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Derek Mainhart: Ah, summer; so close you can practically taste the sunscreen! Naturally your thoughts may be turning toward planning a much-needed getaway. What to do, what to do? Road trip? Um, have you seen the price of gas? Well then, maybe you can fly somewhere…Oh sure! So the folks at the NSA can laugh at your body scan? A cruise perhaps? I’m sorry, have you been watching the news? Well then, you say, why bother leaving the house? That’s the spirit! But fret not, our delicate, sensible reader! Grab your margarita mix, break out your thong and relax while Images and Nerds plans the most fantastic voyage you can have without ever leaving the comfort of your own butt-molded couch cushion.

Astro City #1

Astro City #1

First stop, sunny, scenic Astro City! (DC/Vertigo) After a three-year hiatus, Kurt Busiek’s own private metropolis is back and open for business with a new #1! If this is a return trip to the award-winning series (about a city populated by all manner of super-folk), you won’t be disappointed; illustrated by series co-creator Brent Anderson, it’s as lovely as ever. If, however, this is your first excursion (like it was for your beloved guide), don’t worry; Busiek expertly leads you through the story, giving you just enough information to hint at the wonder and scope of your surroundings, without ever being in danger of getting lost. Busiek has indeed proven a master at synthesizing large swaths of characters and story, both in the previous AC runs as well as the more recent Kirby: Genesis (an impressive homage to the master that is truly worth a second look). Like Kirby, the plot revolves around the sudden, mysterious arrival of a gigantic, god-like, celestial being who delivers a portentous proclamation to the good people of earth. Unlike Kirby, which very much wore its heart on its sleeve, the tone of the new Astro City has a wry, ironic tone. Whether or not this was true of the earlier series, I can’t say. But this sense of remove, heightened by the charming and trippy narrator’s breaking of the fourth wall, reminded this reviewer of last year’s standout, The Zaucer of Zilk. Then there’s that second-to-last page, with its playful exhortations to the reader, putting me in the mind of nothing so much as that Sesame Street classic, The Monster at the End of This Book. Which is to say, this promises to be fun.

Prefer a more secluded spot? How about Area 51? If so, you could hardly do better than Archer and Armstrong #10 (Valiant). Fred Van Lente’s roller coaster of a comic is so jam-packed with demi-gods, evil ghost-parents and of course, aliens, that you may not notice how whip-smart the writing is; the sequence with the pregnant spy alone is worth the price of admission, as is the hostage who is hysterical in more ways than one (poor guy). It then closes with the flat-out funniest Next Issue box I’ve ever seen. And with Pere Perez handling the art, this book’s never looked better. Believe it: the best blockbuster of the summer is a comic book.

Archer & Armstrong #10

Scott Carney: No, no.  You don’t believe in aliens or time travel, do you?  You’re someone who likes to keep it real, right? Yeah, you’re straight up street, son. Check it: why not trip your kicks over to Garth Ennis and Craig Cermak’s Red Team #3 (Dynamite), where the hearts are cold and the gun barrel’s still hot to the touch.  Your itinerary: holy vengeance. We’re talkin’ old school–no, Old Testament vengeance, ya Sodomites; that’s right, happy heathens, you better believe it: the Son of God is sinfully subordinate to the Gun of God, as blasphemously billed by Howard Chaykin’s irreverently rendered cover:

Red Team #3

Oh, yeah, he nailed it! And that gun ironically speaks the loudest–not in tongues but through a tongue: Father McEwan’s newly pierced tongue, to be exact–in an issue otherwise dominated by Ennis’s celebrated signature: damn good dialogue.

DM: I’m glad you mentioned that. One of the criticisms I’ve been hearing about this book is that it’s too “wordy”. This is, of course, patently ridiculous. You don’t hear this sort of charge being leveled in other visual media, like film or television, especially when dealing with a writer with chops like Ennis’.

SC: Speaking of: three issues in, it’s clear that Ennis is bent on bringing his ethically challenged NYPD to Broadway for a sustained run because this book–surprisingly light on action–reads like a David Mamet play: the Irish scribe relies on carefully composed conversation–at times so naturalistic that a second or third glance is necessary–to develop his God–no, not Mod, but God–Squad. So, if you haven’t yet been to the Great White Way–and you’d like to put a little culture in your Petri dish–here’s your ticket!

DM: One place you probably shouldn’t visit is the normally picturesque town of Manson. Long ago the site of some Salem-type witch trials, the the current townspeople have recently been plagued by a spate of mysterious deaths, rat-filled plumbing, and at least one case of vomiting a live snake. Ah well, at least the snow is beautiful. Locals whisper of a recently deceased young lady, Rachel, who has returned to solve the mystery of her own murder. With her best friend Jet (also recently deceased) in tow, they delve into a story that grows ever more mythic, even as it becomes more disturbing. Read all about it in Terry Moore’s latest tourist’s pamphlet: Rachel Rising #17 (Abstract Studio). Marvel at the art, including a nice callback to Moore’s previous series, Strangers in Paradise…

SC: Man, that was weird.  At first, I thought it was an ad for an SIP trade or something.  I really liked it, though, especially how Moore shamelessly–and cleverly– worked in the readily recognizable portrait.

DM: …and gasp at the loveliest paean you’re likely to hear about being eaten alive.

SC: Yeah, what I’m hearing is a siren song: the promise of comic book perfection and the ultimate execution–of stereotypical masculinity.  The fairly phallic cover is a beautiful warning of the dangers that lie ahead for men.

Rachel Rising #17

Rachel Rising #17

This town, Manson–get it: man and son–is not very accommodating to men at all; it’s certainly not a place les hommes can comfortably call home; so proceed with caution, my brothers.  I mean, think about it: hunters–who often employ domesticated dogs to point out or fetch their quarry, just not in this case–are generally considered the epitome of manliness, you know, with their killing stuff with lead-launching extensions of their manhood and whatnot; but here, in a little slice of Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” the hunters–not so surprisingly, considering the fiercely feminine tone of the book–become the hunted: the witches wield their power here, unleashing a pair of wild wolves, which they so wickedly command, and showing the misogynist dunderheads who’s boss.  This, friends, is a real No Man’s Land.

Ah, but could there be a more welcoming city–a finer final destination–than Radiant City, the seemingly sentient setting of Dean Motter’s Mister X: Eviction #2 (Dark Horse)?  Once there, hit the local bars, get caught in traffic, get yourself kidnapped–heck, leap from rooftop to rooftop!  Why not?  It’s all up to you!  But if you’re looking for a truly arresting time, have they got the club for you.  It’s called Purgatorium, and it’s got everything: blind guys and no I’s, mugshots and robots, heartbreaking and head shaving, and a lady who looks a hell of a lot like Mister X.

DM: It’s also got a backup story, again by Motter, that loosely ties into the lead; that’s right, you get two trips for the price of one! Talk about economical! Befitting its retro-futurist style, this featurette showcases an intrepid reporter with a knack for getting into trouble getting rescued by a gang of classic, 1930’s-style orphans. The plot, involving the orphan’s home being threatened with destruction by “pilotless drones” (in the form of giant, mechanized robots, natch!), offers subtle, wry commentary on current American military tactics. But the real draw here is the way Motter is able to touch upon so many nostalgia-laden pop-culture motifs in such a small space: Little Orphan Annie, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson, Peter Pan, even a little Akira. The effect is like a Fleischer cartoon as directed by Fritz Lang. The title of this piece? Rosetta Stone, Girl Reporter in Little Urchin Andy. What comics fan wouldn’t love that? Book of the Week.

Mister X: Eviction #2

Bon Voyage,

Scott and Derek