Saturday, March 17, 2007


Better late than never, the BSNCR is the venue by which I take the opportunity, unsolicited, to opine in regards to various works of sequential fiction I have perused in the interval since the last time I inflicted said opinions upon one and all, or to be specific, the period from approximately 22 February to 9 March, 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 #81
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 19 issues. Nice scene in a jazz club with Agent Graves and Dizzy Cordova this time out. Azzarello may do a lot of annoying things with his writing, but he is usually always right on the money when it comes to writing about music, especially Jazz. Maybe he missed his calling. A-

S/A: Various. (TwoMorrows, $6.95)

I can't really give this a fair review yet, because I haven't finished reading the darn thing! It's freaking loaded with text and illustrations, and I can only digest it in short bursts! Anyway, I really wish I could afford to pick up all of TwoMorrows' fine publications, but as with the Comics Journal, I just don't feel like I can afford it. With ordinary single floppy pamphlet comics inching towards that $5 mark, though, I might have to rethink my position. Don't know about the Journal, though- seeing all my Blogosphere acquaintances represented in their august pages, and not me, causes me to experience extreme jealousy. But I digress. Back to the matter at hand, Alter Ego. Ego is a throwback to a time that I can barely remember, when the first nascent stirrings of organized fandom first began to manifest itself through people like Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas and so forth, and grade-school age me was mostly blissfully unaware of this sort of thing (seeing certain names in letter columns kinda gave me a clue, however) until 1973 when I became a regular reader of the late, lamented Monster Times, which gave a fair amount of column space to comics and the people who create them as well as idolize them. A few years later, I met (or re-acquainted myself, it's a long story) Dave Puckett, who did know about, as well as corresponded with, many of the leading lights of what passed for Fandom (with a capital letter) in the early-mid 1970's. He told me about the fanzines that people like Thomas (and others, whose names escape me) created (Thomas' was named Alter Ego, and that's where the title comes from- it's a continuation of sorts) and self-published back in the halcyon days of the early-mid 60's. And short story long, that's exactly what Alter Ego remains: a very backwards-looking cornucopia of all things Golden and Silver Aged, just the sort of thing that everyone loved reading about back in those dim and distant pre-Internet days, when mimeographed sheets led to the Comics Buyers Guide and the Nostalgia nee Comics Journal and so forth. This one's a really Marvel Family-heavy issue, with big articles on the various creators, some well-known and others not-so, and overviews of many of the characters. Judging from some of the back issue covers, I believe this is not exactly a new direction- in fact, unless I'm mistaken it's normal for half the magazine to be given over to the Fawcett Collectors of America. Problem is, not being the world's biggest Marvel Family fan (even though that Jeff Smith revamp is aces) my interest comes and goes, but it's all (or at least as much as I've read, anyway) quite thorough and of course respectfully done. There's also a spotlight feature on Golden Age artist Martin Filchock and the comics company for which he toiled, Centaur Comics, both of which I had never heard of but the generous examples of the content of this company's comics provided are very enjoyable. Not so enjoyable is one of those Photoshop-manipulated photo essays in which someone paints Golden Age heroine's costumes on pictures of 40's and 50's starlets like Greer Garson and Marlene Dietrich; the back cover has a group shot in color. Interesting enough idea, but I've always found these Photoshopped images unsatisfactory and even sometimes grotesque; they rarely, if ever, look natural and call attention away from whatever cleverness might be there by the sheer artifice of it. Oh well- that's a small quibble, and by and large I can recommend this magazine to anyone interested in the often unsung creators and imprints who blazed the trail for the Mark Millars and Michael Turners we have now, for better or worse. Grade, an incomplete A-.

S: Steven T. Seagle; A: Becky Cloonan, Jim Rugg. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Well, this time we start out with an orgy scene that's neither as amusing or as titillating as it probably should be, but at least it does have a point and advances the plot, such as it is, and what it is is Adam continuing his search for his One True Love...and his interaction with his dysfunctional Bakker-esque family and the various satellites he's encountered have piqued my admittedly tenuous interest. After flirting with dropping the book I'm now inclined to hang around for a while and see if Seagle has a resolution or anything in mind, besides continued employment. Becky Cloonan's art still remains the main attraction, although DC seems to be conducting inker tryouts on an issue-by-issue basis- this time out, we get Street Angel's Rugg, and the result is nothing like you'd expect. B+

S: Mark Waid; A: George Perez, Bob Wiacek. (DC, $2.99)

Well, well, what have we here? A comic so old-school, so 1977, so unlike anything that's currently appearing in the rank and file DC titles of today, that at first I thought they must be putting us on, or sending something up. Or both. How in the world did this get past DC Editorial? Oh, yeah, the names in the credit box. DC's second attempt to revive its venerable Batman team-up vehicle since the cancellation of the long-running original works because it has a couple of fellows with respect for the concept and the chops to see it through; I've always thought Waid was a solid scripter with a nice sense of history, and of course Perez has always been able to successfully handle various superhero characters of all sorts in addition to being a solid craftsman with years of experience. This issue, the first of what I'm assuming is a multi-issue opening storyline, has a decent enough mystery at its base: cosmic policeman Green lantern finds a dead body floating in outer space, contacts Batman since he's the detective type, and discovers that Bats has an identical corpse which had just unexpectedly appeared in the Batcave. Waid smartly blends the worlds of the two disparate superguys- of all of Batman's teamups, he would seem to be less suited to interact with DC's cosmic panoply, and that was often borne out back in the halcyon Haneyverse days. But in just the first chapter, we get Batman's milieu, detective work, then abruptly it shifts into patented GL-style sci-fi adventure as the real culprits, a couple of gaming aliens, set some sort of yellow giant creature on the heroes to see who wins first. After this, the trail leads to Las Vegas (it makes sense, trust me), where we get some good character work as both Bruce Wayne and Hal Jordan get an opportunity to shine in a well-done casino scene with some amusing dialogue. Waid also takes the opportunity to give us the villainess he created during his JSA run, Roulette, whom I've never really been able to care for because I could never buy her whole setup. Doesn't matter, because she's here in a supporting role only and is played against type. Perez, for his part, still wants to clutter every single panel up with oodles of detail, and it's more of a distraction than it should be- plus, he really needs to update his clothing swipe file when it comes to evening wear in Sin City. But his figures manage to avoid the mannequin stiffness that marred his JLA/Avengers efforts, and he keeps the story moving along at a rapid clip, which is exactly what it needs. I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would, which is to say that I expected to not at all, and it's in large part because (to reiterate) the creators respect, rather than seek to appear more clever than, the Maggin/Bates/Wein/Conway/Haney/Aparo/Dillin days of yore and I think that makes all the difference. Sometimes heroes with tragic flaws and events of grave import just become tiresome, if that's all we get. Too much of anything is never a good thing. I hope this lesson isn't lost on the braintrust at National Periodical, because what this opening chapter, slight as it may be, lacks in gravity it makes up in sheer entertainment value. I hadn't planned on becoming a regular buyer, but I definitely think I want to read next issue and go from there. Who knows, maybe I'll even write a letter suggesting team-ups...! B+

S: Wil Pfiefer; A: David and Alvaro Lopez. (DC, $2.99)

The low-key approach of the last few issues gives way to a slightly higher concept, as Selena heads to Metropolis and attempts to steal something from Lex Luthor to get Junior Catwoman Holly's name cleared by DC's resident anti-Oracle, the Calculator. Typically good characterization from Pfiefer, a strength of his since the Finals days, a typically gorgeous cover from Adam Hughes, and improving art from penciller Lopez (inker Lopez's line is always outstanding) equals a comic that more people should be reading, if you ask me, because I honestly can't see how this character could be written any better. A-

S: Ed Brubaker; A: Lee Weeks, Steven Guadiano. (Marvel, 299 cents)

Not necessarily a fill-in issue, since Brubaker's on board, but it feels like one anyway as we get a look at the Matt/Milla relationship that features as much one-hand-against-forehead/one-on-heaving-breast melodrama as I've seen in a Marvel comic since they phased out their romance line in the mid-70's. Necessary from a characterization standpoint (I suppose) if Milla's going to be around for a while, but still kind of a slog. Nice to see a new Romita Sr. cover, too, but the predomination of purple in the coloring was a mistake. Also, the murky, glum interior coloring looks like it was done by someone that is sight-impaired as well. I've seen better from that particular colorist. B-

DMZ 16
S: Brian Wood, A: Riccardo Burchielli. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Y'know, this is a good comic. Smart, topical, and very well illustrated. Just the thing to hand to one of those skeptical people who think that illustrated sequential fiction is all about Spider-Man and Batman. So why can't I think of anything particularly noteworthy to say about it on a monthly basis? I am caught up in the story, have come to buy the premise (which was my biggest hurdle to clear), and while it's never the first book I read when my shipment arrives, it's far from the last. What keeps DMZ, in my opinion the best thing Wood has done since Couscous Express, from being one of "those titles" I look forward to (a sadly ever-shrinking number, for sure) is probably the fact that it is, like other books that I enjoy such as 100 Bullets, Daredevil, Powers, and the late lamented Lucifer, consistently consistent in its consistent quality, and I can't really find anything particularly relevant to complain about or to bestow excessive praise upon, either. That said, a little humor here and there to alleviate all the earnest sincerity might help. B+

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

As satisfying a resolution as one could hope for, no doubt about it. Vaughan has done a great thing here: stripped away a lot of bullshit that other writers have accumulated around this character since the last really good incarnation (I think Englehart, although some could make a case for Roger Stern and Warren Ellis got off to a good start but didn't stay), and gave us a Stephen Strange that we can root for (I loved ass-kicking Strange, going all Count Dante in this issue's big climactic fight) and empathize with, rather than the distant, stuffy token magic guy in the Marvel U. Vaughan did more for the often-misunderstood Wong-Strange relationship than just about anybody has, and also has actually given him a really interesting love interest in the Night Nurse. Will wonders never cease! It will be interesting to see if future Doc Strange stories build from this, or if it will be back to the same old same old when a lesser talent decides he wants to do something with the character. Hopefully, it will be in the cards for Martin to do the character again; his rendition, a throwback to the skinny early-Ditko Doc, was appropriate given the reimagining that was being done, and he has a really nice sense of dramatics and pacing in his layout style, as anyone who bought Batgirl: Year One already knew. A

S: Stuart Moore; A: Ryan Kelly. (AiT/PlanetLar, $12.95)

And the truth in advertising award goes to....AiT/PlanetLar! This is indeed an account of Giant Robot Warriors, and the people who put them together- and as is so often the case from the House that Lar Built, it's a fast-paced high-concept action film on paper. First published back in the dim and distant days of 2003, it's being re-presented now partly because (I'm assuming here, only Uncle Lar knows for sure) of artist Kelly's elevated profile these days via Local and other projects, and because the political climate is a tad more conducive to this sort of thing. Plus, it's a quality work, and deserves another chance to find its audience. Moore, who's a better writer than he gets credit for, keeps everything moving along at a brisk clip with some snappy dialogue and a disinclination to stop and ponder all the ramifications of the events. I wish his political satire had a bit sharper edge, but it's acceptable as is and for some twisted reason I liked the depiction of the Bush-like President (who is, of course, not what he seems) as a deranged Clint Eastwood type who stands tall even when missiles are whizzing by his head. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to our real Pres (well, perhaps the deranged part) but this version stands out by its deviation from the standard portrayal. Kelly's art is a lot looser and more cartoonish here than what I'm accustomed to, but it has a vitality and energy that doesn't always manifest itself in his more accomplished current output. The brand spankin' new wraparound cover points out the difference between Kelly then and Kelly now. Its political satire roots keep GRW from becoming another Transformer-esque fanboy wank, and if you're looking for a solid "popcorn GN" you could do much worse than to check this out. B-

S: Mike Carey; A: John Paul Leon. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Now THIS is more like it. I don't know whether this is an inventory script that was put into play to give Andy Diggle more time to get some issues under his belt, but after the mess of the last dozen issues or so it reads like the Second Coming of Alan effing Moore- and the first time we've seen the "real" John Constantine in what seems like years. I had thought Carey's run sorta ran out of steam before it was over, but Carey at his most uninspired was infinitely better than Denise Mina. Also, another big advantage this issue's script has is the outstanding art of John Paul Leon- Leo Manco, this is how to do loose and dark. Boy, do I wish Leon could be the regular artist. Anyway, fill-in or not, this is the best Conjob story I've read in ages and hopefully the beginning of a good run with Diggle and (sigh) Manco. A-

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

Well, my first inclination (now that I'm reviewing on my own dime) is to say that a lot of this is static and talky, just like bad Aaron Sorkin. However, G & D do manage to work in a number of rapid-fire and amusing quips, and I am still interested in where all this is leading, so I enjoy even as I am annoyed. Abraham, for his part, is beginning to do a curious art-style morph into Jill Thompson, not a bad destination as far as I'm concerned. Kinda telling: I never got #4, and I didn't even notice until I saw where #5 came out. B+

S: Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction; A: David Aja, Travel Foreman, Derek Fridolfs, Russ Heath. (Marvel, $2.99)

Pretty much a status quo plot consolidation and gradual advancement issue, and a low-key and static one at that, as once more Danny Rand deals with the hostile Hydra takeover problem as well as the existence of another Iron Fist wielder, who he seems to be on a collision course with and indeed meets at the end of this very issue, complete with Sterankoesque visuals by Aja, who does a great job on the interiors but gets tripped up with his figure work on covers- ol' IF looks like his waist and hips are at least a foot longer than they should be...and unless he just has a secret yen to draw Plastic Man he needs to work on that a bit. And of course, always a treat to see new art from the great Russ Heath, here represented on one of the flashback sequences. B+

S/A: Paul Grist. (Image, $3.50)

I suppose it just must be one of those unwritten rules- eventually nearly every creator has to do a "Mirror, Mirror"-style story, in which everything that we know is WRONG! All topsy-turvy, you know. And this is apparently Grist's. But not to worry- would that all topsy-turvydom be as witty and brilliantly drawn as Mr. Grist's. Too bad about Mr. Bramble, though. A

S: Brian Wood; A: Ryan Kelly. (Oni Press, $2.99)

If I didn't know better, I'd say that certain creators are trying their best to resuscitate the dormant Romance comics genre- first the latest Daredevil, and now this, which only needs a Nick Cardy or John Romita Sr. cover depicting ever-dislikeable Megan with one hand held up to her weeping eyes and thinking "This man is everything I could want- but I want to be with HIM!". Nicely illustrated as always by Kelly, but I really wish I could get the gist of what Wood is trying to do with this character in particular and this book as a whole. I thought it was one thing once, but it's morphed into the ongoing Chronicles of Crazy Megan, and it's just not as interesting as it was when it started. Aaah, ta hell with it. Somehow I don't think I'm in the target demographic, which is what I suspect Demo stood for all along, and I guess I just don't geddit. C+

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

I like the plot behind this arc, and as always Oeming's art is top notch, but while this issue was certainly as intense as usual, it's accompanied by convolution...and for the first time since this particular arc started, I'm worried that it's going to devolve into a shambles before it's through. Maybe it's time to wind this one up and move on? B+

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

In which Cooke gives us his version of the Spirit's origin, and does a damn fine job of it- at least as good as the revised version Eisner himself did for the Harvey Spirit #1. And of course the art is first-rate, with another of Cooke's signature two-page spreads and a neat New Frontier-esque sketchy rendering of Denny Colt's pre-Spirit days. I was hoping that Cooke would get in gear after a slow start, and that seems to be what he's doing. Hope this sells well enough to see how far he can take it. A

S: Rick Remender; A: Nick Stakal. (Image, $3.50)

The Girl's Dante's Inferno-inspired trip continues, with a lot of soft-softcore titillation and more recieved tropes about affairs in the Infernal Realm making up the majority of it. Despite being well-drawn-if-sketchy-and-sloppy, this really has nothing going for it at all and it's quite a letdown to recall that I once had high hopes for this title. C-

S: Dan Abnett, Ian Edginton; A: Greg Boychuck. (Boom!, $2.99)

I dunno- this is obviously done with a lot of craft and a modicum of thought, but this turgid mix of giant robots, ultra-violence, and religion just doesn't yank my crank. As I said after reading #1, if I was one of the legion of Warhammer video game players, I might be more favorably disposed, but I'm not, so I'm not. It would probably look pretty good in between Ranxerox and, oh, Barbarella in one of those old issues of Heavy Metal, though. C-

BEST IN SHOW: Doctor Strange: The Oath. Again, great ending to a great mini. Hope for more from that team.

DOGS OF THE WEEK(S): Strange Girl, by virtue of being even slighter than Warhammer 40,000, if you can believe that.

DONE! DONE! Ha ha ha HAAAA...DONE! Whee! Oh. Wait. I got new comics last Friday, so I'm still behind. Thanks for your patience, and hopefully I'll get them up sooner rather than later.

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