In which I opine in regards to various works of sequential fiction I have perused in the interval since the last time I inflicted my opinions upon one and all, or to be specific, from approximately 28 January to 10 February, some of which may even still be on sale at finer comics selling establishments worldwide if you're lucky. Or not, as the case may be.
100 BULLETS 80
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 20 issues. Oh, and one of those surprising deaths I mentioned last time turned out not to be. A-
ABRAXAS AND THE EARTHMAN
S/A: Rick Veitch. (King Hell, $16.95)
And now, kids, a blast from the past, from waaaaay back in 1981. Think Salvador Dali and Carlos Castaneda collaborating with Herman Melville on Moby Dick, and you get the general gist of this, one of Veitch's earliest script/art efforts. I was fortunate enough to be buying Epic Illustrated, Marvel's attempt to horn in on the Heavy Metal market, when this was initially serialized and it blew 21-year-old me away. Subsequent readings kept revealing the little details and clever touches that Veitch had worked in, and I have long regarded it as one of my favorite works of sequential fiction, to get all pretentious about it. Veitch has seen fit to rerelease it in a shiny, handsome new self-published volume, and I'm happy to say that even with all the somewhat dated new-agey doors-of-consciousness underpinnings, it still works as a surreal nightmare scenario, with many of Melville's (and Veitch's, for that matter) concerns still intact. For this volume, Rick has given us some text pages that shed light on what was going on in the industry and with him personally as he concieved Abraxas, and while some annotation would have been really nice, it's an interesting read just the same. Veitch's ace in the hole, as it so often is, is his underrated art; it's capable of stunning complexity and expressiveness, even though sometimes his figure drawing looks a little stiff. This was done at about the same time as his adaptation of the ill-fated Spielberg/Belushi/Aykroyd film 1941, and as with that effort, he uses collage all over the place to great effect. And the vivid coloring is top-notch. Twenty-six years on, this has lost very little of its luster for sure. A
AMERICAN VIRGIN 11
S: Steven Seagle; A: Becky Cloonan. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
I had dropped this, but #10 intrigued me enough to give it one more chance (and resign myself to paying full price again for the next few issues, until I can order it from DCBS again)...and while I wish I could say I was captivated it's really more of the same, as Adam continues to work out his obsession with who he regards as his girlfriend, recently deceased, while dealing with the press and resuming his ministry in Miami, where he gets involved with judging a Miss Teen Miami Beach contest. The character stuff works pretty well, even though I still don't buy the glossing over of the negative publicity that one would think would accompany his previous escapade. Chameleon-with-a-pencil Cloonan goes it solo this issue, sans inkers or Christine Norrie, and her art looks more streamlined and less rough-hewn than the last time I remember seeing her on her own. Oh well, still top-notch...in fact, she remains the one consistent pleasure of this inconsistent title. B-
BATMAN AND THE MAD MONK 6
S/A: Matt Wagner. (DC, $2.99)
No big surprises as Bats dispatches of the vampire cult in short order, and loses his girlfriend in the process. Maybe that would have had more resonance if we didn't already know that Miss Madison doesn't figure in any significant way in his subsequent career anyway. So, kinda anticlimactic- and as a whole, this mini wasn't quite as entertaining as its pulp-fiction predecessor, Monster Men. Second acts rarely reach the same heights, we all know that, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't try. Wagner's art, with its fat, clumsy inkline and awful rendition of Madison, was professional enough, but hard to like even though the covers were solid. I also found myself wondering, like another internet pundit whose name I forget and whose opinion I read later, why every rich family in Gotham City except the Waynes are predisposed towards being lunatic murdering psychopaths with a whole crew of skeletons in every closet of the crumbling mansions they all live in. Oh well- I appreciate all efforts to return Batman to his less cluttered and more crude roots, but they need to have a bit more panache and wit than this for me to stand up and applaud. B-. Entire series: B.
S: Ed Brubaker; A: Sean Phillips. (Marvel/Icon, $2.99)
Boy, for such a smart cookie, Leo sure does some dumb things, doesn't he? Oh well, a smart cookie would have avoided his life if at all possible...but a comic book titled Decent, Law-Abiding Citizen just wouldn't have the same oomph, now would it? Anyway, all seriousness aside, another solid issue as things get more and more complicated for Leo and Greta, and didn't I tell ya that Ivan would kick the bucket? That's the only obvious thing so far, and one reason why this is such a good read. As always, Phillips proves himself a master of light and shadow as he works the script for all the tension and mood he can muster. A
S: Ed Brubaker; A: Michael Lark, Steven Gaudiano. (Marvel, $2.99)
As about a succinct a wrap-up as one could hope for, I guess, especially if one was wishing for Brubaker and Co. to move on and do something different with this character, who has been mired in the eternal Kingpin/Bullseye/Elektra/Karen Page/blahblahBLAH loop for what seems like over 20 years. So, for that reason if nothing else, I appreciated this issue's events. And you gotta admit, that final confrontation between Matt and Wilson Fisk was riveting reading, with a satisfying and logical resolution. It helps that Ed is so in sync with Lark And Gaudiano- in the hands of lesser artists that confrontation wouldn't have had half of its impact. A-
S: Brian Wood; A: Riccardo Burchielli. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
Our boy Matty gets a little too involved with a suicide bomber, if not the action that he's been selected to participate in, and kinda causes things to get a lot more complicated with the terrorist cell he's infiltrated. Another strong chapter in the ongoing arc, but Burchielli needs to work on his staging a little- there's a panel on the next to last page which presumably shows someone getting smacked by another (trying hard not to spoil here, folks!), but the angles of the open hand and the reaction to the blow just don't look right, and to me it wasn't apparent what had happened at first glance. Hey, I know I'm nitpicking. If that's the biggest flaw I could find, then that says something, right? B+
DOCTOR STRANGE: THE OATH 4
S: Brian Vaughan; A: Marcos Martin. (Marvel, $2.99)
It's like someone made a checklist of all the things you never see Doc do, and then instructed Vaughan to work them into the story- cursing, firing a gun...but to everyone's credit, everything works and works very well. This time out, we get the backstory of the mysterious adversary that has been causing all the trouble- and Vaughan does two smart things: first, he gives us an "is he is or is he ain't lying" origin story...and leaves us hanging; and second, he presents the cancer cure macguffin in a different light, which raises the stakes and actually portrays the badguy in a more reasonable, even positive light than Doc himself, who comes across as a bit arrogant and naive. Not exactly a textbook method for reintroducing a classic character (one which is almost universally beloved by most comics fans, and one that both Marvel and selfsame fans would love to see in new ongoing adventures, especially by a top-quality creative team) to a presumably new audience, and I commend BKV for doing it. A
S: Bill Willingham; A: Mike Allred. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
Always nice to see this much new Allred art in one place, and he's in fine form here with only a wee bit of unfamiliarity with the established character likenesses (I'm thinking Pinocchio here, chiefly) marring the proceedings. And that's a minor quibble, believe me- Buckingham's pugnacious 'Noke was extremely incongruous when compared with the Disney version, not to mention the original novel. Script-wise, more gradual plot advancement as Snow White and Bigby Wolf, kids (constantly referred to with the wince-inducing nickname "Hellions") in tow, travel to the Great White North to meet with Bigby's estranged dad, the North Wind, and try to find out where he stands in the conflict with the Adversary...but soon the kids get into trouble as they hunt in the woods, providing the cliffhanger. Another above-average issue. A-
S: Denise Mina; A: Leo Manco. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
England lost, in case you were wondering. Okay, now bring on Andy Diggle, please. Ms. Mina, best of luck with your writing career in the future, but please don't script any more titles I read regularly. I'll provide a list if it will help. D
SHAZAM AND THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL 1
S/A: Jeff Smith. (DC, $5.99; reviewed from comp copy.)
I never acquired a taste for the opus by which Mr. Smith made his career and reputation, Bone, but I could always tell that he had a lot of the right stuff to be a superior storyteller- and he proves that here. This is the first attempted revival of the venerable former Fawcett properties that has impressed me since the 1974 SHAZAM! series, and it certainly seems like Mr. Smith has done his homework, managing the apparently nigh-impossible task of writing these originally-lighthearted-and-simple-in-tone characters in an entertaining fashion, something which has eluded three decades' worth of talents. Wisely eschewing all the leaden and depressing baggage of modern DC Comics continuity, he gives us a tweaked but still-logical update of the classic origin and compliments it with nicely colored and satisfyingly expressive art. That said, I didn't know either man, but somehow I doubt that C.C. Beck or Otto Binder would approve of the extravagant price point, nor would they smile upon the pointless and arbitrary time-shifting jumping-around technique that Smith uses in telling his story, an unnecessary and needlessly showoffish modern technique that really has no place when dealing with these characters. Hardly a deal-breaker, though. It remains to be seen if he can sustain this great first step, but as far as I'm concerned, I think he will. A
UNCLE SAM AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS 7
S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Daniel Acuna. (DC, $2.99)
Regrettable collar and all, the 90's Ray returns to good effect in one of those "f*ck yeah!" moments you've read about as this protracted saga rambles on to its presumed resolution. Even though I get a bit weary at how repetitious the bones of the plot are, this is still pretty good superheroing as far as I concerned, for what that's worth. Problem is, it looked for a while there about three issues ago that it would be even better than that, and that's a disappointment. However, if Graymiotti were to do an Uncle Sam series, I'd be first in line to pick it up, especially if Acuma drew it- great 3/4 panel on the next to last page, with Sam telling it like it is while standing next to the Washington Monument. More moments like that one, that's what I want. B+
That's it for this time out! Next comics shipment should be the end of this week.
BEST IN SHOW: Abraxas and the Earthman, for standing the test of time. Shazam! and, as always, Criminal are right up there with it.
DOG OF THE WEEK(S): Hellblazer, hopefully for the last time.