Friday, December 22, 2006

Opinions, observations, and whatnot in regards to various works of sequential fiction that have crossed my optic sensors in the interval between 10 December and 22 December, some of which may even still be on sale at finer comics selling establishments worldwide.

Of course, newer reviews will go to the top of this column. Please adjust your reading expectations accordingly.

S: Mike McAvennie; A: Sanford Greene, Nathan Massengill. (DC, $2.25)

Had to get this, because of that great Phantom Stranger-trimming-the-tree cover! Glad I did. There are those that hold that the best representations of the bleak modern-day DCU are to be found in the pages of the Johnny DC titles, and based on the evidence of this issue, I can't argue with that at all. A nicely done mix of Dickens and Capra as the Phantom Stranger pops in to enlighten Flash on why Batman is such a stick, even at Christmastime, and it never once gets melodramatic or saccharine- not even in the very well-presented scene from Batman's past, witnessed by the Stranger and the Flash, in which Alfred presents the recently orphaned Mahster Bruce with a toy Gray Ghost figure and airplane. He excitedly plays with it, just like a regular kid, until he sees the portrait of his parents and immediately shuts down, re-entering grim mode once more. Alfred's eloquent tear in the last panel speaks volumes. Not that I've been a regular reader of any of the Bat-books for a long while now, but I'd be willing to bet that it's been at least ten or more years since there's been such a moving scene in any of them. The art is a barely-restrained amalgam of the established Timm/Murikami template, but Greene has the sense to rein it in when it's necessary. I've read two issues of Justice League Unlimited this year, and they've both been first-rate. A

S: Mark Andreyko, A: Javier Pina. (DC, $2.99)

Well, she's back, sporting one of the worst Art Adams covers I've ever seen- really, Adams, is that the way you see the configuration of female bodies in your mind? I know, I know, your style has always been something like this, but this one got away from you- Wonder Woman's waist and derriere are way too small to support such an exaggerated chest and arms, not to mention the gigantic legs- and Manhunter's not much better, with a left leg that has to be a good seven feet long! Nice detail on the foliage, though. Story-wise, fine, a continuation of Identity Whatever, which of course I didn't read but know enough to understand why Wondy needs our heroine to defend her on federal charges of murdering Max Lord, and in exchange WW offers to help train Kate in superhero fight-stuff. Also, Andreyko starts up a subplot which involves dear ol' Cameron Chase and takes elements directly from her late, lamented ongoing, as the Trap (descendant of Atlas' IronJaw, no doubt- how does his mouth form words, I wonder?) kidnaps Chase's sister. Stay tuned on that score, although I will admit that in today's grim, anybody-that's-not-a-major-DC-iconic-figure-can-die DCU, I am a bit concerned about what could happen. Keeps me interested, by the way, so I guess that's the goal. Artwise, not-bad; Pina is another DC Art Drone whose style is interchangable with at least a dozen other pencillers in their employ; Robin Riggs does a nice job of filling it all out and in, and I'm not just saying that because I'm afraid Elayne is reading. Manhunter deserves to continue, because it's mostly well-written and not overly cliched and pandering, and is about as good as mainstream superheroics get these days. Whether or not it will make the most of this second chance remains to be seen. B+

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

Vaughan's Doc is not only a dry wit, but a stone killa, yo! Well, OK, not a killa per se, but his treatment of Brigand in this issue was a little harsher than we've come to expect from the good Doctor over the last three decades, for sure- Englehart, and of course very early-on Lee gave us this sort of Strange, but he's been little-seen ever since. Ellis might have, if he had continued, but we'll never know. Anyway, the plot thickens as we find out who's behind the failed hit and the theft of the cancer cure potion- Vaughan gets in some not-so-subtle digs at the US Health Care racket- and we're treated to a cool scene with many old foes like the Demon, Tiboro and even Shazana and her sister from Strange Tales 133; and of course a blazing cliffhanger. A

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

Y'know, there really isn't anything new under the sun, is there? Pretty much everything about this title so far has reminded me of such past titles like Sleeper and (of course) Warren Ellis' stints on Stormwatch and The Authority...but it's at least written with a modicum of detachment and tongue in cheek, like so much of Ellis' best stuff, and that elevates it to passable time-waster fare. Elevating it further, into "readable" territory, is Mahnke's typically outstanding art, done with an unusually scratchy ink line but fortunately it works as well as his earlier, less jagged self-inked stuff does. You could do worse than to read this, but I'll bet you'll have a hard time remembering it two months later... B

S: Rick Remender; A: Nick Stakal. (Image, $2.99)

Bethany, the Strange Girl of the title, continues her descent into Hell to look for her presumed-dead demon buddy Bloato, escorted by two of his weirdly attractive and hairy-legged daughters, and much psychodrama and demonic goings-on ensue. There are some nicely effective creepout scenes for our trouble, mostly thanks to artist Stakal, who's doing fine work in his loosey-goosey, early-Fregredo-ish style. B+

DMZ 14
S: Brian Wood; A: Riccardo Burchielli. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

14 issues in, and I'm no longer finding myself at odds with the whole US vs. NYC high concept, and kudos to Wood for pulling it off. Our boy Matt is in deeper with the terrorist cell that's working within ostensible reconstructionists the Trustwell Corporation, and winds up going through some intense psychological and physical torture for his trouble...with surprising results. There's also a preview of the upcoming series Scalped, the reading of which made me experience a little torture of my own. Think I'll pass on that one. A-

S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Jordi Bernet (DC, $2.99)

Not content with nicking The Beguiled in the first part of their horrifying (nee shocking) origin of Hex, we now get A Man Called Horse as we meet Jonah's dad, and learn the tale of how he came to be raised by the Apache tribe. Even though these last two issues have been kind of a crazy quilt of influences, they've been readable enough and fortunately they have an artist the caliber of Bernet to bring them to life. If you're craving goodlooking secondhand Western adventures, here's your place to start. B+

S: David Lapham, Brian Azzarello; A: Eric Battle, Prentis Rollins, Cliff Chiang (DC, $3.99)

Not to complain, but it's a little annoying having to spend a buck more for this book and 3/4 of it being taken up by the consistently poor Spectre lead, about which the less is said the better. Even more annoying is how Azzarello is beginning to dance all around that fine line between silly and stupid in the Dr. Thirteen back feature, which still remains the only reason to buy this at all, for Chiang's solid art if nothing else. I wonder what Azzarello was trying to accomplish by making Captain Fear, always a pretty good character back in the 70's, talk like Cheech Marin in his Cheech & Chong days? C+


S/A: Chris Wisnia, with pinups by Peter Bagge, John Severin, Russ Heath and others (Salt Peter Press, $2.50)

Wisnia's back again, with more funny sendups of those LeeKirbyAyers giant monster yarns or yore- kinda like if they had Not Brand Echh in 1959 instead of 1966. For some reason that I can't quite explain, I laughed out loud at Outer Space's splash page that starred "Muh! Muh! Muh! The Creature That Got Sucked...into the Black Hole!" and was amused throughout by the constant stream of asides and puns in both books. And of course, it helps that Wisnia is able to pull off a pretty darn good Kirby impersonation, as inked by Chic Stone, perhaps, or even D. Bruce Berry. Or maybe even Dick Ayers, who is once more represented with a pinup page. Not exactly essential works here, but big damn fun just the same. Here's the website. B+

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

Well, not too happy here with the New Origin of Venus- you all know I prefer the glamorous goddess of Bill Everett fame as opposed to what we're given here. Guess that was kinda hard to reconcile with the diverse personages that make up the rest of the team. That said, there are still enough high points in this chapter to enable us to overlook that save for the revelation of the Yellow Claw's spy in the ranks, this is just another "getting acquainted" story, in which we get to explore each of our Agents' neuroses for several epic pages and then- to be concluded! Well, if get acquainted we must, at least Kirk and Justice are up to the task, giving us visuals that are equal to the scope of what Parker's attempting. Hope it doesn't disappoint. B+

S: Garth Ennis; A: Chris Sprouse, Karl Story (DC/WildStorm, $2.99)

Boy, Ennis is just gonna write war comics no matter what, isn't he? At least this one doesn't lay on the sophomoric humor that Ennis likes to indulge himself in, surprising given that the French are marginally involved. So, we have Midnighter vs. WWI-era German and French soldiers, looking for a young Adolf Hitler with assassination in mind and trying to avoid being blown to bits by those who sent him back in time, wonderfully illustrated by Sprouse and the inker who is to his art like Austin was to Byrne, Gray to Williams III and Sinnott to Kirby, Karl Story. Pretty good so far. A-

Edited by Jesse Reklaw. (Microcosm Press, $4)
S/A: Al Burian. (Microcosm, $8)

I had never heard of Microcosm Publishing before receiving three of their publications in the mail a few days ago- makes me wonder exactly how many small press publishers there are out there, and who's buying their wares in enough numbers for them to maintain their output, especially Microcosm, who seems to have a million things listed on their website! Anyway, I'll do the biggest book, Sounds of Your Name, later- it's kinda longish and I haven't finished it yet. Nice art, I'll say that much. Applicant is kinda like if Marcel Duchamp had decided to do a comic- it's a readymade project if ever I saw one. Essentially, it's a small book that features old pictures of Ph.D. applicants that (as I understand the notes) Reklaw found in a recycling pile somewhere, and he's taken them and juxtaposed a snippet of a comment from the report on each. Often the straightfaced absurdity of the result is amusing, and sometimes it's just not, and I guess that what each reader will find humorous will vary greatly in each case. It's definitely an interesting curio, although I can't see me rereading it anytime soon. Things are Meaning Less is a collection of stream-of-consciousness musings by Burian, drawn in a crude sort of cartoonish style that reminds me a bit of the fellow who drew Home Movies crossed with Bob Burden. Sometimes he's witty, sometimes he makes a good point here and there, and sometimes he's quite tedious. Fortunately, he's more often the latter two than the former, so while this sort of thing isn't usually my cuppa reading material, I did kinda go with the flow and wound up interested enough to finish. To visit Microcosm's burgeoning website, full of publications they'd love to sell you, go here. Just be prepared to spend some time. Applicant: B-. Less: B.

S/A: Richard Sala. (Fantagraphics/Coconino Press, $7.95)

Gorgeous take on Snow White by way of something like perhaps Last House on the Left by Sala, whose stylized art has never been this soft or as subtle, aided by the judicious use of sepia tones instead of black and white. And while we're at it, rarely has his scripting ever been as straightforward, which is nice since sometimes his tales (and I'm thinking "Reflections in a Glass Scorpion" here) twist around so much that one loses track of who's stabbing who and why. The cover is in full color, and it's equally as beautiful in a different way. And this is part one! Looking forward to the rest. A

S: Warren Ellis; A: Daniel Zezelj. (DC/WildStorm, $2.99)

Ellis indulges his interest in the life and work of Philip K. Dick in this latest chapter as Jones delves deeper into the miasma of this L.A., trying to find out what happened to his old spy colleague John Asher. We also meet a movie producer who is an amusing rip on Robert Evans, and WE even sneaks a old baseball poem reference in, to my complete surprise. Is 2006 the Year of the Ellis or what? Zezelj continues to do a bang-up job of capturing the fractured, hazy feel of the title character's mindset with his impressionistic, jagged, woodcut-like art. A

S: Darwyn Cooke; A: Cooke, J.Bone. (DC, $2.99)

Mr. Cooke would do well to remember in the future that Denny Colt, formerly of the Central City PD, is not Dick Tracy...and it's completely unnecessary to give him silly villains like this issue's "Pill", who apparently has acid-producing epidermic pustules or something disgusting like that. Going for the gross-out just doesn't work with the Spirit's world, or at least not gross-outs that obvious. Otherwise, lots of good action, good characterization, a few chuckles and page after page of excellent artwork. All in all, not bad- maybe I'm just expecting too much. B+

100 BULLETS 79
S: Brian Azzarello; A: Eduardo Risso. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

The Standard Review: Another well-done issue what will engage the already engaged, baffle the uninitiated, and even baffle the initiated upon occasion. I think I'll just cut and paste this review for the next 21 issues. Oh, and there are a couple of surprising deaths this time out, if one has been keeping score at home. A-

I'm gonna do the Top Shelf offerings in their own review post, hopefully before the weekend's over. So...

BEST OF SHOW: DELPHINE 1. Really liked Jones and that Justice League Unlimited, too.

DOG OF THE WEEK(S): TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED 3. The Doc Thirteen story wasn't up to the standards of the first two chapters, and the Spectre is just awful.

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