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Hang A Crooked Number

Since I really enjoyed just knocking out short reviews last week, and since DC was nice enough to send me some advance photocopies of upcoming books, letís do it again. First, though, a book from ADV Manga Iíve been liking:

Ruler of The Land (Vols. 1-3) by Jeon Keuk-Jin and Yang Jae-Hyun. ADV Manga. $9.99
This is a humorous martial arts epic that ADV says is the North Korean equivalent of The X-Men. That is, itís a phenomenal hit over there, not that it features mutants. Iíve read a little manhua from other publishers, and this seems a little like the Chinese stuff in that it places a lot of importance on special swords and their history and how certain warriors are destined to hold them, but it also takes more of a tongue-in-cheek approach. ---- is a cocky, unpredictable horndog who is constantly followed by disciples of a revered martial arts master. See, he saved the old guyís life, and so he is now destined to be his disciple as well, but he wants no part of it. Mysteriously, while heís a big goofball who often runs from a fight and has very basic sword skills, he is also master of a sophisticated style called Light Feather that allows him to walk on air. The heart of the story is an offbeat romance similar to that found in many Asian comics -- a guy falls for a girl he thinks is a guy. The girl in question is the granddaughter of the old guy, and no mean fighter herself, but she is going in drag because -- well, I forget. It might have something to do with her huge breasts calling too much unwanted male attention, so she straps them down, though the artist makes no other attempt to make her look like anything but a hot chick. The fighting is pretty good, there are good jokes, and enough surprises to keep it interesting, though I admit in the second and third volumes it does start to spend too much time on the supporting characters, and frankly, I was hoping for a little more of the smut found in the first volume.

Bloodhound #1 by Dan Jolley, Leonard Kirk and Robin Riggs. DC Comics. $2.50
Bloodhound doesnít sound like anything Iíd like, "Blood" in any comic being a painful reminder of so many awful comics from the '90s, and Dan Jolley is not a writer Iíve been very impressed with, as he often seems to lose the beat of a story after an interesting set-up. Still, this is the set-up issue, and itís interesting, so weíll see what happens. Travis Clevenger -- hey, I remembered his name without checking, so thatís a good sign -- is an ex-cop in prison for killing his partner, so heís hated by both inmate and guard alike. Heís brilliant and apparently the best metahuman tracker ever, so his old boss comes to him with an offer to get him out temporarily, in order to stop a serial killer. Before "Clev" can decide, thereís a riot staged in order to get to him, and he has to hold his own and protect his old bossí female protťgť when the boss takes a bullet. Even though they get out of it, it looks like there will be plenty of people on the outside looking to take Clevenger out of the game. Kirk is a solid, unexceptional artist, but his style should work well here in a book looking to mix a gritty "realistic" feel with some costume types thrown in. A good start.

Justice League Elite by Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke. DC Comics. $2.50
I kind of get a kick out of the name "Mahnke" because not only does it sound like "monkey", it also sounds a bit like "manquť," which is like an imitation or an imposter. Thatís kind of what Mahnke is as a superhero artist, a manquť. He canít get near the skills that the better superhero artists have of creating breathtaking thrills on the page, but his style is also not interesting enough to make it doing Vertigo style books.

Anyway, enough picking on Doug. The real problem with this new J.L.E. is that itís a name in search of a purpose to exist. Kelly created this group called The Elite a few years ago in Action Comics #775, an anniversary issue, as a kind of response to the popularity and impact of Warren Ellisí The Authority. Like them, The Elite were a kind of superhero team who didnít follow the old-school rules against superheroes killing their enemies. Kelly was able to make a reasonable case that Supermanís methods were still the only way a real hero could go.

Now, heís reviving The Elite as some sort of covert offshoot of the Justice League, though the real team doesnít endorse or even know them. One big problem with the book from the get-go is that the only Elite member Kelly originally did anything with in that Action issue, leader Manchester Black, is dead, so now his sister takes up the reins. Which would be all right if her big idea was that she wasnít going to be like her brother, wasnít going to kill. Not that I want a bodycount here, or a team full of Punishers, but that was what made the Elite different (albeit an imitation of The Authority). If they donít kill, theyíre just another superteam of nobodies, with a higher percentage of "loose cannon" characters, perhaps, though apparently they wonít get THAT loose. The first issue is okay, with some funny lines, but I forgot about the characters instantly and was also a little confused that Kelly alternated the gathering of the Elite with Deathstroke and another assassin being asked to join some kind of assassins guild. At first, I just thought Deathstroke -- portrayed as a rather pathetic old perv by Kelly -- was joining the J.L. Elite. Anyway, if you want a book based-on-The-Elite-based-on-The-Authority-that-no-longer-kills-thatís-a-Justice-League-book-but-isnít-really, then this one is for you.

The Books of Magick: Life During Wartime by Neil Gaiman, Si Spencer and Dean Ormston. DC/Vertigo. $2.95
That superfluous "k" at the end of "Magick" lets you know right off the bat that this series is not the same old Tim Hunter spell-castiní spectacle weíve seen for the past decade or more. Which is probably a good idea, because while DC is practically duty-bound to keep trying to revive the character, due to the popularity of his creator, Gaiman, and his closest pop culture counterpart, Harry Potter, Hunter is just never going to have the same success as Potter, despite and because of the similarity. You might as well head off in another direction entirely, which is what Spencer does here, co-plotted by Gaiman. We find Tim Hunter so cool and jaded -- practically a junkie -- that we know something is very, very wrong on this world -- whatever world this is. Thereís a mystical war going on that has claimed countless lives, and forced the original jaded mystic, John Constantine, into more of a traditional hero role, while requiring a new coldblooded quality from the previously bubbly fishnetted witch, Zatanna. Ormston is a very good pick for artist, as he lends an appropriately murky, off-center quality necessary for the tone of the story, though he perhaps goes a bit too far for my taste in removing all traces of sexiness from Zatanna. My guess is that, since Tim is the key to this war, heís somehow put himself in another world and hidden himself by removing his memories, becoming an inconsequential young layabout. Probably some sign or keyword will bring him back into the fight. A decent premise and a good start.

Doom Patrol #1 by John Byrne and Doug Hazlewood. DC Comics. $2.50
This isnít a preview; the book shipped a week ago. Iím still something of a Byrne fan, and while Iím often disappointed Iím always hoping for him to score with a new book. If one is able to put aside any resentment that DC wanted to start this team all over again, as if they never existed, this isnít such a bad start. Byrneís pencils are tighter than theyíve been in recent projects, and Hazlewood, a veteran inker but never before over Byrne, I donít think, proves a good fit. Byrne does take more shortcuts as far as lack of background detail, but here and there he does work in an impressive building or interior here and there.

As for the story, Byrne employs his usual en media res technique -- starting in the middle of the action -- and itís almost too much too soon, as we have not just the three classic DP members but as many new ones thrown at us without much more than codenames, and these less than inspired (Grunt, Nudge, Vortex). And though I have to give him some slack, as this series spins out of events from the JLA arc Byrne just completed with Claremont (plus it only makes sense to maximize sales), it does seem like too much space is given to Batman, Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern John Stewart here, when what the reader really needs is more attention paid to the Doom Patrol and why we should care about them. Thereís also a big chunk of exposition rattled off by one character as the others just sit and listen, offering nothing. Itís a creaky comics clichť that should have been reworked. Having some of the team fight supervillains possessed by vampires is a wacky enough idea to be encouraging, but Byrne plays it as pretty straight sooperheroics. I donít expect him to pull a Grant Morrison here, and he shouldnít try, but I do think this nice-looking, average book needs to very quickly establish itself as something different, something special, or it will be yet another short-lived revival for the DP.

-- Chris Allen



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