Monday, April 28, 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 April 4 to 20, 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.

100 BULLETS #90: I will diverge from my usual mildly snarky Standard Review of this title this time, in order to state that I found the "clocker kid with a gun" subplot very interesting; it's a look at what might have been if Azzarello hadn't decided to explore his Minutemen vs. Trust storyline and had stuck to the "random person gets case full of untraceable bullets from mysterious old coot" plot device. It also points out how insular and byzantine Azzarello's main plot has become, and in my opinion not for the better. Otherwise, (clears throat) 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 10 issues. B+

ABE SAPIEN: THE DROWNING #3: Abraham Sapien is a moderately interesting character that works best when paired up with another, more charismatic character (or group of characters) to provide contrast. Despite Mignola's concerted and earnest efforts to give him a compelling backstory, he remains a born second stringer. And, when placed in a slow-moving tale in which he's the only person we even remotely care about, no amount of trademark Mignola mystic hoo-ha or running from giant bug-headed eel critters can make it more than marginally engaging. Jason Shawn Alexander's art is game, but although it aspires to a J.P. Leon or Tommy Lee Edwards grubbiness, it just isn't dynamic enough to goose this along. This is not a bad series, nor is it done by untalented people (I mean, Mignola still has his style, and it's always at least worth reading), but this remains just this side of bland, and that's too bad. Hint: it's the lead. C+

B.P.R.D.: 1946 #4: On the other hand, this remains excellent, simply because these familiar, and some not-so-familiar, elements, are blended together skillfully and Josh Dysart's dialogue propels where Mignola's nudges, and the star-in-making Paul Azaceta also provides kineticism via constantly shifting perspective and right-on-the-money facial expressions and body language. This may just be the best issue yet, as we find out exactly what the joint US-Russian investigators are dealing with, a nightmare factory formerly helmed by the Nazis...and even crazier, we meet an old friend towards the end with promise of, as Phil Amaro once so aptly put it in the sadly missed Nevermen: "Hell to beat the band" in next issue's finale. I'll be sorry to see it wrap. A

BRAVE AND THE BOLD #12: I've been kinda rough on the last few issues, I know. It's almost mean to pick on this book, it's just so eager-to-please- and I know that there's not a cynical bone in Mark Waid's body, at least in his approach to what he must honestly believe is a winning tribute to those multi-chapter, multi-issue Len Wein/Marv Wolfman/Steve Englehart multi-heroes vs. multi-villain sagas of the Disco Decade. But in trying to look backwards, yet maintain a slightly modern feel (although thankfully not the downbeat, determined-to-push-imagined-envelopes-no-matter-what direction of many of his contemporaries), he's guilty of simply trying too hard to cram every frigging thing he can think of in his stories, to the expense of coherence and characterization, something his inspirations rarely did. A good example of this is his handling of the Challengers of the Unknown; Jeph Loeb's irreverent early effort aside, they've never really had concrete personalities, only the broadest of character traits: Prof, the brain; Rocky, the good-hearted lug; Ace and Red, well, I think Red is a bit of a hothead (imagine that) but they've always been indistinguishable otherwise, and June? A personality? She's Prof's girlfriend, why should she have a personality? And does Waid try to give them one? Nah. He simply recycles the same old NON-characterization, while having them constantly running and jumping and yelling and ducking amidst power blasts and explosions at flying debris. This said, there is a lot of imagination brought to bear here, even if it's in service of a hoary old object-quest scenario, and Jerry Ordway does a yeomanlike job of depicting all the aforementioned calaminous calamity. I guess, bottom line, I've outgrown this type of comic, I do believe, and I also believe many others have as well, which should explain the sales figures. There must be a way to do superheroics in a way that you can respect yourself in the morning without resorting to the base histrionics so often on display for the last few years. Problem is, the books that are doing so more successfully, such as Blue Beetle, Manhunter, and Catwoman, are the most numbers-challenged, which makes the argument difficult to make at best. I guess all we can do is cross our fingers, buy what we deem good as long as we can, and hope for better days down the road when the wheel comes around again. C+

CASANOVA #13: Not exactly incoherent, but certainly not as linear as last issue, and it's all the poorer for it. As much as I love Fraction's strong imagination, and admire his sense of what's cool and what isn't, bottom line is when you get a series in which anything is possible, then nothing has meaning. And that plays hell with any sort of dramatic tension, unless your intent is to provide as totally an arch, all-surface and no-depth experience as is possible- and while that may be some people's idea of a good time, it rarely is mine, no matter how nicely illustrated it is by either Moon brother. B-

CATWOMAN #78: Schizzy book this time out- the Lopezes, while fine mainstream comics artists, don't really do the Noir-inspired Slam Bradley stuff all that convincingly, but story-wise those interludes are far more compelling than the whole Selina-in-space spandex shenanigans, which the Lopezes, unsurprisingly, depict in fine fashion. So I figure that makes this a wash, like it matters in regards to this unfortunately lame-duck title. C+

CRIMINAL 2 #2 Well, those of us who have been following along knew how much of a bastard Teeg Lawless was, and in case we didn't get the point, Ed and Sean make it powerfully explicit this time- and by extension give us one of the best issues of either "season" to date. My standard objections, mostly to do with the nature and limitations of the Noir genre itself, still apply but in this one instance they manage the difficult task of transcending those boundaries. You can do a Google search for this series and uncover many reviews more insightful and erudite than the ones I've been trying to provide, but believe me when I tell you that if you're disposed to like this sort of story, you won't find too many other examples of recent vintage that are better. A

HELLBLAZER #243: Fairly standard-issue "occult skeletons in the Vatican closet" story gets by mostly on the strength of Diggle's razor-sharp Constantine portrayal- he does ol' Conjob right, for sure. Art is by new-to-me Giuseppi Camuncoli and Stefano Landini, appropriately enough considering the Vatican setting, and it's pretty good overall although they get carried away on the edgy, distorted anatomies sometimes. For a fill-in between arcs, not too bad. B+

JACK STAFF #15: This one came across as a little light, story-wise. I like the obtuse Detective Maveryk just fine; but when Grist gives him center stage for too long a time, the book begins to remind me of Kane and I get all nostalgic for that been-gone-too-long series. This fourth-wall breaking antics with the Druid also come across as been-there-seen-that. But don't worry- for those who dig Grist's style, and I am certainly one of those, there are rewards aplenty...and if Paul skips around, not spending too long on any of his almost-unwieldy cast of characters, it's just because he's getting his pieces in place for a bigger game, I'm sure. And of course, it's as impeccably drawn as always. A-

NUMBER OF THE BEAST #1: This has me in a quandary, I'm afraid. After I finished reading it, my immediate reaction was that it was so bad, that I should immediately email DCBS and cancel the four or five issues I've preordered. Then I kept referring back to that great, dynamic Chris Sprouse/Karl Story art, and decided I shouldn't be hasty. But bojemoi, was he script to this thing bad- full of characters explaining everything to everyone in convenient infodumping fashion, as well as calling each other by their codenames so the reader would know who they are (designed for reader-friendliness, I know, but when it's this obvious it simply grates), and nothing really but constant fight scenes involving people I knew next to nothing about, peppered with tangential references to Wildstorm characters I did know, and after a while I was hard pressed to give a rat's ass about any of it. Now, in all honesty, it's been a while since I immersed myself in whatever passes for the Wildstorm universe these days; I bought Morrison and Ha's aborted Authority, as well as a handful of issues of Midnighter and Stormwatch P.H.D., and that's about it. Perhaps a lot of these new characters were introduced in books I hadn't read and are very familiar to the faithful few who have cared, can't say for sure. But the script contrivances (and I'm sure, since this is only the first of an extended series, that this is only the beginning) were just so clumsy and poorly done that this almost achieved the impossible: making me consider dropping a Sprouse-drawn book. Here's hoping this is just a slow start and things get better quickly. C

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #7: By far the most linear and accessible of the series to date; whether or not this is a good thing depends on why you're reading this (or not, as the case may be). The much-ballyhooed Gary Panter art cameo is a wondrous thing- his sloppy-yet-symmetrical work is quite fascinating, and I say this as someone who hasn't always been an ardent admirer. As far as the rest goes, Lethem, Rusnak, and Dalrymple are gradually beginning to rein this thing in and bring it home; I can only make educated guesses at how it's going to get there but I'm loving every quirky bit of it. A

POWERS ANNUAL 2008: A double-sized flashback to Walker's barbarian past, similar to previous issues in which Bendis has established that he is one long-lived super-person. This one's scripted as well as illustrated by Mike Oeming, and he does a good job even though this does seem a bit padded-out, no doubt because it's an "annual", and kinda revisits territory I thought was already well-covered. For those invested in the ongoing only, and by that I mean pre-Icon readers; I can't imagine that anyone not already well-versed in Powers continuity would be able to make heads or tails of it, or at least of how it fits into the bigger picture. B+

SCALPED #16: A small betrayal towards the end of this penultimate chapter, but no less dismaying because of it no matter what the size, further points up the dramatic excellence of this series. It concerns me that Jason Aaron seems to be writing every other book at Marvel that Bendis and Brubaker aren't writing; I worry about him chasing the limelight and spreading himself too thin and this one suffering because of it. Guess we'll see; I hope this book lasts long enough for it to be a problem. A

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