Saturday, September 09, 2006

Once more into the breach, dear friends, with another hopelessly tardy edition of the BACARDI SHOW NEW COMICS REVUE, in which I poot forth a quarter-ounce green rosette near the summit of a dense but radiant muffin of my own design. Uh, I mean poot forth capsule reviews of various works of sequential fiction that I have perused since the last time my opinions graced the halls of your cognitive data centers, in that miniscule amount of time that we mortals like to refer to as 20 August through 3 September, some of which might even still be on the racks of your comics shop. And awaaay we go!

S: Cullen Bunn; A: Brian Hurtt. (Oni, $3.50, reviewed from B&W advance)

1920's style Mob adventure, with a couple of slight differences: the protagonist is (yet another) living dead man, name of Eddie, who gets killed gruesomely but always revives thanks to a curse laid on him, and the Mob bosses aren't Scarface, Don Vito Corleone or Capone, they're soul-trafficking demons. One demon, who is trying to broker some sort of agreement with another powerful demon Godfather, charges our boy Eddie to find a missing demon bookkeeper who holds a lot of important secrets. Supernatural elements aside, this is a fairly familiar plot but Bunn (apparently a horror novelist with whom I'm totally unfamiliar) does a good job of blending it all together, and the requisite hardboiled dialogue is deftly handled. Biggest asset is the Guy Davis-meets-Ditko-meets-Joe Staton-meets-Wally Wood-as-inker art style of Hurtt, who gives the proceedings an appropriately gothic feel with lots and lots of the black stuff, and does a really effective job on the creepy dream sequence about midway through. This isn't the sort of book that ctaches my eye sight unseen, so I didn't order it from DCBS when it was solicited a while back. But don't make my mistake- if you see it on the shelf, give it a look. It's the beginning of a solid and promising read. A-

S/A: Brendan McCarthy, with help from Steve Cook, Howard Hallis, Jono Howard, Tom O'Connor, Robbie Morrison, Sir Trevor Goring, and God knows who or what else. (DC, $4.99)

I've been wrestling with exactly what I wanted to say about this for several days now, which is why it's taken me so long and has ended up as the last review I'm writing for this period's stack of books. I've loved McCarthy's work since I first saw it in the Eclipse reprint series Strange Days in 1984, appropriately enough. Rogan Gosh: Star of the East was also an eye-opener. McCarthy works in a postmodern psychedelic style (as it says in that Gosh Wiki) which is a virtual explosion of ideas, humor and playfulness with the form and feel of sequential storytelling, and while he often goes in a dozen directions at once, it's always challenging and stimulating to watch him do so. It has been too long since I've seen his work anywhere, and this is almost as satisfying a comeback as one could hope for. Of course, since this is a DC book, it gives McCarthy near-free rein to do what he wilt with the licensed properties, so in what has become a tradition we get his typically mind-bending takes on the Flash and Batman (since every issue has featured a Bat-story of some sort, will future comics classifiers count Solo in the Bat-family of titles? Just wondering)...but my favorite was Johnny Sorrow, remade/remodeled in the John Constantine mold. The other vignettes and features are all typically witty, especially the finale "Slouch World", with a surprising and funny cameo at the end. It's a damn shame that this series has to end; I suppose the biggest surprise is that it lasted as long as it did given the apparent apathy towards anthology titles amongst the Great Unwashed, the expenses involved, and many other things. I wish it could have gone 24 at least, and we could have gotten the Jill Thompson or Evan Dorkin spotlights that were once mentioned. Oh well, such is life, and at least we got a phantasmagoric fuzzy wuzzy loving cup explosion to go out on. A

DMZ 10
S: Brian Wood; A: Riccardo Burchielli. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Satisfying conclusion to the 5-part "Body of a Journalist" story arc, as Matt proves himself a shrewd negotiator (although I can't help but think that this will cause problems down the road) and even gets laid (although I can't help but think that this will cause problems down the road, too) for his trouble...and not by Zee, who seems to be falling into the Turanga Leela role in this little futurama. I've come to really like this book, even though I'll probably never buy the premise 100%, and I'm also liking the nicely detailed Burchielli art- he's reminding me a bit of Jock's work the farther he goes along. Boy, isn't it a shame that The Losers isn't around for Riccardo to do a fill-in arc? A-

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

My appreciation for Local is declining in inverse proportion to my appreciation for the aforementioned other Wood trying so hard to make Megan such a difficult (for lack of a better word)-to-like character, he's really hamstringing the project as a whole. I can get behind eccentric, I can even get behind snarky, cruel or unpleasant in the right combination. But when you give me a character that keeps going from one schizo extreme to another- sympathetic one time, disturbing another, well, it's just a little offputting, that's all. Here, every time Meg gains our sympathy vis-a-vis her equally squirrely new roommate, she lets us down by deliberately fucking with her out of spite. Sure, it's valid, and there are people like both these women all over...but in order to maintain interest in a story, it really helps to have someone or something, a hook to hang one's head on if you will, and Local is dead set on defying my sympathy or trust one way or the other. Which makes me view it objectively...and that, in turn, gives way to evil cousin dispassionate boredom. Again, nice reference work by Kelly, who draws the hell out of this like he has all the other issues. I suppose you could bump this up a notch if you're a Brooklyn native- it's certainly got the atmosphere, or at least that NYCNY atmosphere that a Kentucky native has only experienced once or twice in his sad, sheltered life. But veracity and atmosphere will only get you so far, and when my only reaction after reading was the fervent wish to place both young ladies in time out, I can only give this a C+

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

A kind of retrenching to the very beginning, as Adam once more falls back into the supernatural Christian motivational speaker racket he was in when we met him...and as with the early issues, it works a lot better for me than him traipsing off to Africa and doing action-thriller stunts does. Some nice character moments throughout, especially with a cynical tranny whom he encounters at a press conference (I was wondering what had become of Lord Fanny since the Invisibles had folded, ha ha) and my flagging interest has slightly perked up a bit. And no, not because of the tranny. Anyway, can't not mention another excellent art job by Cloonan; she has a way with talking heads conversations...and also, a really nice coloring job by Brian Miller, who eschews the usual Vertigo-standard murky palette for some vivid hues. Problem is, I have a sinking feeling we're going to be back in Africa, just like Shaft, in a little while...which points to my by-now standard complaint about the inconsistent tone this willfully neither-here-nor-there title is determined to maintain. B+

S/A: Matthew Loux (Oni, $11.99, B&W advance copy)

For those who like Scott Pilgrim and Kevin Smith's Clerks flicks, here's your next favorite thing. The misadventures of three teenage (although they really don't look that young) buds who bounce around from cute girls to angry jocks to even angrier girl scouts, all the time keeping up a steady stream of popculture references and snappy patter for well over 200 pages. And while I was a bit dubious at first, this got better and better as it went along to the point where I can honestly say I was hugely entertained, even though I don't really think I'm quite the demographic this is aimed for. Just like Scott Pilgrim! Anyway, Loux the scripter is helped a lot by Loux the artist, whose angular Andi Watson-meets-the guy who draws Sharknife style grated at the outset (all those pointy chins!) but won me over eventually by how fast it kept the pace, not an easy task at this book's length. While not the most original thing to come down the pike, it was a breezy, enjoyable read overall and I can recommend it, especially if you like the influences I've cited. A-

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

In what should have been titled All-Star Clark Kent, we revisit Luthor in prison as Clark is sent to do an exclusive interview and all hell breaks loose in the form of the Parasite, who swells to obscene proportions due to the close proximity of Superman. He breaks free, causing chaos and disorder in the facility, forcing Clark to go to outrageous lengths to follow Luthor around as he obliviously pontificates about his hatred for his enemy...and not blow his cover while making sure that everyone, Luthor included, is protected. E. Nelson Bridwell, and perhaps Benny Hill, would be proud of the slapstick scenarios that ensue. I've read almost unanimous praise for this one, but I guess I'm feeling contrary because while this was still high quality, my biggest reservation was the one thing most cited as the strength of this issue: Grant's portrayal of Lex Luthor. While Grant wasn't especially inconsistent with his Lex in issue #1, he still gives us a pompous, buffoonish Lex, who is so busy speechmaking that he doesn't stop to wonder why the Parasite (who, by the way, I thought was supposed to gain powers by touching someone- not by just being close...did I miss a retcon somewhere? Probably.) is reacting in such extreme fashion, and doesn't even begin to recognize his own hated enemy even though they're nose-to-nose. At first, when he had Lex on trial, I thought he was very well done. But the farther this one goes along, the more I began to get weary of this clueless Luthor- and I know, I know, Granty's being all ironic here. The same man who can invent a brilliant Biblio-bot and construct an elaborate escape route under everybody's nose is too blinded by his hatred to see the proverbial forest. But there was just something that was a bit too pat, too easy about it, and I'm not accustomed to such an predictable, un-cerebral approach from our boy Grant. Not a deal-breaker, but disappointing to me. Fortunately, Quitely is still more than equal to the task; in a story that doesn't call for a great deal of mind-blowing metaphysics, he gets all locked down in a tight five-or-six panel grid when depicting events inside the prison, gives us a really convincing Kent just by changing the hairstyle and posture, proving that glasses aren't the only disguise at Supes' disposal, and takes some of Grant's less inspired jokes, such as the drawn-on eyebrows Luthor is sporting here, and amplifies them nicely...the cocked eyebrow he draws is brilliant. I don't know- there was a lot to like here, and this is far from a failure, but I just couldn't buy Lex here, and that's a serious shortcoming. Maybe I'm just too attached to the superior Superman: the Animated Series version, still the blueprint for doing Luthor in modern comics in my opinion. I often worry about Grant spreading himself too thin now that he's apparently "Mr. Everything" at DC. Hopefully my fears will be unfounded. B+

S: Ed Brubaker, A: David Aja. (Marvel, $2.99)

Fine "break-in-the-action" story which fills us in on what the not-so-dead Foggy Nelson's been going through after his stabbing. Brubaker does a great job of showing us exactly why Nelson puts up with his best friend's extracurricular activities, and helps breathe life into a character that often gets relegated to the sidelines far too often. Not that I want to see Daredevil's Best Pal Foggy Nelson comics or anything, but it doesn't hurt, once in a while, to focus on the supporting cast. Clever touch: Foggy's federal protection alias: "Everett", heh heh. Aja has a nicely expressive style, and has the patented Maleev/Gaudiano murky sloppy inking method down pat. He's shown me enough to make me think that he'll be all right on the upcoming Iron Fist book. A-

S: Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges; A: Tony Akins, Andrew Pepoy. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

I'm liking this in spite of myself; while the basic, Prisoner-lite setup is good, and it's interesting to have the thoroughly bad-girl Goldilocks back in action, the Big Bad in charge of the gated community (or barbed-wire prison depending on your outlook) isn't defined nearly enough for my liking and the art is often cringe-inducingly bad, with shifting facial features and awkward, mannered poses. Akins and Pepoy seem to be trying to emulate Mark Buckingham or Shawn McManus emulating Berni Wrightson emulating Graham Ingles, but they're awfully inept at it. Anyway, this "Mr. Revise", the Big Bad in question, is trying to keep fairytale folk out of the real world- he must not be very happy with the majority of the characters over in the mother book, who live right under the "Mundy's" noses in the city, for sure, and we're really not given enough background or motivation to make him a credible threat. Until we get that, he's just a Wally Cox type who can turn into a green blobby monster when he gets riled. I guess it's a measure of how much I'm invested in the vibe of the main book, that I'm as interested as I am because there isn't a single likeable, or for that matter interesting, character in the whole darn thing, except perhaps Goldilocks in a perverse fashion...and that can't be what the writers want. C+

S: Jimmy Palmiotti, Joe Quesada; A: Lee Moder (inker(s) uncredited) (Dynamite Entertainment, $2.99)

Now, here, on the other hand, we have a comic full of unpleasant, unlikeable people doing unpleasant, unlikeable things to each other...but I like this a lot more than I probably should. I think a large part of that is because of the underrated talents of Moder, who drew what I thought was a very good stint on Legion of Super-Heroes at DC and pretty much fell off the map afterwards. Shame, because I like his style, which reminds me a little of Gil Kane with perhaps a smidge of Mike Golden- it's really hard to play "spot the influence" with his work. Which is in service of a mostly dire and downbeat revenge/avenge tale, something which if it was a film would be called something like Deadly Target or Savage Victory, would have Wings Hauser or Gary Busey in it, and go straight-to-DVD, airing on Cinemax at midnight or so...and sure enough, we've already had a Painkiller Jane TV-movie on the Sci-Fi Network, which nobody watched. heck, I only watched about 30 minutes of it myself. Back to the matter at hand: as usual, the somewhat tragic Jane metes out violent justice on the abhorrent family who has perpetrated a heinous list of shocking crimes over a very long period of time, and takes her fair share of abuse and damage as she does so. There's probably a lot of repellent subtext here if I care to ponder it, which makes me wonder why I continue to buy and why I kinda like the character, but Jane gives as good as she gets, so I suppose that makes it a bit more palatable. Guess your mileage will vary. A lot. B+

S: Garth Ennis; A: Darick Robertson. (DC/Wildstorm, $2.99)

Gee, it seems like only a week or so ago I read #1. Anyway, most of my standard objections remain, but despite that I found myself enjoying this chapter more than the first. There is thankfully a lot less lowbrow misogynism this time, guess that helped. Maybe there is some Hitman-style spark left in ol' Garth, after all...but that is not to say that this holds a candle to that one- far from it. However, I still found myself cracking a smile here and there, and sometimes that's enough to get by. Still don't care for the art, but that's a long-standing Bacardi Show tradition that dates back to the Transmetropolitan days. B

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

Not-bad, not-great look at, as it says on the cover, a day in the life of Blue Devil. He lives in this Metropolis apartment with a typical group of eccentric characters, a couple of demons show up and try to take him back to hell, out of the blue a giant dragon-creature of some sort appears and now BD must deal with both threats, which makes him late for a meeting of the Shadowpact. It all gets wrapped up conveniently before the end, of course. Which is not to say that this wasn't a pleasant read; far from it. It's a quite decent and sincere attempt to do a "get-to-know, change-of-pace" story, and that even extends to the art by Scott and Faucher, which is also competent, nicely done in places, but when all is said and done it looks just like almost every DC art drone these days...the ones that aren't copying Rags Morales, that is. Guess it's like McDonalds- fills you up, tastes good (if not necessarily good for you), but ultimately is unexciting in its homogeneity. B

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


Another fait accompli for protagonist Dane, as he rights yet another wrong by proxy from beyond the grave with the thoroughly hissable agents of the Cardinal in hot pursuit. We get a bit more light shed on the nature of the "miracle" that enabled our boy to survive that fatal plane crash with all his fellow passengers memories and skills intact, and while none of it is all that surprising, really, it's quite credible, especially of you're the sort that enjoys TV shows like Medium, Supernatural, and Ghost Whisperer. And makes this yet another title featuring a living dead man, which seems to be all the rage these days. Even so, this is intelligently written, impeccably drawn in that J.P. Leon/Tommy Lee Edwards style by Azaceta...and now more than ever I'm sure I don't want to see the film adaptation, because I doubt that it will be an improvement on this. A-

S: Judd Winick; A: Howard Porter (DC, $2.99)

It is my carefully held opinion, and has been so ever since I witnessed the first DC attempt to perpetuate the trademark it bought (some say swindled) from Fawcett crash and burn, a victim of editorial interference and inability by some (admittedly) pretty good artists and writers to channel what C.C. Beck and Otto Binder did to make these characters fun in the only real time that this sort of stuff could really work, the 1940's and 1950's, that there is just no way to make the Marvel Family valid in the modern comics world, such as it is. For years, since DC just doesn't want to let the copyright lapse to such a recognizable character, we've been subjected to a score of dreary dull and misguided attempts to "modernize" the Marvels, to make them interesting and palatable to a generation that's geared to less genteel thrills and chills than the generations of their grandfathers. And therein lies the rub: Captain Marvel was created to be competition for National's Superman, with magical origins for his powers rather than scientific. And that's why Cap will always just be a patch on his more iconic cousin's entire ethos, and that extends to the Mary Marvel/Supergirl, Captain marvel Jr./Superboy, Sivana/Luthor anagrams as well. The difference in the characters was the approach- Binder and Beck went for a more simple, almost childlike feel for their character and his stories, and it worked for the less jaded and demanding kids of that bygone era. These days, that sort of audience doesn't exist anymore, and for that matter, writers just don't think like that anymore with very few exceptions...which is why (no matter how Grant Morrison tries- he's just too self-aware, arch, and clever) we also can't get a Hawkman, Green Lantern or Atom, just to name a few, revival that matches the early 60's heyday of the modern version of those characters, and no one can get into the mindset that John Broome and Gardner Fox inhabited. Which is why I wish they wouldn't even try- it's just depressing. Truth be told, the only time the characters have really worked since Beck left in the 70's was in Kingdom Come, and when Giffen and DeMatteis put them into the middle of the Bwah Justice League, and played the hijinks off of Cap's straight-laced image, a vein they continued to work even in their Justice League Classified swan song of a couple of years ago. It worked, but only because the Marvels were round holes in a world full of square pegs. And the problem is, you just can't base a comics series on that sort of thing, unless you do it in comedic fashion a la Major Bummer. So here we have the newest revival attempt, in the aftermath of the whole Identity froofraw, and as these things go it's not awful- professionally written and drawn, and I suppose Cap's new role as yet another supernatural protector of Earth (kinda sounds like a leftover Life and Times of Juniper Lee plot, dunnit?) is as good a direction as any. He alsogets a new way to use his powers, which owes its conception to Kingdom Come and his lightning-powered beatdown of Superman I betcha. As a storyline which must needs fit in with the DCU As It Is, it's fine I guess, but none of the charm of the character in his original incarnation is there, no fun I guess, fun not being needed anymore in DidioWorld. I'm sure the next 11 issues will be as downbeat and solemn as the first, a prospect that doesn't excite me one iota. Of note is Howard Porter's new art style, which looks like it owes a debt to Dan Brereton and is actually an improvement on his often clumsy JLA work which brought him to prominence. Can't be as positive about the cover, though, which looks like Cap's angry because someone dropped a bucket of lemon Jello on his back. Or perhaps Gatorade, or Mountain Dew, or something a little less palatable even. And maybe that's appropriate for this revival after all. C+

An aside: For what it's worth, next year's Jeff Smith take on the character, which doesn't seem like it's going to be hampered by trying to jam it into DC canon, looks promising. Being neither a big fan of the character or the writer/artist, I don't know if I'll pick it up, but you never know.

S: Andrew Cosby, Michael A. Nelson; A: Greg Scott (Boom!, $3.99)

Taking shots at this isn't really sporting, I guess- it wears its 50's drive-in movie roots proudly on its shoulders, and it's not badly done. But if you've seen one "disparate group of people trapped on an island with monsters" story, you've seen them all, main inspiration Lost (or is that Survivor, heh) notwithstanding- and while I applaud the craft that went into it I neither care about the characters, many of which are mostly anonymous, nor do I really look forward to seeing them all get killed until the inevitable ambiguous ending. Your mileage, as the saying goes, may vary. C+

S: Graymiotti; A: Billy Tucci, Jimmy Palmiotti. (Marvel, $2.99)

All right, Tucci, we get it: you can draw the ladies, especially if your idea of sexy ladies coincides with Jim Lee or J.Scott Campbell's idea of good girl art. Not all of us share this handicap, though (or at least I hope so), so I'll just go on and say that Gray and Palmiotti are able to successfully carry on the wit and funk that made Daughters of the Dragon such a left-field success in spite of your art, not because of it. I mean, seriously, how can you not love a book in which Shang-Chi, the bleedin' Master of Kung Fu fer chrissakes, just shows up out of the blue because he wishes to lend a hand (and foot) in the wake of the Civil War business? This is the first book I've bought that sports the CW dress, so as you might infer I'm pretty clueless about the whys and wherefores of that crossover event, other than what I've picked up via the internet and the dialogue here. Pro-superguy registration advocates Iron Man, Spidey and Reed Richards want Misty and Colleen and co. to assist the government in finding those superpeople who won't sign up for Selective Service or something like that, and they accept, conditionally. You just know those conditions will come back to haunt somebody eventually. Anyway, we get a few characters that were featured to good effect in DotD, and a few (Black Cat, Tarantula) that I could have lived without, and a nifty bait and switch at the end, and lots of wannabe poseheavy cheescake throughout. Not perfect, but still fun, and that's all I ask out of this book. I like fun, as I guess you can tell from reading my reviews. B

S: Graymiotti; A: Daniel Acuna (DC, $2.99)

On the other hand, you have this, which really isn't fun at all but I liked this a lot anyway- and the reason is, I suppose, that the glumness is balanced out by sharp characterization and welcome straightening out of the first issue's somewhat confusing narrative. Also, Graymiotti manage to give us the best handling of Uncle Sam since the unjustly ignored Alex Ross miniseries of a few years ago- his Sam is clever and wise and charismatic and folksy, all the things one would like an Uncle Sam to be. Acuna's art is less dark and cluttered this time out as well; he adds a lot of life into the proceedings with some nice page layouts and figure drawing. So far, this is shaping up to be my favorite Identity spinoff yet, out of a very limited field. A-

S/A: Scott Chantler (Oni Press, $8.95. Reviewed from B&W advance copy)

The third chapter of Northwest Passage is every bit as solid as the first two. Set in pre-Revolutionary War Canada, at a lone fort in the wilderness, Charles Lord has to resort to desperate measures to get it back from his cutthroat rival Montglave and his band of ruthless mercenaries, and also has to deal with the native population as well as his own tangled family relations. In this, the resolution of that storyline, some tough decisions have to be made and some unfortunate consquences ensue...and it's all done with a minimum of soap operatics and a strong amount of characterization. There's also some great action sequences, as well, especially in the climactic siege of the fort. I love everything about this series- the setting, the charismatic but vulnerable Lord, the varied and colorful cast of peripheral allies and enemies. You'd think that the cartoonish, almost Disneyesque art would work against it, but Chantler is too good for that- he is able to use an excellent command of facial expressions and body language, and especially a great talent for drawing the backgrounds, both interior and exterior, that the subject matter demands, all in crisp and exciting fashion, so as with, say, a great Tintin tale the style compliments rather than conflicts with the story it's trying to tell. In fact, Chantler even uses Herge-like script in his word balloons, so I'd bet that the great Belgian was a huge influence. Sadly, in the afterword, Chantler tells us that there's going to be a hiatus between this and #4- other projects and personal stuff will take precedence. Understandable, but that makes me sad because for my money, there are few titles coming out right now from any publisher better than Northwest Passage...and I hope the hiatus won't be long. A

BEST: Northwest Passage.
AVOID: X-Isle, although it's not terrible.

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