Wednesday, December 13, 2006

In which I opine in regards to various works of sequential fiction I have perused in the interval since the last time I inflicted my opinions upon one and all, or to be specific, from 25 November to 9 December, some of which may even still be on sale at finer comics selling establishments worldwide.

NEW REVIEWS AT TOP OF POST! These might be kinda on the short side, more so than usual. Time is fleeting, as Riff Raff would say.

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

Against all odds, I'm beginning to like this title. Ennis isn't reinventing the wheel, and it still comes across as an exercise in automatic writing- but he's providing enough shades to all the principals to keep this from becoming offputting, he still has that fratboy sense of humor which (to my detriment, I'm afraid) occasionally elicits chuckles, and I'm a bit ashamed to say that I didn't see the Hughie and his new acquaintance twist coming at all. And so it goes. B+

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

As if Ellis' demented pisstake of Grant's Doom Patrol wasn't fun (and funny- they aren't always the same) enough, Immonen steps out and nimbly gives us his dead-on interpretations of such art stalwarts as Dan Clowes, Mike Mignola, J.P. Leon (The Captain segment, and I'm guessing here) and Gene Colan in the Forbush-vision segments. People just don't know what they're missing sometimes, do they. A

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

I do believe Sturges is finding his voice! Not-bad wrapup to the whole "Jack imprisoned in Golden Boughs" thing, with a little bit of everything: action, chuckles, decent-enough twists, and a mildly surprising ending in that he seems to mean it and plans to move on, refreshing these days when some writers hang on to the one good plot idea they have for dear life. Also, I suppose that if we must have the return of Little Black Sambo, then this is as good a way to do it as any. The art though, well, if you can't say anything good... B+

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

I don't think that Becky Cloonan's art (with Kelly's help, of course) has ever looked more like Paul Pope's than in this issue, and I don't mean that as a slam. She continues to enliven the material, which stubbornly and steadfastly refuses to do anything but be predictable, and predictably inconsistent in tone. B

S: Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction; A: Daniel Aja. (Marvel, $2.99)

Let's go waaaay back to the dim and distant days of 1974, and witness a the young J. Bacardi-to-be as he takes his hard earned dollar and chooses his weekly funnybook fix. Ah! Look there- he's picking up a copy of Marvel Premiere #15, attracted by the promise of a kung-fu comic drawn by Gil Kane and written by Roy Thomas. He takes it home and likes it a lot, getting into the tale of young Danny Rand, whose father and mother are done in by treachery and who eventually acquires the power of the iron fist. He picked up several issues after that, but soon Kane was gone, to be replaced by a series of lesser lights until finally young JB gave up on the Fist, only getting back into it after John Byrne started drawing his exploits in his own book. Then the team up with Luke Cage, and more inevitable art-rot as lesser lights once more had their way, and that was about the extent of the not-so-young now JB's interest in Daniel Rand's adventures. However, IF has bounced around a lot in the last couple of decades, and has always been a welcome presence in the few Marvel comics I've picked up in that interval which includes Danny's recent appearances in the Daughters of the Dragon mini and, of course, Daredevil, so I decided to give this new book a shot and see if I liked it. Of course having Brubaker's name, more so than the willfully obfuscating Fraction's, on the scripting byline helped influence my decision. And what did I think? Well, a not-bad start as IF gets mixed up with Hydra, who is apparently trying to pull off a subtle takeover of Rand's business, and we're also treated so a couple of getting-acquainted type flashbacks, which in turn took me back a bit to the still-fresh memory of young JB at the Jr. Foods spinner rack that I assayed above. Decent enough springboard for a series, I suppose. Art-wise, Aja was fine- he seems to be shooting for that tried-and-true Alex Maleev-Mike Lark-Jae Lee feel, but should really try to avoid anatomy gaffes like the clumsy looking hand on page ten, or the often slinky-esque torso contortions on pages 16 & 17. Kudos for the hilarious Luke Cage mugshot on 16, though. This one could be a good one before it's over. A-

S: Ed Brubaker; A: Michael Lark, Steven Gaudiano. (Marvel, $2.99)

Well, speak of the Devil! Status quo here, a continuation of the whole DD-looks-for-man-who-he-thinks-had-Foggy Nelson-killed storyline, set in gay Paree. Top-notch characterization and a little more action than before, all impeccably drawn by Lark and Gaudiano. Still loving the John Leguizamo-in-Romeo+Juliet-inspired Matador, hope he returns someday. A-

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

Fraction, you tricky bastard, just when you had me thinking I was finally getting it, you take me back into Whothewhatthe-!? land. Still, even as I curse your evasiveness, I have to give it up for your clever ideas- LOVE the T.A.M.I. Girls (and I'm proud that I get the reference), the scenes with Xeno and Seychelle were fun, and the ending as I understand it looks like it's pointing to a good one next time out. All I can say is thank goodness for Ba, who continues to make this all look real good. B

S: Geoff Johns, Richard Donner; A: Adam Kubert. (DC, $2.99)

I don't know about you, but I'm always leery when big (well, mostly big, some more than others) names from other media get their big name stuck on a comic book cover for doing something which never really is all that apparent. Apparently someone asked Donner what his plans would have been for his Superman film series, he mentioned a child for Lois and Clarkie , money for a byline co-credit was arranged and Geoff Johns took it and ran. Ran it into the ground, if this issue, number two (I'm thinking) of the arc is any indication. I'll freely admit that Morrison and All-Star Superman, as well as the superlative Animated version, aside, I'm not the biggest fan of the Man of Steel or his four-color exploits- but I can't imagine why this limp, dreary, beholden to the other corporate cash cow Smallville spandex soap opera bullshit would be anybody's idea of a entertaining, or even interesting read. And I must be confusing all the Kubert kids and Romita kids and so forth, but I really thought Adam Kubert had a style, something going for him other than a overrendered and barely-adequate Jim Lee impersonation. Geez, Ma and Pa Kent look barely older than Clark and Lois. Mainstream comics can be so depressing sometimes... C-

S: Various, including Frank Robbins, Archie Goodwin, Bob Haney, and David Michelinie. A: Various, including Joe Kubert, Jack Sparling, and Gerry Talaoc. (DC, $16.99)

Ah, the Unknown Soldier. Back before war comics became passe, he had a good long run in not only Star Spangled War Stories but his own title (which was a continuation of SSWS's numbering) as well in the 70's and 80's. The Soldier was a man who was disfigured by a grenade, and trained himself to become a master of disguise and top-notch assassin, and served the US as a covert agent in WWII. I've always liked this character, mostly based on the fond remembrance of the mid-70's David Michelinie/Gerry Talaoc version, which provided nicely understated dramatics and darn-near O.Henry-worthy twists on the premise. But, I have read very few, if any, of the pre-Michelinie issues of SSWS which make up a good 75-80% of this collection. So I got this, not only to reconnect with a few of the Soldier stories I liked so much back in the day, but to see what the character was like in his earlier versions, by a host of pretty talented writers, especially the great Archie Goodwin, no stranger to war sagas via Warren's short-lived Blazing Combat magazine, and Frank Robbins, who I've always admired most as an illustrator but always appreciated his understated early 70's Batman stories as well. To be honest, I still haven't finished this yet, but I can report on what I've read so far. You already know what I think about the Michelinie issues; Talaoc's art is a revelation- derivative of Alex Nino and a few other of the 70's Filipinos, but he always had a dynamism to his style that not even the sometimes static Nino could boast, and here (also in the next volume, whenever THAT will comeout) is probably the pinnacle of his career. I was a bit surprised to see that the character, as originally envisioned by none other than the great Kubert Sr. himself, started out as sort of a shadowy, mysterious operative who was summoned by the US when extraordinary wartime situations presented themselves; it wasn't until a couple issues later that the whole disfigured-by-grenade thing came into play. Kubert's art is excellent on these early stories. he eventually gave way to Goodwin, Haney and Robbins, and what I've read was solid, but a bit lifeless. The grubby stylings of Jack Sparling, an artist whose work was everywhere in the 1970's, graced a great deal of these tales. He was fine, if workmanlike. As I said, I'm still reading through this huge collection, so I may just happen upon some remarkable stories I haven't encountered yet, so keep that in mind when considering my opinion. Y'know, I never was really a fan of war comics, especially DC's- they were just so earnest and steadfast, and kinda dull despite some good art. I guess I liked the laffs-and-action approach Stan and Jack and Dick Ayers employed on Sgt. Fury a bit more. But those Michelinie Soldier stories kinda opened my eyes, and I can't recommend them enough. All things considered, I'll give this collection an incomplete A-, and I'll try to get back to it when I'm done.

S: Jeph Loeb, Darwyn Cooke; A: Cooke, Jason Bone. (DC, $4.99)

In the grand tradition of introducing classic characters to a presumably new audience, best exemplified by Batman #253's Shadow spotlight, here's the opening serve for Cooke's labor of love project, the Spirit ongoing. Even though I couldn't help but think of the late, somewhat-lamented Kitchen Sink project New Adventures of the Spirit when I finished it, it was still entertaining- though not quite as entertaining as the creators wished it to be. Hard to say exactly why, too- one too many plot twists, perhaps, the surprising incompatibility between the Spirit's cast of characters and Batman's (although I thought there were sparks between Bats and P'Gell), dialogue that strives for nostalgic resonance and gentle irony but just kinda sits there on the page, lifeless...who knows. Artwise, it's wonderful- Cooke is at his dynamic best, and he will never find a more sympathetic and skilled inker than Bone, for sure. One thing I did appreciate, and this is strictly a personal thing- your mileage will vary no doubt- is how Loeb and Cooke subtly give us (more or less, and despite the presence of Animated-era Harley Quinn and Killer Croc) the mid-60's Batman, (the Batman of the comics of the day, that is, not Adam West) with a eager young Robin, uncompromised, tolerant Commissioner Gordon, and so on. The mid-60's being, y'see, when I discovered the Spirit through the two Harvey reprint comics of 1966...this provided a nice nostalgia buzz. As a trailer for Cooke's series, I suppose this works well enough, and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because it's hard to say exactly what Loeb (whose edge was ground to a nub on the corporate trademark servicing grindstone years ago) contributed to the script. When this thing starts for real in a week or two, then we'll know. One thing that troubles me is the memory of the last big project that Cooke threw himself into with (at first) enthusiasm and energy: the current Catwoman series. He lasted all of four issues. Will this be the same? Guess we'll see... B+

S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Daniel Acuna. (DC, $2.99)

I can think of a lot of places I'd rather get my political discourse from than this...but actually, this issue's little tete-a-tete between Father Time and Uncle Sam doesn't get too heavy-handed and it's probably the most noteworthy thing about this issue, which involves yet another "Now we're beaten and hopeless, now we're not" moment and more "split-up and show off your powers" fight scenes, palatable in this case because Gray and Palmiotti totally seem to believe in what they're doing and aren't trying to be ironic or smirky, which I appreciate. It helps that I really like this version of Uncle Sam, who (as I think I say each time I review this comic) reminds me of a cross between Daniel Boone and the Spectre, and even though I wish he'd make different rendering choices sometimes, I like Acuna's naturalistic-but-stylized art as well. Plus, where else will you get to see the Red Bee kick ass? A-

S: Brian Michael Bendis; A: Micheal Avon Oeming. (Marvel/Icon, $2.95)

Very quietly, mostly because Bendis gets all the attention for his higher-profiled Marvel efforts, this has become a must-read comic again, and not just for Oeming's outstanding art. And this is even though we are being given the same basic plotline that we've had for the last five or six years, i.e. murder mystery among the superpowered. Biggest difference is the added wrinkle of both principals secretly acquiring powers of their own, and the tension that ensues as we wonder when that situation is going to come to a head in the face of all the murder mystery stuff. A-

S: Graymiotti; A: Francis Portella, Billy Tucci, Tom Palmer, Terry Pallot. (Marvel, $2.99)

Kaare Evans, come home! You are missed. Storywise, this is fine- humor, good characterization and adventure in mostly equal measure, with the dreary Civil War stuff thankfully out of the way. But the art, which is on the surface consistent stylewise, just isn't- it's hard to tell where Tucci ends and the other three begin, and that gets on my nerves for some reason. In all fairness, Portella and Co. are improving, but most of this is really subpar standard superhero art, without a lot of personality and charm (which Evans's work had, at least)...and really, Tucci's stuff isn't much better- I think the whole ninjas-in-silhouette vs. Tarantula interlude was his, and it's pretentious enough but it's not gonna make anybody forget Frank Miller or Zhang Yimou. B-

And that's it! New comics shipment coming Friday, so I guess I gotta do this all over again in about a week. Oh well, such is life for the comics blogger, I suppose. Also, I plan on doing a shortish review column in a couple of days, touching on some releases by a previously unknown-to-me publisher, Microcosm, as well as Regards From Serbia, and Tales From The Farm from Top Shelf and a new Doris Danger! book as well!

DOG OF THE WEEK(S): ACTION COMICS 845. Not the Superman I wanna read, sorry.

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