Sunday, April 18, 2004

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What I bought and what I thought, week of April 14!

Bill Willingham's concocted an appropriately epic adventure story with "March of the Wooden Soldiers", and this chapter is the strongest yet. Despite an opening scene which doesn't seem to fit (but I'd bet it will figure in eventually), everything else is note-perfect as he builds up a feeling of apprehension and tension as the Fabletown residents come face to face with the threat of war with the adversary which chased them out of their homelands years ago. And one of the most important figures is Pinocchio, of all "people", in a somewhat more grown-up interpretation than we're used to. Gotta give special props to the art team of Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha, whom I've cast plenty of invective at previously- this issue they do a great job of depicting the events, and for once Buckingham seems to be focusing and thankfully spares us the haphazard anatomy of previous issues. A

H-E-R-O 15
Jerry Feldon, the first owner of the H-Dial in this particular series, returns, along with the true original owner of the H-Dial from the House of Mystery days, Robby Reed...and perhaps not coincidentally we get the strongest issue of the series since the beginning. Reed wants the dial back, has escaped from prison to acheive this, and enlists slacker Feldon to assist him. Thankfully, Robby Reed is depicted by Will Pfiefer with a non-cynical revisionist slant, and gives us an unsettling, somewhat creepy (but not totally evil- at least not by what we've seen so far) persona which leads us to believe that Rob has his own reasons for re-acquiring the dial- and they won't benefit our Jerry. It's still too early to tell, but this promises to be an excellent arc. We also get a new penciller in Dale Eaglesham, with whom I'm not familiar but has a pleasing, if a bit slick, style- similar to Rags Morales or Steven Sadowski, perhaps. All good so far. A-

Only the (apparently) complete inability of artist Enrique Breccia to illustrate the human being prevents this from being an excellent comic series so far, because Andy Diggle is sharp, giving us a script which not only attempts to deal with all the random continuity introduced by hosts of other writers over the last 20 odd years, but also crafts a compelling story and does it with wit and style. Fortunatley, Breccia can illustrate most everything else very well, and he creates an excellent mood which is only slightly shaken when we're confronted with his horrendously ugly Tefe or his big-lipped Constantine. Offsetting this somewhat is a very effective portrayal of Sargon the Sorcerer, who, frankly, has never been as interesting to me as he is in this issue. Sometimes, I suppose, one has to make concessions in order to appreciate the whole, and that's what I'm doing here. A-

I blame Frank Quitely and his slyly sexy cover portrait of Risa Del Toro (who's apparently a sloppy drinker) for me picking this up. And despite the wretched pun of the series title plus the fact that artist David Hahn's polite style seems to be a bit neat and tidy and cute for the sanguinary goings-on it depicts, and that this reads like another David Tischman writing from Chaykin notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin at some Hollywood power lunch or another effort, I actually kinda liked this. It's got a sense of naughty fun and a snarky tone which I suppose Tischman must have picked up from Chaykin by osmosis by now, and an interesting cast of characters. Plus, for some reason it reminds me of a criminally (no pun intended) neglected Vertigo series of the mid 90s, Mobfire...I picked that one up for the heck of it, and wound up digging it deeply. I hope that this is the case with Bite Club...we shall see, I suppose. B+

The final issue of this showcase for other interpretations of Mignola's brainchildren gives us a Kaluta cover that just shows to go ya that even the great stumble once in a while- my admiration for the art of Mike Kaluta knows no bounds, but gahd is that a wretched Hellboy drawing, plus the cover just doesn't mean anything except that MwK is on a aeronautics kick right now. Much better is the first story, a cutesy tale from that queen of whimsy, Jill Thompson, which really doesn't make a lot of sense but is gorgeously illustrated in what would seem to be pen & ink and watercolors. Next up is a tale by manga stalwarts Kia Asmiya and Akira Yoshida that is again, nicely drawn but the story is nothing special, with a anticlimactic ending. Evan Dorkin draws and writes the best story this time out, a funny story of Roger the homonoculous visiting a psychiatrist. Dorkin get some funny lines in, takes some shots at death metal and Goth afecionados, doesn't scrimp on the serious he gives us a great job on the art with coloring by Sarah Dyer. Great stuff. Finally, a so-so cartoony illo by Gary Fields, another pointless Lobster Johnson retro comics exercise, and a beautiful back cover pinup by Lee Bermejo that I thought was by J.H. Williams until I read the table of contents. Hellboy: Weird Tales was a worthy, if often inconsistent, experiment and I hope perhaps it will come back again someday. B+

The title of this arc is "Life is Full of Disappointments", and that certainly is appropriate as we get this rushed and poorly drawn finale. What appeared to be a promising mystery story gets derailed by the perceived desire to wrap everything up in three issues, plus a somewhat unnecessary Huntress cameo (geez- couldn't the detective have found the news she gave him on his own?). I think the rotating writer situation is hurting this book more than helping it- Brubaker sets up something great, then it's time for Rucka again, and while you like these characters, and want to know them better, they're getting kinda lost in the shuffle and it's not helped by the tendency of both to introduce new ones each time they take the reins with a new arc. Plus, when Greg Scott's doing the art honors, none of the characters look the same from issue to issue or even page to page, and that's frustrating. Lark's much, much better, but he gets undermined by the wretched Loughridge color scheme, which renderes each and every player in unrelentingly muddy hues of yellow, brown and green and doesn't give us, the flustered reader, much in the way of visual cues. This is still a worthy book, especially when Brubaker is scripting, but some streamlining and a new colorist would make a world of difference. B

1602 8
This patchwork concoction of Neil Gaiman, which stumbled out of the gate but eventually hit its stride towards the end, finishes strongly, if a bit haphazardly, with some creepily effective scenes (like Clea channeling Doc Strange while holding his severed head in her hands- eww) and a few of the pretty obvious "secrets" (like the true identity of Virginia Dare's blonde protector) revealed. And despite some random acts of incoherence at the end (why the heck did Banner change into the grey Hulk at the end? Maybe I just wasn't paying attention), it all comes together and stands as a mostly entertaining, seldom thought-provoking and never-as-clever-as-it-thinks-it-is glorified What If? that, had I to do it all over again, would most certainly pass on...or hope to find the trade at 50% off one of these days. I'm mulling over whether or not to send Andy Kubert the bill for all the eye drops I've used while straining my eyes at his blurry art with its ham-handed Photoshopping. This issue B-. Entire series: C+