Wednesday, February 01, 2006

More ruminations, castigations, disseminations and assorted frustratingly exiguous meandering observations in regard to comics I have read, weeks of January 24-31!

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S: Marc Andreyko; A: Jesus Saiz
DC's latest revamp of the venerable Manhunter concept reminds me of just how cyclical things can be when it comes to comics and popular culture in general. Comics readers of a certain age, I believe, can remember when everyone who enjoyed those four-color funnybooks of days gone by, bored with and embarrassed by Batman in outer space fighting goofy cartoon aliens and Giant Turtle Olsens, longed for the stories and art to take on a sort of realism and a gravity, with a realistic sense of cause-and-effect, if not in a literary sense at least at the level of a Mickey Spillane novel, which was no less lowbrow but somehow regarded as "respectable" by those who wouldn't dare be caught reading a comic book...all the better to be recognized by the non-comics reading populace as worthy of serious attention and for a cessation to the scorn and stigma borne by those who were believers. And slowly but surely they did, with people like Moore and Clowes and Miller and many others managing to take a level-headed and non-fantastical approach to the highly dubious proposition of someone with augmented abilities, who dresses in a uniform or costume and tries to defend the defenseless. And things kept getting grimmer and darker, in the name of this quixotic goal of "doing super-heroes right", presumably to avoid ridicule and putting out work that they themselves would be embarrassed to read...and it seems to have peaked with DC's Infinity Crisis, with its promise of a less oppressive and bleak superhero world One Year Later, brought on in no small part, I believe, by the popularity of recent works of Grant Morrison- who steadfastly embraces the anything-goes freewheeling nonsense of '50s and '60s DC books, working that sort of vibe into his books as often as possible. And I'll rein in this massive digression by (hopefully) making my point: Manhunter, or at least this incarnation, is the apotheosis of everything the modern mainstream comic book, until recently, was expected to be- for better or for worse. It's dark and violent, with a thoroughly unlikable protagonist. Kate Spencer, a chain-smoking resolutely...difficult...young female prosecutor who is too career-driven and self-absorbed to be a responsible parent or responsive wife (and this doesn't send out a very positive picture of a professional female, it goes without saying) gets fed up after a radically altered and bestial Copperhead evades a murder rap she was trying to pin on him, and subsequently escapes, which causes Kate to sneak downstairs and try to find something to help her right perceived wrongs and do something about the miscarriages of justice she is forced to be a part of on a frequent basis. She finds the battle armor and staff of one of DC's twenty three skadillion Manhunters, and goes after ol' Snakey herself- blowing a hole in his head in self-defense. She's exhilarated by this, and decides that she can help balance the scales by becoming a self-styled avenger. Along the way, one of her loved ones gets grievously injured due to her carelessness, and she tangles with the Shadow Thief, who is out to get payback for buddy Copperhead's death. She also blackmails an ex-con weapons genius into performing as her Q, repairing her arsenal. I'm at a real loss to explain why this is all as interesting as it is- Andreyko's scripting is a mishmash of cop-show cliches and dialogue, although in all fairness he does a nice job with the "human" side of fighting crime- Kate's constantly dealing with broken bones, sprains and bruises- and he does manage to maintain a lively pace. Saiz's art, as it was on Midnight, Mass, is a bland hodgepodge of styles with no real outstanding trait, anything to make it do anything more than functionally tell the story. One positive: the Jae Lee covers are a highlight, especially the genuinely eerie cover for #3. I'm also finding myself wondering how this book will respond to the One Year Later direction...but there are a lot of issues I haven't read so I'll withhold judgment for now. This collects the first five issues, and I'm trying to decide whether I should hold out for another trade or go on a back issue hunt- I know that longtime (well, 7-year anyway) fave Cameron Chase has an ongoing role in issues of a more recent vintage so that's incentive for me to get up to speed. Chase was a bad-tempered, smart-mouthed, chain-smoking pain in the ass, too, but unlike Spencer she had a vulnerability about her which humanized her quite a lot and made her likeable. After five issues, Spencer fights risks her life to fight evil because she gets a kick out of it, a dubious motivation if there ever was one, and despite her occasional remorse at the consequences of her actions she remains an enigma. Aw, I've rambled enough, so here's the wind-up: if you like grim superheroics and/or badass fighting female superheroes Manhunter is everything you could want from a modern mainstream superhero comic, for better or for worse. If that sort of thing is anathema to you, though, you might want to pass.

S: Peter Milligan; A: Nick Dragotta, Mike Allred
Villains returning from the dead have been a tradition dating back to at least the World War II era, and while there have been a few examinations of this phenomena before, none that I can recall has done it with more wit and cleverness than Milligan has here- even to the point of reviving his dead X-Statix title, heh heh. In this first issue of five, a host of dead heroes and villains (including the late X-Statix member Tike Alicar) find a way to temporarily return via some green glop from some infernal dimension and demand that Doctor Strange bring 'em back permanently, and Doc enlists the aid of another former Statix-er, Dead Girl- the best comic book character ever named after a Rob Zombie song. Kind of a cheat 'cause she doesn't appear until the last page despite being top-billed. I'm not sure about Doc being written like he was a Larry David character, but everything else about this book is outstanding- and it's a fun read, which is something that X-Statix the title had ceased to be and why I dropped it long before the Princess Di imbroglio. Nick Dragotta's art, as inked by Allred, makes a good Allred substitute; actually, I prefer his work sometimes because his layouts and figures have more vitality that the latter's does more often as not. Anyway, a good start and it actually beats Defenders at its own game. Between that, Nextwave and this, ya gotta wonder what's in the water over at Marvel these days...A

POLLY & THE PIRATES #3 (Oni Press)
S/A: Ted Naifeh
Polly finds out more about her heritage, and has to make an awful decision in this latest chapter. Impeccably written and drawn, and while I wish that the title character wasn't such a prissy little stick, this is still a satisfying Barrie-ish gothic fantasy by a master of the form. A-

DAREDEVIL #81 (Marvel)
S: Brian Michael Bendis; A: Alex Maleev
Gosh, it's finally over, isn't it. It's been a mostly strong run, too, although I feel that Bendis peaked a couple of years ago and has been only interesting in fits and starts ever since. He and Maleev have been a good team, and I'll certainly check out what they do in the future together. Oh, and yes, we had (for the umpteenth time) ElektraBlackWidowKingpinBenUrichMillaFoggyBullseyeblahblahblahblah blah in this issue and while I will admit the little twist in the end was great, I sincerely hope Brubaker has something up his sleeve. At this rate, I'd look forward to a return trip to San Fransisco and Angar the Screamer or the Mandrill before plowing that used-up Frank Miller row one more time. B+

B.P.R.D.: THE BLACK FLAME #6 (Dark Horse)
S: Mike Mignola, John Arcudi; A: Guy Davis
Open-ended finale to the latest Hellboy-related opus, with yet another giant frog monster that grows gigantically until one of the Bureau pulls something out of their hat. That said, this was a fine read- Arcudi grew into his role as Mignola's mouthpiece after a slow start and Guy Davis is absolutely without peer.A-

S: Will Pfiefer; A: Pete Woods
Selina's having some trouble adjusting to the revelation of Zatanna's mindwipe and her re-orientation, and events proceed in an disorderly fashion, with an extended Batman cameo and yet another "Black Mask kidnaps and tortures someone close to Selina" story which evokes Bendis and his KingpinBullseyeElektraWidow preoccupation. The subplot with Slam Bradley's kid is beginning to pick up steam, though, and this is nicely drawn as usual. Strong sense of deja vu, but otherwise just fine. B+

LOCAL #3 (Oni)
Alex Robinson, take note: this is, nine times out of ten, what usually happens to whiteboy power-poppers in today's musical climate. Anyone who's ever been acquainted with, or was themselves, that quixotic breed known as the working musician will immediately recognize how true Wood's depiction of band life is, and this is one of the most satisfying things I've ever read from him. Ryan Kelly is once again flat out excellent, expressive and detailed. Best issue yet of a book which is really coming into its own. A

SURROGATES #4 (Top Shelf)
S: Robert Venditti; A: Brett Weldele
Another book which gets across by emphasizing the human drama over the Sci-fi trappings, something which gets a lot of lip service from a lot of different places but doesn't always come to pass. Several surprising events in this penultimate chapter, and I continue to admire the messy but lively art. A

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