Yes, cats and kittens, it's time once more for another Spinner Rack Junkie- that more-or-less ongoing feature in which I write "Burst Culture" reviews of various works of sequential fiction that I have perused in the interval since the last time I inflicted said "too short to be real" reviews upon one and all, or to be specific, the period from approximately 7 to 25 January, 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.
Before I get started, let me revisit one comic that I kinda/sorta reviewed last time around- CASANOVA 11, a typically gnarly Bond-movie casino job riff that is especially noteworthy for the depiction of the death of casino owner Suki Boutique at the hands of Casanova Quinn's half sister Zephyr, which as illustrated by Fabio Moon is a wonderfully understated and quite touching scene. Moon skillfully manages to wring pathos out of a tableau that necessitates sympathy for a character we only met a handful of pages ago, and know only a bare minimum about. Matt Fraction also under-writes it admirably. I had skimmed over #11 in my haste to get that last SRJ up before the end of 2007, and didn't really devote as much attention to that story as I should have. The "liner notes" at the end were especially helpful. Good job all around, fellas- even though the whole of the Casanova quilt remains a helter-skelter tapestry, some of the individual parts are outstanding. Now, on with the Show.
100 BULLETS #87: 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 13 issues. I do think Azz has been reading some Cormac McCarthy, though. B+
AMERICAN VIRGIN #22: In a funny way, I think foreknowledge of impending cancellation has been good for this book- it's forced writer Seagle to stop going off on tangents and focus on the most interesting thing- the dysfunctional Chamberlain family and their various relationship issues. As we head into the home stretch, you can see Seagle furiously tying up plot threads, and to his credit it doesn't seem especially rushed. Of course, Cloonan and Rugg are outstanding as always. I will not be a happy camper, though, if the big revelation Mel is getting ready to drop negatively impacts Adam and Vannessa- she's been the best thing about the comic for over a year now. B+
B.P.R.D.: 1946 #1: As the Hellboy franchise begins to spead itself thinner and thinner, and Mike Mignola distances himself further and further from his most famous creation, it's good to see (in this case anyway) that the quality control standards of the custodians still has the sharps to recruit Paul Azaceta, whose art was the best thing about the very good BOOM! limited series Talent. An illustrator in that John Paul Leon/Tommy Lee Edwards style, he gives this flashback adventure, which stars Hellboy's deceased father figure Professor Bruttenholm, real visual panache and a nice grubby versimillitude thanks to his blocky, thick ink line. Writer this time out is Joshua Dysart with whom I'm completely unfamiliar, but he does a nice job with pacing and dialogue. I especially liked the oddball reveal of the USSR's "Head of Arcane Studies and Esoteric Teachings", who is depicted as a vodka-swilling young female child, dressed in curls and a frilly dress a la Princess Anastasia. Of course, this is only issue one, but if this series can maintain this unpredictable tone, then this will be a good one. A-
CATWOMAN #75: Y'know, you have to give it up for Will Pfiefer. Editorial can hand him the biggest piles of crap imaginable and thanks to his solid dialogue style and sharp plotting sense, he can make it readable almost every time. Case in point, someone's decision to shoehorn Catwoman into the Sci-Fi Spandex Lord of the Flies wannabe opus Salvation Run, which may be a masterpiece of sequential fiction for all I know but I ain't gonna read it on general principles so there- but damned if this doesn't go down smoothly thanks to Will's deft characterization hand not only in regards to Selina but Luthor as well, making the interaction work very efficiently. If you've got to stick this character on an alien planet ferchrissakes, at least let it read like this. Los companeros Lopez are doing their usual solid job on art; while sometimes I wish their figures were a bit more graceful there's nothing wrong with their layouts and pacing. A-
FELL #9: In which this prodigal funnybook returns with the good detective (who, I noticed for the first time, reminds me a little of Tintin grown up and gone seedy) acting as a hostage negotiator in a standoff situation. Of course, there's a twist, and Ellis gets a chance to try to jam in a point about the US healthcare system which gives off a slight scent of straw man. Ben Templesmith gets in some really clever stuff here, especially when he shows us Fell's thought processes as he ascertains the location of the perp. Nice to have the detective back; hope it won't be so long in between issues next time. B+
HAWAIIAN DICK: SCREAMING BLACK THUNDER #2: As much as I love Scott Chantler's Northwest Passage, and as good as he has been so far here as well, there is a certain exaggeration and (for lack of a better term) cartoonishness to his figure drawings that clashes a little with the events he's depicting and that's a shame because this is, in spite of everything, a really good little story unfolding- reminds me just a little of the Archie Goodwin/Alex Toth Batman story "Death Flies the Haunted Skies". I think following this with the back-feature by original artist Steve Griffin may add to this perception; I can't help but compare, and Griffen's more earthy style just fits the concept and the characters better. Still, I'm enjoying this, as well as the Kahani-centric backup (also written by Griffin), and wouldn't have 'em change a gosh darn thing. B+
IMMORTAL IRON FIST #12: Another outstanding issue in one of the more exciting and lively storylines in recent superhero comics memory. Nice to see more Kano art, and prodigal illustrator Javier Pulido, whose work I've enjoyed in the past, gets a few pages as well. For more of what makes this series so exceptional, may I direct you to a couple of posts by the fine fellows at Thought Balloonists? A
LOBSTER JOHNSON: THE IRON PROMETHEUS #5: A cluttered, chaotic, finale for a cluttered, chaotic, series. Lobster Johnson served as a decent change-of-pace mystery when Mignola jammed him into Hellboy stories, but when featured in his own title sans the big red guy, he can't be anything more than a poor man's Shadow, no matter how much weird crap the writers shovel in. There are better places to get pulp-style action, just sayin'. C
NORTHLANDERS #2: In which our Sven, the lead character, spends several pages reinforcing what a bastard he apparently is, and since lineage looks like it's going to be important in this series, I mean in a figurative more than a literal sense. He also gets to "meet cute" with some sort of feral archer woman who shoots at him early on, and I think we all know where this is going. So far, this isn't bad, but it's lacking a certain something somewhere- to me it has a generic look and feel about it, despite the unusual subject matter, and that's disappointing. Still, I'm interested enough in where it's going to keep buying for now. B+
OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #4: This comic is getting seriously weird, you know, but everything is working- writers John Lethem and Karl Rusnak, with their detached, deadpan style that is matched equally by the po-faced illustration work of Faryl Dalrymple, is doing a great job of evoking tension and anticipation simply by establishing early on that pretty much anything can happen. And believe you me, it's a hell of a thing to read a comic that isn't predictable, one in which anything could happen. Plus, there are mysteries within mysteries- just why the hell did Omega capture and cook that eagle anyway- that hopefully will be if not revealed, at least expounded on before it's all said and done. If this sounds like too much work for you, o Countdown/World War Hulk fan, well, it probably is and you might not like. But if you don't mind thinking a little as you read, then you should check this out, if not in singles format, when and if it's collected. A
WILL EISNER'S THE SPIRIT #12: When Darywn Cooke announced that he was going to attempt to do the Spirit, I was excited- I thought his retro art style would be perfect (and I wasn't wrong) for the character. The biggest problem has always been his scripts- while he is an good writer, when compared to the Eisner collective, unfair I know but the comparison must be made, he always came up short. Sometimes he got close, though, and those issues were fine reading indeed. But the modern sensibilities he tried to inject usually always clashed and grated, sometimes the satire was forced and not especially funny, and the horror-movie themed story turned out to be a disaster. I know that it's possible for today's creators to do the character well; Kitchen Sink's forgotten 90's series The New Adventures of the Spirit proved that, hitting as often as it missed. Of course, to be fair, this was also a group of different writers and artists on a per-issue basis, and Cooke was trying to do this all by himself (with, of course, stellar inking assists by Jason Bone) on a monthly basis to boot- a daunting task, and I don't need to tell you that Eisner and Co. were hard acts to follow. This final issue is a retelling of the Sand Saref story (which was itself a reworked "John Law" story, as you may know), and it's done very well despite the familiarity of the plot. Cooke does some rejiggering, as is his wont, and most of the changes work, although I was sorry to see the most memorable supporting character he created, double agent Hussein, meet his maker. And of course, his art as inked by Jason Bone is superlative. All in all, a respectable way to bow out, and if he wasn't always a success in this task he set out for himself, I'm glad as hell he gave it a try. B
TEEN TITANS: THE LOST ANNUAL: Speaking of what-the-hell approaches to comics writing, here we have that old stalwart Bob Haney's swan song, and bet your ass that Haney knew it, too- even in the old days, he wouldn't have concocted something this off the wall if he knew that he was gonna have to script the next dozen or so issues of Teen Titans, too. Jay Stephens and Mike Allred's art doesn't mesh as well as you'd think it would- I like both gentlemen on their own (my problems with Allred are script-related only), but Allred grounds Stephens' ordinarily fanciful style- awkward anatomy and disjointed layouts also are a problem. Stephens isn't accustomed to doing this sort of mainstream super-hero stuff, and it shows. One does miss the more kinetic style of Nick Cardy (as does Bat Lash), who is at least represented on the cover and some over-rendered pencil sketches. All things considered, though, while it's seldom dull this is a rambling and overlong mess; Haney's attempts to have the Titans speak through beatnik slang grate as much in 2008 as they did in 1966, and the whole Wellsian "Morlocks vs. Eloi in Space" tale he cooked up just doesn't coalesce like his best scripts back in the day often could. I'm not sure that the whole riff on JFK's death isn't in poor taste, too. Oh well, like Haney could give a shit. This is a fiasco, but it's at least a colorful fiasco and it deserved to see the light of day a lot sooner than it did. C
Reviews of I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS! THE COMICS OF FLETCHER HANKS, Adam Warren's EMPOWERED #'s 1 & 2, JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS vols. I and II, and Matt Kindt's SUPER SPY, all of which are taking me a while to get through, will most likely be in the NEXT Spinner Rack Junkie, coming soon to this here blog.