Sunday, June 20, 2004


What I bought and what I thought, week of June 16

As you will discover the farther you go in this post, I purchased 13 comics this week, and every one of them was very enjoyable and worthy of your attention. However, since my custom when writing this column (for lack of a better term) is to place the reviews (again, for lack of a better term) in my own personal order of preference, I had a dilemma. Which title did I enjoy the most? And after a lot of thought, I settled on this, the latest issue of nouveau critical-whipping-boy Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's Daredevil because, to be perfectly honest, it was the most memorable story out of all of them that I read. Maybe this means that I don't know what I'm talking about, that I don't know shit from shinola, my ass from my elbow, whatever. All I know is that Bendis has a down-to-earth take on these corporate properties, and part of his job is to take unrealistic situations and make them feasible, which he has done for the most part as far as I'm concerned. Much of the reactionary criticism has focused on Bendis' dialogue, slamming it for not being really being "realistic"...of course, it's not realistic. Very little comic book dialogue, if any, is. But it does scan like natural dialogue, and sharp, smart and refreshingly pithy (despite the surfeit of it), especially compared with the stilted likes of Claremont, Busiek, or just about any mainstream superhero writer you can name. And sure, it's dark and dour and talky. So what? Is there some rule somewhere which states that comic book superhero adventures are required by law to always be big, bright, brash, colorful and light? It's called establishing mood, kiddies, and you may not like the notion of a gloomy superhero story, but that doesn't make it any less valid or enjoyable to those who don't make such distinctions. Last issue, I liked the resolution of the Yakuza battle arc that has drawn a lot of this flak but deplored the fact that at the end it was back to the status quo for both the Matt Murdock character and his alter ego; this issue, we do get some interesting examinations of the fallout including the details of the dissolution of Matt's marriage and its effect on him, some interesting spy stuff with Nick Fury and the Black Widow, and a potential political conflict down the road. Bendis does especially well in establishing Matt's often contradictory attraction to the Widow in a series of inner dialogue panels. Maleev, for his part, excels where he usually excels and isn't expected to draw much in the way of spandex throwdownery, and that plays right to his strengths. He draws a great Widow, in my opinion. So there you go. I don't expect to convert any of the anti-Bendis infidels; they're set in their ways and extremely vehement. But, me, I like...and you can draw whatever conclusion you want from there. A

In which we get some long-delayed answers regarding the nature of Jack's disappearance from the British superhero scene, referred to from the beginning but never explained and Weapon H and its relationship to Unit D. All those letters. Anyway, Paul Grist's wonderful and inventive layout skills are once again a highlight, and while I still think I prefer Jack in black and white, Phil Elliott does a great job on colors. A gnarly tale, full of fascinating characters, cleverly as usual for Grist and Jack Staff. A

Speaking of "moody", here's a very moodily illustrated tale about a reluctant soldier who got more than he bargained for when he joined the army. An expert sharpshooter, he doesn't want to kill other people, which (as you can imagine) causes him a lot of problems when he's sent to Iraq, where sometimes people are shot because of the potential threat they represent, not any actual threat they may carry out. Brian Wood poses a lot of implicit and explicit questions in his tough and spare script, and while the ending may be ambiguous it doesn't disappoint like last issue because we're given all we need to know to sympathize and appreciate our S.O.L. soldier's plight. We can pretty much imagine what kind of future he's gonna have, and it's not likely to be a happy one, the way our society is set up these days. Becky Cloonan does another outstanding art job, once again becoming an stylistic chameleon using blown out, under-rendered highlights and blocky, solid shadow areas to give the whole story a stark, minimalistic feel. A definite contendah for best issue of the series...or does that go against the grain of the whole idea behind this most resolutely unconnected of ongoing and seperate short stories? A

The Days of Our Lives...if Our Lives had zombies which popped out at inopportune moments. As always, solid and involving, with Charlie Adlard proving that he brings a lot to the table as Tony Moore's successor. This month, our motley crew deals with pregnancy, hunger, the usual fear, shock and horror and other stuff, and find what seems to be a safe haven for a while. But we all know better, don't we, fright fans? Tune in next month for...As The Flesh Rots! (cue organ music) A

Well, of course you know by now that this resembles the Challengers we all know and love in name only...really, I don't understand why Chaykin felt the need (or was asked to by TPTB at DC) to call this "Challengers of the Unknown", because, well, it's just not! It's not even as faithful to the concept as the X-Files-ish Challs we got in the late 90s. Fortunately for us, though, whatever the title this is primo Chaykin, with little of the smarminess he's capable of and a heaping helping of his idiosyncratic dialogue...lets face it, nobody writes smartass and snappy words for his characters like this, not Bendis, or Ellis, or anybody. And certainly not David Tischman. As breezy as the script is, though, the biggest delight for me is seeing 22 pages of Chaykin's adventurous artwork, with his sharp-as-ever layout style. It's like he picked up where he left off from his long-ago Times Squared, and it's a welcome sight. I initially had reservations, after checking out some preview pages, about the frankly dumb names he's given his cast, but even that was explained to my satisfaction. So, welcome back, Howie, and I hope you can keep it up for five more issues! A

This clever series made its debut a couple of years ago, and attracted more attention (negative, I'm afraid) for its unusual tabloid-size format than its subject matter. It lasted four issues, after which some serious rethink was done and now we have CM back, in squarebound prestige-format size, picking up where it left off last year. For the uninitiated, our protagonist, Astrid Bonn is summoned back to Switzerland on the occasion of the death of her father and brother, both of which she barely knew having grown up in the USA. She soon discovers that it was their responsibility to maintain and protect a huge clockworks which controlled and stabilized the Earth's rotation and ecology, and due to the death of her father and sibling, it's now her responsibility due to family succession. Of course, she doesn't want anything to do with it or her responsibilty, but her protestations soon become moot when they're all threatened by not one, but two menaces. Of course, you just know that she'll come to accept, if not completely understand or endorse her charge, so that leaves us to follow how she and the clock maintenance crew deals with the threats, and so far they've been handled with an appropriate air of mystery and menace. Miss Bonn is not a particularly likeable character, even though writer Jim Krueger devotes a lot of time to letting us in on her private thoughts, but that's not especially important because we can sympathize with her reluctance to accept her situation and new acquaintances. It's a novel premise, and so far it's been carried out well. The art on Clock Maker is something else again...Matt (never saw an ongoing I could finish yet) Smith started it out in his Mike Mignola-ish style, but bailed sometime around issue 2 as is his wont. It's still his character designs and his style that sets the tone for subsequent issues, though. We get a new penciller this time, one Jason Baroody, and he's often good but sometimes a little awkward- but between him and inker Michael Halblieb we get an acceptable faux Mignola thing going on. I don't know if we're going to get a memorable resolution out of all this, but for now I'm interested and content to go along for the ride. A-

I wish I could adequately explain what it is about Dame Darcy's comics work that interests me so...her stuff is a definite octagonal peg in a world of round and square holes. Part Charles Addams, part Grandma Moses, part Tim Burton, it's whimsical, fanciful, cheeky, often cutesy and cloying but never excessively so, and Darcy's unpolished art can generously be best described as "primitive". But what attracts me to her work the most is, I think, the sheer Grimm's Fairy Tales-like imagination she brings to her vignettes, full of odd characters with heaving bosoms and devious notions like the perpetually horny Effluvia the Mermaid (who bears a strong resemblance to the author, who also appears as herself occasionally), the witch Strega Pez, a winsome young lady who "speaks" via small tablets, with words printed on, that slide out of a bloody slit in her neck and the morbidly vivacious Siamese twins Hindrance and Perfidia. And much of this is sexy even- sometimes she romanticizes her androgynous male characters to the point of fetishism, and is never averse to showing her creations lusting and loving with abandon. Of course, this is all done in a style which reminds of old Murder Ballads, or the more lurid examples of, shall we say, more "lowbrow" fiction of the late 1800s and early 1900s in both America and England. Aah, I could go on and on, and 9.5 out of 10 comics readers who pick this up will say, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, "This is a comic which shouldn't be lightly tossed aside, it should be hurled with great force". Too bad for them. If any of this sounds even remotely interesting, I urge you to check Darcy's Meat Cake series, recently collected, by the way, out- if nothing else but to let me know that I'm not out of my tree. Kudos to Fantagraphics for continuing to support whimsy in all its myriad forms. A-

Several different stories going on in this one, all somehow connected to the repercussions after the fact of Yahweh's abdication. Some are a bit more compelling than others, but each is interesting enough, plus we're given a helpful and humorous recap of the recent events in the last couple of issues by the fallen cherub Gaudium aka comedy relief. Also, a cameo by one of the Endless, more angels, a haunted murderer, more mythological characters and their devious schemes, familiar faces like Jill Presto, who's been with us since #1, and the title character even makes an appearance once or twice! I'm sure all these plot threads will cohere eventually, and knowing Carey the results will be outstanding, but the process is s-l-o-w. The art, this time out by Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly, is solid as always if not exceptional. A-

The Mad Hatter is cover featured, but one gets the feeling that he's not quite the prime bad guy this time out as the GCPD continues to investigate a cold murder case that was originally given to Harvey Bullock. Solid as always, even though that nagging "can't tell the players without a scorecard" feeling persists. Two characters that don't fit this description: Bullock, who is a fascinating character (I've not been a regular Batman reader over the years, so I don't know everything about him) as written by Ed Brubaker, and Josie Mac, whose addition to the cast was a masterstroke. She livens up every scene she's in, especially this issue's Mad Hatter interrogation. Mike Lark's art is great as usual. Wish I could say the same about the coloring. But Gotham Central remains a great read, and this arc is a definite rebound from the previous so-so arc. A-

While trying not to wonder about how many times Chris Chance has gone under the knife to restore his face, and how often, in real life, one can do this without coming to resemble Michael Jackson, I found myself caught up in the story of how Chris deals with his reunion with Frank White's wife, who, if you recall, he fell in love with while impersonating her less-than-reputable-as-it-turned-out Hollywood producer husband. Milligan makes some obvious, but no less correct observations about getting in too deep and the trust that is implicit in any successful relationship no matter how weird it may be, and Javier Pulido returns to illustrate all this with a loose, sloppy, borderless style which recalls advertising art from the odd choice, but it works- and in no small part because Pulido the colorist helps Pulido the artist out with a great-looking scheme of pastels. As always with the Target, I have reservations but don't have too much trouble overcoming them...which, in an odd way, makes me feel like Chance must feel about most of his relationships. Wow. DC's first interactive comic book! A-

Anybody remember Super President, a Saturday morning cartoon from the 60s? Just wondering. A lotta smart people are praising this to high heaven, and I can't say that I blame them...but for some reason this failed to grab me quite as hard. Perhaps a couple of issues on I'll appreciate this one more, who knows. It's a pretty good idea for a story, but it tries to be the Rocketeer with a political slant, and doesn't really have a consistent tone. It's difficult to take a protagonist dead seriously with a contrived name like Mitchell Hundred, convenient explanation notwithstanding, but there's very little, if any, humor here either, unless you consider having a Russian character named Ivan nicknamed "Kremlin" a hoot. Anyway, we're just getting acquainted for now, so the jury is still out. Biggest attraction here, anyway, is the welcome return to regularly scheduled comics illustration of Tony Harris, inked by Tom Feister. Of course, just as with Starman, sometimes Harris' reach exceeds his grasp and we also get occasional instances of that ol' "drawn facial expression doesn't match logical reaction" bugaboo, but as a whole, it looks wonderful. I'm still not convinced it's all that wonderful, though. B+

I've noticed some disappointment around the Web about this, and I suppose that shouldn't be surprising. Seaguy 1 was so eagerly anticipated, and so hotly discussed and dissected, that the straightforward (well, as straightforward as we can expect from Grant Morrison, anyway) nature of its followup was bound to cause some backlash. This issue is a bit disappointing on the heels of the weird and wonderful #1, but that's not necessarily this is just isn't as head-scratchingly stupefying. After some opening weirdness with minions of Mickey Eye and smoking Easter Island statues, we delve deeper into the mysteries of XOO and its shady purveyors, then Chubby Da Choona makes a tragic mistake at the Temple of Poseidon. Are there multiple meanings, metaphors, and allusions herein? You betcha! Are any of them easily understood? Well, not to me. That's OK, I'll just sit back, enjoy the pretty pichers and trust that it will all become obvious at the end. In short, just like I approach every Grant Morrison project. B

My hand hurts, not to mention my head. I'll be back later on with more, including a Father's Day salute, and eventually a look at The Originals Ashcan, Hench, True Story, Swear To God: 100 Stories, and Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden: Borrowed Magic, if not tonight then tomorrow.

No comments: