I realize that I’ve been known to throw around a little hyperbole every now and then, but seriously, you guys? Yesterday may have actually been the best day ever.
Not only was it Halloween–the one day of the year dedicated entirely to putting on a costume and giving candy to strangers–but comics came out, ROM made a guest-appearance on South Park and, perhaps the most telling all… The McRib is Back.
If only it had somehow been Christmas too…
But alas! My ruminations on the creation of some kind of superholiday will have to be put aside for the moment, because that kick to the face meants that it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most BOne-Shattering Comics Reviews! Because really, comics coming out in general is always pretty good, but how do they hold up when you stack ’em against free candy and the McRib?
There’s only one way to find out, folks, and here are this week’s candidates:
How’d they do? We’ll find out together!
Annihilation: Conquest – Quasar #4: So for the final issue of Christos Gage and Mike Lilly’s portion of Conquest, Phyla-Vell creates an army of skeletons made of lasers to fight the Super-Adaptoid and save the Kree Messiah, and as fun as that sentence is to type, it’s not the best thing that happens in this issue.
No, that honor goes to a scene a few pages before, where we see a woman with a giant, glowing sword hop onto her psychic dragon and team up with an army of cavemen to fight off robots from space, and seriously? Outside of the world of comics, you can only find that kind of action in eight-minute heavy metal masterpieces that feature no fewer than two dueling guitar solos.
Actually, now that I think of it.. I’m pretty sure I have that album somewhere…
Oh, right! Man, that thing was the jam!
Batman #670: I’ve mentioned before that I’m not all that excited about the Resurrection of Ra’s al-Ghul–even with the promise of that Nightwing/Robin fight that we’ve all, apparently, been dreading–and while I hate to say it, this issue doesn’t do a whole lot to change that.
Admittedly, I’m going into it with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder: I might well be the only one, but I thought Ra’s al-Ghul’s death and replacement by Nyssa in the pages of Death and the Maidens was great, but it wasn’t long before it became clear that it was a great story that was going absolutely nowhere, to the point where Nyssa was eventually killed off-panel by a car-bomb in the pages of Robin. Really: Getting knocked off secondhand in the pages of a sidekick title? There may have been a more ignominious death in comics, but I sure haven’t seen it.
Complicating matters are the fact that Grant Morrison’s coming to this one from three issues of what were unquestionably my favorite Batman story in years, and compared to the smooth masterpiece that he and J.H. Williams worked their magic on in “The Club of Heroes,” the storytelling here seems incredibly choppy and disjointed, and while that’s a trick Morrison’s turned to his advantage more than once, it falls pretty flat here.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t have some enjoyable moments, however, and the neatest among them was the shocking return of a trio of villains so obscure that I had to get Dorian Wright to explain who the hell they were. It was definitely the most enjoyable sequence of the comic, but then again, when it’s stacked up against a guy who may or may not be Ra’s al-Ghul lurking around, issuing proclamations and reminding me vaguely of Serpentor, that probably wasn’t a difficult achievement.
Biff Bam Pow! #1: With this issue, Evan Dorkin proves what we’ve all known in our hearts all along: You can make anything way more awesome by putting the word “Space” in front of it.
I mean, if I told you that this was a comic about One-Punch Goldberg, the all-time women’s champion (who signs autographs by writing her initials backwards on her fist and then punching it into some jerk’s head) duking it out with heavyweight champion Otto von Ripsnort III, you’d… well, you’d probably be really excited, because man, that already sounds awesome. But when you add in the fact that she’s a Space-Boxer fighting for the Galactic World Championship, the discussion becomes completely moot: There’s no way it can’t be awesome.
And it is, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Evan Dorkin’s other work. He’s unquestionably one of the best creators working in comics today when it comes to humor work, and seeing him apply that same sense of manic energy and fun to a lighthearted action story is a rare treat indeed. It’s great stuff, and it only gets better with the backups, reprinting a Nutsy Monkey strip from the pages of Nickelodeon Magazine and a Kid Blastoff story with one of the best punchlines since… well, since the last issue of Dork, probably.
Now if we could only get Space Milk and Cosmic Cheese, we’d be set.
Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood #1: When it first appeared in the pages of 52, the idea of a cult devoted to the worship of crime itself struck me as both incredibly goofy and undeniably appealing. It is, of course, patently ridiculous, but considering that it was designed to happen in a setting based around a guy who dresses up as a bat to beat up muggers, it’s that shade of complete nonsense that fits right. Throw in the fact that it’s an Intergang plot and recruiting people for a religion based on crime seems like the sort of thing Darkseid would get up to back in the day, and it seems like a pretty sure thing.
And yet it left me cold, and the only reason I can think of is that, well, it’s too serious. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind things showing up in my comics that don’t directly involve talking monkeys or something, and if there’s one thing that I’ve come to really enjoy about Greg Rucka’s recent work, it’s the way that he effortlessly blends the elements of a spy thriller (like an undercover agent embedded into sinister terrorist organizations) with the distinc nature of the DCU (like the way they placed him into the terrorist cell with the aid of a sorceress and, yes, a talking monkey), and I was really hoping I’d find the same kind of approach here.
But it doesn’t quite hold up, and I think it has a lot to do with the way it treads the line a little too sloppily. Take, for instance, the two books in the Crime Bible that are mentioned right off the bat: The Book of Moriarty and the Book of Kürten. Even putting aside the fact that I’m not sure what kind of morals (or immorals, I suppose) these stories are supposed to teach budding criminals–what with the fact that Moriarty gets chucked off a waterfall and Peter Kürten was executed for the amazing accomplishment of being one of the worst people in Germany in the 1930s–the juxtaposition of the fictional villain and the real-life serial murderer does a lot less to legitimize the former than it does to make the whole thing seem weirdly out of place.
But like I said: Rucka’s earned enough credit with me that I’m not going to write it off after a shaky first issue alone. I’m just hoping that things start to fall into place for it a little faster with the next one.
Death of the New Gods #2: The first issue of this one came out a couple of weeks ago while I was still off from reviewing, but my thoughts on reading it were pretty much the same as they’ve been since it was first announced: There’s not a whole heck of a lot that I want to see less than the wholesale slaughter of one of my favorite parts of the DC Universe, and kicking it off with the murder of Big Barda didn’t really do a lot to endear it to me.
And it stayed like that through this issue, too: Scott Free literally “getting darker” with a costume change that looks an awful lot like that Doctor Impossible guy who showed up once or twice in Justice League and a plan to blow up a ton of Parademons felt like a rehash of Identity Crisis, and having the characters in the story itself acknowledge that doesn’t really fix the problem. Beyond that, though, the whole thing just feels padded out, especially in the fight between Superman and Orion. Admittedly, it’s not out of character for Orion to start throwing punches, but when Superman indulges him with a brawl about five minutes after they scrape the corpse of a friend off the floor just doesn’t ring true.
That said, if it wasn’t for writer/artist Jim Starlin, there’s a pretty good chance that I wouldn’t be reading comics today, and while it would’ve been nice to see how my life turned out if I’d devoted it to something, y’know, productive, I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt. I ended up having a great time with Mystery in Space after all, but right now, Death of the New Gods doesn’t look like it’s going to end up all that great.
Unless, of course, it’s Kanto killing everyone. Because Kanto, as we all know, is the coolest.
Dynamo 5 #8: In the letters page for this month’s issue of Dynamo 5, Jay Faerber talks about how the thing that inspires him the most when he writes the comic is “simply my love of super-heroes,” and while it’s been a solid read from the start, there’s really no issue where that love comes through quite like in this one.
On the surface, this one’s a paint-by-numbers super-hero story, from the trouble with secret identities to the fight with a bold new villain–played this evening by Bonechill, a guy with a skull made of ice that’s a much better design than it sounds like–that leads to an appearance by a couple of guest-stars. To be honest, it’s the same set of elements that you’ve seen a hundred times already, but the sheer fun that Faerber’s having with it–come on! Bonechill! Skull made of ice!–is something you can almost feel on every single page.
The best part, though, is that this issue comes complete with a new price, and really: When was the last time you saw the cost of a comic actually drop by fifty cents an issue? It all adds up to another reason to pick it up, and if you haven’t already, give it a shot. It’s good stuff.
Forgotten Realms: The Halfling’s Gem #2: I get the sneaking feeling that halfling enthusiasts are already on board with the Forgotten Realms comics, but for all of you fans of gems out there, have I got some good news…
Fans of Jem however, will continue to be disappointed.
DC Infinite Halloween Special: I think the record will show pretty clearly that there’s not a whole lot I love more than a good holiday special, but sadly, the keyword there is “good,” and that not really a word that applies here. “Wretched,” however, pretty much fits the bill.
I’ll be honest with you, folks: I didn’t even bother to finish about half of the stories in this one, and in case you forgot, I made it through a two-part Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose Halloween special on at least two occasions, so that oughtta give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here. The key difference: While Tarot was aggressively bad on multiple levels, it at least kept moving; the stories in here were both terrible and mind-numbingly boring, and when you can tell a boring story that features both Jimmy Olsen and zombies on the moon, that’s a pretty amazing achievement.
And now that I’m looking at it, I managed to somehow skip about four pages in the story by actor/former WCW champion David Arquette without noticing. Or caring. It’s really bad, guys.
To be fair, things do pick up in the last quarter of the book with a competent story I imagine it took Mark Waid about ten minutes to bang out on a slow afternoon and the mildly enjoyable return of Resurrection Man, but surprisingly enough, the best thing in the whole awful lot comes from Dan DiDio himself. It’s not that great, there are a few genuinely funny gags (which, to be extra fair, were actually a lot funnier when I saw them the first time in Weapon Brown). Beyond that, though, it’s a mess, pure and simple, and stands as quite possibly the worst $5.99 you could’ve spent on a comic book this week.
And yes: I’m counting both covers of Anita Blake in that.
Special Forces #1: If you’ve ever heard me talk about Kyle Baker for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me refer to him as America’s Greatest Living Cartoonist. And if you’ve ever wondered why, grab a copy of Special Forces #1 and see for yourself.
Of course, you could probably do that with just about anything the guy’s done, from Nat Turner to The Cowboy Wally Show (and if you haven’t already, you really, really should), but if the first issue’s any indication, Special Forces is going to stand up there with the rest of them.
For those of you who’d like a little more explanation, though, allow me: Inspired by the true story of an autistic teenager recruited by the Army (which is detailed in a pair of articles from ABC and CBS news that are reprinted in this issue), Baker crafts something that falls squarely into that part of satire that’s hilariously funny and chillingly close to the truth at the same time: A sergeant who fails to meet his quota being sent to Iraq with the same group of soldiers that he lowered the standards to recruit in the first place, all of whom are saddled with Easy Company-esque nicknames, and very few of whom actually make it through the first issue. Because when it goes bad, Baker makes sure it goes real bad.
And he does it with the consummate skill that we’ve come to expect from his work: The panels of action are riddled with sound effects, from the booming explosions that break through the panel borders to the tiny ricochets that surround the characters. This is a book that opens with a full-page shot of someone getting their head blown off and just runs from there, only pausing to let you catch your breath by letting you know a little–very little–about who these people are.
The Short Version: It’s a new Kyle Baker story that I’ve read three times today and still get surprised by how much I love it each time. Pick it up.
Showcase Presents: The Teen Titans v.2: I’d just like to take this opportunity to point out that this volume includes a story by Bob Haney called “The Skis of Death,” which is immediately followed by a story by Bob Kanigher entitled “The Titans Kill a Saint.”
So yeah: You’re probably gonna want to get that.
And as far as I’m concerned, that’s the week. As always, any questions–like how does Mouse Guard continue to be an incredibly exciting comic despite a plot for this issue that consists entirely of three mice going into a hole?–or comments–like the assertion that Nicholas Gurewitch’s Perry Bible Fellowship might have the best three-panel gags in the business–can be directed to the comments section below.
As for me, well, I’ll be over here recovering from my intense celebration of El Dia De Los Muertos! As it turned out, why, they weren’t actually skeletons at all!