That semi-regular feature in which I opine upon various works of sequential fiction that 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 14 to 23 June, 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.
BPRD: GARDEN OF SOULS 4
S: John Arcudi, Mike Mignola; A: Guy Davis. (Dark Horse, $2.99)
Guy Davis is a freaking genius, certainly one of the best artists in the field today. OK, now that we have that out of the way, here's some commentary on the rest of the comic: The assorted plot threads of the three previous issues finally cohere as the focus is mostly on Abe and the typically apocalyptic machinations of a group of oddballs on an island, which may or may not be finally giving him the answers he's been seeking all his life; i.e. who he really is and how he came to be. Captain Daimio gets a little screen time as well, as well as another creepy little kid, a staple of this sort of entertainment. Another solid chapter in the ongoing whatever-it-is. A-
S: Brian Wood; A: Kristian Donaldson. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
I've been hot-and-cold on this series so far, but Wood is really firing on all cylinders this time out (if you'll excuse the expression), evoking a lot of sympathy for all sides of this arc's Rashomon-style triangle. Donaldson pinch-hits for Riccardo Burchielli, and does a good job- his art reminds me a little of Becky Cloonan merged with John Watkiss. Now, given my distaste for Watkiss' work, this wouldn't sound like a compliment, but this I liked- he manages to avoid the excesses and dodgy anatomy of the latter, and has a interesting choppy solid ink line like the former tends to have. I think I know where this is going, but I'm enjoying the ride so far. A-
S: Bill Willingham; A: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
Back when I first started reading this title, back around #8 or so, I found myself wondering one idle afternoon how the myths and legends of King Arthur and his knights might fit in to Willingham's scheme of things, and now, years later, we're finding out...and it's as imaginative as we have come to expect from the writer, who also gives those of us who have been following along with the tug-of-war between the Adversary and the residents of Fabletown a really sharply-written confrontation between oily villain Hansel and Prince Not-so (this time) Charming. Buckingham and Leialoha, for their part, continue to do what they do so well. A-
THE FLASH 13
S: Marc Guggenheim; A: Tony Daniel, Jonathan Glapion, Marlo Alquiza. (DC, $2.99)
It occurred to me, when I cracked this, that this was more than likely the first issue of the Flash that I had read and/or possessed since the mid-to-late 70's, when the book was mired in a run of anonymous, bland stories which seemed to last forever. Although I really liked the Flash as a child (I have a picture of me somewhere with a copy of #150, imitating a standard Flash running pose), the endless mediocrity of the post-Broome/Fox/Infantino issues soured me on the character forever; or at least of buying the comics that bore his name. I know, a lot was done with the character after they killed off Barry Allen in the 80's, on into the 90's, and he was used to great effect in the Justice League animated series, but I couldn't care less about his four-color exploits. Now my history with the spinoff title Impulse, on the other hand, is a different story. My son, who grew up liking comics up to a point, as a teen liked one title as as much, if not more, than any other- and that title starred Bart Allen. When I would hit my LCS and get my stack, he asked me to get that one (among others) for him when it came out, and I was happy to do so. Usually, before I got it to him, I'd wind up reading it as well so I'd have something to talk to him about when I gave it to him. While I probably never would have collected it myself, I always found it an enjoyable read, between Waid's fast-paced and breezy scripts and Humberto Ramos' bigfooted anime-influenced style. So now, here we are in 2007...and since DC is on a mission to eradicate everything light and humorous in their stories, as if it's a weakness of some sort that must be purged so that they, along with a certain strain of fanman/boy, can feel like they're telling serious, worthwhile stories, we get Bart, who has now taken on the mantle of the Flash proper and is involved in some sort of a struggle of massive proportion and grave consequence (we're not really given much in the way of details, as if it's not as important as getting to the big death scene, and it's our fault for not buying the previous twelve issues) against the Standard Flash Rogue's Gallery and some imitation Flash who is Bart's second cousin twice removed that can't access the speed force and has to do it via drugs and...blah blah blah. Now, since the newly launched Bart-as-Flash title has met with slow sales and general indifference from the multi-issue-company-crossover-saturated comics buying populace, well, it must be that Bart is still seen as the lighthearted Impulse of yore and just can't be taken seriously...and since DC worships seriously above all else except sales figures, well, I don't think I'm spoiling anything when I tell you that Bart has to die so that a new Flash can arise from the ashes, one which will hopefully be "cooler" than the old one, since it's plain that Bart's character's reputation hurt his sales...and sure enough, we'll be getting yet another relaunched Flash pretty soon. So, putting aside my nostalgia for that little bit of unhip father-and-son bonding which took place over Impulse, and how these events (not just Bart's death-by-kicking-and-ray blast, but the whole Bart-as-serious-Flash thing as well) make me more than a little sad, even though I understand that this is the way of things now in the industry...well, I have to put on my objective hat and say that for what this sets out to do, it does it fairly well. The art is slick and professional to a fault, and the script, while nothing special, at least partially succeeds in capturing that Grand Shakespearian Tragedy vibe that it strives to evoke. It's lean and to the point, if nothing else. So even though I don't care for what it is, exactly, I can at least tell you that it does it in adequate fashion. If this sort of thing is your sort of thing, then by all means help yourself. But don't expect me to join you. C+
THE HIGHWAYMEN 1
S: Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman; A: Lee Garbett. (DC/Wildstorm, $2.99)
Ooh, a sleeper book! I am absolutely unfamiliar with the work of any of these creators; a little Google Fu tells me that Bernardin used to be a staffer for Entertainment Weekly, and Freeman MTV, so I can honestly say at least that this is by far the best thing I've ever read by a former staffers at EW and MTV. Seriously. Don't really know who to credit- whether one plots and the other dialogues, or vice versa, or if one is blackmailing the other into a co-writer credit, well, can't say for sure. Anyway, while there's really nothing here that hasn't been done in a thousand previous espionage thrillers, even those set "a few years after tomorrow", at least it's a tale told with a minimum of fuss and some snappy dialogue, and the cameo by former President Clinton works very well. Artwise, Garbett reminds me a little of Frank Quitely, but with a slightly lesser tendency to draw puffy anatomy. Sometimes he gives us an occasional awkward pose, but for the most part he does the job very well. Sometimes a book comes out with unknowns at the helm and a minimum of hype, and the results are nine times out of ten disappointing. And then, there's that one out of ten, which defies expectations...and I think this might be one of them. B+
JONAH HEX 20
S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Phil Noto. (DC, $2.99)
Just when I had decided that this Western vehicle wa spinning its wheels, along comes this not-bad continuation of a previous issues' storyline, in which Jonah gets stuck in a jam courtesy of a little too much rotgut and Wylie Park, the "businessman" he crossed in #19. Even though I'm a little dubious about how quickly Hex manages to be functional after getting a fistful of broken fingers, it's an engaging read. Noto, who often comes across as too static, layout-wise, and has shown a tendency to underdraw (to no good effect) in the past, is making some strides in the storytelling department. Hex hangs in there with me, too good to let me drop but not good enough to make me anticipate further issues. B+
S: Mike Carey; A: Sonny Liew, Marc Hempel. (DC/Minx, $9.99)
The second Minx offering goes down a lot smoother than the first, thanks to more assured storytelling. Now, I don't know exactly what qualifies 47-year-old Carey to write a story chronicling the exploits of a Hapkido-fighting Korean teenager any more than what qualifies me to comment on a story about same, but I do know that if I can comment half as well as Carey writes it, then I will have done very well indeed. God Save the Queen notwithstanding, there are two things Carey can do, and do very well: pace a plot, and characterization via dialogue- and combined with the lively art of Liew and Hempel, so good separately and even better together (as this and the trio's previous collaboration, My Faith in Frankie, prove) this is engaging and enjoyable, never preachy or descending to Afterschool Special level, even though the plot (which puts one in mind of the likes of Bend it Like Beckham) is often predictable and the ending is a little too pat. It does trouble me a little that the overarching aim of the lines' two books so far seems to have been to pass along "be true to yourself" homilies rather than just entertain, as if the young female audience the line is aimed towards needs more life lessons, the ones they don't get from Hollywood that is, in the guise of entertainment...but I suppose I'm digressing. Insofar as the story itself goes, young Dixie is a likable character and you really root for her to work out her difficulties with family and friends, and the ending doesn't disappoint unless you're looking to be surprised- and the Liew/Hempel art is never less than outstanding. Overall, a little short of O.Henry, I guess...but very good just the same. A-
SOCK MONKEY: THE INCHES INCIDENT 4
S/A: Tony Millionaire. (Dark Horse, $2.99)
I have enjoyed Millionaire's po-faced woozy whimsy in varying degrees over the years- sometimes, when he hits the target, we're given something totally unique and remarkable, or as in the case of many of his Maakies strips, something laugh-out-loud funny. And then sometimes he labors mightily to very little, and often inconsequential and downright baffling effect, and that's been the case with The Inches Incident as far as I'm concerned, anyway. It's not that this wrap-up is disappointing, necessarily, it's just that it doesn't really add up to much of anything at all now that it's done. Well, that's not entirely true; I can safely say that next time I have a battle with ants in my kitchen I'll probably recall this miniseries and its frenzied anteater-vs.-ants death struggle. But is that enough for my twelve dollars? I have to say no. C+
BEST IN SHOW: B.P.R.D.: GARDEN OF SOULS 4. Hon. mention: RE-GIFTERS.
DOG OF THE WEEK(S): Hate to, but gotta go with the pointless SOCK MONKEY: THE INCHES INCIDENT 4.