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 24 June to 4 July, 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.
** - newer reviews.
BLACK DIAMOND 2
S: Larry Young, Ken Lowery; A: Jon Proctor, Benjamin Hall. (AiT/PlanetLar, $2.95)
Mr. Young continues to rev his engines, giving us a tryptich of Tarantinoesque scenes which serve to introduce more players which you know will all wind up interacting before this is done- for good or ill, who can say. Besides Young, that is. One thing for sure, such deliberate stage setting, somewhat odd considering the promise of high-speed, high-octane thrills the basic premise would seem to make, will probably play better in the inevitable trade collection than it does in singles format. Mr. Proctor acquits himself better this time out; he seems to have a better command of his Scanner Darkly art tactics, and while there is still the occasional flub- on the final page spread, for example, that car just doesn't seem to be on the same perspective plane as the objects and people behind it- he gets the JBS Most Improved award for this two weeks' period. His impressionistic coloring helps add to the mood. I was remiss last time out, not mentioning Dennis Culver's backfeature in #1; I thought it was well done, and in a lot of ways more entertaining than the lead. This issue, we get that notorious ragefudger Ken Lowery doing the honors in a tale which introduces an element of old-time religion to the mix, and skepticism of same; it stops just short of being heavy-handed, saved (if you'll excuse the expression) by God's gift to humanity, humor. He also benefits from a nicely expressive art job by Benjamin and Marlena Hall. Wouldn't mind seeing more of their work sometime. B+
THE BOYS 8
S: Garth Ennis; A: Darick Robertson. (Dynamite Entertainment, $2.99)
The trials of the poor Tek Knight continue, and Garth takes the opportunity to show us that see, he can write non-exploitative gay characters too! Doesn't really advance the story much, but this is another solid chapter. B+
BRAVE AND THE BOLD 3, 4
S: Mark Waid; A: George Perez, Bob Wiacek. (DC, 2.99)
I'll say this much; these comics aren't dull! Pretty much non-stop explosive action as Batman and Blue Beetle deal with the Fatal Five, led by the Time Lord, all to get their hands on the Macguffin of this series so far, the probability-altering Haruspex. We even get a nod to the crazy old Silver Age as Batman gets merged with Tharok, causing further problems. I'm not familiar with this new Blue Beetle, having so far managed to avoid his new series, but judging by the way Waid writes him he's pretty likable. Not "I'll go hunt down his back issues" likeable, but likeable just the same. In #4, it's Supergirl and Lobo back in outer space, as SG strives to find Green Lantern (from back in #2), enlisting the aid of the Main Man to do so. This is a weird little beast Waid has created here; ordinarily, something so heavy in continuity and so gnarly in plot, combined with Perez's claustrophobic, hyperactive art, all jammed full of Kirby dots and mouths agape and crap flying around in all directions, would be exasperating...but these old pros are beating the odds and doing a great job of keeping all the plates spinning, and this is breezy fun. It's not as leaden and fraught with significance as the run-of-the-mill DC continuity porn, but it manages to still push a lot of fanboy-pleasing buttons, including many that your humble reviewer thought had become disconnected years ago. B+
S: Will Pfiefer; A: David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez. (DC, $2.99)
Here's another DC book that remains engaging despite all the oh-so-DC deadly serious goings-on; somehow Pfiefer and the Lopezes have a synergy that keeps things moving along smartly and keeps the melodrama to a minimum. Everybody waxes nostalgic for the too-brief Brubaker/Cooke/Allred days, but for my money that team doesn't have anything on the current creators, and Catwoman is as enjoyable (relatively speaking; it's been kinda grim lately) as it's ever been right now. Wonder how long it will last. A-
S: Ed Brubaker; A: Sean Phillips. (Marvel/Icon, $2.99)
Continuity, when done right, is a wonderful thing. Case in point- this issue's cameo by none other than # 1-5's Leo, right now in prison and doing a favor for our new protagonist Tracy. Of course, continuity in a book which is set up as a series of 5-6 issue arcs and (when all is said and done) isn't expected to go on for years and years is a lot easier to pull off than the same in a comic that's been around for over four decades. Brubaker's doing a lot of finely nuanced character work, and Phillips is the perfect artist to amplify and illustrate same. The text pieces in the back, which usually deal with works of Noir and crime thriller fiction in film, books, and so on, are always good, too. But when are they gonna mention Taking of Pelham One Two Three? A
THE DAMNED VOL.1 TPB
S: Cullen Bunn; A: Brian Hurtt. (Oni Press, $14.95)
When I reviewed an advance copy of #1 back last September, I was pleasantly surprised and thought showed a lot of promise. I'm pleased to report that so far, it's lived up to that promise in fine fashion. By maintaining the straight face and resisting the urge to joke it up, Bunn has consistently been able to work his demons-as-mobsters a la 1930's Warner Bros. Pictures conceit, and work it well; in the wrong hands it could have been ridiculous. He's fortunate to have an artist like Hurtt; his Wood-esque art really adds to the verisimilitude and makes the far-fetched all the more plausible. I was a little non-plussed by the reveal at the end, but I'm sure that will be something dealt with in future issues. Looking forward to seeing where this goes from here. A
S: Ed Brubaker; A: Michael Lark, Steven Gaudiano. (Marvel, $2.99)
Brubaker does a good job here of zigging when many thought he'd zag, not giving us the outcome of the situation he left us in last time...not surprising really- between this and Iron Fist and Criminal, is there any doubt who's one of the top 5 writers working at the Big Two right now? And for my money, Lark and Gaudiano are top 5 among art teams. So, in a nutshell, another outstanding issue of Daredevil. A-
S/A: Richard Sala. (Fantagraphics/Ignatz, $7.95)
The second issue of Sala's typically twisted take on Snow White is every bit as good as the first, especially in the art department, where his judicious use of sepia tone brings a warmth and a vitality to his already-excellent illustration work that's never been there before, not even in full color. Story-wise, we get more pieces of the puzzle; he always likes to parcel out information in dribs and drabs- not enough to make a coherent whole, but enough to give us a nice feeling of apprehension as our Prince anagram finds out more and more how much trouble he's in. So far, a great red, but I expect no less from Sala. A
GREEN LANTERN: SINESTRO CORPS SPECIAL 1
S: Geoff Johns; A: Ethan Van Sciver, Dave Gibbons. (DC, $4.99)
As with the Flash a couple of weeks ago, I dont really have a whole lot of familiarity with the last, oh, three decades' worth of GL tales; the last time I bought a GL book on anything even remotely approaching a regular basis was the O'Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow run back in the very early 70's. Of course, I have keep somewhat abreast of all the developments over the years via the various Justice League incarnations that the Lanterns have appeared in, as well as the occasional article or cursory glance at the old DC Message Boards, a real hotbed of GL fanaticism back in the day. And really, when all is said and done, that's who this is for- the folks who LOVE anything and everything to do with the GLC, be it John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Katma Tui, or of course Kyle vs. Hal. Me? Well, I couldn't care less. As with so many of those 60's DC revival superheroes, what was fun and clever in 1963 just isn't so much, to me, in 2007. Not that it even remotely resembles anything that Broome or Kane could have ever imagined...all the years of the accumulated contrivances and so-called brainstorms of what seems like at least five dozen writers in all that time just wears me out. Like a bubblegum bubble that keeps getting bigger and bigger, one has to wonder at what point all the accumulated continuities will burst. And that goes for Marvel, too. Anyway, back to the matter at hand, namely this Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Special thing. I wasn't terribly impressed at first; it was a slog the first time through. Too much melodrama and Van Sciver's art was just too murky, sloppily rendered and imitative of Adams imitators to impress me. But after rereading it, I will say this- if one is hoping for a big damn Starlinesque space opera, well, this works on that level. The stakes are appropriately high, the plot appears as if Johns has mapped it out well, and we get enough character stuff to care about most of the particulars. I still don't care for Van Sciver's art, but I can understand why those inclined to care would be excited about the whole thing...because it's written for them. To the rest of us, I can only recall Dr. Frank N. Furter's line to Janet in Rocky Horror: "Well...I didn't make him for YOU!" So here you go, seekers of Big Damn Space Opera Starring the GL Corps- this one is all yours. Enjoy. C+
S: Andy Diggle; A: Leo Manco. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
Diggle continues to get the character back to a starting point of sorts after over a year's worth of dicking around, and what better place to begin than one in which he spent some time getting his sanity back after the defining events of Newcastle, so long ago. Denise Mina, among others, neglected (or just didn't understand) that internal monologue part of JC for so long, and that was a mistake- it's what makes the character most compelling, that tug of war between John's survival instinct, and that tiny voice of compassion that still lives within him. And Diggle is shrewd enough to know this. Artwise, as always, Manco is competent but unexciting. Oh well, whaddaya want, perfection? A-
HELLBOY: DARKNESS CALLS 3
S: Mike Mignola; A: Duncan Fregredo. (Dark Horse, $2.99)
We all know that this will probably work better when collected; as good as it is, and make no mistake, it's good- there's not really a whole lot to say about each single chapter in the middle of the run. So. While I still don't really understand the chain of events that led HB to make the choice to go to the place which he currently inhabits- lots of ominous-sounding, vague witchy pronouncements on their part, not exactly lending itself to storytelling clarity, and conflict avoidance not really being Hellboy's thing, y'see- at least we get some good stuff with the Baba Yaga and the menace of the "deathless warrior" he has to battle, presumably in the next couple of issues. This isn't what they call a "good jumping on point". And, as always, Fregredo is excellent as he synthesizes his own strong art style with that of Mignola's, and loses not a thing. A-
IMMORTAL IRON FIST 6
S: Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction; A: David Aja, Russ Heath. (Marvel, $2.99)
You want "Heroes for Hire"? Look no further. It's over here, and nary a tentacle in sight. This one's pretty much one long fight scene, but Fraction and Brubaker squeeze everything out of it and it's a blast, especially in the Misty Knight/Luke Cage/Collen Wing interchanges. Flashback art this time out is courtesy of the great Russ Heath, and his presence in the byline is usually always a good reason to bump up the ol' letter grade a notch. Thing is, this time it's not needed. A
MAINTENANCE VOL.1 TPB**
S: Jim Massey; A: Robbi Rodriguez. (Oni Press, $9.95)
Here's a collection of the first three issues of what has been a fun series so far. The concept, janitors at an evil science think-tank, is clever- kinda like Venture Brothers but nowhere near as arch and flip; and Rodriguez' art is nicely expressive a la so many artists that work for animation studios a la Disney, Nick, and others. I recommend this highly if you're looking for a tonic for all the leaden seriousness these days. A-
THE SPIRIT 7**
S: Walt Simonson, Jimmy Palmiotti, Kyle Baker; A: Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Jordi Bernet, Baker. (DC, $2.99)
Cooke gets an issue off, except for the cover, and tellingly the cover is the best thing about it. Lotta major talent on two minor imitation Eisner stories and one tepid, tongue-way-in-cheek Frank Miller satire (a bit reminiscent of Kurtzman's "Eisnershpritz" gag) by Baker that looks like it was inked with a mop. Sprouse/Story and Bernet, as usual, acquit themselves well, drawing an OK Simonson script, and truth be told Palmiotti's story is kinda charming if contrived. Sometimes, fill-in issues can jump up and surprise you by being damned good when you're not expecting it. This one doesn't. B-
THE WEIRD WORLD OF JACK STAFF 1
S/A: Paul Grist. (Image, $5.99)
Less Jack Staff, actually, and more "Q", the mysterious group who investigate "question mark crimes", kinda like X-Files or the B.P.R.D., except with that singularly British vibe that Grist always brings to the table. The characters, either together or separately, pop up in the Staff proper book quite often, but this is the first time that I can recall that they've had a solo spotlight. This is a collection of a monthly 3-page serial that originally appeared in Comics International a while back, and features a typically involved Grist plot reminiscent of The Blob, Day of the Triffids, and in a lot of ways, The Avengers...and it's lively,and brisk, never feeling padded or slack- most likely due to the brevity of the original installments, not to mention Grist's typically quirky and clever art. Grist is such a unique storyteller, and often goes overlooked when the conversation turns to the best of the best these days. Don't make that mistake, check this out for yourself. Weird World of... doesn't reach the same heights as Staff or Kane at their best can, but it often comes damn close, and that's better than the majority of comics that get twice as much attention. A-
Finished at last! For now, anyway...
BEST IN SHOW: CRIMINAL, I suppose, for all-around excellence. Delphine, Iron Fist, and the Damned were all great too.
DOG OF THE WEEK(S): GREEN LANTERN: SINESTRO CORPS SPECIAL 1, but that's highly subjective. It's just not the kind of comics I'm looking to read these days, and you might think differently.
Next up, in (hopefully) a week or so, Action Comics 851,Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen #1; two advances from Oni: Black Metal V1 and The Last Call V1, perhaps the Essential Ant-Man, and my regular shipment tomorrow. And so it goes.