Friday, August 29, 2003

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What I bought and what I thought, week of August 26

For the last seven months this low-key spy/superhero/conspiracy theory series has been getting deeper and deeper into the plight of its central character, deep cover agent Holden Carver, who's infiltrated a Illuminati-type group who are actually controlling world events- but the only person who knows about his mission is in a coma. He desperately wants out, and in this issue a way presents itself...but you know there will be complications. While I've been engaged by previous issues, this is the first one that really grabbed me where I felt it. Sean Phillips, another contender for ADD's list in my book, does his usual outstanding art job. I've read elsewhere that Sleeper only has four more issues to go- a shame, but I've no doubt that Brubaker and Phillips will go out with a bang. A

A mildly disappointing continuation of the multitude of storylines Paul Grist introduced in the color series. Excellently illustrated as usual, with several of Grist's trademark splash pages, but Paul the scripter is juggling too many plates for far too long- and not letting us see anything but brief glimpses is more frustrating this time around than engaging. Maybe I'm just impatient to read the end of the other storylines he had going on in the black-and-white book, who knows. A-

By far the week's best art job is turned in by John Cassaday in the new issue of this prodigal title- whether it's a mystical martial arts throwdown in ancient China or a battle of wits in a modern office building, the illustrations are nuanced and graceful, if a little spare...lotta credit goes to colorist Laura Martin, who Photshops the hell out of them. Scripter Warren Ellis, though, has provided another example of why American comics companies should consider the manga model- I've been reading Planetary since day one, and I had to stop and think several times about who Anna Hark was, and who her father was (still don't recall that one, dammit), who James Wilder was, and so on because it has been so frigging long since this book came out on anything resembling a regular schedule! I pity the fool, Mr. T, who picks this issue up without knowing anything about what has gone's reader hostile for sure. That being said, Ellis's script on its own terms is great as usual in its terse way. Nobody does grim as well as Warren. A-

Well, I certainly was unimpressed with the journey, but I have to admit I really enjoyed the destination. Scripters Abnett and Lanning took a great three page story and stretched it out to five, and if DC showed any inclination to collect Legion stories then it would probably be worth it, but reading it in chapter form it really tried my patience, zigging when it should have zagged and throwing a whole kettle of red herrings at us. However, in this particular issue everything gets tied up and resolved neatly and cleverly, and the characterization of a couple of previously underexposed characters shines through. So...not the disaster I expected, but I hope DnA tighten things up in the future. The biggest benefit of the last five issues has been the showcase for (hopefully) future regular artists Chris Batista and Mark Farmer- their version of the LSH is certainly the best since Oli Coipel bailed, and maybe the best since Chris Sprouse and Karl Story (whom they remind me of a bit in places) so long ago. Next issue: an interesting looking Steve Lightle fill-in. A-

JLA 85
Maybe if I had never been a Major Bummer fan, I wouldn't hold the art of Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen in such high esteem, but I was and I do. I think these guys are providing some of the best mainstream superhero book art there is these days, and they turn in a typically outstanding job here. Problem is, their art does more for Joe Kelly's hit-or-miss scripting than vice versa. Actually, this issue (and this arc) is some of the most linear (and most accomplished) storytelling he's done since assuming the reins of DC's premeire super-team...but there's a been-there, done-that feeling to what seems to be the primary menace, and who the hell knows what he's trying to do with his uncharacteristically grouchy Superman, especially odd since he used to chronicle the exploits of the Man of Tomorrow for a while there. Still, when mind control is the major component of your plotline, one must give the writer some slack when it comes to characterization, methinks, and I'm willing to give Kelly the benefit of the doubt on that score. His J'onn J'onzz and Batman's been a little off too, further causing me to think there may be more than meets the eye here. We'll find out in two weeks! Wow- another full issue of Mahnke and Nguyen! B+

Another mysterious figure from Conjob's past has returned, this time getting his perenially-in-trouble cousin Gemma involved in some sort of nasty business with dangerous island dwellers. Mike Carey's efficient chapter one is a bit reminiscent of Lovecraft, perhaps, or some of the late Sixties-early Seventies films that were made based on his stories, like The Dunwich Horror or Die Monster Die!. effectively moody, and this Ghant fellow could prove to be an interesting adversary for JC. Don't know how, or even if, this ties in to the ongoing storyline, but no matter...this may be nothing more than an interlude in Carey's bigger picture, The art is by another newcomer (new to me, anyway)- Doug Alexander Gregory, and it's OK, very Mignola-inspired but a little sketchy and underdrawn in places. He's no Marcelo Frusin, for sure. B+

Once again, a mixed bag: the highlight is the lead story, a Liz Sherman spotlight wonderfully illustrated by the woefully underseen Jason Pearson. Pearson the artist outshines Pearson the scripter,'s a pretty standard demon possession story, notable for the ending. Story two is a silly Abe Sapien spotlight by John Arcudi and Roger Langridge. The art is lively and fun, but I wonder if Arcudi has ever read any issues of Hellboy. Story three is even more lightweight, and the John Cassaday Lobster Johnson story is just as deadpan strange as always. B-

I deemed this a failure three issues ago, and nothing since has really changed my mind, although I will admit that the last two issues worked a lot better than the first three. Taking the Creeper character, or at least the idea of a Creeper-type character into turn-of-the-century Paris and its art scene was a clever idea, but unfortunately the dialogue was lackluster at best, the big mystery pretty easy to guess early on, and the heavyhanded cameos by the big names of the Surrealism movement was a conceit best left for art appreciation classes. The ending was well-done, though, for what that's worth. Cliff Chiang is an artist who has a world of talent, and is obviously very skilled, but for some reason his style comes across to me as lifeless, uninvolving, and muddily inked. He has his admirers, though, so I suppose I'm in the minority there. Special mention must go to the colorist, Dave Stewart, who did a wonderful job for all five issues- his vibrant hues were the real highlight of this series. C+