Saturday, February 26, 2005

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What I bought and what I thought, week of February 23!

There are those who just won't give the time of day to an anthology book; why, heaven only knows- but the poor sales of every anthology comic from the Big Two since Showcase went under the first time show that for whatever reason, readers just don't want to commit to something which demonstrates consistent inconsistency, I guess, as opposed to inconsistency with a consistent character or group of characters. Go figure. Of course, publishers are still compelled to give the anthology a shot now and again, because you never know what the market will latch on to, plus I'm sure that inventory tends to pile up and how else are you gonna get it off the shelf or off the computer? Someone at DC hit upon the bright idea to devote each issue of this latest attempt to a particular illustrator, giving him or her the opportunity to get the spotlight. The first two, featuring Tim Sale and Richard Corben respectively, had their moments but were mostly hit-and-miss. With this third issue, though, all the potential of this approach is wonderfully realized by Paul Pope, who goes from postmodern Greek mythology to Eisnerish slice-of-life to Kirby homage to all-things-Batman, and does each with style and aplomb- not surprising to anyone who's read prior Pope work such as Heavy Liquid, THB and the story which made me a fan, 100%. The Kirby tribute, OMAC #1 adapted straight (to the best of my recollection) from the source material, oddball Kirby dialogue intact, is an amazing thing- Pope brings out the inherent alienation and creepiness of Kirby's already unsettling OMAC concept- just look at the expression on what's left of Buddy Blank's face as he begins his Brother Eye-initiated transformation into the One Man Army Corps. And as good as his OMAC story is, his Batman and Robin story at the end is even better- equal parts unsettling and whimsical (it cracks me up how he depicts the Joker with a Cesar Romero-style covered-in-white moustache) and a fine tribute to the Kane/Robinson/Sprang/Finger era. Loved the "Read More Comics!" ad at the bottom of the last page, as well as Batman's fatherly advice to Robin, thankfully free of the snarky-sleazy Batman-is-a-pedophile subtext. The X-ray Specs story was amusing, especially the account of the young boy (Pope, I'm assuming) being disappointed by his "life-sized monster ghost" (ordered from an OMAC comic, heh) when it finally arrives. The urban study "On This Corner" was probably the weakest of the five; outstanding from an illustration standpoint, somewhat routine from as far as writing goes. I couldn't help but notice that most of these stories were dated 2003, and I can't help but wonder what the story was behind that. Even so, I haven't been able to say this about the first two issues in this series, but Pope's Solo was well worth the five bucks. A+

"Shoulda checked the wreckage, dipshit!" Oops! Sure looks that way! In this issue, the second chapter of "London Calling", the team joins up with CIA spook Marvin Stegler and try to operate a scam designed to get into Max's computer system, but encounter a wrinkle in the form of a thought-dead "friend". Fill-in artist Ben Watson delivers another solid job pinch-hitting for Jock, and Diggle is sharp as always- thankfully able to keep focused on this book even though he's spreading himself thinner than ever these days. A

Well, sure, it's a little late for Christmas, but this storyline doesn't have too much to do with the twenty-fifth of December anyway. An old friend of Santa's opens a Christmas-themed amusement park, which is successful at first but eventually goes to seed as crowds decline as the decades go by, and the friend asks Santa for advice on what to do. Kinda like the real-life Holiday World, formerly Santa Claus Land, in Indiana except for the "asking Santa for advice" thing. Anyway, Santa dispatches Jingle Belle to help out, since she's young and presumably in touch with what kids want these days, and she responds by recreating the park as a gambling casino theme park! Of course, hilarity ensues until the Mob threatens to horn in. To be continued! I gotta say that whatever Paul Dini did to get his Jing mojo back, it certainly worked because this mini has been very good so far- and Jose Garabaldi's art has been outstanding. Obviously color work, computer-assisted perhaps, is more his milieu than pencil-and-ink because the difference between this and what he gave us before is amazing. A

Guess I have to face it- I'm just no longer as surprised and delighted by Paul Grist's storytelling tricks as I used to be, and I'm sure it's simply the effect time and familiarity brings. It doesn't help that I'm a lot more interested in the storyline with Becky Braddock and Bramble & Son vs. The Shadow Man and his minions than I am the routine Jack and the Freedom Fighters in WWII flashback storyline. It's not that the likes of Tommy Twister and Blazing Glory are bad characters per se, but there's nothing about them that sets them apart from their Marvel counterparts, the Whizzer and the Human Torch (well, except that Glory is a female). And knowing what we know about Sgt. States, it's a little odd to see him still fighting alongside the others, although the way the Nazi super-soldier they battle did come up with a novel, if dubious, way of subduing him. I also kinda liked the origin stories Grist gives us in regards to Glory and Tommy. So- even though I'm a little weary of WWII and Nazis and so on, I could still find stuff to like, so Grist still has it working, I suppose. Still, I hope he wraps it up sooner rather than later and gets back to the present day and everybody's favorite Vampire Reporter and her plight. A-

Brian Bendis is becoming the Grateful Dead of comics writing, s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g out his plotlines in the name of maintaining a low-key feel (and with an eye on trade paperback collections), like the Dead would take fine 3-minute songs and make them last for 20. I'm not unhappy with him just yet on this title, still, I wish he'd get on with it sometimes. Fortunately, I was surprised enough by the revelation of the identity of Blackguard's killer to deem this a success, unless he blows it next issue. So far, at least in these pages, he hasn't. A-

Lots of ghosts flying everywhere, and shooting and hitting and shouting and bugs and electrical explosions and Abe's still doing the Wango Tango with some sort of zombie or ghost or whatever...and all we can do is say "gosh" and follow along. Never dull, and very well drawn, but I miss Hellboy. I'm also beginning to wonder if when Guy Davis thinks "Liz Sherman" he sees Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. B+

Appropriately enough for issue #3 of the latest restart, we get a focus on Triplicate Girl (Triad is still a better name, I don't care.), who goes out on dates with three different Legionnaires...or does she? Well, yes and no, and we find out the reason in a nicely done reveal at the end which seemingly points to some internal conflict somewhere down the road for our new Legion. If only Barry Kitson could get the starch out of his figure drawings, I'd be liking this a lot more than I am. B+

Ok, so that's who John's demonic benefactor in Chas's body is! Nicely done spotlight for cousin Gemma, who seems to be an unsuspecting victim of JC's demonic kids. Johnny-boy is pretty much relegated, this time out, to rushing across town to save her and/or her family, and that's OK, I guess- this is a solid, if not especially involving, storyline, and I don't know whether it's my fault or Mike Carey's. I'm inclined to lay the blame on Leo Manco, who continues his disappointing run of mediocre art. I'm finding myself wondering what fans of the film (who don't read this comic, or any comics), who may be led to check out the source material, will think after reading this, the first to come out after the premiere of the film. B

Manages to avoid the second issue blues with a rousing Raiders of the Lost Ark style adventure in which our boys (and a cute archaeologist who one of t he AJB's is crushing on) enter an ancient temple and unwittingly release a fallen angel who's mad at the world- so mad that he intends to destroy it, painfully, toot sweet. Mark Smith's script reads better than I was expecting, with some funny lines and some clever exchanges, but Dan Hipp's art is still way too inconsistent- he takes Naifeh and Mignola and mashes them together, but he's never able to draw a character the same way twice and he really needs to get a better grip on his black spotting. Oh well, better than I expected, and that's never a given these days. B

In which B. Clay Moore squanders much of the goodwill he built up with me with his Hawaiian Dick series with this uninspired and derivative rehash of the type of story we've seen every decade for the last 30 or 40 years- a modern, cynical look at the relatively simple superheroes of comics' Golden and Silver Age. We had Kirby's return to Captain America in the late 60s, we had Roy Thomas relatively straightforward, but no less uninspired Invaders series in the 70s; the 80's brought us Watchmen, not a Golden Age rewrite per se but still a revisionist look at older costumed characters and their tropes; James Robinson & Paul Smith's Golden Age in the early 90s along with Robinson & Harris' Starman in the late 90s, and Darwyn Cooke's recently finished New Frontier in the Aughts, to name just a few. Moore fails to give us anything we haven't seen before, unless you want to count the suggestion that the Sub-Mariner's been fucking Betty Dean, and the script drags throughout. The perfectly bland Jeremy Parks/Ande Parks art doesn't add any spice to this pablum, either. I don't know. Maybe I'm being too harsh, and should give this some room to get its legs- but my patience is short these days. C


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