Sunday, June 25, 2006

Assorted castigations, ruminations, considerations, and observations about works of sequential fiction I have perused in the weeks that include June 13 through June 24.

S: Bill Willingham, A: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha. (DC/Vertigo, $3.99)

SPOILERS AHOY. You've been warned.

For months, this book has been in kind of a complacent groove- mostly well-written, and mostly well-drawn, with ongoing events that will be of interest to long-time readers who are emotionally invested in the characters, and will be quite unfathomable to those picking it up cold. For this extra-sized 50th issue, though, Willingham and Co. have surprisingly decided to tie up a whole bunch of dangling plot threads at once (while wisely leaving room for further development on those fronts, never fear)...and so we get the reunion and wedding of Bigby Wolf and Snow White, as well as Bigby's fun and fast-paced commando mission to make a retaliatory strike at the Adversary- and gosh darn if everything doesn't work, and work well. And Willingham doesn't even hew to established genre tropes in his plot- I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for something to go wrong or bad, but it doesn't...and that makes this twice as enjoyable as it is. I like it when writers write against the grain. Which is not to say that I don't fully expect Gepetto's payback to be a bitch, and I look forward to the dropping of the other shoe. Buckingham and Leialoha channel Kirby (actually, the net effect is Tom Grummett inked by Karl Kesel) more than ever, which is usually the case when they're trying hard, but their art doesn't get in the way so it's all good. But for now, I'll sing the praises of a rare 50th issue that delivers the goods, and I hope they can keep it up. A

S: Adam Beechen, A: Rick Burchett (DC, $2.25)

In my opinion, about the only worthwhile thing Gerry Conway ever did in comics was co-create Gypsy, one of the short-lived and not-so-fondly remembered Justice League Detroit back in 1984. And I freely admit my live for the character is an eccentric and difficult-to-understand one; I was buying JLA when the JLD was introduced, but I could see that she was just a transparent attempt to give the readers a character that "looked like that Cyndi Lauper that the kids all are crazy for these days". Quotes mine. Anyway, the first time I really sat up and noticed her was the story arc in Justice League America in which Despero came back and killed her parents- it was an unusually down-to-Earth interlude in the bwah-ha-ha run and it really made a strong impression on me. Besides, you know how I am- I'm attracted to the obscure nooks of the DC Universe and its satellites, as anyone who's listened to me ramble about Super-Hip, Hellgrammite and Thriller will attest. Anyway, it looks like she's popped up in this and that since then, none of which I've bought because a grim & gritty Gypsy just doesn't interest me in the slightest. But when I saw "classic" Gypsy, done in Justice League Unlimited animated style, on the cover of this, I decided it was time for me to pick up my first issue of the title. And y'know what? I may read more serious and engrossing comics stories this year, but I seriously doubt that I will read one that I enjoy more than I did this issue. The setup is simple: Gypsy, here a part of the Justice League and providing winning first person narration to tell us how much the League means to her, stumbles across what she suspects is some sort of evil plan that is backed by Deacon Industries, who supply high-tech toys to super-criminals in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Problem is, the troops who are setting up in abandoned areas for this suspected plan have paperwork which allows them to be there, which causes the League to suspect her of crying wolf. She must then go behind the League's back to get to the bottom of what's happening and prove herself. Like a good episode of the TV series, it's streamlined and not dumbed-down and very efficient, and I would wager Gypsy hasn't been this likeable in decades. Rick Burchett, surely one of DC's most underrated illustrators, does a very solid job and his Gypsy is kinda Audrey Hepburn-meets-Audrey Tautou, very appealing and attractive (even though I gotta thing the soles of her feet have to be hard as concrete, the way she goes around barefoot all the time). Looking back at this Johnny DC title's other covers, it seems that right now it's is in kind of a character spotlight mode, and it was Gypsy's turn. Glad they did, because as far as I'm concerned this is one hell of a good comic- not that I don't appreciate more downbeat approaches, but after all the Identity inspired sturm und drang that I've been seeing lately, it's like a breath of fresh air. You don't know how tempted I am to give this one the coveted A+...A

S/A: James Kochalka (Top Shelf, $5)

Awesome possum! As with the first two issues, this is vulgar, sweet, childish, amusing as hell and as much fun as a fart in church. PS: I wanna join Team Lightning! Orange Lightning rocked! A

S: Andrew Cosby, Michael A. Nelson; A: Greg Scott (Boom!, $2.99)

Skating perilously on the edge of that well that the Boomers may have now visited one too many times, we get another X-Files/Lost kind of exercise as a group of researchers (one of which is apparently Harry Knowles) discover what may be a new form of life that has washed up on a beach, head out to sea (with a ship captain that looks a lot like Ian McShane, or Frank Zappa) to find more, and get stranded on an island full of menaces and fresh terrors. It's almost as much fun to play "spot the influence" with this first issue, as you can tick off Jaws, the aforementioned X-Files and Lost, Creature From the Black Lagoon, even King Kong fer chrissakes without even half trying- and that's kinda unfair on my part because it's well dialogued, the protagonists are mostly an interesting bunch even though they're all based on stereotypes and the art is excellent in its Hitch/Neary via J.P. Leon photorealistic way. So I guess this is where I trot out my standard Marc Bolan/Chuck Berry maxim: If you're going to borrow, at least for God's sake be entertaining when you do it. B

S: J.M. DeMatteis; A: Mike Ploog (Boom!, $3.50)

Not having read the previous three issues of this wannabe L. Frank Baum/J. M. Barrie comic, which came out under the aegis of another publisher (Crossgen? I forget) a short while ago, I'm completely at sea about what the hell is going on here. So I'm dealing with the dual exploits of four kids, two of which look like a preteen Timothy Robbins and a refugee from Annie or something with her beret and floppy sweater, trying to cross some sort of enchanted forest with the standard evil queen (this time in Tolkienesque plant-lady form) watching, making things difficult for them; as well as another pair, a bland blonde girl and a young fellow who looks like a preteen Fat Albert, being escorted by a fishman across the bottom of the sea. The first pair gets mixed up with an evil lady cornstalk, (Children of the Corn indeed) and the second get threatened by some sort of underwater plant life that had just given them nourishment not one panel previous. I understand what DeMatteis is trying to do, problem is he's just not apparently able to rise above cliche and secondhand ideas. I like him in full bwah mode with Keith Giffen on Justice League and Hero Squared; here, he's in Seekers into the Mystery mode: leaden, earnest and dreadfully dull, cornstalk women notwithstanding. My main interest was in the Ploog art; I always loved his stuff on various Marvel books in the mid-70's, but it appears he's given in to DitkoAparoKirbyitis by the Aughts- his art just isn't as facile and assured as it used to be (after all, who really is?) and if not for the heavy Photoshoppery would be awfully mediocre. Kinda reminds me of the 80's Marvel/Epic Weirdworld stuff, which he and John Buscema did. I'm sure some will love this and think it's high fantasy of the first order, but I'm sorry to report I'm not one of them. C+

S: Jason McNamara; A: Tony Talbert (AiT/PlanetLar, $12.95)

Not-bad not-great tale of a girl in a future society whose dreams literally come true, which kinda feels padded and stretched-out but is solid enough to hold your interest all the way until the more-upbeat-than-I-expected end. Unfortunately, it's illustrated by a fellow who's not quite ready for prime-time yet and whose work reminds me of Tom Sutton drawing lefthanded with a Sharpie- and it kinda sank the whole thing as far as I was concerned. Still, as someone who takes months to get up the sand to do a single doodle on a 4x6 pad of paper, I have to take my hat off to Mr. Talbert, who has crammed an awful lot of work- an awful lot- into this lengthy story and while I would advise him to work on his backgrounds, buildings, panel borders and machinery, not to mention his spatial perspective, I commend him for his efforts and encourage him to keep at it because once in a while, there's a panel or a page that makes me stop and think that he might be someone to watch someday. We shall see, I guess. C+

S: Brian Wood; A: Riccardo Burchielli (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

I suppose I must have bought into this scenario (which still doesn't make a lot of sense, even after this issue's kinda-sorta explanation) a lot more wholeheartedly than I thought, because after a dodgy start, I've begun to get more and more interested in this title, especially the welfare of lead Matty, who hasn't always been the most likeable protagonist out there. So while I'm still a bit dubious that an nutjob militia cult uprising in Montana could lead to the occupation of New York, I'm invested enough to want to see where Mr. Wood will take it. See? I'm not so hard to please, am I. B+

S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Dylan Teague, Val Semeiks, Dan Green (DC, $2.99)

Gosh, Val Semeiks. Where the heck did he come from? Anyway, he joins with Teague to provide surprisingly consistent artwork in another strong story about the trouble caused when Jonah runs into an old acquaintance who's being pursued by a vengeful mob-or is he? Nice dramatics throughout, and Graymiotti have a really good handle on Hex by now, so I dare say that this book is on a roll, even after losing their regular artist. A-

S: Mike Mignola, John Arcudi; A: Guy Davis (Dark Horse, $2.99)

The back-and-forth between Kate Corrigan and her unpleasant supernatural captor, with whom she's trying to barter a way to bring Roger the homunculus back to life, is a highlight of this excellent chapter of the ongoing B.P.R.D. saga. No less fascinating is this issue's spotlight on Johann, the ghost in the containment suit, who spins a sad tale about how he fell in unrequited love with a woman's ghost back in his medium days. All of this is drawn in typically outstanding fashion by Davis, who's sneaky good. Still perhaps the best B.P.R.D. yet. A

S: Steven Seagle; A: Becky Cloonan (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Becky Cloonan's art remains the highlight of this book, which just hasn't settled into any sort of a recognizable tone yet- it's to sincere to be cynical, too serious to be parody or satire, too talky to be an action thriller and too prone to throw in a reality-defying scene like the one that takes up the back end of this story to be taken seriously. We also get one of the most transparent and clumsily-handled infodumps in quite a while at the beginning. Very inconsistent, and that's too bad for Cloonan, who deserves a better showcase for her talents. And that final scene- oy. One of the fellows who may be responsible for the death of lead character Adam Chamberlain's girlfriend's brutal death while in Africa is told to go to a tall bridge and dangle from a rope hung from the he won't be seen. Say what? I don't know about you, but the first thing I'd notice if I was passing by a bridge is that someone is dangling from it on a rope, which by all appearances is way to short for a safe drop onto any boat. Then on top of that, the angry Adam climbs down the rope, and the two have a lengthy, and ultimately violent, confrontation. Now I don't know about you guys, but I'm having my doubts that it's all that easy to hand from a rope like that for any length of time, especially the time it took for this exchange to take place. It's all very dramatic, but let's just say that I'm skeptical. Rope burns, gravity, weight, you know. Anyway, this wasn't a deal-breaker- I'm hanging on to see what happens when Adam finds out the truth about his late ex, which seems to be pretty obvious to everyone except him, and because I kinda have developed a small fanman crush on sister Cyndi. There, I said it. B+

100 BULLETS 73
S: Brian Azzarello; A: Eduardo Risso (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Another solid chapter in this ongoing saga. This consistently declined to go in the direction that I expected it to, and I tend to like that in my graphic narratives. As always, Not a Good Jumping On Point for New Readers. THIS is.

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