Sunday, May 29, 2005

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or, what I bought and what I thought, week of May 25!

An embarrassment of riches this week!

Don't see how it could have ended any other way. At the beginning, and I'm talking Season One, I was a bit offput by the murkiness of the color and art and the glumness of Ed Brubaker's script. But even then I could tell that this story had that certain je'nais se something, and my perseverance was rewarded as the twists and turns piled up, creating a glorious sort of disorientation, anchored only by Sean Phillips' solidly down-to-earth art. Well, it's all over now, never to return thanks to reader disregard, and even as I am happy that I was able to experience this from the beginning, I'm sad for those who couldn't be bothered for God knows what reason- and even sadder because apparently there were more of them than us. Just you wait and see- a decade or two down the road, this will be hailed as an overlooked and influential classic, back issues will be Flex Mentallo scarce, and all of you standing there clutching your House of Ms and Identity Crisises will be sorry. In a perfect world, that is. A

The ongoing saga of California Guy Tom Beland and his long-distance courtship of Puerto Rican Lily, complicated by Hurricane Georges and his decision to move to the Isle of Enchantment to be by her side- which causes much consternation among his family. Every time Beland threatens to get all sappy on us, he steps back from the edge by virtue of his whole-hearted wit and his graceful, expressive cartooning style, the line of which reminds me quite a bit of Al Hirschfeld, not to mention a generous dollop of self-depreciation, but not self-hate, and that is a huge positive. Especially well-done was his depiction of his relationship with his younger brother, which climaxes here with a newspaper-enabled trip to a 49ers game, in which younger Bro gets to join the photographers on the field, lucky stiff, and the look into his routine at the newspaper where he worked (which is somewhat similar to my own small-town paper experience- hope he got paid more) and the friendships- some close, some adversarial- he had there. I was a little at a loss at first, not having read the first collection or any of the singles (I have read the strip collection, 100 Stories, so I wasn't all that lost), and I hope that if he decides to draw any more football games, he practices a bit first...his NFLers were not so graceful. I'm sure that there are lots of people out there who have had as interesting a life as Beland seems to have had, but luckily for us, he has the ability to recount it for us in entertaining fashion. Docked a notch for being a 49ers fan- I truly hate the 'Niners. A

Stuck on a freighter full of nuclear ordinance, our guys figure out Max's plan even as former ally-turned-enemy Roque uses a familiar gimmick, from way back at the very beginning, to try and get away. And that's your plot summary. Of course, complications ensue, and although we get good, as marksman Cougar gets his "yes!" moment, we then get bad, as one of the most clever and likeable characters seems to get beaten to a bloody pulp and shot dead. One of the best things about The Losers is how Andy Diggle can take a script in which, really, nothing much changes of locale, no explosions, no revelations...and still make it intense and gripping, giving us gallows chuckles at the same time we get fast-paced action. And continuing his stellar work is artist Jock, who's really coming into his own right before our eyes. Well, before our eyes if you're one of the few and the proud who are prescient enough to be picking this up, anyway. A

100 BULLETS 61
The random characters continue to congregate and orbit one another in Miami, and the consequences are still yet to be revealed. I'm happy Mr. Branch survived his encounter last issue, and I'm beginning to get a kick out of Azzurello and Risso's Mickey Rourke-in-Once Upon a Time in Mexico character, with his bandana, bad skin, tats and chihuahua. Lively enough already, and Lono and Loop Hughes haven't even arrived yet. This is NOT a "good jumping-on point" for new readers, but for those of us who have remained faithful, it's getting better all the time. A

Hank Pym, the disgraced former Giant-Man, gets involved with a group of sad sacks that makes the Great Lakes Avengers look like the JLA...ladies and gentlemen, give it up for your ULTIMATE DEFENDERS! If I was inclined to be offended at this clear-eyed revisionism, I suppose I'd be in a snit- after all, some favorite characters are really held up for ridicule in their re-imagined forms here, but it's all done with style, so I don't mind at all. In fact, this "Ultimate" Son of Satan has the funniest line in the whole book. The lighter tone is welcome, no doubt, but we still get some interesting dramatics with the increasingly disfunctional Captain America/Janet Pym relationship subplot, storm clouds on the horizon as we meet the Ultimate Ultron, as well as our first look at the "traitor" in the ranks. My money's on Tony Stark, but you never know. A

Well, you never know, do you? After five issues which neither blew me away nor repulsed me all that much either, for the first time I put down a copy of LSH and said "Holy crap...I LIKED this one!" Good thing, too, because if I had been as underwhelmed by this as I was the previous five, it was dropped. What's the difference this time, you ask? Hard to say, says I...relationships and events were clearer, dramatics more deeply felt, humor worked better- in short, a total turnaround from the murkiness previously given us. A feeling of understanding and getting somewhere, perhaps. Nice to see the introduction of a non-reptilian Princess Projectra- better a Paris Hilton type than a snake, I suppose, and there's room for character growth there instead of the silliness of the previous incarnation. I also got a kick out of seeing Cos bribe a guard with an issue of Mystery in Space featuring JBS favorite Ultra the Multi-Alien. This comics reverence smacks of contrivance and nerdy in-joking, and it has annoyed me in the past, but it went down easier here. Only the still-stiff Kitson art keeps this from A status, but as is it gets an A- and a sincere wish that this builds from here.

Constantine continues his journey to Hell, former adversary/reluctant ally Nergal providing backup, to get back the soul of his sister- who died due to the machinations of his demon-sired offspring. Along the way, we meet an old plot twist from the Paul Jenkins run. Not bad, but not too good, either- there's just a wan, uninspired feel to this which makes it feel longer than it has been so far. Wish I could be more enthusiastic, like I was last issue. B+

Touch of Evil-inspired goings-on in Mexico involving a mysterious fugitive, the CIA agents who seek him, and the senors and senoritas that they get mixed up with, with bloody consequences. I'm tellin' ya, after reading this, The Losers, 100 Bullets, and Sleeper Season Two back-to-back-to-back I felt like I needed a cigarette and a stiff shot of something potent. Clay Moore does a fine job channeling the hard-boiled noirish stuff, and Jason Latour's work, while sloppy, has a lot of energy. Es muy bueno, so far. B+

This isn't bad, and is quite amusing in places, but it just reads too much like Chaykin on autopilot for me to be more enthusiastic about it. Of course, his art is as idiosyncratic and solid as ever, and that helps, but there are just too many echoes of tunes already played, and played more skillfully, in the past. Still, you can't deny that he still has the chops, so even as he disappoints with familiarity he wins me over with his craftsmanship. B

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