Guess what, boys and girls! It's time once more for another Spinner Rack Junkie- that more-or-less ongoing feature in which I write shortish reviews of various works of sequential fiction that I have perused in the interval since the last time I inflicted said reviews upon one and all, or to be specific, the period from approximately 26 January to 1 February, 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.
DAREDEVIL #104 As usual, and in that fine upstanding Miller tradition, ol' Hornhead continues to get pushed to the breaking point, only to, I'm sure, get a measure of redemption in an issue or so; We also get some DC-style shoehorning into ongoing continuity in the form of an appearance by that Hood character that has so many regular Marvel readers in a tizzy. In the hands of lesser talent, this would be unbearable- but Brubaker has a nicely understated way of bringing it across, and it helps that Michael Lark and Stephen Gaudiano's sensibilities as artists are attuned to this same wavelength. Still, there's a grim sort of formulaic inevitability that keeps me from really enjoying this title right now, and that's a problem. B+
EMPOWERED #'s 1, 2: In which Adam Warren tries to have is cake and eat it too- is this a lighthearted, Wally Wood/Harvey Kurtzman-style R-rated superhero romp? Or is it a not-so-gentle tweaking of the sexist tropes that are so prevalent in comics these days? I'm still not really sure, but I love Warren's art so much that I'm almost not inclined to care. He's too canny to put one foot down on one side or the other, so he walks this tightrope for the duration of both of these manga-type collections- sometimes, the whole "Empowered (that's her name) gets tied up, smart-ass "cool" heroes rescue her, she's all embarrassed and sad and self-pitying" plot gets monotonous but to his credit, Warren pads it out with lots of his standard technogeekspeak and supporting characters like her boyfriend, a former henchman who falls for her; Ninjette, a sexy, hard-drinking superninja who has little use for the superteam that our heroine tries to fit in with, and the monstrous alien overlord that provides some funny comments, and so on- the problems with the supersuit she wears, that gives her extraordinary powers until it gets torn (which it always does, to the point of mere tatters sometimes) get a LOT of mileage. There's also a lot of metatext in the format of chapter introductions to the shortish stories- they depend a lot on the good will you may or may not feel about the title character. I wish he wasn't so fond of putting political cartoon-style labels on all his characters save the lead- it takes me right out of the story to see "Sistah Spooky" in handwriting-scrawl across the chest of one character, for example- and sometimes the lips he draws on his female characters looks like two snails laid in parallel on their faces...but everything else is dynamic, sharp and sexy and renders my quibbling pointless. This is all so loose that I thought at first that he was just scanning his pencil art (and it may be that this is Photoshopped to look like it's inked) but whatever the media he's introduced a pencil-shading effect throughout that looks pretty good in black and white and gives everything a depth among all the speed lines and hysterical word balloon shapes. So while I feel like I should probably know better, I'm entertained by a lot of this (and no, I'm not particularly enraptured by bondage scenarios. Honest. Well, maybe just a little). I'm also kinda surprised that I haven't been reading a lot of reaction to this from those who are inclined to get indignant about portrayal of women in comics. I guess, as it so often is with me, it's the artwork that is the final arbiter- and I like this very much. So there ya go. Caveat emptor. A-
FAKER #6: While the conclusion was pretty much as satisfying as one could hope, the whole concept of the technology on which this was based was pretty nebulous, the characters never developed to the point where I gave a damn about any of them, and the normally reliable Jock's art looked rushed and sloppier than usual. It might read better in the inevitable collection, but I still think it would have been better served in the type of anthology that DC doesn't print anymore. I gave it a shot, though. C+
HELLBLAZER #240: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: God bless Andy Diggle. Even though this is the second chapter in what promises to be a lenghty story arc, this is the best John Constantine tale in freaking ages, perhaps since the Paul Jenkins days. Diggle's given John a serious adversary, one who seems more capable, ruthless and bloodthirsty than the magic dabblers and demonic threats of the last few years, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out- the first time in a long time I've felt that way. As always, it helps that Diggle really gets the character; his dialogue and attitude are spot-on, nowhere more in evidence than his encounters here with the corrupt policeman and the Dragon Lady-style mob boss. Even weak link Leo Manco has seemed to step up his game; perhaps for the first time since those halcyon days drawing Ellis' Hellstorm does he feel inspired by a script. I have a feeling this one's gonna be good, to say the least. A
I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS! THE COMICS OF FLETCHER HANKS: Of all the candidates for posthumous lionization, I can't think of very many that are less likely to merit this honor than Hanks, about whom very little is known other than that he toiled in anonymity, using a host of pseudonyms, for a short period in the late 30s and early 40s for a couple of publishers, churning out deliriously lurid fever-dream comics that went pretty much ignored for four decades until the type of people who are always looking for something obscure and unheralded to point out in that cynical sort of ironically distanced mock-admiration fashion endemic to modern-day would-be trendmongers everywhere found his stories and reprinted them...and of such is a cult legend born. Honestly, taken at face value these comics are pretty bad; formulaic and poorly drawn, even though once in a while he gave us a face that reminded of something by Basil Wolverton in his early days. Unlike Wolverton, however, he had real problems with anatomy and perspective. This volume is concerned mostly with the exploits of his characters Stardust, an Aryan-ideal super-scientist who lives in space but monitors Earth to wreak justice on a variety of bizarre super-criminals; and Fantomah, who is some sort of weird magical protector of the jungle, who assumes the aspect of a skull-faced (with golden locks intact) voodoo woman to mete out her Spectre-like supernatural justice on depraved evildoers who threaten her keep, and by extension the world. It's not so much the plot structure that drives these stories, and against all odds make them entertaining in a in-spite-of-everything sort of way- it's the vivid imagination that Hanks brought to bear while depicting such delirious events as criminals being forced to float in the air next to the skeletons of their victims (an effective scene, to be sure), a thug's body being shrunk until only his head remains, leaving a loathsome bwana (who, to be fair, had had a really bad day beforehand) to be eaten by the same ludicrous-looking giant spiders that he commanded in an effort to kill and destroy jungle denizens and so forth. It's the kind of stuff a stunted, emotionally adolescent 12-year-old would cook up while playing in the backyard, and Hanks drew upon this sort of mindset, I've no doubt. It's not like there wasn't precedent; by 1939 readers already had Doc Savage, Superman and the Spectre. However, as many, many creators have shown, it's not what you swipe, it's what you do with what you swipe- and like Ed Wood, Jr. several years later, equally influenced by pulps and Sci-fi and B-movies, he obviously had a passion for creating his outrageous little sagas. Problem was, like Eddie, he just wasn't very good at it. That said, though, there are little pleasures to be found here and there in these tales; I got a good laugh out of an early Stardust tale (to name but one example) in which he makes an Voice-from-the-Heavens announcement to the people of Earth, including criminals, that his arrival is imminent, and the criminals plot furiously to do this and do that to eliminate him- and then each time they cook up a new plot he breaks back in to explain how he can circumvent every dastardly thing the bad guys intend to carry out. I couldn't help but be reminded of such lurid trash cinema like Dwain Esper's Maniac and of course Reefer Madness, and this can be appreciated in that sense. If you feel like this is a cynical stance to take, and you don't like taking stances of that sort, you probably won't get the full effect. If you like to have fun in that sort of "look at that cripple" sort of way, you'll find this a gas. Even those sorts will be a bit taken aback, however, by the coda, a bittersweet account (written and illustrated by author Paul Karasik) of the author's search to find out what happened to Hanks, only to meet his elderly son instead, who has no clue what happened to his father- seems he abandoned his mother when he was a child, and was an abusive drunk on top of that. So all things considered, this is certainly not your run-of-the-mill exercise in nostalgia- it certainly is a collection full of contradictions. Sad thing is, in spite of everything, it's telling that these stories, in all their predictability, stupidness, luridness, and just plain weirdness, they're still twice as entertaining as your run-of-the-mill current-day Big Two product...so go figure. I can't wholeheartedly recommend this, but I'm happy to have experienced it just the same. B+
JACK STAFF SPECIAL #1: This one-shot special is designed as a taster for the benighted out there who haven't been buying the ongoing Jack title on a regular basis, shame on them; it showcases what those in the know already are aware of: the storytelling excellence of Paul Grist. The story itself seems to be crafted as an introduction to the main players; while I missed seeing Bramble & Son, the Spider, Charlie Raven, Tom Tom, and others that make up Grist's panoply of supporting characters, I'm sure they'll be back in the ongoing, which gets started with issue #14. Becky Braddock and Jack get center stage this time, facing yet another new (or re-imagined old Britcomic one, most likely) Grist character who is immortal and is striving to obtain a mysterious star-shaped stone for nefarious purposes. The reveal about this character at the end is just weird, but the ultimate resolution to the tale is amusing and clever. I hope that anybody who's moved by curiosity and picks this up becomes as hooked on Grist's work as I have been for the last seven years or so. A-
MY BRAIN HURTS Vol. 1: A collection of yet another in a seemingly endless series of crudely drawn, (I suspect) semi-biographical type comics series, this time courtesy of one Liz Baillie. Of course, as with many of these efforts, there's a refreshing lack of pretentiousness to offset the lack of craft inherent to them, and that's certainly the case here. In this first issue, the focus is on the ups and downs of the life and loves of teen punk lesbian Kate, her gay teen punk best friend Joey, and other friends and family. Her art may be crude, but her take on her characters is deeply felt and seems very true, avoiding cliché and melodrama...and I found myself annoyed at first by the abrupt cliffhanger ending, but then pleasantly surprised that I was interested enough in what was happening to BE annoyed! So I guess I'll need to pony up the money to order the next couple of issues from Microcosm Publishing or Baillie's own website, see link above. B+
SUPER SPY: Y'know, this is a THICK book- not so much size-wise, but there's a heck of a lot of content on each page. And as a result, it took me a while to finish it. But y'know, it's well worth the time invested. A sequel in many ways to the equally fascinating 2 Sisters, it's an host of interconnected spy story vignettes, involving characters whose orbits often intersect, sometimes in tragic fashion. Kindt's art, as crude as his figure drawings can be, are little marvels of intricacy layout-wise, with a wonderful sort of multi-media approach to depicting events and side notes and information which help flesh out some of the more abstract events. Super Spy is a treat for the eye and the mind, an engrossing read for sure. Just make sure you set aside the time to take it all in...! A
WILL EISNER'S THE SPIRIT #13: Figures- now that Darwyn Cooke's gone, we get another anthology issue, this one with a sort of tardy holiday theme (a la the old Christmas Spirits) featuring a host of creators...but unlike the previous fill-in issue, although the names aren't quite as big, they've all turned in work of higher quality. Most people are praising the Gail Simone/Andre Parks/Phil Hester feature; it was nicely drawn (despite some dodgy hat art) but the pictograph-as-dialogue conceit struck me as gimmicky and too-cute, and hindered my enjoyment a bit. Guess I'll just never get Simone. The middle tale sports a Denny O'Neil script- and this should be right up the former Shadow and Question writer's alley- and fortunately he does not disappoint. It's a minor tale, but it has an appropriate and amusing ending and the underrated Templeton's art is surprisingly effective. But the one which grabbed me the hardest, and most successfully captured that old Eisner and Co. vibe which I'm always going on about in regards to this book, was the opener, scripted by unknown-to-me Glen David Gold, and drawn by 100 Bullets maestro Ed Risso; its amusing multiple Spirits conceit worked well, and the redheaded femme fatale tiger expert Felecia Stripe is a worthy heir, I dare say, to the whole Silk Satin/P'Gell/Sand Saref tradition. Risso's designerly style, full of solid blackspotting and helter-skelter panel placement, is as outstanding as always, even though his version of Commissioner Dolan leaves something to be desired. Although I have high hopes for Evanier/Aragones/Ploog, it honestly wouldn't break my heart to see the multiple creators format more often. Oh, and Cooke/Bone's cover is excellent, and would have looked good on stands back in December. Y'see, it was never the art I had problems with... A-
Coming soon, I promise, a really long review of volumes I and II of the JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS.