Sunday, February 15, 2004

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What I bought and what I thought, week of February 11

For some reason this feels like a fill-in issue, even though series creator/writer Bill Willingham is on board. Talk talk talk is the order of the day this time out as we get Bill's takes on Cinderella and Ichabod Crane, Bigby Wolf pulls off a somewhat dubious sting, and a couple of plot twists later we know a little bit more about the Fables' Big we get a French-baiting joke at the end. Sigh. French baiting jokes are so 2002. Very good job by fill-in artist Tony Akins, who along with inker Jimmy (never met a penciller he didn't like) Palmiotti establish and maintain a credible faux Lee Marrs, an improvement in my book over Buckingham and Leialoha. Best of a lackluster week. A-

Tommy Lee Edwards, as regular readers might remember, is one of my favorite contemporary artists. Right now, he's been indulging himself in a Terry and the Pirates-type strip which can be seen on his website, apparently reflecting his love of aviation and especially old airplanes. This is what he brings to his debut on Hellboy, and while it's a nice idea, the execution is disappointingly sloppy and incoherent but still shows glimmers of excellence. I would love to see more TLE on Hellboy, I just hope he takes his time next time. Story no. 2 is a passably written zombie story which sports some truly wretched artwork, and the less said the better. Best of show this time out is a solo tale of Johann the ghost in the containment suit, whose last name I forget, by Kev Walker. I remember being impressed with a guest stint he did on The Legion, so I guess I'll have to keep an eye out in the future for this fellow. A disappointing Dave Stevens pinup and another pointless episode of John Cassaday's retro take on Lobster Johnson finish the book up. Hellboy: Weird Tales remains just good enough to warrant attention, while rarely rewarding it. How long can this keep going on? B+

1602 7
The closer we get to the end, the more Gaiman seems to be trying. His dialogue is still stiff and stilted, but he's thrown us several interesting curves and is keeping me guessing about how this is going to resolve itself. I really wish that they had found someone besides Andy Kubert to draw this series...he's trying hard, but this sort of thng is simply beyond his abilities. I liked the cover, which for some reason reminds me of Frank Zappa's 1975 album One Size Fits All. In fact, I've liked every cover in this series so far. Tellingly, though, the part I enjoyed the most about this issue were the words " be concluded". B+

H-E-R-O 13 The Robby Reed subplot is keeping me interested, since I really can't care less about the plight of poor Joe the Electro-Woman. The art is Leonard Kirk at his stiffest, something I thought he'd worked out in his last couple of JSA's. And to think I had such high hopes for this book once upon a time. Oh well, ce'st la vie. When Robby's dealt with (To be honest, I'm dreading another unnecessary cynical re-imagining of a lighthearted DC Silver Age character a la Kevin Smith's heinous Stanley and His Monster slam in Green Arrow), I'll be dialing B-Y-E B-Y-E. C+

Also had some back issue acquisitions in the past week- I found all four issues of the Sandman Presents: The Thessaliad mini series of a year or two ago, which gave us a solo spotlight for Neil Gaiman's surly petite Thessalonian Witch, named Thessaly. I passed on this series when it originally came out, mostly because after the mostly disappointing The Dreaming series, and several lackluster Sandman Presents spinoffs, I wanted no more to do with other people's versions of Gaiman's characters. But Mike Cary changed all that with his excellent work on Lucifer, and having also become an enthusiast of Bill Willingham's Fables, I decided to see what he would do with Thess, so I signed on for the most recent mini, Sandman Presents: Thessaly, Witch For Hire. It was after reading #1 that I remembered the earlier series, and I thought I'd see if I could find it at my comics shop, on a whim- and lo and behold, there were all four issues! A rarity for the Great Escape, where time and again I have found four issues of a six-issue series, and so on. Anyway, I decided to get #1 this week, and buy the next each subsequent week. Sandman Presents: The Thessaliad begins, strangely enough, in almost the exact same way its successor begins, with a bit more exposition in its dialogue and a bit more explicit violence than I was expecting. But that's pretty much par for the course when Thessaly's involved- creators just can't resist the urge to contrast her demure, bookwormish appearance with the actual mayhem and violence she's capable of as as the last and most powerful of the Thessalonian Witches. She is definitely not to be screwed with, in more ways than one. Since this is essentially a "set the stage" type story, it gets a pass on that account. The artist for SMP:TT is the same as its successor, Shawn McManus, who (if I'm not mistaken) drew a part of the Sandman story arc which introduced Thess. His work on Witch For Hire looks streamlined and mannered, here it is much looser and a little more given to exaggeration and cartoonishness, and is all the better for it. He's still not a favorite, but I like his stuff better in The Thessaliad, at least so far. First issue gets a B+.

I also acquired, through eBay, a set of issues 1-6 of The Losers. Yeah, I know, the trade came out this very week collecting those very same issues...but what the hell, I only spent a buck more and got a duplicate copy of the issue of 100 Bullets that carried a preview. Boys and girls, I gotta tell you right off the bat- I loved this first story arc of The Losers. No, it's not the freshest genre or concept out there; I can name probably a dozen movies in the last five years that have trod similar ground. But The Losers may be a shining example of why comics are sometimes better than films: this material is made fresher by the jagged, brittle art of "Jock", whose Sean Phillips-ish style grated at first but eventually grew on me, and impressed me with his aggressive layouts, use of shadows and light, and some of his facial expressions. Walt Simonson seems to be a big influence as well. I had seen his work in other places, most notably in a fill-in capacity on John Constantine: Hellblazer, and was not exactly overwhelmed, but he definitely brings a lot of panache to the party. His visuals enliven the proceedings, something which films of this nature aren't always able to fall back on...and sometimes, as in the case of the movie Swordfish, great visuals can't redeem a braindead story, certainly not the case with the 8 issues so far. And please sit down or hold on to something, and bear with me because I never thought I would type these words...the coloring by Lee Loughridge is uniformly excellent. That's right, the colorist whose work I love to hate and hate to love has come up a winner on this title. Don't get me wrong, his color pallette is still mostly monochromatic shades of muddy green, yellow, blue and brown...but he also adds some of the other colors God in his infinite wisdom granted his beloved creation, and Loughridge uses them to great effect in several instances, creating and sustaining a mood rather than murking up and obfuscating the art. Never thought I'd live to see the day...I was also previously unimpressed with work I had experienced by creator/writer Andy Diggle, especially the Lady Constantine mini of a few months ago which had completely left me cold. Obviously he has a lot more affinity for this Alias/Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels/Formula 51 type material than he does period fantasy, because here his dialogue is razor-sharp, his plot twists truly gnarly and he exhibits a welcome sense of humor, something which is essential in this sort of story, essentially a "payback"-type tale, with the title characters, who were black ops agents that were on a mission that went all fubar'd, causing them to be declared dead. Problem is, they weren't killed, and furthermore think that they were set up and are united in the goal of getting their lives back, by whatever means necessary. Of course, each is a badass in their own field, and there's one especially intriguing character, an Afghani double agent named Aisha who seems to be a one-women mayhem and destruction machine. Fast paced and fun, I highly recommend the recently released The Losers trade Ante Up- especially to those who are experiencing Sleeper withdrawals until V2 #1 comes out. They may be Losers...but we, the readers, are the winners.