The Week In Ink: September 30, 2009

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from a lifetime of reading them, it’s that if you read a comic that has the words Master of Kung Fu on the cover…

 

 

…you’re pretty much guaranteed to see someone get kicked in the face.

Yes, it’s Thursday night and the appearance of a new panel of Shang-Chi’s sweet chin music has heralded another installment of the Internet’s Most Acquisitional Comics Reviews! But before we get to those, a quick announcement that it’s Fall Fundraiser Time here on the ISB, which is basically just a fancy way of saying that I’m thinning out my collection and selling a few things on eBay. So if you’re interested in buying some comics and supporting the ISB at the same time, check ‘em out. Here’s what’s up this week:

Books of Doom #1-6: A great origin for everyone’s favorite time traveling horribly scarred armored sorcerer scientist dictator by Ed Brubaker and Pablo Raimondi.

The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana: The out-of-print hardcover by genius annotator, friend of the ISB and former Ajax guest Jess Nevins, exhaustively detailing the heroes of the pre-pulp era. I love this book, but somehow ended up with an extra copy.

Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew Full Run: Includes #1-20 of the original series, plus the three-part Oz/Wonderland War, plus the three-issue Bill Morrison/Scott Shaw! Final Crisis tie-in.

Batgirl #1-76 and Secret Files #1: And speaking of full runs, Batgirl is still one of the few comics that I bought every month for its entire duration and liked the whole thing.

Batman: Harley Quinn: This is another one of those comics that I ended up with multiple copies of over the years, and despite being the first in-continuity appearance of Harley Quinn, it’s also got one of my favorite Joker moments of all time.

Birds of Prey #5-46: And finally, this one represents a pretty big chunk of Chuck Dixon’s run on Birds of Prey, minus the first four because I got rid of those a while back when I picked up the first trade. It does, however, have the hard-to-find #8 that features Barbara and Nightwing’s date. Or as I like to call it, The Comic That Launched A Thousand Fics.

As you might be able to tell from the titles, that’s just the first bit that I’ve pulled out so far, and I’ll most likely have more stuff going up over the next few weeks for your bidding pleasure.

But enough with the plugs! We’re here to review comics (or at least I am; you’re probably here to ask why I didn’t show enough love to your favorite comic or whatever), so here’s what I picked up this week…

 

 

…and here’s what I thought of ‘em!

 


 

GI Joe: Cobra Special: I want you to bear with me here folks, because I’m about to use a phrase that I don’t think anyone has said since The Silent Issue came out in 1984:

This new GI Joe comic is a really masterful use of the form.

Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true. Before we get to that, though, I do want to mention the few things I don’t like about it.

The Cobra series has been as a high-stakes espionage story that uses the elements of GI Joe to function more along the lines of a comic like Sleeper, and on that front it’s been very good. But the problem–for me, anyway–is that the great deal of affection I have for the series is largely rooted in the goofier aspects of it. I like the idea of Cobra Commander as a legitmiate shrieking madman with completely insane plans that’s so good at motivating his soldiers and succeeding despite his madness that he requires a team of the best soldiers we’ve got to fight him and him alone. I don’t have much of an interest in reading a straight military action comic, and the overblown super-villain grandeur of characters like Cobra Commander and Destro–something that Chuck Dixon has completely missed in the main GI Joe ongoing but that Larry Hama has kept wonderfully preserved in the fantastic Origins series–adds a spin to it that I find incredibly entertaining. In short, I dig the silly stuff and how it interacts with the more realistic bits, and when there’s an attempt to make things “grittier” or “realistic,” the logical conclusion is to strip those things away, taking two psychic twin circus acrobat financial genius terrorists and removing the stranger parts, and it all leads to the sense of false “maturity” that you get from a teenager who’s just too cool for that stuff.

That said, Mike Costa made me like it in spite of myself, and it’s largely thanks to an expert use of a narrative trick that I just love: The story mirrors itself.

It’s the same trick that Alan Moore pulls in Watchmen #5–and again, I think we might be breaking new ground here by comparing a GI Joe story to Watchmen–but where Moore is more subtle with it (shocking, I know), Costa makes it the focus of the story, which, as it’s about a pair of twins that are always shown to mirror each other, works perfectly. It starts with Tomax and builds to the center of the story where the narration switches to Xamot and then works backwards, with each panel and each piece of dialogue building off its counterpart from the first half, reflecting all the way back to the first panel. I absolutely love stuff like that, and once I was through reading it the first time, I immediately went to the center and read each panel and its matching “reflection” in the other half just to see how well it all worked, and it was great.

I just noticed this flipping back through the book, but even the page numbering is reflected, counting up to eleven and then back down to one in the second half. It’s a thorough use of the technique, and Costa obviously worked hard to get the beats down, with artist Antonio Fuso pulling off the reflected panel layouts perfectly. So yeah: Masterful use of Watchmen-esque technique in a GI Joe comic that was not about Snake Eyes not talking. Believe it.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu Black & White One-Shot: I talked about this a lot during the recording session for next week’s episode of War Rocket Ajax last night (which is why you’ll have to wait ’til Monday to hear my thoughts on Batman: The Brave and the Bold), so in the interest of not repeating myself more than I already do, I’ll try to keep this relatively brief: This book is awesome.

I’ve been looking forward to it ever since writer Jonathan Hickman mentioned his story at HeroesCon, and while his story was the reason it was the first thing I read this week, the rest of the book didn’t disappoint. Like the Rampaging Wolverine special that came out a while back, this one largely reads like an attempt to recapture the glory of Marvel’s oversized black-and-white magazines from the ’70s, but while that one was super-heroics in the vein of Rampaging Hulk, this one’s a clear tribute to and pastiche of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. And as you might imagine, I am totally okay with that.

Mike Benson and Tomm Coker do a great job with their story, setting it up like a Hong Kong revenge picture right down to the “film grain” detailing, widescreen-style panels and subtitling, and the third story by Charlie Huston reads like it could’ve come straight from the pages of Deadly Hands, with Enrique Romero’s clean art–as seen at the top of this very post–perfectly evoking guys like George Tuska and Joe Staton. Paul Gulacy even comes back to illustrate a text piece, and as the final perfect touch, there’s even a “Count Dante” style ad at the end. But that lead story… that’s the one that blows ‘em all away.

For one thing, it’s a Master of Kung Fu story with no actual kung fu in it, and while that’d normally be grounds for a complaint, it’s made up for with the fact that it’s a story about Shang Chi going head to head with Deadpool in a Hunter S. Thompson-esque motorcycle race across the desert against characters like The Hitler Twins and a quintet of luchadores that ride a pennyfarthing. It is hands down the most over the top story I have seen in my life, and in case anyone out there’s forgetting, I write comics about a half vampire skateboard champion private detective who fights dinosaurs that are also witches, so that’s saying something.

It’s also incredibly fun. I haven’t bought any comics about him since Gail Simone’s all-too-short run on the title ended, but I do have a soft spot in my heart for Deadpool, and he fits this story perfectly. Shang-Chi, however, works because he doesn’t fit at all, and his presence just reinforces the whole comedy of the thing. If there’s a legitimate complaint about it, it’s that Shang-Chi’s more of a cipher than an actual character (you could essentially replace him with any number of other characters and have about the same story), but again, with the events Hickman and artist Kody Chamberlin put him through, who wouldn’t look plain?

So to sum up: I really liked a comic about kung fu and high concepts. Shocking, I know.

 

The Unknown: Devil Made Flesh #1: For me, this was one of those make-or-break issues that determines whether or not I’m going to keep reading a book I’m on the fence about. I read the first Unknown miniseries and while I enjoyed it a lot, I thought it fell short on its promise of a completely rational World’s Greatest Detective who turned her attention to the supernatural in her last months to live. The whole thing was just average, although to be fair, it was average by Mark Waid standards, as that guy can write highly entertaining comics in his sleep at this point.

This one, though, has hooked me back into looking forward to it, while at the same time frustrating me as a reader. There’s a fun mystery-within-the-mystery that’s set up and dismissed in a matter of pages with a clever “Flash Fact” solution, there’s a last page status quo change that I certainly didn’t see coming that hints at a much broader story beneath, and that’s great. But it also reads as though the first mini-series was just setup to get to this point, which makes this the real series and makes me wonder why I bothered with the first when it could’ve been trimmed down and done as part of this. In essence, this issue has retroactively downgraded the first series from “good but not quite up to its potential” to “enjoyable, but a waste of time.”

But again, there is a story here that I want to read, and Minck Oosterveer’s art is as good as his name is hard to spell, so I’m planning on sticking with it for now.

 

Usagi Yojimbo #123: Every now and then I’ll get a comment on the reviews asking why I don’t talk about Usagi Yojimbo that often, and my standard answer is that I would be saying the exact same thing every time, to the point where I’ve actually considered keeping a little text file on my computer for when it comes out so that all I’d have to do is scan the cover and write an alt-text joke. For the record, Usagi.txt would look something like this:

In this week’s issue of Usagi, Stan Sakai proves once again why he’s a twenty-one time Eisner nominee*. The man is a living legend, and this issue brings you the best of his clean but detailed linework and the engaging characters that have a depth that comes off instantly, betraying the master craftsmanship that most creators would kill for by what you don’t see as much as what you do. As always, the attention to historical detail is superb without being distracting (another element of his work that shows just how good he is), and his action scenes are superb without relying on even a single drop of blood to thrill the reader. I’ve said this before, but it might just be Usagi’s greatest adventure yet!

*: REMEMBER to change this next year when he gets nominated again.

And there is nothing in that review that would be inaccurate for every single issue. Come to think of it, I should’ve just started doing that and seen if anyone noticed. But even if I had, there’s one thing that I would like to point out here: This story, while it’s the note-perfect standalone that I’ve come to expect from Sakai, hearkens back to Usagi’s earliest adventures, but there’s such an amazing economy of storytelling that you know everything you need to know about these characters in the 24 pages you’ve got here, which is incredibly impressive.

Which probably means I’ve got another sentence I could add to the text file.

 


 

And that’s the week! As always, if you have any questions about something I read this week, or if you’d like to ask me if there is any greater opening sequence in comics than the Lincoln Memorial coming to life, fighting kid super-heroes and being shot by a giant stone John Wilkes Booth (answer: no), then feel free to use the comments section below.

33 thoughts on “The Week In Ink: September 30, 2009

  1. You didn’t get the Huge R.Crumb illustration of “The Book Of Genesis?” for only $25?

    Well, it’s pretty crappy reading. The motivations for this “God” character are all over the map, usually contradictory, often illogical. God keeps threatening kings for banging Abraham’s wife Sarah after Abe told them she was his sister. Some of the kings didn’t even bang her, but God puts the muscle on ‘em anyhoo. What a cut-up

  2. “a quintet of luchadores that ride a pennyfarthing”

    I don’t believe you. This is impossible.

    You should know, a quintet means 5 guys.
    Luchadores are Mexican wrestlers. Those guys are gigantic.
    A pennyfarthing is one of those old timey bikes with the gigantic wheel in front.

    I mean, not even Kanigher could come up with 5 Mexican wrestlers riding an old timey bicycle, could he?

    So if you’re making this up, you’re a genius. If it’s actually in the comic, I don’t know whether to cry or shout hallelujah.
    But I do know I’m going to the local comic shop in the morning and buying the hell out of that Shang-Chi comic.
    (If it really exists)

  3. Wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute, here.

    Watchmen #5 was mirror-imaged?? How did I miss…how could I not have seen…why…

    Holy freakin’ crap.

  4. “Well, it’s pretty crappy reading. The motivations for this “God” character are all over the map, usually contradictory, often illogical.”

    Sounds like Crumb stayed pretty close to the source material, then.

    Also, Sims, I get the never-reading-Cable thing and the Liefeld-covers thing but Cable and Deadpool was good. Really really good. As good or better than any of Simone or Kelly’s work on Deadpool.

  5. I liked in Cobra that they even went to the extent of palindromes in the corporate motto. That’s attention to detail!

  6. Wait, what? Enric Romero drawing Shang-Chi? HOLY SHIT.

    For the uninitiated, Romero was the second *major* artist (after the fantastic Jim Holdaway, a big influence on Walt Simonson, fact-fans) on the long-running MODESTY BLAISE newspaper strip, one of the primary sources of ass-beatings in the UK from the 60s to the 80s.

  7. Runaways was losing readers and treading water even since BKV relaunched with Volume 2, but I suspect the absence of the book from Chris’ pull list may have more to do with the words ‘Moore’ and ‘Terry’.

    I feel you’re overselling Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu Black & White One-Shot, Chris – Luchadores and Shang Chi in the same strip is pretty much the definition of “adequate level of awesome to make purchase compulsory” in much the same way your use of the words ‘Infinity Gauntlet’, ‘uppercut’ and ‘Galactus’ made me buy Fantastic Four #571. You need the extra space on your blog to be dedicated to Tarot reviews.

  8. Sakai has won the Eisner twice twice though he does deserve more. One of them was for the wishy-washy category “Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition”. The other, though, is kind of special. He won best lettering which doesn’t sound like much but until last month he was the [b]only[/b] person to win in the category against Todd Klein who carried it every other year that Eisners had been handed out. (This year Chris Ware managed to join Sakai in that elite club.)

    Still, Sakai definitely deserves a few more of them.

  9. You know, I loved this week’s Astro City, I’m the biggest Astro City head and can’t wait for it go back to the regular monthly series next year…

    …but Kurt Busiek, bless him, is pretty out of touch with how college students talk. And dance :D

  10. @jjj

    well, right now kathryn immonen is writing it, has been for the last few issues. but, yeah, i haven’t been buying it myself mostly since terry moore is an unknown factor for me.

  11. “As good or better than any of Simone or Kelly’s work on Deadpool.”

    I wouldn’t go nearly that far…. but it was pretty good.

  12. Have to agree that Cable & Deadpool managed to be similar in quality to Gail Simone’s stuff. I know, it’s hard to believe. Surely you’ve read about the Rhino’s revenge for that keychain thing. You have, right?

    kiragecko

  13. I was sad to see you haven’t stopped to read any of the current Deadpool stuff.

    Dont ge tme wrong. I LOVE Deadpool. I used to have vinyl on my truck of his head and block lettering across my back window (2 ft x 6 ft across of so)

    I found Cable/Deadpool good mainly becuae it integrated the character with the wider Marvel U. It kind of made Deadpool important again. Kelly did a good job of that. Simone did a good job of makign him low-key but still seem like he mattered.

    The current stuff has changed a bit of how crazy he is with the multiple voices in his head, but I find them amusing and they are once again making him a respected member of the Marvel U. The arc involving him and bullseye was fabulous. I also cant wait to see what happens when he attempts to storm X-Men Island, or Nation X, or whatever Scott will call his little country. Plus, now, wrtiers are finally putting Deadpool back on that path of the bad guy trying to redeem himself but using the worst possible methods to do so.

  14. Man screw current Deadpool. I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to turn him over to a bunch of tin eared hacks, but I haven’t read anything funny involving Deadpool since C&D ended.

  15. You made me get a little misty with your comments about Stan.

    He is the best, hands down. Usagi is pretty much the only comic I still buy (that and Beanworld), and I don’t understand why he hasn’t won more Eisner’s.

    Your Usagi.txt said it perfectly.

    Thanks, Chris.

  16. If it’s enjoyable, it’s not a waste of time.

    That’s an excellent point and one that I generally subscribe to myself, but what I was trying to get at was something a bit different. The first Unknown series seems, in retrospect, like something that could’ve done in two issues that was drawn out far longer, which could’ve been folded into the new story for something that was much more enjoyable.

  17. At first I thought that was Midnight Shang-Chi was kicking in your lead image, Chris, but it’s not. It’s Midnight Sun, the zombie Midnight built to fight the Silver Surfer before he was trained by Inhumans.

    And Shang-Chi cares for none of it. CHOKK!

  18. I think the best thing about the luchadores on the pennyfarthing is the reason they lose.

  19. A giant stone John Wilkes Booth? Isn’t that ripping off the “Super Best Friends” episode of South Park?

    Also . . . .no Blackest Night: Titans #2? Four words: Black Lantern Terry Long. I thought you’d be all over that for the hatred alone. Happily, I don’t think he was in his swim trunks from Who’s Who.

  20. I find the Ladronn drawn issues of Cable fascinating. Watching a passionate artist month-by-month struggle to integrate the influences of mid-70s Kirby, Geoff Darrow and Moebius into something cohesive was epic. Chunky, rock like bodies surrounded by sinuous, flowing machinery- mad! I regret he gave it up to draw like Gimenez.
    Try issue 54 and a visit to Wakanda for a touch of awesome.

  21. Casey and Ladronn’s Cable was cool, I thought. But I have some actual affection left for Cable. I’m trying to kill it off, but it’s pretty resilient.

    Also, I haven’t read much Deadpool since Gail’s run on DP/Agent-X ended either (other than Evan Dorkin fight man team up I got one issue of and need to get the other half of some day), but I thought that crossover with Thunderbolts this year was pretty okay, if only for his idea of flirting. I may look in to Cable/Deadpool just for the team up issues they did when they had to act like Cable was dead or something. Those sound like fun.

  22. Also, I feel some pride in calling that Shang Chi would get best of the week and kick of the week, even if that’s as bold a prediction as the wetness of water. I take my victories where I can, fleeting as they are!

  23. Great, now I have to go back and re-read TBATB. HOW THE SLAG DID I MISS BATMAN HITTING THE PENGUIN WITH A SEAL? I didn’t think I read it that fast. I should know better with Landry and Eric, I know.

    I so wish I could get the Captain Carrot set. Funds and lack of eBay/Paypal intrest interferes.

  24. Side note:

    For some reason, Kyle Baker’s illustration of Hawkman crawling into the mouth of a T-Rex, in the final issue of Wednesday Comics, is the funniest thing I’ve seen all year.

  25. Hold on, I just noticed something- is Shang-Chi rockin’ Converse sneakers on that cover? Nice!

    -Citizen Scribbler

  26. n this week’s issue of Usagi, Stan Sakai proves once again why he’s a twenty-one time Eisner nominee

    I’d have to nominate Sakai for a “Nicest and Most Gracious Man in Comics” award. Every year at ComicCon I see him acting vaguely surprised that anyone would want his autograph, or one of his drawings, or to talk to him. And his booth is almost always deserted. This is wrong.

    It probably doesn’t help that Stan’s booth is usually in the “Fine Art” area of ‘Con, so he’s surrounded by oil paintings of Dragons and Fairies with big boobs.