THE LEADING MAN 3
S: B.Clay Moore; A: Jeremy Haun. (Oni Press, $3.50)
The plot thickens as our hero is captured by the enemy, and his right-hand man, another superspy and an actress who got a bit too nosy are left to figure out what to do next. Although sometimes it comes across as slick as a TV series pitch, it's still a good read- fast paced and never dull, with great dialogue and good art by Haun, whose motto remains "Background detail? I don't need no steenkin' background detail!". Actually, I like this better than any other BC Moore project to date save for Hawaiian Dick, so if that tells you anything, go out and get this. Or wait for the trade, if you must. A-
THE WINTER MEN 5
S: Brett Lewis; A: John Paul Leon. (DC/Wildstorm, $2.99)
Raise your hand if you remember what happened in #4, which seems to have come out a small eternity ago. You know me- I've always been on record as saying that I'm more than happy to wait on creators to get their books out, regardless of Philistine solicitation dates and such...better late than a fill-in! But a comic this dense and elaborate probably shouldn't be this late if it knows what's good for it. Oh well- I didn't really know what to expect from this by now; first, it's a nine-issue series, then it isn't, then it's five issues with a big double-sized grand finale next issue...whoo-eee. It starts out with a brief recap of the fragmented Winter Men squadron storyline which may never get fully explored, becomes another of the delightful Soviet-based crime stories that have been done well in the previous issues (the "Mr. Boss" scenes are hilarious), then abruptly becomes a Christmas story (!), all with the great dialogue and involved plotting that has been a hallmark, no pun intended, of this series so far. And, of course, Leon is as solid as always, especially as he helps us navigate the chaotic Christmas party at the end- he does a great job of depicting all the craziness that goes on. Winter Men ISN'T an easy read, which I'm sure you know by now, but it's enjoyable just the same- especially if you're a fan of Russia-based fiction, sly humor, well-done dramatics, and outstanding art. And really, aren't we all- at least three of the four? A
S: Brian Michael Bendis; A: Michael Avon Oeming. (Marvel/Icon, $2.95)
Against the odds, this has become quite the compelling storyline with principals Walker and Pilgrim both dealing with their superpowered crime beat even as they struggle with newly acquired powers of their own. Sure the plot, at least the bare bones of it, reminds of previous story arcs in this series, but he's managing to dress it up so it's not so familiar. Bendis wore out his welcome with me on Daredevil, but to his credit he's still in there pitching on this, and the effort is gratifying. As always, Oeming piles on plenty of mood and black ink, and even though his style seems to be getting more and more stylized each month he's still hitting on all cylinders. If you bailed on this some time ago, like I almost did, you might consider checking it out again- you might be pleasantly surprised. A-
DR. DEBUNKO, DEBUNKER OF THE SUPERNATURAL 1
S/A: Chris Wisnia. (Salt Peter Press, $3.95)
DORIS DANGER SEEKS: WHERE GIANT MONSTERS CREEP AND STOMP 1
S: Chris Wisnia; A: Wisnia, Dick Ayers, and a host of pinup artists. (Salt Peter Press, $9.95)
In Dr. Debunko, the Vincent Price circa 1949 lookalike title character makes it his calling to disprove all manner of "alleged spiritual, supernatural, psychic, superstitious, folkloric, or government conspiratorial beliefs", which usually means that he comes upon or is called in to some sort of weird occurrence, and manages to explain it away in tongue-in-cheek, and often amusing, fashion. I'm not wild about the art- it's very grubby and sloppy, kinda reminds me of Tom Sutton after a three-day bender, and doesn't help the story very much. So what's poor Mr. Wisnia to do? Why, get Timely/Atlas/Marvel stalwart Dick Ayers (I didn't even know he was still with us!) to ink his pencils on the oversize Doris Danger stories! And this stuff is right up his alley, too- basically sendups of those old Lee/Kirby/Ditko pre-Fantastic Four Marvel giant monster stories, you know the ones, with monsters that had names that sounded like noises one's stomach makes after eating too much chili or something. These are pretty funny as well; if you like the remixed satire comics Marvel and Boom have been putting out lately, this is a lot like that...except with all-original art instead of relettered public domain comics stories. The tabloid-sized format adds a lot, too- it's strangely fitting to read about big creatures with names like "Fuggabluh", "Aaahblaah" and "Scrohtu" twice-up normal size. It's rounded out with pinup pages by some pretty good artists, like Mike Mignola, the Hernandez Bros., Gene Colan (an especially good piece), Tony Millionaire(!), and others. Not a bad deal for your ten bucks, kids! For more info on this and Wisnia's other publications, go to www.tabloia.com, and tell 'em Johnny B sent ya! Dr. Debunko: B-; Doris Danger: B+.
THE BOYS 3
S: Garth Ennis; A: Darick Robertson (DC/Wildstorm, $2.99)
This interesting-in-spite-of-itself ripoff of Ennis' own Hitman continues as Tommy, I mean Butcher, meets the reluctant Wee Hughie at the airport and introduces him to Natt the Hat and the rest of Section Eight, I mean "Mother's Milk" and the bad-guy ass-kicking team. And just because it's not derivative enough, he mixes in a generous helping of Rick Veitch's Brat Pack, not to mention one of the subplots of Alan Moore's Top 10 series. Ennis can write this shite in his sleep, and probably does. C+
S/A: Brian Wood. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
Wood felt the time was right for a Fodor's Travel Guide to the DMZ NYCNY, so that's what we get. And while it's great to see so much Wood art in one place in service of a story of sorts, that doesn't necessarily make this interesting reading...although I can't help but think that further on down the road this will come in handy. B
STRANGE GIRL 11
S: Rick Remender; A: Nick Stakal. (Image, $2.99)
Even though Remender's trying pretty hard, I think, giving us some lively new characters in former demon buddy Bloato's hairy-legged daughters, and a clever sequence in which our Girl summons up a quite unexpected visitor...there's still something about this book which remains uninvolving to me. Can't put my finger on it- maybe next issue. I like Stakal's sloppy but solid art; it reminds me a lot of Duncan Fregredo's early Vertigo-era stuff like Enigma B+
NEIL GAIMAN'S NEVERWHERE 9
S: Mike Carey; A: Glenn Fabry. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
This one's been a bit of a problem to review on a monthly basis- Carey has done a marvelous job of adapting Gaiman's novel, and Fabry has done a superlative job of illustrating it, and that's pretty much what I've been saying for the last six or so months. I think it's saying something when a comic book adaptation of a novel can enhance and exceed my enjoyment of the source, which almost never happens, and let me encourage you to get the trade, which will soon be released. If you have any stomach at all for this sort of high-toned urban fantasy, you'll love it. A
AGENTS OF ATLAS 3
S: Jeff Parker; A: Leonard Kirk, Kris Justice. (Marvel, $2.99)
Spotlight's on Bob the Marvel Boy and his Uranus (hey- Parker didn't resist, why should I?) as our boy Jeff takes it upon himself to tie up six decades' worth of convoluted backstory in the space of 18 pages, and pretty much succeeds. Halfway in, it's become kinda apparent to me that this is what this miniseries is all about- not so much the group of reunited superheroes facing off against the Yellow Claw and the Atlas Corporation, but stage-setting, tying up of loose ends, and consolidation, all paving the way for what I hope will be many more issues of the ongoing series that has not been announced but I, for one, hope will be coming up when this is concluded. Great job all around on script and art, and in case you're keeping score at home, like I am, even more Venus. A-
S: Bill Willingham; A: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Mike Allred (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
The Adversary Strikes Back continues as we meet Hansel and Gretel. Oily Hansel's a real piece of work, a former Matthew Hopkins type who was exiled from Fabletown for his crimes years ago but now has diplomatic immunity as the "Emperor"'s ambassador, which causes no end of consternation among the Fabletown Powers That Be. Most of the issue is taken up with Willingham's by-now typically clever twist on the old Hansel & Gretel fairytale, and it has some surprising wrinkles. Leialoha doesn't ink all of this, some of it's done by DC Art Drone Andrew Pepoy, and it makes me sad (for Leialoha, who used to do such idiosyncratic, clever work on his own) that I can't tell where one starts and one stops. Backup story's by Allred, and it revisits Mundy writer Kevin Thorne, who knows about Fabletown and its residents but won't/cant tell anyone. Why, I can't remember- nor can I recall where he first appeared, but for six pages of a man walking his dog and reflecting on Fabletown justice, it's pretty darn good. A-
S/A: Evan Dorkin. (Slave Labor, $2.95)
30 pages' worth of throwing crap, the GOOD kind of crap that is, at the wall, and lo and behold, 95% of it sticks! You'd think Dorkin would mellow with age, but far from it- his rapid-fire, densely-clustered, nothing-sacred joke strips and panels are as acerbic as ever. If you're a fan, this will be like manna from some rancid heaven, and if you're not, well, you owe it to yourself to check this out. I guarantee you'll get a laugh from something on every page, and that's a hell of a thing in these troubled times.
Here's a veritable explosion of Boom! Studios titles...
SAVAGE BROS. 2
S: Andrew Cosby, Johanna Stokes; A: Rafael Albuquerque ($3.99)
SECOND WAVE 6
S: Michael Alan Nelson; A: "Chee" ($2.99)
X ISLE 3
S: Andrew Cosby, Michael Alan Nelson; A: Greg Scott ($2.99)
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!: MONSTER MASH-UP
S: Keith Giffen, Joe Casey, Kevin Church, Stokes; A: Steve Ditko, various ($3.99)
The second issue of Savage Bros. is as funky and fun as the first; Albuquerque is doing a nice Jock-ish job on the art chores and Cosby is writing the Bros. in fine Mad Max-meets-Dukes of Hazzard form, with a generous helping of surreal weirdness to boot. A-. I continue to be completely indifferent to Second Wave, or whatever they're calling it this month; I have noticed that the art has simplified and cleared up to the point that I'm reminded of Bob Burden, especially on the double-page spread of pages 12 & 13, which features Martian ships that look like cow heads. D+. I don't watch Lost, I'm just not interested in what seems, from the outside looking in, to be one of the most convoluted and excessive opuses to ever air on the Tube. So I have even less of a reason to care about X Isle, which covers too much of the same sandy ground to provoke any reaction from me. Greg Scott is still doing a fair John Paul Leon imitation, though. C+ Finally, there are some chuckles here and there throughout Monster Mash-Up, Boom!'s latest remix comic, and some nice primo-era Ditko art ( as well as a shorty from Rocco Mastroserio, whom I remember from many 1960's issues of Creepy and Eerie) to gaze upon as well...so while I wasn't convulsed with laughter, I was mildly entertained, and that's par for the course for these What Were They Thinking!? comics. B
S: Ed Brubaker; A: Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon, $2.99)
I was almost afraid to read this; I just didn't think it could live up to the hype, not to mention the anticipation I had built up in my own mind. But after putting it off a day or two, I finally said to heck with it and dived right in...and I'm delighted to say that it not only meets expectations, but exceeds them as well. Brubaker's no-frills script is as solid as it comes; he gives us a handful of interesting characters who are interesting right off the bat; there won't be any two or three issue stringing-along and getting acquainted. And I'm dead certain that these characters will only get more interesting as time goes on. And like all good collaborations, Phillips' excellent, thoughtful art enhances and amplifies this strong script; the first scene which really brought this out as I read was the aftermath of our introduction to main character (so far) Leo's friend (and friend of his late father) Ivan...Leo's despair and frustration was palpable thanks to Phillips' outstanding mood-setting illustration work (with an able assist from colorist Val Staples), and Sean also excels at enhancing the feel of the city and lowlife scenarios in which our Leo walks through and narrates to us, the reader. I have a feeling that we might be looking at the apex of his already-distinguished career. I still have concerns that the subject matter just isn't "sexy" enough to capture the attention of the vast majority of fanboys and fanmen, who seem to turn up their nose at practically anything that doesn't have costumes or zombies it it, but that will be their loss, and I hope those who have a more discerning bent will enjoy this ride (as we all did with Sleeper) until its all-too-quick conclusion. A
TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED 1
S: David Lapham, Brian Azzarello; A: Eric Battle, Prentiss Rollins, Cliff Chiang (DC, $3.99)
I was in my LCS a couple of days ago with some time to kill on my lunch break, and thought I'd pick up something off the rack to read. I had seen this out, but declined to buy right away because I don't like one single thing about the whole post-IC Crispus Allen Spectre state of affairs, even though ol' Spec has always been one of my favorite characters. The Doc Thirteen backup was intriguing, but I didn't want to drop tree-fitty on what I perceived as a slight showcase for a character that I always at best kinda-sorta liked, back when he was serving as straight-man to the Phantom Stranger in the Seventies (I did think, however, there was a ton of potential there if someone was sharp enough to realize it). When I paged through this, though, I noticed that the Doc Thirteen tale was no less than 16 pages long, plus I found nothing else that piqued my interest, so I said to heck with it and picked it up to read with my Taco Bell burrito and Mountain Dew. Glad I did, mostly- the Spectre lead is crap, pure and simple; whoever the heck thought it was a good idea to resurrect the McFarlane-era Spawn style of comics in 2006 deserves a visit from the Mike Fleisher/Jim Aparo Spectre of yore. But the Doc Thirteen backup is actually a very nice tale, as the Doc investigates mysterious phenomena that happened to the passengers of a plane that crashed in the French Alps, with his snarky daughter in tow, and encounters an oldish, obscure DC character, the revelation of whom at the end becomes the first time the title lives up to its name. I've always been kind of hot-and-cold on Chiang's art; sometimes he's capable of doing solid work in a Dave Mazzuchelli-mode, and sometimes his work can look staid and dull. Here, it's quite good...and compared to the art team on the lead feature, he looks like Alex fricking Toth. I'm also a bit surprised at how straightforward and uncluttered Azzarello's narrative is; based on 100 Bullets and Loveless, I usually expect an endurance test worthy of Matt Fraction. But here, he tells his story with a minimum of fuss and got on my good side by having Doc T refer to his kid as "peanut", which gave me fond memories of Dead Like Me even though I'm sure nothing could be farther from his intent. Even though he finally resorted to the hoary groaning cliche of having the character refer to himself by the title of his comic book adventures (at least he didn't say House of Mystery presents..., which is as close to a spoiler as you'll get from me), I didn't mind all that much. As long as we get an Azz/Chiang Doctor Thirteen, I'll continue to get this. I'd give the Dr. T story an A-, but the Spectre lead drags it down to a B+.
JONAH HEX 12
S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Paul Gulacy (DC, $2.99)
The Wheel of Art continues to spin, and this time lands on a winner. Even though I had liked some of Gulacy's efforts in the 70's and 80's, I absolutely loathed his crass approach to Catwoman; especially after the Darwyn Cooke-style look the book had tried to maintain prior to his coming aboard- it was just awful and wrong. But here, he's slightly more in his element in this tale of double crosses and (slightly understandable, for once, if such a thing can be) religious intolerance as Jonah takes up with a band of Mormon settlers who just want to buy provisions for the winter from a small-town big-fish general store owner, who in turn blames the Mormons for a massacre which had happened previously, to the point of hiring a band of oddball mercenary killers (each with a peculiar quirk- shades of the Wild Wild West, the TV show, not the horrid film) to get rid of all of them. The story could have been a contrived mess, but never crossed that line, and Gulacy really brought home the glum, bitter rancor at the heart of it. Great job, says I, and I would love to see him do more Hexes. After Jordi Bernet gets his turn, of course. A-
DOCTOR STRANGE: THE OATH 1
S: Brian Vaughan; A: Marcos Martin, Alvaro Lopez (Marvel, $2.99)
Here's another one which was hyped to the heavens, mostly because of a clever opening sequence involving Iron Fist and one of Marvel's legion of Spider-Girls, and had me a bit apprehensive because I may be second only to Neilalien in my desire to see a good Doc Strange story. The recent Dead Girl mini came close, but as far as Doc went it was blunted a bit by the apparent perception among Marvel decision makers that the reason why Doc doesn't catch on to a wider audience is because he comes across as pompous, arrogant, and stiff- so as far back as the Giffen/DeMatties/Maguire Defenders, we get a somewhat smart-assed Doc, who's as likely to make a quip at his own expense as he is to hurl a Ditkoesque force bolt. Vaughan, who (as I'm sure you know if you've read me any length of time at all) has underwhelmed me completely via the books I've tried (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, all of which left me cold) straddles the line pretty well here, and his dialogue is as natural and unforced as I've ever read it. Even so, Vaughan still toes the editorial mandate and gives us Absent-Minded Doc, who also misquotes the Hippocratic Oath and fails to inform Night Nurse that "Master of the Mystic Arts" was a title that was bestowed upon him (by Stan Lee or Steve Englehart, if no one else- Neilalien- Where and who gave him this honorary?), and not one he gave himself. At least we were spared the ongoing hemorrhoid jokes of Pete Milligan's take. And if it sounds like I'm being hard on ol' BKV, I'm not- actually, I've quite happily surprised that I admired the clever idea for a story arc, liked most of the back-and-forth banter, and was impressed by the depiction of Doc being tormented at his inability to help Wong with his terminal condition here. But make no mistake- it's the art that I love the most about this. As with the Batgirl: Year One series a while back, Martin's layouts and pacing really enliven the script, and Lopez' line is as deft and sinuous as ever. Together they are one of my absolute favorite art teams, and if the story has anything going for it at all (unlike the recent Breach), I will buy it just to see them do their thing. A very good start for what could be the best Strange Tale since the 1970's came to an end. A
BEST OF SHOW: gotta be CRIMINAL #1.
DOG OF THE WEEK(S): SECOND WAVE. Love those Boom! guys, but that title sucks all the air out of the room.
Getting a new shipment on Friday, plus I've received some more Boom! books and other stuff, so coming very soon- more reviews! This time of NEWER books!