Friday, March 21, 2008


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 7 to 20 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.

ABE SAPIEN: THE DROWNING #2: Not a bad comic per se, well written and (especially) well drawn (coloring is monotonous and ghastly, though)...but it's simply yet another connecting chapter, all setup- just more dominoes falling and the actual happening is still down the road. It will read better in the collection, I'm sure, with its brotheren and sisteren chapters- but Luddite that I am I'm still buying singles. B+

B.P.R.D.: 1946 #3: Further proof of the old saying "It ain't what you got, it what you do with it". Sure, we've seen the highlights of this mini before, with its Nazi experiments-gone-wrong, creepy-crawly subhuman vampire people, and spooky-pale little girls that are more than they seem- but between Dysart's terse scripting and Azaceta's dramatic art, they're taking the elements and mixing them together with aplomb. A

CASANOVA #12: Well, I'll say this much for Fraction this time out; there's not a whole lot of confusion that can be engendered by simply having your characters blowing each others' brains on the wall, pulling eyes out, and other kinds of mayhem. I appreciate the brevity, but for the first time since I've been trying to absorb all this I found myself wishing for more character stuff, or rather character stuff more explicit than implied. And I still hate that blue. B+

IRON MAN: ENTER THE MANDARIN #6: Neat and efficient finale, with everything getting resolved up to a point and best of all lots of dynamic action art by Eric Canete, the main reason to get this when it comes out in trade in a couple of months. A

JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER SPECIAL: Story one sees Darwyn Cooke revisiting his highest-profile project to date, but he puzzlingly (and disappointingly) chooses to recycle the old done-to-death post Dark Knight Returns Frank Miller-style Batman vs. government-directed Superman fight story- nicely drawn but overfamiliar and saddled with an abrupt, credibility-straining resolution. Story two is a muddled nostalgia exercise, drawn in an good approximation of Cooke's style, but it suffers from being upstaged by the late Bob Haney's own "Teen Titans rescue JFK" story from a month or so ago, which was just as far fetched and a hell of a lot livelier. Story three has J. Bone art, always a plus for me even though it's a bit distracting when he insists on drawing Wonder Woman as a distant relative of the Michelin Man. The story itself is silly and heavy-handed, and seems to be trying to alternately celebrate and spoof feminism, which is a tricky balancing act. Further proof that as a writer, Darwyn Cooke is a hell of an artist, and overall, I'd say this is what you can expect from a seemingly done-on-the-quick DVD tie-in. C+

MAINTENANCE VOL.2: Unpretentious and amusing sitcom-style antics, as Manny and Doug, our janitor friends at the evil-scientist research facility, deal with the messes that said evil scientists unwittingly (and wittingly) create. Jim Massey scripts with a light touch, and he's refreshingly unconcerned with seeming hip and edgy. Robbi Rodriguez continues with his expressive art, although sometimes I wish he'd tighten up some of the figure drawings and layouts. I'm not always fond of titles that seem to be written as little more than TV pitches, but even though that doesn't seem to be the case with this, ironically this would seem to be a natural for a network like Sci-Fi or FX- if the likes of Reaper can get greenlighted, you'd think someone would notice this too. Oh well. Maintenance doesn't push comics in any particular direction one way or the other, but it's a fun read and I enjoy getting the trades. A

NORTHLANDERS #4: There's nothing wrong, art-wise, with this title- Gianfelice's work gets better every issue, and in a just world, he will become one of the next great adventure artists. No, my problems are more with the scripting. I get so perplexed by Brian Wood's work sometimes- it's obvious he writes well-thought out scripts for all his projects, from DEMO and Local to DMZ, as well as his earlier (and rawer) Couriers, that feature well-rounded characters and solid dialogue- but there's just something about them that's resolutely and stubbornly ordinary, banal, and down-to-earth, with no spark, no real sense that Wood is enjoying himself or even likes what he's doing (although I'm sure that he certainly does)...and that causes my always-flighty interest to wane. Take this book, for example- Vikings are certainly a novel group to feature, but that's where the novelty ends. The basic conflict, between moody, glum Sven and the people who have taken his money and lands while he's been away, is one which has been done in movies and TV (and even comics, I'm sure) quite often in the past, and so far everything has progressed according to the template. Right now, we're at the stage where Sven's adversaries strike back, and it's sure-enough a horrible retribution, but blunting the impact is the fact that one of the people who died because of his machinations is one that we didn't know anything about until we get a post-decapitation flashback- oh! She's Svennie's girlfriend back home! Damn, that sucks! the only reaction we're left with. I've no doubt that his revenge will be bloody and terrible...and at this stage I'm thinking that the only reason I'm sticking around is because I want to see where this goes after the opening act is done. Despite the unusual setting, so far this has all been pretty much by-the-numbers. I think Wood is capable of much more, and I hope I'm right. B

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #6: To borrow from Carlson, this book gives me a real sense of "cognitive dissonance", but in a good way- Lethem, Rusnak and Dalyrimple constantly turn superhero comics conventions on their heads, seemingly from page to page, and while there is an overriding story going on- the threat of the sentient nanobots that seem to be replacing people- it's all the tangential details and characters, some of which still have much about them that we don't know about at all, that blend together to make this the treat it actually is. It's like looking at one of those old View-Master reels that featured different subjects sometimes. If you like to think as you read, then there's plenty for you in this wonderful take, one which I still can't believe Marvel is publishing. A

POWERS #28: More grim dramatics as this distractingly LONG storyline soldiers on with no end in sight. Guess all I can do, because I am still interested in spite of it all, is plug away right there with it and hope for the best, and given that it's Bendis writing I don't anticipate anything happening that will be "best" for any of them. B+

THE RIDE: DIE VALKYRIE #3: What can I say? Sometimes a guy gets in a mood for shoot 'em ups with nubile young lasses, some dressed like catholic schoolgirls. Strictly action-movie stuff all the way, with fast cars, hissable bad guys, a little of the old ultra-violence, my droogs, and of course amoral Britney-circa-1997 lookalike hitgirl-and-wannabe-nun Lacie to mete out justice. I won't even try to defend why I like this book, but I will point out that it benefits from sleek, dynamic art from Brian Stelfreze and that, I think, makes the difference with me. In lesser hands this would be junk. Well, junkier junk anyway. B

SHOWCASE PRESENTS: THE PHANTOM STRANGER TP VOL 02: Which collects the last couple of Len Wein/Jim Aparo issues, probably the high point of the history of the character; as well as the post-Wein decline, as the character lapsed back into hosting, and sometimes taking part in (on a superficial level) various horror-comics inventory story ideas, written by Arnold Drake and drawn by the underrated Gerry Talaoc. In all fairness, Drake gave him an adversary, a Doctor Robert-type named Doctor Zorn, who manipulated people (including the Stranger in a memorably silly story) via drugs and hypnotism. Still, the stories always seemed to be about other people besides the lead, and were often dull and far-fetched compared to what Wein and Aparo had done. After a year or so of this approach, readers grew surly and demanded that the Stranger become an active participant in his own comic again, and Drake moved on, replaced by young Paul Levitz- who gave PS an another reoccurring adversary- another Doctor, this one named "Nathan Seine", who was keeping his dying wife alive by leeching the life force from people with help from some Lovecraftian elder gods. When PS foiled his plan, he swore revenge. Also on board was another artist, Fred Carillo, whose work had an inkline that was similar to Talaoc's but slicker and a little more stiff and posed. They even stuck Deadman in a couple of issues, to bicker with and fight beside PS. Of course, all was for naught even though the Stranger proved popular enough to keep popping up here and there for decades after. In a lot of ways, it's the peripheral stuff in this collection that makes it really worthwhile: this includes the Wein-scripted and Dick Dillin-drawn issue of Justice League of America that introduced me to the character in the first place; every chapter of the short-lived Spawn of Frankenstein back feature (which you may remember reading about right here a couple of years ago), not only the Marv Wolfman/Mike Kaluta chapters, but the mostly-crappy Steve Skeates/Bernard Baily ones as well. For some reason, the Black Orchid backfeatures which ran for a half-dozen or so issues weren't included- they were fun but hardly essential; the character didn't really get interesting until Neil Gaiman got ahold of her. A couple of decent but unexceptional (and not by Aparo) Brave and the Bold Batman teamups and two post-cancellation DC Super-Stars (another Deadman guest-spot) and House of Secrets stories round out the collection. I'll tell you, as with the first collection, nostalgia causes me to rate these higher than those who don't share my rose-tinted perspective. The Wein-Aparo issues and the JLA appearance are must-reads, as well as the Kaluta Frankenstein chapters. Everything else is a matter of taste, I suppose, although I personally feel that the later issues, by Drake and Talaoc, were a better read than many of the pre-Wein issues by people like Gerry Conway, Bob Kanigher, and Mike Sekowsky- leaner, tighter, and less disposed to be (in the words, sorta, of Bela Lugosi) "supernatural baloney". To coin a cliche, I like...but your mileage may vary. B+

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