Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Best and Worst of Last Week

A good week of comics, made even better by an early reading of Irredeemable coming to the stands this Wednesday. Now if spring would actually start to arrive here in Maryland I think life would be on the upside again. Of course that means the grass starts to grow and back out cutting the yard and such, but for the first few months of spring and summer I actually enjoying getting out there and sprucing up the yard, once July/August hits then I keep thinking artificial grass and/or hiring a yard service.


Battlefields Dear Billy #3 – Writer Garth Ennis, Art Peter Snejbjerg, Colors Rob Steen. This book just blew me away. I knew going in a war story by Garth Ennis would have a harsh ending and he would make us feel how horrible war is, but this book is the strongest war story that Ennis has done. Dear Billy ends with the young nurse Carrie slitting her wrist in warm bathtub and dying. The reason why she took her life was the war was over and the Japanese had been defeated. The group of people who had raped and taken away her innocence and piece of mind had been defeated.

Before she learned the nurse she is out with Billy as he describes a mission where he and his fights shot rockets at large groups of men trying to escape from their opponents who had beaten them. The bombs blew the overstocked and defenseless barges to smithereens, but they fly back and strafe the water to ensure as few survivors as possible. The water is blood red with the corpses of the dead Japanese. This is war and it is brutal, but Carrie does not mind the story. In fact she manages to kill one more Japanese soldier in the hospital before a doctor tells her to leave as people have started to put two and two together and may link her to the deaths. Carrie is broken, but functioning and is taking pleasure in her relationship with Billy.

What crushes her and causes her to go over the edge is when the war is won. She hears from Billy and his American friends that reparations and trials will not be the focus of the end of the war, but a massive rebuilding effort to rebuild Japan. Carrie is horrified that these people who did what they did to her will not have to pay the price they should pay. Carrie loses it when she learns how the Japanese are going to be groomed as allies as a barriers against the Russians. She rushes out of the restaurant and Billy follows and confronts her and she asks what are we suppose to do about the Japanese and Billy says “Now we learn to love them, Carrie.”

This is the breaking point for Carrie and she goes back to her room, writes the “Dear Billy” letter and explains everything to him and then slowly gets in her bath and kills herself.

This is a story that will stay with me for a long time and one that shows how horrendous war is and how no one every wins.

Daredevil #117 - Writer Ed Brubaker, Artists Michael Lark & Stefano Gaudiano Colors Matt Hollingsworth. Part of me is still bothered by the fact that in 20 plus years no one has been able to take the character to any other place then what Frank Miller did for Daredevil. I love this story, but I also recognize the inherent weakness in a character that is becoming stuck in an endless loop. This issue works its way through the Kingpin returning to New York and Daredevil’s fight against all that has gone wrong in his life and the meeting between the two of them that sets the stage for the rest of the arc.

The Kingpin has come back to New York and immediately finds Turk. Wilson goes out to let the underworld know that he is back in town and things are going to get bloody.

Daredevil is attacking a private eye that photographed him and Dakota, is fighting with Master Izo about the Hand, fighting with Milla’s parents about custody of her and watching Dakota (who maybe the best match ever for Matt) walk out of his life. The Hand wants Matt as their leader and his inability to control himself and the collapse of his world is leaving Matt looking lost and hostile. Turk shows up and gets the message to Daredevil to meet the Kingpin and they meet. The Hand had set the Kingpin to go up against Daredevil, but Wilson Fisk has other plans. He tells Daredevil what happened to him overseas and proposes an alliance against the Hand, where he and Daredevil will look to take them down forever. Matt wonders what happens to their alliance after their battle with the Hand is over. Fisk delivers a great line to end the book when he says “I wouldn’t worry about after, Murdock…I wasn’t planning to survive..” Wow, can’t wait for the next issue.

The regular art team is back and Lark, Gaudiano and Hollingsworth are like a well oiled machine. Daredevil is blessed to have such a talented crew. Lark has great design, Gaudiano is the glue that always keeps this book having a consistent look and Hollingsworth keeps the book a total “noir” feeling without losing the artwork. The emotion of the story is conveyed well as is the action. The story telling is great as you are never lost reading this book.

Madame Xanadu #9 – Writer Matt Wagner, Pencils Amy Reeder Hadley, Inks Richard Friend, Colors Guy Major. It is impossible not to pick this book month after month as a “best of the week”, just on artwork alone. This issue we move forward to WWII and we are in America, specifically New York. We start with a tough cop putting a hurt on a local pimp who has dared to bring his girls into a district this detective told him not to. As a long time Spectre fan I immediately recognized Jim Corrigan as that police officer.

We then shift the Madame Xanadu and she is experiencing some problems with her magic. She calls on her boy friend and lover Zatara (the father of Zatanna). After a dalliance with him she finds out from him that the Phantom Stranger has been trying to gather a group of mages for what is to come. Xanadu is ticked off as she and the Stranger have danced throughout the centuries and this time she puts a binding spell on him, so when he next appears he is trapped. At the same time Jim Corrigan is headed towards his fate which is causing signs to go off all over the place when Madame Xanadu does her readings.

The story just flies by and once again Matt Wagner has deftly interwoven a large cast of the regular DCU while having all the freedoms of a Vertigo book. Amy Reeder Hadley continues to turn in some beautiful artwork with great page designs and terrific camera angles. Also she shows off the clothing of the main character and I don’t usually notice it, but I’m guessing either Amy or Matt Wagner is doing their homework or Amy should be designing women’s clothing.

Another masterful chapter in one of the best series on the stands.

Oracle #1 (of 3) - Writer Kevin VanHook, Pencils Julian Lopez & Fernando Pasarin, Inks Bit & David Bryant, Colors Hi-Fi. Another title under the Battle for the Cowl banner and is acting as a replacement for the Birds of Prey book I guess, but it is 100% focused on Barbra Gordon which is alright by me as I love Babs.

This issue is all set up, but with a three issue series it almost has to be set-up, crisis and resolution as you have very little time to do much else. The sub-title: The Cure could refer to many things, but the fact is that Babs is focused this issue on what happened to her legs, so the obvious indication is that she may end up no longer being in a wheel chair.

The story shows Babs getting re-established in Gotham and she is tracking down the anti-life equation (not sure why). We see that she has moved into less then stellar accommodations, but still hooks up enough equipment to be Oracle. The whole being in a normal apartment building thing just rang false for me. At the same time Oracle is doing this the Calculator is visiting his daughter Wendy (the Wendy mauled by Wonder Dog in Teen Titans and now in a coma) and he is also pursuing the anti-life equation. Caught in the middle of this is a hacker who has an avatar getting their head blown off and the same thing happens to her behind her computer.

The battle is joined as Oracle and Calculator continue their long running battle with the goal appearing to be the anti-life equation and obviously a cure for Wendy or Babs. One final comment, the entire Battle for the Cowl is acknowledged as to what is happening in the city, but is part of the background of the story. It could even be argued that this feels to be an Oracle mini-series and is not a true tie-in.

The artwork is strong and Babs is shown as both smart and sexy. It is a limited action issue, but still the artwork manages to keep the book moving and the flow of the story is well done. The coloring has to jump from light to dark, to serious, to semi-comical (when in the role playing game) and manages to do a great job throughout.

Proof #18 – Writer Alex Grecian, Art Riley Rossmo, Colors Dave Casey. I continue to sing the praises of this book and this issue would be a great jumping on point for new readers. This issue we get a peek into Proof’s past and we get the heart warming story of the ugliest woman in the world (who looks to be related to Proof). We also have a murderer running through Victorian England and Proof becomes involved with that as well. It appears Proof is part of a traveling carnival and freak sideshow, but as one of the mangers of the operation instead of an attraction. This issue brings to it what I love about the series, it has a solid story and an adventure, it is filling in the character of proof, it drops great little factoids in the story and has the wonderful art of Riley Rossmo. Alex Grecian (writer) and Riley (co-creators) just bring their energy and joy to this book. Since this is a flashback and we started with Julia’s (the world’s ugliest woman) corpse, we know this can’t end well, but I can’t wait to see Part 2.

Batman Battle for the Cowl Commissioner Gordon – Writer Royal McGraw, Art Tom Mandrake, Colors Guy Major – This issue was a pleasant surprise. This various one off books they are doing hanging off Battle for the Cowl appear to be almost throw away books. I have always like Jim Gordon and I enjoy Tom Mandrake’s art, so this book had two pluses going in, but I had zero expectations as to what I was getting. What I got was a great story that showed how the GCPD and Gordon had become too reliant on Batman. Mr. Freeze captures the Commissioner and Jim comes to the realization that no one is going to save the day but him. He manages to take down Mr. Freeze on his own. We then cut to the rooftop and a discussion that Batman has been sited again, but he may have killed a bad guy. Jim states that it is time the GCPD started to do their job and enforce the law. It was very well done and well illustrated. A good entry in the “Battle for the Cowl” event.

Wonder Woman #30 – Writer Gail Simone, Pencils Aaeon Lopresti, Inks Matt Ryan, Colors Brad Anderson. This book is building and building. We have Zeus creating his own champion as a counter point to Wonder Woman. This issue we see Zeus creation and he is Achilles. We also see Hippolyta praying for a return of her warriors and they do start to return as well as the Zamorans who are welcomed back as sisters. These are both background stories as Wonder Woman is pursuing Genocide who has captured Etta Candy. After some ruthless interrogating of Cheetah (Diana must be watching 24), she goes to the headquarters of the Secret Society where Genocide was created. Wonder Woman is in a total take no prisoner mode and rips the place apart and finds Etta, who is all but dead. Wonder Woman brings the headquarters down and confronts T.O. Morrow about how to find Genocide. A lot of raw emotion and Gail seems to be tearing Wonder Woman down as it was pointed out that Cheetah is taking away from Wonder Woman all the things in her life that she can. Wonder Woman is a strong book right now and while the elements of the story all need to come together the book is working.

Conan the Cimmerian #9 – Writer Tim Truman, Art Tomas Giorello, Colors Jose Villarrubia. Not 100% sure Conan deserves a best of the week status, but after the long and winding seven issue start to this series I wanted to mention this book is back and we are where we should have been with issue #2. The story of Conan learning to be a mercenary is a very good one and we can see that Conan is learning how to battle in new ways and that treachery can strike from your comrades in arms as well as from an enemy. The artwork of Tomas Giorello is far superior to the covers they are putting on this book and in fact Joe Lisner’s work, while technically very good has always left me cold. Bottom line this book is back in my good graces and I’m looking forward to Conan every month again.


Thunderbolts #130 – Writer Andy Diggle, Pencils Bong Dazo, Inks Joe Pimentel, Colors Frank Martin. So the Thunderbolts have fallen so fast and so quickly that I almost have to review to determine what the heck happened. First we had Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato take over the series and whether it was a long term plan or not this was the core of the group that would make the Dark Avengers. Once Warren’s run was over a fill-in team bridged the gap until Andy Diggle took over the writing chores and the Thunderbolts have a whole new modus operandi, they are now the Black Ops group for Norman Osborne. There first mission has to be a failure as they are suppose to kill Deadpool who can’t be killed (especially since he has his own comic series). Then the team is filled with characters that are so low tiered that I have never even seen a few of them. Add to that an artist who is nowhere near the strength of Deodato and I find that the comic I was enjoying ahs morphed into a pretty bad book. Add to that I forced to buy Deadpool and have yet to see the “charm” the crazy assassin has and I’m totally disappointed. I liked Diggle’s work in Green Arrow Year One, Losers and Hellblazer, so I’m giving this book a little rope, but not much.

A bunch of books to be excited about and I probably was a little too easy this week with my best list as Conan and Wonder Woman probably should have been to best of the rest, but I was just in a more positive mood (yeah, yeah – I’m the king of realism about the economy but I have a positive outlook – I’m positive the US is going bankrupt – see positive). Wow, that is the type of digression worthy of Peter David’s old column.

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