This has to be one of the best weeks in comics in a very long time. Some tough choices to narrow down which three to read first in order to write these reviews.
Ghost Rider #34
Written by: Jason Aaron
Drawn by: Tony Moore
Cover by: Arthur Suydam
Oh, damn. If you aren’t reading Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider yet then this is the issue for you. This single issue story may well be the single best Ghost Rider story ever written and proof positive that writer Jason Aaron can take any property and turn it into pure gold. Not that he hasn’t been doing that already on this title already, but this issue was one of the single biggest comic book surprises I’ve had in a long time. And for someone who’s been reading comics for over 40 years, that’s saying something.
For those of you who are just now turning in, we’ve lost the war. Game over. The archangel Zadkiel convinced Johnny Blaze’s brother, Danny Ketch, to help him gather the power of all the world’s Ghost Riders. But Zadkiel used that power to literally raze and conquer the Gates of Heaven, and Ketch fled to Earth in terror. Now he’s just waiting for life on Earth to end. It’ll come sometime with Zadkiel having done what Lucifer failed to do. But in the mean time Ketch is just cruising the roads with no purpose. Until, that is, he crosses paths with the hellspawn Highwayman, a devil-powered creature whose purpose is to murder innocent truckers and feed their heads to his seeping, fleshy monstrous rig named Bertha. Absolutely compelled to exact vengeance, Ketch can’t stop himself from turning into the Ghost Rider and going after The Highwayman in a hell-on-Earth, hard trucking, eight track playing, rock and roll monster mix up that may well put you back in your chair. This story, titled “Trials and Tribulations, Part 2” had nothing to do with what came before it and just jumped out of nowhere to put a huge grin on my face.
And can we talk about Tony Moore’s art? Oh, man! Yeah, people certainly know him as the inaugural interior and continuing cover artist for Walking Dead but there may not be a more talented Ghost Rider artist on the planet. How can you draw a flaming skull that exudes expression? I don’t know, but Moore does it in a big way. And The Highway Man’s truck! Ugh! It’s absolutely disgusting in ways horror comics fans absolutely love. I won’t go into further detail, Moore provides enough of that, but you seriously owe it to yourself to check this out. What an absolute blast. The mind of Jason Aaron seems to know no bounds and, teamed up with Tony Moore, they’ve elevated Ghost Rider these last couple of issues to the top of my reading list. I’m laughing about this issue even as I’m typing this review. Pick it up. My pick of the week.
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Drawn by: Marko Djurdjevic
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Variant (Thor with an iPod?) Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Okay, well, like the book I just reviewed I absolutely loved this issue. After the bone crushing battle between Thor and Bor in Thor #600, masterminded by Loki to ensure Thor’s banishment from Asgard, this issue is a bit of a lull to lay the ground not only to send Thor on his next mission, instigated by Loki no less, but also to get our Asgardian cast members moving in ways to best help them and their estranged Lord Thor. You can just tell that JMS is having the time of his life writing this book. This issue in particular is filled with great, great dialogue and some absolutely genuine laugh out loud moments to create a wonderful, satisfying comic book read.
One thing I seriously didn’t even realize after last issue is that Mjolnir was partially shattered from Thor’s fight with Bor. And, despite possessing the Odinpower, Thor seems to be at a loss to repair his weapon. I’m not sure I understand why this is so, as the Odinpower has been able to do so before. Nevertheless, this leaves the Thor/Blake relationship in a bit of a bind since neither knows if they can exchange places again. As we’ve seen before, the two characters address each other as if they’re separate people. But unlike Captain Mar-Vell and Rick Jones, Blake and Thor are different personas of the same person. It feel peculiar, though it is interesting, to see them dialogue with each other as they do. And I particularly liked the reference to “The Fly II.” But the heart of this story takes place in Latveria as Dr. Doom, in partnership with Loki and a force in this title since the first arc, offers his country as home to the Asgardian gods.
The verbal back-and-forth, sparring in some but not all cases, is particularly well written. Baldar’s matching wits with Doom during their negotiations was a real pleasure to read, and something that seemed to catch both Doom and Loki off guard. And the interchange between Fandral and Hogun with the loud, drunken Volstagg who’s also violently saddened over Thor’ exile had me chuckling as I read it. Especially at the insult Volstagg threw around (I loved “codpiece sniffers” though can’t imagine a circumstance when I’ll be able to use that one). I also thoroughly enjoyed the sad but warm exchange between Kelda, the Asgardian beauty, and Bill, the mortal short order cook. And the conversation between Loki and Blake caught me way off guard. What could Loki’s purpose be in divulging this information? Of course, we’ll find out soon. Anyway, wrap this story and dialogue up in Djurdjevic’s beautiful, almost cinematically expressivde art and, for an issue with no action whatsoever, you have a stunning read. Absolutely smokin' hot, fantastic comic book in every possible sense. Highly, highly recommended.
Detective Comics #853
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Drawn by: Andy Kubert
Cover by: Andy Kubert
"Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" part 2 of 2 is finally here. And while I can’t say I understand it, I can say it’s beautifully written and illustrated. We now know a few things. For one, the impossible funeral service that began in the first part is, in fact, not entirely real. How could it be? In Final Crisis Superman was holding Batman’s charred body and that cast of characters would never gather for a purpose like this. But of course, there is an explanation which also gets at the question of whether Batman really is dead, despite the aforementioned charred body. But maybe in relaying the specifics of this story is to miss the point of the story.
What we have here is a fairy tale type tribute to Batman. It really doesn’t make any sense but this is the kind of story you just have to go with, roll with and enjoy it for what it is. Certainly, Neil Gaiman knows how to pen beautiful, poetic stories that may not make sense at face value (ever read his Sandman work?), and that’s what he does here. This two part story doesn’t really add anything to the Batman mythos but actually does a really good job summarizing Batman’s worth to his friends and foes by reviewing key points in The Dark Knight’s history. To this point, Andy Kubert delivers some of the finest art of his career. Not only does he ably represent Batman from such tales as Dark Knight Returns, Red Rain, Hush, Year One, and Arkham Assylum but he also delivers some stunning art in his own unique style. His full page spread of Gotham with the shadow of The Batman behind it is particularly brilliant.
Still, in the end, I’m back to my first point. While we get a nice summary of Batman’s life and his impact on those around him, where this story itself if concerned I can’t say I fully understand what’s happened from beginning to end. The ending in particular really makes no sense to me, unless we’re saying that the time continuum is a continuous loop. Ultimately, this is a beautifully written and rendered story with no real apparent pay off. I found myself wanting to like this story more but found it kind of a disappointment, after all the buildup, delay and anticipation created by part I.
Sam Wilson’s Reviews
Written by: Mark Millar
Drawn by: John Romita Jr.
Kick-Ass not only has a wicked awesome title, but it reunites one of the better creative teams Wolverine has seen in the last five years, Mark Millar and JR jr (remember the “Enemy of the State” storyline?). Personally I feel JR jr is one of the industries most under-credited artist (I say that a lot, don’t I?). Young people may remember him from the recent “World War Hulk” series, and maybe Sentry, but us old timers have a plethora of his work to admire, and each run was defining to that title, Iron Man, Daredevil, Uncanny X-men, Punisher War Zone, not to mention his work on Amazing Spider-Man in two different decades (including the 1970s!), JR jr graced each of those titles with his heavy hitting (dare I say it) kick-ass style. I still remember that issue of Daredevil where the Punisher was about to chuck a punk off a rooftop, holding him high above his head. Damn that’s the stuff. Mark Millar is more of a modern master, redefining the group concept with DC/Wildstorm’s “The Authority”, and doing the same thing for Marvel with “The Ultimates” one and two. I could go on all day, but I won’t, instead I’ll talk for a minute about “Kick-Ass”…
So “Kick-Ass”, well, kicks ass. There, I said it, you saw it coming. Don’t lie. Anyway, “Kick-Ass” is a superhero tale about a regular joe who puts on a pair of tights (a wet-suit actually) and becomes a superhero. Not instantly mind you, it was a career path young Dave Lizewski, comic fan, just happened into. Being obsessed with comic books, young, ignorant (or carefree? Either way…) and not wanting to be trapped in a “normal” life Dave figures he can be a superhero. The only problem is being a super hero in the real world isn’t so easy for one who has no super powers or your standard non-superpowered superhero traits. So on Dave’s first superhero adventure he gets the living **** beat out of him and then hit by a car. In issue two Dave wakes up in traction. Apparently he was found naked on the street, bloody and smashed up. It’s okay though, his superhero identity is still a secret. Anyway, after months of rehab Dave decides to give it all up and burns all of his comic books in a big bonfire, but the bug doesn’t go away. He puts the wet suit back on and decides to play hero. His second outing doesn’t go any better though as a group of kids think he’s a pedophile, but soon he mixes it up with some gangbangers and thus a legend is born. Recently Dave actually kicked some ass and someone was fortunate enough to make a video, and viola, instant celebrity. Unfortunately there is a dichotomy, Dave is still a lost, but his superhero self (and yes, he has been christened “Kick Ass”) is the MAN. Seriously. Well, beggars can’t be choosers I guess and while Dave continues to be a super-chump in civilian life his superhero self starts taking calls, set up through myspace kinda like a modern day “Equalizer”, except on his first call Dave get’s his ass kicked again, only to be saved by a pint sized female Hatori Hanzo. Turns out her name is Hit-Girl, and she is the sidekick to a guy who goes by “Big Daddy”, and both of them could clearly give a **** about murder some bad guys. This freaks out Dave and he decides to hang it up. Meanwhile, the drug dealers who got Hatori Hanzoed were mob connected, and they are aware of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, and could care less about the newly dubbed Kick-Ass. All is not lost for Dave though, last issue (if you can remember that far back) he found out there were other crimefighters out there besides himself, Hit-Girl and Big Daddy. Enter Red Mist, a pot smoking rich kid who even has a supermobile (of sorts). Red Mist and Kick-Ass team up for a minute and get some super-heroing done, which brings us to the current issue. This issue features the origin of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, and of course a team-up of our intrepid heroes. A team up that goes horribly wrong with a cliff-hanger ending of course…
“Kick-Ass” is something wholly different in the clichéd, overcrowded comic market we are all used to. The language may turn off some, but whatever. Don’t let that get in the way. “Kick-Ass” kicks ass, check it out. Nuff said…
Written by: Jason Aaron
Drawn by: R.M. Guera
Cover by: Jock
Dashiell Bad-Horse is the baddest motherfu**er in comics. Let me explain: he has a background as a combat vet, having served in Bosnia; he’s pretty adept at Jeet Kune Do (and the use of nunchucku by extension); and he’s a bona fide FBI agent. If you’ve been reading “Scalped” from the beginning like I have, you really don’t learn all that stuff until a few issues in. Dashiell introduces himself by beating the living fu** out of a bunch of people. With nunchucku. Yeah. Word. Soon enough we learn he is a tribal cop working for Chief Red-Crow, who is pretty much the Don of his rez (a South Dakota Native American reservation). Red-Crow came into power pretty much by violence and intimidation, and he is also responsible for the murder of two FBI agents, a crime which dates back to Wounded Knee in the 1970’s. Involved in that murder is Dashiell’s mom, whom he left when he was 13 intending never to come back. But he came back, and now works as a cop for the man who was indirectly responsible for his mother’s death and who lives off the subjugation and exploitation of his own people. Well, Dashiell really doesn’t work for the Chief. He actually works for a corrupt FBI agent who was friends with the agents Red-Crow killed back at Wounded Knee, and who wants Red-Crow taken down by any means necessary. Dashiell is more or less a tool, used by both sides unwillingly. Dashiell usually deals with the stress of this life by beating the living sh** out of people, having meaningless sex with old girlfriends, and most recently, drugs. So where is the story now?
Issue 25 begins a new arc, “High Lonesome,” which introduces us to a con-man, a black guy, who finds his way to the rez to count cards at Red Crow’s casino. A career criminal, we never get a name but we know he’s a pro and might be more addicted to living the life than the actual con. At the end of his downward spiral of an introduction, we find out a connection he has to one of our main characters, and the last two pages are pretty goddamn hard-core. The second part of “High Lonesome” focuses on Diesel. For those of you who don’t remember him, Diesel is a white-boy FBI agent who is also undercover on the rez. He is also a wannabe Native American. He’s butted heads with Dashiell before, kicked his a** even. But then he fu**ed up; he killed a crack-head and then her son who sought revenge, so Dash shot his a** and put him in jail (yes, bad a**). The second part of “High Lonesome” was the origin of Diesel, or maybe a better title would be, “How a Sociopath Comes To Be”. Goddamn. It was brutal, which brought us to the last issue which was all about Baylis Earl Nitz, Dashiell Bad Horse’s FBI handler. Like most characters is Scalped, he’s a complete a**hole with little reguard for others and this is his story. In Nitz’s case, he’s actually more of an a**hole than most, he’s pretty much an unforgiveable prick with a**hole friends who got killed for probably being a**hole, but hey. That’s par for the course. Issue 28 brings us to part four, and we finally learned what happened in 1975 to those two FBI agents. Lawrence Belcourt (think Leonard Peltier) went to prison for those murders, Gina Bad-Horse was probably killed because of her involvement in those murders, and Chief Red Crow is up to his neck in them. None of them actually pulled the trigger though, and so the story goes…
Hands down this is my favorite book coming out right now. Not since Preacher have I been this excited about a monthly. Jason Aaron is brutal, raw and unflinching in his story about life on the rez. After reading scalped sometimes you will think to yourself, “man, how bad ass is this?”, and sometimes you will feel like you just got punched in the balls. Easily my pick of the week.