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Is It Wednesday Yet?

20 October 2009 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!

Our grading scale is simple:

Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.

Batman & Robin #5
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 07 October 2009
Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciler: Philip Tan
Inker: Jonathan Glapion
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Patrick Brosseau
Cover: Philip Tan
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Damien Wilkens
I'm fully convinced that I'm one of about three comic readers in the world that doesn't utterly worship the ground Grant Morrison walks on. I will frequently state to anyone that will listen that I really don't think he's as great as everyone pretends he is. He writes stories solely for the enjoyment of himself, and if anyone else happens to go along with him, it's really nothing more than a happy accident. All of that said, I am also aware that the people that love Grant Morrison, really love him. That said, I'm going to play the odds and assume you are one of these people, so sharpen your knifes and get ready to hate me.

Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne are the new Batman and Robin respectively, and in the process of working out their new team dynamic, a new (?) Red Hood has shown up. This all leads to... you know what, I can't do this. No matter what I say about this book, no matter how valid my points are, there is undoubtedly going to be someone that simply can't fathom such a slanderous review of the almighty Morrison. So I'll make this easy on you: let's just pretend I've already written the review and skip to the part where you enact your brutal revenge on me.

When you search for my apartment, I want you to remember what I said about the silliness of the premise, and how Red Hood is written as a mustache-twirling sadist who takes the concept of antihero so far up its own ass that it can't be taken seriously. Yup, third door on the left, that's me. Whilst kicking my door of its hinges, be sure to tell yourself that there's no possible way that this is who it seems to be; that Morrison is far too brilliant to write such a predictable plot. In my review, I pointed out that this really doesn't matter, since, he's an unrelatable git who is a chore to read. Oh yeah, that's my cat, Iris. She's harmless, but you should probably bust out the chloroform anyway to silence her. After all, I said that Morrison clearly doesn't understand that a pointblank shot to the chest, Kevlar or not, is going to do more than sting a bit. It will most likely break some ribs, if not more. To be fair, the person being shot doesn't exactly jump up to his feet, but if you think for a second that he's going to sell such an injury the next issue, then you were completely justified in putting that baseball bat through my TV.

Don't mind the empty Pocky boxes. That's me sleeping over there. As you stand and ponder how you're going to bring about my demise, remember that Morrison wasn't the only victim of my unfair and shortsighted critique. I also said that Frank Quietly makes Damian look like the title character from Hey Arnold!, hence the reason you slashed my tires on the way in. Let's just ignore the fact that Philip Tan also makes Robin look like a mongoloid, and that he was clearly rushing through this entire book. Hey, you've decided to smother me to death with a pillow. Good choice. Quiet, and not too messy. While I'm struggling for my last breath, it's important to remember the points I made, and how completely wrong I am about each and every one of them. That offhand remark about how Grant Morrison is only writing for the enjoyment of himself and the joy of his readers is inconsequential was way out of line, but it should keep your hand steady as I'm embraced by the cold oblivion. I'm almost gone. Come on now. I didn't give this book a skip for you to be a quitter.

Haunt #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Released: 07 October 2009
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Pencilers: Greg Capullo and Ryan Ottley
Inker: Todd McFarlane
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Colorist: Fco Plascencia
Cover: Todd McFarlane
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Michael David Sims
Let's count the clichés:

Page 1: A standing appointment with a hooker.
Page 2: A world-weary priest.
Page 3: Estranged brothers.
Page 3: A killer uses a confessional to absolve his sins.
Page 4: A confession is used to lead into a flashback.
Page 4: A lone soldier is on a secret mission.
Pages 5-6: Said soldier takes out several armed gunmen at once.
Page 7: An important scientist needs rescuing.
Page 8: He's really a mad scientist.
Pages 8-9: The hardened soldier is horrified by the experiments.
Page 10: A shadowy (and curvy) figure steals a MacGuffin.
Page 11: With limited weaponry, the soldier lays waste to an army.
Page 12: "Mom's been worried about — you should call her."
Page 12: "You're dead to me."
Page 13: The soldier is abducted on the street.
Page 14: The soldier is tortured and questioned about the MacGuffin.
Page 15: His penis is threatened during torture.
Page 16: A gloomy, rain-soaked funeral.
Pages 16-17: Someone openly talks to his imagination / a ghost.
Page 17: It was a woman that caused the brothers to fall apart.
Page 18: The widow lives in a posh apartment.
Page 19: "Well, it's getting late."
Page 19: "I know you hate me... but please."
Page 20: The ghost knows danger is lurking.
Page 20: Armed gunmen threaten the widow.
Page 21: Someone attempts to shove someone else out of danger.
Page 21: Bullet Time.
Pages 21-22: An unexplained, yet timely mutation.
Page 23: The hero instantly knows how to use his new powers.
Page 24: The paranormal is easily accepted.

All told, that's 30 clichés spread across a 24-page comic book. Reading this, you would never guess that the writer of The Walking Dead had his name on the cover. (Then again, for all the praise he receives for his zombie epic, we fans tend to forget that Kirkman also penned an abysmal 29 issues of Ultimate X-Men.) Really, though, this reads more like an issue of Spawn than anything ever associated with Robert Kirkman. It's not that the title character looks like Spawn minus a cape and with a color swap; it's that it reads exactly like any issue starring McFarlane's premier character. There are soldiers, a crazy scientist, a magical suit, hidden agendas, a false edginess, and a title character that broods more than Matt Murdock. Had Spawn not recently undergone a reboot, one suspects this would be filling those pages. Everything in Haunt has been done before, and better — be it in Spawn or elsewhere.

The same can be said about the art. The team of Greg Capullo (layouts), Ryan Ottley (finishes), and McFarlane (inks) creates a Spawn / Invincible hybrid that's both familiar and foreign. Little hints of Ottley shine through, but they're rushed, sloppy, marred by Capullo's choppy storytelling, and dampened by McFarlane's scratchy inks. Let it be said: nothing in the book looks awful, but if I want to see this style, I'll dive through dusty quarter bins.

Some might suggest that the years of hype that preceded Haunt spoiled us; our expectations were too high, they'd say. But that's not the case with me. I'm not a McFarlane or Kirkman fanboy, though I do expect a certain level of quality from the latter. And, frankly, it isn't here. Skip it.

North 40 #4
Publisher: DC Comics / Wildstorm
Released: 07 October 2009
Writer: Aaron Williams
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Fiona Staples
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Damien Wilkens
North 40 is a book full of conflict. Not in the narrative, mind you, but in my ever-changing viewpoint of it.

On the surface, it's a concept that seems custom-made for me: a southern town is overrun with Lovecraftian horrors and chaos ensues. For a rather simple-minded chap like myself, it should be an instant win. Watch some body parts fly, toss in a dash of human conflict, and move on. Unfortunately Aaron Williams hasn't made it so simple.

Perhaps it's a testament to Williams' skill as a writer that he won't simply settle for the lowest common denominator, but at times, North 40 seems a little too self-aware for its own good. Our viewpoint characters (in the form of the town Sheriff and a normal girl imbued with the powers of ass-kicking magic) stand five centimeters from the most horribly mangled and deformed creature you could ever imagine, yet they don't even blink. It's not that these people are just that heroic, either. The fact of the matter is that they could not possibly look more bored with the whole situation. For a second, I had to check to make sure I hadn't picked up a work by Joss Whedon by mistake. Amanda — the aforementioned magic girl — has had her power for roughly 20 minutes in the book's timeline, and still has time to quip. The girl is standing in a vortex of green energy next to the grandmother character from Phantasm whilst holding a scythe surrounded by Anton LaVey's high school drawings, and from the expression on her face, she might as well be brushing her teeth.

This isn't a fault of the art, because Fiona Staples did the absolute best with what she was given. And despite some really down-to-earth character work, she really shines when given a big kinetic action scene to chew on. It's just a shame there aren't more of them, because Williams' characters barely feel like they have the energy to tie their shoes, let alone fight a tentacled foe. If any further proof was needed that Staples is the backbone of this book, one need only look to the final splash page. It is completely void of dialog, and ironically enough, the only page in the book full of any real emotion.

I don't want to say that North 40 is a bad book. It isn't. And to its credit, it's a fun idea in concept, if not in execution. It's also clear that Williams is trying to accomplish something here, even if it's still not entirely clear after four issues. While I usually don't like to give credit to a work of art simply on the basis of being different, I find myself wanting to do that exact thing here, if for no other reason than to draw attention to a writer and artist whose best works are clearly still ahead of them. Starting the series months ago, I thought this was the series for me. I'm sad to say that it's not, but flip through it to decide if it's for you.

Sweet Tooth #2
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 07 October 2009
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Jeff Lemire
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Patrick Brosseau
Cover: Jeff Lemire
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Damien Wilkens
Buy Sweet Tooth right now.

No, I don't mean after the review. I mean right this second. Put down the bagel, close Twitter, and drive to the comic store. Seriously, you don't need to read the rest of what I have to say. There was just going to be some stupid Twisted Metal pun, and a witty quip or two. Even if you do feel the need to read the rest of this, it will be here when you get back. I'll wait for you...

Bought it yet? Then we can continue.

Sweet Tooth is the story of a world plagued by disease. Most of the world's population has been wiped out, save a handful of humans. Along with them are a race of human / animal hybrids that are strangely immune to the illness and, thus, considered very valuable.

One such hybrid is named Gus, a half-deer boy that's been orphaned by the plague. A doe-eyed (pun intended) nine year old, Gus has a sheltered, innocent quality about him that instantly draws you in. Having lost both of his parents at such a young age, he maintains a sense of unquestioning faith that makes him both naive and endearing. Finding himself completely unprepared for the chaos that's coming his way, Gus befriends a mysterious old man named Jepperd. Himself a hybrid of Clint Eastwood and Frank Castle, and fortified awesomeness in solid form, Jepperd is more than prepared to lead Gus to the Preserve — a haven for hybrids.

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you didn't actually run out to buy this yet. To say anything more would spoil this book, a book that is powerful in its simplicity. There aren't 57 plots going on at once; there's one, that of a scared boy completely unsure what to do in a new and frightening world. It's not overly wordy, and one of the advantages of Lemire pulling double duty is that he has no problem letting his art tell the story for him.

Sweet Tooth is unlike anything else that Vertigo — or anyone for that matter — is publishing, and that is both its greatest blessing and curse. There are no zombies or shoehorned Obama appearance here, just damn good storytelling that leaves you wanting more. I fear that this is a series that won't be truly appreciated until long after it's been canceled from poor sales. But I can only hope, for the sake of Lemire and the industry, that I'm dead wrong.


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