Saturday, August 30, 2008


Here's a special in-between shipments edition of CoaSRJ, that more-or-less regular JBS feature in which I write shortish 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, in this case, to be specific, the period from approximately August 22 through August 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.

FINAL CRISIS: LEGION OF THREE WORLDS #1: With all due respect to Hawkman and Hawkman fans, there is no more fucked-up continuity in the history of comics than that of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Since day one, a long line of creators from E. Nelson Bridwell and Curt Swan through Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum on through Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Olivier Coipel have tried to give comics fans a Legion title that would be aesthetically satisfying (i.e. in synch with current comics trends) and sell in enough numbers to make the bean counters happy while still maintaining enough continuity between versions to pacify the hardcore longtime LSH fans, a difficult task if ever there was one. So now, here's Geoff Johns, a bit of a dab hand at handling books with large casts of characters, to try and sort it all out and perhaps give us a Legion everyone can live with. Again. Not a bad start, actually; while Johns jumps around from setting to setting, alternating between a destructive infodump starring Superboy Prime in the 30th Century's Superman Museum and a beleaguered Legion facing forced disbandment (again) at the behest of the United Planets, and while there is a lot of overheated dramatics it still moves along at a speedy clip- not recent Brave and the Bold speedy, mind you, but a brisk pace just the same. George Perez, pretty much the point man when it comes to drawing massed throngs of superpeople, does his thing here with, strangely enough, slightly less cluttered results- instead of 12 people per panel, we only get 7, and instead of 150 chunks of rubble, we get only 65- that sort of thing- and it's a lot more readable because of it. I especially like Perez' disheveled, stringy-haired Brainiac, who's just as grouchy as ever but becomes the most compelling character by default. I don't know how exactly this fits in with current LSH continuity (since I haven't read an issue of that ongoing since it was in its early teens) and don't really care, and I'm only a bit more interested in how it fits in to the whole Final Crisis tapestry (don't see how just yet, except in the once-more rebooted Legion that will presumably result at the end of the day), but I thought this was a fine opening chapter and I want to see where it goes. Docked a notch for Perez drawing Kinetix in her late-DnA period Amazon Human Breadfruit Woman look. B+

FINAL CRISIS: REQUIEM: Basically a retelling of the death of the Martian Manhunter, with some details that were omitted from Final Crisis, and an account of the aftermath of that death. Better than it sounds; J'onn's struggle against Libra and the villains is gripping, and most of the sentimental stuff afterwards isn't overdone. Of course, it helps that it's Doug Mahnke illustrating it all; not only is he capable of expressing a range of emotion with his powerful style, but he has a passing familiarity with most of the characters via his stint on JLA. It wouldn't surprise me if the events of this issue, one or two in particular, don't come into play before this whole Crisis thing is done. A-

FINAL CRISIS: REVELATIONS #1: This is somewhat better than the turgid Spectre feature that ran in Tales of the Unexpected last year; better drawn for sure but still steeped in the sour tone and drab carnage that dragged the previous series down so much. The Crispus Allen Spectre, still a waste of a formerly good character and still looking hell of stupid with that Van Dyke, gets to get all wrath of God on our old buddy Doctor Light and another supervillain I'm not all that familiar with named Effigy. Batman badguy, perhaps? Also, the new female Question is mixed up in the proceedings as well, to not particularly good effect, scuffling with a group who seems to have dug up the Spear of Destiny, aka All-Powerful Plot Resolver Device #12,762. I have to believe that these two were among the character restarts that Dan Didio deplored so publicly the other day. Anyway, what this series has to do with the Final Crisis goings-on is still up in the air; we do get a scene in which Spec tries to take down Libra for killing J'onn J'onzz, but of course he's ineffective- there's still too many comics in the series yet to be published! In spite of all my grousing, this was fairly readable- Rucka's good enough to at least keep slight material moving at a decent pace, so it's at least that. Of course, there are still four or so issues to go, too. C+

IMMORTAL IRON FIST #'s 15-17: Whoops, I think I might have bailed a little too early on this one- after Brubaker left with the conclusion of "7 Capital Cities of Heaven", I knew that Fraction would be gone soon after, and just figured it was the beginning of the eventual decline and cancellation under lesser talents. Looks like I was hasty. #15 is another flashback to a previous Iron Fist, reading like a parable and ultimately quite moving in its resolution, much to my surprise. It's enlivened by the best Khari Evans art I've seen since Daughters of the Dragon. #16 brings back original series artist David Aja for a last hurrah and gives us some great character stuff as we see where Danny Rand's head is at following the events of "Capital Cities". Also, Fraction delivers one last wrinkle before bowing out: in this issue, Danny comes to the realization that nearly all previous Iron Fists died at age 33, then is presented with a surprise birthday party featuring a cake with large "33" candles on it. Dah-dah-DAHHH! #17 is the first issue by new writer Duane Swierczynski (with whose work I am completely unfamiliar) and artist Travel Foreman (with whose work I'm only slightly more familiar), and it's OK as far as it goes; we get a bit more present-day stuff with Danny, neither here no there, and an extended Sergio Leone-inspired flashback featuring another outstanding art job by the great Russ Heath. The modern-day scenes are fine, but don't really tell us much about the new team- a toe in the water if you will. Foreman's more modern, "kewl", overrendered and kinetic style will still probably be a good fit but suffers in comparison with the old master, Heath. As it turns out, I'm still interested in this book after all, and I guess I'll have to jump back on the bandwagon, at least until the ride stops being fun. #15: B+ #16: A- #17: B+

JOKER'S ASYLUM: THE PENGUIN: Is it just me, or is Jason Aaron hot in here? Haven't been reading everything he's done lately (I refuse to jump on board the Ghost Rider train), but everything I have read has been smart and sharp, and you can't find a better example of this than this- what, on the surface, seems to be just another Penguin story but because of the skill of both writer Aaron and artist Jason Pearson (I still wish Redbird had been completed), it becomes a solid character-driven story, more in-depth than, say, your average episode of Batman: The Animated Series. I especially liked the occasional glassy-eyed, expressionistic rendering of Pengy; made him look like Tony Millionaire drew him. The ending was just a shade too ambiguous for my liking- SPOILER HERE- is the girl going to spend the rest of her (probably) short life in that cage? Who feeds her? Cleans up after her? If she was in a basement room or attic or something, that's one thing, but she seems to be in a main office of some sort. Oh well. SPOILER OVER. The positives far outweighed the negatives for me in this very good one-off. A-

VINYL UNDERGROUND #'s 1-11: "First impressions are often the truest"...I've heard this all my life, and it's often accurate. But this series, I think, is an exception. When I first saw the ads, it was some time around the time I had just read Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Phonogram, (a bit late, I know) and it reminded me a lot of that series, with the hip, cynical young lead character, the supernatural themes and the British locale. It also gave off a strong Hellblazer vibe. But while there are definite similarities, VU manages to wear its influences on its sleeve, yet folds them in quite smoothly, and the result is very readable. As so many comics do these days, this reminds me of a TV series pitch...but this is a series I'd like to see. DC calls them "occult detectives in London", but really they're a Scooby gang: Morrison Shepherd, a Jarvis Cocker or Richard Ashcroft lookalike, constantly referred to as "Mozz" by most of the cast, (because everybody loves Morrissey but me apparently and it makes him sound even more kewl and British) is the Fred of the group, a former cocaine addict, underground DJ, and son of a famous footballer who has serious mother issues (his is missing, and his search for her informs many of the later issues). Although he has all these quirky character traits, he really doesn't do much of anything except perhaps provide the axis around wich the others revolve. Another quirk is that he leaves an Otis Redding vinyl 45 at the scene of crimes he and the Gang solve, an expensive calling card if ever I heard of one. His cohorts include Leah King, a Barbie-doll beautiful morgue assistant (this comes in handy when stiffs from the weird mysteries come in) who provides the muscle (she is a brutally efficient fighter). She also moonlights as an internet model, pornstar and call girl of sorts in one scene in the middle of the first arc. "Perv" is a Mister Sensitive type, doesn't like to be touched, and also is extremely sensitive clairvoyant- he has possessed seizures that tip the Gang off to the upcoming storylines, that is, what they should investigate next. Rounding out the group is Kim "Abi" Abiola, Mozz's ex-girlfriend who is nothing less than an African princess in exile, her father being a powerful witch doctor- and she's psychogeographically sensitive to boot, which makes her sound like Hellblazer's Map character. I think mostly she's there to provide some sparks between Leah, Mozz and herself. Anyway, four very attractive characters with a wide variety of quirks to make them more interesting, check. Also serving as a father figure of sorts is retired gangster Tommy McCardle, who serves Morrison as a father figure of sorts, since Mozz's real dad is dead and his mom is god knows where. Police detective D.J. Caulfield, a Meshell Ndegeocello lookalike who is the usual recipient of all the Otis singles, provides a liason and source of information, although she is rarely happy about it. Other London gangster figures, neo-Nazis and a number of other seedy characters also make up the supporting cast. The two main story arcs in these were actually well-set-up; the first, in which Abi's witch doctor father is set up to take the blame for a child's murder, and it's up to the Gang to prove his innocence and get him out of prison. It's a fairly involved mystery, with a supernatural-tinged ending, and was a very good showcase to get to know the characters. The second involves a trio of university professors who are performing experiments on young women, and weaving a weird William Blake-inspired scenario as they do their ghastly work. It has some squicky moments, but I liked the British-ness of it all, Anglophile that I tend to be, as Spencer works in constant historical and geographical commentary- and the resolution was certainly unpredictable if not especially plausible. The last two issues to date deal with Morrison's search for his Mom against the background of a race riot in London; we get some flashbacks to his earlier life and some often oddly poetic moments as he sees and interacts with his younger self, something which has been a recurring thing during the course of the series. When I brought up VU on Twitter a while back, more than one commenter opined that it seemed like a "generic Vertigo book" and didn't read it- and I'm afraid I was guilty of that as well. And it's not a misconception; every character and every situation is redolent of many, many other past Vertigo series and storylines, and that also applies to the art- rather than the baroque, oddball style Simon Gane brought to his collaboration with Andi Watson, Paris, he (admittedly) tones it down and along with inkers Cam Stewart and Ryan Kelly gives us a really good Philip Bond impersonation, although truth be told I'm also often reminded of 1970's cover stalwart Ernie Chua (neƩ Chan) as well. Now, here's the thing- I don't necessarily mind derivative works of fiction, if a little wit, creativity and (most elusive) spark are brought to bear...Brian Wilson took Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" and made it "Surfin U.S.A.", and both were stellar. Marc Bolan was fond of doing the same; "Monolith", from Electric Warrior, is a complete "Duke of Earl" swipe, to name just a couple of examples over the years. I've always been fond of the saying that "creativity is the art of disguising your sources", and Si Spencer does just that for Vinyl Underground, but he manages to put it all together in such a fashion that it works very well with Gane & Co.'s assistance. I wish now that I had been buying this from the beginning, but of course that's besides the point. Maybe I could have persuaded a few people that this was worth their time, but who knows. Anyway, next issue, #12 (out in the next couple of weeks, I think) is the last and that's a shame- I wish this book could have gotten another year to get its feet under it. I suppose the first trade must not have sold that well, because thats generally how low-selling Vertigo titles earn their keep anyway. It would be nice if we could get a new original GN once a year with these characters, or something like that, since a monthly series is apparently not tenable, but I know better. This is a dead book walking, and there's no way the Scooby VU Gang is going to be able to rectify that situation. It's a pity. A-

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