You know, if Sex and the City combined face-kicking and shoe-shopping as well as the new Cinderella comic does, I probably wouldn’t consider the Season 1 DVDs to be the strangest Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.
It’d probably still be in the top three though.
Yes, another Thursday night, another boot to the jaw, and another installment of The Internet’s Most Mildly Fantastic Comics Reviews! here’s what I picked up this week…
…and here’s what I thought of them!
Assault on New Olympus #1: All things considered, it’s been a good week for Hercules–which means that means that it’s been a pretty good week for comics readers, too.
To start with, we’ve got this one, which not only kicks off Herc’s next major storyline, with the big reveal of what Hera’s been cooking up with Continuum®, plus the wrap-up for the subplot with Hebe, both of which have been running through the book since at least the Dark Reign story. Now, I’ve been pretty vocal in the past about my love of this comic, but these two things in particular are perfect examples of things that I really love about it.
First is the thing with Continuum®, which is a perfect example of the Long Payoff. I’ve said it so much that even I’m getting tired of hearing it, but Incredible Herc has followed the mold of Walt Simonson’s Thor, my all-time favorite run of comics. Not just in the fact that it’s a book about a mythological figure that draws equally from the original myths and the Marvel universe–although that’s definitely there, and it’s obvious that Pak and Van Lente have good taste in where they draw their inspiration–but in the way it’s structured. Simonson didn’t just do issues about a guy hitting things with a magic hammer (although when he did do those, like the all-splash-page #380, they were off the hook, the chain, and the charts), he set up complex, interweaving plotlines that built organically over months, and paid off beautifully. And that’s what Pak and Van Lente are up to here, keeping subplots simmering until it’s time to bring them to the forefront in a really fun way.
The art of the long payoff also ties in with the plot with Hebe–we’ve known for a long time that she’s been out there while Herc’s been adventuring–but more than that, it represents something else I love about this book: The amazingly strong characterization. We’ve known for a while now that Hercules has a lovely–if somewhat ditzy–wife that’s utterly devoted to him, and yet there’s been almost as many pages over the course of the run devoted to Herc getting laid as there have been to him fighting bad guys. Namora, Snowbird, Alfyse, they’ve all fallen to his hirsute manliness, but Pak and Van Lente have never shied away from acknowledging that in pursuing them, Herc’s totally pulling a complete dick move. It’s something that they’ve brought up before; there’s a scene with Ares in Against The World where he outright calls Hercules an adulterer (among other things) and can’t understand why we still think of him as a hero. The answer that Hercules gives–and the thing that everything the creators have done on this book have underscored–is that it’s because he’s flawed that makes him so appealing. And that’s true.
Although that said, it’s nice to see those two crazy kids get a happy ending.
Herc’s other appearance this week comes in Deadpool Team-Up, which I’m going to go ahead and talk about here because I don’t have much to say about it and don’t particularly feel like scanning another cover at the moment. I’ve mentioned before that I was a pretty big fan of Deadpool during my misspent teenage years, but I’m completely mystified by his current surge in popularity. Still, this one was a Hercules story by Fred Van Lente, so I picked it up.
The end result? Well, it’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it just feels off. I don’t understand why, and I’m perfectly willing to accept that it might just be leftover leeriness for ‘Pool coloring my opinion, but everything in this story should have appealed to me, and instead it fell a bit flat. Arcade’s one of my favorite villains, and FVL’s proven on other books that he’s a funny enough writer that he should be able to carry the wackiness of Deadpool pretty well. And he’s not un-funny here, just sort of flat, though I do like the idea that Deadpool is a character for whom stabbing himself in the head to solve a problem is a workable option.
Maybe it’s just me, but things just haven’t seemed the same with Deadpool since Gail Simone left Agent X, and I’m starting to think that her run was so good that it ruined him for everyone else.
Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love #1: A few months back, Chris Roberson wrote Jack of Fables #36, which was the first thing for Fables that didn’t have Bill Willingham’s name on it. And what’s more, he did it with something that had to have made Willingham and Matt Sturges to slap their foreheads for not thinking of it first: the all-gorilla issue.
As ISB readers might expect, this sort of thing was right up my alley, and I was thrilled to see Roberson come back to Fables to elaborate on Cinderella, as the reveal of her being Fabletown’s master spy is one of my favorite bits from the series. The idea that her story’s plotline of repressed hatred, disguise and Fairy Godmother-enabled subterfuge translates into unsurpassed skill at espionage is not only something that shows exactly how the hook of the series as a whole functions by adapting characters to a modern-day setting, but it’s just a neat little idea to go from bippity-bopping to Casino Royale while keeping a sense of humor about it. And Roberson does keep his sense of humor, and while this issue’s mostly setup for the rest of the series, it feels more intriguing than padded, and with as much as Willingham and Sturges have managed to include in the series so far, it’s nice to see that Roberson was able to put together a plot based entirely on what they’ve left out.
I’m an unabashed fan of the series, but this issue was still better than I was expecting, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes next.
Conan the Cimmerian #15: For this week’s issue of Conan, they pretty much just put a girl with no shirt on right there on the cover.
I’m not gonna lie, that’s pretty awesome.
Secret Six #15: Rather than the usual script from Gail Simone, this issue’s a fill-in from John Ostrander. Outside of his recent battle with glaucoma–which led to one of the most genuinely heartwarming examples of the comics community coming together–Ostrander doesn’t get a whole lot of press, but it’s important to remember that he’s the guy that wrote one of the best comics of all time.
Even putting aside his other work, like The Spectre and Manhunter and the creation of Johnny Karaoke (the best worst Batman villain of all time), the man’s a legend just for Suicide Squad. I’ve mentioned my love of Squad here and there over the years, but the fact of the matter is that it was probably the best DC Comic being produced at a time when DC Comics as a whole were better than they’ve been since, and it’s obvious from Gail Simone’s work on Villains United and Secret Six that she feels the same way. Her stories in those books strive to build the tension and comedy that seemed so effortless in Ostrander’s books, and every time he comes back to those characters, it’s obvious the old magic’s still there. I was actually a little worried when the recent Squad miniseries was solicited because I know how hard it can be for writers to come back to a book they’ve moved on from (for every Grant Morrison coming back to JLA, there’s a Chris Claremont coming back to X-Men), but he didn’t miss a step.
And the same goes in this one, with a book where Ostrander focuses on Deadshot, the character that he defined over the course of 60+ issues. Like From the Ashes, it fits right in with the series, and it makes for a pretty thrilling read on its own, and–not to knock Gail Simone–a nice shift to a more personal story after the broad action of the series so far.
It’s well worth picking up to see Ostrander at the top of his game, and seriously, DC: Suicide Squad not being in paperback is damn near criminal.
Stumptown #1: Earlier tonight, I was talking to Kevin Church about Stumptown, and in between various permutations of “How good is that booK?” “So good,” he came up with the observation that with this book, Greg Rucka was “just straight up Brubakering.” In addition to my love of making verbs out of names, I latched onto this because I immediately got what Kevin was saying: There’s no flash to what Rucka’s doing here; it’s pure craft.
It’s not really fair to compare Stumptown to Detective Comics, as one’s a gritty, independent crime drama and the other’s a high-action super-hero book, but they make an interesting study in contrasts that can come from the same writer. Rucka’s completely on point with both, but there’s a level of flair to ‘Tec that comes through in JH Williams’s artistic tricks and the shouldn’t-be-that-good gimmick of a super-villain twin sister who only speaks in quotes from Alice in Wonderland. Stumptown, however–and this goes with the territory of it being grounded in a more realistic setting–is far more personal, with incredible art by Matthew Southworth and Lee Loughridge that’s good in a completely different way, with heavy moodiness that echoes Sean Phillips and fantastic facial expressions.
There is one trick that Rucka uses in the story, though, and it’s one that–as at least a couple of you know–I am a total sucker for: The teaser-opening that goes into a flashback for the rest of the issue. But even with this, Rucka tweaks it a bit, reinforcing the mood by doing it as a countdown to what we’ve already seen, and it works beautifully. It’s the kind of issue that shows you exactly how it’s done, and I cannot wait to see the rest.
Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai: I mentioned earlier that this has been a good week for Hercules, and while that’s true, it’s been an even better week for Usagi Yojimbo fans. Not only did we get Stan Sakai doing a samurai Hulk story in the otherwise lackluster Strange Tales #3, but this week also saw the release of the first ever full-color Usagi graphic novel. And it is awesome.
I’ve given the standard rap about Usagi in the past, and while pretty much everything I said there about skill, craftsmanship and economy of storytelling applies here as well, the hardcover is just superb. The entire presentation of it, from the design of the cover to being able to see Sakai’s fully-painted art is just wonderful, and more than worth the price of admission.
Storywise, the actual plot is relatively simple–Usagi fights ghosts! With a sword!–and as such, it’s a great little stand-alone that even people who have never read a page of Sakai’s work could pick up and enjoy. In essence, it’s just an extra-long, extra beautiful issue of the series, and there’s no better way to celebrate the 25th anniversary than with more of the deceptively simple work that makes it such a great book to begin with.
Annnnnnnnnnnnd that’s the week! As always, if you’ve got any questions or concerns about something I picked up this week–like if you want to talk about how great Jeff Parker, Salva Espin and Casey Jones’s late, lamented Exiles, or if you want to call me out on always talking about Simonson’s Thor but never mentioning the run on Fantastic Four that I love almost as much (the best issues of which are out this week in trade)–then feel free to leave a comment below.