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Is It Wednesday Yet?

09 December 2008 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.

Blue Beetle #33
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 26 November 2008
Writer: Matthew Sturges
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Cover: Rafael Albuquerque

Review: Guest
I'm not entirely sure what I just read. I'm fairly certain it was a comic book. I mean, there was page after page of sequential images, along with caption boxes to form some sort of narrative structure. There were a multitude of costumed heroes fighting bad guys. It even had one of those lame, meaningless cliffhangers that you see every week in comics. Alright, so we've confirmed that it is, indeed, a comic book. But that's all I know. See, there's a rally for immigration, or immigrants it's not really stated. The Teen Titans are there. Well, at least, Robin and Wonder Girl are there. I couldn't tell you who the rest of these costumed kids are, but the book doesn't really seem to care either, so I'm not going to lose sleep over it. It appears that people have fallen under a sort of magnetic trance that turns them into roided up soldiers. (So I guess all of those New Age loons that preach the healing magic of magnets really were on to something after all.) If that was the plot, I'd still be somewhat confused, but I'd be able to make some sense of it. However, the book then decides it wants to toss more characters into the mix, all heading into the big finale.

DC, I am begging you: put in recap pages! You don't even have to devote a whole page to it, just something there for people like me that haven't read the previous chapters in what I'm sure has been a lovely and gripping storyline. Contrary to what I'm sure regular Is It Wednesday Yet? readers think, I actually want to like the books I review, but when I'm being plunged headfirst into a situation that doesn't care whether I'm caught up or not, I'm left wondering why I should care.

The art is pretty bad all around. I'm all for comic artists drawing unattractive people, but, last I checked, Wonder Girl was supposed to be a hottie. There are way too many Chaykin cabbage heads going on here, and everyone inexplicably has the nose of a gibbon. Oftentimes a character will snarl and cringe as if they were being punched in the kidneys. And trying to get a sense of where the characters are half the time is an equation I don't think I'm qualified to answer.

There's some decent dialog and even a good bit of characterization here, but the rest of the book deserves a skip.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #19
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 26 November 2008
Writer: Joss Whedon
Penciler: Karl Moline
Inker: Andy Owens
Colorist: Michelle Madsen
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Jo Chen

Review: drqshadow
Remakes and adaptations are the current law of the land. Whether it's yet another Hollywood picture based on an old TV series, a comic book replication of a new film or a video game based on an aging theatric property, the idea of originality seems to be antiquated. And to a certain degree, that's true of Buffy: Season Eight. Yes, we're returning to familiar territory, resuscitating a television show that's been dead and buried for years and cashing in on the title's cult following, but Buffy has a few things that sets it apart: for one, this isn't a retelling of the same old stories. This is a direct continuation of where the show left off back in 2003.

It's also nice to see the same creative minds involved. Sure, those Star Wars novels that were blessed by Lucas may have been fascinating, but because King George himself wasn't a hands-on collaborator, they never seemed authentic. That's no problem for Buffy: Joss Whedon, the brains behind the entirety of the show's lifespan, is getting his hands dirty as writer of this follow-up. It's both a spiritual and a literal sequel to the renowned series, and one that I'm sure most fans will greet with open arms.

As long as the action keeps moving, Whedon's writing makes for easy, entertaining material. Though he does irregularly indulge himself with a few pages of long, breathy conversation, Whedon seems to acknowledge that this series is at its strongest when it's throwing haymakers and impaling evildoers. And while he's dealing with a huge cast of beloved characters, the writer doesn't pull any punches, either making those fight scenes just a bit more interesting.

Karl Moline is the artist of choice this month, benefiting from a deep preexisting cast and an elaborate, rich atmosphere. With so many character designs already laid out in detail, Moline's only task is to accurately reproduce them and throw in an infrequent twist in wardrobe here or there. The familiar faces wear their scars like badges of honor, with each distinguishing mark tied to a specific moment earlier in the series. The wear and tear shown by his characters and their surroundings manages to be light on linework but surprisingly descriptive (akin to Chris Bachalo's later efforts), while Moline's thick but graceful linework sometimes reminds me of Frank Cho. The denizens of Buffy's world can often be at once beautiful and haunting a balance that's much easier said than done but the artist is able to pull it off. With the exception of one or two uncharacteristic slip-ups, this is a very good-looking issue.

Although I came into this series with little more than a passing knowledge of Buffy and was 18 issues behind the curve, I never felt left out or confused. Sure, some of the names and faces didn't mean as much to me as I'm sure they would to dedicated viewers, but I still found something to enjoy within this story. It's written well, nicely illustrated and manages to stand on its own two feet with or without the gigantic reputation that precedes it. Big fans will want to buy this up immediately, while more casual observers will still want to borrow it. It's good stuff, and a solid example of what can go right with a popular cast of licensed characters; treated with dignity and respect, they can still bring out strong emotions in their audience.

DMZ #36
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 26 November 2008
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Kristian Donaldson
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: John Paul Leon

Review: drqshadow
Set on the island of Manhattan in the very near future, DMZ examines how the lives of New Yorkers have changed since the town was designated a demilitarized zone. When a freethinking revolution passes through the hearts and minds of Middle America, the concept takes hold stronger than even the most optimistic rebel could have dreamed possible. As that idea manifests itself in the form of a full-scale revolt, the majority of the country's National Guard is stationed overseas, which enables the Free State movement to overtake the vast majority of the US landmass. The battle stalls in NYC, however, and with neither army able to maintain control, it's labeled a no man's land and summarily evacuated.

Series creator and ongoing writer Brian Wood paints an unsettlingly relatable picture of a United States so divided it's settled on civil war as its only option. He raises some pertinent issues, escalates the conflict of ideas that's already present into a physical struggle and adds just enough dashes of the modern rhetoric to make it all feel natural. Is it idealistic? Well, yes and no. On one hand, I don't think anyone wants this to end in bloodshed, but on the other, the two sides of this country are already so sharply divided that eventually something's going to have to give. I don't know how we go from criticizing the President on a daily basis to taking up arms and rising against his government, but should that come to pass I wouldn't be surprised if it wound up looking an awful lot like this.

That's where Wood is at his best. He's able to make things seem so familiar that his readers let their guard down and accept this as a continuation of their current reality. America's two sides may not have reached this level of extremism yet, but because the soldiers on the ground in DMZ are spitting the same kind of rhetoric we're hearing in the aisles at Wal-Mart today, it doesn't seem like that much of a stretch.

Kristian Donaldson has joined the party as a special temporary artist for this story arc, delivering work that's as simple as the issue's subject matter is heavy. Fans of Brian Wood's work will recognize Donaldson from their previous collaboration on IDW's Supermarket. His minimal approach is reminiscent of Phil Hester, though the DMZ artist isn't quite as animated and his characters don't feel as natural. Tasked this month with representing a US Army captain at the end of his rope, Donaldson is able to capture enough facial expression to tell that story without the aid of narration. The captain has crazy eyes, his body language betrays his mental state and the tendency of his underlings to keep their distance tells us they don't entirely trust their fearless leader. Though his characters occasionally feel stiff and uncomfortable, Donaldson is otherwise a solid contributor.

DMZ is a rarity in that it can tell a deeply political story without feeling heavy-handed or preachy. Brian Wood's continuous use of recognizable talking points lends familiarity, and that in turn helps the story to connect with its audience. It's pertinent, timely and elaborate; it's something worthy of a chance, regardless of your political affiliation: buy it.

New Warriors #19
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 26 November 2008
Writer: Kevin Grevioux
Penciler: Casey Jones
Inker: Juan Vlasco
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Nic Klein

Review: Guest
Hey guys, you heard of this whole registration thing? You see, there's this guy named Tony Stark, and he's been forcing everyone to write the same tired "hunt down the unregistered" story for the past two years now. In the case of the New Warriors, they resisted and it cost them the lives of two of their own. Somehow, this gives the leader, Night Thrasher, both the idea and the ability to build a time machine in order to save his brother and the original members of the New Warriors. So the team hops in and instead of jumping to the past, they end up in a dystopian Iron Man-ruled future. I wish I was making that up.

What results is an uneven, if not entirely offensive book. We get your expected lecture on the evils of big government, which I'd normally be fine with if we haven't been seeing this same thing in every Marvel book of the past two years. The same could be said for the nonstop "what it means to be a hero" talk. Some of the lines here are so unnatural and cheesy they'd make Reb Brown blush with embarrassment. As with a lot of Marvel team books, there are simply way too many characters for any of them to tell me their names, let alone make an impact.

Despite all of this, there is actually some value to be derived here. For one, there's a twist midway through that, while not making one iota of sense, actually adds a layer of intrigue to the narrative. Even though this issue didn't exactly blow me away, I'm actually interested to see where things go from here.

Casey Jones, along with having a great name, is also a fairly competent artist. The anatomy and storytelling here are pretty consistent, and the brief action sequences are done pretty well. The only real issue I have with the art is that everything is a bit too shiny. Not shiny in a clean, futuristic sense either; I mean every single bit of clothing and hair in this book is shining, as if everyone's wearing latex and had on plastic wigs. It's like a team consisting entirely of action figures.

The one definitely started slow, then picked up a lot of steam by the end. It's not enough to warrant a purchase, but I'd say it couldn't hurt to give it a flip through.

Transformers: All Hail Megatron #5
Publisher: IDW
Released: 26 November 2008
Writer: Shane McCarthy
Penciler: Guido Guidi
Inker: Casey Coller
Colorist: Josh Burcham
Letterer: Neil Uyetake
Cover: Trevor Hutchison

Review: drqshadow
If you haven't been keeping track, there's been a lot going on with the Transformers recently, and none of it looks all that good for the Autobots. Under Megatron's leadership, the Decepticons have conquered Earth, chasing the remnants of their opposition to a secluded corner on Cybertron. With Optimus Prime at death's door, the duties of leadership have fallen to Jazz, and his work is cut out for him. While his first order of business is procuring a steady source of energy, of which little remains on their hollow, exhausted home planet, uncovering the traitor in his group's midst remains a close second priority.

Series artist Guido Guidi was born for this kind of work. When it comes to the Transformers, there have historically been two kinds of artists: those who get it and those who don't and sadly, the latter have far outnumbered the former. Granted, the task of illustrating an entire race of boxy, metal-skinned, living robots (no two of which look even remotely alike) is not an easy one, especially when so many different interpretations have come and gone over the years. But I've found that the very best renditions have been able to convey the unique qualities of the Cybertronians' physical features while also delivering a strong sense of identity and humanity to the mix.

Guidi is able to bring all of that to the table, while also adding a detail-rich series of backdrops to the list. His work is painstakingly detailed, but not exceptionally busy. Its look and feel is clearly manga-influenced a carryover from the visual style of Transformers: The Movie and bursting at the seams with liveliness. Each image in this issue leaps right off the page, which makes reading it a delight. This is what I've been wanting from this property since it was officially relaunched: it's clearly crafted by a longtime fan, and he's poured his heart and soul into his work.

Shane McCarthy's writing isn't quite that good, but it's strong enough to draw similar comparisons to The Movie, which I consider to be the quintessential Transformers story. All Hail Megatron caries a similar sense of dread and frustration, with the good guys outnumbered and on the lam while their enemies run unchecked. His story is epic in concept, and while it's sometimes clunky in execution (the pacing in particular is a little strange) at the end of the day it left me anxious to see where it's all going. The best moments in Transformers lore always seem to come after the day has grown its darkest, and the revelations at the end of this issue have sent the storyline into uncharted territory as far as that's concerned.

While this property was having its issues a few years ago, floating around with little direction at Dreamwave, its shift to IDW has been rejuvenating. The storytelling has taken a step up, returning the franchise to familiar, celebrated themes. And if this issue is any indication, the artwork has never been better. All Hail Megatron was created by the fans, for the fans, and that's a welcome change. Buy it for the artwork alone; the story's just gravy.

Wonder Woman #26
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 26 November 2008
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Aaron Lopresti
Inker: Matt Ryan
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Aaron Lopresti

Review: Guest
In the beginning of time, there was an ancient race known as the Ichor. (Because if there's one thing DC needed, it was another race of godlike figures.) And like many, these gods are evil gods, and one of them is now on Earth.

Diana Prince, the underused alter ego of Wonder Woman, is heading up a squad in the Department of Metahuman Affairs. They are to investigate a disturbance at the nearby mall, and $10 says that it's something green, evil and godlike. Meanwhile, Darkseid has vandalized Olympia, and there's some sort of killer virus out to destroy the entire Justice League. Got all that? Trust me, it's not as important as you'd think. All you need to know is that Mr. Green and Evil is a complete badass. It's almost refreshing to see a villain that's so single-minded and straightforward. He's not there to talk your ear off and tell you of some brilliant plan; he just wants to kill you and everyone you've ever laid eyes on and anyone that gets in his way is just more fun for him. Though there are at least three different plots going on at once, it's this villain that dictates the entire issue through sheer presence alone. It's a testament to the importance of a great bad guy that a character we know next to nothing about can be such a dominating force.

The artwork in this book is quite fantastic. I actually tried to find flaws, but couldn't come up with anything but the most minor nitpicks. Sure, the character design of the main villain is a tad silly, but Hera knows we've seen far worse in the past. Everything is at a high level of detail, and I found myself noticing things that I never had before, and started asking myself such questions like why exactly Wonder Woman wears earrings. It would seem like a rather frivolous part of the outfit if you ask me. If she's going into battle, you figure the boots and the parts that cover her naughty bits are all that's needed. If there's a world-threatening green monster on the loose, is she really going to take the time to put those things on? But I digress. If there is any issue at all with the art, it's that the coloring feels really muted; most of the book is faded and washed out. What's even stranger is that there are two pages in the middle that suddenly have vibrant coloring, and the contrast is distracting. It doesn't lower my score, but it's noticeable.

This issue surprised the hell out of me. There's great art, solid action and a fairly well-paced story. I never thought I'd say this for a Wonder Woman book, of all things, but buy it.

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To hear reviews of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes #1, Savage Dragon #141, Thor: Man of War, Unknown Soldier #2 and Vincent Price Presents #3, download Earth-2.net: The Show, episode 288.

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