Wednesday, November 29, 2006

It's finally over! Until I get a new comics box this weekend, that is...
In which I continue to examine various works of sequential fiction I have read from November 5 through 24, some of which may still be on sale at your friendly neighborhood comics shop, if you move quickly!

S: Josh Elder; A: Erich Owen. (Tokyopop, $5.99)

Look, you all know that I'm just not really a manga fan. With a few exceptions (Planetes, Bambi and Her Pink Gun), I just don't get the buzz I need from my comics from reading it, and I've dealt with the topic before, long ago, so I'll spare you now. I don't deplore it or even dislike it, and I like many of its stylistic quirks, especially artwise. So this had one strike going in- but actually, I didn't hate it. It had a lot of energy and youthful charm, often reminding me (if not borrowing outright) from the Scott Pilgrim series, not to mention DC's Eclipso- Diamond-shaped black "Heart of Darkness" jewel indeed! Didn't fall head-over-heels in love with it, either, but I think that had a lot to do with being a lot older than its intended demographic. This is a Norville Barnes series- "You know, for kids." To hold it up to what passes for adult scrutiny in the Comics Blogosphere is a sucker's game, if you ask me. If I was a preteener, though, I think I'd get a kick out of this account of a young boy who gets tired of his neighborhood bullies, brat sister, and spoiled rich-kid schoolmate and orders his very own ninja warrior from a mail-order company. Which self-respecting ten-year-old wouldn't like that? Of course, the ninja has a little history of his own, and will have to deal with it in due course- which of course sets us up for the big dance party faceoff, and the weirdness that follows with the aforementioned uber-rich kid magically setting herself up as the ruler of the town. If you've got a bratty preteen manga-loving brother or sister, you could do worse than to pass this on. For what it is, it's not that bad. B+

S: Andrew Cosby, Michael Alan Nelson; A: Greg Scott. (Boom! Studios, $6.99)

A college "Applied Forensic History" teacher finds an old encrypted Nazi document in an old book he buys, makes a copy for each of his students to work on for codecracking homework, and mails the original to the State Department...which brings down hell on all their heads as the shadowy side of the government mobilizes to make sure that everyone who knows about this document is dead, and succeeds, with one exception- a young girl who must now run for her life, pursued both by spooks and by the police, who think she killed her friends. Call me crazy, but somebody really, really wants to write for TV, don't they? That's what this reminds me of- a pitch to an episode of oh, CSI or NCIS or one of those anagrammed hour-long dramas. And for what it's worth, it's a good idea- right off the bat, we witness the deaths of people we only met a few pages back, a little surprising, and we're on notice to not get too comfortable. I wish we had gotten a bit more facetime with the prof and his other students, not important, I know, but it would make the feeling that they had to get them out of the way expediently so we could concentrate on the one young lady a little less pervasive. After that, it's more deliberately paced, with our heroine getting in and out of predicaments...and I'm sure we can expect more of the same for at least half of #2, until we get to the reveal of what was so important about that document. At least I hope we get to it, if nothing else but to help us understand why these people had to die. Artwise, X-Isle's Scott does a decent job, but there's something kinda incomplete about his pseudo-realistic semi-J.P. Leonish style that bugs me- kinda reminds me of those Charles Schwab commercials. A lot. Anyway, there's enough here to keep me cliffhanging until next issue!
Update 12/2/06: Ross "Rich" Richie has written to inform me of something which explains quite a bit about my earlier statement about Cosby/Nelson's presumed desire to write for television, and I quote: Coz is one of the hottest TV showrunners in LA. EUREKA beat GALACTICA
regularly in the ratings, and is the anchor show on Sci-Fi. Couple
years ago, Coz had a show with Matthew Fox on UPN called HAUNTED. No
doubt, you're seeing his background showing thru in the execution.
No doubt! Here's Cosby's IMDB listing. I seem to recall knowing this previously, but my memory storage capacity is limited to MBs instead of GBs and sometimes things slip through the cracks of my medulla oblongatta. Anyway, I stand corrected and chastised even as I also stand confirmed of my suspicions! And thanks to Mr. Richie. B+

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


When last we left our boy Adam, he was all tricked out in bondage gear and cruising for the fellow who killed his girlfriend, who likes that sort of rough trade. About three-quarters of this issue is taken up by the results of his search, and then the final quarter is where more stuff happens- his tranny acquantance Alexis who has quickly become the second most interesting character in this thing, besides sister Cyndi) takes the rap for him when the police bust the club, he's photographed, and now must deal with the resultant publicity when his picture is featured on the front page of the Melbourne Special. Of course, since the conventional wisdom is that there's no such thing as bad publicity, his publicist is thrilled. But me, I'm thinking that these sort of sordid sex scandals didn't do much for the careers of other "holy men" like Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart, so I remain skeptical. But since when has Seagle let a little thing like logic or past histories get in the way of his storytelling here? At least it's well illustrated...Ryan Kelly's style is so similar to Becky Cloonan's that they look made for each other. Would that more pencillers could get so lucky. B

S: B.Clay Moore; A: Jeremy Haun. (Oni, $3.50)

This time out the Leading Man makes his escape by, appropriately enough, acting his way out of a jam...but goes from the frying pan into the fire, to coin a cliche. Nice job by Haun of bringing out the best in that scene through his staging, layouts, and expressions- and Moore's dialogue is typically great, not only in that scene, but throughout. Solid, enjoyable superspy stuff, and the film-star angle works well in the mix. A-

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

At least for a while we get back to doing what John does best: smarting off to creepy evil demons. If this endless, dull, ludicrous storyline goes on much longer, though, I'm going to follow Nicola over the ledge. D+

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

In which we meet fucked-up Megan's even more fucked-up cousin, and he spends page after page doing the usual irrational, punkish, fucked-up things that juvenile delinquents do in movies and TV these days. Hardly compelling reading at the sound of it, but as usual on this book Wood manages to invoke our empathy, if not sympathy, and besides, with this book it's not the story that's important but the reader's reaction, right? Of course, my initial reaction was perhaps if we'd been given some glimmer of a clue that Cuz had some sort of redeeming side, I might have cared more about him at the end- but I guess that's the way it doesn't always follow the script. B

DMZ 13
S: Brian Wood; A: Riccardo Burchielli. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Matty gets involved with a terrorist cell of sorts while trying to infiltrate Trustwell, Inc., a Halliburtonesque corporation that is attempting to rebuild within the NYC DMZ, with often explosive results. Wood gives us a protagonist that we can care about in this title, as opposed to certain others, and it makes all the difference to me anyway. Another solid art job by Burchielli, who's really gotten in a groove since he started. One other thing- I don't trust Matty's blonde girlfriend Kelly, just so you know. B+

S: Greg Rucka; A: Jesus Saiz. (DC, $2.99)

This professionally done account of four Kobra wannabes (one a double agent, of course, and one a vanishing-powered metahuman) trying to get in the group by killing white supremacists while the titular organization watches closely is OK as far as it goes, certainly NCIS-worthy, and benefits from a good-not-great art job by Saiz. But for some reason I remain uninvolved- maybeit's just a little too professionally done and thus lifeless; perhaps it's the incessant jargon-heavy focus on the internal politics of said titular organization. Perhaps I'm just getting hard to please in my dotage. C+

S: Will Pfiefer; A: David and Alvaro Lopez. (DC, $2.99)

The finale (for now) of the Film Freak's rampage, and the movie references fly fast and furious, much to this film freak's amusement. Even had me scurrying to consult my Psychotronic Encyclopdia in regards to the Killers From Space reference- if I've seen that one I don't recall it. Hats off to Pfiefer for coming up with such a great character, so great, in fact, that I hope he doesn't return for a good long while because his schtick can get old fast. All the other ongoing subplots take a backseat until the end, but the action is Fast and (the) Furious (heh- movie title!) throughout so it's OK. My only disappointment is that we didn't get a Taking of Pelham One Two Three reference. Maybe next time. A-

S: Gary Whitta; A: Ted Naifeh. (Image, $4.99)

Just like last time, well-meaning and naive D.J. gets hoodwinked by a evil acquaintance of his Pop, and just like last time, he's going to have to set things straight with a little help from his friend Pandora, who has to escape from Summer Camp from Hell first. Even though the blueprint is similar, this is still very well done- from the Terry Gilliam-via-Brazil-inspired "Office of Death" scenes, to the plight of DJ's freakish friends (reminiscent of Addams Family Values and at least one episode of South Park) and the Father Knows Best/Leave it to Beaver jibes of D.J.'s home life, this is amusing and clever all the way. And of course, if not for Ted Naifeh's stellar rendition of all this, it wouldn't be nearly as good as it is. A-

S: Kurt Busiek; A: Brent Anderson. (DC/WildStorm, $2.99)

Once more into the 70's we go, as we continue with the good/bad brothers that Busiek so desperately wants us to care about and their respective career paths, both filled with nothing but unhappiness. Don't know where it's going, and I wish I was more interested in its outcome, but I can still enjoy the imaginative, if always derivative, superheroics in this issue's new characters Street Angel (no, not that Street Angel), who in that always rose-colored nostalgia for the 60's superhero would have it, began as a laughing, swashbuckling crimefighter...but is now all GRIM and GRITTY, surely the bane of all right-thinking superhero fans. How sad it is that all the smiling happy heroes had to get all serious, isn't it? Anyway, now he's a hoodie-sporting ass-kicker, with ceramic steel-cored throwing haloes and a Spectre-ish girlfriend called Black Velvet (after that horrible song, no doubt) and the Bros. are faced with a fateful decision at the end, despite everything I suppose I do, at the end of the day, want to know how this is going to all end up. So it usually goes with me and this book. Anderson, taking his cue from the most influential artist of the 70's (I insist), lets his inner Neal Adams indulge itself more than he ever has before, and the art's a bit better for it. Nice V For Vendetta homage/swipe on the cover, Alex Ross- but V was the 80's. Whassup wit dat? B+

S/A: Tony Millionaire. (Dark Horse, $2.99)

Anybody who has ever woke up to find thousands of ants on their kitchen counter, surrounding a piece of some candy or something someone left out, will be able to sympathize with the plight of poor baby doll Inches. More droll quirkiness from Millionaire, and as the saying goes, if you're not a fan your mileage will vary. A-

S: Brian Vaughan; A: Marcos Martin. (Marvel, $2.99)

We get deeper this time into the mystery of who ordered the hit on Doc, and a mighty clever red herring to boot, as this second issue continues to hit all the right notes, and hit them with aplomb. A Doc Strange with a dry wit and who lets out the occasional F-bomb is a Doc Strange I'm interested in knowing better. Also an added bonus, Vaughan and Martin provide a look back at the Stephen Strange That Was via a flashback to his post-accident ordeal and the man who stuck up for him throughout. I was a bit surprised and yes, disappointed, not to see Alvaro Lopez' name missing from the credits; Martin does the pencils and inks this issue, and while I miss Lopez's wonderful inkline, I kinda like solo Martin almost as much, especially since if I look real hard I sometimes see Mort Meskin or Frank Robbins buzzing around the edges. A

S: Christos Gage; A: Doug Mahnke. (DC/WildStorm, $2.99)

I almost didn't buy this- I'm completely unfamiliar with Gage's priors and had no reason to believe that he could give me a Stormwatch I wanted to read about. But in the end, I just couldn't pass up the Doug Mahnke art; you all know how much I revere his work and he doesn't disappoint here. It elevates a not-bad not-great account of the budget-cut induced formation of a non-metahuman Stormwatch team who are specially equipped to deal with extranormal threats to the level of real good, and I guess I now have a new title to collect. Yay. B+

S: Bill Willinigham; A: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Inaki Miranda. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Odd choice for a story this time out- the whole issue is devoted to Pinocchio's account of what the Mundy world's reaction would/could be to the invasion of the hostile Homeland forces, making it a big elaborate "What If" tale, nothing more. Well done, but I don't really see the point except to delay the inevitable while Willingham pursues other plotlines, I guess. Also features a cutesy-and-short backup drawn by Miranda starring the Three Blind Mice, and it's good as far as it goes. This issue also has a preview of the upcoming Vertigo series Crossing Midnight, set in Japan and dealing with "Horror-Magic-Destiny", according to the ad copy. It boasts a typically good Mike Carey script, but its biggest surprise is the Jim Fern art. Together with inker Rob Hunter, they deliver a very well-drawn job which is light years away from his early 90's Scarlett stuff. A-

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

Namora gets the spotlight as the last of the Agents (at least for our purposes in this series, one supposes) to be revived, and it's a good showcase, although I can't help but marvel at her ability to jump up and kick giant monster ass mere seconds after reviving from decades-long sleep. It is at this point that I feel the need to call for a Bill Everett collection, featuring his Timely/Atlas work, especially Sub-Mariner and Venus, as well as other assorted horror stories and perhaps even room for his sporadic 60's and 70's efforts. Make it so! Otherwise, the plot gradually advances towards its conclusion, becoming at the end at least the third title I've read this month to feature the "one of your team is a double agent" cliffhanger...and I MUST object to the idea of changing Venus into a redhead. That just ain't right. A-

Part one.
Part two.

BEST IN SHOW: CRIMINAL 2. Although Dr. Strange: The Oath 2 and Jack Staff 12 were contendahs.

DOG OF THE WEEK: No competition this time: HELLBLAZER 226. Can't wait for Diggle.

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