Thursday, March 31, 2011


FF #1
by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting

So what, I’ve been asked by more than one straight (that is, non-dork) friend, does “FF” even stand for now? I mean, the Human Torch is dead, right? So they’re not the Fantastic Four anymore, but… FF? More like WTF?

Well, one of the things I really kinda like about this relaunch of my all-time favorite super hero franchise is that “FF” stands for more than one thing. Officially, it stands for “Future Foundation,” the organization of brilliant young minds that Reed Richards has put together under the raw genius of his daughter Valeria. But it also stands for “First Family,” which is what the team really is for the Marvel Universe. And that family has now expanded: Reed’s father Nathaniel, long lost in time, has returned to the fold. And Valeria has [SPOILER] made a rather questionable deal that further expands the clan in an altogether more horrifying direction: the brain-damaged Doctor Doom now calls the Baxter Building home, too.

I’m not entirely clear on the connection between Valeria and Doom, to be honest. I never read the issues that introduced the character, and the Grand Source of All Funnybook Knowledge (that is, the Wikipedia) unveils a story so convoluted that it could only have sprung from the pens of Chris Claremont and Jeph Loeb, who together are responsible for so many unnecessarily complicated continuity clusterfucks that it beggars the imagination (and the patience). I’ll just get pissed off again if I try to explain it, so let’s just say that Val considers Doom to be her “uncle,” and that’s enough to bring him into the fold. [/SPOILER]

All of which is neat stuff with deep roots in the team’s history, and opens up all kinds of new dramatic doors. But I haven’t gotten to the elephant in the room yet. The obvious sales ploy. The real WTF thing about this new status quo: Spider-Man. Yes, Spider-Man has joined the team. Or family. Or… whatever. Which makes sense primarily from a meta-fictional perspective. I mean, Spidey DID try to join the team in the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and actually went ahead with it in the first issue of What If? back in the 70s. And since that latter issue was the most exciting comic I never got to read when I was a kid, the move kind of resonates for me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Something New, Something Different: BATREVIEWSAREGO!!

So I think it’s high time we got back to what’s really important here on the Dork Forty. Our core values. The things we hold most dear, and which really define us as we make our way through this complicated funnybook world. By which of course I mean… Batman.

Batman Inc. #3&4
by Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette, and Chris Burnham

I must admit, I was a trifle worried after the first two issues of this new series. They seemed so… straightforward, after all. I mean, they pretty much made sense on first reading, and barely rewarded a second with new insights at all. They were fun, certainly, and packed to bursting with cool concepts and rapid-fire action, ala the Mark Millar formula. That would be enough for me on most books. But honestly? For a Morrison comic? Written in his new hyper-condensed super hero style? I felt a little let down.

But as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Because issues three and four renewed that just-slightly-queasy “Wait, what?!” feeling I’ve come to love so much. This has been a story packed with mythological references, excavated and reclaimed Bat-History, and the opening feint of the first major threat to the Bat-Buddha: Dr. Dedalus, Oroboro, and Leviathan.

Bat-Buddha? Well, yeah. The spiritual journey Bruce Wayne went on through the first two acts of Morrison’s Batman run (the Thogal ritual) mirrors the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment. It mirrors it pretty closely, in fact, and he’s come out the other side with a similar synthesis of identity and purpose. At least I think so. There are also indications that the Thogal may still be going on (“Thogal never ends,” as the monk told him). Issue three’s “Tango of Death” certainly has echoes of it, though I haven’t taken the time yet to go back and see if it corresponds to anything in the actual Thogal ritual. But Bruce is certainly taking actions similar to the ones the Buddha did upon his enlightenment: expounding his personal belief system, gathering supporters, and spreading the good word about the Bat. So until I figure out otherwise, I’m thinking of Bruce as the Bat-Buddha for now. Which amuses me to no end.

SPOILERiffic SPOILERS that SPOIL things... after the jump!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


So we been doin’ a lotta clearin’ out of the storehouses here on the Dork Forty lately. We had funnybooks backed up clear to Jesus in there, and even after a week and a half of clearin‘, we keep findin’ more. Just this mornin' we ran across a whole pile of stuff we ain't even read yet! So it's time to put this thing into high gear. We gotta review more comics faster, and there's only one way we know of to do somethin' like that: Quickies! So strap yourselves in, folks. Things might get a little crazy before we're done...

Deadpool MAX #4-6
by David Lapham and Kyle Baker

If you’d told me a year ago that one day soon I’d be reading a Deadpool comic that I liked more and more with each passing issue, I’d have said you were a damn dirty liar. But here we are. Consistently funny and profoundly wrong, this book is a genuine jewel in Marvel’s publishing crown. And it’s not just transgressive slapstick, either; Dave Lapham is actually, against all sense, building a story here. The secrets of Deadpool’s past actually tell a story, as do the secrets of Hydra Bob, who as it turns out may actually be working for Hydra after all.

I think I read recently that Marvel's decided that this book is a limited series, and I'm kinda glad. I don’t think anyone could successfully follow Lapham and Baker’s lead on this book, and I frankly don’t wanna see anyone try.

Grade: A

Jennifer Blood
by Garth Ennis and Adriano Batista

Somehow, I missed the fact that Jennifer Blood was a comedy. I mean, I should have twigged to it as soon as I opened the cover. The “War Journal” title floating so seriously over the butterfly-encrusted diary, the juxtaposition of prosaic suburban motherhood with vigilante justice, the freaking wig… But somehow, against all sense… no. So there I was, sitting there and trying to read this thing like it was the Punisher with boobs.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Taking Marvel by Fractions: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!

You read the title! FUNNYBOOKS are, indeed, once again GO!! So let’s get on with it…

Thor #620
by Matt Fraction and Pascual Ferry

So how bad-ass is Matt Fraction’s Thor run? Well, this issue, Odin makes it RAIN FREAKING BLOOD! There’s also the beginning of the final battle with the World Eaters, and that’s pretty bad-ass, too. But, man.


Honestly… ‘Nuff said.

Grade: A

And, as long as we’re talking about Matt Fraction…

Iron Man #501 & 502
by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca

In kind of a refreshing change from this book’s on-going corporate soap opera format, these issues see Iron Man dealing with an honest-to-goodness super villain threat. But, true to form, series writer Matt Fraction doesn’t resort to a simple slugfest. Instead, he delivers a battle of wits and wills that reveals character. Which is not to say that this story isn’t fun, because I had a blast reading it. The plot and dialogue both are snappy in a way that this book often isn’t. And the villain is one of my all-time favorites, too: Dr. Otto Octavius, aka Spider-Man arch-foe Doctor Octopus. Doc Ock captures Tony Stark, holding New York hostage with a nuclear device in an attempt to make Stark admit that he’s incapable of fixing the degenerative brain damage that’s killing Octavius.

Yes, you read that right. Ock doesn’t want Stark to fix him. Not really. I mean, if he can, great. But what he really wants is for Stark to try to fix him, and have to admit defeat. He feels such simmering hatred for Our Hero that he’s willing to hold a nuke over New York’s head just to humiliate him. You’d think he’d reserve such extreme actions for, say, Spider-Man. But it seems that dear Otto is trying to settle old scores before he dies, and he hates Stark dating back to before either of them were in the super powers game. Now, I have no idea if this is an invention of Fraction’s, or if he’s just expanding on something from a previous Iron Man / Doc Ock encounter, but either way it’s good stuff.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Friday Night Quickie

So we’ll be keeping it short and sweet for Friday night. Even nerd farmers have a life, you know…

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1 (of 3)
by Malachi and Ethan Nicolle

One of my favorite comics of the last year bursts forth from the interwebs and into its own original print funnybook! And I’m happy to report that any concerns I had over the strip’s charm being extended over an entire full-length comic have proven to be unfounded. I suspect that this format means we’re getting a little more shaping of the narrative from Ethan, and a bit less of Malachi’s pure unfettered imagination being poured molten onto the page, but that’s okay.

The ideas and actual plot movements are obviously coming from the same mind that brought us such beloved concepts as Wexter the fire-breathing T-Rex and Axe Cop Fire. And the new issue-length narrative has the added benefit of giving all of Malachi’s little-kid-crazy ideas a more comfortable bed to lie in than the one-page on-line strips often do. The overall pace is more leisurely, so the rapid-fire craziness doesn’t exhaust the reader as much. Not that Axe Cop’s gone all decompressed on us or anything. This first issue ranges all over the place, chronicling Axe Cop’s battles with the regular cops, a mysterious bad guy planet threatening the Earth, the creation of a new hero, and the many bizarre machinations of the Psychic Bad Guys.

Ethan’s done his usual great job interpreting his little brother’s ideas, too. He consistently comes up with great character designs, even for throw-away characters, and his sound effects are always hysterical. My favorite this issue is “BOOK!” for the sound of one of the regular cops slapping his handcuffs around Axe Cop’s wrist. But his artwork is fun all the way around, featuring strong cartooning and good storytelling chops. As I’ve said before, though Axe Cop’s charm comes from its five-year-old author, Ethan’s the one who holds it all together.

Grade: A

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wrong Sex and Other Distractions: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

So tonight we’ve got another twist to our review run-down: a long-form piece of the type we said we weren’t going to do. But you know how it is. We started typing, one thing lead to another… And the next thing we knew, our critical clothes were on the floor and we found ourselves four pages deep in some hot dork-on-funnybook action…

Casanova: Gula II & III
by Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon

The second volume of Matt Fraction’s resurrected spy-fi masterpiece rumbles on in these two issues, as Zephyr Quinn fucks and kills her way through XSM’s hit list. Or, rather, Newman Xeno’s hit list. Which raises the question I haven‘t thought to ask on either read-through: why does he want these particular people dead in the first place?

This is Casanova’s best trick, and the trick that far too much genre writing (and fiction writing in general, for that matter) forgets. It distracts and subverts reader questions and expectations by virtue of just being so damned entertaining. The ride’s so good that you forget all about the destination til it rears up and smacks you in the face. So why does Newman Xeno want everyone who knows about the H Element dead? Eh, I dunno. He’s Big Mr. Evilfuck, ain’t he? That’s enough motivation, right? I mean, look at those bandages he’s wrapped in! Rendered so beautifully by Fabio Moon, every strip of cloth delineated as a separate piece, with actual thought given as to how you‘d wrap a man‘s head completely in bandages rather than the usual flat profile with lines drawn across it… What was I saying?

See how that happens? I don’t care about the motivation of the man behind the story’s entire fucking plot because he’s drawn so well! And I also don’t care about it because he’s Zephyr’s completely soul-destroying ex, who she’s doing the bidding of even while trying to distance herself from him. In fact, isn’t that his motivation? No, wait. He didn’t even know she was alive, much less working for XSM, when he hired the Benday family to kill these people. And, oh yeah, there’s that whole SPOILERY thing I’ll be discussing below, which makes this entire character sub-plot irrelevant anyway, so…


And I haven’t even gotten to the simple surface distractions the book employs so well: the sex and the violence and the cooler-than-cool set-pieces. I think it’s safe to say that the action in this book is as sleek and stylish as ever. So when Kubark pops the porcelain guns out the sleeves of his tux and shoots the casino bouncers, I’m wowed. And a few panels later, when Zephyr (after a decadent lesbian tryst) cradles the naked body of casino owner and target Suki Boutique as the front wall of the place blows out over the cliff below… It’s no wonder I’m not worrying about why all this is happening. It’s enough that it is happening, and that I am entertained.

But of course, this being a Fraction book, there actually IS an underlying reason for it all, and the reveal of it presents Zephyr with yet another monumental moral decision to make. A decision made even more complicated in light of that SPOILERY thing I’m not talking about yet. But, hey! This is as good a moment as any to get to that, so enter into the SPOILER-REALM for more gushing praise of Matt Fraction’s genius, and all that wrong sex I promised you in the title…

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


So we’ll be taking a short break from the stale comics tonight to discuss a couple of super-fresh ones, ripped straight from the funnybook racks today and served up for you piping hot and still bleeding. And now that I’ve mixed food metaphors and no doubt turned a few of my more sensitive readers’ stomachs… Let’s get on with this thing!

Fear Itself Prologue: Book of the Skull
by Ed Brubaker, Scot Eaton, and Mark Morales

What’s up with this Brubaker dude, and why can’t I stop freaking talking about him this week, anyway? Well, in this case, it’s because I’m planning on picking up Matt Fraction’s upcoming big splashy crossover thingie Fear Itself, and this is, as the title so ostentatiously tells us, a prologue to that. And since it’s written by Brubaker and not one of Marvel’s third-tier script-bots, I figured it might actually be important. And while I’m not entirely convinced of that… It is a fun little villain comic, wrapped around a fun little Invaders comic. And since the Invaders was my favorite comic on Earth for a year or two when I was in elementary school… I’m okay with that.

The story involves Baron Zemo and Sin (the Red Skull’s daughter) busting into one of the Skull’s forgotten secret bases to retrieve a mysterious book of mystic something-or-other that she’s planning to use in an undisclosed evil plan, and a flashback to when the Skull himself obtained that book back in Dubya-Dubya Two. There’s some entertaining-if-uninspired punching and shooting and a little vaguely Lovecraftian mumbo-jumbo, then Bucky blows off a Frost Giant’s head with a grenade and we wrap. Nothing to rave about, but I dug it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


So I guess it’s time for Day Two of our quick run-through of very-nearly-stale funnybooks. Tonight, I’ll be looking at super hero comics that aren't owned by the Big Two. Don’t expect that kind of organization every day, though: I just got inspired and stuff…

The Boys #52
by Garth Ennis and John Mcrea

Any in-depth discussion of The Boys at this point in the run (well, any in-depth discussion I’m interested in having, anyway) has to focus deep on plot, and will therefore be riddled with SPOILERS. What follows will be as much an analysis as a review. It might not make a lick of sense if you’re not following the series, and if you are, but you’re not caught up to this most recent issue, you may want to avoid it because… well… as I said: SPOILERS! SPOILERY SPOILERS that SPOIL things! You have been warned…

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Few Words on Children and Patriots: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!

So we’ve been droning on and on in long-form writing here on the Dork Forty lately. And while that’s been satisfying and fun, we do kinda miss the quick-and-dirty of the old short-form reviews. The longer stuff has lead to fewer updates, too, which wasn’t the intent when we started on them. Eventually, I’m sure we’ll find a balance between the two, but for now… We’ve got a whole big pile of funnybooks sitting here on the verge of going completely stale, and we‘re gonna spend the week plowing through them, starting tonight. So once again it looks like… FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!

Captain America: No Escape
by Ed Brubaker, Butch Guice, and Mitch Breitweiser

I stopped buying Captain America in the monthly floppies when the price went to four bucks. I was enjoying the book, but not enough to pay that much, and the Nomad back-up strip they added to off-set the cover price actually made me think less of the monthly package rather than more. But the trade paperback editions come out to roughly the three dollars a chapter I was happily paying before, so I became a trade-waiter. Sometime in the last couple of months, though, I lost my damn mind and bought the latest storyline in the more expensive hardcover. The price for which, when you do the math out, comes to about… four dollars a chapter. D’oh!

Putting my economic oversights aside, though, I still wasn’t entirely pleased with this book. On the surface, it’s got all the stuff I’ve loved from the Brubaker Cap run: crazy-ass old villains, the schemes of an evil mastermind, pulp-adventure set-pieces, and a sprawling ensemble cast. But that surface is as far as it goes; the story feels rushed and a bit perfunctory, and kind of left me wishing I’d left my money in my pocket.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. The story itself involves Baron Zemo finding out that Bucky Barnes is the new Captain America, and getting pissed off that Bucky’s past crimes are forgiven, while he’s continually having to live his own sins down. So he sets out to tear Bucky’s life down around his ears through a series of physical and emotional challenges carried out by minions like the Fixer, a new iteration of the Beetle, and (by far my favorite) Iron Hand Hauptmann. [SPOILER] After putting the Falcon in the hospital, and drugging Bucky with some sort of nano-tech hallucinogens, Zemo makes his big play: revealing Our Hero’s secret identity, and his past as the Winter Soldier, to the press. [/SPOILER]

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Floppies for Trades: Orcs, Cops, and Cowboys

We love us some monthly funnybooks here on the Dork Forty, but every so often we go for the trade paperbacks, too. Sometimes, it’s just ‘cause we missed somethin’ on the monthly racks, or sometimes it’s ‘cause we ain’t willin’ to pay out full price for the monthly issues. Either way, every once in a while we come late to the funnybook party, and when that happens, it inspires a little thing we like to call… Floppies For Trades.

click to embiggen
Orc Stain vol. 1
by James Stokoe

Orc Stain was one of the more celebrated new books of the last year, and somehow I missed it. Not just the hype, but even the book itself. Til I saw it pop up on a bunch of year’s best lists, I was at best only vaguely aware of its existence. I can only assume that it got swallowed up by the competition on the racks. I mean, it’s possible that I picked an issue up, flipped through it, and tossed it back. My flip-through instincts are pretty reliable, but sometimes…

Sometimes, I just fall asleep at the wheel.

And that seems to be what happened with Orc Stain. Because this book is pure dynamite. How to describe it, though? What words best-capture the Orc Stain experience? Here, let me lay a few on you:


If I just stopped the review right there, you’d still have a pretty good idea of what to expect when you pick up Orc Stain. But lord knows I can’t stop there. I may be constitutionally incapable of it, in fact…


So in celebration of comics legend Will Eisner's birthday, Google's banner today is a take on his classic Spirit splash pages:

Happy Birthday to an artist who invented much of the modern grammar of funnybook storytelling, and kudos to Google for giving the great man a nod.