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Is It Wednesday Yet?

23 January 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.

Bomb Queen V #5
Publisher: Image
Released: 07 January 2009
Writer: Jim Robinson
Artist: Jim Robinson
Colorist: Paul Little
Cover: Jim Robinson

Review: Guest
You know those really lame parody movies? The ones that have just enough of a plot to move from set piece to set piece, making horribly unfunny jokes based on movies that you'd rather be watching at that moment? They often give the public just enough stereotyping, nudity and fart jokes to distract them from this, but the fact is that they could somehow channel the spirits of George Carlin, Mitch Hedburg and Bill Hicks and still manage not to be funny.

Oh look! Someone has finally made a comic book equivalent.

Bomb Queen is not funny. It's the anti-funny. Footage of POW camps are funnier than this. I could forgive it if the story just missed on a few jokes, but this is the kind of humor that not only bombards you with its lameness, but then has to constantly remind you of how smart and funny it thinks it is; if you're not laughing, "you don't get it," it seems to say. I get it. You're referencing other, more popular comic books. "One More Yesterday." Yes, very clever, but can we get to the story? Oh, there isn't one? Silly me, I thought I was reading a comic book.

This is perhaps the first comic to ever fill me with genuine rage. There is really no story to speak of. There's a villain known as the Bomb Queen, who is just evil for the sake of being so and who talks like every child who plays Gears of War online. She operates a giant robot that shoots lasers out of its boobs, expels flames from its ass and pees acid. Feel the comedy! She fights a Superman parody known as the White Knight, who is completely inept at everything. There are a bunch of naked zombies that don't really do anything put lick people, and an entire town is destroyed. Please Bomb Queen, drop some dated pop culture reference while you're at it, and add a Wayans brother. Dig that hole a little bit deeper. Please.

Bomb Queen is the worst comic I've ever read. Ever! This is worse than Cable and Omega: The Unknown and even Anita Blake. Buying this book is like giving cancer to a puppy, lighting it on fire in its dying days, then kicking it down a flight of stairs for good measure. Babychest times infinity.

Doktor Sleepless #11
Publisher: Avatar
Released: 07 January 2009
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Ivan Rodriguez
Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse
Cover: Raulo Caceres

Review: drqshadow
I've slowly begun to understand that there are two very distinct types of stories Warren Ellis likes to tell: inspired, intelligent action / adventure tales, and elaborate, high-concept musings on culture. Like Transmetropolitan, this one falls firmly into the latter category, and I'm not overly impressed by it. When he has a specific route in mind, I count Ellis among my favorite writers. Take his all-too brief runs on Ultimate Fantastic Four and The Authority for example; both spotlight his powerful imagination while also telling a deep, compelling drama that keeps the pace moving at a good clip. He keeps a specific finish line in sight, and the plot is constantly moving in that direction. But when he spots an opportunity to pause and wallow in elaboration, Ellis loses me. And that's precisely what he does from page one in Doktor Sleepless.

Look, I'll never be able to fault this writer for telling a dull, empty story it just never happens. Even when he's lost on a tangent somewhere far removed from the central storyline, Ellis is filling our minds with something undoubtedly original and fascinating. Problem is, without that forward momentum his diatribes take the shape of a blog entry more than they do a legible storyline. Roughly half of this month's issue is blown on a long-winded conversation between two characters with zero connection to the reader, serving as little more than vessels to recant another twisted vision of the future. It's full of great theories and fun ideas, but makes for slow, dreary reading. The pace is much quicker in the secondary storyline, focusing on a rumble in the city's drug market, but it never feels important. The characters at its core aren't worth all that much, neither to their community nor the narrative, and many are thrown out with the garbage within pages of their introduction. Ellis gives you seven pages of talking heads, four pages of gunfire, then three more pages of dinner table dialog. It makes for awkward pacing and random narration, united only through a shared lack of consequence.

Ellis' artistic companion for this series is Ivan Rodriguez, whose bland style and dull choice in camera angles may have soured me to the issue before the storyline took its first turn for the worst. Rodriguez is better suited to the scenes that focus on the drug dealers, primarily because there's actually something happening beyond the lighting of cigarettes and the drinking of wine, but even then his work is nothing to write home about. His perspectives are odd and repetitive, many characters look the same and there's a noteworthy lack of energy throughout. He's like Gary Frank on NyQuil.

If you like the idea of two ladies sitting at a table, debating the finer points of a hypothetical culture clash in a gloomy future, this is your jackpot. It's the ultimate pontification, a whole lot of concept with a serious lack of follow-through. I'll readily admit that my opinion of Warren Ellis' work is decidedly hot and cold, and in Doktor Sleepless it's frigid. There's nothing happening here, and the artwork doesn't help matters. Skip it.

Gravel #7
Publisher: Avatar
Released: 07 January 2009
Writers: Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer
Artist: Oscar Jimenez
Colorist: Juanmar
Covers: Mike Wolfter and Oscar Jimenez

Review: Guest
A continuation of the Strange Killings miniseries, Gravel tells the tale of a battle mage named, of all things, William Gravel. He is the Ian Chesterton of comic books. Namely, he will fuck your shit up and not think twice of it. The first six issues of this run have included just enough of my favorite things (revenge, gore and British people, to name a few) to keep my interest, and I'm quite happy I stuck with it.

Our curmudgeonly hero was expelled from a group of magicians known as the Minor Seven, and he really didn't take the news too well. He's hunted down his former partners, and has taken their pieces of the ancient and powerful Sigsand Manuscript. With six pieces of the book firmly in his possession, and a stable of servants that he's inherited from his last slaying, Gravel is more than ready for the bloodshed to end. He wants to strike a deal with the only other of his kind remaining, and it all comes to a head in this issue. In less than 30 pages, you respect him, you question him, you cheer for him and by the end you might hate him. That is the essence of any good character; he's utterly simple on the surface, but brimming with complexity underneath.

This isn't the kind of artwork you'll see in a Marvel or DC comic, and I love it. The harsh lines are the sort of thing that couldn't work in any other book but this one. While Jimenez was no doubt chosen for his strength in rendering blood and gore, there isn't really any to speak of in this issue. Despite that, his work shines, conveying the expressions of a man that has done cruel, drastic and even cowardly things to get this far.

As the end of the first arc, I could not have thought of a better finale than this one. It took my expectations and threw them asunder, leaving me shocked, impressed and ready for more. Buy this book and all of the back issues. Gravel is one of the best comics out there right now, and I have a feeling we haven't seen anything yet.

Kull #3
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 07 January 2009
Writer: Arvid Nelson
Artist: Will Conrad
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover: Andy Brase

Review: drqshadow
Continuing their love affair with Conan and his related properties, Dark Horse recently nailed down the rights to Kull, a Robert E. Howard creation that actually predates the existence of the famed Barbarian. Oddly enough, Conan's first appearance came as the centerpiece of a story that had previously been rejected as a Kull vehicle. It should go without saying, then, that the two have quite a bit in common.

Having read issues of both titles, I have to admit that I found Conan to be twice the storyteller its cousin is. Where that series never spends more than a few moments between plot developments, the first half of this issue is burned on light banter and premonitions. I have a hard enough time getting into tales of swords and sorcery, but is it too much to ask that something happens beyond a few aimlessly unsheathed swords and one or two cautious whispers about a dark power? Even when the page does finally erupt into violence, the moment quickly passes, fading back into yet another long stream of discourse.

If his pace leaves something to be desired, writer Avid Nelson doesn't exactly make amends with his dialog. I can understand that the tone of these stories is a big part of their appeal, that every revelation must be treated as a significant change in the status quo. It can grow a bit redundant, and paints the supposedly bright Kull as a bit of an ignoramus, but fair enough that's part of the original material's lore. But if I can't even understand what it is that he's reacting to, what startling news the messenger has delivered to merit such a reaction, then what's the point? While everyone makes sure to address each other by name a dozen times over, ensuring we don't forget that, yes, the Queen's name is Igraine, no such explanation is forthcoming for the details of their conversations. As a new reader, I was abandoned only a few pages in and never caught up. If this series has managed to become so lost within itself during just its third issue, I can't even imagine what it might be like down the line.

Will Conrad's artwork is detailed, if unspectacular. His renditions of Kull and Brule, with whom we spend the majority of this issue, are equally lumpy and top-heavy. Their faces never seem to match from panel to panel, and I found the excessive amount of lines on their bodies gave the impression that both were much older than they're intended to be. Either these guys are managing to flex every muscle in their bodies from dawn to dusk or they've developed such a terrifyingly wrinkled physique that they should be ashamed to be walking around shirtless. Conrad's landscapes fare a bit better, particularly during the scene-setting panels early in the issue, but they too eventually fall prey to the artist's tendency to over do it.

If you thought Conan was tough to follow, Kull will make it seem like a walk in the park. While the issue's period-specific vocabulary and constant breaks in the action may please fans of the original material, it also ensures that they're the only ones who will enjoy it. I'm going to skip it, and unless you were already planning to grab it, chances are good you'll want to do the same.

Mirror's Edge #3
Publisher: DC Comics / Wildstorm
Released: 07 January 2009
Writer: Rhianna Pratchett
Artist: Matthew Dow Smith
Colorist: Jim Charalampidis
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Brian Stelfreeze

Review: Guest
I know what you're thinking: "The video game guy is reviewing a video game comic? That hardly seems fair." You're right, it's not fair, but not in the way you'd think.

You see, I love video games. Modern games, less so, but I have a very deep appreciation for the medium as a whole. Anything that doesn't represent this medium in a particularly positive light whether it be media backlash, bad movie or lame comic tie-ins causes me to die a little inside. As you can imagine, I remain a shell of the man I once was.

Mirror's Edge was a fun, if not particularly deep game. I couldn't play it for very long because the first-person view made me want to vomit, but that's not the problem here. The problem is that companies will have such confidence in their properties that often movie rights, books and comics are being tossed around before the game is even released. Mirror's Edge is not an exception. However, it didn't sell very well. But the commitments were made, so out came the completely unnecessary remix album, the posters and, yes, the comic book.

Everything you need to know about this book is right there on the cover. The main character, Faith, is dispatching two baddies with a move that, if not anatomically impossible, is something that I can only hope my future wife is capable of performing. It's clear from this point that the book has a rather high opinion of itself. "Look at how innovative and cool we are," it tells you. And if you're the brilliant comic buyer that I suspect you are, you'll look back at the comic and say, "Her back should be broken. But I hope DW's future wife can do that." These sort of unorthodox art choices continue on the inside of the book, and while the anatomy is all over the place, I have to commend the fact that Faith is not degraded or exploited simply because she's a woman. She wears runner's clothes, and never becomes a hip swiveling caricature simply for the sake of selling a few more issues.

That said, the story is really a non-factor. The remarkable thing here is that if you wanted to know the story of Mirror's Edge, you could just play the game. This isn't something you charge money for. This is something you throw in as a pre-order bonus or put in the back of a strategy guide. I'm not against video game comics hell, I buy Street Fighter every month but not every property is going to work. Mirror's Edge simply doesn't have the name value or the gripping story to justify the ink used to print it. There is no reason to buy this: skip it.

Vixen: Return of the Lion #4
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 07 January 2009
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Cafu
Colorist: Santiago Arcas
Letterer: Rob Clark, Jr.
Cover: Cafu

Review: drqshadow
For all of these years, Vixen has subscribed to the belief that poachers were responsible for her mother's murder. But when a Justice League bust reveals that not only were the wrong men fingered, but the real culprit is still alive, the heroine decides that it's time she return to her old home in the African plains. So far she's endured threats both physical and emotional, connected with her spiritual side and learned things about the mystical Tantu Totem that were never understood. Now it's time to have a little chat with that man about her mom's demise.

In Vixen's first true taste of the limelight, G. Willow Wilson hasn't put together the most unpredictable story, but one that's engaging nevertheless. Although the revelations Wilson shares about the origin of Vixen's powers may not be especially fresh, they do make her a stronger character and a potentially bigger part of the Justice League. She's clearly the star of the show, with the rest of her buddies along for the ride, albeit in a very limited supporting role. When there's detective work to be done, she's the one doing it while Batman sits on the sidelines and keeps an eye on the aircraft.

Where the writer does show some ingenuity is in the methods and the vision of Vixen's opposition. In Aku Kwesi, a warlord who aims to control her home country of Zambesi, Wilson has developed a versatile character with many different faces. His status as a natural citizen of the country ensures that he'll have no shortage of passionate supporters in his corner, while his international connections and complex planning makes him a threat to even the combined efforts of the JLA. Though his eventual defeat is badly telegraphed, I enjoyed watching his master plan unfold as the pages slipped by.

The style of Cafu's artwork, combined with the colors of Santiago Arcas, reminds me of the warm, vibrant, uncomplicated work that Niko Henrichon handed in for Pride of Baghdad. (And I'm not just saying that because Vixen struggles with a grown lion within the book's first few pages.) The two books share a rich, almost glowing color scheme that takes over the page and a clean, straightforward illustrative style to embrace it. Under a more line-crazy artist's watch this would have been a jumbled mess, but since both contributors work styles that compliment the other it's an instantly beautiful pairing. While their work isn't quite as easy on the eyes when the rest of Vixen's JLA associates show up, it's a forgivable slip.

Return of the Lion enjoys beautiful, appropriate artwork that sets the stage for an entertaining miniseries. The series enjoys a unique flavor, both in setting and in appearance, and while many of the basic plot devices have been done before, the issue is peppered with enough little touches of originality to compensate. This won't rock your world, but as a first attempt with a character I really didn't care for coming in, it'll do. Borrow it.

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To hear reviews of Black Lightning: Year One #1, Haunted Tank #2, No Hero #3, Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising #1 and Spider-Man: Fear Itself, download Earth-2.net: The Show, episode 297.

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