld #1: In a world full of superbeings, one has to wonder why any non-powered person would turn to crime. At least Marvel villains tend not to have a lot of henchmen, like the DC bad guys do. If you live in the Marvel NYC, you still have the mob, with only a smattering of powers. Thus writer Frank Tieri, a hit or miss writer, has another potential hit with this look at the Marvel mob from the inside, with a "normal" mook so tough that most supervillains with any sense fear him. Tieri will also leave you with a taste for further appearances by The Hippo.

X-Factor #3: Holy crap, what a great book. Only three issues in, and this feels like an absolute must-read. Peter David restrains himself, carefully dipping into all the colors of his writing palette to create a book just as quirky and interesting as Fallen Angel, but likely more accessible. Working with the sublime Ryan Sook, David also adds layers of depth to House of M's Layla Miller.

Y The Last Man #42: We've said it before and we'll say it again. Monkeys are funny. Usually, the simian co-star Ampersand provides plenty of comic relief, but since he's been kidnapped, he's been more of a source of stress. This issue fills in some story gaps from the rest of the run, from the venerable capuchin's point of view. Suddenly we have poignance and another piece of the puzzle as to why Yorick survived the plague that wiped out all other men.

Sight Unseen:

Angel: The Curse (trade paperback): Angel. -sob- Angel

Gotham Central #40: Tying directly into events from Infinite Crisis #4 and closing down the series, this one is going to be good. Every issue has been good, but apparently readers wanted something else. Alas, poor Renee Montoya, we knew you and hope you go on to bigger and better things.

PvP #22: Why do I want to buy this book? A cover featuring Skull as Gene Simmons. Really, it's as simple as that. While Frank Cho piddles his career away as a top talent at Marvel, Scott Kurtz has pushed him out of the way and settled into my heart.

Rann-Thanagar War Infinite Crisis Special: Something big will happen in this issue. I have no idea what, but they continue sucking me in with these crossovers. The damned thing is, not a one has been disappointing.

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw

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