—Amazing Spider-Man #69, by Stan Lee and John Romita
—Amazing Spider-Man #69, by Stan Lee and John Romita
—GI Joe #106, by Larry Hama and Mark Bright
This Wednesday (August 12, for those of you keeping score at home) is my birthday, and as is my custom, I’m taking the week off the daily grind of the ISB as a present to myself. But don’t worry, I’ll still be providing content with an old-fashioned Kick to the Face posted every day until I get back.
And of course there’ll be an additional post on Wednesday when the last chapter of Woman of A.C.T.I.O.N. drops, and I might do one to commemorate the inexorable march of age. So please, enjoy the violence and don’t break anything while I’m gone.
Who’s your favorite soul singer who makes a cameo appearance in The Blues Brothers?
Huh! Guess Spidey’s a James Brown guy after all!
—Amazing Spider-Man #72, 1969
You know, for someone who’s been paralyzed from the waist down for the past twenty years, Barbara Gordon sure is dealing out a lot of facekicks this week, both in costume…
…and out of it:
Thank heavens for time travel and flashback stories!
Anyway, now that I’ve once again skewed my Google hits towards people looking for “Batgirl out of costume,” it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Raucous Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…
…and here’s what I thought about ’em!
Criminal 2 #5: I realize that everything I’m about to say about Criminal has already been said in one form or another, but sometimes, it just bears repeating that this is a book everyone–everyone–ought to be reading.
Not just because it’s a fantastic comic book, although it’s easily one of the best books on the stands, and has been since it started, which, considering that it’s got one of the best creative teams in comics working on it, should probably be expected. After all, there’s a note on the back of this one reminding us that Ed Brubaker’s gotten the Eisner for Best Writer two years in a row, and while they have been known to hand those out to the occasional random issue of Justice League or whatever, Brubaker’s got more than enough talent to back his up. The stories he tells here are sharp and brutal, full of nasty people doing nasty things to each other in a world where daylight seems to have taken a permanent vacation.
And Sean Phillips… I never really know what to say about really good artists, since it’s easier for people to just take a look and see for themselves, but with Phillips, the appeal of his work on Criminal is easy to describe. He takes Brubaker’s scripts and draws them with a dark, heavy mood that’s almost dripping off the page in every desperate, broken-down face. He draws guys with gnarled fingers and paunches that sneer at each other in tight panels, and when an issue calls for its main character to look like he’s been held at gunpoint for a week, then by God, he looks like he’s been held at gunpoint for a week.
But you could say all that about Brubaker and Phillips’ previous collaboration, the super-hero spy noir thriller Sleeper, too, and you’d be right. But what sets Criminal apart from Sleeper–and from most other comics in general–is that it’s not just a comic book, but an exploration of crime noir as a genre. With each issue, you’ve got the story itself–where Brubaker dusts off all the cliches, from the Girl You Loved Who Betrayed You But Then She Came Back And Damn It She Did It Again to the Guy Who Thought He Was Out But Got Pulled Back In and makes them sing–and then the equally fascinating essays by other writers–this issue’s features Manhunter’s Marc Andreyko and The Punisher’s Steven Grant–that examine other works of the genre, often dealing with the same tricks and influences that Brubaker’s bringing to the table in his scripts. It all adds up to something that’s enjoyable in more ways than even most great comics can manage, and at $3.50 a pop, it’s still one of the best values in comics.
If you haven’t jumped on it, then by all means grab the trades and enjoy, or do yourself a favor and see about tracking down the issues, since the essays haven’t been reprinted elsewhere. It’s well worth it.
The Damned: Prodigal Sons #3: And speaking of crime noir thrillers that Get It Right, we have the last issue of Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s second series of The Damned, and once again, I’m at a point where I’m not sure what else I can say about it. After all, once you’ve said something so nice that they decide to slap it on the cover, where do you go from there?
Oh well, I’ll give it a shot anyway, because now that the series is over, I can confirm that as much as I liked the first series, Prodigal Sons blows it away in terms of sheer entertainment. Since its first issue, The Damned has been one of those rare books that manages to walk the line between two genres–supernatural horror and retro crime thriller–but with the addition of Eddie’s brother Morgan, they’ve thrown another chainsaw into their already impressive juggling act and added a strong dose of comedy. I’ve mentioned the slapstick aspect of the story before, with Morgan and a hapless gal hauling Eddie’s (potentially lethal) cadaver around with ensuing hijinx, and while it’s impressive enough that those scenes are actually really funny, it’s even more impressive that they don’t detract from the serious parts of the book. It’s a fantastic read, and while I was curious at the end of the last series, this one’s got me more than a little interested in what comes next.
The Goon #28: A few days ago, Mark Hale was reading the Goon out in public when someone asked him what it was about, and he responded by telling them that it was about a guy who “wears a hat and punches things.” And really, that’s as good a summary of anything as you’re likely to find.
And pretty accurate, too: After all, the Goon does wear a hat, and this issue’s pretty much built around a double-page spread where he punches a prostitute mule right in the face. But while it’s more than enough to get the casual reader interested–“A hat, you say? AND punching?”–it does leave out the fact that beneath all of that, Eric Powell’s steadily been building something deeper, underpinning his two-fisted comedy with bits of genuine tragedy, leading off with the scene where the Goon was told flat out that he could never, ever be happy in his life and just dragging him down further ever since. It’s a stealthy bit of complexity that Powell works with–and occasionally actively denies–but it’s there, and it’s great.
So, The Goon: Come for the mule-punching, stay for the emotional resonance. Or the other way around. Hell, I don’t care, so long as some mules get punched.
Invincible #52: You know, one of these days I’m eventually going to stop being shocked when I’m reading through an issue of Invincible and suddenly find myself staring at a panel where someone’s getting their guts punched out, because we’re getting to the point now where I can almost set my watch by it.
Now, before I get a bunch of comments from people chiming in to let me know that I don’t understand Invincible and that having a character’s internal organs ripped out of their torso in livid color on-panel is completely necessary for the advancement of the plot, I’d like to point out that unlike the last time this happened, I don’t actually have a problem with it. Before, it wasn’t just the violence that got to me–although it does make an otherwise fantastic teenage super-hero book tougher sale for kids looking to jump on an exciting, fun comic that’s a step up from stuff like Ultimate Spider-Man–but the fact that it seemed so completely unnecessary from a storytelling standpoint. Here, though, the shock value actually adds to something beyond itself, leading to the contrast of Mark’s horror and his brother’s completely dispassionate reaction.
It’s not something that I’d like to see in my comics on a regular basis, but since I remember talking about my disappointment in Invincible‘s last blood-soaked fight scene, I thought I’d point out an example of when it’s done right. Still, I can’t help but think that the fact that there’s a “last time” to be referenced so easily cheapens things a little, although I suppose there’s an equal possibility that the repetition’s made it into a recurring theme that’ll be strengthened with each instance and the characters’ reactions to it.
Or maybe it’s just a guy getting his brain punched out. That’s a possibility too.
Batman: The Black Glove HC: If you were reading the ISB when it was coming out, you might remember that I fllipped right out about the three-part Club of Heroes story that leads this volume, and you probably won’t be surprised when I flip out about it again now, because it is seriously my favorite Batman story of the last ten years.
So much so, in fact, that I just went back and re-read it between reviews, thus proving that my desire to see Batman be a total badass trumps my desire to finish up writing reviews and get some sleep any day of the week, which–again–is probably not going to come as a surprise to anyone. But the point stands. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the Club of Heroes–a group of “International Batmen” from one appearance in the fifties that were themed to their particular country in the charming way that most non-American comic book characters were and are, an idea later recycled into an enjoyably terrible Green Arrow story–and seeing them done this well, with a locked room murder mystery writ large, was the high point of Grant Morrison’s run with the character so far.
Plus, what with the fact that it’s drawn by J.H. Williams, it’s far and away the best looking, with the same kind of innovative page layouts and different stylistic choices for each character that you’d expect from a guy with his talent. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rest of the book–wherein Tony Daniel draws the adventures of the false Batmen and space-induced hallucinations–but it’s not bad, and heck, I’d pay the cover price just to see the Knight and Squire in action again.
High School Musical: Lasting Impressions GN: Oh snap, you guys, this thing right here is off the fuckin’ chain!
Okay, so get this: The East High Drama Class is doing a new play, right? And it’s about an impressionist painter who falls in love with this girl, which–OF COURSE–is totally the same plot as Twinkle Towne, but with more inexplicably elaborate sets, and so Troy and Gabriella both audition, but–buckle the fuck up, yo–Troy gets a part, and Gabriella DOESN’T! And to make things even worse, Sharpay gets the female lead, and you KNOW she’s going to be trying to drive a wedge between them! Plus, Ryan has to learn new choreography, and he gets inspired by watching breakdancers in a thematic callback to Coyote Ugly!!
And I’ll stop now, because I just realized that the jokes about my overenthusiasm for this would be lost on anyone who is not a) passingly familiar with High School Musical and b) a regular ISB reader, a narrow audience made up of exactly me.
And on that oddly self-referential note, I’m done here. As always, questions etc. can be left in the comments section, and really: If you haven’t read Gotham Central, there’s a hardcover now, and as long as you actually have eyes, you have no further excuse. So get on it!a
ADDENDUM: I forgot to mention this last night since I left it in the other room, but I also picked up the new collection of Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick—War and XPs–of which I am an unabashed fan. If you haven’t been reading it, the whole thing’s available for free online–because, you know, that’s how webcomics roll–but the trades also contain additional strips and bonus material. I don’t believe they’ve hit Diamond yet, but if your local shop carries any good amount of gaming stuff, they should be able to get it from one of the other distributors. Pick it up!