Archive for December, 2009


Best of Marvel 2009: Keemia’s Castle

December 23rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I’m pretty sure the best Marvel story of the year just ended in Amazing Spider-Man. I asked some friends and they mentioned Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca’s Iron Man: World’s Most Wanted and Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham’s Fantastic Four: Solve Everything. Those are perfectly fine whiz-bang superhero stories, which I overall dug, but Amazing Spider-Man: Keemia’s Castle, a Fred Van Lente and Javier Pulido joint, with able color art by Javier Rodriguez, is the real deal.

The covers suggest that Keemia’s Castle is about Sandman vs Spider-Man in a knock-down drag-out battle. Well, it is, but that’s just the dressing the story is wrapped in. It’s really about Keemia and her father, Flint Marko, better known as Sandman. Keemia lives on an island with her father, and he does his best to make all of her dreams come true. Keemia’s Castle is a tragedy in two parts.

The conflict comes when Keemia’s mother and the person who wanted to develop the island end up murdered, with Sandman being Spider-Man’s #1 suspect. Spider-Man, in attempting to do the right thing, sets out to rescue the little girl and return her to her grandmother.

And in the end, after the fighting is done and Spider-Man is feeling good about himself, the rug’s pulled out from under him, leaving him feeling less than heroic. It’s like something out of Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil, where heroism isn’t as simple as punching a dude and calling it a good day’s work. Sometimes the heroes lose and win at the same time.

Spider-Man approaches the Sandman fight as if it’s just another supervillain battle, coming equipped with special webbing to counteract Sandman’s powers and essentially ready to throw down. In actuality, though, Sandman is trying to protect his daughter and hold on to the only good thing in his life. He wants to provide a safe haven, and Keemia means everything to him. And though circumstances end up keeping him from being able to fulfill his goal, it never seems like he’s lying. He’s genuine about what he feels.

At the end of the book, Spider-Man delivers Keemia to Glory Grant, who in turn notified CPS. Keemia’s grandmother, who was watching TV when Keemia was kidnapped, was found to be an unfit guardian. So, the little girl gets to go into the system and placed in a foster home. The kids are mean and there are a lot of them.

Maybe it’s because my mom was a social worker when I was younger, but I’ve always been aware of child abuse and DFACS-related issues. I know that the job involves constant misery for all involved and that sometimes good people just aren’t good enough. I know that my mom quit doing it and switched careers entirely, in part because working as a social worker means that you’re going to want to cry or you’re going to want to strangle someone until they die, and both reactions are equally valid and acceptable.

Being put into foster care doesn’t always work out how it should, even when people mean the best or there’s no other choice. Kids don’t get the childhood they deserve. All I can think of is how Keemia is about to go through it and come out the other side different. She still has the image of her father in her mind, and that’s a bright light for her, but even that can dim over time.

Van Lente ending the story there, with Keemia facing an ugly future, a hero who was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and a family left torn apart, is a kick in the junk. These stories aren’t supposed to end like this. The cape has to save the day, everyone is supposed to smile, and we can close the book, content in the fact that being a superhero is awesome and life is good and simple and safe.

Except it isn’t. And that sucks, but it’s true. It’s nice to see the Amazing Spider-Man gang dig into it without getting preachy. It gives you a little bit to think about and digest. It’s something Spidey, as a franchise, hasn’t done in a long while.

Definitely my pick for the best Marvel story in ’09. Van Lente and Pulido snuck it in under the wire, I’ve gotta say, but it was great. If you’re at your store, pick up Amazing Spider-Man #615 and #616. I was reading comics in bed, dozing off, and ASM made me hop back out so that I could talk about it with Uzumeri and some other dudes. That’s kind of a big deal.

(In an odd coincidence, my first issue of ASM was #316, the big Venom comeback issue. That’s three hundred issues gone.)

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David, where have you been?

December 22nd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Mommy, where David went?

I’ve been everywhere but here over the past week and change. Where was I? I was at work, mostly, trying to button up a project before the holidays. That stopped me from posting here, but it didn’t stop me from contributing, in one way or another, to three other sites. Oops!

Comics Alliance has been doing it’s end of year Best/Worst lists. I contributed a blurb on Pluto for the number six spot on the Best list. On the Worst side, I talked a little about Spider-Man: One More Day.

-I helped Friend Graeme hash out a couple of his picks for ten of the decade’s best sci-fi comics.

-Tucker Stone and The Factual Opinion gang are doing their music countdown and I pitched in with the voting and writing up. The intro is here, and I wrote up Ou Est Le Swimming Pool’s “Dance the Way I Feel” and the Clipse/Kanyeyo collabo “Kinda Like A Big Deal” for the first half of the top fifty list. I’ve got a couple in the top 25, I think. Spoilers! I also dug up sixteen mixtapes you shoulda heard, ranging from Jeezy to Ice Cube to Michael Jackson.

I’m going to be posting pretty regularly over the next two weeks, I think, but nothing like what I’m planning for my writing in 2010. We’ll call it “Operation: Suicide By Blog” for now. Look for it January 4th.

Now you’re all caught up and I have over two thousand unread items in Google Reader. Hustler for death, no heaven for a gangster.

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Christmas Dollars: What to Spend Them On and Why

December 21st, 2009 Posted by david brothers

A couple weeks ago, I had the bright idea of doing a gift guide. We’d each pick four books (because of the site, you see, and because I am a narcissist) and talk about why you should buy them for friends and family. Except then I got slammed at work, Gav hit Retail Hell (his favorite time of year) and Esther accidentally read an issue of X-Men and fainted dead away on the spot.

So, instead, the 4thletterers (4thletterkateers? citizens of Earth-4thletter?) are presenting to you twelve (or so, none of us are math majors) books that you should definitely, absolutely spend your Christmas money on. And if you do it through Amazon by clicking here… you help us out, too.


Essential Super-Villain Team-Up, Vol. 1
The Marvel Essential books are always fun to read, but they are also incredibly intimidating. I can’t get into reading the ones about Captain America, Spider-Man or the X-Men because they have hundreds upon hundreds of comics. It’s more fun to read through a series that had a more finite number of stories. Stuff like Spider-Woman, Iron Fist and Godzilla.

My favorite one, and the one I always suggest to others, is Super-Villain Team-Up. Don’t be fooled by the title. It isn’t about various villains joining together to take over the world and then fail due to the Avengers and/or Fantastic Four. At least, not for the most part. It’s mainly about the strange, but intriguing relationship between Doctor Doom and Namor, two Marvel kings who at times ride the line between hero and villain. Before that, there are several issues of Astonishing Tales that tell the story of Doctor Doom and his would-be usurper Count Rudolfo, a character who never met his full potential.

The dynamic of Doom and Namor lasts for well over a dozen issues, including two specials and an Avengers crossover with special appearance by Dr. Henry Kissinger. Sometimes they help each other out. Sometimes they’re at each other’s necks. But you know what? Not ONCE do they go forth with a collaborative way to take over the world. It’s STILL fun as hell.

There is a satisfying conclusion to their stretched out story arc, leading the way to a weird Doom vs. Magneto storyline and a disappointing Red Skull/Hate-Monger issue. Just consider that one an extra to a great collection.

The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus
I wasn’t reading comics when Death of Superman came out, but I remember how big a deal it was. It did lead to one of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits where Chris Farley as the Hulk represented Marvel Comics and read a eulogy at Superman’s funeral ending with him smashing the podium and mumbling, “’Nuff said.” Plus, despite what people say about the lack of good Superman videogames, I’ve always dug the Death and Return of Superman SNES game.

The SNES game gave me a very skimmed look at the story’s events. When I got into comics for reals in the early 2000s, I had the idea that the whole story was a dull piece of garbage that wasn’t worth my time. After all, the 90s were known for long comic stories that tried to take the classic hero out of the picture, only to fail miserably, such as Knightfall, Clone Saga, Age of Apocalypse, and Onslaught/Heroes Reborn. The only reason I did read Death of Superman in the first place was because I was getting into Booster Gold at the time and wanted to read as many of his appearances as possible.

I dug it! Even knowing who the true Superman was and who Visor Superman and Cyborg Superman would turn out to be didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of the epic. Granted, the art does jump around and the Funeral for a Friend part can’t end fast enough, but everything else is fantastic. We get a good mystery, featuring some crafty red herrings and a couple neat hints here and there. Like when Cyborg Superman is in the White House, connecting to all the satellites and computers, there’s a monitor in the background that shows the Fantastic Four symbol. It’s a nice little clue on his original identity.

Even knowing who the real Superman is, you don’t even realize that he’s shown up until several issues after he appears. There’s some nice distraction in the storytelling to trick you.

The omnibus has the entire series in one thick hardcover for your enjoyment, plus extras in the back. It is a lot cheaper and easier to get the softcovers (The Death of Superman, World Without a Superman, The Return of Superman), but I’m throwing the option out there. With the softcovers, you can easily skip over Funeral for a Friend, but that does mean having to miss out on the “first sighting” segments at the end. That part still gives me chills.

The Marvel Art of Marko Djurdjevic
I feel bad for saying this, but I’m not a big art guy. Yes, I appreciate good art, but I don’t go out of my way to collect it. When at Comic Con with hermanos and our good friends at Funnybook Babylon, they’ll usually be scouring Artist Alley as I wander around for other treasures.

That said, I have a jonesing for anything with Marko Djurdjevic’s name on it. I absolutely love his stuff. When I found out there was going to be a book of all his different Marvel covers, I was on it like consonants on “Djurdjevic.” That awesome cover of Dr. Doom holding the Infinity Gauntlet for What If: Secret Wars? It’s in there. Wolverine impaling Blade’s skull? It’s in there. The mind-blowing cover to Daredevil #100?

Hells yes, it’s there.

It features commentary by Djurdjevic for most of the pieces. This includes a bit in the end where he shows some attempts to redesign key characters. Apparently, he wanted to transform Iceman into Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury/King of Fighters. I can dig that if it involves knocking Apocalypse off a rooftop.

Cookin’ with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price
David: Gav, I need to talk to you about your pick for the holiday article.
Gavin: Is this about the omnibus? Because I didn’t know it was out of print until I handed it in.
David: No, I—
Gavin: Okay, I admit it! I found out about two sentences in! But they’re still selling it at a ridiculous price! Cut me some slack!
David: Stop. Please.
Gavin: You did say please. What’s up?
David: Cooking with Coolio? Seriously?
Gavin: I know! It’s great, isn’t it? I can’t believe it exists either. Just like that autobiography by Dustin Diamond.
David: That’s not what I’m talking about.
Gavin: It damn well should be! There’s a segment in the book called “Pimp Your Shrimp”!
David: Gav? Can you tell me something?
Gavin: I can tell you many things. I can tell you how to both chill and grill at the same time thanks to this amazing book.
David: No, I want you to tell me something specific.
Gavin: Oh, right. It’s on page—
David: Not that! I want to know what Coolio has to do with comics. This is a comic book site. You realize that?
Gavin: But he’s comic…al?
David: …….
Gavin: He is! You should read the back cover! It describes him as being “one of the most popular and successful rappers worldwide”!
David: I don’t care.
Gavin: He had a couple hits well over a decade ago and they still have the balls to say that! He’s most famous for being completely butthurt at Weird Al because the theme to that Michelle Pfeiffer movie is serious business! You ever see him on that Celebrity Poker Showdown show? He was out in two hands because he kept betting all-in!
David: That still has nothing to do with comic books.
Gavin: He… was in Batman and Robin. Oh, and he was in the director’s cut of Daredevil!
David: *sigh* Fine. Do whatever. I don’t have time for this.
Gavin: Of course. Busy with Kwanzaa and all that.
Gavin: What?


Blue Beetle
I’ve recommended these before, but I’m just going to keep on doing it until everyone has them. This is an all-ages comic in the best sense of the word. A grandfather could read these and love them. A small child could read them and love them just as much.

Jaime Reyes has somehow managed to become attached to The Scarab. It’s a ancient alien artifact that becomes sentient and gives him fantastic powers. Soon there are superheroes on his doorstep and aliens invading earth. Helping Jaime deal with this is his close-knit family and his two friends, Paco and Brenda.

It sounds like every superhero’s story. It isn’t. I don’t know how to describe it, except to say that the heart that goes into this story makes it stand out from every single book on the shelf. This is a story that will shock you with its power and its intrinsic sweetness. Buy it. Buy it. My god, buy it.

The volumes are, in order: Shellshocked, Road Trip, Reach for the Stars, and Endgame.

Two Superman Books with Tim Sale Art: Superman for All Seasons, and Superman: Kryptonite
There are few books that I read for the art. I’m a story and character junkie. Tim Sale’s Superman, though, gets me every time. The enormous, meaty face, the dark eyes, the way the character never seems to know what to do with his hands, they all add up to a story that you don’t need be able to read to understand.

Superman for all Seasons and Kryptonite, though, are worth getting out your reading glasses, though. They have the same thing that attracted me to the Blue Beetle series; an optimistic sweetness. That tone is hard to find anywhere. It’s too easy to prop up a story with horrors, or go for the cheap sensationalism of a hero pushed to the edge. Good books that are about the struggle to be kind, to be generous, to do the right thing, are worth a lot more than another edgy comic.

Agent X
So let’s talk about cheap sensationalism and a hero pushed to the edge. Agent X is an early Gail Simone book. Published by Marvel, it’s about a scarred anti-hero with no memory who careens through the Marvel Universe in the least dignified way possible. The hero, Alex Hayden, gets trained as a mercenary, goes through a series of disastrous missions, and finally finds his identity and his purpose in life.

Or maybe he doesn’t. It was too funny for me to really notice. A well-drawn, well-paced and hilariously funny series that was (criminally), never collected, this is worth haunting eBay for.


Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&!
You know what’s really, really nice? Having a book you know without a doubt that you can turn to have your mood lighten. Yotsuba&! is like that. The story of Yotsuba and her group of friends and family is a great one, made even better by its simplicity. There’s no overarching plot beyond “Yotsuba and…,” though there is continuity between the stories.

One of the best parts is Yotsuba’s relationships. Her relationship with the world is one of utter naiveté and sheer joy. Everything she sees is a source of wonder and possible fun. Her relationship with her friends, the three girls who live next door, varies according to their ages in a really interesting way. Her relationship with her dad is part brother and sister and part sidekick, with lots of shouting and posing and >:O faces. Her relationship with her dad’s two friends, Yanda and Jumbo, is hilarious and completely believable.

Yotsuba is young, energetic, credulous on a level that is equal to six Amelia Bedelias, and intensely curious. The series is fun, and you can pick up any of the seven volumes that are currently out without missing anything major. And good on Yen Press for picking up the lapsed rights to it.

Yotsuba&! is cake comics, intensely enjoyable from all angles. Savor it when you read it.

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter (Darwyn Cooke)
Sometimes, not all of the time, but sometimes, you just need to see somebody get what’s coming to them. And Parker: The Hunter delivers that in spades. Parker is a cold blooded man in the truest sense of the word. Though driven by revenge, he’s scarily calm and collected throughout the book. He doesn’t pause at doing things that would slow a normal person down and when he tracks down his target, there’s no explosive confrontation. It’s a foregone conclusion.

Darwyn Cooke’s already impressive art hits a new level here, with a clean green being the only color in the work, barring the color of the paper and strong blacks. It’s a treat to look at, even without reading the words. It feels like a crime comic should, with a palette that puts you out of your comfort zone and a main character that’s about as bad as the bad guys.

This book is the kind of thing that’s aimed directly at me, crime movie junkies, and people who like a layer of grime on their books. Almost as good as the book itself is its design, which is decidedly not that of your average comic. It looks like a crime novel, or a particularly fancy DVD cover, and the image instantly sets the tone. Totally one of my favorites this year, if not the favorite.

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1
I could spend another eighty thousand words talking about this wonderful book, and The Hunter‘s only real competition this year, or I could point you here, here, and here. Buy it now and you can say you liked it before it wins every award at the Eisners next year.

And if it doesn’t win anything… we’re bumrushing the stage.

Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond
A financial reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It has six hundred pages for twenty bucks, half that if it’s on sale. The value is insane.

A story-based reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It tells the story of Miyamoto Musashi, the most popular samurai ever, and how he came to be. We learn about his past, his friends, his family, and his love. We see him when he is talented, but not skilled, and little more than a savage. We see him fall back into old habits over and over while striving to be the best.

An art-based reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It looks amazing. Inoue employs a variety of styles throughout the book, resulting in a tale where the art adds a whole lot to the text, above and beyond the call of duty. Facial expressions, posture, and eyes tell tales above and beyond what the word balloons do. Visual metaphor is used to great effect, being both instantly recognizable (though one metaphor in book 4 was intended to take its time, and it paid off huge) and beautiful.

A historical reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It’s a manga based on novel based on the life of a real person. It may not be 100% historically accurate, but it is primarily rooted in fact. There are no magic powers, nothing outlandish. It’s just the story of a man, his sword, and his thirst to be the best. You learn something along the way about Japanese history, culture, and various forms of martial arts. You learn the advantages a spear has over a sword, and a sword over a spear. When you finish a volume of Vagabond, you come away with something more than you came in with.

One last reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It’s insanely good, bottom line. Words, story, setting, all of it is dead on.

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Triumph of the Will

December 20th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Storytellers have a difficult burden.  For every movie, book, episode or comic, they have to tell at least two stories.  The first is the simple mechanics of the story.  How does that band of theives steal that priceless artifact?  How does the detective solve the case?  How does Luke blow up the Deathstar?

The second story is the character’s emotional arc while going through the mechanics of the story.  The best writers will be able to intertwine the two, allowing the story to drive the character, and the character to advance the story.  Sometimes, however, the two get a little too intertwined.  That leads to ‘The Triumph of the Will.’

I think we’ve all seen this.  It can last for the length of a fight sequence, an act, or the entire story.  The hero goes up against the antagonist.  It’s an entirely one-sided battle.  The antagonist beats the hero down and down and down.

Then things turn around.  Sometimes, at the lowest point of the story, the antagonist says something that fills the hero with new resolve.  Sometimes the hero comes to a realization about his or her inner self.  And sometimes things just turn around.

Why?  Because the hero has to win, and there is no other way for the storyteller to let them do it.  There are, very occasionally, times when this is effective, but for the most part, all that tells me is that everything up to that point was filler.  If you don’t have the skills to fight someone, suddenly being determined doesn’t change a thing.  If you’re not smart enough to figure something out, being put in a high-pressure situation won’t make you smarter.  Thinking of lovers or children hasn’t saved a hell of a lot of people, and I don’t believe it will save the hero. 

The challenge of a story, and again, I acknowledge that it’s a huge challenge, is working a protagonist into an impossible situation and then finding an unexpected way out.  If all it takes is newfound grit, you might as well say ‘a wizard did it.’

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This Week in Panels: Week 13

December 20th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

It’s a special Christmas edition of TWiP! I’m not just talking about Guy Gardner’s festive new Lantern color scheme, but at the end of this week’s entry, we have a little extra surprise from guest panel guy David Uzumeri!

Anti-Venom New Ways to Live #3
Zeb Wells, Paulo Siqueira and Marco Checchetto

Authority: The Lost Year #4
Grant Morrison, Keith Giffen and Darick Robertson

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Sharing My Holiday Pain

December 19th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

You may have noticed that 4L has been rather light on content lately. hermanos has been writing for like 50 other sites and Esther, from what I understand, has been taken down by seasonal illness. Me? I just haven’t had the energy due to my job. I’m working Barnes and Noble and we all know how fun retail can be in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

I’ve been through it many a time before and you know I’ll be back to it with the strength of a gorilla. But in the meantime, I want to show you a defining sting of the 2009 holiday season.

There’s a product called Elf on the Shelf. It’s a book that comes with a little sitting elf doll. Last year, the B&N chain completely underestimated how popular it was and the warehouses were sold out immediately. I think we sold a dozen before being tapped dry. This year, they decided to go balls out. They sent us about 180 copies of it and starting in mid-November, we put up three different displays for it throughout the store. The main display is on a table a few feet behind the big Customer Services desk in the center of the store. This area is somewhere most employees have to spend hours around during each shift.

On this table is a big pile of Elf on the Shelf boxes surrounding a DVD-playing monitor that’s been tied down by like 5 locks so nobody runs off with it. In the player is a special DVD lasting a mere 3 and a half minutes. Then it loops. This is what we’ve had to put up with NONSTOP FOR A MONTH!

Jesus Christ. It’s creepy and annoying, but I don’t know which trumps the other. Now imagine having to listen to that day in and day out for a month. It starts with that annoying theme song blaring. Then the generic holiday music is okay to take in. The talking is harsh, but you can filter it into background noise after a while. That is, until the whole thing restarts and the loud jingling bells in the intro song remind you of this hellish DVD!

Just yesterday, we were finally able to shut off the DVD player and put it away for the holidays. Why? Because we finally sold out of this shit! Yes, people actually get this… and they get it a week before Christmas! The whole point of this thing is that you use it for the weeks leading up to Christmas, so what’s the deal here?

One last thing about this abomination: I was looking it up in the store computer one day and I noticed that under the product’s information, it was labeled “Light-Skinned Elf”. Intrigued, I found that yes, we did also carry the “Dark-Skinned Elf”, though in far less quantity. I figured it made enough sense, since it’s little different from there being black Barbies. Then I came across one of them and found that by “Dark-Skinned Elf”, it was just an elf who had spent 3 hours in the sun and came out with a very slight tan. He also has orange pupils, making him even more disturbing than usual.

And that’s the story of how I saved Christmas.

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Alfred, No!

December 18th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell


Yes, he did. 

No, not like that.

Of course.

This panel is from a story in the Batman 80-Page Giant issue that came out on Wednesday.  In  it, Alfred picks up a hooker who looks to be in her late teens or early twenties.  He takes her out to a fancy party, while she’s still in her street wear.  People talk, Alfred makes a scene defending her, and they get kicked out.  He suggests they go up to a room.

There’s a panel in which the girl is in the bathroom, freshly showered and in a towel.  She’s looking at herself in the mirror saying, “You can do this,” while Alfred, visible through the open door but turned away from her, sits on the bed in the main bedroom.

Then she comes out in full snow gear (boots, pants, sweater, gloves, had, scarf), and he tells her she looks wonderful.  They go to the bus station, he tells her that he has had her criminal record erased and puts her on a bus headed for home.

The story should work, but it doesn’t.  Not quite.  And the reason it doesn’t is in that first panel.  There are plenty of comics that make it look like something morally questionable is happening, only to reveal the character’s noble intentions, but by leaning too hard on the double meanings, this story buries its own point.

The point is that Alfred is trying to do right by this girl.  He’s insisting that people treat her with respect and give her a chance to shed her past.  But that’s not really happening in the story. 

A respectful person doesn’t take a woman to a party when he knows that she’ll be ridiculed there.  Alfred can afford a dress for this girl, and has clearly shopped for her.  Still, instead of letting her wear something appropriate, he exposes her to ridicule.  Fighting for the girl’s honor doesn’t ring true after her deliberately brought her somewhere she’d feel self-conscious in inappropriate dress.

Then there’s the matter of Alfred sitting on a bed with the door open while a girl showers in the next room.  I can count on one hand the number of times Alfred has sat down in a chair on panel.  And I can’t imagine he wouldn’t close the door when a girl was changing in the next room.  But they need to make it look like something might happen, so they make him do something out of character.

Then there’s the last scene, in which Alfred announces that he spent the night with a prostitute.  This is a page after he told the girl that she didn’t have to worry about her old life catching up with her and she could have a ‘fresh start.’ 

The story follows the letter and not the spirit of this character’s code of conduct.  In going out of its way to portray Alfred as gentlemanly, it keeps him from being a gentleman.

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Tony and the Captain Can Make it Happen

December 17th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

I love Ed Brubaker and I love his work with Captain America. Believe me, I really do. But am I the only one who feels kind of disinterested in Captain America Reborn? Brubaker’s run with the character has shown that mysteries with obvious answers aren’t so bad when the storytelling is excellent.

It looked like they were bringing Bucky back and, lo and behold, they did. It looked like they were going to turn Bucky into Captain America and, low and behold, they did. The stories were obvious based on the hints and how natural they felt, but Marvel still acted like they were mysteries.

It’s not working this time, honestly. We knew from issue one that Cap would be coming back. The first issue was a basic explanation as to how he would be coming back. Everything else has felt like filler. Even worse, we’ve been given some scenes of Steve Rogers alive and well after this, so there’s no real drama to look at.

New Avengers Annual #3 shows Steve surprising everyone by showing up on the last page in his chainmail tights. The latest issue of Iron Man has both Caps there to share their shield. Before either of those is Dark Avengers Annual, ending with Steve in a more SHIELD-like outfit hanging out with Bucky Cap on their hunt for allies against Osborn.

Aha! The plot thickens. Since it was official that Steve was coming back, there had been lots of speculation that he was going to be taking over the Fury/Hill/Stark/Osborn spot as king of the superhero/government relations mountain. This would allow Bucky to remain as Captain America for at least a little while longer. This will probably be covered in part next week as Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? is released. This isn’t to be confused with Captain America: All Those Who Chose to Oppose his Shield Must Yield.

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This Week in Panels: Week 12

December 13th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

Absolutely massive set of comics this week. What If: World War Hulk is my pick of the week, even despite the crappy Thor story and the even worse comedy stuff at the end. The main story rocks.

Adventure Comics #5
Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates, Jerry Ordway and Francis Manapul

Batgirl #5
Bryan Q. Miller and Lee Garbett

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Battlin Jack: “No, you’re not. Not to me.”

December 11th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Raise your hand if you wanted to read a story about Battlin’ Jack Murdock, bad father, washed up boxer, and dude with no powers. His son, Matt, grew up to have powers, but Jack? Nah. Pointless, right? Gimme the guy with the radar vision, not some pug ugly boxer.

I thought the same thing, and then I read Carmine Di Giandomenico and Zeb Wells’s Daredevil: Battlin’ Jack Murdock, a Marvel Knights series about Daredevil’s pops. I enjoy Wells in general, and Di Giandomenico isn’t half as popular as he should be, so I checked it out on a whim. In exchange for that whim, I got a great story that fits neatly into the Daredevil mythos, adding a lot of flavor to Jack Murdock’s last fight and last night on Earth. It’s much better than it should have been, considering its subject, and way better than probably anyone ever expected.

Pre-Battlin’ Jack, Jack was supposed to lose the fight, but he instead sees his son in the crowd, realizes that throwing the fight would be the ultimate sign of weakness, and knocks Creel out. The Fixer, who fixed the fight, kills Jack in retaliation, leading to Matt Murdock masking up and going out for vengeance.

Battlin’ Jack fills in some blanks. We see Jack’s side of things, from the moment when Matt’s mother abandoned him on Jack’s doorstep to Matt being blinded. We get to know someone who had previously been an archetype, Papa Drunk Boxer. His likes, his issues, his failings, and his goals.

The framing device is pretty swift. The book’s composed of four chapters, each of which begins with one of the first four rounds of Battlin’ Jack in his last fight against Carl Creel, bka Absorbing Man. We hear his thoughts during the fight and then it fades to white. On the next page, the past fades in and we get more back story. So, the flashback has a flashback inside of it. Make sense? It’s very organic in the book, and gives it a sense of… inevitability. We already know how this story ends, the question is what’s going to be different and what layers Wells and Di Giandomenico are going to add onto it.

Di Giandomenico apparently cut his teeth overseas on boxing comics. I’ve been giving some thought to digging one up and importing it, just because I like his art so much. The boxing scenes are just as good as anything you’d see in Hajime no Ippo. There’s a great sense of motion, and Di Giandomenico understands how bodies wrap and entangle when you throw a punch. It’s a little bloody, but hey- it’s boxing. Get punched in the face and see how much you bleed.

Di Giandomenico does a great job of giving each character their own feel, too. Jack is craggy and wear, head bowed, shoulders worn down from having the weight of the heavens on his back so long. Matt’s thin and wiry, but his head’s held high and he’s hopeful. Josie, of Josie’s Bar fame, is drawn with clean lines, borderline ingenue until she turns that on its head. The villains look genuinely bad, with Slade being particularly notable for being kind of a skinny Snidely Whiplash.

Good fight scenes are rare in comics. Too often it comes down to one guy punching another guy through a wall, then the other guy punching the first guy through a different wall, then some jumping, some quipping, and then it’s over and someone’s costume is ripped. Or mostly gone, if it was two girls fighting. Di Giandomenico gets flow and motion and rhythm, which makes his art wonderful to me.

Basically, the art’s great. Here’s a five page sequence to prove it.


This quickly became one of my favorite Daredevil stories, and I talk about the ending in the 22nd Fourcast!. Esther agrees that it was tremendous on the show. For fun, read Battlin Jack and go directly into Frank Miller and John Romita Jr’s Man Without Fear.

If you’re looking for more Di Giandomenico, he did Spider-Man Noir last year, which was probably the best Spider-Man story that year. Amazon’s got the normal-sized Premiere HC and a smaller softcover graphic novel. The smaller book is around the same size as Viz’s Signature books, like 20th Century Boys or Pluto. Maybe a little bigger.

But yeah, Battlin’ Jack Murdock was a good’un. And it’s dumb, but I kinda liked seeing Josie as more than “Hard-nosed chick from the bar with the window Daredevil always throws dudes through.”

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