Saturday, July 26, 2008


Yes, it's time once more for Confessions of a 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 July 1st to July 23, 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 #93 Another well-done (and tenser/grimmer than usual, I might add) 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 7 issues. A-

ACES: CURSE OF THE RED BARON GN: Y'know, out of many neglected comics genres these days, none is more neglected (well, maybe romance comics) than those dealing with World War I adventures. And I suppose there's good reason for that; it was a hell of a long time ago, even before the creation of what we think of as comic books, and it fell to WWII to get all the attention of not only the fledgling funnybook market, but Hollywood as well. Still, I find myself enjoying WWI stories whenever I run across them; one of the best books that I have read in recent years was Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War, which was the reminisce of an Italian soldier in that conflict. But there have been some good WWI comic-book stories out there, mostly courtesy of the fine folks at Warren and EC as well as DC's Enemy Ace feature, and this one, I think, belongs on that list as well. In that grand buddy-pic tradition, we get two fighter pilots, one a Yank and one British, both of whom claim to have shot down the legendary Red Baron, teaming up to find his lost treasure, the whereabouts of which are supposed to be revealed by a map which the latter claims to have taken from the wreckage of the Baron's plane. Of course, complications ensue and we get not only the "Ghost of the Red Baron", but OF COURSE a deeper (and stranger, to say the least) conspiracy behind it all- it's at least a clever and novel one. Co-written by Shannon Eric Denton, whose name sounds familiar but whose work is not and G. Willow Wilson, whose byline has graced a couple of recent Vertigo projects, it moves along at a crisp pace even though there is the occasional clumsy bit of dialogue- I don't think that even a Brit (and I'm being sarcastic here, don't get mad, my British readers) would refer to another pilot as a "terrifying infant". Artist Chris Square-Briggs lays a small-town water tower full of ink and wash on his illustrations, and that certainly sets a mood, but much of this is almost too dark and murky for what would seem to require a lighter approach. He also has a real problem with 3/4 perspective when it comes to his renderings of characters' heads. These problems aside, he does tell the story effectively for the most part, and seems to get the period detail (no expert am I on that score) right, always important. If you're inclined to like war comics like the ones I've mentioned above, as well as Garth Ennis' recent forays into the genre, and appreciate a novel twist- I think it's safe to say that you'll find this a good read. It's not perfect, but it is entertaining enough to be worth your time. There's a MySpace page, if you'd like to see more. B+

BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM! #1: Yet another attempt at perpetuating the trademark, this time infusing a generous dose of that Disney Channel/Cartoon Network/Nickelodeon pseudo-retro-Flash animation style that someone somewhere behind a desk hears that the kids seem to like to watch on TV these days, and like those programs, this is all very manic and abstract and never lets up for a frigging minute in being active because all kids (as we know- or so we're told) these days suffer from ADD and microscopic attention spans and you have to constantly bludgeon them with a visual assault or they'll lose interest and go play video games or read comic books or something. Anyway, it works pretty well for those TV networks, as any selected viewing of the likes of Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Fairly Oddparents, The Replacements, you name it, bear out. And fortunately, if they're going to tread this path, they picked a pretty good artist to do so in Mike Kunkel. His style is loose and energetic, and as a writer he does a decent job of continuing the lighthearted tone of Jeff Smith's pretty-good Monster Society of Evil, from which this is supposed to be spun off. Like many others who have already held forth on this, I can't imagine who DC thinks will buy this; there's no cartoon tie-in to grab the kids' attention, X-Men and Batman fans can't care less, and the geezers who remain devoted to the original Beck/Binder comics of yore probably regard this with disdain. So there ya go. DC fairly reeks of desperation when it comes to Captain Marvel, and they try so hard to make him a success somehow...and unlike Smith's series, this one gives off a definite "let's throw THIS against the wall" vibe. I wish them luck, but I still maintain that Smith miniseries aside, there is no audience for an ongoing Marvel Family book- and I have no reason to believe that this benign but meaningless trifle of a comic will be any more successful at reviving and maintaining the franchise than any of the others. B

BLUE BEETLE #28: The second of Will Pfiefer's fill-ins doesn't work as well as the first; while he does a good job with the characters- no one stays on character better than Mr. Pfiefer- the story itself is weak and devoid of any surprises. The art doesn't help; it's trying to remain true to the Rafael Albuquerque pseudo-manga pseudo-animated pseudo-realistic style that has been established so far, except they're just not as good at it- storytelling choices that are just not quite sharp enough, dodgy anatomy, you know. Since Rogers and Albuquerque wound up the mini-epic of Jaime's battle against the Reach, we've been treated to a host of fill-ins and apparent tryouts, and while Pfiefer's professionalism shows through, very little else of it has been all that impressive...not the best way to stimulate interest in your struggling sales-wise title, Dan. I hope that they put some kind of regular team in place soon, so the creator-go-round can stop and hopefully some momentum can be reestablished. C+

THE BOYS #20: Outside of the dick-measuring contest between Butcher and the Homelander, which almost does the one thing that I have long maintained was a deal-breaker for me with this book, i.e. make the superhero characters look worse than the black-leather clad "good guys"- balance being everything with me here- not a whole lot happens in this issue; it's mostly a big infodump as Wee Hughie continues to get debriefed by The Legend and we apparently ramp up for the next big story arc. OK, fine. I've yet to be really let down by this book so far, so we'll see. B+

B.P.R.D.: THE WARNING #1: Picking back up where the last Arcudi/Davis miniseries left off, this time trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Fu Manchu-looking guy who's been appearing to Liz in her visions, as well as the presence of Lobster Johnson around the BPRD HQ. So far so good, Davis is excellent as always. Y'know, this newish character Panya, the mummy lady, reminds me a lot of the distinguished classic film actress Dame Edna May Oliver. Just an observation, more later hopefully as subsequent issues come out. A-

FABLES #74: While this issue is still of the same high quality that previous issues have been, and Willingham, Buckingham and Leialohaham have certainly achieved a consistent sort of excellence, I must note that this issue also continues a trend of recent issues that extends back many months, with only a couple of exceptions: in this big battle against the Big Bad Adversary that Willingham has established, he's done story after story in which we get a truncated view of the events of said war, mostly shown to us via minimal depiction and a lot of exposition- we're being told rather than shown how utterly and completely the good guys are dominating as they win it, and the whole thing is being baldly presented as such a fait accompli that of course discerning readers are immediately suspicious and await the other shoe's falling, which is now being hinted about here and there. OK as far as it goes, but I prefer to experience my storytelling revelations in a less transparent fashion, I do believe, so even though I'm fully invested in this series and genuinely like many of the characters I'm just a hair put out by the sheer artifice of it all. Artifice in a comic book series, what a concept- you'd think by now I'd be used to it wouldn't you? B+

HELLBLAZER #246: No real surprises here, in the second part of Jason Aaron's two-part fill-in; it's pretty much S.O.P for when people look into Constantine's background, and especially into the Newcastle event. Aaron does a great job with the dialogue, especially John himself. I gotta say that I found myself liking Sean Murphy's art this time out; while it's sometimes sloppy and he really likes to take liberties with facial expressions and such, it's often very sharp and reminds me a little of Chris Bachalo circa Shade. Since it looks like Diggle's moving on soon, and hopefully taking Manco along with him, I wouldn't mind seeing these two take a turn at doing this book long as Aaron doesn't let Scalped slide. B+

HELLBOY: THE CROOKED MAN #1: At the risk of repeating myself a bit, since I've been gushing about this since I first read it several days ago, I'm a sucker for the sort of supernatural backwoods stories that are best exemplified by Manly Wade Wellman's great Silver John (aka John the Balladeer) stories, and that's exactly what we have here. Also what we have here is the return of the true Hellboy, the one that Mike Mignola himself writes (and no offense to Arcudi or Dysart, who have done superior work on the B.P.R.D. stories)- taciturn, gruff, no-nonsense but also reserved and calm, with the quiet air of a being who has seen just about everything and is prepared to deal with it, as far from the childish, surly movie caricature as can possibly be, and serving as a reminder that the four-color version is still superior to the celluloid version, no matter how much of a special effects budget Del Toro has. After looking into some "stuff" down South, HB finds himself wandering through the Virginian Appalachian Mountains, and getting involved with the mountain folk, who seem to be beset with witches and possibly the Devil himself. Along comes a tall, lanky former resident of the area, who's traveled abroad after fleeing his own encounter with evil, and now he's back to face his fate. Hellboy is almost a passive bystander in this scenario, and while you know he'll get to beat the hell out of something eventually (and get hell beat out of him, too) it's refreshing and gratifying just to get to absorb the situation through his eyes, rather than with him goosing the proceedings along- when he finds out something, we find out something. Absolutely invaluable in this is the art of Richard Corben; while sometimes he teeters on the edge of cartoonishness with some of his facial renderings, he is a master at establishing mood and illustrating backgrounds; this story reeks of atmosphere and it's all thanks to him. He takes Mignola's dry scripting and fleshes it out brilliantly. I think people forget that he initially made his name doing gore and horror for the undergrounds; in fact, he used to sign his work "Gore" sometimes. This is a brilliant reminder of just how good he is. This is one of the best comics I've read this year, and this is only part one. A+

MANHUNTER #32: Second third comeback issue is stronger than its predecessor, with lotsa fanservice- Blue Beetle fans get served via apprearances by not only Jaime Reyes but that title's gender-switched wannabe Al Swearengen La Dama, Batman fans get served via the impending Joker team up, even those few and proud of us who are Chase fans get served via the longish scenes with our Kate and DEO Director Bones. All of this is ably, if grubbily, illustrated by Michael Gaydos, who adheres to the Alex Maleev/Mike Lark/Steven Gaudiano template in his approach. Yet another really good book that far too few people are reading. And so it goes. A-

NORTHLANDERS #7: Sven gets payback of sorts in this penultimate issue of the first ongoing arc, and if it's not exactly cathartic (Sven remains too conflicted for that) it's at least very well illustrated, even as events sort of devolve into one big "yaaargh" before it's over. Gotta mention Massimo Carnivale's outstanding cover this issue, it's nicely detailed and is rendered to look like Prismacolors and ink. One thing this series has going for it if nothing else; the art. B

NUMBER OF THE BEAST #7: Well, the Authority shows up in this one, and it perks up a little, but mostly this remains an anonymous, convoluted, immaculately illustrated superhero Matrix swipe, and even though I'm in till the bloody end thanks to Mr. Sprouse, I really would be happy if he'd devoted his talents to something else, thus enabling me to happily remain in complete and blissful ignorance of the whole thing, like (I suspect) about 3/4 of the rest of comics fandom. C

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #10: Unsurprisingly low-key windup to what certainly has to be considered perhaps the strangest thing that Marvel Comics has ever put out- I think that when all is said and done its greatest legacy will be the amount of grist for the thought mill that it provides, not only in its apparent surface themes, such as the whole individuality vs. conformity, integrity vs. media-generated shallowness, but also other interpretations that have already begun to spring up...and how cool is that, to have a comics series with enough depth to allow continued discussion, unlike so many series that are here today and forgotten tomorrow? I've said it before, but I think we really have to hand it to Marvel for putting a comic like this out in the first place, especially since it falls so far outside of the purview of what they usually do. I know that there was some controversy at the beginning from original creator Steve Gerber and his partner Mary Skrenes, and as he feared this was quite a departure from the more straightforward superhero saga they together crafted...but I have a feeling that he would have respected, if not openly admired, this take on his creation. A

PATSY WALKER: HELLCAT #1: I had to work WAY too hard to parse Kathryn Immonen's choppy, disorienting dialogue style while I was trying to read this; too much disconnect and disjoint in service of trying to maintain a crisp pace, I guess- although the exchange between Patsy and Iron Man begrudgingly shifted into focus and provided an example of how I think she wants this comic to read all the time. I hope. Fortunately, she's got David LaFuente on art; he's definitely manga-inspired, and the cutesiness works well in the opening scenes but not so much when they get to the Alaskan bar, but he keeps things moving at a quick pace with some nicely done action sequences and helps bring out the wit that is floating around in the script. Special mention must go to "color artist" Jon Rauch- he cranks up the candy colors in the opening fashion shoot scene to great effect, and works the color palette very well later on in the normally drab Alaska scenes, contrasting Patsy's loud hues with the grays, browns and greens the scenery calls for. Excellent job. This is off to a decent enough start, hope it gets sharper. B+

POWERS #29: In which a lot of stuff that's been coming to a head for what seems like years (and this current storyline has been going on for at least one, perhaps two) and Mike Avon Oeming does a great job of ramping up the intensity. What this issue's events mean in the long term (and this book has some LONG terms, believe you me) is anybody's guess, but I remain impressed how Bendis stays with this title, especially in the face of everything else he has going on these days. A-

SCALPED #19: The spotlight this time is on Red Crow's slutty daughter, who sports a laundry list of addictions and personality disorders. However, this we already knew, so we get to find out a little bit more about why she is the way she is, and as is par for this particular course it ain't pretty. Such unrelenting grimness often becomes wearing, but Jason Aaron is skillful enough to know when to pull back the reins a bit. In fact, I think injecting a bit of humor in this book would be a major mistake, which is something I rarely say; Scalped is completely out of balance in its unrelenting bleakness but that's why it works so well. I don't think anybody's gonna get any life lessons out of this when all is said and done, except perhaps in a cautionary way. Davide Furno is back on art; I was under the impression that he was on board for the last two issues only. It's OK; he's not bad even though his somewhat Colan, Watkiss-or-Mandrake-ish loosey goosey style isn't as satisfying as R.M. Guera's mix. A-

WONDER WOMAN #20: OK, I got this because after I had read #21, I didn't really have a good handle on why exactly Wondy was traveling through realities or dimensions or time or something and encountering the various sword-and-sorcery characters of DC's failed 1975 line expansion, including JBS favorite Beowulf. After reading this, I really don't feel much more enlightened. Maybe when I read #'s 22 and 23. I will say this, though, after #21 and this I do have a newfound respect for Aaron LoPresti and Matt Ryan's art; while it's not distinctive stylistically, looking almost exactly like obvious inspirations the Dodsons and especially Adam Hughes, they do depict the goings-on in fine fashion- moreso in the fantasy fighting stuff than the real-world goings-on, but fine just the same. I can't imagine why hardcore Wonder Woman fans wouldn't be delighted with this version of the character, but I know they're a finicky lot. B-

And that's about it for this time out. New comics due Friday, and I'll also cover the first three issues of The Infinite Horizon as well as the collected Black Diamond. Oh, and don't want to forget Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, which I'm gearing up to feature by itself.

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