Friday, February 08, 2008

Comics Are Expensive: Teen Titans #55, Avengers: The Initiative #9, Suburban Glamour #3, Captain America #34, Northlanders #3

Note: This is the first installment of the new column by noted Expertologist Chris Lamb

I’m not good with money.

Well, that’s a matter of perspective. There’s a way of looking at things where I’m fantastic with money, only it’s the “getting it as far away from me as possible” way. This becomes a problem when it comes time to acquire little things like nourishment and shelter. I have a great love of things, you see, and a pressing need to gather up as many Comics of them as I can to line the walls, shelves, and other available flat surfaces of my home. make a big portion of these things, and as I try to rein in my disastrous spending habits in a last-ditch hope to survive, I’ve come to a few realizations. Namely, that comics are expensive.

As such, I’ve begun applying a number of draconian policies to the Dresden that is my budget. In the case of comics, I’ve limited my spending to a maximum of $30 a week. This allows me to pick up a decent handful of single issues on busy weeks or opt for a couple of trades on weeks when the quality-to-noise ratio is a bit more...unbalanced (for reference, see all of January). The purpose of this column is to vet a handful of those books each week to see if they’re still worth the money or if, sadly, it’s time for them to be put out to pasture. New books get a bit of leeway in the form of a three-issue trial period for finding-their-feet purposes, but that is the extent of my mercy. And so begins the Thunderdome of my wallet.

And spoilers ahead, for those who worry about that sort of thing.

Teen Titans #55

Writer: Sean McKeever
Artist: Jamal Igle

Confession time: While I was interested enough in McKeever coming on board Teen Titans months ago, I haven’t bought an issue since the first part of the editorially-mandated follow-up to “Titans of Tomorrow”. What I’ve heard of issues since then leads me to believe I didn’t miss much – the words “unfortunate mess” rarely inspires a need to go digging through back issue boxes.

#55, however, is his first chance to really put in motion his plans for the book since taking over writing duties, and his excitement over the chance to cut loose shows. It’s your standard bit of “meet the team” ground laying that starts off a lot of arcs, opening with the jettisoning of Supergirl now that her duties as Kon-El stand-in are complete and ending with our first hint of the threat looming on the horizon.

Along the way we get a taste of where our young heroes stand at the moment, with Wondergirl and Robin out on an actual, honest-to-god date complete with nice clothes and a conversation careening towards dangerous waters just as it’s interrupted by one of those horribly convenient bank robberies that always seem to happen in worlds with superheroes running around in them.

Meanwhile, Miss Martian is slowly going insane while Kid Devil spends most of his time moping and hating the new Blue Beetle. I quite like Kid Devil, as few other young heroes manage to capture the essence of being an awkward teen as he does. Despite realizing his dream of having super powers, he’s even more awkward than he was without them, even more ruled over by his desperate need to earn the respect of his peers and/or get in Ravage’s pants. “I think you just made my soul explode” is easily my favorite line of the book, and makes me hope for a future Titans issue focusing solely on his no-doubt amazing LiveJournal.

We also meet Dreadbolt, one of the Terror Titans destined to cause trouble for our heroes in the near future. “Dreadbolt” is, of course, a horrible name, but sounds exactly like the sort of think a kid would call himself upon both receiving powers and deciding to be evil with them. So that’s all right, then.

All in all it’s a solidly enjoyable issue, and possibly the best thing I’ve read by McKeever since he came to DC. More please.

BUY STATUS: The next two issues will ultimately decide whether I stay on board long term, but I have every hope this will continue to be a lot of fun.

Avengers: The Initiative #9

Writer: Dan Slott and Chris Gage
Artist: Stefano Caselli

“Killed in Action” continues this month with a great many B-listers (and a couple of more important characters) finding themselves just that. This arc seems to be pulling in several plot lines Slott has had simmering since the start of the series, including the first-issue death of MVP, the alien glove things powering Gauntlet and whatshername from early in the series, and of course, the unspeakable amount of comeuppance you’re clearly begging for by putting two genocidal maniacs and a bipolar inventor of killer robots with a history of spousal abuse in charge of a dozen living weapons.

Said inevitable disaster is provided by KIA, a clone of the late MVP who went a bit lopsided after having the alien super weapon that killed him attached to his arm. Personally, I blame all those videogames and hip-hoppers. Kids today, I tell you.

The issue is wall-to-wall carnage, with the seemingly unstoppable KIA appearing to cut down nearly half the cast, including comedy Nazi Baron Von Blitzshalg, enough heroes-in-training to field a softball team, and Hank Pym himself. I’m hoping Pym’s death is a bit permanent this time, as pulling the “I shrunk to atom-size at the last moment!” thing twice in one series would be a bit of a cheat.

Additional highlights include Taskmaster as the new Initiative drill instructor being generally awesome – between last issue’s take down of three giant-sized idiots and his handling of KIA this month, Slott’s take on the character is quickly becoming the most sensible character in the book, if not most of the Marvel Universe. No Faustian annulments or surrendering after a bit of property damage for this guy, oh no.

Avengers: The Initiative continues to be one of the most solid books Marvel’s putting out at the moment. I find it interesting that, along with Thunderbolts, this makes two of the Initiative’s big public operations that are currently exploding in a mess of sticky bits and limbs. Perhaps this is the new thing to do for the next couple of months, like the “everybody punches Tony Stark in the face” meme that swept the MU a few months ago?

Buy Status: Still reading every month. While I hope the rather interesting Trauma isn’t nearly as dead as he seems to be, I’m more than happy to be back next month to find out.

Suburban Glamour #3

Writer & Artist: Jamie McKelvie

I missed issue two of this, as it sold out almost immediately at every store I checked. Even with a gap in the story, this series is still every bit as engaging as the first issue was. I’ve had a huge crush on McKelvie’s art since last year’s Phonogram (easily one of the best titles of ’07) with Kieron Gillen, even if each and every one of his girls cam off looking to be the sort that would set off my crazy meter in ever met in person. If anything, that may have only helped the attraction along.

The book follows Astrid, a typical girl in her late teens with a pretty straightforward life – go to school, go to parties with friends, find yourself talking to imaginary friends long forgotten who now appear to be very, very real, learn from the lady with the new shop in town that you’re actually royalty amongst the fairy folk – y’know, the sort of thing we all dealt with. The teen drama rippling through the book is pitch-perfect, weaving in and out of the more fantastic elements to give the story the sort of ground you need backing up all the little twists and turns it pulls along the way.

McKelvie’s art is clean as can be throughout, telling the story through simple, endearing gestures and character moments that perfectly sum up their owners in an instant. Vertigo should be kicking themselves for not snapping this book up before Image got a hold of it. When not kicking themselves for all the other things they deserve it for, that is.

Buy Status: Only one more issue to go, sadly, but I’m grabbing it for certain. With any luck I can snag a copy of #2 as well.

Captain America #34
Writer: Ed Brubaker Artist: Steve Epting

And then there’s the new Captain America, the first issue with Buck taking up the shield and mantle of his former partner while opting for a new shiny suit. Thankfully, Epting opts to break away from the rather ridiculous metallic sheen of the original Alex Ross design, finding a balance that, while not quite perfect, is much easier to swallow than the patriotic traffic cone gracing the book’s cover. His art, as always, is wonderfully complementary to the dark blend of crime fiction and political intrigue of Brubaker’s storytelling.

And, thankfully, it’s a good story as well. This issue continues the ongoing storyline of the Red Skull’s plans for grinding America into the dust while providing a nice jumping on point in a form even new readers can appreciate: having NuCap smack around a bunch of A.I.M. agents.

My greatest concern with having Bucky fill Steve Rogers’ buccaneer-boots was Marvel’s long history of completely bungling these sort of “passing the mantle” moments. I shouldn’t have worried. Brubaker seems determined to keep the new guy’s distinct history and personality from becoming a carbon copy of the old guy’s, complete with an internal monologue of Bucky feeling uncomfortable with head-to-head fighting after a lifetime spent in covert ops. God only knows how he’ll fair in the hands of other writers, but I have every faith in this team’s ability to tell continue a great story.

Buy Status: Officially switching from “reading the trades” to “reading every month”. Okay guys? You got me.

Northlanders #3

Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Davide Gianfelice

Brian Wood, I’m sorry I ever doubted you. While I enjoyed the first two issues, I was strongly considering relegating this to “wait for the trade status”. Thank goodness for my three-issue rule, eh? With #3, Northlanders comes fully into its own, stating in giant red letters that main character Sven is more than the insufferable child with a knack for finding naked blonde women in his bed the first two issues painted him as.

Gianfelice’s art works wonders as well, making the explosions of violence throughout the issue just as meaningful as the quiet moments. Well done also for being one of the few Vertigo books lucky enough explore more of the color palette than “brown” and “gray with a bit of brown mixed in”.

This issue, Sven puts his plans for his cowardly, traitorous uncle into full gear by killing any of his men foolish enough to come near. Along the way, he befriends the mountain girl he pissed off last issue and begins to question what he’s getting in to with the beautiful emotional train wreck that is Thora.

It’s good stuff throughout, mixing the brutality of the setting and its history with a number of subtle modern influences including, if I’m not mistaken, just a touch of Noir. There’s the definite sense of Sven as the doomed hero, a man trying to change the world around him only to be broken by it in the end. While it’s too soon for the “Forget it Sven, it’s Orkney-town” line, you can’t read this issue without knowing there’s going to be serious repercussions for his actions. Which is usually the best bit.

Brian Wood has grown in leaps and bounds as a writer over the last few years, and between this, DMZ, and Local his name on the cover is quickly becoming all it takes for me to try a book. That Northlanders handily fills that Viking brutality-shaped hole in my life is just icing on the cake.

Buy Status: Between this issue’s bit with the deer and Sven’s archery skills, I’m on board for the foreseeable future.

And that’s it for this week. Other books purchased by not reviewed include Buffy the Vampire Slayer #11, Green Lantern #27, and JSA #12. Maybe next time, depending on how the shipping lists look. In the meantime, if there’s something you think I should be reading, drop a suggestion or two in the comments thread or email me at I’m always up for new books.

Chris Lamb is a writer and games designer living in New York. He's been a fan of comics of all kinds for twelve years or so, despite regular attempts by the medium to make him think differently.


  1. Weird...Not so much Val's blog anymore but its becoming a full fledged comics website?

    Nice reviews though.

  2. I'm not sure my involvement in stuff has ever qualified it to be a full-fledged anything, but it's a nice thought.

    And glad you liked the reviews!

  3. Yeah not too short that they don't tell you anything; and they were well written.

    Actually might make me interested in picking up some new books.

  4. You should be reading X-men.

    Brubaker's Uncanny 495 is one of the best single issue X-men comics I've read in a long time.

    Messiah CompleX was awesome, and I can't wait to see where we go from here.

  5. I flipped through the most recent issue of Bru's Uncanny, and it was much, much better than all that nonsense with Vulcan last year. And what I've seen of Messiah Complex was pretty solid as well. Thanks, I'll give it a shot.

  6. Moved Suburan Glamour and Northlanders from a "not on rader" to a "something to keep an eye out for in trades." Thanks.

  7. Patrick: Good to hear! They're both very good books.

    In other news, McKelvie has put the cover of the forthcoming Suburban Glamour trade on his site, and it's rather lovely: here's a big version of the image.

  8. Thanks for the review, Chris!