The Comix Corner
All False Moves
(w) Ed Brubaker
(a) Sean Phillips
FC, 144 pgs w/ ads
$27.95 CAN / $17.95 US
When reviewing comics, I try really hard not to use phrases
like "gripping, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride".
They're cliché and easily dismissed, which is why
they belong on the covers of cheesy paperback beach novels
rather than a convincing literary evaluation. And then along
comes Sleeper and, well
it's a gripping, edge-of-your
seat thrill ride. There's no better phrase to describe it,
because I couldn't put it down. Sleeper is one of the best
comics I've read in years.
Special agent Holden Carver has seen better days. An alien
artifact has melded itself to his nervous system, giving
him regenerative powers but destroying his ability to feel
anything. And that's not the worst of it. The head of his
own agency - John Lynch - has blackmailed him into infiltrating
a super-powered crime syndicate, run by the ruthless and
enigmatic Tao. Now, Lynch - the only man who knows the truth-
is in a coma, leaving Holden stranded behind enemy lines
and unable to trust either side. His only hope is to remain
undiscovered and wait for an extraction that may never come.
And even if it does, after four years of playing with the
bad guys, which side will Holden choose?
All False Moves collects the concluding six issues of Sleeper's
first volume, and things are heating up. A mysterious figure
has emerged from the shadows, but though he claims to be
Holden's salvation, can he be trusted? Meanwhile, a dangerous
relationship with the sadistic Miss Misery gets serious,
as Peter Grimm - Tao's suspicious right-hand man - looks
for a way to take Holden out once and for all. And when
an elaborate trap is set, Tao's diabolical intentions are
finally revealed, forcing Holden to make a choice that might
determine the fate of the entire world.
A solid concept is nothing without a strong execution,
and this book has both in spades. Writer Ed Brubaker has
done his homework - this book is intense. Holden Carver
is the perfect embodiment of both collected professionalism
and panicked desperation. Unsure of every step, unable to
trust anyone, he is forced to rely on his training to survive
a deadly game of cat and mouse. As the avenues of escape
slip through Holden's fingers, it creates a pervading sense
of tension and paranoia within every panel of this series.
And beyond the well-developed characters and deeply layered
conspiracies, there's the entire science-fiction approach
to contend with - super-powers and costumed heroes are an
accepted occupational hazard in the world of Sleeper, and
they're given a realistic treatment despite their improbable
nature. It's basically X-Men combined with The Losers meets
Donnie Brasco, and Brubaker pulls it off without a hitch.
I wasn't immediately impressed with Sean Phillips' artwork,
but by the time I flew through the first chapter, I was
sold. His style is rough, but it's a great match for the
gritty story it illustrates. There's some inventive use
of shadows and solid colors - not unlike the treatment found
in The Losers - and somehow, his characters manage to look
simple yet highly detailed at the same time. Every page
is worth a second look, and while the illustration is nothing
revolutionary, it does an admirable job of completing an
If you're not reading it now, Sleeper is one of those books
that you'll feel fortunate to have stumbled across. It's
an incredibly smart mix of intrigue, espionage and action
- a story that erases the line between good and evil and
leaves you second-guessing until you hit the final page.
The first issue of volume two has just been released, so
check out the volume 1 trade paperbacks to see where it
Final Grade: A+
The Flash: Blitz
(w) Geoff Johns
(a) Scott Kolins and Phil Winslade
FC, TP, 224 pages $19.95 US / $30.95 CAN
They say that a hero is only as good as the villains he
faces. If that's true, then the Flash is one of the greatest
comic book heroes of all time. Much has been said about
writer Geoff Johns' transformation of Keystone City's Rogues
Gallery into a force to be reckoned with, and the man deserves
every compliment that comes his way.
Blitz collects issues #192-200 of The Flash, and it's a
spectacular showcase of what makes this book work so well.
The first half of the trade paperback pits the fastest man
alive against Gorilla Grodd, as the mad monkey orchestrates
an outbreak at Iron Heights Penitentiary, where super-powered
criminals are kept under close surveillance. In the destruction
that follows, Rogue profiler and close friend Hunter Zolomon
is paralyzed, setting the stage for the book's earth-shattering
second half. Outraged by the Flash's unwillingness to change
the past, Zolomon assumes the mantle of Zoom - the reverse
Flash - and his horrific actions bring about an event so
traumatic that its repercussions will impact the Scarlet
Speedster, if not the entire DC Universe, for years to come.
Considering the limitations of a hero whose sole power
is to run really fast, this title reads as quickly as the
Flash himself. Wally West is a well-developed superhero
with a stellar supporting cast, but this book's most notable
achievement is the lineup of costumed villains Johns has
assembled. The Rogues Gallery is completely captivating.
A motley crew of colorful, campy and deadly lunatics, everyone
from Fallout to Captain Cold is written with surprising
believability, no matter how absurd their powers may be.
These are much more than your standard archenemies - they're
fully-fledged characters that represent a very real threat,
and each of them are given complex motivations and backgrounds.
Best of all, they interact with each other within their
underground community, allied by their mutual hatred of
the Flash but never losing sight of their own vile interests.
This is a dynamic rarely found in most superhero titles,
and the Rogues' ever-shifting rivalries and alliances could
easily carry their own spin-off title.
This collection represents artist Scott Kolin's final run
on The Flash, and the pencils alone makes this book worth
picking up. From the smallest panels to the jaw-dropping
splash layouts, every page is packed with kinetic detail.
Kolins is as adept a storyteller as Johns, and together
they have created something truly special.
The Flash is one of the best reads out there - as well
as one of the most underappreciated - and Blitz is a perfect
jumping on point for new readers. This high-impact volume
gives readers a glimpse into the character's past, a new
direction for the future, the best villains in the industry
and one of the most significant sacrifices ever made by
a costumed hero. If you missed out on these issues the first
time around, now's your chance to get up to speed.
Final Grade: A
(w) Chuck Austen
(a) Salvador Larroca
FC, 32pgs w/ ads $3.25 CAN / $2.25 US
A dictionary dedicated entirely to four-letter words couldn't
begin to describe my hatred for Chuck Austen's X-Men. So
let's keep it simple: This is, quite possibly, the worst
comic book I have ever read in my entire life.
Xorn's black-hole-head still threatens to wipe out the
entire planet, and Havok's powers seem to be the only thing
stabilizing it. (If you're wondering how, then the joke's
on you, asshole!) So what to the X-Men do? They fight each
other, of course! Juggernaut calls Iceman "Icepick"
Iceman is made of ice! Not to be outdone, Iceman calls Juggernaut
because this book is retarded!
So for half the issue, they trade grade school insults and
bitchslap each other as I drool and clap my hands delightedly.
But when Havok is forced to rely on their protection, can
these two reluctant teammates put aside their differences?
I'm shitting my pants in anticipation, I can tell you that
In other news, THE EIGHT IMMORTALS are back. They've had
a change of heart whilst off-panel, so now everyone can
be friends! But can THE EIGHT IMMORTALS be trusted? I guess
we'll find out next issue, because the evil Collective Man
is here! He's this Chinese guy, see, whose costume looks
like the flag of the People's Republic of China, and his
power is to multiply into billions of people
see, he's Chinese and
there's a lot of people
THE EIGHT IMMORTALS!
Folks, I realize Austen-bashing is an easy bandwagon to
jump onto. That's partly because the bandwagon is like a
magic rainbow full of wonder and alcohol, and on that wagon
it's always time for chili, and you never have to do your
homework. But it's also because as far as comic books go,
this is as bad as it gets. Through an incompetent grasp
on these characters and his ham-fisted teenage drama writing
style, Austen is forcing me to hate characters I have known
and loved for years. It's kind of like a comic book Clockwork
Orange, and though I'm hanging around thanks to a combination
of morbid curiosity and dedication to the franchise, sometimes
I think I'd rather lose a testicle to fire ants than to
keep suffering through this juvenile garbage. It is truly
painful to read X-Men these days.
Issue #170 never seemed so far away. I shake my fist at
thee, Chuck Austen.
Final Grade: F-
Days of Night: Return to Barrow #4
(w) Steve Niles
(a) Ben Templesmith
FC, 32 pgs w/ ads $5.60 CAN / $3.99 US
What's black, white and red all over? Every single issue
of this miniseries!
Ha ha. But seriously, folks, in the latest issue, those
dirty no-good vampires finally make their move against the
barricaded town of Barrow, Alaska. And this time, they're
packing. That's right - it's a good old-fashioned vampire
vs. human gang war, as bullets fly and heads explode, with
both sides taking on heavy casualties. Meanwhile, infighting
among the vampire horde may give the humans the edge they'll
need to win this unholy conflict.
Does anyone else feel like we're beating an undead horse,
here? Aside from the guns, we've seen all this before. Vampires
hate humans, but don't trust each other. Some humans don't
believe in vampires, but others do. And there's plenty of
violence, captured by Ben Templesmith's gritty illustrations
and limited color palette. Taken on its own, Return to Barrow
is a decent horror tale, but as a follow-up to both the
original 30 Days of Night and Dark Days, it's pretty much
redundant. Niles should have left well enough alone - considering
he's working on about fifty different projects these days,
there are plenty of other stories that I'd rather see him
Final Grade: B-
The Incredible Hulk #74
(w) Bruce Jones
(a) Dougie Braithwaite
FC, 32pgs w/ ads $3.25 CAN / $2.25 US
Big Things, part four. Tony Stark finally tests his anti-gamma
suit, but the arrogant bastard has secretly upped the blast
tonnage, leaving him high on radiation. Apparently, gamma
poisoning is a bit like a coke bender, and it prompts the
overconfident, hyperactive Iron Man to blow up everything
from F-86 fighter jets to his own test lab, all while talking
incessantly. This of course leads to a fight with the Hulk.
Wrapping things up, Richard Cummings makes an appearance,
and he's dressed up like a policeman, and it turns out his
sister didn't commit suicide after all. So everyone's happy,
except for the characters that die, and the radiation goes
away and this story is a pile of ass.
Honestly, this was one of the most senseless, irritating
and just plain stupid stories I have ever read. Everyone
is written as either completely out of character, an asshole,
or both. Beyond that, their motivations don't make sense
and the plot goes absolutely nowhere. Big Things is basically
an excuse for a superhero fight needlessly stretched out
over four issues, and an absolutely awful one at that. Next
month, issue #75 promises to tie up the whole "fugitive"
storyline, while I promise that it will be the last Incredible
Hulk comic I read for a long, long time.
Final Grade: D-
B.P.R.D.: A Plague of Frogs #5 (of 5)
Dark Horse Comics
(w) Mike Mignola
(a) Guy Davis
FC, 32 pgs w/ ads $4.25 CAN / $2.99 US
The first B.P.R.D. mini-series comes to a close this month,
and it's been quite the unexpected surprise. Written by
creator Mike Mignola and set firmly in his mythos, this
series has provided fans with familiar faces, startling
revelations, long-lasting consequences and - most importantly
- a recognizable tone that makes it a true Hellboy tale,
even though Mignola's signature character is absent from
The frog monster crisis in Crab Point, Michigan has been
more or less been contained. Unfortunately, Abe Sapien has
taken a spear through the chest, and he may or may not be
dead. As his worried teammates try to revive him, the majority
of this issue follows Abe's out-of-body experience through
time and space, and it's a hell of a ride.
Long ago in the ruins of an underwater temple, a group
of scientific investigators has discovered a mysterious
blue stone. Back at their headquarters, an ethereal Abe
bears silent witness to a ritual that releases an ancient
entity from the artifact, rendering one of the scientists
- a man named Caul - unconscious. The scientist and Abe's
"spirit" become one, and from the startled observations
of his acquaintances, we can gather that the man has undergone
a strange transformation
one that requires complete
submersion in water.
Is Abe witnessing his own origin? It certainly seems that
way. The laboratory here is identical to the one we found
in Seed of Destruction, and there are references to Abraham
Lincoln's assassination - the date of which was discovered
on Abe's abandoned stasis pod. In the end, a newly revived
Abe - as well as the reader - is left with more questions
than answers. Who was this man Caul? What is the entity
that was contained in the stone? What is Abe's connection
to the frogs that rain down from the sky? Despite the lack
of a full explanation, we learn more about Abe Sapien in
this single issue that we have in every other Hellboy book
combined, making this a highly notable milestone in Mignola's
With escaped frog monsters still on the loose, Johann Kraus'
spirit trapped in a decayed dog and Abe's origin unresolved,
the final issue of this series doesn't exactly leave the
audience with a sense of closure. However, it helps to remember
that this is but a chapter in a much larger picture. In
a few months, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense
is set to return in The Dead, a new miniseries that promises
more clues to Abe's past, more frogs, and more Mignola.
All things considered, not a bad way to spend your time
until Hellboy makes his inevitable and triumphant return.
Final Grade: A-
The Amazing Spider-Man #509
(w) J. Michael Straczynski
(a) Mike Deodato Jr.
FC, 32pgs w/ ads $3.25 CAN / $2.25 US
If the soap operatic world of comic books has taught me
anything, it's that death is, at best, a minor inconvenience.
Just about every four-color hero or villain has made a "shocking"
return from the grave at least once in their career - Mr.
Fantastic, Jean Grey, Green Arrow
even Superman has
been given the resurrection treatment, just like Jesus Christ,
Tupac Shakur and the unstoppable cyborg zombie Dick Cheney.
There are some comic book characters, however, that have
given up their lives not as a gimmick, but to define a hero
and to serve a greater story. Captain America's old teenaged
sidekick Bucky, for example, is one of the industry's best-known
"permanent" comic book deaths, just as Batman
will be forever haunted by the death of Jason Todd, the
second Robin. And for Peter Parker, the death of girlfriend
Gwen Stacy has always been a painful reminder that "with
great power comes great responsibility". That said,
in the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man, J. Michael Straczynski
grabs his shovel, exhumes Gwen's worm-ridden corpse, and
makes it talk just like a horrible, decaying hand puppet
straight from the bowels of Hell.
Well, that's not exactly or remotely true. But Peter does
receive a strange letter in the mail
a letter written
in Gwen's BLOOD! Well, actually it's just written in her
handwriting, but that's still pretty damn mysterious, considering
she's been dead for years. Seems the letter was written
to Peter long ago, when Gwen was on vacation in Paris, and
it refers to a shocking revelation! But this is not simply
a case of delayed postal delivery, dear reader, oh no, because
this particular letter was postmarked June 23, 2004! And
the page with the shocking revelation is missing! And when
Peter traces the call, he finds out that it's coming from
HIS OWN HOUSE!!!
Sorry. Anyhow, Peter is understandably upset, so to cheer
himself up he visits Gwen's grave on a dark and stormy night.
But his mourning is interrupted when he is attacked by what
appears to be a pair of high-tech ninjas with a personal
vendetta against Peter himself. With the help of a passing
truck, our hero narrowly escapes, as one of the would-be
assassins reveals himself to be
someone I've never
seen before. Although he does look somewhat like Peter Parker,
but I'm going to go ahead and blame that on an unclear panel;
I'm not about to sow the seeds of clone controversy just
Is Gwen Stacy back from the dead? Probably not - she's
too much of an untouchable plot point in the Spider-man
mythos - but JMS has crafted an interesting little mystery
here. What was Gwen's secret? Who sent Peter this letter?
And why are purple ninjas out to get him? Only time will
tell, I suppose. As for the artwork, Mike Deodato Jr. (The
Incredible Hulk) takes over this month, which in my opinion
is an improvement over John Romita Jr., as his style is
a better fit for this story's shadowy subject matter and
more personal tone.
On the other hand, Straczynski's tendency of mining sacred
and established Spider-man stories for his ideas is getting
a little tiresome. First he spent three years "re-imagining"
Spider-man's origin, and now he's brought Gwen Stacy back
into the spotlight. He's not exactly changing the past,
but rather slipping his own two cents into continuity, trying
to pave over cracks that weren't really there. I'd like
to see him focus on new storylines, and take this title
in a more exciting direction instead of fixing what isn't
broken, but it's an intriguing enough idea, and I'm interested
to see where it goes
at least for now.
Final Grade: B
War Stories: Vol. 1
(w) Garth Ennis
(a) Chris Weston, Gary Erskine, John Higgins, Dave Gibbons,
TP, $19.95 US / $30.95 CAN
Historically, mankind's never ending cycle of war tends
to be remembered on a large scale. From seventh grade history
class to Discovery Channel documentaries, we are taught
of colossal battles, glorious victories and coalitions of
the willing. Rarely do we catch a glimpse of the individual
sacrifices made - of heroic men and women bravely giving
up their lives to defend their countries. In War Stories:
Volume 1, critically acclaimed writer Garth Ennis shows
us the forest for the trees, and takes us beyond the front
lines for a more personal look at one of history's most
From Preacher to Punisher, Ennis has celebrated the bravery
of the common soldier, and this World War II anthology is
his most direct tribute to date. Collecting four fictitious
standalone issues, War Stories tells the tales of battle-weary
soldiers from both sides of the conflict, across every corner
of the globe. Johann's Tiger follows a German tank commander,
haunted by the atrocities he has committed and concerned
with only the safety of his crew. D-Day Dodgers spotlights
the unsung heroes of the Italian battlefield, as they sacrifice
their lives for nothing more than a newspaper headline.
Screaming Eagles is a humorous yet unnerving look at what
happens when four soldiers fight the injustices of their
own army and earn a hedonistic respite from the war. And
Nightingale tracks a doomed destroyer in the North Atlantic
as she fights valiantly to protect an Allied convoy.
Read in a collected volume, War Stories truly conveys the
awesome scope this conflict encompassed. Regardless of rank
or affiliation, every single soldier had to make unbelievable
sacrifices. They dealt with bureaucracy, corruption and
the pointless whims of their glory-seeking superiors. And
all too often, they paid for their selflessness with their
friends, their families and their lives.
Taken individually, some of these stories outshine the
others. Screaming Eagles is particularly entertaining; a
narrative that illustrates the frustrations these unsung
heroes had to contend with on a day-to-day basis. Unfairly
ordered by an inexperienced lieutenant to secure a general's
headquarters, four battered D-Day veterans take a much-needed
holiday in a German country house. It's an unsettling balance
of humor and injustice, as the soldiers reflect on what
they have given up to enjoy this unexpected holiday, one
complete with busty ladies and a bathtub full of wine. Do
the math. On the other end of the spectrum, D-Day Dodgers
focuses on forgotten heroes as they needlessly surrender
their lives for a battle they cannot win, just to gain some
respect from a world whose eyes rest elsewhere. Ennis provides
personal and poignant standpoints for each of his stories,
although at times he can't resist going back to his familiar
stable of characters with various mental and physical deficiencies.
These instances are somewhat reminiscent of Preacher, but
they feel forced and overdone, and are somewhat out of place
Ironically, for a book that champions the individual soldier,
some of the characters are difficult to tell apart, but
this is primarily due to the standard uniforms - a problem
I've had with previous war comics. The artists involved,
however, are at the top of their game. Each of them provides
the grit and realism that the topic requires, stripping
away the stylized glamour to show the harsh reality of war.
Though the subject may not appeal to everyone, War Stories
is a welcome find for history and Ennis fans alike - these
four stories provide a unique perspective into one of the
20th century's most significant events, told by one of the
medium's most gifted writers. And considering current events
these days, it's more than a little relevant to see what's
truly at stake when we send our soldiers to war.
Final Grade: B+