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Is It Wednesday Yet?

07 October 2008 — In a weird little twist, this week not a single forthcoming comic book is being reviewed. Meaning, this edition of Is It Wednesday Yet? doesn't feature a single Marvel comic book. In fact, it's mostly DC books this week! As always, these reviews are spoiler-free, so feel free to read onward.

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.

Back to Brooklyn #1
Publisher: Image
Released: 24 September 2008
Story: Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmotti
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Mihailo Vukelic
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Cover: Mihailo Vukelic

Review: Guest
One night, Bob Saetta strolls into the NYPD and offers to tell everything he knows. As a top man in the Saetta crime family, he has what would appear to be invaluable information, but when his wife and son are kidnapped by the big boss, the terms change. Now Bob needs one weekend to get his family back and get out of Brooklyn, even if it costs more lives.

Everyone has that one creator that can seemingly do no wrong; that one guy who can weave gold out of anything. I'm no different. Warren Ellis is one of them, and the other is Garth Ennis, who is responsible for my favorite comic of all time in Preacher. So I think it's only fair to warn you that I decided I was going to love this before I'd even read the first page.

That said, with Ennis, you know what you're going to get: unflinching violence and crude humor. And obviously, that's not for everyone, but if you're an Ennis zombie like me, it'll probably be right up your alley. Though very much the embodiment of a first issue, Ennis has set the tone of this world, mixing gruff cop drama with Goodfellas, while still taking elements of his previous work into it as well. More than a little bit of his Punisher flavor seeps into the pages, but it still has a feel and pacing all its own. All of that said, if you dislike Ennis, first of all, you bring shame to your family, and secondly, nothing here is going to change your mind.

Mihailo Vukelic's work is distinctive, if nothing else. While it definitely took some getting used to, by the end of the book it grew on me. His work isn't bad, but it's unlike anything you've seen in comics; his characters look as if they were made of copper or plastic, with a glowing sheen on every curve of skin. It's this — combined with his monochrome coloring — that makes each panel look like bits of human still life painted onto the page. It's the sort of work that has to be commended simply for the sake of being so different, but the added bonus here is that it works for this book.

Though I admitted my bias a mere few paragraphs ago, it has to be stated that I, in general, dislike crime stories, especially in comic form. A lot of them tend to feel way too similar, falling into the "kill everything until there's nothing left to kill, everything will fall into place after that" narrative trap. While this is a violent book, and will no doubt have a bloody finale, it still manages to have a semblance of heart, something that tends to elude the genre. Garth Ennis has done it again, making me a fan of a genre that I couldn't stand before. Buy it.

Fables #76
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 24 September 2008
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artist: Mike Allred
Colorist: Laura Allred
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover: James Jean

Review: Michael David Sims
Let's get one thing straight: I don't like Fables. I've tried and I've tired and I've tried some more, but it never comes across as more than a great concept that falls flat.

Let's get another thing straight: I don't want to like Fables. Not anymore, at least. At first I wanted to. Even after it let me down, I wanted to. Even after it let me down and everyone said I was crazy for not liking it, I wanted to. But now I don't care; now it's just another book on the shelf that I ignore every month.

So why am I covering Fables #76 this week? Two words: the Allreds. Mike and Laura Allred have been two of my favorite creators since I first laid eyes on Madman Comics #1 in 1994. Mike's pencils are smooth and full of bounce, and they teem with vibrant life thanks to Laura's wonderfully lush colors. Together, they bring love and stunning craftsmanship to their characters. And this issue is no different.

Geppetto is a "bloody-handed monster" who's proud of his warmongering ways, and every line and drop of color put into him by the Allreds tells you as much. From his cocky demeanor to his near-constant scowl, even without the backstory or dialog, you know he's a bitter old man who'd just as soon sic his guards on you as he would chew your ear off for talking too loud. Their Pinocchio is an awkward, lively boy with a curious glance for anything he doesn't understand. Snow White, like all of their women, has a classic pin-up appeal, but she's never over-sexualized; she strong and proud and walks with vigor.

That said, the Allred's Fabletown is a bit lacking. Had it not been for signage or Pinocchio's guided tour, Fabletown wouldn't have looked any different than my local main street. Worse yet, if any setting in Fabletown should have struck me with awe, it's Snow White's museum-like office. But again, it wound up looking bland and sadly staged. Not that I was looking for pink lace and glittery pixie dust everywhere, but Mike and Laura Allred know how to breathe majesty into any setting, so to see it lacking here was a rather large disappointment.

While we're on the subject of disappointments, I'd like to say the story was one, but it wasn't. Before you get your hopes up, the preceding statement doesn't mean the story was good. What it means is that it was exactly what I expected: another ho-hum trip down mediocre lane. Geppetto — the big bad adversary, the man who conquered hundreds of worlds and killed millions of people — is nothing more than a cranky, blustery old man. He knows everything and hates anything that doesn't fit into his idea of how the world should work. His presence doesn't incite sheer terror or even disgust. In the real world, at best, his close-mindedness would garner sympathy. But in this issue of Fables, his clichéd, irritable old man routine makes me roll my eyes and wonder how Bill Willingham ever became popular.

It's an odd thing seeing characters that are so visually full of life, yet devoid of verbal souls. Mike and Laura Allred do their best to inject their trademarked charm into Fables #76, but Bill Willingham siphons off every last drop, leaving his trademarked blandness. Giving this book a flip through is generous, but that's what it's getting.

Legion of Super-Heroes #46
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 24 September 2008
Writer: Jim Shooter
Penciler: Francis Manapul
Inker: John Livesay and Mark McKenna
Colorist: JD Smith
Letterer: Steve Wands
Cover: Francis Manapul

Review: Preston Nelson
When you think of the Legion of Super-Heroes, what crosses your mind? Okay, besides Matter-Eater Lad and Bouncing Boy. What's that? A fun, kid-friendly comic that you grew up with?

Well, who needs fun, kid-friendly, introductory comics when you can have teen angst? Now, I'm a person who appreciates good drama — doubly so in comic book form — but, much like Elmo shooting up heroin while Oscar the Grouch slaps around Big Bird, demanding his money, mature storylines just don't belong some places. Legion of Super-Heroes is one of those places. You want teen drama? Pick up Teen Titans. You want something you can let your kid brother read, you're supposed to be able to go to Legion. I guess I'll just stick with Marvel Adventures.

Other than the soul being sucked out of the concept, in order to create Dawson's Creek in the 31st century, this isn't a terrible book. Shooter has crafted a story that's more than a little clichéd, opening with Ultra Boy and Saturn Girl trying to explain to Invisible Kid that "it's not what you think," even though that's exactly what it is. (They were humping, if you didn't get that.) Of course, this is a huge problem because Saturn Girl is supposed to be humping the Legion's leader, Lightning Lad.

Minor digression here, but bear with me. If Ultra Boy and Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl are all old enough to be boning, don't you think they'd update their names a little? I mean, Ultra Boy is rocking stubble. Hell, even if they're just 17, there is no teenager who would be caught dead referring to himself as a "lad." I don't think anyone could take him seriously. They'd laugh in his face.

Back to Gilmore Girls, I mean Legion of Super-Heroes, we're also led to see that token robotic teammate Braniac 5 is becoming disconnected from humanity, in the most hackneyed cliché in the history of ever. And Princess Prospera is having issues with her guilt complex, because her entire planet is dead. Oh, also, there's some rival group to the Legion that's hiring juvenile delinquents with superpowers — or something.

Does it sound like there's a lot going on here? Because, there is. About four storylines too many at the moment, which is another problem with One Tree Legion. This is clearly a transitional issue, with no other intent than to get to the next one. Minor things happen, but no fallout is shown. No consequences are left to the actions, and it's a swift kick to the nuts.

The art in the book is passable. It's what one comes to expect from a midlevel comic book; it's better than a lot of stuff out there, but all the same, it's nothing mind blowing either. My issue comes with the stark contrast between the Legion and their environment. Every single member is wearing the brightest, most shocking combination of colors — pinks, greens, reds, yellows — and they stand against a monotone world: grey metal in the ship, black space outside the windows, grey concrete in the city. It's a completely jarring contrast.

This book, there are just no words for it. I completely understand what's being done here, as a matter of fact, in another book, I might even tolerate or appreciate it. But this is Legion of Super-Heroes; this is the fluff book to end all fluff books, and in order to appeal to a different readership, the heart and soul has been torn out. Skip it.

Madam Xanadu #4
Publisher: DC / Vertigo
Released: 24 September 2008
Writer: Matt Wagner
Penciler: Amy Reeder Hadley
Inker: Richard Friend
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Amy Reeder Hadley

Review: Preston Nelson
You know what rules about magic based characters? Magic. Like when Doctor Strange utters, "By the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak," you know that things are going to start popping off and something cool is going to happen. So, you know what would suck for a magic-based character? Writing a whole book in which she knows that she used to have powers and has no idea how to get them back. I mean, who would be so — oh.

Now, I appreciate what Matt Wagner is trying to do here — he's actually hitting on some really cool feminist undertones — but it really just doesn't gel with me. So, there's a former sorceress / seer running around Kublai Kahn's palace with Marco Polo. Okay, I can buy that. But when ninjas show up and she's forced to break up a fairly graphic gang rape, it kinda lost me. The story isn't great, but it has its moments. And Xanadu is written well, even if I don't particularity care for the sort of character she is. And of course, we have the mysterious love interest who sits in the shadows and doesn't have any pupils, pretty much Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon without the awesome entrances. And much like Tuxedo Mask, once you get past the sort of mysterious charm that the Phantom Stranger has, you realize he's really just a hollow plot device. The quiet moments between Xanadu and Stranger just seem a little awkward. I may not be totally up on my Madam Xanadu history, but I don't see any reason for these two to be making eyes at each other like they totally do.

Amy Reeder Hadley has a nice grip on her lines and figures, bridging the fence between a cartoony and realistic world. And she works really well with the colorist, Guy Major. The art in this book is sharp, colorful and actually pretty good to look at. But, I do have a few minor nits to pick. One, during the breaking up of the aforementioned gang rape, I have no clue what happened to all of the assailants but two. In this, I guess I'm trying to say that the fight scenes are a bit muddied. While the art itself is solid, the transitions from one point to another are jarring, to the point that I had to flip back through the book more than once, just trying to figure out what happened. Honestly, I think the team of Hadley, Friend and Major would work much better on another sort of book, something that allows them to really just let the colors and shapes fly, as opposed to a book like this, where they're trying to catch both the flair of the Medieval Far East, as well as the gloom and darkness that a book of this style demands. They have moments in which they succeed, but their dark moments are too colorful and their grand, flair-filled moments are muddied.

Honestly, this isn't a bad book by any stretch of the imagination. A lot of the pieces work really well. I really dig Hadley's lines and Major's colors through a lot of it, and I honestly think Wagner is really a talented guy who struggled with this issue. But, all the same, the pieces don't fit for me. Decent book, but mostly unremarkable: flip through it.

Northlanders #10
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 24 September 2008
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Dean Ormston
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Massimo Carnevale

Review: Guest
By page two of this book, a spear goes through a man's chest, spurting blood like a fireworks display.

Yup, it's Vertigo time.

Much like my aforementioned Ennis bias, I tend to have a soft spot for Vertigo in general, which is why it hurts me so much to say that I'm not going to be giving this book particularly high marks.

After watching his home of Lindisfarne get burned and pillaged by the Viking Northlanders, young Edwin is given the choice to join the group of heathens or suffer the same fate. This is supposed to be the second of a two-part arc, but I'm at a loss to figure out what exactly the first part could have entailed, since this one covers what seems to be the important part.

Now look, I realize that most companies don't do recap pages, but at no point in this issue is Edwin's name stated. (I had to go online to learn it.) We get a guy spouting "Ed-" right before an axe splits his head in two, but that's the extent of it. That's pretty much unacceptable, as those extra three letters couldn't have possibly broken the bank. Secondly, for a story that's set in 793 AD, these characters sure seem to have a grasp of modern-day slang and profanity. What makes it all the more awkward is that Ye Olde English will still creep up from time to time, resulting in dialog gems that read as if they were lyrics to a gangsta rap album by Thor: "Thou art best get the fuck up out my way heathen!"

The premise is solid — setting the backstory for what appears to be one of the main antagonists of the series — but the execution is where things fell apart. Edwin seems to be a stream of consciousness at times, contradicting his own internal monologue from one panel to the next, making it unclear whether he's a religious fanatic or a godless prick. Considering he's the only one here that gets any semblance of characterization, it's all the more baffling that Wood was unable to get it down more clearly.

If anything saves this issue, it's Dean Ormston's artwork. While it won't win any awards for it's realism, his work here has the same primitive, shadow-heavy look that works so well in book like The Walking Dead. His action scenes, and the gore that results are the highlights here, though the blood in this book seems to have the splashy consistency of water, getting everywhere, making it look as if someone in the battle was armed with balloons filled with cherry Kool-Aid.

I've been told repeatedly that Northlanders is a book that I should be reading, which makes me feel like I'm really missing something. Wood is a capable writer, so why am I so unimpressed by this? It's a remarkably average issue, and I wasn't blown away by it, as much as I wanted to be.

You hear that? It's the sound of my heart breaking. It's a flip through, at best.

Superman #680
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 24 September 2008
Writer: James Robinson
Penciler: Renato Guedes
Inker: Wilson Magalhaes
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: John J. Hill
Cover: Alex Ross

Review: Guest
As someone that aspires to write professionally for a living, there are more than a few comic heroes that I would love to create stories for. Superman, however, is not one of them. Though far from an expert on the Man of Steel, it's rare that I've been able to see a writer that was able to make such a difficult character interesting. Ask pretty much anyone and they'll tell you that Superman is really hard to write for, but James Robinson has found a rather innovative solution to that problem: write about his dog instead.

Because someone, somewhere demanded it, it's the adventures of Krypto! During a battle with Atlas, Supes gets injured and it's up to Krypto to save the day! Watch as he bites. And chews. And, um, bites some more on the villain! Is the well seriously this dry? I didn't even know that Krypto was still in continuity. Even Atlas, the supposed huge threat, is a character whose only other appearance was in 1975.

Way too often I'm content saying that "nothing happened in this book," and then I move on. Stuff happens here, it's just that none of it means a damn thing. We get a gripping tale of Lois' jealousy of the dog and his relationship with Clark, and then the realization that it was wrong for her to have issues with a superpowered canine that destroys her home on a regular basis. Seriously, Lois, it's not like that fine china you bought was expensive or anything. Other than that, it's just a few dozen pages of a dog getting the holy hell kicked out of him. If you like animal abuse, then by golly, this is the book for you!

Renato Guedes delivers some competent work here, but it's more than a little inconsistent. It seems as if he's trying to hit the same realistic, bright tone as Alex Ross' cover, but oftentimes it looks like he didn't know when to stop. When the bridge of a man's nose appears to have its own shoulder, you've probably spent too much time with that panel.

This whole issue was done on autopilot. Skip the hell out of this and get Action Comics instead.

Wildcats #3
Publisher: DC / Wildstorm
Released: 24 September 2008
Writer: Christos Gage
Artist: Neil Googe
Colorist: Carrie Strachan
Letterer: Wes Abboti
Cover: Neil Googe

Review: Michel Scott
I have never read an issue of Wildcats before, and while I was aware of that going into this comic, it was made utterly clear to me that I had not. I have no idea who these characters are, nor do I have the slightest clue about the situation they've found themselves in. So far as I can tell, something bad has happened. Like really bad. Like "I hope there are people still alive in California" bad. But damned if I have the first idea what it was. Maybe it was global warming. Maybe it was an alien force. Could it have been a nuclear bomb? Maybe.

As for the story itself, once you get past the fact they name-drop things like mad, it's not that hard to pick up. Something bad has happened and now it's up to the Wildcats to save the day. But in an interesting twist, it's hard to "save the day" when it's obvious that the day has already been lost. It's more like saving the day after. This is probably what post-war Europe felt like. The day is done but there is another day coming. So the Wildcats are really just picking up the pieces.

The story is pretty straightforward. Something odd is out there, they investigate, they find a threat, they fight the threat. The threat in question is actually somewhat interesting, if only because it raises some eyebrows, making this a decent read. That said, the banter seems out of place. I mean, are we really still doing gay jokes when the world has been horribly devastated? It's hard to say that the characters are treating the situation with the direness that it deserves. Likewise, this could be a perfectly normal character trait and I'm just missing it. But more than likely, this banter just falls far short of the mark.

Lastly, the ending of this story makes little to no sense. It's almost like the writer hit the end and thought, "I need a cliffhanger here," but then failed to write one that made any sense. I honestly felt like I must've missed a page, or maybe this is all just backstory that I don't know. I say flip through it.

Zorro #7
Publisher: Dynamite
Released: 24 September 2008
Writer: Matt Wagner
Artist: Francesco Francavilla
Colorist: Adriano Lucas
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Cover: Matt Wagner

Review: Preston Nelson
This series may as well be called Zorro Begins, because they're clearly taking cues from Batman at this point. Now, Zorro was among the inspirations for Batman, so it's only fair that they be compared, and really, I don't know if the portrayal of Diego came before the portrayal of Bruce Wayne in much the same manner. But, much like Batman masking his alter ego of Bruce Wayne as a pompous pretty boy, Zorro does the same with his alter ego of Don Diego. Problem is, Diego's father is still alive, so to protect his secret, Diego even has to convince him that he's a selfish, greedy airhead. This works, and it's done very well, but it's nothing new. We've seen Batman do this for a couple of decades now, so by the time Zorro does it, it's kind of old hat. Matt Wagner does reinforce my suspicion that he's talented — there are a few shimmering spots here — but rather than struggling with characterization as he did in Madam Xanadu #7, he buries his grasp of these characters under extremely verbose dialog and the occasional Spanish expression.

Now, I love the Spanish language. It's a gorgeous language that is much more pleasing to the ear than the Germanic guttural stops of English. But, I do not speak Spanish. I understand that he's trying to put a feel for the setting in the diction of these characters, but if one was truly faithful to the setting, they would be speaking nothing but Spanish. I'm willing to forgive small things that even I know, but when I have to bust out the Spanish to English dictionary to see if Zorro is referring to his horse by some cute nickname, or he just happens to know one of the henchman's first names, I have a slight problem.

I'm pretty sure the artist is schizophrenic. Francavilla has a beautiful splash page of Zorro riding off on Tornado, his horse. Dust flying, Zorro and his handsome black horse fill the page with a sort of radiant power and pride. This work of genius follows some shots of Diego and Tornado standing in a canyon that must have been torn out of Francavilla's sketchbook. I'm talking about a sloppy excess of lines and blocky shading. Not a pretty sight. Certain frames look great; there are some low-light shots in a church that I just love, but the art quality is really inconsistent. The colors lend a really nice Southwest / Mexican / Spanish vibe to the 1840s California backdrop.

I may have complained a lot, but this is actually a really solid book. Wagner shines in spots, and Francavilla has moments that I just love. This book is worthy of a borrow, unless you're a Zorro nut.

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