Saturday, July 08, 2006

In which I see fit to opine upon floppy pamphlets of a sequential fictional nature that I have perused from June 25 to July 7.

S: Matt Fraction; A: Gabriel Ba. (Image, $1.99)

A lot better than Freejack, and a tad more coherent than Performance. A little too close to Austin Powers for comfort. That's Casanova, in which the aptly named Fraction (because I don't know if I've ever read anything the man has written that had anything resembling a conventional narrative style- but I freely admit I haven't read a lot of his mainstream stuff) and Gabriel Ba give us Mick Jagger circa 1970 as Diabolik-lite Casanova Quinn, a well-heeled master thief (son of a superspy network head) and bad boy who, when we first encounter him, is trying to pull a jewel heist- but it soon escalates into a stew of metaphysics, Kirbyesque villains and James Bondisms that at first was giving me a headache until about halfway through, when it suddenly kicked in and got pretty interesting. Fraction dances around with his dialogue and plot like a spider on hot asphalt, all the better to cram more stuff in I suppose- and I don't ever know if I'll ever really warm to his style (Filth-mode Grant Morrison is a model of clarity in comparison) but he's come up with a charismatic character and given him a intriguing, if derivative, world (worlds, actually) to play in, so this looks like it could get even better with any luck. In the hands of a lesser artist, this would be hopeless, but Ba is ideally suited to this material- his loose style can stretch to incorporate any sort of madness, it seems. Besides, as with its cousin Fell, the price is right. A-

S: Marc Andreyko; A: Javier Pina, Diego Olmos, Fernando Blanco. (DC, $2.99)

It's plain that Andreyko has gotten to the point where he's really comfortable with these characters (then-impending cancellation notwithstanding), because everything proceeds in such smooth and orderly fashion that the reader can get caught up in the flow and poof! Before you know it, you're out of story for this month. I also appreciate that he's gotten to the point where his dialogue sounds more natural. And at the end, tying the ongoing storyline in with the James Robinson Starman mythos smacks of genius even as it makes one wonder what Robinson could have done with Kate Spencer and her backstory. Probably, it would have been just like JSA, before it ran out of steam. So, I am charitably inclined towards this latest chapter, even to the point that I gloss over in my mind how much this all comes across like a WB/UPN drama with spandex (Yeah, yeah, Smallville, not quite- more like The O.C.), and note with amusement (or regret, perhaps) that the apparent DC house style, with its attendant suffocating Photoshoppery, is so prevalent these days that we can get contributions from two different artists and one is hard pressed to tell where one ends and the other begins. The cover stands out by its sheer grace of having someone with an actual style (one derivative of TerryAdam DodsonHughes, but at least it looks good with its digital finish) do it. B+

S: Bill Willingham; A: Willingham, Wayne Faucher. (DC, $2.99)

Is this what the modern comic book fan really wants from their reading experience? An issue so rote and routine that it comes across like a printbound version of Mortal Kombat, in which two fighters square off, flash their powers, one gets defeated, and on to the next matchup? Dude! Bagman totally pwned Ragman! Maybe Willingham thinks he's giving the kids what they want and may be even trying to ape manga, but manga at its most formulaic is more lively than this depressing exercise in tedium. I'm sticking with this for now because I like DC's supernatural stable, especially the Phantom Stranger, Ragman, and the Enchantress (although her witchy woman outfit was a million times sexier than the drab pseudo-Greek thing Willingham's stuck her in now), plus I'm still interested in how Detective Chimp's character (God help me for typing this sentence) will progress, but the story/price ratio, especially compared to something as jumping as Casanova, is ludicrously out of whack. C

S: Mark Millar; A: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary. (Marvel, $2.99)

Another by-the-numbers chapter in which not much happens except stage-setting for the final issue. Perhaps Millar intends to pull something amazing out of his ass for the grand finale, but seeing as how he's steadfastly refused to do anything this time out that smacks of original thought, I wouldn't bet on it. Even so, if we gotta connect the dots, at least we have gorgeous art to make it all go down a lot smoother. And as an old Giant-Man fan from the early 60's (I was a preschooler, sure, but Tales to Astonish #50 was one of my very first comics) It chaps my ass no end to see Henry Pym once more be the co-heavy, the stooge, the sucker, the fall guy. But it would take a little effort to do otherwise, so it comes as no surprise. B+

S: Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier; A: Aragones (DC, $4.99)

Aragones is such a ubiquitous presence in so many media forms that he?s easy to take for granted, and goodness knows I?m guilty, although I've always loved his Mad Marginals, his great work on the DC 70's gothic humor book Plop!, his underrated and excellent co-plotting on Bat Lash in the 60's, Groo the Wanderer of course, and practically everything he's lent his pen and fertile imagination to. But every so often, you get a full dose of his good-natured and deceptively accomplished cartooning and you realize what a treasure he is. Gee, sounds like I'm getting ready to hit him up for money, doesn't it? Anyway, here we get a pleasing variety of subject matter: Sergio's eyebrow-raising account of his one and only encounter with the late Marty (Eye-gor, Young Frankenstein, you remember) Feldman; four amusing twist-ending shorties, one a Western, one a riff on King Kong, one a gangster gag and a Private Eye-thing all of which could have once appeared in Plop!; fascinating account involving the San Patricio Battalion, a group of Irishmen that fought and gave their lives for Mexico in the war of 1848, which Aragones uses to provide a gentle, but astute, lesson about the nature of heroism and revisionism of history; a serious telling of a story about Feudal Japan and the price a father pays to buy back his son's life; A goofy Batman story (always gotta have a Batman story, dont'cha know?) co-written by his Groo collaborator Mark Evanier, and a warm and funny account of his first arrival in New York in 1962. Great stuff, especially the autobiographicals, achieved with style, class and a minimum of angst and fuss. It's a damned shame that DC has to can a book which can provide creators with an outlet for work such as this. A

S: Grant Morrison; A: Frank Quitely. (DC, $2.99)

Now, see, Millar and Willingham? This Morrison fella, he's got ideas, you bet! They may be recycled from Weisinger, Bridwell and Kirby, but he knows how to dress 'em up real pretty so they look like new and gets that steady-as-she-goes Quitely guy, no slouch himself in the ideas and vision department, to wrap 'em up all neat-as-you-please. Grant turns his attention to the crazy-as-a-bag-of-squirrels history of Jimmy Olsen, and spins a tale which gives us not only the best version of Jimmy that I've read in a long time (not hard to do, since I'm not a regular Superman reader), but a great examination of the Jimmy/Superman friendship (with a neat little inversion of the status quo), and another look at the P.R.O.J.E.C.T. (what does that stand for, anyway?) and its Willy Wonkaesque head, Mister Q. (Quimper? Invisibles fans?). Love the superheavy gravity world as well. It's funny- as a kid growing up, I was lukewarm to Superman comics, but I always liked Jimmy Olsen, especially those 80-page Giants, full of Elastic Lads, Red-Headed Beatles of 1,000 B.C. and Giant Turtle Olsens. And since this Olsen spotlight is my favorite All-Star Superman to date, it seems that the more things change, the more indeed they stay the same. A

S/A: Ted Naifeh. (Oni, $2.99)

I'm a bit divided about this series- really, there's nothing terribly original about any of it and Naifeh is merely staying within his comfort zone- once more, Naifeh is giving us a young girl protagonist who gets involved in a world of which she knew nothing, and strives to find her place in it and survive as she adapts...just like Courtney Crumrin. All the twee story elements seem to be cadged from Peter Pan, Gilbert & Sullivan, and various other sources, and taken on an individual basis, not a lot really happens in any given issue. This also has the sweet stink of "Please license me for TV and films." But, and I think this is the mark of a great craftsman at the top of his game, Naifeh takes his old new borrowed blue and moody-black pointy-finger art style and constructs it so well that I, for one, have been engrossed in each and look back on the six issues as a whole with satisfaction...and while I'd rather see more Courtney first, I hope he gets back to Miss Pringle's exploits sooner rather than later. This issue: A-. Entire series: A-.

S: Mike Carey; A: Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly. (DC/Vertigo, $3.99)

The conclusion of Carey's consistently outstanding extrapolation of Neil Gaiman's Sandman character is a bit low-key and ultimately unrewarding, especially after last issue's more cathartic ladies-night story...but that doesn't mean this is a failure. I just don't really think that Carey had a really good ending in mind when he started, and never figured one out 70-something issues later. That doesn't diminish his accomplishments one bit. For the last 75 issues, he has constructed a whole universe, filled with fascinating characters (even had Lucifer do the same at one point), and worked Gaiman's essentially one-note portrayal of the Morningstar for all it was worth. I think if fatigue, or ennui, or Marvel's money, hadn't come along, I have no doubt that he wouldn't have continued in this same vein for another seventy-five chapters in an ongoing saga that must have written itself for a fellow as talented as Mike seems to be. This was hardly ever my favorite book in any given month, but it was one I always looked forward to reading and I'll miss it. Of course, if the art had been in the hands of a penciller with more than mediocre ability, and I'm not talking about infrequent fill-in Dean Ormston, I'd probably have been more devoted and I'd be more upset. And that, kids, is my last shot at Peter Gross, a Johnny Bacardi tradition since I started reviewing comics on the ol' DC Comics Message Boards over four years ago. B+

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

By now, I'm inclined to simply throw up my hands and say "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Ellis is just taking the piss here, as our wonderful Brit friends reportedly like to say, and my inclination is just to sit back, enjoy the crisp, streamlined flow of each chapter and appreciate the four or five good chuckles I get every time out. At least when WE does it, it's clever and funny, as opposed to the likes of Garth Ennis or Frank Miller, who can't seem to rise above condescension, mean-spiritedness, and cynicism. Small beer, perhaps, but a little laughter is never a bad thing in these troubled times. Immonen, for his part, does nothing to spoil the vaudeville. B+.

S: Howard Chaykin, David Tischman. A: David Hahn.

It's not really Hahn's fault that this is has descended into convoluted tedium; his art is as solid in its cleancut prettyboy way as it ever was. The first series had its share of slow spots, but second acts rarely are up to the first and ChayTischkinman seem to be more interested in snark and titillation than giving us focus and interesting characterization. Still, when a naked vampire catfight in a women's prison shower is as forgettable and bland as all the other softcore S&M and sanguinary goings-on, blame must be shared equally. C

S: Steve Englehart; A: Tom Derenick, Mark Farmer (DC, $2.99)

I can recall a time, on the likes of self-created Coyote and corporate-owned Captain Marvel and Avengers, that Englehart used to be capable of amazing complexity, not only in his plotting, which was full of wild and crazy ideas, but with his characterization as well. These days, however, a plot as simple as "Royal Flush Gang attacks Justice League Detroit while they're camping/training in the woods" seems to overwhelm him. This relatively simple storyline just sorta breaks down into a mush of segues and flashbacks and characters popping in and out and while it's not terrible, it's not terribly fun either. Still, it's got Gypsy, so that's a plus for me anyway (whothewhatthe is "Mary the Gypsy"? Is this more of Englehart's pseudo-mystical Scorpio Rose-style BS?), plus I've always kinda liked the idea of the Royal Flush Gang (one of Gardner Fox's many clever creations) so I'm hanging in with Englehart on this. Also, #23, with its Vibe spotlight and somewhat tense forest fire cliffhanger finale, was a lot stronger than #22. The jury's still out. The art team of Derenick and Farmer is not bad- they've both channeled Alan Davis a bit too much for my liking, but once in a while some personality sneaks out and shouts out before ducking back down, and overall manage to tell a good story while trying to color within the lines of the DC coloring book, if you know what I mean. B

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

What a fool I was to doubt Ed Brubaker. Against all odds, he's taken some mighty played-out ingredients and has whipped up a magnificent souffle, saving the best for last with a great final page that promises some good old-fashioned Punisher-style mayhem. Lark and Gaudiano continue to set the standard for understated excellence. Not even a horrible Liefieldesque cover by David Finch, inked by someone with a bizarre glyph-style signature that looks like Goofy wearing his small hat, can ruin this one. Best issue of DD in ages. A

S: Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegoski; A: Paul Azaceta. (Boom!, $3.99)

Solid continuation of this engrossing story, as Nicholas Dane, still getting used to all the people in his head, stays on the run from not only the government but that sinister Santa Claus Cardinal, a character who's not going to win many friends for Boom! at the Catholic League for sure. We also see more of a Mr. & Mrs. Smith-style assassin couple, who make Brangelina's characters seem as benign as Martin Blank. The one thing that serves as the glue that binds it together is Azaceta's simple-lined but expressionistic art. A-

S: Michael Alan Nelson; A: "Chee" (Boom!, $2.99)

Good news is, "Chee" has done away with the all-pervasive murky gray tones that helped make the last two issues such a slog. The bad news is, it's still a slog. D+

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

Mina seems to be gradually sneaking up on a resolution to her interminable debut arc; and truth be told I'm actually getting mildly interested in how it's going to go down. Johnny also gets a new girlfriend of sorts this time out; she's likeable and I hope she stays around for a while. Of course, knowing how it tends to go for John's lady friends, I won't get my hopes up. B+

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