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Reviewing The Comics 20 November

Before I talk about the comic books I bought this week, I just wanted to mention ScreenwipeCharlie Brooker, the scabrous and viciously funny journalist/presenter, returns to BBC4 to review and comment on recent events. Best programme on television at the moment, and you should be watching it. On the first show of this new series, he opines on Manuelgate, talks about the financial crisis (and its affect on making television), reviews Britannia High and a programme with the charisma-free Paul Ross reading from a book. Excellent TV, but it could do without the poetry.

Ambush Bug: Year None #4
Keith Giffen, with the aid of Robert Loring Fleming, returns to use Ambush Bug to mock, deride and kick DC in the balls. The first page makes a joke out of the fact that issue two had an entire page missing its letter balloons, before holding up Dan DiDio to huge ridicule (with a cartoony style to represent all the real people, including Giffen and Fleming). This issue targets 52, the year-long event from DC after Infinite Crisis, an event that Giffen was the breakdown artist for in the first place. There are lots of specific references, as well as obscure references that I don’t recognise, but it’s still funny stuff: ‘My name is Renee Montoya and I’m a former lesbian cop who quit the force after my partner got killed. That didn’t come out right. I’m a former cop, but I’m still a lesbian.’ There are some jokes that don’t work (what is the page about Wicker Bug about?) but then he makes a joke about Swamp Thing (hoping to keep Mike Sterling on board) and the Legion of Super-Heroes, before the Ambush Bug Revenge Squad turn up to mock the fanatical comic book fan. It’s all very scattershot but the hit rate is fairly high, and that’s what counts.

Ex Machina #39
Brian K Vaughan and Tony Harris do sterling work on Ex Machina, the story of Mitchell Hundred, formerly the hero The Great Machine and now the Mayor of New York – it feels like a quality television drama (probably HBO) only in comic book form. Because of this televisual aspect, I find it hard to come up with the necessary words to describe the quality. I enjoy it very much, although I sometimes forget aspects of the story from one month to the next, and I know each issue will be interesting, entertaining, thoughtful and something novel. And, when it comes down to it, what more can you ask from a comic book? Harris has evolved since I first saw his work on Starman (truth be told, I prefer his earlier style), which is good in an artist, although he seems to use Ian McKellen as a facial model in one scene. Vaughan continues to mix the past with the present, including the bold choice of using the attack on the Twin Towers as a plot point, and this issue sees an indication of a possible escalation of Mitchell’s position in the world of politics. The only problem is that working on Lost is taking a toll on the regularity of Ex Machina, with this being the seventh issue since this time last year.

X-Factor #37
How many different artists has Peter David gone through on X-Factor? He’s on to another one in this issue, Valentine De Landro, after Larry Stroman’s short return to the series. The art is competent, with a nice style, and not as stylised as Stroman’s, so no more really obese people or woman with enormous backsides. This issue sees the next instalment in the search for the kidnapped Darwin, while Val Cooper chats with Siryn about her relationship with X-Factor. David is very good at juggling the balls of multiple plot, characterisation, action and dialogue (he peppers the script with some nice one-liners: ‘I thought we just fell through a plot hole!’ ‘Issues? She has the trade paperbacks.’) – X-Factor continues to be an entertaining series, even during the large X-Men crossovers.

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