Sunday, May 30, 2004

Catchup comics commentary, before I begin to break down this week's oversized haul:

OK, I understand that there is no overarching theme. nothing which will tie all these individual stories together, that these are just random, one-off looks at different young people with powers and abilities and how they cope (or fail to cope) with them. Nothing wrong with this, but it just causes a bit of a wish, in my mainstream-comics addled brain, that there was a underlying reason (a point, if you will) for all this, and it wasn't just random instances of "young guy or gal has powers, young guy or gal gets into situation because of powers, young guy or gal deals with powers and faces the future, whatever it may be". But taken on their own terms, the individual stories in Demo have been involving and well-executed so far, which brings me to this one- which is about a young fellow of Asian-American origin who grows up in a neighborhood where he's picked on and looked down upon by the intolerant neighbors, and the terrible revenge he enacts when he's finally had enough. The story is dialogued and paced nicely, with events building up inexorably, just as they did with Ken, our protagonist, and when the shit storm hits, you feel the impact. Becky Cloonan turns in a typically outstanding job, atmospheric and just sloppy enough (and I mean sloppy in a good sense) to help us realize the emotions depicted in that time-honored expressionistic fashion. The only negative I had about her art was the peculiarly underdrawn father, and that may have been intentional, to demonstrate his lack of presence and powerlessness...but he really stands out in a not-so-good way. I have questions: in the aftermath of Ken's payback scene, we see his parents slamming the door in his face. Wha-? So what happened after that? Did he live on the streets? Was he taken in by an orphanage, unlikely since he parents were still alive? Did his 'rents eventually get over their fear of their son and let him in, so he could continue his education and be brought up as normally as possible? Obviously, things went well for him after the events depicted here, we're informed of that right off the bat. So wha 'hoppened? Also, did his family have to move because of the terrible events? What did they tell the police? With Demo 6, it's more what we don't see that bugs me, rather than what we do see this time out. B+

This, kiddoes, is one of the funniest damn comics I have ever read. I don't often sit with my mouth open (the drool is so messy) in amazement as I read, but I caught myself doing it at least twice during my initial scan of this issue. The Monsters of Rock satire didn't crack me up as much as the story of the Cap'n's brother Bluebeard (finally- someone recognizes the genius of Anson Williams!) or how Blackbeard deals with his brother, or the Rue McLanahan commercial...but this is just wonderful, glorious insanity from start to finish, and I hope these Dogs sail on for a long, long time. Longer than Anson's singing career, anyway. The goat says...hilarious! A

This is a handsome hardcover which collects the first three miniseries, along with a few short stories that appeared as backups, that Larry Young named his publishing venture after- and while I wish that the pages were a bit bigger, it's still a very nice package to have. But Johnny- whad'ya think? Hm. I like the basic concept, which appears to be man's attempts to reach the moon, stars and beyond, and the press coverage that always seems to go hand in hand- and sometimes things don't always go smoothly. I liked the first series the best, mostly because the story was fun and fast-paced, and because of the art by Matt Smith, whose Mignola-esque style I've admired since I first saw it in the DC Day of Judgment crossover event. Unfortunately, Smith abruptly bails about halfway in and we get utility-man artist Charlie Adlard to fill out not only the rest of this series, but the next two as well. Unfortunately, the second story, "Space: 1959" just didn't work for me at all- the dialogue is laden with cultural references and perceived 50's style dialogue which really draws attention to itself, and we're expected to believe that a man can climb up a ladder as a rocket is reaching escape velocity. Also, Adlard totally fails to give us any sort of visual confirmation that the story does indeed take place in the year before I was born- if not for a few automobiles here and there, and the odd fedora on character's heads early on, this could be any sort of generic time from the 70s to now. The lead female character looks like a typical comic book "sexy-babe" type, and all the soldiers, in their uniforms which I suspect were intended to resemble the space suits worn in Forbidden Planet, are drawn as skin-tight on men, including the nutjob in charge of the secret rocket base, and just look like mannequins in spandex. I've read much better from Young and seen much, much better from Adlard...these things happen. The third story, "One Shot, One Beer" comes across as a lot more relaxed and reads much more naturally. Taking place years after the events of the first miniseries, we are told three entertaining tales (from different time periods, and one featuring a surprise guest-star- surprise to me, anyway) by various inhabitants of the bar which was set up near the ill-fated Lunar base from the first miniseries. Adlard's art is much better this time out, as well, showing how much he improved in the time between minis, and also causes me to think that he's much more comfortable drawing futuristic as opposed to retro. As I said, I think the concept behind Astronauts In Trouble is a solid one, and promises to take some unexpected turns along the way. I would suggest going forward rather than backward, though. I also received the interesting behind-the-scenes look at the genesis of the first miniseries, The Making of Astronauts In Trouble, and it's an interesting look behind the curtain as the title suggests. B+

How much you like this will depend on how much you liked Neil Gaiman's "Kindly Ones" arc from The Sandman oh so long ago. Fortunately for me, this is not a problem since "Kindly Ones" was probably my favorite arc of all of them in that noteworthy run. This is a continuation of "Kindly", as we catch up with Lyta Hall, who was manipulated by the late Morpheus of the Endless into giving him an heir. Mike Carey, of Lucifer fame and no dab hand at picking up Gaiman's concepts and running with them, shows us what life's like for Lyta after the terrible outcome, and mixes her up in a revenge bid by none other than the original Titan, Cronos. Carey, as he tends to do, mixes mythology, theology and drama skillfully and The Furies is a great read because of it. It wouldn't be nearly as successful, however, if not for the meticulous painted art of John Bolton, who is at his best. When it was originally released in hardcover, I wanted this bad but had to pass due to the steep price tag, but it's more affordable in softcover, and when I got the chance to get it at 25% off, I pounced. If you're a Sandman fan, and you don't have this, well, what more do you want? If you're not, I think you could still appreciate and enjoy it, but it presupposes familiarity with the "Kindly" Sandman arc, and it could be offputting. A

Despite the fact that conventional wisdom states that kids don't like to read anymore, somebody buying the books for the pre-teen/teenage market, 'cause from Goosebumps (is that still being published?) to Harry Potter and beyond, there seems to be a ton of entries into that particular field, with more coming out every month. Another entrant into this derby is a series of books called Sidekicks, by Don Danko and Tom Mason, which tells the stories of a group of (you guessed it) sidekicks to older heroes, who apparently recruit and train these kids and their special abilities, with permission from their parents...and we get the usual personality conflicts between the seconds that you see in any kids-in-school situation. Some are conceited bullies, some are shy nerds, some have crushes on unattainable girls, etc., etc. What keeps this from being stale and cliched is the light tone the writers use, and they do come up with several clever twists in the stories. I would imagine that if I was the target age, I would think that these books were the greatest thing since sliced bread, and I would recommend them to any parent who is trying to foster an appreciation for reading in their kids. Myself, I plan to give the review copies to my grandson as soon as he begins to read. Older readers won't probably be too captivated; while the stories aren't written down by any stretch, they're still pretty much concerned with telling the tales to appeal to the 'tweener and aren't burdened with anything that is meant "for Mom and Dad to enjoy, too". Of course, as an older reader I kept flashing on Rick Veitch's Brat Pack series and the sidekicks in Alan Moore's Top 10...but I suppose that's just my geek fanboy burden to bear.

My God, I think I'm caught up now! Coming later, reviews of new comics...

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