Sunday, September 07, 2008


Time once more for CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE, that more-or-less ongoing and often overdue 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, or to be specific, the period from approximately August 31 through September 4, 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.

AMBUSH BUG: YEAR NONE #2: Giffen and Fleming make a great team, make no mistake, and everyone knows how much I admire the work of the erstwhile Thriller scripter...but this issue was one long rambling setup in search of a punchline that never arrives, and the occasional chuckle over a clever quip just doesn't compensate for the tedium. An Ambush Bug story can be a lot of things, but dull shouldn't be one of 'em. I know they're casting a comparatively wide net, and they're going after targets that need skewering, but next time I hope for a little less Mister Nebula (one of Giffen's lamest creations in his Justice League run) and a little more shopping for refrigerators. I chalk it up to rust. For now. C+

BLUE BEETLE #30: Blue Beetle keeps rolling along in its Blue Beetley way; storylines from the last couple of issues are expanded on, the supporting cast gets plenty of face time, Rafael Albequerque continues to deliver solid, dynamic artwork, and Matt Sturges does a fine job building not only upon previous storylines and cast, but also of goosing along what seems like a half dozen (I know, only really two or three) plot threads all at once. As was the case with Giffen and Rogers, sometimes a lot of the exchanges between characters doesn't seem to cohere, but maybe that's me- I don't see anyone else having this problem. Yet another example of a good superhero book that is being ignored by fandom in general; I suppose it's the lack of angst and SHOCKING DEATHS and so on that seems to be the ticket to mass success, or at least insofar as that relates to comics sales, anyway. Pity. B+

CATWOMAN #82: And speaking of outstanding superhero comics that have met with almost complete apathy by the comics buying masses at large, here's the poster gal. Gosh, it seems like only yesterday that Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke (with Mike Allred on inks) presented us with this radical new take; compared to the boobalicious purple suited Selina Jim Balent and his successors gave us, it seemed like someone had smacked us upside the head with a cool two-by-four. Straddling the line between the sleek, smooth crime film thrillers of the 1960's and modern-day superhero comic book shenanigans, it was a lot of fun, even after Cooke left and was replaced by (among others) Cam Stewart, who carried on in fine fashion. Then, after a stint with all-wrong Paul Gulacy on art, the book got a goose when Will Pfiefer took over from Brubaker and delivered, at first with Pete Woods and later with David y Alvaro Lopez, one of the most consistent, and consistently good, titles in the DC line. It was light when it needed to be, and angsty when necessary as well but not excessively so (and certainly not as dour as many of its contemporaries), and I suppose this, as well as the fact that it's a book with a female lead character- always a struggle for the rank and file fanman- have all contributed to its criminally low sales, and now, its cancellation. What a shame. And I dread seeing what we get next. But anyway, to the matter at hand- the finale really isn't anything revelatory or unique; what did you expect? The beginning of a 12-issue story arc? "Whatever Happened to the Pilfering Pussy"? Nah, it's a book-length chase scene with Batman hot in pursuit, with most of the previous issues' storylines being referenced if not resolved, and which leaves Selina's character pretty much reset as the grey-area criminal she was before the writers made her a shade more altruistic. As so often with this comic, it's low-key and very well done; won't leave you gasping or particularly moved, only somewhat angry that there's apparently no longer a place for a well-done, low key DC superhero comic these days. As others have said already, it was a great ride, and 82 issues is a hell of a run in these troubled times (a surprising 50+ for Pfiefer). Problem is, you come away thinking that this ride still had many miles left to go, and there's the pity. A-

DAREDEVIL #110: This just in: Matt SMILES. Yes, that's right, the tortured Man Without Luck gets to lighten up for just one panel. That's about the most distinctive thing about this issue; the seen-it-before main plotline gets resolved with a not-undue amount of struggle, it's well-scripted and very well drawn. I recognize that this is top-notch work by all involved. But there's a glum sameness to this title (you all know because I've been bitching about it forever and I guess I should just either shut up or drop the book), especially ironic considering that the title character was created to be a swashbuckling adventurer type, that I KNOW is consistent with the Miller/Bendis template...but it doesn't exactly make for an entertaining read. As Paul McCartney once sang, "it's a fine line." B+

DELPHINE #3: Y'know, I'm not trying to be all smartass or anything, and you all know my admiration for the skills and gifts of Richard Sala knows no bounds- but there isn't a hell of a lot going on this time out, especially when you factor in the cost. It's beautifully drawn as always, in his Hank Ketcham meets Charles Burns style, but the total effect of this issue is like one of those dreams we've all had in which we're running, running, running, looking for something, and never find it even though we stumble across several other things. I hate to be one of those people- you know- those who are always bitching about their money's worth...but I don't particularly feel like I got mine this time out. That said, I have every confidence in Sala to bring this home in grand style. B+

EL DIABLO #1: Reviewed at B

FINAL CRISIS: ROGUE'S REVENGE #'s 1, 2: As much as I've complained about the gloomy, self-important tone of most superhero comics these days, I'm sometimes as susceptible to falling for their charms as the next fanman, I suppose. Even though I haven't been a regular Flash reader since I was a preschooler (a long time ago), I always liked his villains- they hadn't formally named them the "Rogues" just yet- a colorful and diverse lot. Here, they get a spotlight series, and it picks up from where the clumsily-handled death of Bart Allen issue of Flash and Salvation Run left off, with the gang (Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Weather Wizard, and Heat Wave, joined by the new kid Trickster) being hunted by the heroes for killing Bart, and on Libra's bad side for rejecting his Secret Society of Super-Villains. Originally, the group plans to retire and hang up their uniforms, until Libra enlists a new group of bad guys designed to copy their abilities- they injure the costume maker that the Rogues were friendly with, as well as kidnap Cold's father (whom he hates). At the same time, Professor Zoom, another old Flash nemesis, frees Bart's murderer Inertia from the stasis that Wally West put him in, in order to recruit him for Libra's Society as the new Kid Flash. The Rogues make short work of the imitators (and Cold's dad, too), and decide to settle up with Inertia as well, but Libra wants them on his side and is willing to go to extremes to get them, as #2's ending makes clear. Yeah, I know. A lot of what you get from this depends on how familiar you are with what's going on not only in Final Crisis, but recent Flash history as well, and although I've been keeping up with the former I'm only somewhat familiar with the latter, having only read that infamous issue #13. This is all very grim and dire stuff, as the rank and file DC book tends to be these days- grim times call for grim villains, or so the thought process seems to go, and that's certainly the case here. Still, the internal logic of the story works, the Rogues themselves get a fair amount of screen time and some depth of characterization, and the grubby, overrendered Scott Kolins art suits the material. Another good job by Geoff Johns, who seems to be hitting on all cylinders these days. I can't imagine why anyone besides Flash fans and those who are trying to follow along with Final Crisis would give a damn, but I'd be willing to bet that there are much worse FC tie-ins out there. B+

FINAL CRISIS: SUPERMAN BEYOND #1: Gosh, what a mess. On the surface, it's a look at what's been going on with Supes during the events of Final Crisis, including his recruitment to save the world (along with a handful of alternate-reality versions of himself) at the behest of a being who stops time so he can do soInstead of the accessible Grant of All-Star Superman we get something closer to The Filth or The Invisibles as he once more goes all metatextual on us, messing with perception, not only ours but the characters', on multiple levels. But that's not to say that this is impenetrable; it actually seems like (whether by choice or editorial mandate, which I doubt) that he's trying to meet us halfway, and rather than go deeper into obfuscation he pulls back and lets us grasp some of the concepts and ideas he's putting forth. It's still way to chaotic and ofen nonsensical- he further explains the whole thing of massaging Lois' heart with his heat vision to keep her alive, and it still just doesn't make sense- but there is a certain inevitability to the events that build up a good head of steam, and makes me want to see where it ends up. It doesn't hurt that it's all drawn by Doug Mahnke, whom you all know that I think is one of the very best superhero artists working in mainsream comics today, and whose work here shines, even when muddied up by the inessential 3-D process sections. B+

HOUSE OF MYSTERY #'s 1-5: You know, It goes without saying that DC would really like to find another book that captured a group of readers like Sandman did, and to that end they've given us title after title, some Sandman-like in spirit, and some literally spun off. Even though Lucifer (the best of the bunch, really) had a good long run, none of the others have managed to catch fire even as well as that one did. Me, I think it's just because it captured a moment in time with a number of young readers (and this late 20-something), and that moment has passed; morphed into something similar but different. This is DC's latest attempt, taken straight from the source by way of the failed Dreaming title; if you've read any of Gaiman's Vertigo work, or any of the many successors, then you know what to expect from this- it's cut from exactly the same cloth. Basically, it's a lot like Munden's Bar, except the Bar is the House of Mystery minus Cain and no longer in Kentucky, I assume. This is, if memory serves, a continuation of a Sandman storyline which has been revisted once or twice since. There's a regular staff of barkeeps and barmaids, and a parade (well, a short one so far, we're only up to issue 5) of characters that go in and out, and each one has a story to tell (each one drawn by a different artist, such as Jill Thompson in the best example), stories being the legal tender in this new House. We're set up to identify with a young blonde lady named "Fig", a perfectly twee-sounding Gaimanish name for a perfectly twee Gaimanish heroine, who stumbles into the House when she's pursued by some mysterious shadowy ghost people who want the blueprints that she's drawn of a House that she's dreamt of. Guess which one. She soon ends up working at the House because like the others she can't leave, and of course there's going to be further trouble down the road. Add to that another subplot about a previous waitress that actually got to leave, and the at-least-once-an-issue story that a patron tells...and really, there's a lot going on, as familiar as it all seems. That Blue Beetlin' Matt Sturges scripts; he proves to be as comfortable aping Gaiman as he is Willingham- not that there's all that much difference actually- and he's keeping all the multiple plot threads relatively untangled and flowing smoothly. New-to-me artist Luca Rossi's style also fits right in to that Vertigo formula; it looks like a mix of Buckingham and Mignola, similar to mid-Aughts Ryan Sook, or a less stiffly posed and much less pretentious Tony Harris. When you think about it, it's the perfect style for this book, which is still readable despite its complete genericity. I think it's better than The Dreaming, for what that's worth, but if you're looking for innovation or stunning originality, then keep looking. B

MADAME XANADU #3: Madame X is now in that decreed stately pleasure dome of none other than Kublai Khan, and ensconced as an advisor to same. She gets mixed up with court intrigue, and the Phantom Stranger again. Good idea, logical extension of what little we know about the character and her place in DC history, Wagner has gotten it in gear after a stumble out of the gate. Manga-influenced artist Amy Hadley is in her element here, with the Oriental stylings that are part of the situation giving her room to expand on the script. Very nice cover as well. A-

NORTHLANDERS #9: In which we move ahead a few years and meet a young boy named Edwin, who lives in the town of Lindisfarne, (no, not this Lindisfarne, which I thought of first, not knowing the story of the historical Lindisfarne...and I know, I'm probably the only person that made that connection- but that's just the way I am, I suppose) and whose lot in life is unfortunate indeed as he receives much abuse at the hands of his religious nut father, whose tough love is fueled by regret at the death of his wife giving birth to this boy, and his lunk of a brother. That promises to change as he finds himself on the beach as a rading party of Vikings sail ashore, and he finds himself in a position to get a little payback. Good slice-of-ancient-history writing by Wood, and I was especially happy to see new artwork from Dean Ormston, a real underrated illustrator who always shined when doing fill-ins on Lucifer, among other books. All in all, another fine issue; I had been considering dropping the monthly to get trades instead, and I ordered this thinking it was one and done. Guess I'll be getting one more single! A-

SCALPED #20: We get deeper into the head of Red Crow's daughter Carol this time out and it's not a pretty place. She and lead Dash Bad Horse are caught in a co-dependent downward spiral, and we get ringside seats as the various loose ends of the previous storyline still make themselves felt, never really getting resolved- but I'm sure it's a matter of time. Not exactly the happy fun comic of the two weeks' period, but no less gripping reading. Artwise, Davide Furno is fine, but I'll be glad when Guera comes back. A

Coming soon, reviews of SECRET SIX V3 #1 and THE MARTIAN CONFEDERACY.

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