Thursday, June 15, 2006

In which I consider and comment upon various works of sequential fiction I have perused, weeks of May 22 - June 12.

S: Warren Ellis; A: Stuart Immonen. (Marvel, $2.99)

Five issues in, and I'm beginning to wonder exactly what Mr. Ellis hopes to accomplish with this ultra-slick and ultra-superficial exercise in superheroics. Sure, it's fun to read because it's rarely dull, and Warren throws in the occasional deadpan chuckle to keep things varied. For sheer entertainment, it gets the job done and is better than much of the product that hoes this particular row. But I'm beginning to get a bit of an "Alan Moore writing Spawn" feel about this, like he's slumming and/or spinning his wheels, and that foments reader restlessness. At least with this particular reader, anyway. The sinking feeling that he's exercising his cynicism at our expense also pops up, way back there in the distance, but getting stronger. As far as art goes, Immonen continues to emulate Simonson, to no great effect one way or the other. B-

S: Mike Carey; A: Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

In this penultimate issue (that word again, penultimate), it's ladies night, and the feelin's right. Or something like that. New God-with-a-capital-G Elaine Belloc decides, before ascending into all-encompassing omniscience (or as Jim Starlin once put it, "Cosmic Awareness"), decides to assemble all the female characters (with the exception of Lady Lys) for a drink and to ostensibly say goodbye, as well as to perhaps shape a destiny or two in the process. One thing that has gotten kinda overlooked about this title in its almost-complete run is how it has always featured a varied and strong female cast, from the very beginning- and yes, I know that Jill Presto was forcibly, if magically, impregnated (raped, if you will)- but it wasn't designed to spur a male character into action, unless you count self-defense on Lucifer's part as proaction- from loyal and fierce Mazikeen and impetuous, headstrong Jill all the way till Lilith in the final epic, and they get a warm and nicely done curtain call here. Gross and Kelly are back on the art once again, and they do a fine job as well. I'll never be a Gross fan, but through sheer repetition if nothing else I've come to accept his particular vision for the book- and it could have been much worse. As always, how much you enjoy this particular issue will increase proportionally with how long you've been reading this series. A

S: Brian Wood; A: Ryan Kelly. (Oni, $2.99)

This one kinda threw me for a loop; after four issues of Megan, and getting to like her despite her issues and quirks, then Wood goes and gives us a Megan who, while working at an old movie house, messes with the patrons by assuming different names and personalities until she's confronted by one guy who refuses to buy the subterfuge. This is creepy, pathetic, almost psychotic behavior, and while perfectly valid from a dramatic/storytelling viewpoint, kinda makes me wonder exactly why I should care about anything in this book if he's going to try this hard to make the most identifiable character dislikable. Not exactly a good way to engender reader em- or sym-pathy, for sure. Still, on its own terms, I was engaged by the tale as I kept plowing forward to see exactly what was going on with Meg, and of course, the story was resolved, although no explanation why she had developed this new personality kink was forthcoming. Which is just frustrating, and that's a first for me with this title. B

S: Antony Johnston; A: Christopher Mitten. (Oni B&W preview)

As post-apocalyptic High Plains Drifter-meets-Mad Max-esque scenarios go, this one's not bad- mostly setup and character introduction, and the requisite trial by fire to goose the plot to its next point. Artist Mitten uses a bit more (excuse the expression) gritty style on this than I'm used to seeing from him, and it does pay off as he does a solid job. For me, he's kinda like Peter Gross lite- I'll never be a fan, but his work gets the story told and that's sometimes enough. Depending on where Johnston takes this, this has potential to be pretty good. B

S: Douglas Rushikoff; A: Peter Gross, Gary Erskine (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Boobies! Blue ones! Lots of 'em!

...what?! You were expecting cogent commentary on a book I lost interest in three months ago, and only got because it was too late to drop it from my DCBS order? HA! D+

S/A: A veritable plethora of artists and writers, El Guapo. (DC, $19.99)

You know the drill with this, the successor to Bizarro Comics: a host of indie creators has a go at DC's stable to varying effect. Some are brilliant, some are less so. Good old Evan Dorkin writes several of these, but not my favorite- a funny tale of Kamandi, that he draws from someone named John Krewson. I'd pay good money to read a Dorkin Kamandi. Bizarro Comics introduced me to Ellen Forney's work as well; she's back with an amusing Wonder Woman-as-a-pimply-teenager tale to compliment her previous Wonder Woman-as-poetry-slammer story. And holy mackanoley- after saying, ever since Superf*ckers, that I'd love to read a James Kochalka Legion of Super-Heroes story, we get that very thing- and it's kinda lightweight but still very good. If I tried to list everything in this volume I liked, I'd be typing into the weekend...but here are a few others: Paul Grist on the Flash, as well as a neat opera-themed Batman story illustrated by Hunt Emerson in his best Sergio Aragones style; Mike Doughty and Danny Hellman on Aquaman's new career as an open stage singer-guitarist, something I can certainly relate to; Paul DiFillipi and Derek Kirk Kim giving us possibly the best Deadman tale in 20 years; some deft Bob Fingerman cartooning on a Batman story- I really liked his R'as Al Ghul and Joker; and a nice turn on the Justice League by Raina Telegmeier. Andi Watson with a French gentleman Batman, Kyle Baker on Alfred shopping for a new car for Master Bruce...nearly everything works. There are few sour notes struck even though sometimes there's a slight smirk present throughout. As with the first one, the chief pleasure lies in seeing people like Telegmeier or Dave Cooper playing in DC's sandbox. Don't know how many more of these they can get away with, but I enjoyed this one as much as I did the first, perhaps even a bit more. A-

S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Khari Evans, Palmiotti (Marvel, $2.99)

It's rare when a miniseries gets better instead of worse during the course of its run, so I guess we should enjoy it while we can- the scenarios are developing without getting contrived or convoluted; the ladies' personalities are handled very well, with some good back and forth banter, nicely handled dramatics, just the right amount of action, and Evans/Palmiotti have settled into a groove on art doing wonderfully on those action scenes and not getting too carried away with the arch-back posing trap. Sometimes this is even laugh-out-loud funny, as in the case of the holes in the wall behind Misty's bed, courtesy of Danny Rand. This comic has turned out to be the equivalent of some late-night B-movie action thriller that is better than it ought to be; I dare say it's the best spandex wallow this side of Manhunter and it's better drawn. A-

S: Javier Grillo-Marxauch; A: Les McClain (Viper Comics, $2.95)

The finale of the second miniseries, and it's good fun despite a somewhat jarring turn towards drama at the end- guess JGM is just trying to mix things up a bit. Oh well, no harm, no foul. McClain's art is as facile and solid as ever; in the hands of a lesser illustrator this would be small beer indeed. Entertaining, but not jaw-dropping; I think the next miniseries will be the make-or-breaker. B+

S: Keith Giffen; A: Kody Chamberlain (Boom!, $3.99)

Thinner with zombies instead of gypsies. This is effective and moving, however, because Giffen pays attention to the little everyday things as he enables us to empathize with a man who has apparently had a living death curse inflicted upon him, and how it affects what's left of his life, including his failed relationship with a woman who winds up getting involved in his predicament anyway despite breaking up with him just prior to the fateful tagging. One saving grace is its brevity; at three issues, we're led to believe that we'll get a good exploration of the situation and a presumed resolution...but that's never a given with comics these days. Chamberlain's art is grubby and appropriately dank; I believe it will grow on me. Gotta give Boom! credit; they keep coming up with novel and interesting zombie approaches, even though I am firmly on record as saying that I never want to read another zombie story again as long as I live. If I get tagged, however...look out! B+

S: Brian Michael Bendis; A: Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon, $2.95)

Another installment of this well-crafted entertainment that will captivate those who have emotionally invested themselves in this title since its inception or thereabouts, and others will wonder what all the fuss is. Unless they are understandibly captivated by Oeming's always excellent art. A-

S: Denise Mina; A: Leo Manco (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

For the first time since Mina took over, I found myself engrossed in the storyline, which involves Constantine s-l-o-w-l-y heading towards a confrontation with some wizard of something who has inflicted an empathy curse on someone, which JC has assumed upon himself for reasons which escape me at present. And it's somewhat telling that even though I was actively engaged with this issue, a few days later I had to page through it again to remember what had happened in it. B

S: Ed Brubaker; A: Michael Lark, Steven Gaudiano (Marvel, $2.99)

Usually when we get Wolverine or Punisher cameos, it's to goose interest in a lagging title. I don't know if this is the case with Daredevil, which is (I suppose) doing OK sales-wise...but once more Brubaker shows his chops by working Punny into his otherwise less-than-fresh Murdock-in-prison tale and glory be, it enhances and works with the flow, rather than against it...and succeeds in enlivening what, for me anyway, has been a well-done if unexciting iteration of the only thing that practically any writer can think of to do with ol' Hornhead- you know, KinigpinBenUrichElektraBlackWidowBullseye blah blah blah. It's not a good thing when I'm actually happy to see the lackluster likes of Hammerhead playing a somewhat prominent role. I will say that I think Lark and Gaudiano's art is looking better here than on the last several issues of Gotham Central. B+

S/A: "Gilgrim" (Slave Labor, $2.95)

Scooby-Doo for the Goth set, I suppose, or Young Justice even...or the Little Gloomy crew as adolescents. It's OK, and "Gilgrim" (better than "Gilgamesh", I suppose, or "Gilthorp") acheives some nicely done (almost abstract) layouts and blackspotting. This isn't the worst thing I've ever read, but it's not all that great either; I'm sure there's room for improvement if Gil is allowed to keep at it. Understand that while I do appreciate certain aspects of that Goth vibe, I'm just not the intended audience for this, and adjust your expectations similarly. C+

MUWAH-HA-HA! Done at last! But wait- I just got a package from Boom! today, as well as my DCBS more is forthcoming, including Superf*ckers 3 (I'll tell ya right now, it's A material) and Gypsy Comics Justice League Unlimited 22. So is Beowulf. This time I mean it.

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