Leave Your Spandex @t the Door 12.07.06: Early Bird Reviews

Welcome to the 23rd instalment of the new Leave Your Spandex @t the Door!

Wednesday is Comic Book Day in the U.S., and LYS@D is here again with this week’s Early Bird Reviews, so you can catch up on what rocks and what flops this week before you head to your local LCS! I’d like to thank Travelling Man Manchester for providing me with the advance look copies for review!

In this week’s column: exploding bars, nude atoms, coffin humping, matrix threesomes, transparent dogs, deceitful slugs, superhero teachers, gorilla sex and torture during teatime.

Because this week’s column ran too long, I am going to release the Indy News later today in a separate article.

Panel of the week:

The All-Nude Atom #1

The June HOT grade: The ten hottest picks from last month

5. 52

Shipping today:

X-Men #188
Marvel Comics
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Chris Bachalo

Review Content: Thanks to a shipping delay for Marvel’s preview comics this week, I had to visit my LCS (Travelling Man!) 3 times this week, and spend about 3 hours total in commute to finally manage to read the advance copy of X-Men #188, the first issue with the new creative team of Mike Carey and Chris Bachalo.

Let me tell you: it was well worth my trouble!

Mike Carey is of course the British writer who turned heads with his work on the Vertigo titles Lucifer, Hellblazer and My Faith in Frankie. Marvel as always was on the lookout for DC talent to steal for their Ultimate titles and x-books, leading to Mike taking over first Ultimate Fantastic Four and now Marvel’s once flagship title: X-Men. Mike has been a frequent guest of the Nexus, and we had most recently talked about his take on the X-Men.

The issue opens up in Mexico with Sabretooth trying to cross the border running scared of a new group. Bachalo, reunited here with Tim Townsend on inks, is in top form and captures Creed’s manic nature in his eyes and expression. The new villains are only faintly seen along the issue, but the crumbs Carey throws the reade’s way already build them up as an appropriately big threat for the X-Men.

Carey picks up from Milligan’s last issue, meaning there’s not a lot of X-Men to go around. Rogue and Iceman, with the Uncanny Cannonball and the Astonishing Emma and Cyclops have invaded a hospital front where scientists are trying to turn the mutant DNA strand into a virus strand that infects humans. Emma and Cyclops are appropriately taken out of battle before the scene even picks up, leaving Rogue to truly shine in a battle scene utilising her abilities better than we have seen her in many years. Meanwhile Bobby and Sam save two characters that will play a major role in the next few issues: the Omega Sentinel Karima and a surprise mutant from Claremont’s X-Treme X-Men run who is my personal favourite Claremont villain from this era.

The plot continues in the mansion where Cyclops tasks Rogue with leading her own ‘direct action’ team to operate exclusively away from the School, without teaching obligations. Rogue picks Iceman, Sam and Mystique, as has been revealed through hthe previews. All three choices make sense given the history of the characters, with Bobby and Sam the only remaining X-Men that Rogue has worked closely with since 2000 (with Sam during Lobdell’s OZT space team and in X-Treme X-Men, while with Bobby after AOA when the two had a very close friendship, and in Milligan’s team which only the two of them survived intact). Her reasons for picking Mystique are explained in the story so I won’t spoil them here. With this move, the three x-titles are once more clearly defined and each have their mission statements, something that hasn’t been the case since Morrison and Casey first came onboard. Astonishing is still the home team focusing on the School, X-Men is the away team, and Uncanny the ‘Far Far Away’/Space team.

Xavier makes a brief appearance here, before he takes off for space in Uncanny, and Carey quickly and effectively establishes the current status of affairs in the School with a strong scene between Xavier and the current Headmasters. I’d expect it to make Panel of the Week in the next column. Carey makes it a point to discretly name-drop and address all recent developments around the x-verse, including Gambit’s defection to Apocalypse, Xavie’s secrets in Astonishing and Deadly Genesis, the 198 and the Sentinel O.N.E. Hopefully we won’t see more of the latter two in the next issues.

All in all, this issue made me happy to be an x-fan and built up anticipation for the next issue, especially after the ominous last page that bridges the two story sequences and brings Sabretoot’s problems on the X-Men’s doorstep. My only complaint from this issue is that as a typical X fanboy I was expecting even more from an already brilliant start, and I was disappointed that Cable, Mystique and (the prominently featured on the cover) Northstar and Aurora were nowhere to be seen inside the issue.

Grade: A

American Virgin #5
Writer: Steve Seagle
Artist: Becky Cloonan

Review Content: After the tumultuous first story arc, Adam has returned home to bury his girlfriend Cassandra. Her death and his cultural and religious shock in Africa have changed him, and Adam finds it very difficult to readjust to his old life, especially after the bit of hallucinogenic coffin-humping he partakes in this issue, so once again he will venture outside his comfort zone to chase down a lead on the man who decapitated his fiancée.
Despite my best hopes, the second storyline still does not bring with an over-arcing purpose and theme for this book. Unlike other notable Vertigo hits like Y the last man, Fables and Preacher, there is no way to summarise the undeniable appeal of this book in a catchphrase to attract new audiences. “What if all the men died, except one?” and “What if all fairytale characters were real, and lived in New York today” pack more punch than “What if you were a devoted American Virgin and your fiancée just got decapitated in Africa”. The appeal of this book for me lies in Seagle’s brilliant examination and deconstruction of sexual taboos, social pre-conceptions, cultural differences in sexual awareness and the undeniable charm of watching one man’s carefully laid-down wall of values and ill-based moral superiority get bulldozed by a cynic hard-loving reality. But let’s see you try selling that pitch to your friends.

Grade: B

Firestorm the Nuclear Man #27
DC Comics
Writer: Stuart Moore
Artist: Jamal Igle

Review Content: Firestorm is reunited with Professor Stein, but both men and Firestorm’s fusion-partner Firebird are helpless against the quaint new villain, Pupil. Moore maneuvers Jason Rusch into a very interesting conundrum that serves as the crux of this issue, when he is faced with a choice between saving the Professor or his girlfriend Gehenna. His choice will once more change the status quo of the book. As one thread is restored though, another is forever broken and the shocking last page introduction promises a very exciting next few months for the Firestorm matrix and its hosts.
Although the conflict at the center of this issue makes the issue, the odd choice of villain pushes disbelief as to the level of threat he’s presented to pose, even though Jamal Igle continues to improve in leaps and bounds into a talent to follow!

Grade: C

The Next #1
DC Comics
Writer: Tad Williams
Artist: Dietrich Smith

Review Content: ‘WTF’

Tad Williams is apparently a New York Time best-selling author of a series of fantasy novels I have unfortunately never heard of. Here he is given his own 6-issue mini-series with an unknown artist, a forced and badly-written Superman cameo/tie-in/sales boost and absolutely no promotion in-house or online.

But is it good?

Well, it’s certainly long and convoluted! Williams combines Pratchett’s irreverent narration with Morisson’s abstract drug-induced cosmotheories and Claremont’s sense of ‘can’t shut up’ captioning. It took me about 20 minutes just to get through the normal-sized first issue, but I did enjoy it.

A group of abstract concept multi-dimensional beings outside our 3D reality are travelling on a singularity harpoon from the end of time to a refuge from the Iron Ring, an ill-defined bad mojo empire. When their ‘dog’ falls off the singularity and into our reality, the four beings (the Next) chase after him, thus causing: a)the death of young Monikka (our POV character, their guide to Earth and a generally well-adjusted punk who gets too much grief from her mom’s boyfriend) and b)a break in the time continuum. Naturally the Next are more concerned about situation A so they decide to bond with Monikka to save her life, thus taking corporeal form and becoming trapped on Earth until she –ahem- croaks again.

Look, I did say it’s long convoluted. And I didn’t even get to the part where the Iron Ring sends a baddie after them and Superman shows up for 2 pages to mess things up and create sentient life in space”¦

Despite that, it is good! It’s a rewarding and FUN read, apparently slipping through the cracks of the new No-Bwahaha DCU.

Grade: C

Ghost Rider #1
Marvel Comics
Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Mark Texeira and Javier Saltares

Review Content: Ghost Rider is in Hell. Ghost Rider wants to get out. The Devil enjoys Ghost Rider though (someone ought to, I guess) and constantly tricks him. Ghost Rider meets a cute demon mole/slug who promises him freedom. Something happens that’s mildy surprising but doesn’t make sense. Ghost Rider is back on Earth! Yay! But he’s also brought some undead zombies. Damn. To be continued.

I remain unmoved by this latest in a series of attempts to revive Marvel’s flamehead biker in time for his movie debut. Although setting the story in Hell would sound good in a comic pitch, the delivery here is below adequate; Mark Texeira illustrates a raher timid version of Lucifer and his domain (wasn’t Mephisto supposed to be Marvel’s Lucifer anyway?) and pairs the Flaming skeleton Biker with a cutesy cartoon worm sidekick riding back-saddle for the issue. Texeira is better known for his amazing painted work and his heavy black inks pencilling style, but he utilises neither here, opting for a sketchier cleaner look that doesn’t do him justice. I’m still unsure about the amount of blame due to him because although he is top billed on the cover, the credits inside list Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira as a breakdowns/finishes art team. I’m hoping for more zombies and less comic relief next issue.

Grade: D

Sensational Spider-Man #28
Marvel Comics
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artist: Clayton Crain

Review Content: “My Science Teacher Is Spider-Man”

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa finally takes a bold step into proper Marvel U continuity with this Civil War/Unmasking tie-in. As the title suggests Sacasa focuses on the repercussions of Spider-man’s unmasking on his day job as a high school science teacher. The story introduces Jordan Harrison, Pete’s star biology student, and follows him around on the day of Spider-man’s unmasking. Sacasa expendss a great deal of time and energy to establish Jordan here, so I hope he sticks around after this issue, as the title needs a focus character and a supporting cast in Pete’s school.

Jordan is the quintessential science nerd teenager. He wakes up every morning at 5 to study, he’s obsessed with molusks (Sacasa’s discreet way (sic) of foreshadowing the villain this issue), and has a huge crash on one of the popular girls in school who won’t give him the time of day. That all changes though on Un-M-Day (heh) though, as everyone turns to Pete’s pet student after the big reveal for the dirt. Add into the mix a very ticked off Doctor Octopus (remember molusks?) who took Pete’s “I have been Spider-man since I was 15 years old” statement too harshly. Sacasa blends in a reference to a near-forgotten silver age story brilliantly in current continuity, remembering the first time Spidey was unmasked by Doctor Octopus, although I wish he would make the other obvious connection too, of the time Otto was engaged to marry Spiderman’s aunt May. Maybe something for a future story?

Clayton Crain is a brilliant replacement for Angel Medina if only for a few issues, as his 3D-rendered artwork really helps the book stand out from the rest. His take on non-costumed characters has improved since his original work on Venom/Carnage, although I would like to see him take on other Marvel properties outside Spider-man so he can truly make a name for himself.

Sacasa has managed to win me over after his original poor outings in Fantastic Four and the previous issues of this title. As entertaining as this issue was, it still emphasises the glaring characterisation flaws in Civil War and the Unmasking; Spider-man has never been shown to consider the affect of his reveal on his school and his students, since through his actions all these underage kids have become targets, but unlike MJ and May they can’t benefit from Stark’s big money protection.

Grade: B

Last week’s shipment

All New Atom #1
DC Comics
Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: John Byrne

Review Content: If it weren’t for Gail Simone’s name on the cover I wouldn’t even entertain the thought of reading an Atom story, despite the Scientist Superhero angle. Simone here goes a bit too far with that notion, by constantly interrupting the flow of the story to include mildly relevant quotes from famous scientists that serve to constantly remove the reader from the story and dialogue flow. The new bearer of the Atom belt, Dr Ryan Choi, didn’t excite me as much as I expected, since he’s tailor-fitted to appeal to someone with my background as a postgraduate research chemist. Despite his utter brilliance that landed him a university residency at 20-something, Ryan certainly goofs around a lot, spending most of the first issue small and naked after accidentally activating the Atom belt, dropping it and then getting trapped in his own shirt (see above for panel of the week). I’m hoping both Ryan, his supporting cast and the ominous grammar-deficient villains become more clearly defined next issue or my interest will continue to wane.

Grade: C

Outsiders #38
DC Comics
Writer: Judd Winnick
Artists: Pop Mhan

Review Content: The Outsiders continue to chase after the Brotherhood of Evil, with some more undercover stuff. I hadn’t seen the Brotherhood of Evil before OYL, but I’m officially fed up with them, after getting double dose the past two months through both Teen Titans and Outsiders. Judd Winnick doesn’t add any interesting twist to them, but instead bids on an overdrawn exchange between the usually alluring Phobia and Metamorpho.

Pop Mhan is an exceptional artist when he is allowed to cut loose with his unique style, but here he is unfortunately tethered to the ‘book style’ and the art suffers for it.

Grade: F

Secret Six #2
DC Comics
Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Brad Walker

Review Content: The new title picks up steam as Scandal tortures the mercenary who murdered her lover last issue. The merc reveals that her contractor is none other than Cheshire, the Six’s dead member who has apparently gotten better. When they pay her a cordial visit she has a bundled joyous surprise for Catman, but no explanation is given as to how she survived Villains United. Meanwhile Deadshot survives an assassination attempt with a little help from his wife, but has then to face the problem of protecting his family not only from his enemies but also from exposure to his true nature. The Mad Hatter, the Six’s newest member drinks tea and bakes scones. Dr Psycho closes in on the Six, through a hilarious infiltration scene that almost made it into the Panel of the Week.

Gail Simone uses Scandal as her narrator this issue, to great effect. Scandal has her own distinct voice, a prim and proper diction with a poetic tone that contrasts the savagery of her actions but brings out her humanity and the reason that has led her to this extreme, the loss of her girlfriend. Although these villains started off deliberately as complete strangers, the first signs of a friendly bond between crooks start showing, in the most inappropriately touching scene in the book, when Deadshot finishes off the bound mercenary to prevent Scandal from falling even deeper into the dark.

“I’ve always relied on the cruelty of strangers.”

Grade: B

Aaaaand that’s a wrap for this week! I’m waiting your comments and feedback through email to Manolis@gmail.com. If you self-publish your own comics or represent an indy comics company, add me to your press release list, and I will run your news in this space every week.

Manolis Vamvounis
a.k.a. Dr. Dooplove

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