Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Time once more for the BACARDI SHOW NEW COMICS REVIEW, in which I inflict my opinions upon you in regards to various works of sequential fiction I have perused from October 24 to October 30. Here we go:

S: Bill Willingham; A: Various (DC/Vertigo, $19.99)

I'm of two minds about this handsome collection: really, if you get right down to it, it's just a collection of backstories that could have probably been better served as backup features in the monthly, such as those that have been appearing for the last few months already. But the art lover in me is very pleased to see so many excellent illustrators assembled in one place, in service of some of the most open-for-interpretation characters in the history of literature. If you're not a regular reader of Vertigo's would-be Sandman successor, then I would imagine you'd be quite perplexed by all this; of course most of the names are familiar to nearly everyone, but the various twists and spins that Willingham has put on them over the course of the seventy some-odd issues of the monthly will more than likely go right over the uninitiated head, or at least not make as much sense as they will to the converted. However, since I am coming from the latter viewpoint, having drank the Kool-aid about issue #7 or so, I did enjoy this book. Not as much as I would have hoped to; honestly, the twists here aren't really all that twisty and are actually kinda obvious to the longtime reader, which prevented me from becoming all that engaged by any of these tales. Still, there's no way I can turn up my nose at Mike Kaluta's gorgeous-as-always text framing illustrations, albeit ones unnecessarily embellished by Charles Vess- whose style is not dissimilar to MWK's, but I prefer my Kaluta uncut- still a nice job by both men. John Bolton's up next, and his account of the breakup of Snow White and Prince Charming is muddled- he's striving for that golden glow of old Maxfield Parrish fantasy paintings, and mostly succeeds, but damn near shoots himself in the foot by being so maddeningly inconsistent with his figures. Some are lavishly rendered, like Snow and the Prince, some are done with a gnarly sloppy fat ink line, giving a Corbenish effect, and backgrounds are done the same way. I've seen better work from Bolton before; he's capable of a Hal Foster style when he's inclined, but here he comes across as wanting to experiment, and I would prefer that he experiment on his own dime. Regular series artist Mark Buckingham turns in a better job than I would have expected; on the monthly I'm not wild about his work but here, away from Steve Leialoha's inks, he seems to be working in a different style. It's colorful enough, but looks washed out. Quite the opposite from cover artist extraordinaire James Jean's turn next; by choosing to color his nicely drawn story in mottled grays and browns he makes it a lot more of a slog than it should have been. Mark Wheatley is an artist I haven't paid a lot of attention to; I'm mostly familiar with his 80's collaborations with Marc Hempel. Here he gets arguably the central feature, Bigby Wolf's origin story, and while I've never been a fan (and his is the most "comic booky" of the set) he acquits himself well with a nice stylistic energy that I appreciated. Derek Kirk Kim's is a lavishly illustrated one; I didn't see that coming based on what I've seen of his work before. It's really good but short. Fables' resident Wicked Old Witch, Frau Totenkinder, gets her spotlight in a tale-within-a-tale which sports lovely work by JBS favorite Tara McPherson- like Jean, if she's done interiors before I've never seen them. Her work in service of an actual narrative is a bit stiff and mannered, but it's so imaginative and pleasing to the eye that it gets by famously. It frames a story with art by Esao Andrews, whose work here didn't grab me at all. It's rough and looks charcoal-ish, plus his figures are really awkward looking and oddly proportioned. Finally, Jill Thompson is fully in her element here as she closes the book with a wonderful account of how King Cole escaped to the Mundy world- I couldn't help but reflect on how much more enjoyable the monthly would have been if she'd been on art for its duration. Anyway- that's how I saw this one, as more of an art showcase than anything else and on that account it succeeded...not as completely as I would have liked, but still very nice indeed. Is it worth it for you, especially if you haven't fully invested in the monthly like I have? Probably not. But you might want to wait for the softcover, because it's rare to have so many great artists in one place these days. A-

S: Alexander Grecian; A: Riley Rossimo (AiT/PlanetLar, $12.95)

As you may know by now, basically this is an new take on the old folk tale about the Seven Chinese Brothers, recast in the Gold Rush era more or less, with a fateful encounter with the residents of a nearby town. It's a clever idea, and fully realized- it's easy to mess this sort of thing up by striving to be too relevant or cynical or something...but Grecian manages to strike the right tone and maintain it throughout. Nice text piece in the back as well, citing and recalling the various iterations of the legend over the years. Although at first I was a bit reluctant, I came to really like Rossimo's loose and over-rendered art, it's reminiscent of Ted McKeever but a little clearer in its storytelling style. It's been a while since we've seen something new from the House that Larry (and Mimi) Built, and this one was worth the wait. And if you didn't hear R.E.M.'s "7 Chinese Brothers" playing over imaginary end credits when you finished the story, you're a better man than I, Gunga Din. A

S: Joe Casey; A: Charles Adlard (AiT/PlanetLar, $12.95)

Joe Casey updates The Man Who Turned to Stone for the us a Twilight Zone-ish account of Thomas Dare, a footloose El Lay musician who discovers one day that he is slowly turning, well, into stone. Apparently it's hereditary, and despite the best efforts of the medical community, especially after he becomes a celebrity of sorts by saving a child from being hit by a truck, he soon comes to realize that it's incurable. Dare does a lot of soul-searching, friendships are struck and reinforced, and various issues get resolved with his estranged wife...and by the time this concludes, in (thankfully) less melodramatic fashion than I expected, this reader at least realized that while he was engaged and committed all the way through, admired how Casey downplayed the melodramatics, and hoped against all odds for the best for the somewhat crusty (poor pun, I know) Dare and in turn was kinda saddened when it became obvious how it was going to turn out for him. When I closed the book, however, I realized that what Casey has given us is a straightforward account of a man who turns to rock, the end. No apparent moral, no pretense, no overarching message about, say, hardening up inside in response to life's troubles or sealing oneself off from his fellow man, no Paul Simon singing "I Am a Rock"...nothing hightoned or cerebral at all- just "Man turns to concrete. People react. The End." Which was kinda puzzling, and a little disappointing. I know, I know, sometimes it's all about the story and the telling of it, and not everything has to have metaphor piled on top of subtext with context sauce...but I was vaguely unsatisfied, expecting a bit more...oh, I don't know, enlightenment, perhaps- and got none, just like Mr. Dare. Oh well. When life gives you concrete lemonade, make sure you end up as a statue or something like that. Interesting art job by Adlard, who chooses to render everything in coloring book fashion, except for the creeping gray tones on Dare's body- ostensibly so he can highlight the transformation, I suppose, but also giving it an undernourished, incomplete look. Still, his figure drawings, straightforward ink line and storytelling choices (with the exception of that coloring book gimmick) are first-rate, and while I still have a hard time reconciling this Adlard art with the guy who gave us White Death and Warlock, it's a fine job. I liked this enough to say that between this and Seven Sons, the reports of AiT/PlanetLar's demise have been greatly exaggerated. B+

S: Keith Giffen; A: Kody Chamberlain (Boom!, $3.99)

Another of the seemingly endless legion of comic-book dead men keeps on walking and surfing the 'Net in this somewhat tardy second chapter of Giffen's patch on Thinner, and slowly finds out more about why he came to be what he has come to be. Even though I'm coming across a bit snarky, this is still smartly written, and it's nice to read dialogue about blogging and the internet that sounds like the writer has actually had experience with the whole thing. Chamberlain's art is solid but murky- his "Imaginary Friends" don't help at all by "coloring" everything in shades of mottled gray. Still interesting, but might read better collected. B+

S/A: Various. (Boom!, $6.99)

Nice art turns by Fabio Moon and Rafael Albuquerque, among others, enliven this attempt by Boom! to replicate the success they've had with their zombie and Lovecraft anthologies. I don't know, I'm not really crazy about pirates actually- sure, I loved The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood, but I think it's just because I've always dug Errol Flynn flicks, liked Cutthroat Island for all the wrong reasons, and was mildly entertained by Pirates of the Carribean- but at the end of the day I really didn't get my mainsail hoisted by any of these tales. They weren't dull or bland, but just kinda went in one eye and out the other (or something like that). I was often reminded of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' distracting Tales of the Black Freighter from Watchmen, which wouldn't have made me unhappy if it had been omitted completely. If pirates shiver your timbers, however, you could do worse than to check this out- there's a real sense of at least trying to do something different, and that counts for a lot as far as I'm concerned. And as usual with Boom!, the production values are first rate- nice paper, coloring and so on. B

S/A: Richard Marcej. (Baboon Books, $3.50)

Office Space-esque hijinks, somewhat autobigraphical, as Richard Marcej the writer/artist gives us "Richard Marzelak" the character, who labors, unappreciated and unhappy, at a large toy company as a concept artist and is given to occasional red-tinged daydream sequences as he yearns to get out of his predicament and become a full-time cartoonist. As an artist, Marzelak is a nice conceptualist- his figure drawings are stiff, awkward and often crude, but he's able to tell a story and cram it full of dialogue and never make it seem cluttered, and there are many other, far more facile and accomplished illustrators that haven't mastered that trick yet. Said dialogue, while rarely witty or clever in itself, is still natural-sounding and sometimes can't help but sympathize with "Richard", especially if one has ever felt underappreciated and overlooked at one's job, particularly one that would seem to be a dream job for many. If you're curious, you can go visit Richard the creator's website, where he has many other publications for you to sample. B+

S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Billy Tucci, Francis Portela, Tom Palmer. (Marvel, $2.99)

Last issue's big cliffhanger is resolved in very contrived fashion, there's lots more fighting and posturing and dreary Civil War-related shenanigans, and only at the end with the return of Otis and uberbitch Riccadonna are we reminded of how enjoyable the Daughters of the Dragon miniseries was. The art's somewhat better, but that's not saying much. I find myself wondering, more than anything, about this Tom Palmer that's inking- there's no way that it's the Tom Palmer of yore, who embellished the titans like Adams, Colan and Buscema. There oughtta be a moratorium on using legendary names, like retiring numbers in sports or something. Maybe he could, as so many artists are doing even as I grind my teeth, call himself "Palm". C+

S: Jim Starlin; A: Starlin, Shane Davis, Matt Banning, Al Milgrom. (DC, $3.99)
All right, Starlin, some of us were alive in 1975, and if I wanted to read Warlock again I'd go to the source instead of this half-assed update. If you can't think of anyting else to write, why bother? And by the way, in regards to Star Hawkins, I've read Twilight, too, so no soap there either. C-

More later, when I've made it through my newly-arrived-as-of-yesterday comics box...

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