I’ve mentioned my general plans for this year’s Halloween Scene and even discussed my history with Vertigo, so now it’s time to jump into the actual reviews! The first three books I tackled are the entire run of House Of Mystery, the fourth volume of Animal Man and the modern day vampire tale Blood + Water!
House Of Mystery Volume 4: The Beauty Of Decay (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Matthew Sturges with Bill Willingham, drawn by Luca Rossi, Werther Dell’Edera & Jose Marzan Jr. with Jeff Lemire, Richard Corben, Al Davison, Antonio Fuso & Michael W.M. Kaluta
Collects House Of Mystery #16-20, HOM Halloween Annual #1
House Of Mystery pretty quickly became my favorite ongoing Vertigo book. I had fallen off the 100 Bullets wagon (though I’m re-reading it right now) and never tried Fables (felt like too much to get through to catch up) and it certainly helped that it’s a fantastic book that takes bits and pieces of the old school horror comics that it takes it’s name from and, of course, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. If you’re unfamiliar with the basic HOM concept, it’s actually a bar that’s in it’s own dimension where people from various times and realities come together to share a drink. Some of them are stuck there and they make up the main cast, but in order for the other folks to get drinks, they have to tell a story which is written by a combination of series writer Sturges and Bill Willingham with a new artist every time. These stories are fantastic because they really expand on traditional stories and do something new.
This volume focuses on heroine Fig and her fellow residents of the House trying to figure out why they can’t leave. It’s not a good volume to start off with because it’s pretty steeped in what had proceeded in the previous volumes (check out my reviews of 2 and 3, if you’re curious) and explores a lot of the relationships between the main cast and each other as well as with some of the more iconic looking regulars. The series takes such a turn that I actually thought this might be the final collection in the series, but was glad to discover there are three more. Reading this volume made me not only want to go back and read everything all together and see what happens next, which means it’s a pretty damn good installment.
The Return Of King Doug was passed my why by my pal Rickey Purdin this summer. I checked out the cover and it looked interesting but I put it in my to read box along with tons of other trades and wasn’t sure when I would get to it. A few weeks back, I was flipping through said box, came across this book and thought, “What the hell? Let’s give it a shot.” And oh my goodness, I’m glad I did because this was a fantastically fun book that takes “real world kid in a fantasy world” conventions and updates them while also flipping a good deal of them on their ear.
We start off with a kid named Doug in a fantastical world where he’s being pumped up as this huge savior against an evil leader. He seems into it and then, all of a sudden, he runs away because he can’t deal with the pressure. Cut to Doug in his 30s, he’s a pretty huge loser with a son and winds up heading to his parents’ property that housed the portal to the fantasy land. As you’d expect, his son winds up finding the place and gets wrapped up in the ongoing drama of the people versus the evil leader and Doug has to figure out how he’s going to save his son and whether he’s going to help these guys out.
The book’s sense of humor is what really made me fall in love with this book. You’ve got lots of fun pop culture references and grown-up Doug is genuinely funny. Plus, the art is just wonderful. Clark has a very thin line that reminds me stylistically of Jeff Smith on Bone, though they don’t necessarily look similar (if that makes sense). To me, it’s kind of a mix of Princess Bride and Bone with some Scott Pilgrim sensibilities in there. If you like any of those things, do yourself a favor and pick up The Return Of King Doug, but you can’t have mine cause I’m going to keep it and pass it around to friends.
HELLBLAZER: EMPATHY IS THE ENEMY (Vertigo)
Written by Denise Mina, drawn by Leonardo Manco
Collects Hellblazer #216-222
John Constantine is one of those characters that I have a lot of love for, but don’t know if I really get the character from my limited experience (a few trades here and there, Azzarello’s run on the book and random issues while working at Wizard). It’s the same way I like the Creeper. Anyway, I’ve got a list of all the Hellblazer trades and I’m slowly checking them off the list. I got Empathy here from Swap and enjoyed myself. One thing you need to know about reading a Hellblazer comic is that, it’s completely normal to have no idea what’s happening. Constantine always runs into someone who he knew from the old days, does some vague magic and deals with some big demon or some such. That’s been my experience at least.
This time around, Constantine’s got to deal with a man who is reading empathy. After helping him, John has the sickness now which is leading him towards a Scottish cult on an island. There’s a lot of info thrown at you that will probably make a lot more sense on a second reading, something I hope to do if I ever get the whole series. Even with everything going on, the slow burn of the story allows you to think about things without ever slowing to a crawl. Mina has this great way of making everything seem important and has a knack for writing interesting side characters. And Manco might be the perfect Constantine artist. He’s got a kinetic style that makes the panels seem to almost hum with magic.
If you’ve never read a Hellblazer comic, this is as good a place as any to start. The only continuity thing I didn’t really know about was why Constantine has sworn off magic. I’m guessing it’s after a particularly harrowing encounter with a demon in a previous arc, but it’s never really explained. It’s also not really that important because, SPOILER he does in fact use some magic.
HOUSE OF MYSTERY VOL. 3: THE SPACE BETWEEN (Vertigo)
Written by Matthew Sturges with Bill Willingham and Chris Roberson, drawn by Luca Rossi, Jim Fern, Grazia Lobaccaro, Ralph Reese, Sergio Argones, Eric Powell, Neal Adams, Gilbert Hernandez and David Hahn
Collects House Of Mystery #11-15
Boy, I hope you guys are reading House Of Mystery. I’ve been a big fan since it launched and even reviewed the second trade here. The idea is that the House of Mystery is a place outside of time that travels from different dimensions come to while traveling. Most of them can leave, but a few people are stuck there. In exchange for getting hooch and food, the patrons have to tell a story which is sometimes written by someone other than Sturges and drawn by a different artist. With the third volume, though, the ongoing story takes on a life of its own with star Fig dealing with her dad now being stuck in the House and the truth about some of the big players in the book. To make up for the lack of side stories, the 13th issue actually consists of all side stories by the likes of Neal Adams, Eric Powell and Gilbert Hernandez.
This is definitely not a good place to start reading, obviously, but I can’t recommend a comic book more than House Of Mystery. It’s good for longtime Sandman fans–yeah, it’s that House Of Mystery–, non comic book readers and people trying to check out something new aside from superhero books.
HOM is one of those books that I wait for the trade on because there’s so much going on, but that means that I’m behind. So, I’m still waiting to find out what’s going on with the huge cliffhanger at the end of this trade.
LUCIFER VOL. 1: DEVIL IN THE GATEWAY (Vertigo)
Written by Mike Carey, drawn by Scott Hampton, Chris Weston, James Hodgkins, Warren Pleece and Dean Ormston
Collects The Sandman Presents #1-3, Lucifer #1-4
I really wanted to like Lucifer. I love Sandman and am a big fan of Mike Carey’s writing, but I found the second half of this collection (the first four issues of the ongoing series) to be nearly impenetrable. Gaiman had this amazing knack for weaving these epic stories that also included regular human beings. Sometimes you’d be reading through the issue trying to figure out why the hell you were supposed to care about some blond girl and then, bam, it all makes sense. Unfortunately, in this story, Carey doesn’t have that knack.
I liked the first story enough, which showed Lucifer doing a favor for heaven to get rid of some ancient shadow gods. Like the later story, it involves a regular person getting sucked into something much bigger and it pays off. The second one though just seems to keep winding around the main story without really making it clear soon enough why I should care about this kid aside from the fact that he’s persecuted. Meanwhile, Lucifer’s dealing with a fellow fallen angel and his tarot cards of death. It just didn’t suck me in enough to keep reading so I actually quit two or so issues in. As a side note, it’s hard to tell exactly where the issues began and ended because they didn’t reprint the friggin’ covers between issues (I hate that).
Any Lucifer fans out there? Is it worth continuing on?
DOC SAVAGE: THE SILVER PYRAMID (DC)
Written by Dennis O’Neil, drawn by Andy & Adam Kubert
Collects Doc Savage 1-4 (1987-1988)
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m excited for DC’s First Wave books, so when I heard about the reprint of DC’s late 80s Doc Savage mini, I was hoping for a story that might tell me why Doc Savage is cool or at least show me. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case with this Silver Pyramid story, the reason? Doc Savage dies in the first issue. Well, kind of. So, what you really get throughout the rest of the three prestige format issues is Doc’s team of helpers–all geniuses in their own right–grousing about how poor his heirs are at replacing him. See, Doc’s son goes nuts and his grandson is a pacifist. But that doesn’t stop the old men charging into battle against the enemy that Doc seemingly died fighting. I won’t give away the twist in case you want to read it yourself, but things change in the end.
I’m not that big of a Andy or Adam Kubert fan nowadays (for my money, Joe’s still where it’s at) so the art isn’t a big draw for me as far as this book’s considered. So overall, this book isn’t really my cup of tea. Maybe if I was a well studied Doc Savage fan–and let’s be honest, there aren’t a ton of them out there–it would be interesting to see how the world responds without him, but as I’m a newbie, taking him out of the picture doesn’t really do anything for me.
GREEN ARROW AND BLACK CANARY: ENEMIES LIST (DC)
Written by Andrew Kreisberg, drawn by Mike Norton
Collects Green Arrow & Black Canary #15-20
Few comics have broken my heart like Green Arrow And Black Canary has. I didn’t really care about the character until Kevin Smith resurrected him and really liked the book through his run, then Brad Meltzer (Archer’s Quest is his absolute best comic book work as far as I’m concerned) and all the way through Judd Winick’s run which saw Green Arrow and Black Canary finally got back together and married! I wasn’t a big fan of how their first wedding ended (that whole story shouldn’t have been a shoe-horned event, but just a good story) but enjoyed his first few issues of GA & BC. But, seriously, what the hell is going on in this book anymore? Can you think of a more hack character than a woman who loves a hero so much that she wants him dead? Even worse? This Cupid broad is still kicking around in GA&BC. GAH! And now there’s all this nonsense with Roy Harper’s adorable daughter getting killed in Cry For Justice (which I still haven’t brought myself to read yet) and losing his arm. And now Ollie’s supposed to be going down another dark path. IT’S BEEN DONE! Check out Mike Grell’s fantastic run on Green Arrow (I went back and bought almost all the issues of Green Arrow’s previous volume). None of this grim and gritty shit is new, it’s just boring. You’re also ruining really fun and unique characters. As my buddy Ben pointed out, Roy Harper was one of the few single fathers in comics, a really good role model in his own way. Thank goodness they took that away from him for some stupid story trying to make Prometheus cool again. Also, the Green Arrow family used to actually be fun to read. They all seemed to get along well and didn’t have all the dark baggage of the Batfamily. Now they just seem even closer to their Gotham counterparts.
Anyway, I should probably talk about this volume. It’s not terrible, but it’s the beginning of the bad. There are references to Winicks’ run (by killing some of the new villains he introduced, way to go, I was hoping for more of Merlyn), but the whole thing just feels like filler. Kind of like just watching the second Pirates Of The Caribbean movie. It’s just filler. Boring filler. I’m sure what I’ve heard and seen of what has come after this collection of issues is tainting my review, but this volume didn’t blow me away and the lack of vision–of at least a truly interesting and progressive vision–is present here and continues to poison one of my favorite comic book families. Wow, I think that was my most negative trade review ever.
ECLIPSO: THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES (DC)
Written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Stephen Jorge Segovia & Chad Hardin
Collects the backup stories from Countdown To Mystery #1-8
I can’t take the title of this trade seriously because of Patton Oswalt’s bit about taking a science class at his liberal arts college aimed at English majors. Makes me chuckle every time, but it’s not as bad as Robin” Tales Of Fire And Madness, which I always say in a voice that sounds something like a cross between Will Ferrel’s James Lipton impresion and his Robert Goulet impression. Anyway, overall, I had a pretty good time with this story. It’s about Eclipso bouncing out of Jean Loring’s body and taking over his original possessed human Bruce Gordon. It does take place during the kind of mess of continuity that was Countdown (though I did kind of like the series when I read it in a few chunks). I thin a lot of these kinds of books benefit from reading them a few years after they came out because it’s easier to figure out where it all fits in. My buddy Jesse has been away from comics for a while, but is currently working his way through 52 which I read when it came out, so it’s easy for him to ask me questions and I can explain things. Unfortunately, I can’t remember every detail, so the incredibly abrupt change from Loring being the host to Gordon seemed to come out of nowhere. I was also concerned when Sturges had Plastic Man becoming a bad guy, but it turned out he was just under Eclipso’s sway, so it ended up being okay.
It’s kind of funny that the supporting characters in this book seem tailor made for me to be interested. I love Plastic Man, then Creeper shows up, the Spectre, Huntress and the latest Hawk and Dove (who I don’t know anything about and it really bothers me, it seems like Geof Johns just said they existed in Teen Titans without ever explaining where they came from, or maybe I just missed that story, but that’s a complaint for another post). Aside from showing how Eclipso went from Loring to Gordon, the book doesn’t really matter (in the sense that any comic matters), but there are a few interesting points. I really liked how Gordon thinks about becoming a kind of super scientist as he figures out how to atomically alter the Heart of Darkness in order to give himself some of Eclipso’s powers in the day time. Compared to Marvel, DC is seriously lacking in the big brain superheroes. The problem is that the Spectre seems to convince him not to do that so he can become yet another superhero (as if there’s not enough of those flying around). That seems like a gigantic missed opportunity. I also liked Eclipso’s new souped up costume he gets for a few pages, but the real draw for this book is Segovia’s art. Man, is it pretty. He’s got a great, ethereal style that would be perfect for any slightly off the beaten track comic, but I don’t think he’s doing much other work and he doesn’t even finish off this series of backup stories. Anyway, it’s a fun enough read, but probably only for the more die hard DC fan who’s interested int he smallest minutiae of what’s going on in the DCU.
It’s been almost a month since I ran down what trades I’ve read recently and I’m sure you’re chomping at the bit for more of my “insight” (ie blathering). To catch up on a few things. I finished Tor and Barry Ween from last time. Barry was awesome from beginning to end, while Tor felt a little long, though it might be solely worth checking out for the art.
MAJOR BUMMER #1-15 (DC) written by John Arcudi, drawn by Doug Mahnke
Okay, obviously this one isn’t a trade, but that’s because it hasn’t been collected yet (not my fault). I remember reading about this book in Wizard all the time back in 1997-1998. It’s about this guy named Lou who gets super powers thanks to a couple of aliens working on a college project, but he wants nothing to do with being a super hero. But that doesn’t stop other similarly afflicted people from trying to get Lou into the super hero game. I love this creative team. Arcudi’s doing rad things with B.P.R.D. and Mahnke’s the sickest artist out there right now. No offense to JG Jones, but I really wish they would have gotten Mahnke to draw all of Final Crisis. And pretty much any other comic ever. Oh, also, one quick thought about this book: I wonder if it would still be going on (or at least gone on for longer) if it had been a creator-owned book from Image, Dark Horse or one of the smaller companies (this book has no connections to the DCU). Ah well, I think it works very well in its 15 issues.
DAREDEVIL: HELL TO PAY 1 & 2, CRUEL AND UNUSUAL (Marvel) written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka for CAU, drawn by Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Lee Weeks, Marko Djurdjevic, John Romita Sr., Al Milgrom, Gene Colan, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex Maleev, Lee Bermejo & Paul Azaceta
Altogether these three trades cover Daredevil #94-110 which is everything post Brian Michael Bendis’ run minus Bru’s first two trades. I started reading DD with Kevin Smith’s first issue and enjoyed the book (for the most part) up through Bru’s first arc called Devil Inside and Out which had Matt Murdock in jail. I really liked the secret agent-like quality of Murdock at the time and after he broke out of jail, but dropped off somewhere in the second arc when everything revolved around smell. The problem with basing a written story around the idea of smell is that, well, I can’t smell it. So, I lost track of the book, but I still am a huge Ed Brubaker fan and heard his re-team with Rucka was good so I gave these books a shot and I liked them but I won’t be adding them to my shelf. I think I’m all set when it comes to reading about a mentally unstable Daredevil. It was one of the aspects of Bendis’ run that didn’t really work (though, to be fair, I was reading monthly comics about once every five months, so I was cramming a lot in on college breaks). I did like how Bru got rid of Murdock’s wife Milla without killing her and the #100 issue had a lot of cool art sequences, though watching yet another “drugged hero relives his mistakes” comic wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world. All in all, they were solid comics, just not the kind of thing that I was looking for. I’d like to see a drastically new direction for DD. Maybe not something bright and sparkly, but maybe a little less crazy?
SUPERMAN MAN OF STEEL VOL. 4 (DC) written by John Byrne, Marv Wolfman & Paul Levitz, drawn by John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Greg LaRocque, Erik Larsen
So, the deal with the MOS trades is that they’re (in theory) reprinting every post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman in order from John Byrne’s reboot Man of Steel miniseries on. Being a huge Superman fan, these books were on the top of my “must get” list and as of this last Christmas, I acquired all the ones available as of then (and now I think). The thing about these comics (Superman 7-8, Action 590-591, Adventures 460-431, Legion 37-38) is that some of them are kind of hard to slog through. Partly because they still fall into that “I’m describing what I’m doing” writing style and partly because, by the time I started reading Superman in the early 90s I had heard about a lot of these stories already. But, this book does include the first appearance of Rampage, an encounter with the Metal Men, a convoluted origin for Chemo that includes multiple earths and Crisis, an adventure drawn by Erik Larsen and, most interestingly, a crossover between Superman and Legion that explained why Superboy was still appearing in the future even though, post-Crisis, he wasn’t supposed to exist. It’s kind of convoluted, but it also seems like Geoff Johns was very familiar with the story when he wrote the end of Legion of 3 Worlds (a series I REALLY liked). Another interesting thing about these books is that, after Crisis, they were still trying to figure out how Crisis effected everything and they were really focused on nailing down Superman’s abilities. For instance, he’s not as strong or fast as he was pre-Crisis and even has trouble fighting a goon like Mammoth from the Fearsome Five (sporting two new members in the form of Charger and Deuce, characters that I’ve never heard of). And, finally, I know this is just a coincidence, but doesn’t this look kind like one of the new Corps symbols:
My only complaint about these books is that I wish they reprinted the covers between the issues. Kudos for including all relevant issues though and not skipping over tie-ins!
MILLENNIUM (DC) written by Steve Englehard, drawn by Joe Staton & Ian Gibson
I’ve read a lot of crossovers in my days. Some can be easily contained within the miniseries/crossover they were originally sold as (Sinestro Corps War), while some rely heavily on tie-in issues in addition to the main book to tell the full story (Civil War, Secret Invasion). I’m not sure if I prefer one way of telling a story to another, but I definitely prefer a trade that has all of the pieces of the puzzle in one place, which, unfortunately, Millennium doesn’t. Huge story elements take place in the tie-in issues. See, the whole idea (which wasn’t explained very well in the main series) is that the Manhunters from Green Lantern have infiltrated the lives of every hero (or at least every hero with an ongoing book at the time). One of the big ones at the time was Wally West’s dad. I’m not sure if that still holds up, or if his dad was always a Manhunter or was just replaced at some point like a Skrull (for an incredibly in depth comparison of Millennium and Secret Invasion check out J. Caleb Mozzocco’s Every Day Is LIke Wednesday “The Other Secret Invasion” posts). It would have been nice to read a fuller version of the story that might include more (or all) of the tie-ins. I love a good omnibus as long as it’s not too heavy (I’m a contrarian). So, as a solo story, the Millennium trade doesn’t really work, but it is a fun little time capsule that focuses heavily on the Green Lantern Corps (it was a weird time for them) and tries to launch a brand new team that I’ve seen in ads as The Wanderers, but I’ve never read an actual issue.
[Note: I haven’t actually read Justice Society Vol. 1 yet, it must have snuck it’s way into my pile on accident, or thanks to me cleaning up for the in-laws’ visit.]
HOUSE OF MYSTERY VOL. 2 LOVE STORIES FOR DEAD PEOPLE (Vertigo) written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Luca Rossi (plus guests!)
I am loving this book and with the cancellation of Exterminators, 100 Bullets ending and my inability to keep up with Scalped unless I’m reading trades, I’m still struggling to keep up with my current favorite Vertigo title. I think the “problem” is that there’s so much going on that I can’t really keep track of it from month to month. Anyway, this trade collects issues 6-10 of the Sandman spin-off, which really digs deep into why these people are stuck in the House of Mystery (I love that these old DC houses are still being used, the Secret Six were using the House of Secrets at one time as an HQ). We also get some more history of our heroine Fig. I’ve heard from friends that HOM comes off as kind of hitting all the right notes, but not being exceptional as far as Vertigo titles are concerned. I think this doesn’t bother me because I haven’t read all that many Vertigo titles in this vein. Plus, having just read Sandman in the past couple of years, it’s nice to see some kind of continuation. I’m also, of course, a big fan of the side stories told in every issue drawn by guys like Kyle Baker and Bernie Wrightson. I think these stories are what really put me over the edge into the love column. Hopefully I can get caught up or at the very least, stay caught up on the trades. Oh, plus, Luca Rossi does a pretty great job in my opinion of capturing everything from regular folks to huge monsters and all kinds of fantastical elements in between. Plus, I can’t think of anyone who has turned a house into such a character as him. Well done and hope this book has a long a fruitful life.
EASTMAN & LAIRD’S TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES COLLECTED SERIES VOLUME 1 (Tundra) written by Ryan Brown & Dean Clarrain, drawn by Ken Mitchroney and Jim Lawson
You guys, this was a weird one. I think this is a pre-Archie mini series (three issues, if I’m reading everything right) and boy is it crazy. Not only do you get a non-canon origin of the Turtles and Splinter as told by Splinter to April in the very beginning, but you also get highly complicated origins for Man Ray, Leatherhead and a surprise appearance from one of my favorite secondary characters (at least in toy form) Ace Duck. Voodoo curses, alternate dimensions, Krang in his robot suit, the Turtles in luchador-like costumes and a floating cow head who can traverse time and space. That’s what you get in this volume. I’m not really sure how to explain it any other way than weird. If anyone knows how all this stuff fits in with the rest of the animated TMNT comics, please let me know. Here’s a page scan to give you a taste of the weirdness: