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 13 to 27 April, 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...
**- reviews written since 4/28.
52 WEEK FIFTY
S: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid; A: Keith Giffen, Justiniano, Walden Wong. (DC, $2.50)
OH-kay. As those of you who have been so entertainment-deprived as to read my reviews on a regular basis know, I have managed, through very little effort on my part and mostly due to my distaste for the series which kicked all this off (Identity Crisis, of course- that ending still galls, after all this time) to avoid all subsequent installments...which means I really don't have a clue about what's really happening here. That said, I suppose this is easy enough to pick up on at the bare minimum level; all the good guys team up to beat the snot out of Black Adam, who apparently has done a lotta bad stuff. There's also some side action going on with some of the tangential characters' plotlines- Steel, Booster Gold, etc. If there was supposed to be something which tells me what this "World War III" event is supposed to be, I must have overlooked it because the battle with Adam ends, at least temporarily, and the Booster thing appears to be leading up to something, but what it is I'm not sure. Sigh. Anyway, for what this is trying to be, I suppose it's good enough...or at least a good example of the prevalent "comics by fanmen for fanboys" aesthetic. Scriptwise, it's kinda hard to tell which of the four writers is writing what; I suspect Morrison did the scenes with his Chinese Justice League because the dialogue reads like his dialogue, kinda deadpan and to-the-point. And I must admit that I found that scene, and that League, to be quite interesting. The resolution to the conflict with Black Adam was cleverly realized, too, even though it reminded me a lot of the resolution of this episode of Futurama. The art, by Justiniano and Wong, is adequate (as it was on Day of Vengeance and Shadowpact), still an odd mix of Rags Morales and early Mike Mignola...but if you notice, Justiniano (have I ever mentioned how annoying this one-name conceit is?) is apparently incapable of drawing a figure that's relaxed. Everybody, even the mostly stationary Phantom Stranger, looks coiled, contorted, and tensed for battle or screaming or gesturing in thin air for no good reason, and it makes me tense just scanning it. I would think that chiropractors and massage therapists in the DCU probably make a good living. All in all, I suppose if this is the type of comics reading experience one craves, then this is as good as example as one could find, especially if one has been inclined to purchase the previous 50 issues in order to know which way this particular wind is blowing. And I have to also wonder if DC and Marvel have now committed themselves into coming up with some sort of Big Event series every year to keep sales up- next year, what Earth-Shattering Event That Will Change the (insert your universe here) FOREVER will they produce? And how long will they be able to sustain this? Two years? Five years? How many times will they be able to remix and reheat the DCU omelet? Will there ever be a year in which we have NO extinction-level event series to prop up the sales-challenged line? B-
ALL STAR SUPERMAN 7
S: Grant Morrison; A: Frank Quitely. (DC, $2.99)
As is often the case with someone that has an actual imagination, like our poor, overextended Grant does, the most notable thing here is the clever tweaking of the whole Bizarro concept, given a great spin. And this doesn't scrimp on the action, either; this whole thing has a frantic, helter-skelter 28 Days Later feel, mostly thanks to the temporal adroitness of Quitely's layout style. Continued excellence from two totally-in-sync creators. A
AMAZONS ATTACK 1
S: Wil Pfiefer; A: Pete Woods. (DC, $2.99)
DC's warrior women show up in Washington, DC, ready to kick ass and chew gum- and they forgot to bring the gum. As with 52 Week Fifty, I can infer what's going on even if I don't really understand the whys and wherefores, since it is, after all, tied in to World War III, whatever that is, the ongoing Wonder Woman book, and of course 52. OK as far as it goes, I suppose- Pfeifer's strengths as a writer, namely his dialogue and characterization, are undiminished and though it's marred by the slaughter early on of a father and his son, designed only to show that the Amazons mean business and serving no appreciable purpose otherwise, it's apocalyptic enough to succeed on its own terms. Woods is also a solid craftsman; I enjoyed his Catwoman work and he's only gotten better since then even though that ol' debbil stiffness in his figure drawings is still evident. So while I can admire from a distance it remains to be seen if I'll queue up for #2 in a few weeks. B
AMERICAN VIRGIN 13
S: Steven T. Seagle; A: Becky Cloonan, Jim Rugg. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
Pretty much more of the same that we've gotten the last few issues; it's no more clearer now than it has been for a dozen issues exactly what Seagle's trying to accomplish- social satire, cheap titillation (pun somewhat intened, after this issue's final page), jabs at the religious right- it tries to be everything and winds up being nothing, saved only by the always outstanding Cloonan art (Becky should work a little harder on her fight scenes, though; that hasn't been something she's had to worry about too much in her career to date) and a central cast of characters that range from enigmatic (Adam, the lead- and this is a significant problem) to the charismatic (sister Cyndi, and Adam's stepdad is actually beginning to interest as well) and all points in between. And so it goes- I keep reading, waiting for the "on" switch to be flicked and reveal everything in a totally new light. And waiting, and waiting... C+
B.P.R.D.: GARDEN OF SOULS 2
S: John Arcudi, Mike Mignola; A: Guy Davis. (Dark Horse, $2.99)
Two issues in, and so far this segment remains a bunch of assorted vignettes of different degrees of weird, steadfastly refusing to cohere into a single plotline, but at least leavened with well-done characterization designed to gratify those of us who've been along for the ride since its inception over 13 years ago. Fortunately, it has Guy Davis on board, whose work is putting him in the conversation when it comes to naming the best illustrators of the last couple of decades, and who is equally as adept with the weirdness as he is the mundane. I don't mind being strung along, I guess, if the string is as good-looking as this. A-
S: Bill Willingham; A: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)
After several issues' worth of tuning up, Willingham seems to be ready to drop the next big story arc on our heads, this one seemingly dealing with the Frog Prince and the adversary's other shoe that I was concerned with over six months ago. The usual good characterization and clever rethinking of the myriad characters he's established, and as usual the Buckingham/Leialoha underwhelms but gets the job done in satisfactory fashion. A-
S: Warren Ellis; A: Ben Templesmith. (Image, $1.99)
A long night with Detective Fell, as he investigates several incidents over the course of the evening but can't get the first out of his mind. I must say it was nice to see the Fell we had grown accustomed to once more, rather than last issue's impostor. This tale is well-told, especially in the narration and dialogue (always Ellis' strength) but the payoff is a weak one and hardly worth the wait. Comes across mostly, to me, as a showcase for Templesmith's design skills, as 3/4 of the story is told via Fell's photographs of the crime scenes- and as usual he succeeds very well in his impressionistic style, which a ton of Photoshoppery can't diminish. A-
IMMORTAL IRON FIST 4
S:Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker; A: Daniel Aja, Travis Foreman, Derek Fridolfs, Sal Buscema, Tom Palmer. (Marvel $2.99)
I do believe that what we have here is quite possibly the best Iron Fist story in the history of the character- the early issues of the 70's took some time getting going, although the Kane/Thomas debut was OK; the Byrne/Claremont issues were good but came across as a trial run for X-Men; the Luke Cage era was mostly hacked-out crap; and the character has made sporadic appearances here and there since then, with only his stint as a member of Heroes for Hire in the mid-90's standing out at all. This time out, we get the return of oldtime nemesis Steel Serpent, and the other plot threads draw tighter. Art is still by Aja on the main storyline, well done, with guest appearances by Foreman and Fridolfs on one flashback, nicely done, and quintessential 60's and 70's
JONAH HEX 18
S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Val Simeiks. (DC, $2.99)
Oddball, almost Hitchcockian story of Jonah getting involved with a young girl who claims she's being abused and begs for his help. Is she telling the truth, or is she lying? Well, at least we get to find out, but I wish there had been fewer stops and starts in the story. Simeiks' art is much better than the last time I remember seeing it- on what I can't recall, probably the 1980's Demon. B-
JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA 5 **
S: Geoff Johns; A: Fernando Pasarin. (DC, $2.99)
I bought the preceding title JSA for a good long while; I was enjoying the new spins that Johns and David Goyer were bringing to the characters both old and new. Eventually though, the endless spandex fighting amidst convoluted plotting became a grind, and Stephen Sadowski's replacement Leonard Kirk (pre-Agents of Atlas) didn't thrill me either...and I bailed. Don't have the slightest idea what's been going on with the characters since, except for the odd Wildcat appearance in Catwoman. So DC sends me this book out of the blue, right smack dab in the middle of whatever's been going on in both this AND 52 AND any other titles it may be crossing over with, goodness only knows what...and all I can do is dutifully read one page at a time and try to give you my impressions of what I read. First impression: Good lord, what a superhero wallow! You've got Batman and the sprocking Legion of Super-Heroes (no clue if it's the current Legion or some sort of amalgam of the various eras) and Superman and a host of (I'm assuming) rank-and-file JSA'ers like Sand, who's now apparently dressing like Wesley Dodds now and...well, that's not the half of it. One half Batman-dark showdown with Doc Destiny, climaxing, if you'll excuse the expression, with an squicky EC-worthy scene that features ol' skull-face licking chained-up Legionnaire Dream Girl on the face with his finger in her mouth, holy geez, before the inevitable rescue- then abruptly shifting to a Super-bright and sunny interlude with Supes, Red Tornado, Stargirl, and others including a likeably cute newcomer, related to original RT Ma Hunkel (I assume), called Cyclone. In better days, I might even buy a comic to read her further exploits, but with DC the way it is five'll get you ten that she'd be ass-raped by issue 12 so I guess I'll pass. Anyway, crudity aside, I've read worse superhero comics, it's very professionally done and slickly, if stiffly, illustrated. Wish I could deliver a more ringing endorsement, but alas, so it goes with your humble reviewer and the modern superhero comic. B-
MADMAN ATOMIC COMICS 1 **
S/A: Mike Allred. (Image, 2.99)
In which Mr. Allred takes 25 pages, plus pinups, to try and re-acquaint readers with his first creation, which has been conspicuous by its absence for several years now. For those of us who have been around since Madman #1 came out way back in 1992, a small eternity ago, this is mostly familiar stuff and notable only for 25 pages of new Allred art. For the uninitiated, I can't imagine if this is a satisfactory introduction- there's an awful lot of backstory to fill those 25 pages in, and it seems to me he hit most of the high notes...but then again, I know the score already. Guess what I'm saying is that this works OK for me, but it may not for you if you haven't been along for the ride so far. I look forward to seeing what direction he goes in next. I also got a chuckle out of the Red Rocket 7-style Bowie-lyric title he provided. B+
MIDNIGHTER 6 **
S: Garth Ennis; A: Glenn Fabry. (DC/Wildstorm, $2.99)
Another stellar art job by Fabry, in service of a dryly uninvolving Japanese-set parable involving a version of the title character and his significant other. I was reminded of Samurai Champloo for no good reason. I'll take any excuse to see new Fabry art in the wake of Neverwhere; but this was a snooze. B-
STORMWATCH PHD 6 **
S: Christos Gage; A: Doug Mahnke. (DC/Wildstorm, $2.99)
Six issues in, and for me at least this much is plain: when this title emphasizes the mundane aspects of this non-powered super-team, it works very well. When it devolves into imitation Claremontisms, it becomes a bore, Mahnke art or no. Guess what we got this time. C
TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED 7 **
S: David Lapham, Brian Azzarello; A: Eric Battle, Prentiss Rollins, Cliff Chiang (DC, $3.99)
I'm sure you all know the main reason to pick this title up by now, so I won't belabor the obvious. One thing is plain, though- while Azzarello's attempt to create a Flex Mentallo-style vibe has been fun, it also seems to have become a bit padded and he just doesn't have the flair for weirdness that Morrison does. Fortunately, Azzarello at least has a talented collaborator in Chiang, who has turned in some of the best work of his career in these past seven issues. Even Grant didn't have that on Flex; Quitely's art back then, while still outstanding, was still in its early stages, still a ways away from We3 and All-Star Superman. About the Spectre lead, the less said the better- while last issue's fill-in artist Tom Mandrake might have made this more palatable, Battle and Rollins aren't even in the same league and this is just an unpleasant, turgid, gory mess. If not for the Spectre, this would be a solid B+ or A- feature, but unfortunately it drags the whole thing down to a C.
BEST OF SHOW, at least the three-week period this column covers, a tie between THE LAST SANE COWBOY (inspired surrealism), and ALL-STAR SUPERMAN 7 (fast, furious, and smart).
DOG OF THE WEEK(S): Once more, through no fault of Azzarello and Chiang, TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #7. Runner-up: TAG: CURSED #1.
Slowly but surely I'm making progress- now I have books I got last Friday to finish reading and reviewing, along with a few more titles I've received lately. Among the books to be reviewed, in case you're interested: the WASTELAND TPB; GOD SAVE THE QUEEN, a Vertigo HC by Mike Carey and John Bolton; LOVE AND ROCKETS 19, and many more. Someday, we'll all look back on this and laugh...!