It's time once more for another Spinner Rack Junkie- that more-or-less ongoing feature in which I write capsule reviews of various works of sequential fiction that I have perused in the interval since the last time I inflicted such reviews upon one and all, or to be specific, the period from approximately 16 February to 6 March, 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.
BRAVE AND THE BOLD #10: Cotton candy comics, tasty but not always satisfying. Lotsa people in supersuits, running and jumping and shouting and gesturing and punching and flying and so on and so forth, all in service of a plot which strives to achieve two goals- one, replicate the skewed logic of a thousand and one Gardner Fox Justice League free-for-alls, and two, give appropriate screentime to a large number of corporate properties that are meaningful to aging fanboys who are just happy to see the "real" Challengers of the Unknown- i.e., purple speedsuited Ace, Red, Rocky, Prof and June, with very little in the way of personality to get in the way of all the running, shouting, etc., or the "proper", Kanigher/Andru-era Metal Men make an appearance, no matter how superficial and shallow the actual appearance is. "Servicing the fans" is the term, I believe. Waid wisely paces it all so fast that it goes down smoothly, but after a while the discerning reader begins to want a bit more sustenance than cotton candy can provide, and therein lies the problem. B-
CATWOMAN #76: I knew it was coming, but that didn't help; I just don't like "Mirror. Mirror" type stories, they're pointless by and large and don't really matter in the overall scheme of things. I've griped enough about how I wish they'd leave Pfiefer to his own devices and keep Catwoman out of whatever multimega crossover event DC has going on at the time, so all I'll say is that this is well done and los compañeros Lopez deliver another satisfying art job, and let it go at that. B+
CRIMINAL 2 #1: Instead of six-issue arcs, this time we get a self-contained one-issue story about two childhood friends grown up and gone sour, and it's as well-fleshed-out and satisfyingly written as it is (above all else) beholden to Noir film tropes. Ordinarily, I'm not a big fan of Noir films or books; as a whole I've always found them, and their emphasis on hard-bitten private dicks, hookers and tough gals with hearts-of-gold, and down-on-their-luck ordinary joes in the seedy dives and misty back alleys of the big, heartless city to be rather one-dimensional and monochromatic in scope. But Brubaker and (especially) Phillips are able to push the edges, just a bit, of this very narrow and confining box- and are holding my interest. So yeah, what we have here is another outstanding issue, and fans of this series will not be disappointed. A-
DAREDEVIL #105: Jesus H. Christ, if I wanted to read about the adventures of Job, I'd go grab a bible. I'm not ready to bail on this increasingly bleak comic book, but I sure am glancing at the side of the boat a lot more often. B+
FABLES #70: Another of those in-between epic stories, in which some of the loose ends from previous storylines are addressed, specifically Boy Blue's crush on Rose Red as well as the offer of sanctuary for all the non-humanoid Fable characters (anthromorphs, dishes, spoons, etc.) in Flycatcher's new kingdom in the Homelands, instead of the enforced captivity they live under in the Preserve which was built for them in "our" world. Also, some more preparations are made for the next campaign against the Adversary. It's hard to really review issues like this; it's as well-written as previos issues have been, more of the same for those who are in the know. Can't imagine how someone new to this series would react after reading this, but then again I would imagine that the curious (well, the smarter ones) are buying the trades first anyway. Only new wrinkle this time out is the guest art by one Niko Henrickson, and it's not particularly impressive, but it has its moments. Par for the course for art on this book, you bet. Anyway, for them what likes, here be more. B+
HAWAIIAN DICK: SCREAMING BLACK THUNDER #3: Another solid chapter in a story that, I'm sure, will read better collected than it does in shortish pieces. Best interlude this time, for me anyway, was the chit-chat between Mo Kalama and suave scarfaced Antonio from Last Resort; it had some nice, nuanced dialogue going on. The last page reveal, while not much of a cliffhanger, was effectively presented as well by Scott Chantler, who continues to struggle to rein in his tendency towards cartoonish exaggeration throughout. Doesn't bother me at all on his outstanding Northwest Passage, but here it's not always a good fit. B+
HELLBLAZER #241: In this, the latest issue of the best Conjob arc in a heck of a long time, Johnny pulls a trick that has to rank right up there among his best. At the risk of being repetitive, I'm loving what Diggle is bringing to this character. And what he's bringing is so sharp and smart that I've stopped being distracted by Manco's art, something which never happened while, say, Denise Mina was scripting. A
IMMORTAL IRON FIST: ORSON RANDALL- THE GREEN MIST OF DEATH: Let's face it- the previous holder of the Iron Fist mantle, Orson Randall, a big whiteboy lug, just isn't all that interesting on the face of it. But- and this is a big but- Matt Fraction seems to realize this as well, and has surrounded his character with a kaliedoscope of characters and situations, all deeply steeped in the 1930's and 1940's Pulp aesthetic, and combined with the sort of clear, lucid, sharp writing that I dearly wish he'd bring to Casanova, really delivers the goods in tandem with a number of talented artists. Best of these is the turn by the least heralded of the group, Lewis LaRosa, who draws the third of four parts- and combined with typically sloppy Steven Gaudiano inks and the Standard Vertigo Comics Color Palette™ (on loan from Lee Loughridge) in a cinematic fashion, reminding me a little of the late lamented Gotham Central. The final chapter also looks nice, despite a scratchy inkjob that evokes Tony DeZuniga circa 1975. Chalk up another winner for the Iron Fist line! A-
SHOWCASE PRESENTS: METAMORPHO: I'm not sure the term "insane" is adequate to describe many of these stories; a new adjective should be created, and fast. This is probably the high point of Bob Haney's comics writing career. Wisely, he set these tales in a world which only tangentially resembled the one we live in- it's a world where any leap of logic, no matter how extreme or convoluted, can be explained; where any sort of mechanical device can be put to any task, no matter how far-fetched; it's as pliable and malleable as its protagonist. It's not surprising to me that Metamorpho has rarely worked when he was shoehorned into the DCU, where there are rules of sorts. A really good example of that is the last story in this collection, a Justice League story in which Morphy was considered for membership, and when taken out of the Haneyworld and placed in Gardner Fox's episodically structured (albeit equally illogical) story, the whole thing collapses under its own goofy weight and becomes almost unreadable. Anyway, contained herein is rex Mason's first two appearances in Brave and the Bold, along with his own title, 17 issues worth of prime 1960's DC- fast-paced and laced with that unique Haney-slang, and while it may be wearing if you try to sit and read these all at once, reading them one or two issues at a time is a lot of fun. The early issues with Ramona Fradon art work the best; her deft cartooning touch gooses the breathless scripts along. After Fradon moved on, Joe Orlando and later Sal Trapani, with Charles Paris on inks, gamely try to reproduce Fradon's style to diminishing effect. There's a freewheeling, inexplicable globe-hopping superspy-movie kind of vibe about many of the early issues as well, a result of the James Bond/Man from U.N.C.L.E. mania rampant at the time, I suppose. About a dozen issues in, Urania Blackwell, the Element Girl, is introduced- why, I can't say, except perhaps to give Morphy's crush Sapphire Stagg some competition and perhaps address the lunacy of a normal human woman attempting to make love to someone who is made up of various elemental components rather than human flesh. The final issue, #17, is drawn by Jack Sparling, and his grubby style is quite jarring compared to the relatively sleek work that preceded it; it ends abruptly on a bit of a cliffhanger, with the title character inviting readers to return for a next issue that never came. Finally, this is rounded out by the aforementioned issue of Justice Leagie of America, and two Brave and the Bolds: a meh teamup with the Metal Men, and the notorious first teamup with Batman, a camp-era classic of its kind in which the Caped Crusader is transformed into a squat brutish shapeshifter due to the machinations of the Penguin, Joker and Riddler. It has to be read to be believed. I suppose that's the best way to describe practically every story in this collection. If you're attuned to the Haney wavelength, this is essential reading. If not, buyer beware. B-
WILL EISNER'S THE SPIRIT #14: A little disappointing, but not bad- the story is perhaps a bit too broad and farcical, but often when Eisner did the same thing, he had the same tendencies. I liked the characterization of the Spirit and Ebony just fine, Dolan and his daughter Ellen less so. Mike Ploog's art is inconsistent- I liked the obligatory page two logo treatment, and the layout and pacing were solid. But there's an annoying, clumsy cartoonishness to his figures that I don't remember being there there all those years ago when everyone thought he might turn out to be Eisner's heir apparent, and it's often really distracting; he looks more like Berni Wrightson's former assistant. So...could be better, could have been worse- kinda like Cooke's run, now that you mention it. B-
Also read and coming soon in a separate review: Mike Dawson's FREDDIE AND ME, an early contender for my best of 2008 list, Oni's MAINTENANCE Vol. 2, SCALPED of course, and more.