Sunday, August 27, 2006

Well, Leo, what say we promenade through the park* in another edition of the BSNCR?

In which I opine upon sundry and various works of sequential fiction that I have read, in the span of time encompassing August 20th thru the 27th, better late than never. Heck, some of these might even still be on the rack of your Local Comics Shoppe!

100 BULLETS 75
S: Brain Azzarello; A: Eduardo Risso (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Another well-done issue what will engage the already engaged, baffle the uninitiated, and even baffle the initiated upon occasion. I think I'll just cut and paste this review for the next 25 issues. A-

S: Jeff Parker; A: Leonard Kirk, Kris Justice (Marvel, $2.99)

Parker thankfully plays this straight and foregoes the "see how lame these old characters are" route as he gives us an engaging introductory issue. Not that I thought he'd do that, mind you, but a lot of writers would have. Anyway, first we get to see the team of pre-Stan and Jack characters in action in a flashback sequence, then flash forward to present day, in which an incapacitated Jimmy Woo is liberated from S.H.I.E.L.D. care by the Gorilla Man and the newly liberated Human Robot, all to get to the bottom of who is responsible for what happened to him. Everything is note-perfect throughout, and this meta-powered espionage stuff is right up the alley of the writer who gave us the Interman. Last time I saw Paris, I mean Leonard Kirk's art, he had finally gotten most of the stiffness out on JSA, just in time to bail on that title, which roughly coincided with me doing the same. He's in fine form here, almost achieving his goal to look as much like Alan Davis' work as is humanly possible and interpreting the script in nicely expedient fashion with some really nice facial expressions thrown in for good measure. New-to-me Justice blackspots nicely and adds a lot to the mood. Promising beginning, and marred only by the necessary evil of it being so incomplete, and the general lack of Venus. But until I get my dream comic of a Venus scripted by Parker and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, it will suffice. A-

S/A: Matt Wagner (DC, $14.99/$2.99)

With the Bat-books in such a funk right now (and I say this without having read Morrison's newish take and after only two Dini issues of Detective, more on that later), it is refreshing to see Wagner go back to the old-school 1939 Batman, bringing back such adversaries as Hugo Strange and the Monk in these worthy continuations of the Batman: Year One series. And thankfully with minimal, if any, modernization, which pretty much ruined the first and subsequent B:YO sequels. Lots of nods to not only the Bill Finger days of yore, but the strong pulp magazine tribute feel is pervasive throughout not only with the episodic feel of both, but also with the inspiration for the "Monster Men" (now giant behemoths instead of the zombies of the original) coming straight outta Lester Dent's Doc Savage adventures. Wagner has always been able to script a story like nobody's business; while he sometimes lapses into soap-opera cliched dialogue, he doesn't indulge himself for long and stays true to the established characterization of all the principals, most notably the conflicted Jim Gordon that Frank Miller established years ago. I wish I could be as pleased with Wagner the artist; there's always been a crudely-inked stiffness in his figures that I've managed to overlook in the past but he draws romantic interest Julie Madison so inconsistently in everything but ugliness that it kinda takes me right out of the scenes she's in...but fortunately he does all right by the Batman himself and most of the most effective scenes are the ones in which he's doing is Batmanningly thing. And he does the writer proud in his pacing and layout. So while I have some reservations, for the most part these are two (well, one and one issue to be precise) of the most entertaining Batman story I've read in a while, and I look forward to the rest of the Mad Monk miniseries. Both: A-

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

Bit of a letdown as we get a somewhat lackluster resolution to the sticky wicket Kate Corrigan found herself in; fortunately, her solution is a clever one and fully in character. If the idea was to shine a light on her underexposed character, then mission accomplished. But it was done in a kinda hasty fashion, as if they suddenly decided to hurry up and finish already. We also get a nicely done finale, sporting actual Mignola art, in which we bid auf weidershein to Roger the Homonculus, and I suppose it's to the great Guy Davis' credit that I experienced mild internal annoyance at the abrupt artist change! A-

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

I'm trying, honest to God I am, but this book is losing me because it's just so damn convoluted in its storytelling. I'm constantly having to go back and re-read not only certain pages, but sometimes the whole book and even past issues. And I generally like challenging narratives! And that's not all- I've read throughout the internet that this is the most accessible issue yet, so now I have that ol' debbil self-doubt muddying up the pool as well! Anyway, none of this is Ba's fault- his stuff is as lithe and sharp as ever. Oh well...I seem to recall having a similar reaction some twenty-two years ago to some obscure DC book...hmm...something with the same title as a big hit Michael Jackson album...oh well, it'll come to me. I'm hanging with, for now. B+

S: Steve Niles, A: Justiniano, Walden Wong (DC, $2,99)

Simply the dullest, most pointless excuse for a revival attempt I've seen in years. God help me, I think I liked the Vertigo version better. Essentially a rehash of the old Ditko origin, except with a handful of details tweaked to make it more modern and kewl by Identity Whatever standards, and not for a minute is it an improvement or even a fresh update of a character that everyone seems to like, but nobody knows what the hell to do with. I've never liked the idea of Creeper as rampaging id monster, something even the far superior Kaminski/Martinbrough mid-90's revival tripped itself up on, so I suppose that's one strike already. Artists Justiniano and Wong acquit themselves a bit better, but the art still looks and feels generic and uninspired, and their sole inspiration (that the Creeper's mane and boot/glove fuzzies are actual spiky, organic hair) is just not that impressive. Gonna have to do better than this, fellas. D

S: Paul Dini; A: Don Kramer, Wayne Faucher (DC, $2.99)

Dini gives us a better mystery this time out, and does a great job with the Riddler, but the resolution seems a bit rushed and pat and the art is utterly bland and amateurish in places. Can someone please find Mr. Dini an artist, if Willams isn't coming back? Please? B-

S: Bill Willingham; A: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

After the happy ending of #50, I said the other glass slipper was about to fall, and in this issue, the first of an upcoming epic arc, we see it begin to take place. Believe it or not, Gepetto is beginning to become somewhat Swearengenesque, to me anyway. Solid all around and a promising beginning. Even more enjoyable was the short story at the end, which shines a spotlight on the previously unseen Rapunzel, who lives in our world and has to have her hair cut short every day so she can pass among us. Even better was the art by Gene (Top 10) Ha, whom I wish fervently was illustrating this book instead of the bland current penciller. A-

S: Warren Ellis, A: Ben Templesmith (Image, $1.99)

I do believe that this is the strongest issue yet, as Fell starts out (in a hilarious opening scene) to take a vacation day with his new friend Mayko, and winds up involved a bizarre child-abuse case. Just note-perfect all the way through, both dialogue-and-pacing-wise, and damned if I didn't get a little teary there at the end. Watch out, Mr. Ellis, someone may think you've grown a heart! For his part, Templesmith walks the fine line between grotesque and cartoonish with aplomb; he's the best to do this since Kyle Baker came into his own in the late 80's. This title keeps getting better and better, and you just don't see that too often these days. A

S: Denise Mina; A: Cristiano Cucina (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

This one, on the other hand, keeps getting duller and duller. Map, a Warren Ellis creation from several years ago that I never really bought, is really ill, to the point of dying. John carries him around for a while, then takes him back to his subway home, a bunch of blue magic stuff fills him up, and he's fine, better than ever. Thanks for your $2.99, squire. Artist Cucina is OK, but his style is a bit more broad than we're accustomed to around these parts...almost too much so. Wouldn't mind seeing more of his work in the future, just not necessarily on this book. I'm beginning to think that Ol' Conjob just may be played out, and it just might be time to pull the plug on this increasingly stagnant title. Somebody has to say it. C-

S: Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis; A: Joe Abraham (Boom!, $3.99)

Witty and humorous as always, and Abraham is really getting into a good groove artwise. But there's a sense of wheelspinning beginning to creep into the proceedings, as if the Bwah Bros. only have about four issues' worth of plot and are expected to stretch it out into 6. Still, only Nextwave beats it for laughs this month. B+

S: Graymiotti; A: Phil Noto (DC, $2.99)

This issue, Jonah tangles with a bunch of inbred Deliverance rejects, once more getting to wreak righteously satisfying justice on they asses. A quantum leap from last issue's muddled mess, for sure. Probably the best interior art I've ever seen from Noto, who heretofore has been quite unexceptional...unlike his cover work, which plays better to his strengths as an illustrator. B+

S: Brad Meltzer; A: Ed Benes, Sandra Hope (DC, $3.99)

I had pretty much sworn off anything Meltzer-written after the Identity Crisis debacle, so I had no intention of reading this...but the fine folks at DC saw fit to throw this in a comp package for me, so out of curiosity more than anything I gave it a whirl. And honestly- I didn't hate it. It's hardly my idea of a perfect superhero comic; it's too downbeat and stodgy to really be likeable. Also, it lacks the big cataclysmic event which usually serves as the glue to draw the various characters together...points for being novel, I suppose, but hardly something to make the prospective buyer sit up and take notice. I guess the Powers That Be figured 52 and its predecessors was cataclysmic enough. But one thing I must admit is, just like he was on Crisis, Meltzer has a pretty good ear for dialogue and a good, not great, way with characterization. And I thought the same thing after about five issues of Crisis, too. In fact, I was kinda caught up in that series' big "Who killed Sue Dibny" mystery thanks to some nicely insightful handling of the myriad super-people, especially poor Ralph. I didn't even mind the whole mindwiping thing all that much; it's never been a prerequisite to me that my heroes act totally heroic at all times. But the ending, hoo boy... the clumsy, arbitrary, unsatisfactory, just plain stupid resolution really turned me off to the whole thing, including all the upcoming sturming und dranging that followed. Which is why I'm gratified to see that Meltzer is still playing to his strengths- the whole ongoing member selection process, with its three-way conversation between the Big Three of DC, was very well done, I thought. The shorter interludes with Vixen, Black Lightning, and especially the Red Tornado were also very nicely handled. I've never really been a fan one way or the other of the Tornado; I've always found him one-dimensional and dull, even with his human wife and daughter and all the stuff which good old Len Wein gave him an eternity ago, as we see in a flashback, complete with actual panels by then-artist Dick Dillin- a nice touch which kinda warmed my skeptical heart. Used to have that comic, y'see. Anyway, the upshot is that so far scripting isn't the problem. How Meltzer resolves it all will be key. Biggest complaint here is the art- I am not particularly a fan of the Jim Lee/Michael Turner school, and Benes' work just reeks of it, complete with Hope-provided scratchy, need-to-change-your-brush inklines. Maybe this style is popular with the kiddies and the less demanding fanmen, but it just bores me to tears. Anyway, like I said, I didn't hate this...but unless I get comped further, I can't see me reading any subsequent issues. As solid as the characterization is, this is just all too damn serious, and poorly drawn, for my liking. So while I won't recommend, neither will I dissuade. Make sense? I didn't think so. B

S: Marc Andreyko; A: Horacio Pina, Fernando Blanco (DC, $2.99)

Considering that this was, for the most part, written as the final issue it doesn't really show all that much; character stuff (Kate Spencer as godmother? She's come a long way baby...) segueing into a big public supervillain throwdown at a concert at the LA Troubadour and a kinda surprising cameo appearance at the can't say that Andreyko didn't mean to go out with a bang. I still don't like that Sweeney Todd character, but he was a credible enough menace, I suppose, and once more Chase avoids the refrigerator. Nitpicker that I am, I can't help but gripe about how once more people are shown carrying on a normal conversation as the band plays- you just can't do that in a venue that small without shouting into each other's ears! Of course, Andreyko/Pina/Blanco aren't the first to do this and won't be the last, I'm sure. Also, Chase orders two vodka and tonics, and walks away with a tumbler and a highball glass. Hey, I'm Johnny Bacardi! I notice these things! Anyway, nits all picked, another solid issue with adequate if unexciting art- at least PinaBlanco do a good job illustrating musicians performing, something which has tripped up many fine artists. Good job all around, and further proof that like Scipio says, YOU SHOULD BE BUYING THIS BOOK! A-

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

Ellis is having a good month, isn't he? The one-liners fly fast and furious, for once the action is as brisk as it's supposed to be, character interaction is absolutely priceless...and I have to say that on the basis of having laughed out loud four times, this is the best issue yet. Hell, I even got a kick out of Dirk Anger, who usually just gets on my nerves. I'm going to find it hard to resist shouting out "Get me a case of vodka, eight loose women and a stomach pump! Stat! Imma watch TEEVEE!" whenever I sit down in front of the ol' tube. What do they say? MOTTO! Maybe the second best appearance ever of the Mindless Ones from the old Doc Strange Strange Tales. Speaking of mindless, I think I'm rambling a little, so here: Good. Funny. Best yet. You should buy, if you don't already. And judging by the appalling sales numbers, many aren't. Fie upon them. A

AVOID: Definitely beware The Creeper.

A personal note regarding my extra-blogular activities: Looks like my PopCultureShock column Confessions of a Spinner Rack Junkie, is kaput, due to their stated intent to move towards group reviews rather than individual review columns. Whether this extends to the other columns they run is beyond me, but the long and short of it is that once more, I have had a regular review column killed. You'd think I'd take a hint by now, but never fear, I shall plug on unfazed right here at this very place for those who care to read. And I've been invited to participate in the group review process at PCS, so I'll (hopefully) still have a presence there as well. Keep watching the skies.

*- On the inside gatefold sleeve of George Harrison's Dark Horse LP, this is what Peter Sellers says to George.

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