Sunday, March 12, 2006

New comics 3/8

American Virgin #1 (Steven T. Seagle/Becky Cloonan, DC/Vertigo)
Like all of Vertigo's other recent launches, of which this is the last, this book lacks a clear handle on what it's about. Seagle presents an intriguing protagonist, a God-fearing virginity advocate who seems genuinely dedicated to his cause and honestly selfless (if slightly flawed). All of the solicitations promise to plunge our hero into a world of sexual depravity, but what appears to be his first dip in this issue turns out to be a bit of misdirection. So I still have no idea if Seagle means for the reader to admire Adam for his convictions, or if he plans to show that those convictions are hollow. Also, y'know, what the plot is. This is an ongoing series, like those other launches, so I can give it time to get to the point, but the hallmark of many of Vertigo's other iconic, long-running series (Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Fables, Y) has been an immediate hook and a fascinating first issue. None of these have had that, so far.

Cable & Deadpool #26 (Fabian Nicieza/Lan Medina, Marvel)
This is a prelude to the Apocalypse storyline already running in Peter Milligan's X-Men, which makes it seem sort of redundant. I'm not reading X-Men anymore, though, so this is all new to me, and thus I don't have any problems with it. Well, no problems other than the obvious, which is that Apocalypse has been done to death (literally), and I wonder that any story about him can offer anything new. To Nicieza's credit, he does appear to offer a new angle on the character, and specifically his neverending battle with Cable, on the last page, but since the X-Men storyline is already running with Apocalypse as the villain, I can't imagine anything that happens here will be of much consequence. It's a perfectly decent read, but it still feels like a company-mandated crossover that's just marking time until the book can get back to its main plots.

Down #4 (Warren Ellis/Cully Hamner, Image/Top Cow)
The Tony Harris cover for this issue has a signature dated 2001, and that pretty much indicates what's inside. This reads like something Ellis dashed off years ago and unearthed only because of contractual obligations. Like his raft of mini-series from that period, this tells a fairly slight story that just kind of limps to a conclusion, and while it had a few exciting moments along the way, overall it was pretty forgettable, especially in light of the stellar work Ellis is doing on new longform series Fell, Nextwave and Desolation Jones.

The Exterminators #3 (Simon Oliver/Tony Moore, DC/Vertigo)
Here we see what could end up happening to American Virgin by issue three. I still have no idea what this book is about or how I'm supposed to feel about the main characters, and even though I really liked the first issue, the lack of plot or direction has started to bore me. Even the dialogue seems less sharp. After last issue's shocking ending, this feels like treading water, and if something doesn't start to happen in the next issue, I may have to drop this like I did Loveless, Testament and DMZ. I think Vertigo is one of the most interesting publishers in the business, so it's sad to me that they could launch five new ongoing series without one of them being especially compelling.

Fables #47 (Bill Willingham/Jim Fern, DC/Vertigo)
Willingham turns what seemed like an inconsequential side story into an important element of the ongoing narrative, and adds more serious weight to the romance of Rodney and June in the process. Their love takes on a tragic feel with serious consequences, and I imagine we'll be seeing them pop up again before too long. It just goes to show how this book is always surprising me, even when I think I've got it all figured out.

Fell #4 (Warren Ellis/Ben Templesmith, Image)
It's been a while since issue three came out, so it was a real treat to see this on the shelf this week; one of those things you don't realize how much you missed until it's gone. Ellis mixes things up a little in this issue by not letting Fell solve the mystery, emphasizing the frustrating nature of fighting crime in Snowtown and also giving us a slight glimpse into Fell's past. We see the protagonist's dark side as he gets angry and loses control for the first time. It's still a remarkably dense done-in-one story, but it also hints at some interesting long-term character development.

Powers #17 (Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Avon Oeming, Marvel/Icon)
It feels like this arc has been going on for 25 issues with no end in sight. There isn't even really a mystery to be solved anymore - no attention is paid to figuring out who killed the Millennium Guard guy in this issue. Instead we get Walker exploring his new powers and Pilgrim giving in to the dark side of hers, which does make for an interesting contrast, and more of the annoying comedy club asides, whose purpose I've yet to ascertain. I really hope that Bendis knows where he's going with all this, because it's been dragging for a while now, and getting way too far afield from the premise that made this series interesting in the first place.

The Pulse #14 (Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Gaydos, Marvel)
This is a nice send-off for Jessica Jones, who I think is probably Bendis's greatest creation and one of the best new Marvel characters of the last decade. Although this book was radically hit-and-miss, and never really found its voice, the last few issues (with Gaydos back on art) have recaptured some of the magic of Alias. This is a quiet story that gives some nice insight into both Jessica's personality and her relationship with Luke Cage, and ends the series on an optimistic note, a good counterpoint to the dark final storyline of Alias. Bendis claims in his farewell to have big upcoming plans for Jessica, and I hope they won't just be some appearances in New Avengers, because I'd like her to show up in a book I actually want to read.

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