Saturday, October 13, 2007


That more-or-less ongoing 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 23 September to 8 October, 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.

I'm really sorry these are so late. These things happen, although it happens less frequently to some than to others... **= newer reviews.

AMERICAN VIRGIN #19: Enough foreplay- let's have a money shot or forget it. I also thought that Adam's tat was to prevent his being haunted by the ghost or spirit or vision or whatever of his dead ex-girlfriend. I've been known to be wrong before, though. B+

NICK MAGAZINE PRESENTS AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER #2: As (apparently) the world's oldest Avatard, I had to pick this up- and good thing, too: among the fake advice columns, sudoku and word find puzzles there are several four-to-six page stories, illustrated by such fine young artists as Reagan Lodge and Johane "I'd sure like to see some more Horus" Matte, and the kicker is that these stories actually depict events that have a bearing on the Nickelodeon TV series! Most unusual. Anyway, depending on your level of Avatar fandom (and believe me, this thing coming out just before season three generated insane levels of interest on all the fansites), it's all very entertaining, printed on high quality paper, and best of all, it's wrapped in a cover by the most excellent Lauren Montgomery. Not for everybody, but then again, what is? And you should be watching Avatar anyway- it's better, more sophisticated, than you might think. A-

BATMAN #669: Morrison and Williams take the ball all the way to the opponents' 2 yard line, only to fumble it into the end zone for a touchback. Forgive the strained football metaphor, but that's the way this seemed to me- brilliant setup, botched ending that demands blame be divided between the principals equally: Williams, being just a little too overenthusiastic in his designerly layout at the expense of storytelling clarity, and Morrison, presumably not making it clear enough through dialogue exactly what was happening to whom, how people could survive being in the room with highly charged explosives, and so on and so forth. Ah well. Given a pass because, after all is said and done, this is still the best Batman story I've read in this decade, an indictment of the handful I have read (nearly all comics writers seem to be satisfactory-endingly challenged anyway) and best of all it had the SQUIRE in it! That's an extra grade point all by itself! A-

BLACK DIAMOND #4: Having missed #3, I was at a bit of a loss as to what was going on, but after a couple of reads (and Larry Young's helpful inclusion of this issue's script) realized that #2's diner waitress and our nominal hero had hooked up and were on the run from somebody. This issue, we get a lot of action, but Proctor's art is still so lifeless and static that it really works against what Larry's trying to do. Nothing against Proctor, who in all fairness has his still-life moments, but his approach is counter-intuitive to what the script would seem to demand. Dude, would a speed line or two here or there kill ya, is all I'm asking. On the other hand, the more Larry focuses on the fringe civilization that has sprung up on the superhighway itself, the more I'm warming to the concept, although I still have a hard time accepting that the people on Earth below would ever agree to risk having a '71 Camaro drop on their heads from out of the blue without warning. Oh well, Roger Corman never sweated that stuff either, and he did pretty well. I'm afraid I'm judging this by what I wish it wasrather than what it is, which is still entertaining and worth checking out. But it's becoming a lot like watching a series of stills of A Waking Life, and that's not exactly what I think anyone had in mind when they started. Faring a bit better, thanks to the Pope-lite art by Josh Boulet and a nicely naturalistic script by Rob Lavender, is the back feature, which spotlights a kid who dares to ride a bicycle on the Diamond. I'm liking these back features for the most part, they're providing a good spotlight for up-and-coming talent. B+

BLACK GHOST APPLE FACTORY: Ah me. Alienation, depression, unrequited feelings of love. What would Indie cartooning be without them? Don't know, but I get the feeling that Jeremy Tinder would be at a bit of a loss for anything to say. Despite some clever, surreal gags and his likeable Craig Thompson-meets-Johnny Ryan artwork, after a while he begins to come across as just another needy, whiny, probably-not-as-much-of-a-loser-as-he'd-have-you-think cartoonist and believe you me there are MORE than enough of those to go around. There's a fair share of things to like in this shortish collection, and I don't mean to sound like I'm dumping on Tinder here, but after a while you begin to wonder what a comic like this would be like as done by someone who actually will cop to having sex and/or a relationship more often as not would be like, and agree with the little voice in your head that says "Physician, heal thyself!" C+

CATWOMAN #71: More of what had become obvious six issues ago, that CW needs to do a better job of assuming a new life and fake ID. This time she gets help from Batman, no big surprise there, and several clever scenes ensue before an ending which promises to address another dangling plot thread. Another solid read, wonderfully, if a little stiffly, illustrated, and if you're not reading other DC books but not this on a regular basis, well, shame on you. A-

CRIMINAL #9: Looks like the excrement is about to hit the oscillating ventilation device, as Tracy lays his cards on the table, perhaps a little prematurely. Another outstanding issue that is, as always, hard to review objectively- not to mention difficult to find new ways to praise its consistent excellence. A

GREEN ARROW YEAR ONE #5: It's kinda by-the-numbers James Bond stuff, if Bond shot arrows instead of Berettas, and if it's not exactly fresh, the emphasis on Ollie Queen the man instead of the standard Green Arrow Personality Type is very well done. Plus, anytime you get Jock doing action, you, my friend, have something that is made of win. Boy, do I miss The Losers. A-

HELLBLAZER #236: It remains a sheer pleasure to read Diggle's take on Constantine- and for the first time in what seems like an eternity, he's actually given him a thoroughly evil and eminintly capable pair of adversaries. Manco continues to tell the story competently, if not exceptionally. A-

HIGHWAYMEN #4: After all the rumpus about its failure to sell well enough, in these weird and troubled times in the Comics World, to be continued beyond its initial run- not to mention Steven Grant's typically hightoned and ever-so-slightly condescending takedown of some of its internal story inconsistencies- it feels kinda beside the point to note that this was another involving issue, with what I thought was some good character interaction and solid action set pieces...and if this issue's cliffhanger was borrowed straight outta 1994's Charlie Sheen vehicle Terminal Velocity, well, who remembers that movie anyway? 13 years is an eternity these days. B+

**THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #9, IMMORTAL IRON FIST ANNUAL #1: Iron Fist keeps rolling on; #9 gives us the result of Danny Rand's opening round Mortal Kombat-style tournament battle against Fat Cobra- and I don't mind telling you that even though he loses, it puts him on the road to discovery. So far, Brubaction (or would you prefer Frabaker?) are striking a nice balance- you can tell Fraction's influence from the sheer what-the-hellishness of all the various influences and ideas he brings, but unlike Casanova, Brubaker can tell a grounded, linear story, and we, the readers, are the beneficiary. David Aja is solid as always on art, fully able to provide the Malleev/Lark/Gaudiano style that the decision makers behind this title seem to want. The guest artists, Scott Koblish and Ray Allen Martinez, seem to aspire to a Geoff Darrow-ish style, and while they fall far short they're not terrible. The light, open nature of their work and the way its colored really contrasts with the dark gloom of Aja on the main story, and that's intentional, I suppose. But what purpose it serves isn't easily ascertained. Anyway, the discovery road Danny sets off on leads to the annual, in which he is filled in on Randall's history by an old sidekick. It's a huge, sprawling pulp magazine adventure tribute, lavishly illustrated by Dan Brereton, Howard Chaykin (in the modern-day framing scenes), and Marco Djurdjevic's significant other, Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic, and is good fun from beginning to end, especially in Brereton's sequences, which are brilliantly painted in reds, golds, oranges and greens. It's been a little while since I'd seen new art from him and it was good to do so. Now, if he'd only get around to doing more Nocturnals, in an affordable format that is. #9: A-, Annual #1: A-.

**THE INCREDIBLE CHANGE-BOTS: The latest from Jeffrey Brown is a straightfaced Transformers homage/tribute/something that reads like it was written and drawn by a really smart 12-year-old. Being a little...advanced... in years for being part of the generation that grew up loving GI Joe, GoBots, Transformers, Thundercats and all that ilk, this really just kinda sits there on the page for me. So really, all I can do is appreciate the lack of smirk- as with Kochalka on Superf*ckers, I never get the feeling that Brown is doing anything but having fun, and not at the expense of the genre or whatever you want to call it; and bemoan the length of the darn thing. Page numbers are not provided, and I have no desire to count them, but it's just too damn long, even for an Awesomebots story. B

IRON MAN: ENTER THE MANDARIN #'s 1,2: Joe Casey remakes/remodels an old Lee/Heck Tales of Suspense yarn, taking 6 issues to tell a story that his predecessors told in one. But don't take this as one of those "Comics Have Abandoned Their Charming Past, and the Present is Therefore Fucked" diatribes...the decompression isn't wasted space, it's filled with equal measures of not-so-essential technojargon which adds flair if little else, and more importantly nice character bits with the good old Classic Iron man cast of Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan, the Russian dude who ended up as the Crimson Dynamo, and but uf cuss the Mandarin himself, more megalomaniacal, arrogant and conceited than ever. The main reason why I decided to pick this up, though, was the extremely dynamic art of Eric Canete, who manages to combine the goofyfooted loosey-gooseyness of the great Guy Davis with Walt Simonson's layout and storytelling chops, and provides real eye candy. I haven't read a lot of Iron Man comics over the last 20 years or so, to say the least, but so far this one appears to be a winner. A-

JLA/HITMAN #1: Those singing the praises of not only this, but the second part (out on stands, but I won't get it until this weekend) are certainly justified- it's as good as anything Ennis has written (well, anything I've read by him, anyway, which hasn't been much since 2001 or so) in at least ten years- it's amusing somehow how good he can be when he's writing the character he seems to wish-fulfill, I mean like, the most...and on top of that, he even gets to do what he likes more than anything, make fun of super-hero tropes. For his part, good ol' John McCrea draws it like it was 1996 all over again, which is to say with a witty line and solid layout sense. But before we get carried away in our effusive praise of how great it is to see Tommy Monaghan back among the upright once more, I just want to think back to the original series, which I bought faithfully right off the racks until the bitter end, and how by the 3/4 turn it became more Star Spangled Desert Storm Stories starring Tommy's Heroes and less the original concept of Tommy pranking on the JLA and carrying out contracts on the bottom of the DCU barrel, and how tedious it got before the admittedly bravura finale, not to mention the magnificent one-shot Lobo team-up. What I hope to accomplish by pointing this out I can't say for sure, except to note that while I do indeed hope that the solid reception this two-parter has received spurs the long-overdue release of the rest of the original series in TPB format, I suppose the kids out there should know that it wasn't all puking on Batman. That's all, I guess. A

MADMAN ATOMIC COMICS #4: Having effectively given up on this title after last issue's showoff move, I am gratified to note that Allred is, at least, attempting to tell a linear story once more. But that gratitude is tempered by his insistence towards playing that "this time it's for reals- or is it?" game which I lost patience for after #2. Enough, as they say, is enough. C+

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #1: I'll confess right now: although I was certainly a comics buyer back in 1975, and one with not only an affinity for the weirder corners of Marvel and DC but something of an admirer of Steve Gerber's writing to boot, I did not buy the original iteration of this licensed property. I wasn't excited by the stolid art of Jim Mooney (tolerated it a year or so prior on Son of Satan), and something about the Captain Marvel-on-'shrooms concept itself didn't push the right buttons in my head either. So I'm completely in the dark about how this somewhat controversial revival matches up with its predecessor; I only have vague memories of a handful of mildly interested glances at a few issues over a few months while standing at the spinner rack. So I'm coming in completely cold here, just want you to know. Jonathan Lethem acquits himself pretty well for the most part, paying lip service to Steve Gerber's original but adding a bit of that Aughts smirk by throwing in some sort of superhero character called the Mink, who promises to be some sort of irritant/adversary/whatever to Omega or his teenage alter-ego. Otherwise, his deadpan dialogue, delivered by (in most cases, aptly enough) robots, works to add a layer of surreality to the proceedings. However, as is so often the case, it's the art by Indie stalwart Farel Dalrymple that captures my eye; it too has a straightfaced, grubby quality that grounds the oddball proceedings very well. Almost too well- in spite of how good I think it is, there's not a whole lot of visual pop to it and that works against it in a lot of ways. Still, at the end of the day there's enough to keep me interested, especially if he goes beyond merely remixing what Gerber and Mooney did 30 years ago. We'll see, I guess. Maybe if I get some mushrooms. B+

**RESURRECTION #1: Another spin on Wells' War of the Worlds, this time dealing with the aftermath of the Martian invasion. Can't blame Oni for trying to get in on that Walking Dead buzz train, because that's what this reminded me of right off the bat: post-apocalyptic human-interest dramatics, drawn in a semi-realistic B&W style. Much better than Boom! Studios' attempt to extrapolate Wells, Second Wave or whatever the hell they ended up calling it, this could have legs, especially to the same crowd that has made Dead such a small-scale success- hell, it's even got a kind of zombie in it, called a "burn", humans who the aliens experimented on and now shamble around trying to kiss pretty girls and waiting for a bullet to the brain. No bets are left unhedged! I suppose whatever cachet that writer Marc Guggenheim has as a former TV writer might also make this more attractive to some as well. Anyhoo, if you're a fan of the above mentioned elements, you should look for this when it comes out in November. Everybody else...proceed with caution. C+

**THE SPIRIT #10: Now hold on- #9's grisly goings-on weren't part one of a two-parter? Apparently not, because here comes #10, and no mention of El Muerte, or Denny Colt's bloody "CURSED"-scrawled chest, or any of that. Way to give a guy a mental hernia, Darwyn! Anyway, what we do get is a not-bad, not-great satire of media punditry, with some chuckles here and there, but not nearly enough to be really memorable. Of course, it goes without saying that the art, with Jason Bone on inks doing yeoman work, is excellent as always. But it's become clear, ten issues in, that Cooke just isn't equal to the task of giving us extraordinary Spirit stories. That's no crime, and it may not be possible anyway- but I'm thankful for the effort. B+

**UNCLE SAM AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS V2 #1: Dan Acuna is gone, off drawing the Flash, and he's replaced by another who-dat name of Renato Arlem, whose work reminds me of some sort of unholy mix of Ed Benes, Gene Ha and Alex Maleev. It's functional, but its static poses and choppy black ink lines are hard on my eyes. I would rather have had Renato Guedes, if I had to have a Renato here. Otherwise, more of the "is we is, or is we ain't gonna be a secret government op agency" thing gets talk talk talked about, and when they're not talking, the focus is on the new Red Bee character who has gotten into deep pollen on some sort of space bug hive, and has undergone an unspecified change of some sort. Graymiotti state that the team has been fighting there for three days, which begs the question of how (mostly) human beings can do that without eating or sleeping or going to the bathroom...but hey, I've never been in a superhero fight with giant alien space bugs so how would I know? I kinda like these characters, really like their Uncle Sam, but this sort of hackneyed spandex crap tests my patience. B-

Also, to FINALLY finish this overdue and overlong look at books most of you have already read and have forgotten about, I was recently sent a box by the wonderful folks at Top Shelf Comix. The offerings I hadn't already read and reviewed, I have included in this column. However, they also sent the final published versions of a few that I had already written about- and I felt like the least I could do was link to the past columns with those reviews. So here they are:




Still to come, looks at Matt Kindt's latest, SUPER SPY (haven't finished it yet!) and Top Shelf's nicely done SEASONAL SAMPLER 2007.

Now playing: Phil Manzanera - Diamond Head
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