Friday, September 19, 2003

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What I bought and what I thought, week of September 17

So far, so good as Milligan avoids the trap I had feared, choosing to explore a new direction for our "hero", rather than going once again to the lost-in-the-identity-of-someone-else well that I had hoped he would avoid. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone that's overly sensitive about the events of 9-11, but otherwise, this is a smart extrapolation of a real-life premise that I'm sure has a lot of basis in truth. Javier Pulido's art looks a little bit rushed this time out, and I'm wondering if he's ever done a monthly title before...but believe me, I'm nitpicking. He's still excellent and more than good enough to overcome the hamfisted hues of Lee Loughridge. A

More Groucho Marx meets Robert E. Howard, as we delve deeper into the backstory of the big blue Top Tener Jeff Smax, aka "Mr. Dragonslayer". Smax was not one of my favorite characters in the original series, but this is clever and interesting (pretty much par for the course for Alan Moore) and well drawn by Zander Cannon, especially the really bizarre looking dragon we encounter. Amusing Frazetta swipe on the cover, too. A

Beatrice, the coat check girl from Lux (the Morningstar's piano bar), who has gone unseen for quite some time now gets a partial spotlight in this issue, which also deals with the reprocussions of Lucifer's actions two months back. We're also introduced (if they've appeared before, I don't recall them) to two giants who decide to assume the vacant position of ruler of creation, and they seem to have done their homework, which makes them a surprisingly credible threat, despite the fact that one of them reminds me of Billy Crystal's Monsters, Inc. character. As always, Ryan Kelly and Peter Gross do a capable, if a little inconsistent this time around, job. A-

Well, even though if you kinda squint your eyes you'll think you're reading 100 Bullets, this is not bad in its own right. Not the most original thing I've ever read, but this Cinnamon character is charismatic enough to be interesting, and the upcoming conflict between this daughter of a murdered sheriff and the daughter of one of his murderers looks to be worth following...and I have a sneaking suspicion that it might take an unexpected turn or two before it's over. I hope. A-

Out of the 23 pages, only 8 actually advance the script, so once again we're treated to more of the backstory of David Mack's Echo character, which is useful, I suppose, if you didn't read her first appearance a couple of years ago. In fact, if not for those 8 pages I would have sworn I was re-reading last issue. So while it's all very well illustrated in Mack's Bill Sinkiewicz-influenced style, it's not very cost I dock this issue a notch and hope for closer to a 50-50 mix next time. B+

Here we have an impulse buy. I really like the Ultimates book, and this is definitely cut from the same cloth, albeit with the Ultimates acting a bit more fascisistic than I remember from their own title. I suppose if we have to have superheroes, then I like them presented this way: terse, down-to-earth, no-nonsense, with a self-aware, sarcastic sense of humor. Of course, this is anaethema to many who have their hero-identification crosses to bear, so I'm sure there will be as much bitching about this as there is about the Ultimates proper. Bendis sets the tone from the beginning with his usual snappy dialogue, Joe Quesada turns in a nice art job on the first few pages, and Trevor Hairsine does his best Bryan Hitch impersonation for the remainder (and gets away with it more often as not), with Danny (Johnny B does not know who the hell you are) Miki holding it all together on inks. Nicely done, and if not for the inconsistent art I would have given it an A-. B+

I have to admit that I was a wee bit disappointed that this wasn't Abe Sapiens, Liz Sherman, Hellboy, and co. sitting around getting drunk on cheap wine...instead, it's more Liz and Roger the Homonoculus (with another appearance by Lobster Johnson, who's nowhere near as interesting to me as he seems to be to everyone else) as they get mixed up with (you guessed it) ghostly Nazis, this time riding a (yep) ghost train. Even so, it had my interest for about 3/4 of the book, until the creators seemed to run out of pages and charged full speed ahead to the end. Typical hit-and-miss Geoff Johns, and OK art by Scott Kolins, whose work I hated on Legion years ago, but apparently he's had a stylistic epiphany of some sort since. I like it a lot better now. B

OK. Bill Sherman, Big Sunny D and Sean Collins have weighed in on this already, and they've managed to sum this up quite nicely, confirming the suspicions that I had about the general thrust of this difficult-to-like limited series. Look, for the record, I like Grant Morrison's work. I was right there, digging on his Doom Patrol and its magnificent spinoff Flex Mentallo, one of my all time favorite comics series. Marvel Boy. The Invisibles. Even a trade or two of his New X-Men. I think there are few, if any writers who have as much sheer imagination as Morrison, let alone the ability to challenge his readers. However, as with his Invisibles, I think that he has ultimately failed to get his ideas across because he has deliberately chosen to cloak and obscure them with overwhelming visual and verbal clutter, which would seem to be at cross purposes with the enlightenment he seems to hope to bring to his reader. But he apparently doesn't know how to do it any other way...when waxing all metaphysical on us, I don't think he could write a linear story if he wanted to. These convoluted "unreality vs. reality" and "common man striving to find that small spark of the divine within while dealing with the mundanity of the world in which he lives" notions were the heart of Invisibles, (especially) Flex, and the Filth, and only on Flex was he able to state his case clearly. Whenever I've finished something like this, I'm always reminded of Robert Christgau's review of John Lennon & Yoko Ono's Some Time in New York City, in which he states:

...But if agitprop is one thing and wrong-headed agitprop another, agitprop that doesn't reach its intended audience is hardly a thing at all.

And isn't agitprop of another sort what Morrison's trying to do, this time on a perceptual level rather than a social level like John & Yoko in 1972?

All right, that's all. I think I'll definitely have to re-read this at some point; after all, it took me a couple of readings to get to the bottom of Flex Mentallo as well. And I'll also mention that Chris Weston, with inker Gary Erskine, often turned in some stellar work during the course of this series, no more so than on this issue's touching last page. The coloring was magnificent throughout. A lot of what The Filth was trying to say may have evaded me, but I'll give DC a lot of credit for putting it out. I wish more floppy pamphlets, or trade paperbacks for that matter (and that may be where The Filth coheres) would be as challenging as this one has been. This issue: B. Entire series: C+

Note: The Filth review has been edited a bit to help clear up some fuzzy thinking on my part. Mercy buckets, Big Sunny D!