And we’re back!
The more astute among you may have noticed that there was no update to the ISB last night, in flagrant violation of the immutable daily schedule I run around here. Sadly, it was out of my hands: A pretty hellacious storm rolled through town last night, taking out my power until about three in the morning and leaving me to enjoy the magic of South Carolina in July with no air conditioning.
This is, for the record, not as fun as it sounds. And incidentally? Hits were up today, even with no update. Why you gots to send me those mixed signals, baby?
Oh well, it doesn’t matter! After all, it’s Thursday night, and that can mean only one thing:
Yes, nothing quite says “well thought-out critical acumen” like a boot to the chops, so buckle up for another round of the Internet’s Most Violently Credible Comics Reviews!
Here’s what crashed headlong into my collection this week…
…and these are the snappiest judgements you’re likely to find!
Annihilation: Conquest – Wraith #1: So in case you haven’t heard it, there’s a rumor going around that the Big Secret of Wraith’s origin–set to be revealed in the next issue–is that he is actually ROM, and if that is true, it will come perilously close to displacing Nextwave #12 as the single best thing that Marvel has done this year. There are a few signs, of course: The Spaceknights show up in the Annihilation: Conquest Prologue as the first victims of the Phalanx, which would make for a nice motivation to have Galador’s favorite son join the big conflict. Also, if you squint and really, really hope that it’s true, the markings on Wraith’s poncho kinda look like they could be sort of be… You know… ROMish.
I’m trying not to get my hopes up in the very likely case that it’s not true, but even if this doesn’t turn out to be the long-awaited return of the greatest of the Spaceknights, it’s not like this book is exactly devoid of potential. I mean, really: When your worst-case scenario is an all-out action space adventure from the guy that wrote The Middleman, thats a pretty good place to be.
BPRD: Garden of Souls #5: I’ve mentioned my love of Hellboy before on numerous occasions, and almost every time, I talk about how the roots of my affection lie in the simple premise of a character who confronts the unknowable horrors of the supernatural and then clubs them into submission with a pistol or punches them out with his giant rock hand. It’s a beautiful concept, and Mike Mignola pulls it off in such a way that doesn’t reduce the threats of the monsters or make Hellboy seem like a clod. It’s just perfect.
And that, dear friends, is one of the many reasons that this issue, which includes a scene where Abe Sapien rips the arm off of an eldritch robotic horror and then uses it to beat the ever-living crap out of another eldritch robotic horror, struck me as flat-out awesome. Along with Mignola, John Arcudi and Guy Davis have been producing top-notch comics with every single issue of the various BPRD mini-series, and Garden of Souls was certainly no exception: It’s the revelation of the final pieces of Abe’s origin set against a mad arcane plot with a suitably creepy new cast member thrown in to boot. It’s great stuff, and it’s exactly what I’ve come to expect from the team.
Deadpool/GLI Summer Fun Spectacular: Like most Marvel comics readers who like a few laughs with my face-kicking, there was a time when I enjoyed the bejeezus out of some Deadpool. Two times, actually, if you’re counting the Joe Kelly and Gail Simone runs as two individual entities separated by a dismal chasm from which no chuckles could escape, but that’s beside the point. Sadly, I’m starting to feel like those times might be over: Despite a few genuninely funny bits that I’ve seen (mostly in the Civil War crossover, oddly enough), Fabian Nicieza’s Deadpool has never really struck me very well. I know how this is going to sound, given that his defining characteristics in the Joe Kelly years were holding a blind woman hostage under threats of death, heaping abuse on an alcoholic sidekick and uppercutting Kitty Pryde, but he just seems a lot less funny and a lot more meanspirited here.
But in case you’re thinking that means I didn’t like this one, DON’T! Putting the Deadpool stories completely aside, Nicieza and Dan Slott strike absolute gold with the plot of ISB Favorite Squirrel Girl going on a mission to find out what happened with Speedball after their first kiss, thus proving that someone besides me actually remembers I Heart Marvel: Masked Intentions. It’s fantastically entertaining stuff, and by the time it’s over, Slott and Nicieza take the utter nonsense that is Penance and knock out one of the best fixes since Agents of Atlas, bar none.
Fables #63: I generally don’t bother to review Fables every month, seeing as how there are only so many ways to talk about how good it is (which is similar to the problem I have with Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s DMZ), but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the current story-arc may actually be the best one of the series thus far. That’s not an easy bar to reach, either: For my money, the current title belongs to “Homelands,” which features Boy Blue fighting his way to the Big Reveal, but “The Good Prince” is almost nothing but big reveals and shocking returns, with a liberal dose of well-done foreshadowing thrown in for good measure. It’s truly excellent storytelling as usual from Bill Willingham, with the equally fantastic art (also as usual) from Mark Buckingham, and really: You don’t need me to tell you that. I just really like it.
Green Arrow: Year One #1: Before my interest in the title was brutally beaten and left for dead by a run where Judd Winick thought it would be a good idea to have him take on a bunch of monsters and then karate-fight Deathstroke with his samurai sword, I liked Green Arrow an awful lot. It’s one of those concepts that’s so simple that it takes an amazing amount of effort to get it wrong: He’s a modern-day Robin Hood, a spoiled rich kid with a social conscience that drives him to help out the less fortunate by shooting bad guys with pointy sticks. See? It’s genius, and while most of DC’s planned “Year One” titles didn’t really catch my fancy, the promise of something that would boil Oliver Queen back down to that simple concept was incredibly appealing.
Of course, it helps when the team behind it happens to be the same pair of guys that brought you Vertigo’s late, lamented Losers, which stood alongside books like Queen & Country as one of the most thrilling action comics to hit the stands in recent memory. It’s a tough legacy to live up to, but Andy Diggle and Jock make a pretty good go at it, sticking to a familiar story and casting Ollie as a complete–if mildly repentant–jackass, setting the stage for his big Road to Damascus moment later in the story. Even the seemingly small details, like his casual brush-off of drug rehabilitation, make for nice touches and go a long way towards fleshing out something that you usually see encapsulated in a sentence and a half. It’s good stuff, and if it keeps up, it’s going to make for a pretty enjoyable series when it’s all said and done. Which is to say, as long as Green Arrow gets to shoot people with pointy sticks. And maybe one with a boxing glove on the end.
Madman Atomic Comics #3: Under a lesser creator, a book where two characters essentially stand around discussing the plot with each other to catch up everyone who didn’t know what was going on already–presumably because they were still waiting for Madman Gargantua–would be one of the most unforgivably boring expository tricks a guy could pull. With this one, however, Mike Allred’s found a way to make it work: Doing every single panel in the style of a different artist as Frank Einstein wanders through his subconscious. And the list of artists he pays homage to is like a history of sequential art, from Winsor McKay and Jack Cole to Kirby and Ditko to Eric Powell and Darwyn Cooke to Art Adams and Dr. Seuss to the Kuberts and the Romitas and just about everyone you can think of in between. It’s absolutely flat-out amazing, and it speaks to Allred’s talent that he’s able to pull them all off so beautifully. It’s incredible, and even if you haven’t been picking up the series, you’re going to want to at least take a look at this one. And once you look at it, you’re going to want to look at it again and again, matching up panels to the phenomenally long list of names on the first page and marveling at how Allred pulled it off. Great, great stuff.
Nexus #99: And speaking of comics that I’m waiting for a little bit of backstory on, we have Nexus. It’s weird: I like Steve “The Dude” Rude’s art a heck of a lot, and given that he was the writer on Punisher for over five years, I’ve developed a pretty strong affinity for Mike Baron’s work as well. He did, after all, bring us both the saga of the best ninja training camp in Kansas story where the Punisher hangs out with Luke Cage after a pigment-altering surgery performed by a heroin-addict prostitute turns him black for a few months, so needless to say, I’m a fan. And yet, before about a month ago, I’d never actually read Nexus. At this point, though, I’ve only made it through the first of the Dark Horse archives, which means that I’m still separated from the current issue by a pretty huge margin, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to catch up. But what’s more, I’m not sure that it’ll even be worth it to try: What I’ve read just doesn’t seem to grab me, and for next month’s big hundredth issue, there’s going to be a recap anyway, which is really what I’m holding out for. I’m hoping that something in there hits me just right, but if it doesn’t, there’s no big loss. After all, I’ll always have that Mister Miracle Special and a story where Frank Castle fights a dog that is also a ninja, so rest easy, Baron and Rude: You guys have given me enough.
Punisher War Journal #9: There are a few things in this life that I will never, ever get tired of, and Frank Castle brutally murdering Nazis is one of them. Needless to say, Matt Fraction and Ariel Olivetti continue to give me pretty much exactly what I want from the Punisher, but rather than falling into the predictable (and enjoyable) cycle that marks Garth Ennis’s run of late, they continue to surprise me as well. For instance, the last thing I was expecting out of a Punisher story was for Frank to be hit by H-Rays, and the subsequent question of what happens when you take a guy that is completely consumed by a slow, single-minded hatred… and make him hate more. The answer, as you probably know by know, is something very bad, and it’s something that I certainly didn’t see coming from this one, leading to a fight that just keeps getting more and more personal. As always, it’s a great read, and in case you haven’t been paying attention for the past year, it’s one of the best books Marvel’s putting out, hands down.
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #20: With this issue, the ISB bids a fond farewell to writer Sean McKeever, whose departure from this book (and Marvel Comics) made for much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst a group of fans significantly older and more male than the actual target audience for the comic. Make no mistake: I love this comic, and McKeever’s scripts–along with the beautiful art of Takeshi Miyazawa, who provides the best cover of the series for this issue, David Hahn, and colorist Christina Strain–have made it easily the best ongoing Spider-Man title on the stands, and seeing him go is just breaking my heart. But it’s in a good way: For his swan song here, McKeever manages to deal with Peter Parker’s embarrassment of riches when it comes to the ladies–what with the fact that he’s torn between Gwen Stacy, Firestar, and our title heroine–in a way that actually makes him sympathetic. It’s beautiful character work, and given how McKeever’s worked with the past 28 issues of the Mary Jane titles, it’s a perfect end to his run.
As for the book’s future, well, I’ll say this: Terry Moore was really very nice when I met him at a con a few years ago, and he even did a sketch of Black Canary that I like an awful lot, but I’ve never really enjoyed his comics, and I’m pretty sure that’s going to remain the status quo for the forseeable future.
Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen #1: You know, I was actually struggling with how I was going to treat this book when it came time to review it, wondering whether I should do it “in character” so to speak, treating it as a serious work from a conservative pundit, or just review it as a humor title, or even if I should compare it to my own foray into the world of fiction, The Chronicles of Solomon Stone.
But then I saw this panel…
…and realized that was probably all anyone needed to see.
Clubbing: Well, it had to happen sooner or later, but with Clubbing, the Minx line has made its first major misstep. And it’s a sharp drop, too, given that their last offering, Mike Carey and Sonny Liew’s Re-Gifters set the bar so high by being one of the most entertaining graphic novels of the year, and while I didn’t really expect Clubbing to live up, I didn’t expect it to fall quite so flat, either.
The plot is thus: The girl on the cover there is Charlotte Brook. See, she’s from West London, born and raised, and at the goth clubs is where she spends most of her days. Coolin’ out, maxin’ relaxin’ all cool, or stealing some Photoshop from the school, but there’s this one time that she’s up to no good. She starts making trouble in the neighborhood. She gets caught by some cops and her mom gets scared, and says you’re moving with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air.
No, wait. She moves in with her Grandparents in Meadowdale. Sorry, got confused for a second.
Anyway, the problems here are many and varied, starting with the fact that, well, that’s a pretty terrible cover. I’m not sure what the folks at DC thought they were going to accomplish by mixing photography and comic art here, but it doesn’t work, and the perspective is just wrong enough that Charlotte looks to be twelve feet tall and about as natural in her setting as Roger Rabbit. And once you get inside the comic, they just keep stacking up from there.
For one thing, I’m really not sure if Josh Howard’s the right guy to be drawing it. Don’t get me wrong, I actually do like the man’s art, but that’s just the thing: I like it, and I like it because I enjoy pinup-style drawings of angular women in what essentially amounts to fetish gear. Thus, Charlotte changes into a new and revealing outfit in almost every scene, with mini-skirts getting shorter, heels getting higher, and garter belts more visible along the way, which, for a book aimed at young girls, seems awfully exploitative. And then there’s the problem of Charlotte herself: She doesn’t come off as particularly brave, smart, or concerned with anything but herself, leaving me with the problem of a pretty unrelatable protagonist. Admittedly, it’s not designed to relate to me, but I didn’t have much trouble finding something to like about Main Jane and Dixie, either.
And hey, did you know this thing was a murder mystery with a supernatural element to it? No? Yeah, me either, and I’m relatively certain that I pay closer attention to the solicitations than your average joe. There’s one mention of the murder on the back cover copy, and none whatsoever of the supernatural element, which is, y’know, kind of a huge selling point that they might want to draw attention to. Or maybe they skipped it because it’s not introduced until page 108, when the book takes a sharp left turn into the realm of the paranormal for 38 pages. It just would’ve been nice to know, but even with fair warning, it’s still pretty poorly constructed, with a telegraphed ending and no discernable character growth for our alleged heroine.
Oh, and they also misspell Bertie Wooster’s name in the glossary, identifying him as Bernie Wooster. I mean really!
ISB BEST OF THE WEEK
Devil Dinosaur Omnibus: IN AN AGE WHEN GIANTS WALKED THE WORLD, HE WAS THE MIGHTIEST OF ALL!
Dinosaurs! Fire! Spacemen! Kirby! A note in the letter column that assures you that the subject matter is being presented with only the strictest attempts at historical accuracy! DON’T ASK! JUST BUY IT!
And that’s the week! As always, if you have any questions about something I read, comments on something I ought to read, or just want to join me in celebration of the fact that we got two new oversized Jack Kirby hardcovers and two oversized hardcovers featuring Devil Dinosaur this week–a feat that I can almost assure you will never be repeated ever–feel free to leave a comment.
As for me, I’ll be over here trying to figure out how to repackage a giant red Tyrannosaurus and his filthy naked ape-man companion into a form more suited for younger female readers.
Maybe if I gave them flowers?