If you tink I’m going to go with Batman kicking a guy in the face in this year’s DCU Halloween Special, then Tony Chu wants to tell you something:
Yes, after a two-week drought of facekicks in my comics, this week’s stack provided an embarrassment of riches, but there can be only one kick that leads off another round of the Internet’s Most Senses-Flattering Comics Reviews!
Here’s what I picked up this week…
And here’s what I thought about ’em!
Beasts of Burden #2: I talked up Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden pretty heavily when the first issue came out, but as we enter the final approach to Halloween, my appreciation of a good horror comic is higher than usual, and with as good as this book is, it bears repeating. What’s really striking isn’t just that it’s a great blend of Dorkin’s sharp dialogue and Thompson’s art, which manages to show dogs and cats that are simultaneously expressive and realistic–although both of those things are true–but how much of a straight-up horror comic it actually is.
By its very nature of having neighborhood pets that deal with the supernatural, it always sort of sits in my mind as a grown-up version of Bunnicula, and while that works pretty well as the elevator pitch, it’s not exactly a fair comparison, and this issue underscores why. There’s humor to it–there’s at least a small element of humor in pretty much everything I’ve read of Dorkin’s–but in this issue especially, they get to a point where it’s time to stop being funny and get down to the disturbing, creepy business of horror and pull it off perfectly.
And that’s no mean feat, either. The story structure, from its setup to its almost Tales From the Crypt-ish man-is-the-real-monster ironic punishment ending, could easily come off as cliche or–even worse–maudlin and sappy. I’m not much of a pet person thanks to a combination of allergies and outrigh crabbiness, but even I have a hard time not feeling automatic empathy when truly horrible things happen to cute little animals, which makes it a trick that I’m very leery of, especially after Mark Millar’s actually-pretty-good late ’90s PSA comic, Superman For The Animals. But rather than coming as a way to build cheap sentiment, there’s a subtlety to the way the story is executed–especially in Thompson’s art–that makes it far more effective than it has any right to be. It may have just been me–and Spoiler Warning if you want to keep everything fresh–but in the page where the kid gets mauled to death, my eye was drawn so clearly to the bright blood-splatter that I didn’t see the truly horrible things until I went back to it after the next few pages. And that last-page splash… jeez. Horrific, and incredibly chilling.
Which is exactly what a horror comic is supposed to be. It’s great stuff–and again, if you don’t want to take my word for it, Dark Horse has been cool enough to put the early stories online to read for free–and as we’ll see in a bit, you could do a whole lot worse if you’re looking for a spooky read this Halloween.
Chew #5: This issue wraps up the first arc for the strange book that surprised just about everybody, and I’ve got to say, it has turned out to be darn good comics.
Part of that comes from the fact that John Layman is just cramming high concept after high concept into this book–it’s not just that Tony Chu gets psychic impressions from the food he eats, but that he also works for the FDA and exclusively investigates bizarre food-related crimes, and also there may or may not be a government conspiracy that has outlawed poultry due to Bird Flu–but like all things, the big idea can only take you so far without the execution to back it up, and that’s something this book has a full helping of. Layman’s scripting is delightfully quirky, and Guillory pulls off art that’s over the top enough to fit it, with stylized figure work that lends itself as well to action scenes as it does with static pieces like this issue’s cover of the hulking Mason Savoy. It’s thoroughly top-notch stuff in a very bizarre way, and it makes for a great read.
As to this issue specifically, “Taster’s Choice” ends with the last-act twist that sets up the rest of the series, and it’s really neat to see the way that Layman’s been able to interweave the ongoing story arc with the rapid-fire plots he’s been presenting every month. Not to get off on the usual rant about decompression, but Layman really has offered up a full story with an interesting hook in every issue, from the vengeful food critic who causes widespread nausea with her reviews to the overfunded observatory. Any one of these would have worked for an entire arc, but the quickness with which they’re done is a testament to Layman and Guillory’s comedic timing, and the fact that they’re able to work in a story that’s actually compelling too is just icing on the food-pun cake.
The first trade’s out soon–an extremely reasonable ten bucks–so if you’ve missed out, then give it a shot because if it holds up, it might just end up being the best new series of the year.
DCU Halloween Special 2009: I don’t think I’m going to spark up a lot of controversey here if I say that I really like super-hero comics, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Dracula Week (not to mention my annual Christmas celebratoins, which tend to start the day after Halloween and continue right on through to January), it’s that I’m pretty fond of seasonal themed entertainment, too.
And that is why every year, I buy the DC Halloween special hoping that it’s going to be good, and why every year, I am thoroughly disappointed.
The problem this year is that it’s just no fun, and while individual taste may vary, I think the fact that a Halloween Special starring Superman and his running crew ought to be fun (with liberal amounts of spookiness added in) is something we can all agree on. And yet, this fails at both, and while I’m not a publishing company–well, not full time, anyway–I can’t imagine that it’s all that hard to put something together that is. It’s not like it hasn’t been done (the new Hector Plasm being the textbook example), it’s not like there aren’t a lot of talented people working at DC, and it’s not even like the exact same company didn’t put out a Halloween special that was actually highly entertaining–the House of Mystery Annual–like two weeks ago, so what’s the friggin’ hold-up here?
Things get bad right at the beginning with the Green Lantern Corps story, which starts out as inoffensively bland and then takes a turn for the worse when the creators decide it’s a good idea to introduce child abuse nine pages into the comic for what I’m pretty sure is absolutely no reason at all. It doesn’t do anything to advance the story, unless you count the hamfisted tenth-grade irony of “Guy Gardner likes Halloween even though his dad used to smack him around on Halloween!” It’s never explained why he likes Halloween if he has such terrible memories of it, and the fact that they actually go so far as to make it Halloween themed child abuse–Guy’s dad, no joke, holds his head under the water while he’s bobbing for apples and beats him up for wearing a costume–pushes it right over the edge into being completely incomprehensible. It’s never resolved or addressed, just shown, and it appears to just be there to pad out the middle of the story before Ice shows up in a Sexy Guardian of the Universe costume, ending the story by suggesting that Guy use his ring as a sex toy.
And that is the lead story.
After that, it’s just remarkably inconsistent: There’s a story about the Outsiders and I, Vampire that’s about as exciting as it sounds, a Batman story written by Tiny Titans‘ Art Baltazar and Franco that suffers from inconsistent art, a Robin story with very nice art from Dustin Nguyen that unfortunately makes no sense, a boring Red Robin joint, a nonsensical Kid Flash story that was probably too ambitious for the low pagecount it was given, a story by Billy Tucci that’s kind of neat, and a Superman story that’s actually the best of the lot, but suffers from the fact that there’s an overt reference to someone pissing himself in a Superman story.
The only one that comes close to matching the lead in terms of wrongheadedness, though, is the Wonder Woman story where Wonder Woman watches The Blair Witch Project. That’s it. That’s the plot. It’s a six page story where Wonder Woman watches a movie. And then she goes to find the Blair Witch, and doesn’t. The End.
I don’t even know what to say about that. I can’t even get my head around the fact that anyone would write, draw, edit or publish a story where a super-hero, especially one rooted in a tradition known for its monsters and its afterlife, would watch a movie, then go looking for the villain of the movie and not find him. It’s not a story. There’s no conflict. There’s no resolution. There’s just a bunch of words and pictures that you’re meant to go through in a certain order, but if you don’t there’s no problem because it’s not a story. It has absolutely no reason to exist, and yet it does, and I do not understand why.
It is, in short, one of the worst comics I have ever read in my life and despite its cover price of $5.99–or to put that in perspective, one cent more than it would cost you to get two issues of Batman & Robin or Incredible Hercules or Hellboy or Chew or Beasts of Burden or Hellblazer–is pretty much worthless.
Incredible Hulk #603: A few weeks ago, an ISB reader asked if I was reading Incredible Hulk since Greg Pak took over after the renumbering, and–as should be obvious by this point–the answer is yes. Over the past few years, Pak has quickly become one of the writers I’ve been most interested in following, starting with the surprisingly enjoyable Planet Hulk and continuing to now, when, along with Fred Van Lente, he’s writing what is without question the best book on the stands, and since I enjoyed Skaar: Son of Hulk before it went through its title change (I’m planning on picking up the stuff that’s going on now in trade), I hopped over to this one to see how it’ll play out.
And it has been a hoot.
Everything about it, from the way each issue has begun with a note about how Bruce Banner can never turn into the Hulk again, which is immediately followed by Banner himself acknowledging the inevitability of doing just that to the idea of a super-smart Bruce Banner palling around with an ersatz Hulk who likes to hit things with his sword is just incredibly appealing to me, and Pak, Olivetti and, with this issue, Camuncoli have pulled things off very, very well. And even though it’s fun in a completely different way from Herc, the same vein of comedy shines through, with Pak’s scripts pulling off the neat trick of acknowledging how silly this all is and just going with it anyway because it’s too fun not to, and the same goes for the Dark Reign one-shot that also hit this week. It’s good stuff.
Invincible Iron Man #19: I’ve said before that if you want to know what Iron Man’s all about, there’s really just a pretty short list of stories you need to read. Armor Wars is on there, of course, and Doomquest, which doubles as a what-you-need-to-know-about-Doctor-Doom story, Iron Man #200 is pretty essential, and the ubiquitous Demon in a Bottle pretty much rounds things out.
And after today, I’m pretty sure World’s Most Wanted goes on the list with them.
To start with, WMW has just about everything that you want to see from the guy. Matt Fraction has been doing some incredible things with this book since he came on, taking advantage of a climate when everyone wanted to like Tony Stark again to build rip-roaring adventures, and with this one, he not only throws in Tony putting on his old suits of armor (actually giving him an appropriate reason to do it this time), but gives you the character that has to step in and substitute for him, throwdowns his big-name villains and even a megalomaniacal businessman in a suit of knock-off Iron Man armor to function as a Stane-like foil. It’s got all the best parts of what’s derisively referred to as a “Greatest Hits” run, but it’s built around something new and exciting, and this issue brings it all together.
So much so, in fact, that it reads less like a super-hero yarn and more like a heist story with bulit-in repulsor rays, in that everything’s been building to showing the reader that the good guys had it figured out all along. It started with last issue’s reveal with Pepper and continues through this one’s “I win” scene (which again, echoes #200’s “Somebody lost”), but it’s that last page that really seals the deal with a little wink at the reader from the Tony Stark of six months ago. It’s the perfect page to remind us not just that yeah, this guy’s an Avenger, but also shows just what we like about him.
It’s excellent stuff, and if you haven’t jumped on, then brother, you’re missing out on some of Fraction’s best work for Marvel.
And that’s the week! As always, any questions or concerns about something I read this week can be left in the comments section below, but before I wrap up, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Miserable Dastards, a new graphic novel with art by Friend of the ISB Jeremy Dale, hit shelves this week with the story of thugs-for-hire doing it for themselves. I haven’t quite finished it yet, but what I have read is solid super-heist fun, and it’s well worth pestering your local shop to get for you.