You know, we’ve taken some pretty hard shots at James Robinson here on the ISB over the past few weeks, but just imagine how much better this panel would be…
…if Daredevil’s dialogue was “But compared to you, Bullseye, I’m Chris Isaak!”
That line will never stop making me laugh, but enough veiled criticisms of comics from 1994! It’s Thursday Night, and that means it’s time for the Internet’s Most Somnambulistic Comics Reviews!
Here’s what I picked up this week…
…and here’s what I thought of ’em!
Agents of Atlas #11: Earlier today, Kevin said pretty much everything I wanted to say about this one, so I’m just going to quote him wholesale and hope he forgives me if I throw up a link to his all-new (and quite good) webcomic, She Died in Terrebonne:
I’m just going to presume Jeff Parker writes Agents Of Atlas for me and Chris Sims and the rest of you are lucky enough to be along for the ride. The latest issue has a terrific gag centering around a personality implant for M11 just identified as “The Greatest.” I won’t spoil it, but I’ll say it’s a perfect example of how to slip neat asides into your superhero comics without getting bogged down in the too-cute-oh-hey-here’s-a-meme syndrome that some writers fall into.
So yeah, what he said. And considering that Jeff Parker’s the next guest on War Rocket Ajax, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be talking about it quite a bit then, too.
Amazing Spider-Man #605: Okay, first things first: This comic is $3.99 for 48 all-new story pages, offering up three complete stories. Say what you want about Marvel’s price hikes, but on this one at least, they’re giving you your money’s worth.
All three stories are awesome, too–thanks largely to writer Fred Van Lente, who scripted the whole shebang [EDIT: That’s a lie, Brian Reed wrote the third one!]–but it’s the first one that steals the show. Believe it or not, as much as she sucked through the ’90s, I actuallly really like Mary Jane–and not just for SMLMJ, either–and it’s nice to see her back in a story that sees her in a starring role, but attempts to give a decent storyline reason for her absence from the book. It’s the art, though, that really steals the show: Javier Pulido (like Marcos Martin, with whom he often works) has a style that’s absolutely perfect for Spider-Man, and his faces in this one are just beautifully expressive.
Plus, it’s got Javier Pulido drawing the White Rabbit, and if we can’t agree that this is awesome, you can see yourself out.
The other stories too are standouts in the art department, featuring Luke Ross on the second and Yannick Paquette straight up channeling some Terry Dodson on the third, and Van Lente ties them all together for an extremely fun portrayal of Peter Parker’s love life, which, if you’ll remember, is so disastrous that the direct intervention of Satan was seen as an improvement.
Batman: Streets of Gotham #4: It shouldn’t surprise anyone to read this, but a while back, I came to the conclusion that I could pretty much just sit around reading Batman comics and be perfectly happy, and on a day off last week, I took the opportunity to put that theory to the test by re-reading Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics. My opinion on it soured towards the end once it started being a comic about Hush doing things like literally cutting out Catwoman’s heart, but I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed everything that led up to that point, especially once Dustin Nguyen took over the art.
Point being, this issue of Streets of Gotham is the best of the series by far, and fits in pretty well as an extension of what Dini was doing on ‘Tec, although I’ve still got mixed feelings about it. There are parts of it that come off as problematic even while Dini’s doing something interesting with them, as though he’s not so much taking a step forward and a step back as he’s just continually shuffling sideways. Hush is still in it, for example, but this issue keeps him limited to two pages, and even I’ll admit that having Batman’s network of assorted sidekicks and hangers-on keeping him in line is probably the most entertaining way you could deal with having an evil doctor who, when he wasn’t extracting hearts, performed plastic surgery on himself to look just like Batman. And after that point, the focus turns onto the guy that handles real estate for the super-villains.
And I’ve got to admit, that is a great idea, functioning as a nifty little callback to Silver Age stuff like Paul Gambi (Central City’s tailor to the Rogues), and while it’s an explanation for something that didn’t necessarily need to be explained, Dini’s talented enough to present it in an engaging way. But he’s using it to set up Mr. Zsasz as a force to be reckoned with, and the problem with that is, well, it’s Mr. Zsasz.
As far as Batman villains go, Zsasz, a muderer with a gimmick that involves self-mutilation, is about as standard as you can get. In other comics, a serial murderer with a body count in the hundreds who carves a mark on his own skin might be a little more potent (and from a real world perspective, it’d scare the crap out of me) but for Batman, he presents about as much of a challenge as a jaywalker. Batman deals with guys who poison reservoirs with fear gas on a monthly basis, and his tough fights see him facing down the God of Ultimate Evil, so Guy-With-Knife isn’t really going to cut it, so to speak. Admittedly, you could argue that the Joker is just a guy with a knife, but we both know that’s not true and you’d be stupid to do so.
So if Dini wants to use him as a credible threat, he’s got to present him as one, and he chooses to do so by having a character in the story literally tell you that he’s worse than the Joker. Specifically, the Real Estate Broker says that while he’s sold property to the Joker, Zsasz is the only one “who makes me feel dirty about what I do.”
This is one of the laziest tricks a writer can pull, and in this case, it’s also completely disingenuous. I’ve rambled on about the Joker at length before, but the short version is that he’s as far above other criminals as Batman is above other heroes. He operates on a completely different scale. The idea that Zsasz–again: Guy-With-Knife–could inspire a worse sense of dread than the guy who was sniping random citizens at Christmas, beat Robin to death with a crowbar and tried to blow up the U.N., paralyzed Batgirl, and killed Jim Gordon’s wife WHILE HOLDING A BUNCH OF NEWBORN INFANTS HOSTAGE is laughable.
And again: I’m not saying that Zsasz is necessarily a bad character or that he can’t be the focus of a good story, or even that he can’t be made into a credible threat. Heck, Dini almost pulls it off in this one, as the rest of the setup is perfectly interesting and very well done (and of course, beautifully drawn by Nguyen). But he torpedos himself by going for the cheap comparison to the Joker, and rather than building Zsasz up, it just serves to remind you of everything he’s not, and reaffirms his place as the character that we all know from the Arkham Asylum video game–which Dini also scripted–and reminds us that that place is to be the guy that Batman takes down with exactly one hit while he’s on his way to fight more important villains.
Beasts of Burden #1: If you’re like me, then you’ve often wondered what Hellboy would be like if the title character was a bunch of adorable neighborhood pets.
Actually, that’s a lie. I’ve never wondered that, because by the time it had occurred to me, Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson had already done it in the pages of the hardcover Dark Horse horror anthologies, offering up stories that were far and away the standouts of those books. And now they’ve finally gotten a longer-form story (with a bigger page size!) and I’ve gotta say, it reads like what you’d get if HP Lovecraft had written Bunnicula, and that is totally rad.
But again, that’s not really a shock, and neither is the fact that Evan Dorkin’s script is sharp and frequently funny, or that Thompson’s painted pages are absolutely gorgeous. But what was a nice surprise was that Dark Horse–in this week’s example of comic book companies doing something really cool–put the original stories on their website to read for free. So if you’re curious about the series, check them out there and then head to your local shop to pick on up. It’s well worth it.
MODOK: Reign Delay: If this were the VMAs, Kanye West would’ve grabbed the microphone when I named Spider-Man the best comic of the week and told me that he was going to let me finish, but Ryan Dunlavey’s MODOK was one of the best comics of all time. And he would’ve been right.
(Note To People From Two Or More Months In The Future: This was briefly a thing.)
Uncanny X-Men First Class #3: I’ll be honest with you, folks: I’ve been on the fence about whether I was going to keep getting First Class.
It’s not that it’s bad at all; the two-part Inhumans story that the book led with was pretty fun, and did some very neat things with Nightcrawler. But as much as I love the X-Men (though as often as not, that love has been pretty theoretical), my interest in the title was less out of wanting to read about the characters than wanting to read a comic by Jeff Parker, and with him gone, I wasn’t seeing much reason to continue.
And that was before Scott Gray referenced Banshee’s love of country music.
Long-time ISB readers will no doubt recall that I am amused to no end by the issue of Captain America where Banshee goes to Nashville for a Merle Haggard concert, mostly because Cap hiply refers to country music as “C.M.”, and Gray’s reference to that bit in the opening of this issue was exactly what I needed to get me to pay a little more attention and not dismiss the book as readily as I was planning to, and I came away really enjoying it. Gray does a fun little done-in-one with Banshee that delivers the best kind of all-ages action, combining super-heroics, romance, the supernatural and a mystery story in a way that most writers wouldn’t even attempt, let alone pull off with this much fun. And the fact that Roger Cruz does an amazing job with the art is no big shock either as he’s been awesome on this book since jump street, especially under Val Staples’ colors. It all makes for a very, very entertaining combination, and I’m glad I was hooked enough by a mention of Merle Haggard to stick with it.
And that’s the week. As always, if you’d like to ask about something I didn’t review–like how great Wegener’s art was in Atomic Robo this week, or how Batman plus the H-Dial should be awesome but came out mediocre–feel free to use the comments section below. Otherwise, just bask in the glowing radiance of the fact that someone just wrote 800 words about Mr. Zsasz.