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The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 3/5/8

Why DC is better than Marvel, a new comic from the creator of Bone, Sidekicks, Pirates, Blue Beetle, and the Great Machine.

Employee’s Pick

JLE 31

[DC] Justice League: Breakdowns Parts 6-10 (JLA #56-57 and JLE #31-33)

So, Captain Atom’s dead. While Giffen was trying to end his run on Justice League with a fifteen part crossover between the two JL titles, the greater DCU had crossovers going on that took precedence over anything a single writer wanted to do. War of the Gods pulled Power Girl out of the story, though only temporarily, and Millenium bumped off JLE leader Captain Atom (also temporarily, but we had to pretend it was permanent). What’s left of the league meets up with Fire and Ice to fight… Thor? Thor, Baldur, and Loki, to be precise – DC’s versions of the mythological gods. After a short fight, the gods fly off to who knows where and the JLE go home to find that they no longer have a home; the U.N.’s revoked their charter. This time, everybody’s fired.

The JLA aren’t ready to give up, though. They meet at the old Justice League cave, where they find the JLE aren’t calling it quits either. One pointless flashback and one pointless visit to the Doom Patrol (except not), Max wakes up… or maybe not. The amount of plot that doesn’t happen in this story is staggering. To be fair, while the Justice League were aggressively avoiding doing anything, several subplots were advancing, and they begin to converge here. Lobo! Despero! The extremely lame Extremists! But first, more talking. And standing. And limboing, but only off-panel.

It’s pretty dull. J. M. Dematteis throws in some good lines in the JLA issues, while Darick Robertson does OK penciling JLE, but Gerard Jones’ JLE dialogue is as tepid as ever, and JLA‘s Chris Wozniak has taken it upon himself to show the world that morbidly obese people can be superheroes too. Or rather, that physically fit superheroes can look like they’re morbidly obese when you hire the lowest bidder to handle your artwork.

New-Type Books

RASL

[Cartoon Books] RASL #1

Yes, that Cartoon Books, and yes, it’s by Bone creator Jeff Smith. If you’re surprised to see a new book from him, well, so am I. Had no idea this was coming out until I saw it on the rack, with no price listed. Turns out it’s $3.50, which is reasonable for a 32-page comic with no ads. Smith writes and draws, of course, and like Bone, the art’s in black & white. RASL is the call sign, if not the name, of a thief with the ability to "drift" from one reality to the next. He uses this ability to escape tight situations, then return when the heat’s off. Only he doesn’t have full control of it, and winds up in a strange world where a lizard-looking dude is trying to kill him. That’s everything that made sense. Smith is hoping readers will stick around for future issues to unravel more of the mystery, and under different circumstances I would. You have one of the best creators in comics, an intriguing concept… but there’s only the one character so far (Lizard Dude doesn’t say anything), and I don’t care about him. He’s a thief who steals for no nobler reason than to make a living, and aside from him being a not especially awful person who’s in a bad spot (likely of his own making), there’s nothing here to engender sympathy. No telling what future issues will hold, aside from the obvious – more plot and more Lizard dude, who graces the cover of issue 2 – but I’m not inclined to stick around and find out.

Blue Beetle 19

[DC] Blue Beetle Vol. 7 #19

Well, it’s sorta new. More Blue Beetle in the weeks to come, as I’m more or less caught up now. Cully Hamner’s long gone, replaced as regular penciler by Rafael Albuquerque, but that hasn’t stopped the fill-ins; this issue features David Baldeon as guest artist. Whatever. As long as the art’s not spectactularly bad, John Rogers will keep this a good read. Of course, he’s leaving us, too. Going on indefinite hiatus after issue #25 so he can write some crossover crap and another book that might be good. Bah! I say. And bah! again. I’m not abandoning this book, though, not like Birds of Prey. I’ll give Will Pfeiffer a chance, and hope his take on Blue Beetle is closer to how he handled the Wildcats in Captain Atom: Armageddon than anything within a fifty mile radius of Amazons Attack. Why should I? Because when Rogers is writing it, it’s that good, and as craptastic as the sales numbers are, it needs all the help it can get if it’s going to survive until Rogers can return. If someone else comes along who can do a decent job of filling in? Bonus. That said, bad writing is a whole lot harder to ignore than bad art; if it goes south, I fully intend to head for the hills until the real Jaime Reyes and friends come back or the book dies an ignoble death.

Let’s enjoy what we have while we have it. Jaime’s trying to pick up some hand-to-hand fighting skills, on account of he has none, and Brenda’s scoping out the Beetlecave, on account of Paco and Jaime hid it from her for… some reason. Maybe they’ve gotten in the habit of hiding things from her since they were already shielding her from the knowledge that her kind, loving aunt is secretly La Dama, boss of all crime in the El Paso area. It all comes out at once. Giganta, super-hottie extraordinaire, attacks La Dama’s house as Brenda watches via the cameras Jaime’s tech-savvy sidekicks installed to keep an eye on the crimeboss. She doesn’t take it well.

I love how most of this title is made up of one-part stories. There’s an overarching storyline, of course, with all kinds of continuity goodness, but you can pick the book up pretty much anywhere and not be lost in the middle of a six-issue arc where nothing even happens during parts two through five. And it’s funny, and it taps emotions without getting angsty, and there’s a Detective Chimp cameo, and… It’s so good.

Back Issues

[Oni] Polly and the Pirates #1

Ted Naifeh writes and draws the story of three girls at a boarding school. More specifically, one girl, Polly, who is kidnapped by pirates. Polly assumes the standard role of ordinary person who is forced into extraordinary circumstances. The other girls at the boarding school see her as a "goody two shoes," a relentlessly boring little girl who helps one of her schoolmates with the latter’s punishment for talking in class (washing clothes by hand, olden style) because she "likes doing things with her hands." The pirates, however, see her as their new captain, and mean to follow in the tradition of such classics as The Hobbit and Hot Fuzz in transforming her from what she is into what lies beneath the surface, waiting to break out.

Polly and the Pirates

Oddly enough, I wasn’t impressed the first time I read this. The second pass has convinced me I need the trade, and possibly some of Naifeh’s other works. His characterization of the girls is spot-on; they have this sanitized, hyperbolized view of the world, a combination of their "proper, ladylike" schooling and what they’ve gleaned from storybooks. And like real children, they’re absolutely secure in their worldview, scoffing at peers who’d presume to alter it. Sigh… it’s adorable when it’s not an adult doing it. The circle-shaped heads are a bit offputting, but otherwise the art’s nice. Fits the tone of the book. And you have to love piratespeak like "aten’t it orbvious?"

Sidekicks

[Oni] Sidekicks: Super Fun Summer Special

One miniseries and two one-shots. That’s all J. Torres and Takeshi Miyazawa’s overlooked superhero school comic got. Probably all it’ll ever get, with Torres busy as DC’s go-to guy for fill-ins and cartoon tie-ins and Miyazawa trying to make it as a mangaka in Japan. Miyazawa does the framing sequence here, but most of the book is split between four other artists.

First is a mostly silent short that isn’t short enough, with art by Scott Morse. A forgettable trinket about a wolfboy in the woods. Steve Rolston handles the second story, which looks better but isn’t much more substantial. Three kids go to a rock concert, one has more fun than he wanted to. Ho hum. The third and final story has girls trying on swimsuits, art by Mikes Wieringo and Norton. It’s almost good, but like the book as a whole, it falls short. There’s not enough space for the stories to go anywhere meaningful, and if you haven’t read the series before you’ll have no attachment to the characters. Even though I’ve read the other stuff before, this was confusing at times. There’s too little info given on each character, their powers, their personality… I had to read one sequence twice to figure out that the one girl had the power to duplicate herself. This was a hard book to track down, and now that I have it, I can’t say it was worth the effort. This stuff could’ve worked as part of an ongoing series, but the stories don’t stand up on their own.

Trade

Ex Machina

[DC] Ex Machina Vol. 4: March to War

One thing I love about DC: they don’t go out of their way to keep fans from buying their product. I know what you’re thinking. "Why would any company do that? Don’t they like money?" In my experience, Marvel is more concerned with minimizing losses and boosting short-term sales than attracting return customers. Last year, as is my wont, I took my sweet time getting around to falling in love with one of that company’s best titles, The Immortal Iron Fist. Between the LCS and a comic con, I picked up five of the first six issues, which are all that had been published at the time. I was missing #4, but hey, it’s only two months old, the comic shop can backorder it easy enough. Wrong. Thanks to Marvel’s policy of only printing as many copies as they sell to retailers (enabling them to make a hundred "Issue X sold out! Yay for us!" press releases each month), it’s extremely difficult to get their comics, however new, if you miss them at the rack. Thanks to the local library, I was able to read the hardcover without paying twenty bucks for one issue, and headed off future problems by making sure to buy every issue new despite being unable to read it. And I eventually got the missing issue, more than six months later, via an online store. Hooray.

Recently, I decided to catch up on Ex Machina, a book published under DC’s Wildstorm imprint. I’d read sixteen issues, and the thirty-fourth came and went before I could snag it. Despite being amazingly good, Machina doesn’t have all that large a fan following, and my LCS only orders enough copies for the few people who buy it regularly. After plucking #30 out of a back issue box, I still needed four issues or I’d have to wait for the next trade… in August. Motherloving August. According to Amazon, at least. It hasn’t been officially solicited yet, which is almost worse. This story has a happy ending, though, as it took less than two weeks for my LCS to get the three trades and four single issues I needed to get current on this title. I’ve had several such experiences since ramping up my comic collecting a couple years back. Marvel books are consistently troublesome if you don’t stay right on top of them, while you can typically go back a few months to find missing DC issues.

This trade deals with the polarizing topic of the second Gulf War, territory I’m glad most comics stay out of. Ex Machina already used the WTC attack as a major plot point, though, so it’s unavoidable. We’re in the early stages, when the US hadn’t yet decided whether to invade Iraq, and Mayor Hundred is trying to remain neutral and focus on local issues. The issue’s too big, though, and his OKing of an anti-war protest march in the interests of free speech thrusts him into the middle of things. One of his staff quits to take part in the march, the police and national guard warn him against allowing such a large gathering of people with the threat of terrorist attacks (and pro-war citizen attacks) still looming. Unsurprisingly, the march ends in disaster. Then the anti-Arab violence starts. Oog. Brian K. Vaughan’s writing (and Tony Harris’ art, for that matter) is as good as ever, but this is an uncomfortable read. I’ll be glad to be past it.

I take it back. The scene where the police catch the two evolutionary throwbacks responsible for the aforementioned anti-Arab violence? Hilarious. In addition to the four-issue story about the march and its fallout, volume 4 collects the two Ex Machina Specials, drawn by Chris Sprouse. Sprouse’s art is like a less painted-looking version of Harris’, and fits in well. The specials tell the story of Jack Pherson, who through convoluted means acquires the ability to talk to animals in the same way Mitchell talks to machines. This basically turns him into PETAman, friend to wildlife and enemy to Man, the great destroyer. After failing to convince Mitchell to rise up against the human monsters in defense of the rest of the animal kingdom, Pherson goes about trying to kill the Great Machine, culminating in a final showdown that ends by hinting that we haven’t seen the last of him. Bwahahahaha!

Truncation

Justice League: Breakdowns – Still bad.
RASL – Not bad, but I don’t care for it.
Blue Beetle – So good.
Polly and the Pirates – Good start to what I expect is a good miniseries.
Sidekicks – Not worth the bother.
Ex Machina: March to War – If you absolutely can’t stand politics, steer clear. However, those who like comics that make you think shouldn’t hesitate to pick this up.

 


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