Saturday, July 05, 2008


It's way past time once more for another Spinner Rack Junkie- that more-or-less ongoing and often overdue 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 June 6th to June 30, 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 #92 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 8 issues. A-

ABE SAPIEN: THE DROWNING #5: Our boy-fish Abe has a bit of an inferiority complex, it seems, and it's no surprise; he's probably been reading his solo showcase spotlights like this one, in which he mostly wanders around spouting minimal dialogue while a host of oddball mystic critters utters wave upon wave of expository dialogue, until the damned thing finally just expires, in this the final chapter. This wasn't Lobster Johnson pointless, but it sure was mighty damned close. C-

THE BOYS #19: I suppose that the whole "mucking out the stalls" bit counts for the gross-out this time around, but really, I got a sense of Garth trying to restrain himself throughout this mostly-flashback chapter. Since Garth is, after all, Garth, we get more military comics (has there ever been anyone more suited than Mr. Ennis to assume the Kurtzman war comics mantle?) action. Robertson illustrates everything in remarkably competent fashion, as is his wont. If you've enjoyed the previous eighteen, then you should like this one, too, and if this is your first attempt at reading this series, be warned- they're not all like this one. B+

CRIMINAL 2 #3: The sad tale of Danica, the third of the triptych of characters that Brubaker's devoting Vol. 2 to, and it's as squalid and down-to-earth as you'd expect. Now, it remains to be seen where we go from here, now that the stage is set...but I'm willing to bet that it will be fascinating. Once more, Brubaker and Phillips have me hooked, and I'm not even really a fan of crime fiction or noir filmmaking. A

JACK STAFF #17: Grist continues to work the same storyline from previous issues, the travails of Jack, balanced out with Becky Braddock and Bramble Son vs. Evil Vampire Harold Bramble, with the Shadow guy lurking around, as he's done for far too many issues now. That's one mystery I'd like to see solved. Also getting a little time are Tom Tom the Robot Man, always welcome and actually used to great effect in a small part here, an obscure character named Shock, who has made maybe one prior appearance is used well, and then there's the new guy- the Butler! Yep, he looks like a guy in a modified butler's uniform, and he's a great, fun character that very few writers not named Grist could get away with. He sure is taking his time with these current plot threads, though, and I'm getting a little restless. A-

MANHUNTER #31: Third time's the charm, they say, but if anybody thinks that this is suddenly going to become anything more than a marginally-selling cult favorite comic, well, I've got some prime real estate in a number of exotic places I'd like to sell you. No matter how well it's written (and it's written very well, make no mistake) and how well it's drawn (and it's drawn well, too- this Gaydos fellow has an appealingly grubby-looking style a la Azateca, J.P. Leon and most obviously the Lark/Gaudiano team), the concept and characters are just not expansive and captivating to appeal to a mass audience, and I realize that "mass", when we're discussing comics, is very relative. So I guess what I'm saying is we should, once more, enjoy it while we can because if it gets a dozen issues I will be surprised, and delighted, in equal measure. To address this one specifically, I will say that I enjoyed the Blue Beetle cameo, having recently read 26 issues of this title in the space of a few weeks, especially the clever idea of supersuit animosity. A-

NUMBER OF THE BEAST #5: The most notable thing about this 2000's superhero trope-infested Matrix ripoff is still the excellent Sprouse/Story art. What a waste of talent. C+

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #9 As this approaches its end next issue, I am struck by how curious this whole project reads; it's obscure, witty and involved narrative-wise, but it's not particularly difficult to follow or understand- kinda like staring at an ordinary household object that you've never seen before in your life. Matt Fraction could take some tips from Lethem and Rusnak, I dare say. The writers aren't showing all their cards just yet, but they're not especially concerned with obfuscating the readers, or trying to impress them with their cleverness. Perhaps it's the plain, no-frills drawing style of Faryl Dalrymple that helps, can't say for sure. Anyway, looking forward to the wrapup next month (or later this month, I forget how far behind I am!). A

WONDER WOMAN #21: I picked up my first new issue of Wonder Woman in decades just because it featured my old buddy, DC's version of Beowulf, aka Dragon Slayer, and I wanted to see how Gail Simone handled him. The answer? Pretty well, I must say. It's difficult to get the essence of a character across in the limited amount of space she had here, but she does so fairly successfully, even working in an approximation of Mike Uslan's humorous style in a couple of places. However, in all fairness I must also say that I came a way a bit disoriented because I don't have the slightest idea what exactly is going on in this issue- Wondy is apparently traveling through time or dimensions or something and encountering pretty much every character of DC's short-lived fantasy comics launch of 1975, such as not only Wulfy but Stalker and Claw the Unconquered as well (doubt we'll see the Warlord or Rima the Jungle Girl, although I'd like that very much- Rima that is), reminding me a lot of that storyline in the old Diana Prince-Wonder Woman days in which she dimension-hops and recruits legendary heroes to help her save Paradise Island from Ares. What's at stake here and how this is happening is a bit unclear, although if I were to go back and reread I might glean some more info. To this end, I have purchased via the eBay a copy of #20; hopefully that will help. Oh, and there's also a subplot involving Nemesis and Sarge Steel and ape warriors in Diana's apartment which I'm not sure I want to know about. The art by Aaron LoPresti and Matt Ryan is slickly done and very professional, and tells the story in a competent if unexciting way. I still wish Simone had a more distinctive writing voice; more often as not this is a generic comic book dialogue style she uses. But she does very well with the characterization, and I can't imagine why any fan of the character wouldn't be delighted with this creative team. Me, I'm interested enough to get the next two issues to see how this all turns out, and that counts for something, doesn't it? B+

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE FIGHTIN' SCIENTISTS OF TESLADYNE TPB: This is the book that's been getting the fanboys all hot and bothered? This? If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Robo boys are praising Mignola and Co. to high Heaven because there is practically nothing in these stories that doesn't come across like repurposed Hellboy- the lead character's personality and dialogue style, the organization he works for, the menaces he faces; all follow the Mignola template...Atomic Robo is to Hellboy as Tori Amos is to Kate Bush. But y'know what? Once in a while I like an Amos track- and in spite of all the secondhandedness, this is fun and fast-paced, and more often as not the quips and humorous situations in the midst of the quirky set pieces and action sequences are as amusing as they're intended to be. There's real talent involved here; this isn't hackwork. Brian Clevenger's dialogue isn't stilted or overwrought, and Scott Wegener's Mignola-meets Ted McKeever art style tells the story well. But what I want to see is something I haven't seen before- are Clevenger and Wegener capable of doing it? And since this is as successful as it is, will we ever get to find out? B

CATWOMAN #80: Mildly disappointing finale as Selina gets even with the mastermind behind her recent troubles, but said mastermind is such a generic villain that it doesn't really make much of an impression. Oh well. Otherwise, well done as always, despite that minor caveat, and one more to go! B+

DAREDEVIL #108: If the plan is to provide a Dakota North spotlight, well, Brubaker and Lark/Gaudiano team are succeeding spectacularly. As a Daredevil story, well, not so much as we get a plot that's too similar to the recently concluded Gladiator-in-prison-and-seemingly-nuts storyline for my tastes. At least Matt Murdock's Job-like trials have momentarily been put on the back burner...but I guess what I'd like to see is just a wee bit more...something. Adventure, perhaps? And that doesn't mean DD beating up thugs for three pages, either. B-

FINAL CRISIS #2: For God's sake, people, calm the fuck down. We're still only two issues in. Would you judge the Stones' Exile on Main Street, or any album for that matter, after two tracks? NO. True, Grant's being coy and not showing all his cards at once, but that's his style. Jones' art is as painterly and accomplished as ever, and I will admit that he could work on his sequential storytelling a bit, but I had no problem with the scenes (such as page 2 & 3's rising sun panel layout conceit) that many have been bitching about. All I'm saying is that we should let this thing unfold, rather than getting hysterical four more times. After #7, though, all bets are off. A-

HELLBLAZER #245: The first of two Jason Aaron-scripted books in this group finds Mr. Aaron taking a look at Constantine's Punk era via flashbacks and the device of having a TV journalist crew break into the abandoned site of the Newcastle Pub, which, as longtime readers know, was the site of one of his greatest failures. Apparently, malignant forces remain there still, and the unfortunate TV crew ends up in deep shit. Good idea for a storyline, and Aaron makes the most of it. I also liked the fill-in art of Sean Murphy; it's nicely expressive, even though his anatomy sometimes gets the best of him. Of course I reserve the right to recant if Aaron bungles the ending of this two-parter, but if heaven forbid Diggle moves on anytime soon, and not that I'd want to see another book added to his workload at the expense of Scalped, but I'd be fine with Aaron getting a shot at ol' Conjob. A-

MADAME XANADU #1: I've always liked this character, ever since I first gazed at her sultry Mike Kaluta covers on the otherwise undistinguished DC horror anthology title Doorway to Nightmare. After that, there was a one-shot which (as I recall, it's been a long time) had its moments but didn 't shed much light on its protagonist, and a not-bad ongoing guest role in the Ostrander/Mandrake Spectre series of the 90's, which did delve into her background a bit, but painted an unsympathetic portrayal that kinda rubbed me the wrong way even though I always generally liked what Ostrander did with that title, one of the 90's best in my opinion. She always seemed to be relegated to standing around in supernatural character group shots and posing, not really contributing much except the occasional tarot reading. In short, Madame X has been for years now a blank slate that not many writers have cared to try and scribble on, and this series is an attempt to redress that, and maybe provide the corporate masters at AOL Time Warner with another licensable property to exploit. Anyway, biggest attraction here is the mangaesque stylings of new artist Amy (Easy) Reeder Hadley; she acquits herself well, telling the story fluidly and clearly, excelling on the title character in her younger years, and kinda coming up short on the Phantom Stranger and Merlin. Her work suffers a little from the cutesy babyface style depiction which is a characteristic of lot of manga artists, and it's not always a style choice which agrees with me. All things considered, though, the kid does OK- which lays the blame for the general mediocrity of this issue at the feet of experienced old pro Matt Wagner, who seems to always whiff when assigned this sort of thing; God forbid he should be given the adventures of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to write on any sort of a regular basis. His Demon series of the mid-80's was bland and unmemorable, and he works in all those characters here as well to little effect- in fact, it all reads like a very precious issue of Fables, only without the benefit of Willingham's well-thought-out ideas. Wagner omits no cliche here, doubly disappointing coming from the man that gave us a very good Arthurian swipe via Mage. Still, as with Final Crisis, this is only one issue, and the best may yet be to come. I hope. One other thing that struck me upon reading this was Hadley's peculiar depiction of Madame X's footwear; she walks on tiptoes at all times, her shoe soles covering only the front part of her foot, as if to approximate deer hooves. I bet she needs a lot of foot rubs from sugar daddy Merlin as a result of this odd choice of shoe... C+

NUMBER OF THE BEAST #6: See above. C+

SCALPED #18: Catch-your-breath issue, which focuses on the one apparent honest cop on the "Rez", Franklin Falls Down. It's a typically solid character piece, as I have come to expect from Jason Aaron, and if it's not particularly memorable, well neither is its subject, although I wouldn't be surprised if some events here don't come back into play before this series is done. Not so impressive is the art by fill-in Davide Furnò; his loose, sloppy style is a distraction more often as not and his depiction of officer Falls Down is inconsistent with what regular artist Guera has established, equally disconcerting. Regardless, he tells the story well enough to get by, and this is another solid-if-not-exceptional issue of one of the best books being published today. A-

UMBRELLA ACADEMY: APOCALYPSE SUITE TPB: In which a Noo Joisey boy takes his best approximation of Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman straight to the bank. I'm not familiar with the music of Gerard Way's band, My Chemical Romance, nor am I familiar enough with his formative influences to get any insight on what could cause him to create something that comes across as a blend of Grant's Doom Patrol with the Lemony Snicket books...but the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. None of this is particularly innovative or original- in fact, nearly every one of these characters can trace their lineage back to the kinds of superpeople Morrison used to toss out there as window dressing back in the late 80's-early 90's. But derivative as it may be, it's still clever enough, with just enough attention is paid to fleshing this oddball cast out, to make this reader at least want to see more of and learn more about them. So mission accomplished, I guess. One thing I'm sure about is that this wouldn't be half as interesting as it is without the deft, angular hand of Gabriel Ba doing the visuals. Seemingly influenced in equal measure by Richard Case and of course Mike Mignola (and I'm sure a host of others I'm to dull to spot), he's up to the task of bringing this to life and giving it panache. I was afraid this would be almost too twee and precious to bear, but that didn't turn out to be the case- and while I still maintain that I'm really tired of teams of quirky superpeople facing bizarre menaces, I suppose I can make an exception in this case, since it's a first-class presentation all the way. A-

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