Sunday, January 08, 2006

Time once more for
Ruminations, castigations, disseminations and assorted exiguous meandering observations in regard to comics I have read, weeks of December 21st through December 28th

S: Peter Tomasi, Jr.; A: Peter Snejbjerg
I'm not familiar with Tomasi's previous scripting work; I seem to recall him more as a former letterhack and later editor, but my memory is faulty sometimes. Anyway, during World War II (not WWI, as I had erroneously assumed, although I think it would have been more interesting in that setting), a platoon of men get mixed up in a war between angels and Earthbound human/bad angel hybrids. There are a lot of second-hand ideas here, but Tomasi is to be commended for weaving them together as well as he did, but he's dragged down by cliched dialogue and characters, and the comic-book fan turned professional's apparent compulsion to squeeze in a comic-book loving soldier...and then he shoots himself in the foot by having same character come across as, shall we say, "mentally challenged". Still, it doesn't get boring, and if the ingredients are over-familiar, well, at least they work well together. Really, more than anything this is a showcase for the solid craftsmanship of Snejbjerg, who really grew on me during his stint on Starman, and he's excellent throughout, giving us wonderfully staged action, nicely detailed backgrounds, and excellently realized figures. And if they sometimes their faces look like they're from a Wallace and Grommit cartoon, well, them's the breaks sometimes. Light Brigade isn't going to Push Comics Forward (TM) or anything, but it's a good evening's read, especially for fans of Lucifer or Preacher-type stories, and would have been a real gas as a serial in the pages of the long-ago Blazing Combat. B+

S/A: Seth
I'm about to make a shocking confession. As someone who is regarded as having Good Taste In Comics, whatever that means, it will amaze when I confess that (until now, of course) I do not own a single book by critical darling Seth. Although his praises were sung long and loud by the Comics Journal, back when I was a subscriber, what I saw just never really moved me to buy. Not that I didn't think he was talented, or worthy of my attention, but I just wasn't interested. So what caused me to invest in this handsomely packaged and surpisingly moderately priced lark, you may ask? A small preview in D&Q's Free Comic Book Day offering, if you must know, proof positive that FCBD is indeed a worthwhile effort. But I digress. Seth celebrates the Comic Book Collecting Culture with one hand as he ridicules it with the other, then hides behind the false modesty of the "It's merely a sketchbook exercise" dodge. He needn't have done that- while his smirk is prevalent, this is really a richly imagined fantasy of the highest order, with just enough truth to make it sting although I kinda wonder, in my rural insulation away from this aspect of comics fandom (which I thought kinda peaked over 10 years ago) if anyone will feel stung. Sometimes the 20-panel grids become a tad monotonous, and I can't look at the titular character without thinking of the Mayor on all those Monopoly game "Chance" and "Community Chest" cards, but really, this is a meticulously drawn, often amusing, somewhat smirky, and impressively imaginative exercise in satire, and while I think he'll have a hard time topping this, I'd urge him to do a whole book of "Fine and Dandy" stories. A

B.P.R.D.: THE BLACK FLAME #5 (Dark Horse)
S: Mike Mignola, John Arcudi; A: Guy Davis
Best things this time out: Great interludes with Liz Sherman as she confronts the mysterious crimson-robed figure of her dreams, and another one of those Lovecraftian giant worm thingies that have been popping up since Seeds of Destruction without a lot of explanation as far as what and why and how they are gets to do a Godzilla stomp on some US city (I forget which one). And of course, more great stuff by Guy Davis, nicely colored by Dave Stewart in the Liz/Mysterious-figure scenes. B+

DAREDEVIL #80 (Marvel)
S: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Alex Maleev
A bit livelier than previous issues, what with all the catfighting, ninjas and excessive superhero cameos. Gotta hand it to Bendis here- he takes a character with a dubious premise like the Night Nurse, and once again makes her the most interesting person in the whole darn book. Maleev isn't really on top of his game here; many of his cut-and-pasted faces have inappropriate expressions, and while I'm not an Alias reader, is Jessica Jones really supposed to be as ugly as Maleev makes her look on page eight? B+

S: Will Pfiefer; A: Pete Woods
So Zatanna has done her Infinity Bullshit mindwipe magic on Selina, eh? OK, sure, whatever. Why it's necessary to reconcile the purple-suited, T&A version of Catwoman with the Brubaker/Cooke rethink, I don't know, but it was as well-done as one can hope for, with the plot threads of the last few issues worked in very well and nicely drawn as always, even though Woods' Zee was a tad disappointing. A-

S: Wilson; A: Matt Smith
I don't know what else to say about this one; I can't find fault with the faithfully adapted by its author story, but Smith's art is simply freeze-drying everything, and he's not helped by the dull color scheme. Maybe it will read better collected, who knows. C+

LOVELESS #3 (DC/Vertigo)
S: Brian Azzarello; A: Marcelo Frusin
Even though Azzarello still has no flair for writing Civil War-era dialogue, this is the first issue in which plot threads take interesting turns and characters exhibit some real charisma rather than just assuming we'll like them because they're all glum and hard-boiled. Just when I was considering bailing, now I'm drawn back in...and hopefully I won't regret it. Frusin, for his part, is fine as always. he's Azzarello's second-best collaborator. B-

SILENT DRAGON #6 (DC/Wildstorm)
S: Andy Diggle; A: Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan
Well, as noisy, cluttered, chaotic, posturing finales go, this succeeds admirably. Combined with the cynical, downbeat ending, which makes me apprehensive all of a sudden about the Losers windup coming soon, it all makes for a professionally done, but ultimately underwhelming exercise that I won't look back on fondly. Yu sometimes achieves a scratchy sort of Kubert Sr. and Jr. look, if you squint your eyes. C+. Entire series: C.

S: Mike Carey; A: Leo Manco
Johnny tells off (actually, scares off by showing them how they will die) a sycophantic group of London magic-users in Carey's well-done finale to this title. His run had its moments, for sure, but on the whole wasn't as captivating as his work on Lucifer, and makes me wonder if all the Constantine stories haven't already been told. Guess we'll see when comics outsider Denise Mina assumes the writing duties next issue. A-

LUCIFER #69 (DC/Vertigo)
S: Mike Carey; A: Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly
Here's that Carey fella again with the grande finale to the penultimate arc of what remains his best, and most fully realized, comics work. Longtime readers will be rewarded, no doubt. And, as always, the steadfastly bland art of Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly (who's much, much better on his own in Local) adequately illustrates the goings-on. The next two issues will have someone else drawing them, then (unless Ive misread somewhere) it's au revoir for the best of all the Sandman spinoffs. A-

SOLO #8 (DC)
S: Neil Gaiman, Steven Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen; A: Kristiansen
Quite a mixed bag, all held together by Kristiansen's sketchy, impressionistic style. First is a Deadman tale, written by Gaiman, which reads like a leftover Sandman story. Next up is a severely underdrawn tale of missionaries and cannibals, and the only one with any sort of real point. It was written by his former House of Secrets collaborator, Seagle. The next three are atmospheric interludes, written by the artist, involving an artist's fascination with a woman he observes, Rear Window-style, from a bridge. Nicely done, but the story's resolution isn't, and it leaves one hanging. Same goes for the next tale, about a young man commissioned to paint an invalid architect's churches as ruins. Again, nicely done, but no real resolution. Finally, a harrowing tale involving a subject which has been done several times before, freezing men in the arctic resorting to cannibalism...and it doesn't end so much as it expires- but at least it has a ending. I know, I know, stories don't always have to have proper endings, but unfortunately I've always been of the willful mindset that the lack of a satisfying (negatively or positively) conclusion is the difference between an "eh" story and a "wow" story. Too many "eh"s here for me to be really enthusiastic. Not to Kristiansen: The term "Ms." didn't come into use until the 1970's...jarring in a short story set in what appears to be the '20s or '30s. B+.

S: Grant Morrison; A: Yanick Paquette, Serge LaPointe
A return of sorts to #0, as we get a more-or-less straightforward narrative and update on the doomed team assembled by the Vigilante, and our heroine's connection to same. Also, there's yet another agent of the authorities with more going on than meets the eye, some helpful references to events in the other minis, most notably Klarion, and some almost-great Paquette art to compliment the goings-on. Once more, I don't see where he's going with this, but I'm enjoying this particular ride. SLIGHT UPDATE: Damned if I didn't forget exactly who our Bulleteer is hired to escort this issue was: FBI Agent and Morrison thinking/rational female archetype "Sky High" Helligan, who I thought had met an untimely end in typically garbled fashion in Shining Knight. Not so! And it's a great example of Grant re-using one of his puzzle peices to fine effect. Domo arigato to Ragnell, of Written World renown, for reminding me in this recent post. A-

S: Paul DiFilippo; A: Jerry Ordway
Talky, chaotic, overstuffed, and most damning, no fun at all. Ordway confuses clutter with cleverness, and DiFilippo writes like he thought he was getting twelve issues instead of five. Whaddaya say we declare a moratorium on Alan Moore characters being written by anyone other than the Man himself? Yeah, I know, fat chance. C-. Entire series: C.

TESTAMENT #1 (DC/Vertigo)
S: Douglas Rushikoff; A: Liam Sharp
If you squint your eyes, this almost looks like a Morrison/Quitely effort, and that may be what the fine folks at DC are banking on here. This is my first exposure to Rushikoff's work, and it's just fine as far as I'm concerned, with a nicely done Orwellian feel to the opening and some interesting ideas, especially about the nature of religion, in the mix. There's a lot of potential here, I think, but I also remember the old saying "There's many a slip between cup and the lip". B+

Art direction/design/text: Chip Kidd
A beautiful big coffee-table sized book, showcasing ├╝ber-realist Ross's DC work up to the time of its publication, with unpublished work, sketches, collaborations with the likes of Bruce Timm, and special emphasis on Kingdom Come and the underrated Uncle Sam. If you like Ross, and I know many don't- me, I find his work as visually impressive as it is emotionally empty- then you must have this, if you don't already. Actually, my favorite Ross piece is one panel, from Marvels, (which falls outside the purview of this DC-slanted collection) which depicts Giant-Man, one of my childhood favorite superheroes, striding over a street while people gape at him from below. That one summed up all the wonders of being five and reading about superheroes, and still gives me a little shiver in the rare occasions that I dig the book out from storage. A

S/A: Liz Prince
I think I'd love you a lot more if you didn't ask me to be a voyeur to your hastily-scrawled love-life-in-cartoon vignettes, which strike me as a cutesy post-modern version of Love Is.... I mean, I'm happy you guys have such a great relationship, but after a while, I just didn't want to know anymore. C+

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