Peter David and Ryan Sook Provide a Missing Link in “X-Factor”

By Russell Paulette

 Take a writer fondly remembered for his take on a cast of characters in a tertiary team title and give him a mini-series.  Let that series take an aspect of one of those characters—Madrox, the multiple man—and let him explore the nature of that aspect in a generic milieu—say, detective fiction.  Let that mini-series be a sleeper hit (and get reviewed HERE on CHUD!).  Then, give that writer the opportunity to revive the old cast and the new milieu into one mushed entity, and give that writer a sleeper hit artist (mark my words) in the form of Ryan “Everyone saw my Zatanna in fishnets, right?” Sook, and you’ve a recipe for some tasty grits.  Or maybe that’s a damn good comic—I’m always getting the two confused.

On the surface, what really works about David’s first issue here is the premise.  Given that our ostensible lead, Madrox, is a man with the mutant ability to make duplicates of himself—and given that the mini-series explored what it was like for Madrox to apply that power to the grim and gritty world of gumshoeing—then surrounding Madrox with former teammates from a decade ago seems like it could complicate things.  But David keeps it simple—they’re all working for the detective agency Madrox has set up in a formerly mutant-exclusive neighborhood.  They specialize in mutant-related cases.  Bing, bang, boom—simple as that.

This issue does most of the heavy lifting in terms of (re)introducing the cast members to old and new readers alike.  The most immediately arresting of the subplots involves Rictor, a former New Mutant who, in all this House of M rockabilly noise, has lost his powers.  He’s contemplating a ledge jump and Madrox, seeing an opportunity to a) save a man’s life, while b) giving a former friend a job, hops to it and sends a duplicate talk Rictor down.  From here, David uses the sales pitch to ring in the introductions on the cast—which includes former X-Book no-shows as Wolfsbane, Strong Guy, Siryn and M—and quickly leads to a final page cliffhanger that brings his narration full circle while also showing off a little bit of the surprise card. 

What David excels at in this issue—and demonstrated fully in the prior mini-series—is in the way that he consistently uses the multiple man aspect of the character as an element of shock, and surprise.  Even when you feel like you should have seen plot turns twisting from a mile away, David suckers you into it—and does so effortlessly and easily.

Sook, on the other hand, renders a damn fine looking comic.  In a style I’ve heard fittingly put as a Mike Mignola-Kevin Nowlan hybrid, Sook’s rendering has the open ease, delicate touch and spare linework of an Adam Hughes or a Terry Dodson, without resorting to both artists’ penchant for cartoonyness.  On top of that, he manages to maintain a heavy atmosphere in both his storytelling and his use of shadows—augmented auspiciously by color artist Jose Villarrubia—and you’ve got a sharp looking comic book all around.

If you’re in the market for a smart, sexy new series about private detectives who augment their deduction with paranormal powers, then look no further.  David’s writing is clean, crisp and sharp—and doesn’t suffer from some of his worse inclinations—and Sook’s art has never looked as good. 


Bad Planet: Alien Invasion Done the Bad Boy Way

By Graig Kent

 Oh, the alien invasion story.  It’s been done time and again, and it will continue to be done time and again.  I guess us humans like the idea of first feeling helpless and then triumphing over seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Hollywood loves the alien invasion story, from War of the Worlds (more like “War of the Girls”) to Independence Day (more like “Independence Gay”… I should clarify that by gay I mean lame and not as a derogatory statement towards anyone’s sexual orientation… and if you take offence, well, take the pole out yo’ rectum Mr. Political Correctness, ‘cause this is baby). 

Bad Planet is and invasion story that is a product of the Hollywood system.  Well, so to speak.  It’s the brainchild of CHUD favorite actor Thomas Jane, in coordination with evil doer Steve Niles, and artists Lewis Larosa and Tim Bradstreet (whom I believe befriended Jane during a photo shoot for the Punisher posters, but I may just be spreading rumours).  In the first six pages of this crafty little book, we’re treated to surly alien truckers, nasty alien porn, and a mighty big explosion.  The rest of the book expands on the plot that involves the discovery of a “Near Earth Object” (or NEO) of unexplained origin.  Though it’s trajectory would imply that it would pass on by, it changes trajectory that freaks the crap out of everyone monitoring it.  Along the way it interrupts a live broadcast, which leads to one of the most humorous facial expressions in a comic book I’ve ever seen (check out that kid’s face on page 15).

The NEO crash lands on Earth, unleashing thousands of “alien deathspiders” which no doubt humans are going to be ill equipped to handle.  But, by the look of the next issue’s cover, we’re going to get a little outside help from a bad boy Riddick-esque character who just might know how to handle these sorts of things.

The writing is darkly comedic, more Mars Attacks! than ET or Close Encounters.  There’s a definite threat going on however for some reason we’re almost inclined to root for death and destruction, just because Jane and Niles make it seem like so much fun.  The art by Larosa and Bradstreet, meanwhile, is pretty damn cool.  It’s not quite as definitively Bradstreet as I’d like but it definitely works.  And Grant Goleash’s colors are stunning.  Bad Planet may not be treading new ground, but it’s certainly making old ground very enjoyable. 


Local Lets You Tour the Country Without Leaving the Comfort of Your Mama’s Basement

By Graig Kent

 (Sorry for the tagline there, I generally try to avoid comic geek stereotypes as a rule but this was too easy.)

Local is the second book this year that I had to sit on for a time before reviewing.  Like Nat Turner before it (and this is about the only similarity between the two) I waited to read the second issue before I attempted to review the first.  In each case I wanted to see what the second issue would be like, to see if there was a pattern in how the story was told from issue to issue or if it would turn out to be something altogether different.  In Nat Turner’s case, I opted to wait for the second issue to see if it was told chiefly without dialogue.  In Local’s case I wanted to see if the first issue’s storytelling conventions were carried over into the second.  I was glad to see they weren’t.

In some respects, Local is like a sequel to Brian Wood’s previous 12-issue maxi-series Demo, only instead of a series of one-issue tales related by theme, here there will be 12 issues related by concept.  That concept is that each book takes place in a different town in America (and, perhaps, beyond) in a real location that either once existed or still exists.  The stories will progress in time and feature some interconnected characters, getting the sense of a larger whole overall, but maintaining a concise story with each issue.

The first issue is set in Portland, Oregon.  It’s a quick three to five minute read, playing out somewhat like Run, Lola, Run, in which the lead character steps out of her car to carry through with her boyfriend’s drugstore con, and things go wrong, only to immediately jump back to that moment where she steps out of the car again, and again until she does the right thing.  While it’s executed nicely enough by Wood and artist Ryan Kelly, the story was a bit too brief, the characterization a bit too thin, and the conceit a bit too familiar.

The second issue felt fresher.  Set in Kelly’s hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, we find the heroine from the first issue now working in a video shop, and communicating via Polaroid to a young man who may be a creepy stalker or a nice guy hard on his luck.  The drama was much more personal and offbeat in an alluring way.

If Wood manages to craft another 10 stories with similar pacing and intriguing ideas, this will equal and quite possibly top Demo as both an experiment and as art.  Kelly is a solid illustrator with a Paul Pope-esque flair, and an eye for detail.  I really like the overall packaging of the series, each issue with a consistent cover theme, Kelly’s rough page layouts and sketches from that issue, and pinups from hometown artists.  It’s a nice touch, for what should be a sweet little series.


Omega The Unknown Classic tpb
(Marvel Comics)

By Graig Kent

 This is what all the fuss is about.

If you weren’t paying attention earlier this year, then you might have missed the story, but it was big enough to warrant its own name: The Omega Flap.  You see, word got out that award-winning novelist Jonathan Lethem was going to write a revamp of the character for Marvel, and Omega creator Steve Gerber wasn’t too pleased, especially considering his long battle with Marvel over Howard the Duck.

Lethem wrote a novel, Fortress of Solitude, which, apparently, deals with growing up and being a comics fan and some other emo things that were enough to make it a critical darling of a book.  One of the featured comics he wrote about in his novel was Omega the Unknown, a short-lived series from the 1970’s, which few purchased and likely fewer remember.  But because having authors turning comic book writer is all the rage these days, Marvel saw a good opportunity to promote to an alternative market and accepted Lethem’s pitch to do a new Omega series.  Heated words from Gerber followed, and after a phone conversation with Lethem, things were somewhat smoothed over, although Gerber still disapproves.

Even though all the buzz buzz buzz took place mainly way back in June, Marvel is capitalizing on the impending release of Lethem’s series and the controversy that surrounds it by releasing this trade paperback of all ten issues, plus the two issues of the Defenders which wrapped up the character’s story.  Is the comic worthy of all the attention?  Well, frankly, the hoopla surrounding it is somewhat more interesting than the book itself, however, for a book from the 1970’s I was quite surprised to find Omega more engaging than standard “Essential” fare from that same era.

Omega the Unknown starts off with an alien robot attack on Omega’s home world.  In the midst of resisting all of Omega’s people are destroyed, and in order to evade capture Omega escapes to Earth.  There he shares an unexplained connection with James-Michael, a disturbed kid whose parents recently were killed in a car crash, only after the crash JM discovers they were actually robots.  JM has a hard time with emotion, winds up becoming the ward of two single women in Hell’s Kitchen, meanwhile Omega becomes yet another hero in New York, squaring off against hero and villain alike.  There’s a lot of mystery mulling about the 10 issues of Omega the Unknown, such as what bond Omega and JM share, what’s up with JM’s robot parents, and why are the alien robots so bent on Omega’s destruction.  Unfortunately most of this intrigue is left as backburner material, instead we’re treated to Omega’s confrontations with the Hulk and a host of cheesy, third-rate villains.

It would appear that Gerber and co-writer Mary Skenes had a grand plan for Omega but it’s obvious how much interference Marvel editorial had in the book’s final presentation.  The drive to have less personal drama (and both Omega and JM are, even this day, quite intriguing and original characters) and more KUNK-THUNK-CHUK action is what hinders the book, the mediocre art from Jim Moony doesn’t add anything special, and the horrendous Defenders issues which closed out the Omega story (to Gerber’s obvious discontent) put the nail in the coffin.

There was a lot of promise in the premise of Omega the Unknown, but the package, as it stands, fails in capitalizing on that promise again and again.  It’s a curious read, but not as “Classic” as the cover would have you believe.  Perhaps Gerber and Skenes can do an autobiographical book about the horror of making the book and it’s subsequent controversial revival decades later.  It would be definitely more entertaining.


Absolute Watchmen and Crisis on Infinite Earths
(DC Comics)

By Russell Paulette

 With the holiday shopping deadlines fast approaching, some pie-eyed comic book aficionados might have asked for a little more than some budgets can afford.  Hoping for some looser purse strings, DC have released definitive editions of two of their seminal books from the mid 1980s—just in time for the respective quarter-century marks on both books.  Since both have been reviewed, dissected, explicated and examined in fine detail, the real question becomes, are the Absolute Watchmen and Crisis on Infinite Earths—the Absolute Edition worth the high ticket prices?

Absolute Watchmen presents the tectonic work from industry greats, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, in a pristine oversized edition.  We all know the plot details by now—how it deconstructs the super-hero genre under the guise of a murder mystery—but you’ve never quite seen Watchmen looking as pretty as it does in this format.  Oversized and thick-as-a-brick, the Absolute Edition showcases Gibbons’s artwork on a thick, heavy-weight paper stock that holds the colors as brilliantly as it retains the clarity of the ink lines.  Included with this edition is a hunk of appendix material—about fifty pages worth—of notes, proposals and revisions, along with sketches and character model sheets.  Included, even, are some of the original proposal materials, which held Moore’s original vision of the series featuring the Charlton characters like the Question and Blue Beetle.  Most interesting, however, is the segment of Moore’s script, which contains the writer’s infamously detailed and laborious panel descriptions, as well as the artist’s highlighting of pertinent details that he’ll actually draw.  This appendix is the same supplementary material that was included with a late 1980s Graffitti Designs edition, apparently, so those of you with that on your shelves probably don’t need the upgrade.

That said, at a $75 street price, Absolute Watchmen is a hefty chunk of comics.  But, due to its standing importance and influence in the industry, owning a definitive edition such as this is worth the cost and then some.  Four-and-a-half.

For the Crisis on Infinite Earths Absolute Edition, much has to be taken into account.  For one, the size is comparable to Watchmen, but unlike its elder, more sophisticated cousin, Crisis includes its supplementary materials in a completely separate volume.  For another, while both mini-series were twelve issues long, I would venture to guess that Crisis has a technically loner page count.  Finally, comparing Crisis to Watchmen is a lot like pitting the films of Michael Bay against, say, David Lean.  While both work on an epic scale, Crisis is cacophonous, garish and confusing, whereas Watchmen is nuanced, considered and challenging.  It’s a nerdgasm versus a litgasm.

All of that said, I’m still a big sucker for Crisis, and this edition works just as well as Watchmen in presenting George Perez’s insane, crowded layouts and overblown scenes of everything-as-it-is imploding.  The plot, such as it is, considers the merging of all possible realities in the DC Universe to a (supposedly) more manageable single reality—and the effect this cosmic crisis has on the lives of our erstwhile heroes.  Marv Wolfman’s scripting is chunky, his plotting all over the place, and the pacing waxes and wanes between breakneck and plodding.  That said, it retains a certain charm and, like some of the Silver Age classics that are its spiritual grandfathers, Crisis still holds a sense of wonder and reckless abandon.

The book of supplementary material is an eyecrossing peek behind the curtain, as it reprints memos that crisscrossed the DC offices in preparation for the crossover maxi-series.  Detailed are some of Wolfman’s initial concepts, and the suggestions that were offered, abandoned, and reintegrated along the way.  The supplements also include a synopsis of the major crossover issues from other titles; a directory of significant alternate earths and their first appearances; and a few self-congratulatory essays that are fun enough reads, if irrepressibly flattering.  That said, I’m not sure that the supplementary volume—which clocks in at about the same length as the Watchmen extras—is worth the difference in price.  Put another way, if this were released on its own at $25 bucks, everyone would be complaining at a dearth of material.

For the die hards, however, getting to see how the wizards work is always an interesting process, and for this particular doorstop-of-a-premium edition, the behind-the-scenes is thorough enough.  That said, it’s a bit more of a steeper price for a bit less of a reward, so caveat emptor. 


Easy Way TPB
(IDW Publishing)

By Rob Glenn

 Those of you who wait for the trades instead of buying the floppies gamble with what you’re going to get.  Sure, with the big runs of comics you’ll get your collections.  Whether or not it’s in a timely manner is another story.  I fell victim to this when I decided to wait for the trade before reading Hellboy’s The Third Wish.  Months and months later the trade never came out and then… oops!  Out comes The Island.  I had to bone up $15 a piece to get The Third Wish so I could catch myself up.  Of course, I could have waited for the inevitable trade that will collect both of these runs into one book (and would have been cheaper than my impatient route).  But then all my geek friends on the great big family that is the internet would look down on me until that day comes.  Can’t have that.

Well, if you ignored me when I told you Christopher E. Long’s Easy Way was a good short run comic to pick up on early (I told you HERE ), you’re in luck.  IDW collected it into a fine heavy duty paperback.  Good choice on their part because this is a great story in need of presentation.  Duncan is a junkie spending his time in a halfway house and his cohabitators come up with a plan to get rich quick.  They steal a drug sniffing dog from a cop’s house and then tour storage facilities along the U.S.-Mexican border.  That way they don’t have to break into every U-Store-It® they come across, just the ones where the dog goes nuts.  They take the spoils and then sell them to a dealer and walk away with a bundle for one night’s work.  Truly, that has got to be one of the best idiot plans ever devised.  The art by Andy Khun is blocky and motion-filled, and the coloring is done in two shades of red by Bill Crabtree.  This "duotone", as they call it, gives the book a unique look.  Minimalist and exciting.

So here’s your chance.  Junkies getting in over their heads, drug dealers removing important digits and one highly trained dog.  I can’t push this baby enough.


Great Lakes Avengers: Misassembled tpb
(Marvel Comics)

By Graig Kent

 With all your hootin’ and hollerin’ over Brubaker and Ellis, Bendis and Millar, Whedon and Kirkman, it’s easy to lose Dan Slott’s name in Marvel’s current stable of writers.  He’s your old-school style of comic book writer, in that he knows where the fun is had.  He seems less interested in making things cool, instead opting to make things enjoyable.  His run on She-Hulk is generally underappreciated, and his current take on the Thing looks to be wall-to-wall good-timey superheroics.

The Great Lakes Avengers mini-series slipped under many people’s radars, mine included, despite favorable reviews on this site and others.  But it’s back, in handy trade paperback form, and the world is better for it.  Slott has taken a throwaway group of characters from John Byrne’s West Coast Avengers days (their first appearance is also part of this compilation) and punched up their pitifulness to blackly comedic proportions.  The GLA is a team of reject superheroes, led buy Mr. Immortal, a suicidal guy who can never die, and contains characters like Flatman (he’s flat), Squirrel Girl, and the Doorman.  In every issue of the mini-series someone from the team died, often in hilarious circumstances.

Like legendary Giffen and DeMattis’ Justice League, the comedy only really works because the characters have heart.  They are not just a team, but also a family, and Slott quickly establishes and wisely punctuates that.  Even though they know they can barely survive fighting even the weakest of criminals, they still go out and do it with a gusto that is both naïve and honorable.  The art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar serves both the comedy and the drama well.  They may never be hot artists but they are a solid team for superhero illustration.  

The book is rounded out with an embarrassingly cute story from the early 1990’s by Steve Ditko, introducing Squirrel Girl as she and Iron Man take on Dr. Doom and win!  But it’s all in good fun.


The Further Adventures of One Page Filler Man
(Image Comics)

By Graig Kent

 “they say all these old collections and art books I keep putting out just aren’t cutting it, and now the blood-thirsty bastards want something legit”­ – Jim Mahfood in The Further Adventures of One Page Filler Man

I’m not a huge fan of Jim Mahfood, and yet I keep on picking up his stuff.  I’ve yet to figure out why.  I guess there’s a deep seeded notion that every Mahfood project has the cachet of cool, and that somehow by purchasing a Mahfood product, there’s transference of his coolness somehow.  It’s not like I don’t like his stuff, nor that I don’t dig his humor, because I do, but like the man said, all those old collections and art books just don’t cut it.  I want something legit… something like Grrl Scouts.

But here instead we have The Further Adventures of One Page Filler Man, which is kind of a dim joke considering there’s over a hundred pages of filler going on here.  Essentially this book is nothing more than an admittedly stream-of-consciousness project that was hastily done.  And it definitely reads like such.  But that’s not in itself such a bad thing.  A lot of good humor comes from tired brains forcing themselves to think of interesting things, and as a result there is a lot of funny in this book.  But there’s also a lot of weak and awkward elements.  Primarily the story.  And that there isn’t really one.  The scattershot One Page Filler Man and his ice cream eating sidekick Randy are given a job from a cartoon form of Mahfood to fill up a graphic novel’s worth of pages, which is aided by a request from a rabbit-thing to rescue “Agent B” from Zombie Ninja.  Agent B turns out to be none other than Billy Ocean, in what is easily the highlight of the book.

Though I did enjoy a lot of the madness that came from Mahfood’s brain in this effort (Filler Man’s quirky, Flaming Carrot-esque dialogue for starters), it deserved a second pass to tighten up the story the humor and the utterly sloppy artwork.  It’s like he wasn’t even trying.  And if someone’s not trying to earn your money, why should you give it to them?  Passable entertainment, but disappointing from someone who I know can do so much better.


 Ultimate Iron Man #5 (Marvel) – Looking back, I really loved the first issue of this series (a 5/5 rating).  It was high concept and completely not what I was expecting from the Ultimate line or Iron Man.  The follow-up issues also weren’t what I was expecting, in that I was expecting the books to be on time, and not shipped three months apart.  While I still enjoyed the story, it’s progressed at too rapid a pace – from Tony Stark’s birth to leader of Stark Industries and Alcoholic in 5 issues – especially considering all the ideas Orson Scott Card has involved (and considering his knack for writing pre-teen lads).  But looking back after the conclusion of Ultimate Iron Man volume 1, it seems like Card is writing a novel here rather than something that could be sustained as continuous sequential fiction.  Aside from those gripes, a totally abrupt ending, and perhaps an empty promise of a more regular volume 2 in the new year, this is a pretty good read from start to “finish”.  I’m not as enthused as I was (and Kubert’s art didn’t help any, degrading as the issues progressed), but it’s still solid entertainment. – Graig


 Secret War # 5 (of 5) (Marvel) – Right—so the conclusion to this series is mumblesomething months late, and thanks to fresh launches such as New Avengers, much of the fallout from the series has already been dealt with.  Thanks scheduling problems!  It’s ugly truths like yourself that keep people embittered about the comics industry!  All that aside, is the issue any good?  Well, true to form, writer Brian Michael Bendis keeps the action mostly off-panel, as the two threads of the series to date—that Nick Fury tapped a secret squad of Marvel super-heroes to invade Dr. Doom’s former stomping grounds, Latveria; and that somebody involved with that secret mission is gunning after said super-heroes—come to a head.  Following the eruptive destruction with last issue’s cliffhanger, Fury pulls a deus ex machina out of his eyepatched butt and employs a character we’ve never seen before as the most potent weapon in his arsenal.  While all the heroes stand around dumbfounded, Fury tells them about the secret mission they all went on a year ago (the actual experience, you see, he had wiped from their memories), then promptly disappears—as most of the current Marvel books tells us he has.  On the plus side, this does seem to be clearly laying the foundations of some of Marvel’s big event material for next year; the major minus is, due to scheduling constraints, a story that was already designed to be an anticlimax becomes a major anticlimax, as its only saving grace is ruined in other books.  The writing is typical Bendis—jumpy editing, fun dialogue that never quite manages to ring true, and fight sequences that are big and confusing.  Added on top of that is the artwork by Gabriele Dell’Otto, which is by turns gorgeous and frustrating—I’m all for artists photoreferencing, but could they at least keep the actress-to-character ratio consistent?  All in all, it’s a rather underwhelming climax to what was shaping up to be an interesting mini-series, and though it’s full of backstabbing spy skullduggery, it ends up pretty superficially bare. – Russell


 Great Lakes Avengers: GLX-mas Special (Marvel) – Accompanying the GLA: Misassembled to the stand is this great follow-up with a festive theme.  Keeping the slapstick, dark comedy and heart in tact, writer Dan Slott manages to create a holiday special that isn’t schmaltzy and doesn’t reek of over-commercialization.  A great lineup of artists, including Matt Haley, Paul Grist, and Ty Templeton are on hand to illustrate the stories and added features.  And it’s not just an anthology, one story actually segues into the next.  In the stories we find out that Squirrel Girl is actually one of the Marvel Universe’s most effective heroes; we catch up on what happened to that “Grasshopper” costume from the mini; the Doorman, now an angel of death, goes home for the holidays, we get a flashback to a story hinted in the miniseries involving demonic Christmas trees; and Chip’n’Dale style hijinks ensue when Squirrel Girl’s new sidekick Tippy-Toe takes on Deathurge.  It’s all really quite good and in great keeping with what’s been done with the characters before. –Graig


 Captain Atom: Armageddon #3 (DC/Wildstorm) – Everything I said about this series in my review for the first issue still holds true, only the book has gotten more intriguing with each issue than I’d really care to admit.  Pfeifer is milking the fish-out-of-water scenario for all it’s worth, and doing an incredible job at it.  To the Wildstorm fan, Captain Atom is the strange intruder, a seemingly naïve military boy just looking for orders.  To the DC fan, through Captain Atom’s eyes, the Wildstorm universe looks like a chilly place and in need of a real hero to show them the way.  To a fan of both universes, this is just great geekout material.  In this issue Captain Atom learns his fate in what is a delicious double Catch-22… he’s so screwed.  Meanwhile Grifter has found the new Void in a young girl who seems incapable of understanding her role.  And the mystery of Void’s connection to Captain Atom continues to fester.  This is really neat stuff. –Graig