Sunday, July 11, 2004

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What I bought and what I thought, week of July 7

Appearances to the contrary, I'm not the biggest Bendis fan in the world. You won't catch me singing the praises of Avengers Disassemble or Ultimate Spider-Man 'cause I don't read 'em. Bendis is not a writer that I'll buy every time no matter what he does. But I do like what he does when he's trying to be all hard-boiled and noirish as on Daredevil and his real labor of love, Powers. This, the first issue on Marvel's new "Icon" imprint, isn't really all that different from the Image run, thank God, nor is it one of those "good jumping-on points" that you read so much about. It presupposes the reader's familiarity with the unfortunate Detective Kutter, leads Pilgrim and Walker and how they all interact, not to mention the surprise guest at the end, and you're not given a lot in the way of explanation. And that's just fine with me, but then again I've been on board since #7 or so. Bendis doesn't really break any new stylistic ground here, either- frankly, the plot so far for this new arc is alarmingly similar to the previous three, or at least familiar enough to be somewhat disappointing. What gets all this across is the as-always rock-solid art by Mike Avon Oeming, whose work stimulates the eye when the plot lets down the brain. It's a good start, and it's amusing to see the f-word used so liberally in a comic published by the House That Jack Built, but the crowd is getting restless, methinks, and a new, fresh trick is in order to keep us from launching vegetables. A-

Last issue was a hard act to follow; Eightball 22 might be one of the best examples of sequential storytelling ever published, it was that good. So it stands to reason that this will be a letdown- expectations are too high. This being said, this issue is still up to his established standard, and the standard of issues past- especially artwise, where Dan Clowes is on top of his game. He nimbly skips around from one set piece to another, often drawing in different styles, but always maintaining the unique feel of his work. The biggest problem I had with this issue, after all is said and done, was its tone. Clowes always keeps us at arm's length from his characters; his stance is usually so objective that many of them touch us almost in spite of him. I never really could get a good feel for any of the principles in this issue...they behaved in contradictory, often puzzling ways, and Clowes' distancing effect prevented me from feeling any real empathy for them. It's incredibly imaginative, and often funny, but after all is said and done, I reacted with the same apathy that Andy exhibits as an adult- I just didn't really care about what he did or why he did it, and my interest was only held by the desire to find out how it was all resolved. And knowing this, I don't really have any desire to re-read. This can't be the effect Clowes wants...can it? On second thought... Now, I don't often go back and revise my reviews; usually what I manage to get out here in "print" is pretty much my carefully considered opinion. But that doesn't mean I stop thinking about the subjects, and that's the case with this issue. After having read several other opinions, I have a better idea about what Clowes was aiming at...but I still don't think he hit the bullseye, not even with a death ray shaped like a bicycle horn. Still, at the end of the day, Eightball 23 has left a definite impression on me (something which most comics, even the ones I really, really like fail to do), so I'm leaning towards bumping my letter grade up a notch. Clowes didn't make me care about Andy and Louie and all the others, necessarily, but he did succeed in giving us an effective notion of the mindset of a serial killer, even one that uses a death ray shaped like a bicycle horn. Sure, it may have been intended as a metaphorical death ray, but by presenting it to us in this fashion, he effectively locks me in to the actual rather than the theoretical. And it's true that this may be a big piss-take aimed at the superhero comic reader. Whatever it may really be, and since it's not so clear that's a slight drawback too, I'm convinced that this issue's better than I originally thought- it's not a failure, but I'm not convinced it's as successful as it should have been and it's still nowhere near as good as some would make it out to be. Therefore...original grade B+, revised grade A-.

In which we find out what the not-so-surprising plot twist is, and react with a deadpan stare worthy of one of Daniel Clowes' characters. This isn't really all that bad- Diggle's dialogue is, as usual, sharp (I particularly like his John Constantine), and artist Breccia has his moments as well (almost none of them involving figure drawing). But it's all strangely yawn-inducing, even the presumed "death" of Tefe- if she's dead, and I won't believe it until this title reaches 30 issues without a glimpse of her spiky head, and even then I'll remain skeptical. B

Not plague, or bird, or even frog...just li'l ol' me... Oh, forget it. You didn't really think Abe was gonna stay dead, didja? Odd, anticlimactic (to say the least) finale to what I originally thought was a four-issue series, but apparently has been stretched to five issues so we can get more vague half-clues about Abe Sapien's history before the inevitable revival. Impeccably drawn by Guy Davis, who's really gotten good over the last couple of years, and actually well scripted by Mike Mignola, whose minimalist dialogue (he makes Bendis read like Don McGregor sometimes) scans like no other...but this issue was just so darn unnecessary. Nice cover, though. Love the coloring. B- Entire series: A-.

Speaking of anticlimactic, the conclusion of my first exposure to the work of Steve Niles didn't live up to the promise of the first issue, to say the least. The resolution was hasty, far-fetched, much too neat, and left me very disappointed. That being said, the most remarkable thing about this miniseries was the outstanding, moody painted art by Breehn Burns, who manages to be grim and playful at the same time. Can't wait to see what he does next- hope it won't be a sequel to this. C+ Entire series: B-

That's it for new comics I bought Wednesday. Hopefully, tomorrow I'll get caught up and write about some other books I've acquired lately through various means...stay tuned!

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