Saturday, August 28, 2004


What I bought and what I thought, week of August 25

By far, one of the most pleasant surprises of 2003 was the previous Dick miniseries, Byrd of Paradise, which combined Hawaiian folklore and hard-boiled detective noir with just a touch of the inherent kitsch in both and a dash of EC style for good measure. This long-delayed continuation picks up where the last issue left off, as our boy Byrd gets mixed up with two rival resort owners...and also just happens to encounter more ghosts in the process. It's funny how, in Dick, anyway, you just know this twist is coming, but when it does, it's always out of the blue and delightful. Also, strong characterization throughout, especially with Byrd's co-workers/friends Mo and Kahami- you really get a strong sense of how these people relate and interact. One of the best things about this issue is the beautiful, vivid colors by artist Steven Griffin- it's among some of the best I've ever seen in a four-color funnybook. Every page features gorgeous, eye-popping hues and if you don't do anything else, you should pick up a copy of this and thumb trough it just to feast your eyes for a while. Of course, Griffin draws the art he colors, and does another outstanding job. His style has gotten a bit simplified, line-wise, since the last mini, and perhaps this is due to the time constraints of doing both colors and line art, so with next issue we welcome aboard new artist Nick Derington, who is gonna fit in just fine, I think- especially since Griffin will still be doing the color art. Looks like we have another winner on our hands, folks! A

It's understandable why this title sells so poorly, if you look at it objectively-it's low-key, cerebral, dark, moody, and doesn't feature anything that immediately hits you between the eyes and makes you go "wow". It has superpowered characters, true, and some of them even occasionally wear uniforms, but none of them have the charisma from a distance that even the tired old licensed properties of the Big Two still have. I can find no reason why the unsophisticated reader, one who grooves on the likes of JLA/Avengers or any of the non-Morrison, non-Milligan X-books would or could get excited about reading it. And then you have the contingent who sniff their noses and bitch because of the superheroic underpinnings of this book, even though they seem underemphasized to my eyes anyway. Sleeper is simply too smart for the room, and we all know that nobody wants to hang with the kid that's obviously smarter than his other classmates. Sleeper is an utter failure as a superhero book because Brubaker doesn't want to write this like one and Sean Phillips doesn't want to draw it like one. All the Powers trappings are merely window dressing for the character study and espionage thriller that is at its heart- like a kaleidoscope, everything keeps shifting and changing, with Holden Carver at its center, and each shift becomes as interesting as the last. Carver obviously doesn't know who to trust or which way to turn, so he trusts no one and is determined to remain true to himself, as much as possible anyway, and the hell of it is that neither he nor the reader can escape the realization that more than likely there is no happy ending in store for him- no way that he's gonna get out of his situation and be happy, or even content, but he struggles on anyway. Sleeper is an acquired taste, and it's just not for everyone. Those of us who can dig it should just be glad that it's still around and enjoy it while we can. A

Big week for comics with "Sleeper" in the title, huh! The Hester and Huddleston team finally deliver the third chapter in the saga of a writer who discovers he can travel outside his body while asleep, then is dismayed to find that some other wandering spirit has moved in while he was away, and he can't get him out unless he goes along with the dubious plans of a less than trustworthy spiritual leader/guru type. This becomes quite gripping about a quarter of the way in because of the threat to his family, who are (mostly) blissfully unaware that Daddy isn't Daddy anymore, and our sleeper's inner monologue as he comes to grips with the possibility that he'll never be able to be with his family again, and his self-reproachment for not living his life differently when he had the chance. Deep stuff, and that Hester pulls it off without becoming maudlin or clichéd is very commendable. I'm still hot-and-cold about the excessively sloppy art by Mike Huddleston; sometimes it's very effective, almost Pope-ish; and other times it's just sloppy. But it gets the story across, and that's the important thing. This title, which I had forgotten about in the interval between #2 and this, is back on my radar...hope it stays there. A

In which Alan Moore gives us an apocalypse that personally I could live with. I'm not going to pretend that I follow everything Moore's going on about, and has gone on about in this comic since, geez, issue #18 or 19? Farther back than that, even? I forget...but I do know the joy of creation and imagination when I see it and I think Mr. Moore's had a grand time attempting to explore and explain magickal theories in illustrated form, all for a lousy 3 bucks to us, and when it's worked (which has been more often as not) it's been exhilarating and when it hasn't, well, it's left me scratching my head and wanting to know more, which (despite my disinclination towards all things religious) I just may get around to investigating one of these days...which is probably what he was aiming to get me to do in the first place, the clever bastard. And the J.H. WIlliams/Mick Gray/Jose Villarubia team has been more that equal to the task, often dazzling the reader more than Moore has, and always complimenting his ideas. Promethea has left many cold, I'm sure, but personally I'm glad it was here for us, receptive or not, and I honestly think that it belongs right at the top when listing the major career achievements of one of the best comics writers of the last 40 years. Next issue: "Wrap Party", which promises to be something special, I think. A

John goes, once again, from the frying pan to the fire, no sooner getting himself out of one scrape with his innate cleverness (despite the ongoing amnesia thing) than getting himself into another jam- which promises to be a bit tougher. Month after month, this is a solid little book which gets absolutely NO attention from anyone in the print or comics blogosphere, and it's a shame...but sometimes consistent excellence will have that effect. Mike Carey has done very well, adding dimension even as he recycles from days gone by in Constantine's history, and Marcelo Frusin has really come into his own, giving us moody, dark, expressive art which is perfect for these goings-on. Of course, after next issue he's gone again, to be replaced by my old Hellstorm buddy Leo Manco, who was unimpressive in a fill-in stint a few months ago. Oh well. Could be worse. They could be drawing him to look like Keanu Reeves...A-

WE3 1
Grant Morrison gives us a minimal and nicely straightforward script, equal parts humor, political and social commentary/satire, with a touch of horror (especially if you're an animal lover) then steps back and lets Frank Quitely do his thing- and he's amazing. From the expressive looks on the faces of the three too creepy-to-be-cute and too-cute-to-be-creepy animal/weapon principals, to the bravura 18-panel grid sequences which detail how they escape captivity, to the final full-page spread of the mountains they find themselves in, he gives us one of his best art jobs ever, or at least of what I've seen from him, anyway. While the premise is hardly the freshest thing to come down the pike, I think if anybody can come up with ideas to make it go in interesting directions, the Mad Scotsmen can. We will see. A-

Everybody's favorite loose cannon Afghani mercenary killer Aisha gets a solo spotlight this time out, and there are indeed some interesting twists to her role in the titular group when this is said and done. Hate to say it though, but for some reason the majority of this issue struck me as kinda routine and not as gripping as I'd hoped. Some of the info we get makes it definitely worthwhile, but I wish the ride had been more fun. At least it's better drawn this time- Ali Garza does an creditable job (certainly better than the Dragotta we've had the last two issues) despite his natural superhero-comic-illustrator tendencies, which manifested themselves at odd moments (the occasional bad-girl pose, or cliché gesture) during the course of the tale. Obviously, for this comic to really sing, Diggle needs Jock. They have chemistry, and he can't return to full art duties soon enough. B+

Diminutive goth-rock singer Kara Valentine (maybe a team-up with Thessaly is in order) is in the spotlight (so to speak), as her latent witching abilities get her into some trouble...which will of course bring her to the attention of the "Crone" figure (who hardly looks crone-ish), who's out trying to find candidates to help her complete a modern-day trinity (you know, the crone, the maiden, the mother), blah blah blah, insistence of Lucifer, blah blah. This issue was a bit of an improvement over the first two, believe it or not, but the writing is still stiff and unexciting. I'm especially having a tough time with the art, which just can't seem to transcend its bland comic-book-cliché stylings and is even stiffer and unconvincing. You keep hoping it will cut loose and wow you, and enliven the dull script, but it never does. It tells the story. It's adequate. Unfortunately, I don't want adequate, and I can't afford adequate much longer. As always, though, great cover. Wish I could just collect them and be done with it. C+

Soon, my pretties, soon...Flight, Vol. 1, Subatomic, The Supernaturalists, and Texarkana. I promise.

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