First things first:
Okay, now then: Holy crap, you guys! I don’t want to build these things up to much, but this week had what was quite possibly the greatest line-up of new comics releases since Invasion! #3!
I mean, just look at it!
A new Alan Moore book, Scott Pilgrim, All-Star Superman, Fables, Ostrander on Suicide Squad, Luke Cage back in yellow silk… There’s even two comics starring the Punisher! Not even a double-shot of Judd Winick and the second issue of Simon Dark can slow a week like that down!
But then again, that’s just what it looks like on paper, and tonight, the Internet’s Most Exciteable Comics Reviews have to tackle the question: can it possibly live up to the hype?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: See below, my friends.
All-Star Superman #9: You can probably attribute this to the fact that I grew up with the Post-Crisis Superman, but I’ve always been biased against stuff like the Bottle City of Kandor and Supergirl, since I think it takes something away from Superman as a character if he’s not actually the last Kryptonian. It wasn’t until this issue, however, that I realized I was equally averse to other Kryptonians because they are all, without fail, total dicks.
Not that this should really be news to anybody: From the Phantom Zone Criminals on down to third-stringers like Dev-Em and Kru-El, they’re a pretty sketchy gang of super-powered aliens, and even Kandor’s emergency look-alike squad made it their mission in life to screw with Lois Lane whenever they got bored, so I think it’s safe to say that with this issue, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely are simply carrying on the proud tradition of total Kryptonian jerkery.
And it’s great. In the aftermath of the underwhelming Bizarro World story from the past couple of issues, this one is a return to true form, and I love every page of it. I love that Bar-El and Lilo are so far removed from humanity that they don’t even seem like the same species as Superman, and I love that they’re such incredible tools that they break the moon out of spite, then fix it by tearing up a bunch of national landmarks. I love that Superman never stops trying to help them, and I love that he’s just so good that they all end up having a happy ending. And I love that for Bar-El and Lilo, a happy ending means having a whole new bunch of people they can boss around and beat up at their leisure.
And perhaps most of all… I love that features Steve Lombard, whose commitment to being a total jackass rivals even those of Krypton’s finest.
Oh, and incidentally, in case you missed it in the commments of last night’s post and aren’t familiar with the Glaswegian Penal System, ISB reader Nick Davidson had this to say:
“Only Grant Morrison would write about a Kryptonian prison guard called Bar-El. Bar-L is the colloquial name for Barlinnie, a a high-security prison outside Glasgow. Nice one, Grant.”
Nice one indeed.
Atomic Robo #2: I was a pretty regular reader of Brian Clevinger’s 8-Bit Theater from its inception up until my interest in the comic–aside from Sword-Chucks–finally collapsed under the weight of it being an adaptation of Final Fantasy 1 starring a wacky cast of characters, but even towards the end, I’d drop by more to see what Clevinger was doing on the side than to read the comic itself. The biggest of these, of course, was his novel, Nuklear Age, which is promoted on the website with the simple fact that the word “dwarf-a-pult” is used in its pages over twenty times. Clearly, Clevinger’s onto something here.
And with Atomic Robo, it all comes barrelling through on the comics page. Clevinger’s a talented, funny guy, and when you take a script where the main character (a surprisingly genial 83 year-old robot built by Nikolai Tesla) explains how he defeated a group of gigantic insects with the phrase “I just used my violence on them” and add in Scott Wegener’s excellent art, the result is a comic that reads like pure distilled fun. Admittedly, there’s nothing in this issue that quite matches up to the scene from #1 of Robo going about his business underneath a dogpile of terrified Nazis, but it’s still well worth checking out.
Batman and the Outsiders #1: I’ll admit it, folks: I like Chuck Dixon. I’ve mentioned before that Dixon’s run on Nightwing was always one of my favorite titles during my misspent youth, and while the vast majority of his work tends to be incredibly formulaic, it’s a pretty enjoyable formula that made for some truly enjoyable reading back when he was writing all the second-tier Bat-titles.
That said, I really wasn’t expecting a whole lot from this one, especially given the bait-and-switch from DC that saw it originally solicited as being a Tony Bedard/Koi Turnbull joint that was suddenly announced as actually being done by Dixon and Lopez. After all, you see something like that, and it’s pretty hard not to imagine that Dixon got it based solely on the fact that at this point in his career, he can knock out a Bat-team script in about fifteen minutes and change.
Thus, low expectations were had, and brother, low expectations were met. Aside from Julian Lopez’s art (which is actually pretty nice, especially if it was a rush job), this thing ranks a solid mediocre, pushed towards awful thanks to the fact that Metamorpho’s still rolling around in dress pants and what might be the worst attempt at tough-guy dialogue ever, “That is one bad burrito.”
Also, there’s a scene where Batman refers to a lesbian couple as having–and I quote–a “special relationship,” which is exactly the kind of squeamish metaphor that I can picture Batman using under exactly zero circumstances. And that just about sums it up, I think.
Booster Gold #4: And on the flipside, a book I had some pretty low expectations for that I’m actually enjoying the bejeezus out of.
It’s not often that I read a title for four issues without commenting on it here on the ISB, but it wasn’t until after the first couple of issues had come out that I picked them up, and since I was off when #3 hit the stands, this is really the first chance I’ve had to mention it. Some of you may remember that I passed on this one when it was originally solicited, owing to my growing disenchantment with Geoff Johns and the fact that I don’t have much love for the character, but it got to the point where it was being recommended to me from so many angles that I felt I ought to at least try it out, and whaddaya know? The darn thing’s a great little read. And believe it or not, it’s gotten through four entire issues and there hasn’t been one graphic dismemberment. Yet.
If I still had any lingering doubts, however, they were pretty well dealt with last issue, which saw Skeets riding a horse and Booster getting drunk with Jonah Hex and then ramming Rip Hunter’s time sphere into the Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill. And that really gets to the heart of the matter: I love the DC Universe, and this is the first comic in a long while–since Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., probably–where I can see Johns’ unabashed affection for it come through too. But then again, maybe that’s just the presence of cowriter Jeff Katz coming through.
Either way, it works, and Katz, Johns, and the art team of Jurgens and Rapmund are delivering a very, very fun comic. I mean really: This issue’s got Booster Gold, Rip Hunter, and Skeets facing off against an Evil Booster Gold, an Evil Time Master, and an Evil Skeets–a phrase which I’m pretty sure I’ll never get tired of saying–and if that doesn’t spell excitement, than maybe they oughtta suplex some gorillas.
Fables #67: At this point, reviewing Fables is a lot like reviewing water. It just goes without saying.
Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Willingham and Buckingham are doing a flat-out amazing job on this book, even by its usual high standards. “The Good Prince” has been nothing short of excellent, and if it stays this good through its conclusion, it’ll knock out even Homelands as my favorite story of the run. I could go on about it for hours, but one of my favorite aspects of it is the way that it cuts back to Fabletown, where everything has come to a complete stop while they crowd around the mirror to see the events of the story unfold.
And the readers are right there with them: Thus far, it’s the payoff to the first five years of the book, first with the shadowy Adversary, then the turning point that came when the guy who had to be made a janitor just to keep him out of trouble became the leader who was one step ahead of everyone. It’s been masterfully done and beautifully drawn, and as unlikely as it sounds, it’s continuing to make Fables a book that I enjoy more and more each month.
But like I said: By now, that’s all just a foregone conclusion.
House of M: Avengers #1: In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have been so leery of this one. As I’ve mentioned before, Christos Gage and Mike Perkins’ previous collaboration on Union Jack was a great read, and Gage’s other work on titles like Stormwatch PHD continues to be highly enjoyable. But seriously, you guys? House of M was awful. Just awful.
Which, I think, is a testament to how talented these guys really are: They’ve taken the central conciet of that story–a world ruled by mutants where “regular” humans are the persecuted minority–and brought together a team of Marvel’s great street-level non-mutant characters that would probably be my first choice for Avengers in any continuity. I mean, just look at ’em: You’ve got Power Man and Iron Fist (of Power Man & Iron Fist fame), Moon Knight, Hawkeye, and… Well, Tigra, but they can’t all be winners. And even better, they’re all in a great story that, if nothing else, boasts some truly excellent one-liners. Here’s hoping the rest of the series lives up to the first issue.
Marvel Adventures Hulk #5: For those of you who might not realize it, allow me to hip you to a little bit of knowledge: Now that Jeff Parker’s off of the Avengers title, Paul Benjamin and David Nakayama’s kid-friendly version of the Hulk has smashed its way to the top to become the best Marvel Adventures title–and thus, one of the most purely enjoyable comics Marvel’s putting out. And it’s great.
And this issue especially. Admittedly, #2 might still hold the Best High Concept title with a story involving the Hulk getting Jamie Madrox’s powers and becoming Multiple Hulk, but this one has one crucial advantage. Because this is a story where Dread Dormammu of the Dark Dimension possesses the body of Rick Jones’ pet monkey. One more time, for those of you in the back, that’s Dormammu possessing a monkey, and then vexing Dr. Strange and the Hulk with the unstoppable power of the Mindless Ones.
Paul Benjamin, you are a genius.
The Punisher #52: I mentioned a while back that I don’t even really bother to review the Punisher anymore because Garth Ennis has, for the past few years, settled into a repetitive but very enjoyable formula designed to introduce characters so desperately in need of killing that the audience sides immediately with the cold-blooded mass murderer who stars in the title. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that: Ennis is a good enough writer that he can he can twist such a formula to get results from the incomprehensible (Widowmaker) to the brutal and infuriating (The Slavers), but still: a formula’s a formula, and they tend to get a little repetitive after a while.
Which is why I think it’s worth noting that the last page of this week’s Punisher had me gasping out loud in shock. I mean, man. Not to spoil it for those of you who haven’t read it or anything, but if that actually happened–and I’d like to point out here that there’s actually no visible body, just blankets–then I’m pretty sure that’s a first in my comics-reading career. But even if it’s just a trick, it’s nice to know that Ennis can still pull one off like that with a scene that just socks you right in the gut. Although I do wish he’d throw in some bearfighting every once in a while. Just for old times’ sake.
Punisher War Journal #13: I already mentioned how thrilled I was that we were getting two comics about the Punisher today, right? Okay, well, excuse me for a second while I bask in the vengeful radiance.
Right then. In the second part of tonight’s Frank Castle Double Feature, Cory Walker–who you might remember as the original penciller of this little indie book called Invincible–joins up with Matt Fraction for a story that, as far as I’m concerned, is about as close to the perfect Marvel comic as you can get.
Seriously: This one’s got it all, from what could accurately be described as a Kool-Aid Man reference gone murderously wrong to Spider-Man kicking someone in the face while lecturing them about inappropriate behavior (see above) to–and I can’t believe I’m about to type this–a great, well-written, well-drawn scene with Domino, of X-Force fame. It’s mind-blowing, and it all makes for an incredible, fun read that you all ought to be getting. Because really, there’s just no reason not to.
Salvation Run #1: I’ll admit that I was a little surprised to see that last night’s post generated as much discussion as it did, since I pretty much just stopped in to let you guys know I was going to be reading some comics instead of writing about them, but I think that says a lot about the quality of stuff that came out this week–or at least, the high anticipation for ’em. That said, I was even more surprised to see a couple of people extolling the virtues of Salvation Run, because… Really?
Don’t get me wrong: If you liked it, more power to you, but for me, it just kind of sits there, demanding that I make sense of it and offering very little in return. I’ll admit that I had my doubts to begin with, and I really only signed on to see what Bill Willingham could do with it, and it looks like the answer there is “not much.” It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but at this point it just seems like a thoroughly pointless exercise in aping Planet Hulk with a bigger cast, and that’s not really giving me a reason to stick with it.
World War Hulk #5: So: Spoiler Warning!
I hate the Sentry. Can’t stand him, especially over the past couple of years, when he–a character who fundamentally does not work except as a mildly interesting metaphor in a self-contained series–has been a focal point of a major arc despite never actually doing anything.
That said, the big throwdown with the Sentry and the Hulk in this is not only the best use of the character in, let’s say “ever,” but I’ll be honest: I thought it was awesome. I’ve heard other folks decrying it for being an anticlimactic end to such a huge story, but I don’t see it that way. I like that Hulk makes his point and then is immediately set off again by Tony Stark’s massive series of screwups, I like the big reveal that essentially amounts to the Hulk being a bad role model, and maybe most of all, I thought those sound effects were great.
I mean sure, I’ve seen people get hit hard enough to sound like “KRAKADOOM” before, but I have never seen anything that would necessitate a sound like “Sppppjjzzzzzz.” Well, outside of an Eros comic, anyway. Point being, I have no idea what you’d even have to do to make sounds like that, and I think that’s the point: This is a fight so ridiculously insane that you’ve never seen anything like it. And, well, I got a pretty nice chuckle out of “GRGGPAKK!” too.
But getting back to the meat of the story: The best moment by far–probably the best moment of WWH entirely, as far as I’m concerned–is the scene where the smoke clears and it’s just Bruce Banner and Bob Reynolds beating the living hell out of each other. Again, it’s something you don’t see all that much, and it takes the metaphor that their relationship is based on and drags it right out to its logical extreme in a way that still has the visceral appeal of… well, of two guys punching the crap out of each other in the middle of an explosion.
And really, that’s all I ever wanted it to be.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier: Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil’s latest volume of English Lit fan-fiction hit the shelves yesterday, and brother, I’m pretty sure this one qualifies as a tome.
I finished The Black Dossier up this afternoon, and while I’m usually able to snap off a verdict pretty quickly, I’m actually not sure how I feel about it. Make no mistake: This isn’t something that really lends itself well to a fast judgement, and it’s definitely one that asks an awful lot of the reader. After all, it’s mostly text–including a relatively brief piece that encompasses the history of the world–done in different styles, representing the items found in the Black Dossier itself. The characters read it as it’s presented to the reader, from a lost Shakespeare play to government reports filed under Big Brother’s regime to Victorian erotica to what I can only describe as Propaganda Porn, and I’ll be honest: Sometimes, it’s a fight to finish every densely-packed page full of characters that I’m pretty sure are only known to Jess Nevins, Hero of the People.
I was about to say that there’s obviously a lot of thought put into it, but that’s probably the stupidest thing I could write about this thing. It’s by Alan Moore. Of course there’s a lot of thought put into it. That guy probably put a lot of thought into Violator/Badrock. Best to move on.
Anyway, as hard as it is to read, it’s not without its rewards: There’s a heck of a lot to like in it, especially in what is unquestionably my favorite piece (and also probably the most fan-fiction-ish of the bunch), wherein P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster inadvertently does battle with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu in what is unquestionably the greatest literary team-up the 1920s could’ve offered us, done in the style of one of Wodehouse’s short stories.
It’s a great piece of work and it’s a lot of fun, but even as I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think that I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more as a comic than a text piece. No matter how it’s dressed up, it’s still a secondhand account of the action, and it only got worse when I read the “after action report” of the big battle between the English, French, and German Leagues.
In a lot of ways, it reads like Alan Moore had so much fun doing the Allan Quatermain story that ran as a backup in LOEG v.1 that he decided to invert the formula, making the text the focus and the comic a secondary concern, and I won’t deny that, as someone who loved the first two volumes enough to have the Absolutes and the Annotations, that I came away more frustrated than entertained in a lot of places.
To be fair, though, it’s a beautiful presentation. The different paper stocks, the layouts, the elements of the book that actually do feel like a jumbled file crammed with information, they’re all top-notch, and surprisingly, the 3D effects are really well-done. Just, y’know. Make sure to pack a lunch.
Scott Pilgrim v.4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together:
If you haven’t already, do so immediately.
And that’s the week! And I think it’s safe to say that yeah: Things were just about all right this time around. As always, questions, comments, missives, and presents–especially those pertaining to the fact that Wonder Woman totally German Suplexed a Gorilla this week–can be left in the comments section below.