Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The return of
(Apparently) Bi-weekly ruminations, castigations, disseminations and assorted frustratingly exiguous semi-cogent observations in regard to comics I have read, weeks of January 27- February 15!

Part The Second.

S: Rob Vollmar; A: Pablo G. Callejo
I just can't parse the title of this latest Blogosphere critical darling without hearing the voice of Joe Seneca intoning "I'm a BLUESman" to Ralph Macchio in Crossroads- but that's the only similarity between this and that not-so-fondly remembered Karate Kid rehash. This account of a young black musician drifting through the South in the late '20s, on the run, sought for a murder he didn't commit is SERIOUS DRAMA, and don't you forget it. Which is not to say that it's oppressive or gloomy, far from it...Mr. Vollmar doesn't forget to leaven the proceedings with the occasional lighter moment, just so we don't get bored, and keeps the story moving right along at a fairly brisk clip. He has a good knack for writing the dialogue that this calls for, as well- he doesn't get bogged down in period references and awkward attempts at recreating what a lesser scripter would perceive as "authentic vernacular". While I can't help but think that this is a lot more noteworthy because it pretends to something more than bleak spandex slugfests, and would make a perfectly unremarkable film or TV show (in fact, the entire plot is reminiscent of bits and pieces of many such works), as a graphic novel it makes for an involving read nonetheless. And, unfortunately, I find myself even more engrossed trying to ascertain the race of many of the principals in the cast. Not that I'm usually concerned with such matters, but race and race relations is at the core of what Vollmar's trying to do here, and artist Callejo works against him in this regard- almost all the male characters are drawn with rounded facial features and noses, and shaded with equal measures of gray wash, and it caused me no end of confusion when one character gets all racist on another, but they both look the same! In fact, I still am not completely sure whether the Sheriff Harold character is white or black- at first I thought he was a black man but after finishing I'm guessing he's white- because it would be unlikely that a Southern community would have had a black sheriff, let alone one with a wife with seemingly caucasian features. Otherwise, Callejo does a fine job with his painstakingly rendered and highly detailed backgrounds, and he helps keep the tale moving along nicely with his sense of pacing. But the way he draws and shades his male figures (not to mention his awkward figure drawing in general) added a level of confusion which really blunted my appreciation of the story. Even considering this, which is probably something no one else had problems with, Bluesman Book Two (haven't read book one yet, which may have helped) is a worthy effort and even though I wish it was a bit more of a murder mystery per se, it's still a fine period drama and I look forward to reading not only Book One but future releases as well. A-

S: Javier Grillo-Marxuach; A: Les McClaine
I'd been waiting for quite some time to read this, as I'm sure many of you who've been reading me know, and was I disappointed? Well, maybe a microscopic smidge- but as far as I'm concerned this is a fast-paced and fun rip of Men in Black, with absolutely stellar art by unknown-to-me McClaine- kinetic, expressive, and assured. Don't know what else he's done, but I think I'll be finding out ASAP. G-M gives us an appealing and not-too-quirky cast, and while I wish he'd picked something a bit more fresh than intelligent gangster monkeys (I keep waiting for the Mod Gorilla Boss to make an appaearnce) for its debut, I still have high hopes for ensemble derring-do and highjinks. Really, my biggest nit to pick is Will Smith analogue Wendy (the cute redhead sidekick with glasses)'s midriff-baring adventure outfit, hardly practical and not even all that fashionable anymore. This is pretty darn good otherwise, though, and I'm hoping for the best from the next ongoing series, #1 of which came out today, unless I'm mistaken. Like Marc Bolan would tell you- if you're going to swipe, do so with panache. And this has plenty of panache. A-

FABLES 46 (DC/Vertigo)
S: Bill Willingham; A: Jim Fern, Jimmy Palmiotti
Geez, I suppose Mark Bright, Mitch Byrd or Mark Campos were too busy to do a fill-in, so they had to bring back Scarlett's Jim Fern! And his fine-line, Ernie Colon/Gray Morrow-influenced style has never looked better. Unfortunately, he's not really given much of a story to work with, involving romance between the wooden subjects of Geppetto, I mean the Adversary. Not bad for a fill-in, I suppose, but not especially compelling either and I hope Fern gets another showcase soon. B+

S: Rich Johnston; A: Thomas Nachlik
Between the odd title and the even odder premise, I thought this might be enjoyable, but I'm sorry to say this too-earnest-by-half amalgam of Superman and The Name of the Rose was just too talky and dull to hold my interest, completely negating whatever salient point he wanted to make. And the curiously underdrawn-looking art, with all the curlicued hairstyles reminding me of Richard Case on Doom Patrol except nowhere near as clever, doesn't help one bit. Johnston may very well someday write something that blows me away, but it will have to be more lively than this. B

S: Grant Morrison; A: Yanick Paquette, Serge LaPointe
Okay, raise your hand if you didn't see the revelation at the end coming from a mile away. Now, let me try to sell you some choice swampland. But I'm not complaining- in a lot of ways, this series has been a near-total summation of everything Morrison's been trying to do with this maxiseries- wallow around in the D-list territory of the DC Universe, with the occasional name changed to protect the incompetent. Maybe I'm more charitably disposed because all the various and sundry superbeings he's been giving us remind me a lot of Flex Mentallo's parade of imaginatively named superheroes and villains- especially Minimiss simalcrum Thumbelina. Paquette is impressing me more here than he did on Codename: Knockout, giving us a nice Adam Hughes approximation to reinforce the other underlying Morrison concern here, namely the sexual (and sexual roles) aspects of superhero worship (for lack of a better phrase). I hope you know what I mean. Anyway, this one's been a keeper so far. A

S: Mark Waid; A: Ken Lashley, Adam DeKraker, Rodney Ramos, KWL Designs, Amanda Conner
It's a pity- this book constantly shoots itself in the foot by shackling a ambitious, character-driven and plot-heavy narrative to workmanlike, dull and static artwork, almost like someone in charge feels like it needs some sort of steadying, calming influence. Problem is, it's about to calm me into a stupor. This time, fittingly enough for an "in-between sagas" issue, we get a bevy of fill-in artists, and while they draw their collective hineys off none of them are able to rise above the competent and spark the script. I want to like this, I really do- I am still very interested in these characters. But this is as interesting as watching dust settle on drying paint. Once more, the best thing here is the Amanda Conner-illustrated "letters page". I say again- turn her loose as regular penciller, and watch this title take off. C+

POWERS 16 (Marvel/Icon)
S: Brian Michael Bendis; A: Michael Avon Oeming
Now that Christian Walker has powers again, do I detect the sweet stink of "Dave-marries-Maddie on Moonlighting?" B+

S: Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray; A: Luke Ross
C'mon, fellas, there must be more than one Hex story to write! Yet another "Jonah runs afoul of a corrupt sheriff/mayor/rich dude" adventure, and while it's as well done as always, I'm getting fidgety. Next issue promises nuns with guns, but so help me God if they're being harassed by a corrupt sheriff/mayor/rich guy I'm dropping this book like an effing stone. B+

DMZ 4 (DC/Vertigo)
S: Brian Wood; A: Riccardo Burchielli & Wood
I still can't swallow the premise, and this issue didn't seem to have much of a point in the grand scheme of things, except to broaden the scope of the seceded-NYC scenario. Burchielli's doing a fine job on art, almost reminding me of Killian Plunkett in places. Wish he'd come back to comics...oh, sorry, I digress. Guess what I'm trying to say is that this is beginning to hit me the same way Y; The Last Man did- there's something going on here, but I just don't know what it is, do I, Mr. Jones? B

100 BULLETS 69 (DC/Vertigo)
S: Brian Azzarello; A: Eduardo Risso
Y'know, as much as I enjoyed the Lono-Jack fight this time out, I hate to say it but this title has completely disappeared up its own ass, just plain ol' too complicated for its own good. I'm committed to the long haul, but getting restless and there are 31 issues to go. A-

S: Greg Rucka; A: Kano and Stefano Gaudiano
Yeah, it's the end, all right, unless you plan on buying the NEW SPECTRE comic! It rubs me the wrong way to see this being shunted aside and cheapened for the umpteenth revival of that venerable property, but on its own terms this was a pretty solid drama and after all is said and done a pretty good note to go out on. This book, when it was on, was magnificent, and was always usually highly readable, even when it was teetering on the wrong side of the spandex-vs.-police procedural tightrope. Another one I'll miss for a good long time. A-

In its own way, this is more fun than Defenders ever was, especially with Milligan's amusing-if-inconsistent take on Dr. Strange and Wong. I'm sure diehard Marvel fanmen-and-women are chirping, but ta hell with them. A

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