Thursday, August 31, 2006

I still have a ton of reviews to write, and I get a new comics box tomorrow, so it appears that I'll have my work cut out for me! I went to the LCS today and picked up Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters 2 and Heroes for Hire 1; liked 'em both more than I expected to. Also stuck the latest JLA Classified back- it's at least a three-parter, so what's the hurry? I picked it up mainly because of the Killian Plunkett art.

So, how about something that always works when I don't have the energy to write anything else: Bacardi Show Birthday Greetings!



First, to the amazing VERA BROSGOL, whose art I worship from afar. Here's a story she illustrated that I'd never seen before.

Also,



The Celtic Soul Brother, VAN MORRISON. More so for his incredible folk/rock/jazz work from 1969-1974 than anything else, and even a few years after that. Too often these days, though, he just comes across as a grouchy old fat man bellowing about God and how much the music business sucks, even as the evil music business people pay him good money to do so. Still, boy, do I love me some Veedon Fleece, St. Dominic's Preview, It's Too Late to Stop Now, and Astral Weeks.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Over at scans_daily, the LJ community which (as I'm sure you're aware) posts comic-related scans...daily, someone put up a host of preview images from the upcoming Virgin Comics line, including the drop-dead gorgeous Alex Ross cover at left, from Ramayan Reborn Just wanted to share. Make with the clicky to see it all bigga.

Funny thing- when I was a teenager, I got interested in Hinduism (too many George Harrison albums, I think) and tried to read the Bhagavad-Gita. Just couldn't get with it (a failing I share with all organized religions), but I was deeply impressed by the gorgeous paintings, with their vivid color. That Ross piece is certainly in that ballpark.

You'll recognize that last paragraph from my comment on that site. Nothing like leftovers, huh!


Oh, and I have new comics reviews, you know- I'm just folding them into the big post below. Go look! Just below the Kirby tribute!

Monday, August 28, 2006

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Hail to the King, baby.

When it comes to posting about Jack Kirby, seems like I always post one of three covers...#35, probably my all-time personal favorite issue of the Fantastic Four; #22, the first FF I remember having had bought for me; and #37, which made a deep impression on me due to its unorthodox (for the time) color scheme. So, I decided to put up a different one this time, to commemorate what would have been his 89th birthday: Fantastic Four #44, which I still have fond and clear memories of reading at the breakfast table one morning before heading over to my grandparents' to stay while my parents worked. And no, I don't know why I always post FF covers; I loved all his 60's Marvel and 70's DC work, especially Mister Miracle and The Demon. Guess I just always felt like he put more of himself into that title than the others.

Quite simply, there was no one that had a more fertile imagination and conveyed action and excitement as well as the King did, and I'll always be grateful for the thrills and wonder he brought this young Kentucky boy whom he'd never meet, as well as other boys and girls throughout the world for many, many years.

It should come as no surprise that Mark Evanier has something appropriately outstanding, or should that be outstandingly appropriate...anyway, go read.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Well, Leo, what say we promenade through the park* in another edition of the BSNCR?

In which I opine upon sundry and various works of sequential fiction that I have read, in the span of time encompassing August 20th thru the 27th, better late than never. Heck, some of these might even still be on the rack of your Local Comics Shoppe!



100 BULLETS 75
S: Brain Azzarello; A: Eduardo Risso (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

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 25 issues. A-

AGENTS OF ATLAS 1
S: Jeff Parker; A: Leonard Kirk, Kris Justice (Marvel, $2.99)

Parker thankfully plays this straight and foregoes the "see how lame these old characters are" route as he gives us an engaging introductory issue. Not that I thought he'd do that, mind you, but a lot of writers would have. Anyway, first we get to see the team of pre-Stan and Jack characters in action in a flashback sequence, then flash forward to present day, in which an incapacitated Jimmy Woo is liberated from S.H.I.E.L.D. care by the Gorilla Man and the newly liberated Human Robot, all to get to the bottom of who is responsible for what happened to him. Everything is note-perfect throughout, and this meta-powered espionage stuff is right up the alley of the writer who gave us the Interman. Last time I saw Paris, I mean Leonard Kirk's art, he had finally gotten most of the stiffness out on JSA, just in time to bail on that title, which roughly coincided with me doing the same. He's in fine form here, almost achieving his goal to look as much like Alan Davis' work as is humanly possible and interpreting the script in nicely expedient fashion with some really nice facial expressions thrown in for good measure. New-to-me Justice blackspots nicely and adds a lot to the mood. Promising beginning, and marred only by the necessary evil of it being so incomplete, and the general lack of Venus. But until I get my dream comic of a Venus scripted by Parker and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, it will suffice. A-

BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN TPB
BATMAN AND THE MAD MONK 1
S/A: Matt Wagner (DC, $14.99/$2.99)

With the Bat-books in such a funk right now (and I say this without having read Morrison's newish take and after only two Dini issues of Detective, more on that later), it is refreshing to see Wagner go back to the old-school 1939 Batman, bringing back such adversaries as Hugo Strange and the Monk in these worthy continuations of the Batman: Year One series. And thankfully with minimal, if any, modernization, which pretty much ruined the first and subsequent B:YO sequels. Lots of nods to not only the Bill Finger days of yore, but the strong pulp magazine tribute feel is pervasive throughout not only with the episodic feel of both, but also with the inspiration for the "Monster Men" (now giant behemoths instead of the zombies of the original) coming straight outta Lester Dent's Doc Savage adventures. Wagner has always been able to script a story like nobody's business; while he sometimes lapses into soap-opera cliched dialogue, he doesn't indulge himself for long and stays true to the established characterization of all the principals, most notably the conflicted Jim Gordon that Frank Miller established years ago. I wish I could be as pleased with Wagner the artist; there's always been a crudely-inked stiffness in his figures that I've managed to overlook in the past but he draws romantic interest Julie Madison so inconsistently in everything but ugliness that it kinda takes me right out of the scenes she's in...but fortunately he does all right by the Batman himself and most of the most effective scenes are the ones in which he's doing is Batmanningly thing. And he does the writer proud in his pacing and layout. So while I have some reservations, for the most part these are two (well, one and one issue to be precise) of the most entertaining Batman story I've read in a while, and I look forward to the rest of the Mad Monk miniseries. Both: A-

B.P.R.D.: THE UNIVERSAL MACHINE 5
S: Mike Mignola, John Arcudi; A: Guy Davis, Mignola (Dark Horse, $2.99)

Bit of a letdown as we get a somewhat lackluster resolution to the sticky wicket Kate Corrigan found herself in; fortunately, her solution is a clever one and fully in character. If the idea was to shine a light on her underexposed character, then mission accomplished. But it was done in a kinda hasty fashion, as if they suddenly decided to hurry up and finish already. We also get a nicely done finale, sporting actual Mignola art, in which we bid auf weidershein to Roger the Homonculus, and I suppose it's to the great Guy Davis' credit that I experienced mild internal annoyance at the abrupt artist change! A-

CASANOVA 3
S: Matt Fraction; A: Gabriel Ba (Image, $1.99)

I'm trying, honest to God I am, but this book is losing me because it's just so damn convoluted in its storytelling. I'm constantly having to go back and re-read not only certain pages, but sometimes the whole book and even past issues. And I generally like challenging narratives! And that's not all- I've read throughout the internet that this is the most accessible issue yet, so now I have that ol' debbil self-doubt muddying up the pool as well! Anyway, none of this is Ba's fault- his stuff is as lithe and sharp as ever. Oh well...I seem to recall having a similar reaction some twenty-two years ago to some obscure DC book...hmm...something with the same title as a big hit Michael Jackson album...oh well, it'll come to me. I'm hanging with, for now. B+

THE CREEPER 1
S: Steve Niles, A: Justiniano, Walden Wong (DC, $2,99)

Simply the dullest, most pointless excuse for a revival attempt I've seen in years. God help me, I think I liked the Vertigo version better. Essentially a rehash of the old Ditko origin, except with a handful of details tweaked to make it more modern and kewl by Identity Whatever standards, and not for a minute is it an improvement or even a fresh update of a character that everyone seems to like, but nobody knows what the hell to do with. I've never liked the idea of Creeper as rampaging id monster, something even the far superior Kaminski/Martinbrough mid-90's revival tripped itself up on, so I suppose that's one strike already. Artists Justiniano and Wong acquit themselves a bit better, but the art still looks and feels generic and uninspired, and their sole inspiration (that the Creeper's mane and boot/glove fuzzies are actual spiky, organic hair) is just not that impressive. Gonna have to do better than this, fellas. D

DETECTIVE COMICS 822
S: Paul Dini; A: Don Kramer, Wayne Faucher (DC, $2.99)

Dini gives us a better mystery this time out, and does a great job with the Riddler, but the resolution seems a bit rushed and pat and the art is utterly bland and amateurish in places. Can someone please find Mr. Dini an artist, if Willams isn't coming back? Please? B-

FABLES 52
S: Bill Willingham; A: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

After the happy ending of #50, I said the other glass slipper was about to fall, and in this issue, the first of an upcoming epic arc, we see it begin to take place. Believe it or not, Gepetto is beginning to become somewhat Swearengenesque, to me anyway. Solid all around and a promising beginning. Even more enjoyable was the short story at the end, which shines a spotlight on the previously unseen Rapunzel, who lives in our world and has to have her hair cut short every day so she can pass among us. Even better was the art by Gene (Top 10) Ha, whom I wish fervently was illustrating this book instead of the bland current penciller. A-

FELL 6
S: Warren Ellis, A: Ben Templesmith (Image, $1.99)

I do believe that this is the strongest issue yet, as Fell starts out (in a hilarious opening scene) to take a vacation day with his new friend Mayko, and winds up involved a bizarre child-abuse case. Just note-perfect all the way through, both dialogue-and-pacing-wise, and damned if I didn't get a little teary there at the end. Watch out, Mr. Ellis, someone may think you've grown a heart! For his part, Templesmith walks the fine line between grotesque and cartoonish with aplomb; he's the best to do this since Kyle Baker came into his own in the late 80's. This title keeps getting better and better, and you just don't see that too often these days. A

JOHN CONSTANTINE: HELLBLAZER 223
S: Denise Mina; A: Cristiano Cucina (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

This one, on the other hand, keeps getting duller and duller. Map, a Warren Ellis creation from several years ago that I never really bought, is really ill, to the point of dying. John carries him around for a while, then takes him back to his subway home, a bunch of blue magic stuff fills him up, and he's fine, better than ever. Thanks for your $2.99, squire. Artist Cucina is OK, but his style is a bit more broad than we're accustomed to around these parts...almost too much so. Wouldn't mind seeing more of his work in the future, just not necessarily on this book. I'm beginning to think that Ol' Conjob just may be played out, and it just might be time to pull the plug on this increasingly stagnant title. Somebody has to say it. C-

HERO SQUARED 3
S: Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis; A: Joe Abraham (Boom!, $3.99)

Witty and humorous as always, and Abraham is really getting into a good groove artwise. But there's a sense of wheelspinning beginning to creep into the proceedings, as if the Bwah Bros. only have about four issues' worth of plot and are expected to stretch it out into 6. Still, only Nextwave beats it for laughs this month. B+

JONAH HEX 10
S: Graymiotti; A: Phil Noto (DC, $2.99)

This issue, Jonah tangles with a bunch of inbred Deliverance rejects, once more getting to wreak righteously satisfying justice on they asses. A quantum leap from last issue's muddled mess, for sure. Probably the best interior art I've ever seen from Noto, who heretofore has been quite unexceptional...unlike his cover work, which plays better to his strengths as an illustrator. B+

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA 1
S: Brad Meltzer; A: Ed Benes, Sandra Hope (DC, $3.99)

I had pretty much sworn off anything Meltzer-written after the Identity Crisis debacle, so I had no intention of reading this...but the fine folks at DC saw fit to throw this in a comp package for me, so out of curiosity more than anything I gave it a whirl. And honestly- I didn't hate it. It's hardly my idea of a perfect superhero comic; it's too downbeat and stodgy to really be likeable. Also, it lacks the big cataclysmic event which usually serves as the glue to draw the various characters together...points for being novel, I suppose, but hardly something to make the prospective buyer sit up and take notice. I guess the Powers That Be figured 52 and its predecessors was cataclysmic enough. But one thing I must admit is, just like he was on Crisis, Meltzer has a pretty good ear for dialogue and a good, not great, way with characterization. And I thought the same thing after about five issues of Crisis, too. In fact, I was kinda caught up in that series' big "Who killed Sue Dibny" mystery thanks to some nicely insightful handling of the myriad super-people, especially poor Ralph. I didn't even mind the whole mindwiping thing all that much; it's never been a prerequisite to me that my heroes act totally heroic at all times. But the ending, hoo boy... the clumsy, arbitrary, unsatisfactory, just plain stupid resolution really turned me off to the whole thing, including all the upcoming sturming und dranging that followed. Which is why I'm gratified to see that Meltzer is still playing to his strengths- the whole ongoing member selection process, with its three-way conversation between the Big Three of DC, was very well done, I thought. The shorter interludes with Vixen, Black Lightning, and especially the Red Tornado were also very nicely handled. I've never really been a fan one way or the other of the Tornado; I've always found him one-dimensional and dull, even with his human wife and daughter and all the stuff which good old Len Wein gave him an eternity ago, as we see in a flashback, complete with actual panels by then-artist Dick Dillin- a nice touch which kinda warmed my skeptical heart. Used to have that comic, y'see. Anyway, the upshot is that so far scripting isn't the problem. How Meltzer resolves it all will be key. Biggest complaint here is the art- I am not particularly a fan of the Jim Lee/Michael Turner school, and Benes' work just reeks of it, complete with Hope-provided scratchy, need-to-change-your-brush inklines. Maybe this style is popular with the kiddies and the less demanding fanmen, but it just bores me to tears. Anyway, like I said, I didn't hate this...but unless I get comped further, I can't see me reading any subsequent issues. As solid as the characterization is, this is just all too damn serious, and poorly drawn, for my liking. So while I won't recommend, neither will I dissuade. Make sense? I didn't think so. B

MANHUNTER 25
S: Marc Andreyko; A: Horacio Pina, Fernando Blanco (DC, $2.99)

Considering that this was, for the most part, written as the final issue it doesn't really show all that much; character stuff (Kate Spencer as godmother? She's come a long way baby...) segueing into a big public supervillain throwdown at a concert at the LA Troubadour and a kinda surprising cameo appearance at the end...you can't say that Andreyko didn't mean to go out with a bang. I still don't like that Sweeney Todd character, but he was a credible enough menace, I suppose, and once more Chase avoids the refrigerator. Nitpicker that I am, I can't help but gripe about how once more people are shown carrying on a normal conversation as the band plays- you just can't do that in a venue that small without shouting into each other's ears! Of course, Andreyko/Pina/Blanco aren't the first to do this and won't be the last, I'm sure. Also, Chase orders two vodka and tonics, and walks away with a tumbler and a highball glass. Hey, I'm Johnny Bacardi! I notice these things! Anyway, nits all picked, another solid issue with adequate if unexciting art- at least PinaBlanco do a good job illustrating musicians performing, something which has tripped up many fine artists. Good job all around, and further proof that like Scipio says, YOU SHOULD BE BUYING THIS BOOK! A-

NEXTWAVE: AGENTS OF H.A.T.E. 7
S: Warren Ellis; A: Stuart Immonen (Marvel, $2.99)

Ellis is having a good month, isn't he? The one-liners fly fast and furious, for once the action is as brisk as it's supposed to be, character interaction is absolutely priceless...and I have to say that on the basis of having laughed out loud four times, this is the best issue yet. Hell, I even got a kick out of Dirk Anger, who usually just gets on my nerves. I'm going to find it hard to resist shouting out "Get me a case of vodka, eight loose women and a stomach pump! Stat! Imma watch TEEVEE!" whenever I sit down in front of the ol' tube. What do they say? MOTTO! Maybe the second best appearance ever of the Mindless Ones from the old Doc Strange Strange Tales. Speaking of mindless, I think I'm rambling a little, so here: Good. Funny. Best yet. You should buy, if you don't already. And judging by the appalling sales numbers, many aren't. Fie upon them. A

BEST THIS TIME: Nextwave!
AVOID: Definitely beware The Creeper.


A personal note regarding my extra-blogular activities: Looks like my PopCultureShock column Confessions of a Spinner Rack Junkie, is kaput, due to their stated intent to move towards group reviews rather than individual review columns. Whether this extends to the other columns they run is beyond me, but the long and short of it is that once more, I have had a regular review column killed. You'd think I'd take a hint by now, but never fear, I shall plug on unfazed right here at this very place for those who care to read. And I've been invited to participate in the group review process at PCS, so I'll (hopefully) still have a presence there as well. Keep watching the skies.


*- On the inside gatefold sleeve of George Harrison's Dark Horse LP, this is what Peter Sellers says to George.

Friday, August 25, 2006



Speaking of Michael William Kaluta, as I most certainly was in my last post, I see at the Comics Reporter where the illustrious Mr. K is celebrating his 59th birthday today. Here's a better-late-than-never Bacardi Show Birthday Greeting for ya, Mr. Kaluta!

The first time I saw Kaluta's artwork was in the pages of The Shadow #2, which was the first issue I had picked up of that still-new 1973 title. It was quite unlike anything I'd ever seen before, except perhaps in classic illustrated literature as a child: graceful figures, a not-always-precise but always-vibrant line, wonderful cinematic techniques, and a strong (although I didn't really know this at the time) pulp-magazine and Art Deco feel which galvanized my 13-year-old eye immediately. I have followed his career faithfully ever since; even though he disappointingly had to cut his Shadow run short due to deadline hassles, he continued to contribute scores of outstanding covers to several DC supernatural titles such as the Houses Mystery and Secrets; another sadly brief stint drawing the Spawn of Frankenstein, and I went back and discovered his Burroughs adaptation work which ran immdiately prior to his Shadow series. he did a lot of stellar work for other publishers as well, then in the mid-80's he hooked up with writer Elaine Lee and gave us one of the best series I've ever read, anyway, the elaborate, adventurous, and lighthearted Starstruck, which I'd love to devote a big-ass blog post (or even, dare I say a website) to someday but I'm afraid I'm not up to the task, it's such a comlplicated and gnarly narrative. Above is the cover to (if memory serves, I don't have my copies handy) the third issue of the short-lived Epic comics run, which elaborated on the prequel which started out in Heavy Metal and wound up as a Marvel Graphic Novel, a Kaluta-autographed copy of which is one of my most prized possessions.

He's pretty much done covers for the last decade or so; I'd love to see more interiors but those covers have been mighty sweet and I'm just happy that he's cared enough to make the effort. He'll always be at the top of my comics art pantheon.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Well, tonight I scratched an itch that I'd been itching to scratch for almost 20 years: I ordered a set of back issues of Sword of Sorcery, which I had foolishly let go in what I now regretfully refer to as the Big Comic Collection Fire Sale of 1987. I have NO IDEA why I included these in the sale of 3/4 of my original collection- I saved many other series which I was personally attached to; my Thrillers, 60's Spectres, Amazing Adventures feat. Killravens, and such. But let these go I did, and I've been sorry for it ever since. I mean geez- two of my absolute favorite fantasy characters- Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd the Barbarian and the Gray Mouser, written by Dennis O'Neil at the 1973 height of his powers- he could do a damn good approximation of Lieber's crisp style with his deadpan prose- and pencil art by a young Howard Chaykin, with inks and such by the Neal Adams confederation called the "Crusty Bunkers" which if memory serves included Frank Brunner and Mike Nasser in their number, along with Berni Wrightson and maybe someone else, I forget. The final issue, #5, also featured a lead story drawn by Walt Simonson, about the time he was kicking my ass on Manhunter with Archie Goodwin. Another absolute fave artist of mine, perhaps my very favorite, Mike Kaluta, did the cover for #1 at left. Click to see it biggah. Like the commercial jingle says, "This is the good stuff."

Oh, and I spent $13.54, after shipping was added...less than $3 per issue in "fine" condition. I probably could have gotten a better deal elsewhere, but I was attracted to being able to get the whole set from one dealer rather than buy an issue here and an issue there, with shipping charges on each, which was about all I found on eBay. Well worth it. But sad when you consider that I probably paid $3 TOTAL for my original set...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006



Haven't really written too much about the upcoming Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips project Criminal yet, so I shall now endeavor to make my tiny little contribution to the hype machine.

You may all recall that I was a big fan of the duo's previous collaborative effort, Sleeper, which spun pure gold out the most unlikely of places- Wildstorm's spandex-fest W.I.L.D.Cats series, specifically the Point Blank spinoff GN. I really need to get that trade someday. Anyway, from everything I've seen so far, Criminal will be more of the same: intelligent, but captivating and not short on action and thrills script-wise, and solidly drawn in matchless chiarascuro by the fellow that I consider one of the top ten artists working in the business today.

I do have my concerns, though, especially given the lackluster reception the undiscerning comics buying populace at large gave Sleeper. Like its cousin, Criminal just doesn't seem to have anything the average 52CivilIdentityWar devotee would be interested in. No shocking deaths of established characters, nobody revealing a secret identity, nobody shooting force beams out of their hands or slicing people open with their adamantium claws. No time-bending, reality-twisting melodramatics. No righteously sexy, rubber-band-spine-contortionist mega-powered babes, straight or otherwise. It's straight-up twelve o'clock crime fiction, and to the average Green Lantern or Spider-Man fan, especially of a certain age, you might as well tell them it's going to be on Turner Classic Movies- right before the silent films on Sunday night.

Maybe, just maybe, I'm being ol' mister curmudgeonly cynical pessimist again and I'm wrong about these people. I sure as hell hope so- because I can tell, just after reading the first five pages, that this is going to be something exceptional. And diety of your choice bless Brubaker and Phillips for going to the well once again and throwing their pearls around the ol' pig sty.

Anyway, the distinguished Mr. Alan David Doane has guzzled down the Criminal Kool-aid and has asked for seconds. He has set up a blog, A Criminal Blog to be precise, which shall be infomation central for all things Criminal-related. You can go there and find all kinds of good links already, including a PDF preview link and his review of #1.

Other links:

An interview with Sean Phillips, mostly about Criminal, even though some folks can't resist asking about Marvel Zombies, which kinda reinforces my pessimism;

A preview will be available in the 30th issue of Walking Dead, according to this Newsarama report. You'll have to let me know if it's any good- I'm not buying that comic again for anything...

My good pals at PopCultureShock (no, I don't know when the second Confessions of a Spinner Rack Junkie is going up- things seem to be in flux there right now) have a preview right che'yre.

Here's Phillips' website. Don't confuse him with the 70's long-haired singer who goes by the name of SHAWN Phillips, and whose Do You Wonder LP graces my turntable once every two or three years;

And, Ed Brubaker's website.

So...what have we learned, kids? We should ALL GIVE THIS BOOK A CHANCE...even if it doesn't have Wolverine. Brubaker and Phillips have been toiling long and hard in the spandex vineyards (Brubaker's Daredevil has been especially choice lately), and deserve the opportunity to do something that has a little bit of themselves in it, and see it reach a larger audience. Those, and by "those" I mean "comics buyers", who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them- or so the saying goes to the best of my memory- and I hope that this doesn't share the ignoble fate of the pair's previous collaboration.

And aren't you proud of me for not making a single "Smooth Criminal" joke? OOPS!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Haven't done this for a while, so here is a highly biased and brief look at some of DC COMICS' NOVEMBER SOLICITS!. The ones that moved me to write something, that is. Or, as the saying goes, judging books by their covers since 2003.



BATMAN/THE SPIRIT (above center)
Written by Jeph Loeb & Darwyn Cooke, Art by Cooke & J. Bone, Cover by Cooke

SOLD! Can't wait for the ongoing, either. Of course you know I'll be completely unbiased when time comes to review.


BATMAN AND THE MAD MONK #4
Written by Matt Wagner, Art and cover by Wagner

I'm waiting for the trade on these; I've got its predecessor on order from DCBS, and it looks like fun- just like this.

CATWOMAN #61 (below right)
Written by Will Pfeifer, Art by David Lopez & Alvaro Lopez, Cover by Adam Hughes

Looks like another outstanding issue, with more Film Freak!

SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #1
Written by Darwyn Cooke, Art and cover by Tim Sale

I'm not the biggest Tim Sale fan in the world these days, but the notion of Cooke writing this has me interested. Wait for the trade, perhaps?

THE ALL-NEW ATOM #5 (above left)
Written by Gail Simone, Art by Eddy Barrows & Trevor Scott, Cover by Ladrönn

Ooh, Ladronn with an umlaut! Kewl! Anyway, there's something about this cover which grabs me. I see Byrne's not doing the art, whasup wit dat?

THE CREEPER #4
Written by Steve Niles, Art by Justiniano & Walden Wong, Cover by Justiniano

I was absoultely underwhelmed by #1, more on that later, so I don't know if I'll be getting this or not. Cover's pretty good, though, shown in its black-and-white form. It will probably look better in color. The interiors could use some color, something to make it a little less boring...

JLA CLASSIFIED #29
Written by Howard Chaykin, Art and cover by Killian Plunkett & Tom Nguyen

I think Killian Plunkett is a hell of an artist, and Tom Nguyen may just be my favorite inker in the biz right now, and together they look mighty spiffy...as this issue's cover attests. So you'd think I'd be all over this, wouldn't you? But I'm not! What is this world coming to?

JONAH HEX #13
Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, Art and cover by JORDI BERNET

Oh, boy! Jordi Bernet! His issue of Solo was excellent, and I'm looking forward to three issues' worth, according to the text.

RUSH CITY #5
Written by Chuck Dixon, Art by Timothy Green II & Rick Magyar, Cover by Jock

Nice cover. Why is Black Canary on it? If Jock was doing the interiors I'd be buying. But he isn't, so I ain't.

TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #2
Written by David Lapham and Brian Azzarello, Art by Eric Battle & Prentis Rollins and Cliff Chiang, Cover by Michael Wm. Kaluta

Another nice cover. Something about the Spectre brings out the best in good ol' MwK.

THE WARLORD #10
Written by Bruce Jones, Art and cover by Phil Winslade

NO NO NO NO NO NO! NO! I will NOT buy Warlord, even if you get Phil Winslade to draw it!

STORMWATCH: PHD #1
Written by Christos N. Gage, Art and cover by Doug Mahnke, Variant covers by Trevor Hairsine

NO NO NO NO NO NO! NO! I will NOT buy Stormwatch again, even if you get Doug Mahnke to draw it!

MIDNIGHTER #1 (below left)
Written by Garth Ennis, Art and cover by Chris Sprouse & Karl Story, Variant cover A by Michael Golden, Variant cover B by Sprouse

This, on the other hand, is a possibility, even though Ennis' act has thouroughly worn thin with me.

CROSSING MIDNIGHT #1 (above right)
Written by Mike Carey, Art by Jim Fern & Rob Hunter, Cover by J.H. Williams III

I am amazed to see Jim (Scarlett) Fern getting regular work again, when so many of his peers have faded away or gotten into other lines of work. Plus, this might be kinda readable- Carey did a nice job when he tried to incorporate Japanese mythology into Lucifer. That said, Fern's art has never excited me, so I'm on the fence. If only J.H. Williams III would do the interiors, then I'd be sold.

JACK OF FABLES #5 (below center)
Written by Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges, Art by Tony Akins & Andrew Pepoy, Cover by James Jean

Not particularly impressed with this series after one issue, but I just wanted to say once more: James Jean rules the school.

Aaaand...that's it!


Saturday, August 19, 2006

OH MY GOD, IT'S THE BSNCR!



Well, a mini-BSNCR anyway, I just got my new comics shipment yesterday, when all my trouble seemed so far away. But I do have a few I've gotten since last time...to wit:


CATWOMAN 58
S: Will Pfiefer; A: Los Lopez David y Alvaro. (DC, $2.99)

Another witty and typically outstanding Adam Hughes cover ushers us into the latest chapter, as CW brings in Zatanna, no less, to act as Winston Wolf to Selina's Vince Vega and deal with the Angle Man and the Film Freak, who have figured out who she is and where she lives. The other subplots aren't ignored, either- the police continue to confront Holly GoCatwoman about the murder of the Black Mask (she didn't do it, they know, but they're trying to smoke out the "real" CW) and we get some more "One Year Ago" events. Pfiefer nimbly skips around with all of this; I was amused to find myself distrusting Zatanna, of all people, since she was taking so darn long to do her mindfuck thing on the evil duo, and I totally admire the neat curve he throws when giving us Film Freak's eventual reaction to Zee's ministrations. This is how to do downbeat spandex (or leather, I guess) without being oppressive or leaden. Artwise, I wish David L was a bit more facile and had a bit more spark to his style, but he's competent enough and Alvaro L's inks make him look all purty. I thought the neat little Steranko rip at the end was very nicely done. I suppose those who dwell upon such things should be a little pleased to note that two of DC's best ongoing pamphlets right now feature lead female characters not Amazonian in lineage. A

CHECKMATE 5
S: Greg Rucka; A: Jesus Saiz, Fernando Blanco. (DC, $2.99)

All right, who put the soap opera in my spandex espionage? Aw, I know, Rucka did in an effort to make this thing look well-rounded and dramatically valid, but geez- do we really need this sort of thing in a book like this? Anyway, all the weepy froofraw darn near but doesn't completely drag down a not-bad main story of aspiring Checkmate agents. The characters still annoy the hell out of me by constantly referring to each other as chess pieces, but this wasn't as noticeable this time out. Saiz and Blanco continue to give us pretty much what passes for DC House Style these days- once in a while we get a panel or page where some personality peeks out, but mostly it's all done in the same monotone competence. Raised a notch because we get Count Vertigo, a character I've always kinda liked (probably because of his Von Eeden pedigree) acting as bastardly as he oughtta should. B-

DEADMAN 1
S: Bruce Jones; A: John Watkiss (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Although Jones has been doing a lotta scripting in the last few years, I've managed to ignore most of it. Not being a regular Marvel, especially X-whatever or Hulk reader will have that effect I guess. Anyway, I mostly recall the good stuff he did back in the 70's for Warren, and while I'm happy for him that he's able to still command work when many of his contemporaries (Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Don McGregor come to mind) are unjustly ignored, this is a hell of a long way from the likes of "Jenifer". Of course, this isn't Boston Brand we're talkin' about here; I'm pretty much convinced that character is played out and so is the braintrust at National. So we get a new fellow, who, through a series of utterly convoluted and confusing is-it-real-or-is-it-ain't-reality flashbacks, becomes a literal living dead man who just wants to find out what the hell's going on. The reader shares this sentiment. The astute reader also will realize immediately that Keith Giffen has already beaten him to this particular punch via Tag. Another strike against this is the art of John Watkiss, whose sloppy, skewed and oddly proportioned style just gets on my nerves nine times out of ten. Somebody at Vertigo likes his stuff, so he keeps getting work...when it comes to unpopular artists who Vertigo champions, Watkiss falls somewhere between Steve Yeowell (absolute dislike on my part) to Warren Pleece (whose work, when self-inked, I like a LOT), closer to the former than the latter. There's nothing about this take on the "Deadman" name that I haven't seen before in other TV shows and films (well, OK, the post-mortem boner scene...maybe on HBO); in fact, the whole premise is so TV-ish that it wouldn't surprise me if this didn't start its life as a proposal of some sort. Who knows- Jones may have a million interesting directions in which he intends to go with this...but I doubt it. C

THE BOYS 1
S: Garth Ennis; A: Darick Robertson. (DC/Wildstorm, $2.99)

Ever since Ennis wrapped Hitman, and some might say that even before that, he's been on autopilot- while his Punisher had some highlights (quite a few, actually), it was just more of the same smart-ass and sophomoric, and I grew really weary of it about twelve issues in. I've been in Ennis-ignore mode since 2002 or so, and quite content to be so. He's a one-trick pony, with only the saving grace of humor, as juvenile as it may be, keeping him from becoming the poor man's Frank Miller. However, the synopsis of this one kinda pushed some of those long-dormant Hitman buttons in my head, and I signed up. Am I sorry? A little. It does have its moments of cleverness, but at the end of the day it's just more pointless superhero bashing a la the Authority, done to death and fresh ten-fifteen years ago but tres redundant now- why another piss-take on capes when Dan Didio and his merry henchmen are trashing them a lot more effectively and just as savagely for keeps in the rank-and-file titles? Ennis also flashes a not-so-good misogynistic streak in a couple of instances, disappointing from the creator of Tulip and Deborah Tiegel, for sure. I've never really been a fan of Darick Robertson's art, either...I bought Transmetropolitan for years in spite of his art, because of my admiration for Ellis's writing. He just has a not-quite-realistic-enough-to-not-be-cartoonish style that strikes me as awkward and stiff. He's not the worst on this score, but there's no real sense of an individual style or wit there, and so I remain mostly unimpressed. He's OK here, typically not-bad/not-good either...although I thought it was neat that he drew the unfortunate Wee Hughie to resemble Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg. I don't know- there could be some sub-Hitman-style lunkheaded thrills and laffs to come in subsequent issues, but I kinda doubt it. I might stick around for a couple more just to see. C+

THE LEADING MAN 2
S: B. Clay Moore; A: Jeremy Haun. (Oni Press, $3.50)

Pretty good for an issue which comes across as (essentially) a repeat of #1! I like the idea of the lead character and his support system (very TV-ish in a good, 1960's way, as Universal will attest), and as usual Moore is good with the character interaction and dialogue. Haun's art is minimal (backgrounds? I don't need no steenkin' backgrounds!) and functional; I don't know if I like his scratchy ink line but he's steadily improving overall. So far, so good.
A-

THE SAVAGE BROTHERS 1
S: Andrew Cosby, Johanna Stokes; A: Rafael Albequerque. (Boom!, $3.99)

I'm fairly certain by now that Ross Richie and Boom! will receive the coveted Zombie Nobel Prize for going above and beyond the call of duty in exploring new and innovative ways to keep the living dead genre "alive" and kicking. Set in uf cuss yet another grimy, hot, grubby looking dystopian future scenario, replete with decimated cities (Atlanta gets the honors here- hope it was after football season!) in which some sort of mysterious plague has caused a significant portion of the populace to become living dead people, we've seen this a million times just in the last two or three years. The mercenary Brothers, who kinda look like country music singers ("Dreadneks", if you will, hoo...) and hunt and kill zombies for fun and profit, get mixed up in some sort of conflict between standard issue shadowy government agents (dark suits, sunglasses, you know) over a zombie who apparently used to be somebody important. The Bros. were hired to find him and bring him back, and some other dark suits apparently don't want this. While we're digesting this, we suddenly get introduced to some grade-a weirdness with human sacrifice and a Futurama-esque talking head in a jar. I though Albequerque's art here was a lot looser here than on Jeremiah Harm, and therefore much better. As with so many Boom! projects, they're able to whip up their leftovers in such a way that would make Rachael Ray proud, and this time it's the Brothers themselves, kinda like a low-budget white trash Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, that make the difference. B+

More eventually!

Thursday, August 17, 2006



Via the Spurge's Comics Reporter, I see where none other than Andy Helfer is celebrating his 48th trip around the sun. He's only a couple of years older than me, howaboutthat. Here's a Bacardi Show Birthday Greeting for yas, my first in what seems like a small eon.

Anyway, I got nothing but mad love for Tom, but the only proper and fitting way to pay tribute to Helfer is by posting a cover from what is by far the best thing he ever wrote, and indeed in my humble opinion one of the best series to ever appear under the aegis of National Periodical Publications AKA DC Comics, INC: his SHADOW, most notably the issues he did in collaboration with Kyle ("I don't remember much about it, it was just a paycheck") Baker, #'s 8-19. As far as I can see (in my admittedly less than definitive view) it was a masterpiece of black comedy and adventure, and was a TON of fun to read. He picked up from where Chaykin's original less-than-reverent miniseries left off, and I dare say he outdid his predecessor, especially on the extraordinary "Seven Deadly Finns" arc. Of course, that meant it wasn't long for this world, and was cancelled abruptly under somewhat mysterious circumstances...most likely so nobody would confuse this, shall we say, less-than-reverent treatment with the, shall-we-say, effing horrible (as it turned out...God that movie was bad) then-just-announced Alec Baldwin film treatment.

That's the agents of the Shadow on the cover above, from Baker's trace-everything-with-white-grease-pencil period. Whatta crew, huh! Oh, I could go on and on. And someday I just might.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hello, everybody! Apologies for the lack of content lately. Real life and work have been a bitch lately, and I've just been too tired and distracted to compose my thoughts into anything resembling a coherent post. Yeah, I know, so what else is new. There have been one or two over at the LJ, though, if you care.

I've got some new comics, and will get more on Friday, which I'll opine upon soon. And Until then, be good, be good to each other, and may every song you sing be your favorite tune.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

THE BACARDI SHOW NEW COMICS REVUE!
In which I altercate, argue, bounce off, canvass, compare notes, confabulate, confer, consider, consult with, contend, contest, converse, debate, deliberate, descant, discept, discourse about, dispute, dissect, dissertate, examine, explain, figure, get together, go into, hash over, hold forth, jaw, kick about, knock around, rap, reason about, review, sift, take up, talk about, thrash out, toss around, ventilate, and weigh in on various works of sequential fiction that I have perused in the interval between the last JBNCR and this here one. Or, if you prefer, July 26th through August 11th.

NOW WITH ALL REVIEWS DONE! (Well, there is Leading Man 2 and Savage Brothers 1, which I just got and haven't read. Next time for those.) THANK GOD! I can't remember EVER taking this long to get a review column done! Newest reviews are at the top. Thanks for your patience.



ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN 1-4
S: Frank Miller; A: Jim Lee. (DC, $2.99)

Can't help but be reminded of Christgau's review of Lou Reed's Sally Can't Dance album, in which he says "...even as he shits on us he can't staunch his own cleverness". And, it's odd, in a lot of ways the post-Dark Knight Returns Miller writing style reminds me a lot of 1970's Lou's- cynical, dismissive, nasty, and brutal. I found these copies for 50 cents each at a sidewalk sale recently, and I suppose for that price I got my money's worth- this isn't dull, Miller does have some nice moments with Alfred, and there is an occasional quip or one-liner ("Goddamned Batman" notwithstanding) that's chuckleworthy. But he gives us a real creepy, asshat Batman, the Vicki Vale character is just like every other female character Miller writes- either a hardass bitch or a helpless victim- and the third-hand Spillane he uses for the bulk of his narration and dialogue just lies there on the page, rarely coming across as lively as he means for it to. The most obvious thing about this, though, as far as I'm concerned, is that I can't fathom Miller's motives for writing this, other than the Warnerbucks- it's obvious he has no respect or love for comics or their fans, and seems to consider himself above such juvenilia- and while financial gain is a valid enough motive, it's not always the best reason for churning out theoretical "art". At least it's not as out-and-out contemptible as his DK2. Jim Lee, for his part, hasn't progressed one iota past his 90's Image heyday; he's still drawing legs on women that are easily six feet in length, not to mention hips that are usually always too thin for the legs they are theoretically attached to, and the necks, arms and legs on his men- hoo boy, they're as thick as redwood tree trunks. Scratchy, busy lines adorn everything he draws, faces, buildings, cars, whatever. But even given all these difficulties, he obviously has skills and talent- witness #4's foldout spread of the Batcave, for example, very impressive, and once in a while there's a scene or panel progression that is sharp. This is far from a trainwreck, and I actually liked it better than the last couple of Sin City series Miller has come out with, not to mention the godawful abortion that was DK2. But I don't care for a Batman that seems to have been imported lock, stock and smoking barrel from The Big Fat Kill, and Lee's art mostly leaves me cold. Will I buy more? Can't say. Perhaps they'll have #'s 5 and 6 at the next sidewalk sale! C+

CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN MUST DIE! GN
S: Jeph Loeb, A: Tim Sale (DC, $19.95)

I picked up the singles back when they were first released, in 1991, God, has it been that long? Like Brian Bendis in his introduction here, it was an impulse buy. I liked the Brian Bolland cover, had always kinda/sorta liked the Challengers (even though if I ever bought a copy of their original ongoing series, I don't recall it), and after skimming through it and being amazed at what I was reading- the bemused tone, the actual destruction of Challengers Mountain!- I couldn't help but want to read more. And as each issue came and went, I dug it more and more: here we had an realistic (well, as realistic as a code-approved comic can get) take on superheroing, complete with consequences of actions, surprises, well-rounded characters, and a lot of cleverly placed humor, along with quirky, interesting art. I do recall being vaguely disappointed that Loeb decided to go the "evil extradimensional demon menace" route, which was cliched even then, but hey- the journey was so much fun I didn't mind the destination. Another thing to remember was that there was no online comics fandom to speak of back in those long-ago days of yore; other than the mixed reactions in each issue's letters page, I had no clue what my fellow readers thought about this clever take on the venerable team. A few years later, when I started frequenting the DC Message Boards, I found out: the rank and file HATED what they thought was a demeaning depiction of these noble characters. Surprised, I tried to defend this work, but I found few allies. As we're finding out more and more these days, revisionism isn't always popular with longtime fans, to state the obvious. Anyway, this was the first of the Loeb/Sale collaborations; they've gone on to do a lot of work together with varying results. I quite liked their first couple of Batman Halloween specials, although the last couple were just too convoluted and unwieldy to be enjoyable (even though I'll always appreciate Loeb using the Calendar Man the way he did in the otherwise dull Long Halloween), their excellent Superman for All Seasons, and Daredevil: Yellow, their first Marvel collaboration and the only one I found worthwhile. Everything else has been hit or miss for me, mostly miss- I haven't bought anything by either in a good five years. I don't think Loeb has ever topped this, but Sale's work has improved a great deal; he's gotten more skillful, as opposed to a lot of his work here which looks like he's still trying to get comfortable. But, there's a wit in this earlier stuff that's missing from what I've seen since- no way Sale would now use a visual device like the little bomb-bearing robot that teeters across the page to his destination now as he did in issue one for example. It also features what is certainly the best Superman appearance not written by Alan Moore in twenty years, not surprisingly, Loeb scored with his later Superman tale as well. To sum, this is the way I like my revisionist takes- with wit and enthusiasm rather than mercenary cynicism. And I highly recommend this to anyone who shares my opinion, and anyone except perhaps hardcore Challheads, all two dozen or so of you. Oh, and Neilalien: You're probably already aware of it, but Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum gets an extended cameo (aspiring magician Ace rents it while the "owner is out of town"), as does Wong later on. Kewl, eh?
A-

JACK OF FABLES 1
S: Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges; A: Tony Akins (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

I suppose it's a compliment to Willingham's creativity, especially in regards to the ongoing Fables, that he has so many stories that he can spin characters off. I suppose it's also a compliment that this reads pretty much like your basic issue of that title as well. But it's not an especially clever or interesting one, just like the title character, and not even a nicely staged naked Goldilocks appearance can bring it to life. Still, it's early. We'll see. B

CHECKMATE 1,3,4
S: Greg Rucka, A: Jesus Saiz (DC, $2.99)

Hokay, I was hoping for some good ol' spandex-flavored espionage action, and that certainly is the case here. Plus, I like a lot of these characters: Sasha Bordeaux, an obvious Rucka favorite from his underappreciated late 90's tenure on Detective, Count Vertigo, Fire. But this is way, way WAY too cluttered, technical, and talky, full of people explaining everything to other people explaining things when they're not constantly referring to each other as "Black Bishop", "White Queen" and other cutesy chess references, and after a while it gives me a real headache. Plus, I'm still not a big fan of Saiz' art- it's competent, but generic and he draws Amanda Waller less like "THE WALL" and more like "a partition", if you know what I mean. My admittedly tenuous interest is sorely tempted to be occupied elsewhere, but I'll hang with for a few more issues. C+

JLA: CLASSIFIED 25
S: Steve Englehart; A: Tom Derenick, Mark Farmer (DC, $2.99)

In which things go from bad to worse, or dumb and dumberer perhaps, as Englehart completely fails to evoke Gardner Fox or even Gerry Conway with a tedious and convoluted chain of events and poor dialogue which left me missing the 70's more than ever. A strong contender for WORST Aquaman appearance in the highly checkered history of the character. About the only positive I came away with was that there was a lot of classic Gypsy, even though a lot of the mythology Englehart tried to impose on her was just unnecessary and pointless, and the Derenick/Farmer art kept reminding me of Trevor Von Eeden. Any comic that makes me wish to read Gerry Conway again is evil and should be ignored at all costs. D

ASTRO CITY SPECIAL: THE SAMARITAN
S: Kurt Busiek; A: Brent Anderson (DC/Wildstorm, $3.99)

Just when I had pretty much given up on Astro City being interesting ever again (Dark Age was deadly dull), along comes Busiek with this solid, thoughtful tale of his Superman analogue and the friendly rival thing he has with someone called Infidel, a sorcerer/scientist Vandal Savage type perhaps who seems less evil than just pragmatic. Few writers can do this sort of thing successfully- the usual suspects: Moore, Ellis, maybe Morrison- and Busiek succeeds with flying colors. And in the process, reminds me why I liked this series so much at the beginning. It certainly wasn't because of Anderson's art- he's capable, but his sloppy, earnest Bucklerisms leave me ice cold. All in all, a smashing success though, and I've never been too concerned with the art here anyway. Keep it up, Mr. B. A-

CATWOMAN 53-57
S: Wil Pfieffer; A: David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez (DC, $2.99)

I'm sorry to say that I had bailed on Catwoman after Pete Woods left; I was a little skeptical of friend Holly assuming the mantle, new artist Lopez's samples just didn't look as facile as Woods', and it just seemed like a good jumping off point, with my constant search for ways to save on my monthly comics expenditures. Bad move on my part. Pfiefer has done a wonderful job of crafting an interesting storyline out of the ashes of Identity Whatever, and I'm very glad that I decided to get caught up. I'm also impressed with new (to me, anyway) villain Film Freak; although perhaps he would be better served remaining behind the scenes, a manipulator rather than instigator of action, he's a fun and cool nod to movie buffs like me and, I dare say, a lot of you reading this- and judging from his blog, Pfiefer too. I'm also still not completely sold on Holly as Catwoman; she doesn't have any prior experience, and sparring with Wildcat, despite being Dorian's dream, doesn't prepare one for a busy evening of jumping off tall buildings. At least Pfiefer does show her having her share of awkward moments; getting caught on tape beating down the Angle Man, for example. And Lopez does a fine job- there's nothing really all that idiosyncratic about his work, he's as ordinary as the next DC art drone, but the saving grace of this art team is the graceful line of one of my favorite inkers, that other guy named Lopez, Alvaro to be precise. Catwoman is perhaps one of the top three DC titles right now, as far as I'm concerned, and I won't be dropping it again anytime soon. A-

MEAT CAKE 15
S/A: Dame Darcy (Fantagraphics, $3.95)

I can't imagine what compels Darcy to keep putting out her whimsical, naughty, homespun illustrated fables, nor can I fathom why Fantagraphics continues to put them out, because I just don't see how enough people could be attuned to this sort of thing to make it worth their while...but I'm awfully glad she does and they do. I can't quite put my finger on what makes each issue of Meat Cake such a blast to pore over- perhaps it's the oddball, yet very cleverly realized characters such as Wax Wolf, Strega Pez (a witch with a slot in her neck through which comes Pez-shaped tablets bearing pronouncements), or Friend the Girl (the simplicity of that cracks me up); perhaps it's the can-go-anywhere subject matter; the chaotic but adventurous layouts and primitive art style she employs...maybe it's just that she has incredible charisma and it manages to project itself through the printed page. Who knows. Not me, that's for sure! Highlights this issue include the lead, a "Zombie Survival Test" which is essentially a scavenger hunt that features another reoccuring character Richard Dirt looking quite fetching in a nun's habit and careens towards a demented resolution; a crash course in palmistry (my wife and I have meant to get Darcy to read our palms for years now- she would do it for $20 if you mail her copies of your palms in various perspectives); a bittersweet tale titled "The Red Bird" which speaks to some unpleasantry between the lines...ordinarily the saccharine ending that this one sports would send me crawling up the wall, but the rancor suggested grounds it totally. There's also a weird sort of science fair competition going on in a couple of the vignettes, to amusing effect, and a whimsical take on the Chupacabra legend, in which ol' Choopie inhabits the form of a Texas cowgirl, sipping on blood in a Big Gulp and listening to Hank Williams. And that's just scratching the surface- Darcy packs all her issues of Meat Cake to the rim...and most of it works, seemingly through force of will if nothing else! I'm not going to sit here and tell you that you should run out and buy this- if ever oh ever an acquired taste there was, this is it- but if any of this sounds interesting at all to you, then by all means partake. And you just may pick up a new habit, like I did years ago after reading a short interview with the Grande Dame in the Comics Journal. A

POWERS 19
S: Brian Michael Bendis; A: Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon, $2.95)

The best moments in this continue to come from the pen of Oeming and colorist Peter Pantazis- the superhero fighting stuff is appropriately kinetic, the talking heads stuff is rendered as interesting as can be, and in this issue especially the erotic stuff is very well-handled- there's a masturbation scene that's every bit as sexy as it should be, something you don't see in comics very often, unless you are inclined to check out some of the Eros line's better publications. Bendis isn't really breaking new ground script-wise and even seems a bit bored, but as long as he's got Oeming's art and the lurid hues of Pantazis backing him up, he'll be all right. There's zero buzz about this book these days, especially when you compare it to when I first started getting it several years ago, and that's too bad- but this is still highly readable. A-


BLUESMAN VOL 3
S: Rob Vollmar; A: Pablo Callejas (DBM/ComicsLit, $8.95)

***SPOILER ALERT***

All in all, a solid and interesting look at a subject that one would think would be ripe with possibility- the trials and tribulations of blues musicians in the 20's and 30's. And Vollmar does a lot with the one story he was called to tell, finishing it up with a surprising turn of events about midway through, as well as a touching coda. But he almost goes a bit too far with the resolution, a deus ex machina climax which sets our protagonist Lem Taylor up as a literal Christ figure, kinda making me wince because it incorporates an unnecessary air of the fantastical into the mix, very late in the proceedings- but fortunately he stops just short of going all the way with this notion. This, kids, shows restraint- and that's usually always a good thing in a writer. Artwise, Callejo seems to be getting comfortable (just in time for the end of the tale), but I don't know if I'll ever warm up completely to his awkward and murky Crumbisms. If there were any justice, HBO would let Vollmar develop this concept as an ongoing series. But then again, they'd just axe it before its scheduled run. A-

DAREDEVIL 87
S: Ed Brubaker; A: Michael Lark, Steven Gaudiano (Marvel, $2.99)

***SPOILER ALERT*** (assuming you haven't already read it, that is)

Can Ed Brubaker bring the goods or what? Dealt a lackluster hand by departing writer Bendis, he managed to draw to an inside straight, finishing up in grand form as we get a one-two punch: an actual interesting fight between Bullseye, the Kingpin, and DD, something I never thought I'd see again, and in this issue, the escape from prison with help from the Punisher (wittily handled) and a great cameo from Iron Fist, a welcome (if temporary, I'm sure) addition to the supporting cast. Plus, there's that ending, which surprised me, because frankly I thought it was time to make some significant changes in DD's life- and between Milla (via Bendis) and the death of Foggy Nelson, I thought that was a good start. But then Ed goes and pulls a little "psych!" move on us, and even though I have nothing against Foggy as a character, his being dead kinda made me think that anything was possible, even removing a major supporting character. Now, I realize that won't be the case, and Brubaker has compromised himself somewhat by doing this. Still, I have been hugely entertained by this whole story arc (which frankly, I was dreading because at first it seemed like more of the same old same old) and I won't underestimate him again. Oh, and this just in- Mike Lark is pretty damn good in his understated way. Dare I say that I get a Wally Wood vibe from his work? Not necessarily in its literal appearance, Gaudiano's inks are too sloppy for that, but just in its general unassuming, down-to-earth feel. A

CASANOVA 2
S: Matt Fraction; A: Gabriel Ba. (Image, $1.99)

Well, for what it's worth, I'm a Revolver man myself, and I have special affection for the post-Fabs odds-and-sods collection The Beatles Again aka Hey Jude, so I suppose that would keep my brains in my head at Winston Heath's dinner table...and the notion of a pleasure island orgy to the strains of the Help! soundtrack isn't altogether unpleasant. Fraction is once more as incoherent as ever, even though this one came across as more linear than the previous issue and was good fun once I got my bearings even though I kept getting reminded of Austin Powers and his girlbot adversaries, and I hope that's not what Fraction had in mind. I chuckled at most of the appropriate places, too, including the aforementioned dinner scene and the impromptu comics criticism in which Mr. Quinn indulges. Again, Ba acts as our tour guide, helping us navigate the complicated events with aplomb. I want to like this comic a lot more than I do; the concept is great and the art is top-notch. I just wish it wasn't so much damn work trying to parse it- Fraction keeps saying to me, in this way, "That's one for you, nineteen for me" (sorry about the strained Beatles pun there)...and keeps giving me "Revolution No.9" when I hope for the "Hey Jude" B-side "Revolution". Please, Mr. F, give peace (of mind) a chance! B+

MARTIAN MANHUNTER 1
S: A.J. Lieberman; A: Al Barrionuevo, "Bit". (DC, $2.99)

This one's been getting savaged all around the Blogosphereiverse; and it's easy to see why- just like practically every other spinoff of Identity Crisis, it's just no fun. Let's face it- there have been many attempts to garner a wider audience the Martian Manhunter over the years, and nearly all of them have failed to varying degrees because (I believe, anyway) when you have a character that apparently can do anything he wants (shapeshift, heat vision, flight, super-strength, psychic abilities, twist the cookie off an Oreo and never leave a trace of filling), then you have a character that is spread much too thin. Only the humor approach of the Giffen/DeMatteis League made him interesting in a supporting straight-man role- and Dini, Timm and Company did a lot of good work with the character, portraying him as a somewhat taciturn but warm-hearted father figure of sorts...John Ostrander had his moments years later too, but if anyone could make J'onn a solo comic star, I honestly believe it would have been done by now. Which brings us to the here and now, and the umpteenth attempt to launch our boy into the A-list...and obviously the decision makers at DC did decree that good old reliable, rock-solid J'onn J'onzz, friend and confidant to the superheroes of his adopted world and Oreo eater, was old hat, a failure; we need to have a serious Martian Manhunter, pissed at the world with all the attendant angst and rancorous feelings that someone somewhere at 1700 Broadway NYCNY thinks that all costumed adventurers and beings should have so they can be taken seriously by people who might throw money their way or accuse them of, horror of horrors, writing "funnybooks". Now don't get me wrong- I've always thought that it was a good thing to have characters and storylines that have a certain gravitas about them; a sense of consequence and of cause-and-effect. But this, and most of the stuff I've read over the last couple of years, is just too much. I'm sure Lieberman, Meltzer, and all the involved parties are convinced, or have convinced themselves, that they are making the kind of comics that they would want to read...but that doesn't make it right or entertaining or even worthy of attention. It's not the apparent editorial "get-serious" mandate I mind so much as it is the heavy handed and clumsy execution of same. So yeah, sure, we've got J'onn being all glum and feeling betrayed and alone, even though he's had years to sort out his attitudes and feelings about this world and his place in it, and much of his bad mood is caused by his discovery of fellow Martians who have been kept in captivity in some sort of Roswell-like facility for a long time. This kinda threw me too- is he bummed because these are GREEN Martians, and he hadn't seen any of that particular strain around in his tenure on Earth? Because there have been multitudes of Martians of various OTHER hues coming and going to and fro on ol' Terra for ages now, or at least farther back than the braintrust's evident short memories extend. I don't know. That's not an invalid idea, if my no-green Martians theory holds, but the leaden execution of the story just turns me off, and the artists don't do me any favors either- the art on the page looks off-kilter somehow, like it was drawn at a size smaller than 7-1/2 x 10, or whatever size a trimmed comic book is these days (I don't have a ruler handy) and enlarged to fit on the page. Everything looks pinched and claustrophobic, and these guys are still, if you'll excuse the expression, a little green when it comes to perspective and anatomy. Also, someone went all Photoshop-crazy in what seems to be an effort to make it look more James Jean or J.G. Jones-ish (lotsa luck THERE), and only succeeds in amping up the murk factor. I appreciate the comp, I really do, and it's entirely possible that this could pick up steam and become the resonant drama that they think/hope it will become...but I'm not going to hold my breath. I think a D or below is a bit harsh for such a competent book- the "heartless and pointless" of my D criteria hold, but this is far from "brainless"- much thought (or groupthink) went into this, it's plain- so I suppose I'll just mark it with a C-.

DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON #6
S: Graymiotti; A: Khari Evans (Marvel, $2.99)

Entertaining conclusion to this highly underrated miniseries, which, if I understand it correctly, will morph into a Heroes for Hire title in a short while, but with the stiff, fanboy-pandering art of Billy Tucci replacing the almost-too-loose but visually clever stylings of Evans. This is the main reason I haven't signed up for HfH, but intend to view it on the rack first. I like the Misty & Colleen characters, always have, Iron Fist too, and even this newish comic relief Otis guy, so I want to give it a chance. Anyway, back to this- while it started slow, it soon evolved into a fun little Tarantinoesque mishmash of kung fu, afros, and guys and dolls in super-suits and always maintained a fresh stance as it did so. Many try this, few succeed, so get the trade, mkay? This issue: A-. Entire series: A-

MANHUNTER #24
S: Mark Andreyko; A: Javier Pina, Fernando Blanco (DC, $2.99)

In which we get the finale that shouldn't have surprised anyone: Dr. Psycho out of his mental restraints, and raising psychic hell in the courtroom- but Andreyko still managed to make it interesting...and that, in a nutshell, is why I'm digging this comic. It sure isn't because of his take on Chase (the reason why I started buying in the first place, remember), which only superficially resembles the D.C. Johnson template and more often as not makes her into the "sexpot roomie" of many a slasher flick, and that concerns me. Shagging sidekick Dylan doesn't help her case. So help me God, if Chase ends up in a refrigerator I'm swearing off DC comics forever. B+

SHADOWPACT #3
S: Bill Willingham; A: Cory Walker (DC, $2.99)

I've been pretty hard on this title since I started getting it, so I'm pleased to report that this, the finale of the first story arc, was a bit better, even though it felt rushed and contrived. It's never a good thing, story-wise, when your super-guy or -team gets their asses kicked thoroughly in the previous issue, with no hope of turning the tides- only to suddenly rise up in the next and easily defeat their oppressors through a series of events which work only because the writer wishes them to- kinda comes across as a cheat, to me anyway. Say what you will about Mark Millar- he at least knows how to write this sort of thing (his basic Authority script template was always like that) so you can believe it. Artwise, Cory Walker isn't too bad- reminds me a little of David Hahn only greener. And Cory, for future reference, those big yellow circles on the Phantom Stranger's chest aren't decorations- they're the objects that hold those big collar flaps in place, as well as hold together the chain that holds the cloak together. They way you draw them on page one, it looks like they're embedded in his chest! B-

UNCLE SAM AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS 1
S: Graymiotti; A: Daniel Acuna (DC, $2.99)

At this point, after reading Checkmate, and a few of the other post-IC books, I'm beginning to wonder exactly how many covert metahuman groups are necessary in the DCU...won't they all be tripping over each other as they go about their business? Anyway, once more, were given fresh versions of those hoary old Quality Comics characters- Doll Man fans, all 18 or so of them, must be deliriously happy at the leaner, meaner, tougher version of their hero. All the re-imaginings, in fact, are acceptable, but what really kills the buzz on this one is the somber, serious tone that is apparently DC editorial mandate these days. Any humor that might have a fleeting chance of balancing all the glum Bourneisms is implied rather than made explicit, and there's so precious little of it that it's practically unnoticable. Acuna, for his part, does a fine job illustrating the proceedings- I was most curious about how his interior art looked after seeing a number of good covers with his byline, but on his interiors (judging by the evidence of this 1st issue) he tends to ink with a curiously heavy line that, combined with the murky Photoshoppery in the colors, makes this look ponderous and leaden rather than lively and fast-paced. Oh well, a little to like, and a lot to shrug the shoulders over...pretty much par for the post-Crisis course, I guess. B

BITE CLUB: VAMPIRE CRIME UNIT 4
S: ChayTischKinMan; A: David Hahn (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Hahn's talents, which I'm beginning to appreciate more and more, are being wasted on this anemic...well, I don't know what the hell they think it is. Satire? Goodfellas with vampires? Late-night Cinemax "erotic thriller"? There's many a slip between cocktail napkin plot thumbnail and execution and really this is coming across (to me, anyway) as a barely coherent mishmash of stuff that just doesn't have the right glue to hold it together. The last miniseries started rough but got better. This one is a non-starter. C-

HELLBLAZER: ALL HIS ENGINES GN
HELLBLAZER 222

S:Mike Carey, Denise Mina; A: Leo Manco (DC/Vertigo, $14.99/$2.99)

Mike Carey's stint on Hellblazer certainly had its moments; but a great deal of it seemed to be reshuffling a deck that had been shuffled way too many times before. So when I'm confronted with this graphic novel, out on hardcover (I think) before his run on JC:HB was finished but you know me, Mr. El Cheapo, I gotta wait for the softcover before I buy- well, I don't know quite what to think. All His Engines is a real damned good Conjob story. Real good. Despite the fact that it once more places our "hero" in familiar settings, forcing him to travel to the Colonies in order to work a pack of demons and forgotten gods and save a loved one (this time Chas' granddaughter), there seems to be a real sense of gravity, of things at stake, that elevates it above the usual run of the mill Hellblazer story. Thing is, it makes me wonder where this heightened sense of cause-and-effect and solid characterization was for the bulk of Carey's run? Oh well, shouldn't carp, I guess. Regardless, Neil Gaiman's cover quote is right- this really is a, if not necessarily the quintessential Constantine story. It should be required reading for anyone who thought the film was hot stuff (there must have been someone, right?). For his part, Manco rises to the level of the script, and does his strongest job since he came aboard- nowhere near his Hellstorm salad days, but not-bad just the same. Meanwhile, in the ongoing, current JC:HB scribe Denise Mina winds up her first story arc, and it's as vague and inconsequential as always. Perhaps she should have not tried to do something as ambitious right off the bat, because this is an utter failure. But on the other hand, I am happy that she's at least trying to bring something fresh to the table, and she does have a pretty good read on Conjob's personality...so let's just say she's earned the benefit of the doubt, and go from there. Manco doesn't really do her any favors, either- his work is as stiff and sloppy as it's been for longer than I care to remember. All His Engines: A. #222: C+.

NEIL GAIMAN'S NEVERWHERE 8
S: Mike Carey; A: Glenn Fabry (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Since it's my habit to use that fascinating (to me, anyway) word "penultimate" whenever it applies and when possible, let me just say up front that this is the penultimate issue of the ongoing adaptation and let it go at that. I'll also state yet again that Carey has done a wonderful job of adapting the source material, and Fabry has really opened my eyes with his spot-on design and illustration work. More next time. A
The great Gene Colan is retiring, but is giving his admirers an opportunity to commission an illustration, anything you want, before he does so. For more information, if you (unlike me) have $250 to drop, go here. Believe you me, if I did, I'd own myself an original Colan drawing of Pandora Arcana.

At left there is a Colan illo, ganked from that info site, of a character that he's never done before (and had published, that is) to my knowledge, but it's such an obvious, no-brainer great idea that I wish someone had thought to ask him to do it for real: The Shadow. That character is perfect for his style.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Well, crap.
I began to wonder recently when and if DMP was going to put out the third collection of Kaneko Atsushi's Bambi and Her Pink Gun aka one of the few manga that I care to read on anything resembling a regular basis, and eventually found their message board- where I registered, found the Bambi thread, and posed that very question. And here is the response I got:

Bambi is on hiatus...

Bambi is on hiatus. In TV speak, that means "don't hold your breath waiting for any more." I don't know about you, but this news makes my world a bit less brighter place.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

OK, I'll get this done right off the bat: sorry I haven't finished my reviews yet. Work (it's been insane, insaner that usual, for two weeks now) schedule and fatigue have conspired against me, it seems, and thus I resort to yet another whining "I'm sorry..." post. If Brenda Lee was a blogger...

But here are two things: first, the pic at right is something I found somehow, I forget where- I've had it bookmarked for a while now. Probably Mike Sterling, but I dunno. Anyway, it's the two-page spread promo for Thriller from DC Sampler #2, which I useta own but don't no mo. Unfortunately, it's the inferior Wm. Dubay/Alex Nino version, done about the time of issue #10, but still it's kinda neat to see again. If I live long enough to get around to redoing my Thriller site, I'll definitely have to include it but since that ain't gonna happen anytime soon you can all check it out right here. Found at tonyznet.com.

Also, kudos to Chris "Knight" Arrant, Neil Kleid, Elizabeth Genco (bet she hates those insurance commercials) and all the other Chemistry Setters for the successful launch of their new webcomics site. And judging by the results so far, all are interesting, and a couple are more than just that: Arrant & Dan Warner's 1 Way Ticket and Genco and Adam Boorman's Scheherezade are off to nice starts. I also am struck by Jim Dougan and Eric Kim's Vulture Gulch, weird western buff that I am. Which is not to say that the others aren't worthy of mention...oh hell- I'll mention 'em anyway: Vito DelSante's Stuck, with art by Tom Williams that reminds me a smidge of Paul Pope or Hawaiian Dick's Steven Griffin, and Kleid and Kevin Colden's Todt Hill nicely establishes a mood. I'll try to opine more later, perhaps.

A personal note- I was born much too early, I think. I spent the first, oh, 25 or so-odd years of my life wanting to be a comic book artist really bad. Knew I had some skills, as Napoleon Dynamite would say, but my style, especially my poor inking, just didn't look like the Kirby/Adams/Buscema/etc. established-and-preferred style that the big boys wanted...no matter what I tried. Plus, living in Bumfuck and not being able to afford (or, let's face it, with a wife and family, justifiably believing myself unable) to head off to the Big City and pursue that dream...not to sound like I'm bitter, far from it on THAT account. It was just something I couldn't do. Too many responsibilities. So after I turned 25 or thereabouts, I tried less and less and despite 6 years of college art classes beginning in 1994, including about 3 of them actually spent drawing or painting, I didn't get any better. So, as dreams often do, I let that one die a gentle death with much sadness and regret. But now, I see the proliferation of styles and approaches, and great venues (such as the Chemistry Set or Ellis' new site, name of which escapes me offhand- Modern Tales (?)) through which one can get their work out there and have it judged by its own merits rather than being saddled with drawing Martian Manhunter in a 4 page backup story inked by Bob McCleod or Vinnie Colletta (believe me, though, in 1982 I would have jumped at the chance)...it's amazing and saddening all at the same time. And I can't help but wonder what if. But don't cry for me, Argentina- I'm sure I wouldn't have made the best of it anyway. It's the one constant in my inconstant existence. Maybe...maybe...I coulda been a contendah! I coulda been somebody!. Well, I'm "someone" now. Nobody important, necessarily, but someone. You know what I mean.

Am I rambling?

Anyway, that's all I have for now. The painkiller is taking effect, I'm getting all weepy and boring, and I...must...finish...thi-i-i-i-ssss...nooowwwww

Aw, I'm kiddin'- I'm only taking Naproxin for my tendinitis-plagued shoulder. Won't make you drowsy or nuttin, darn it. But it's OK, I'm drowsy anyway. Good night.

Monday, August 07, 2006



I can think of few things I'm looking forward to more than Darwyn Cooke's Spirit series. Bob Andelman, writer of Will Eisner: A Spirited Life, has posted an interview with Cooke, one of the ongoing series at his blog, that's mighty good readin'. I know everybody's linked to it already, but you never know when someone will come here first so I felt like it was my civic duty to point you in that direction. So go!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Kudos to Hope Larson for her illustration in the New York Times! And it's as typically great as all her stuff so far has been!

Also, I've been getting several emails from Neil Kleid about The Chemistry Set, the new webcomics project that has a number of interesting creators lined up. Will be well worth checking out, I'm sure, and it launches Monday the 7th.

Hope that makes up for all the PR he's been sending and I've been neglecting to post...

Comics reviews are proceeding apace. Got a copy of the new attempt at Martian Manhunter today, so I'm going to try and squeeze that one in, after I've read it of course, and I hope to pick up a goodly amount of back issues tomorrow at the Great Escape's sidewalk sale, in which they have 20% (used to be 25%-mebs! mebs!) off everything in the store. Don't look for them in the upcoming review post.

Speaking of back issues, I'm jonesing something awful to pick up a set of these. If anyone would buy them for me, I'd be eternally in their debt! Sad thing is, I could probably get them for less than 12 bucks in decent condition...but I'm trying to save my pathetic cash for the sale tomorrow, so the trigger remains unpulled. I'm a little concerned that interest may spike in them after the release of this, which I stumbled upon as I scanned through DCBS's newly updated order site. I'm a little confused, too- is this, and by this I mean the announced Lankhmar: Swords and Deviltry from Dark Horse, another reprint (with a horribly bland cover, different from the one seen at left) of the original Leiber stories (some of my absolute favorite fantasy stuff of all time, in case you didn't know), or will this contain the 1980's Chaykin/Mignola/Williamson Marvel/Epic illustrated adaptations (which I still have, by the way- don't know WHY I got rid of my Sword of Sorecerys), or is that coming later? Interesting announcment about a movie in the solicit text...about time someone realized the potential for a really good, witty, adventure-filled Fafhrd and the Mouser film! Of course, if they don't fuck it all up- which is probably the most likely scenario. Faf and the Mouser are too hedonistic- can't have them being naughty and debauched and not suffering for it! At least in Hollywood, anyway. Maybe I'm just jealous because I'm never naughty and debauched anymore...

Anyway, I meant to make this a shortie and it turned out twice as long as I wanted! I could have posted five reviews in the time it took me to type this!

So stop typing already, Dave!

ALL RIGHT!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006



And now, more JOHNNY B HEART NETFLIX!

MIRRORMASK
As someone who has been a regular Vertigo and Sandman reader since day one, but not necessarily one who drank the kool-aid with any sort of conviction, I was of course curious about this collaboration between the Sandman writer and its cover artist. The visuals here were imaginative as you'd expect, but again the script doesn't quite live up to the promise, coming across as flat and routine, as if Gaiman didn't even try to keep up with Dave McKean's art direction. Oh well, still, it is a film with a distinctive look and while I wasn't especially entertained or surprised by Gaiman's story, I didn't get bored either...so while it's not a revelation by any stretch, I found it very watchable and recommend it to anyone who is attuned to the McKean aesthetic. B+

THE TRANSPORTER 2
I didn't like the first Transporter flick at all, finding it full of sizzle with no steak, despite the presence of always-likeable Jason Statham. Against all odds, though, I found this sequel tons more fun, and I'm hard pressed to explain exactly why. Better supporting cast, perhaps, a tad more energy and imagination in the script, such as it is...who knows. All I know is that this was a neat little streamlined B-movie action thriller, clocking in at a very economical 87 minutes, and the kind you look forward to seeing come on Cinemax late at night...and while it was often preposterous, it was never boring. Kudos to Kate Nauta for not hamming it up (too much) as she played the psycho girlfriend of the bad guy. A-

KING KONG
I remember seeing the trailers for this one and getting very excited when I saw Kong leaping up from his perch on the Empire State Building and swatting planes out of the sky. Great idea, thought I, and it bodes well for this film, especially with Peter Jackson coming off his Tolkein movies. Well...no. Unfortunately, Jackson decided he had to make Titanic the movie instead of a movie about a titanic ape, and the ridiculous, overblown pomposity of it made this more like an unholy marriage between the Sci-Fi Network and Lifetime. Mr. Jackson, I don't presume to tell you how to do your job...but I don't even think the hardcore romance flick crowd can honestly buy, even for a minute, Ann Darrow actually actively being in LOVE with the big effing ape. Think back, if you will, to the superior 1930's original. Fay Wray's Ann DIDN'T LIKE being in the spot she was in. She (quite correctly) FEARED FOR HER LIFE in the clutches of the big monkey, both on Skull Island and in NYC. She was CARRIED TO THE TOP of the E.S.B. by Kong, she didn't climb up there herself and try to shoo away airplanes. THERE IS NO WAY TO PLAUSIBLY GIVE US A SERIOUS ROMANCE BETWEEN A NORMAL MORTAL WOMAN AND A GIGANTIC APE! Can't happen! Physically impossible, and hardly practical. So all those awful scenes with Kong frolicking on the ice in Central Park, and the ludicrous impromptu vaudeville performance she gives on that ledge...well, all that Harlequin romance bullshit just sunk your movie, big guy. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is KING FRICKING KONG and ANN FRICKING DARROW, not Jack and Rose! And the shame of it is, if you take away that terrible misbegotten attempt at shoehorning the Lifetime movie of the week aesthetic into what was a riproaring adventure yarn, this Kong has a lot going for it- Jack Black was an inspired choice and he was pretty darn good, even though he didn't have the likeable regular-Joe Palooka vibe that Robert Armstrong had, he made up for it with energy and spunk. Naomi Watts was fine, when she wasn't making goo-goo eyes at the giant ape. The FX were EXCELLENT. But by not trusting in the pulp adventure at the heart of the story, Jackson shot himself in the foot with this overlong and soppy picture. Sometimes simple is better. C+

TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE
This one, on the other hand, I expected to hate a LOT but wound up liking in spite of myself. Burton's "animated" style has never really yanked my crank; it's just too mannered and twee to really be (to me, anyway) as clever as he and his admirers seem to think it is. So I went in with zero enthusiasm; I rented this because lover-of-all-that-is-ghostly Mrs. B wanted to see it. But I found myself laughing at the occasional visual pun or throwaway joke, and was entertained. That said, I think I can cheerfully go the rest of my life without seeing another one of Burton's rinky-dink Goth fantasies. B

THE FLAMING LIPS: THE FEARLESS FREAKS
Took me a while to become the Lips fan that I am; I was entirely unimpressed with their Transmissions From the Satellite Heart CD back in '95, when we were playing "She Don't Use Jelly" at the rock radio station I worked for for a brief while that year. A long while later, I caught the tail end of a performance on HBO's Reverb show, which had Wayne Coyne in his full bloody-faced glory performing "The Spark That Bled" from The Soft Bulletin. I had no clue who it was, and the TV listing didn't have any credits. So it took me until 2002, and their majestic "Do You Realize?" single, to get me interested- and after getting Yoshimi Battles... and loving it, I quickly snapped up Bulletin- and fell in love with it from the literal first few bars of "Race For the Prize". A definite transformation in their heads had taken place between the routine Psych-noise of Heart and the sublimities of their post-Bulletin output; but I didn't really know what until I sat down and watched this documentary recounting of the band's history from their beginnings in Oklahoma, of all places, till just before the recording of their latest album. LOTS of background on not only Coyne, but the other past and present bandmembers, and surprisingly few punches are pulled- instrumentalist Stephen Drozd's frank discussion of his drug abuse is as fascinating as it is offputting, and more often as not Coyne comes across as a bit of a crackpot. Unfortunately, not a lot of time is devoted to the actual creative process behind the songs, so that's a drawback, but it's not a major problem. If anyone is curious about this band, I couldn't think of a better way to begin, other than getting a copy of the amazing Soft Bulletin, of course. A-

PICADILLY
Outstanding silent star vehicle for the incredible Anna May Wong. Wong is Shosho, a scullery maid at a swanky London nightclub who catches the eye of the owner and is soon the star attraction at the nightspot. Of course, complications ensue as the infatuated owner gets caught up with intrigue and murder in the Chinatown district. This British production came towards the end of the silent era, and honestly, it doesn't look as creaky and dated as many silents do- there are several nicely composed shots (in my less than expert opinion) and the production values were solid. The performances are a bit stagy, as silent film perfs tend to be, but even they aren't so stiff as to distract. If you like silent films, and if you are half as infatuated with Wong as I am (it's a character fault I have, all this obsessing over dead movie actresses), I heartly recommend this interesting period piece which gets by even by modern standards. A-

WEDDING CRASHERS
I know many are already getting sick of Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and the others in what wags are now calling the "Frat Pack", but I went in expecting nothing from this and wound up laughing my ass off. Wilson and Vaughn are top-notch as a pair of divorce lawyers who attend wedding receptions without an invite, just to meet and score with girls. But of course, this being modern Hollywood, they can't go on having fun forever and life lessons must be taught to all us poor sinners out in the Great Unwashed, so Wilson begins to second-guess his hobby when he meets Senator Christopher Walken's lovely daughter at her sister's reception. And of course, he is now faced with telling the truth and ruining what chance he does have with the engaged-to-some-one-else (who's a real jerk) Senator's daughter, or walking away, which he can't do 'cause he's in LUHVE. Vaughn, too, also gets more than he bargained for but his story is a lot funnier and a lot less dreary than Wilson's. Still, everybody's really good in this- Wilson's got that smarmy-but-likeable aw-shucks Valley Guy thing down pat, Vaughn is as boorish-but-likeable as ever, Walken is WALKEN, and even Jane Seymour, as Walken's horny wife, has some funny scenes. And Will Farrell shows up at the end as some sort of uber-wedding crasher guru, and damned if he doesn't almost steal the whole movie, especially at the end. Three-quarters of the time, these sorts of films are endurance tests for me, but once in a while one jumps up and smacks me on the nose...and this is one of them. A-

MADAGASCAR
If you've seen one imitation Pixar flick with an all star voice cast featuring animals dealing with life outside their element, you've seen 'em all. This was watchable and sometimes amusing, but just barely. The imitation Robin Williams lemur was probably the most memorable character, for what it's worth. Yawn. C+

Right now, I've got Syriana and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada sitting next to the DVD player, unwatched, and next up is V For Vendetta as soon as I can get one of them back in.