CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE.
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 September 4 through September 17, 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 #95: I must say that the death of a cast member, done in only slightly smirky fashion here as sort of an ironic punch line to a joke that really didn't have much of a setup, was pretty surprising. And, as I said, we will have to wait at least another month to witness the outcome of #94's Lono-Dizzy fracas. Otherwise, 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 5 issues. A-
THE BOYS #22 - Pretty much status quo this time out, with very little in the way of new developments in the ongoing storyline (unless you count Butcher's little epiphany at the end) and a lot more of the infodumping we've been getting for a couple of chapters now. I'm not sure how much of this is essential knowledge, but I'm happy to have it out there to refer to just the same. Jog had a (typically) good review of this issue up earlier this week, and it inspired a pretty interesting comments section, so I'll refer you to that for now. B+
B.P.R.D.: THE WARNING #3 - Did I miss an issue? The first two installments have been mostly about Liz Sherman and the annoying fellow in the Fu Manchu robes that has been haunting her dreams, and the B.P.R.D.'s pursuit of same- then suddenly we're in Germany, and the frog creatures are back, and the whole tone of the book abruptly changes. Which is fine as far as it goes; John Arcudi has made the Bureau his own, moved in and made himself at home, and I'm sure stuff will get tied together eventually. And of course, Guy Davis' art is always brilliant. A-
CRIMINAL 2 #5 - Our hapless cartoonist protagonist keeps messing his own bed, or digging his own grave, or whatever you want to call it. He's such a unassuming fellow that you can't help but root for him, but unfortunately that involves a lot of wincing as he keeps on making bad decisions- the ones that don't get made for him that is. Not much else to say about this comic at this point; it's wonderfully illustrated by Sean Phillips, one of today's best comics illustrators I insist, and while I still have a tiny personal reservation about this title- more to do with my aversion, or perhaps reluctance to completely embrace, the Noir genre as a whole (be it film or prose or comics) due to its relentless mundanity and monotony of subject matter- this is as good as sequential storytelling gets, and you can take that to the bank. Also kudos to Marc Andreyko for a really nice text piece on a flick I've never seen, but now want to. A
FABLES #75 - Big, double size grande finale to the whole Adversary War thing; at first I thought it seemed rushed and pat, but then I realized that this was issue #75, fergoshsakes, and it was probably something which needed doing so Willingham and Co. could move on. I had also been bothered a bit by the ease which the outcast Fables were experiencing as they won battle after battle and seemed to outmaneuver the Adversary's forces at every turn...but I also knew that this was the kind of reaction Willingham was expecting, and dreaded the other shoe dropping, which it did here. Of course, given the transitory nature of life and death in this series, I wouldn't be surprised if the unfortunate war hero here doesn't pop up again at some point. Anyway, even though I have my doubts about the effectiveness of the final solution we get here, and still think the whole thing could have been a bit less efficient and a bit more dramatic, it was overall an entertaining tale and, loyal Fables kool-aid drinker that I am, look forward to what happens next. A-
FINAL CRISIS: REVELATIONS #2: Reviewed at PopSyndicate.com. C+
FRINGE #1: I've never been overly fond of comic-book versions of popular (and not-so-popular) television shows and films; by their very nature they usually disappoint. This is no exception. I'm not completely sold on the series either; its characters are unconvincing, its lead uncharismatic, and its storylines play too fast and loose with not only the laws of nature and physics, but the audience as well, seeming to make its own rules up as it goes along. It plays like a Cliff's Notes version of better shows of the last ten years or so, from (of course) X-Files to obscurities like John Doe. This comics adaptation is intended to be an expansion of characters and ideas that come from the show, as is de rigueur for this sort of thing. The lead tale is an account of the eccentric scientist Walter Bishop, one of the trio of main characters, in his younger days at Harvard. It's drawn by Tom Mandrake, so it at least has that much going for it, and I suppose if you're caught up in the TV storyline you'll find it interesting. The second story is about a people who are suddenly waking up to find their consciousness in another body, which is an extrapolation of another theme of the TV show. It's illustrated by a couple of guys I've never heard of, but whose main inspiration seems to be Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary's work. It's a passable story. These are not bad comics, necessarily, but they're second-hand and derivative by nature, and when you consider that the TV series they're based on is the same, than that makes this product third-hand. I suppose there's a demand for this sort of thing; Dark Horse seems to do well with its Buffy and Star Wars spinoffs, and WildStorm continues to publish an X-Files comic in addition to this. For what it's supposed to be, Fringe the comic succeeds. C
JONAH HEX #35: It's been a while since I've read an issue of Hex; I was enjoying it at first, especially when Graymiotti teamed with a really good illustrator like Jordi Bernet- but there was a formulaic nature to almost every story I read and I got bored with it eventually. However, the artist-go-round continues, and while I could make myself pass on the Darwyn Cooke-drawn issue of a month or two ago, when I saw J.H. Williams III was doing the honors this time out I couldn't say no. He's one of my absolute favorite artists- his imaginative style with its designerly chops is always brilliant. However, (and I really hate to bring this up) but after I read this the infamous "lipstick on a pig" quip came to mind- it's wonderfully drawn and colored, and Williams is at the top of his game as usual, but the story which Graymiotti concocted for him is yet another example of Hex running afoul of some sort of authority figure that of course double-crosses him and makes him go through some sort of difficulty before re-establishing his alpha male priority and getting his due. Of course, the whole slipping-him-the-mickey so the Sheriff's wife can try and conceive a child since the Sheriff is sterile thing is a fresh wrinkle...but the basic construction of the story is one that I got bored with abour 26 issues ago. So, an art-lover's delight, but unsatisfying in pretty much every other way. B-
LOVE & ROCKETS: NEW STORIES #1 - In which Los Bros. inaugurate their new, bigger, and of course more expensive format in grand fashion. Jaime opens and closes the volume with an absolutely delightful, unselfconscious superhero fantasy that starts in ordinary fashion, with Maggie and her galpal Angel gossiping about one of Mag's tenants, then escalates into an all-out cosmic superhero battle as various groups of female superheroes seek to subdue Penny Century, who finally got the superpowers she wanted, but had to pay an awful price and has gone on a destructive rampage. This, one of the best pure superhero stories I think I've ever read, succeeds not only because of Jaime's usual strengths- i.e. his outstanding art with its confident ink line, excellent staging, dead-on blackspotting, and his matchless ability to capture the female form, but because it's almost the polar opposite of most superhero comics stories these days. In this story, pretty much anything can happen, and it's limited only by Jaime's imagination, and that gives it a freewheeling, giddy drive that I got caught right up in. Most comics writers these days seem motivated in large part by the desire not to write something fanciful or fun, something which can be perceived as childish or uncool by the bullies that they may or may not have been faced with as they grew up; many seem to be afraid someone will perceive them as a "nerd". Not Jaime; not that anyone would do that anyway...but this is, as I said, totally un-selfconscious and a hugely entertaining romp with characters that weren't always conceived to be used in this fashion- and it's all right. Of course, as I've so often stated, I'm not such a big fan of Gilbert and Mario's stuff, but they acquit themselves well; Gilbert provides a few of the usual headscratching short strips, as well as a couple of longer stories, one of which is meant (I'm sure) to be some sort of existential musing on persistence or inevitability or something which eluded me completely, as well as another look at his Julio character...but his highlight (for me) was a fanciful, surreal outer-space adventure in which he exhumes early 50's comedy team Mitchell and Petrillo, who were sort of a poor man's Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis back in the day, even starring in the immortal grade-z quickie Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. I don't think Beto's trying to enlighten here, he's just looking to have fun and it comes across. Mario also collaborates with Gilbert on another surreal tale which revisits older characters to no great effect, really- it struck me as rather pointless, but inoffensive. The cover package design for this new series is outstanding as well; love the font choices as well as the matte paper. For me, the Jaime story (it's continued in the next issue!) and the Beto Mitchell and Petrillo tale, plus the good-looking design, make it well worth the money. Fantagraphics' website unabashedly hypes this as "...a major graphic-novel event!", and for once I can't really argue. A
MANHUNTER #34: Kate continues to try and get to the bottom of the whole sordid goings-on at the secret facility on the Mexican border, while other subplots, such as the one with her son and his newfound abilities, and Dylan Battles' stalker, kinda float in and out of the narrative as well. Add to that lots of guest stars, (thankfully, Chase is AWOL, but I'm afraid we're going to see her again soon) and you get a bit of a mishmash that seems to be spinning its wheels to no good effect, I'm afraid. Still, there are pluses; for the first time since the relaunch, we get a sense of the Kate Spencer we got in the first two series runs, and I liked her somewhat surprising interaction with not only her erstwhile teammates in the Birds of Prey but her struggle with the Suicide Squad members also on the scene. I think Andreyko did a good job with Count Vertigo in particular. I also think this issue was the first one in which artist Mike Gaydos seemed to be comfortable; his battle scenes were easy to parse and the character interaction stuff showed nuance. I'm still interested, because I got the bug a long time ago, but I am getting a little restless. Hopefully we won't get strung out too much longer. B+
MARTIAN CONFEDERACY TPB: Continuity and First Moon's Jason McNamara returns with an ambitious Sci-Fi saga that borrows from a number of sources, but manages to stitch them all together into a readable little saga. Set in a distant future in which a colonized Mars is presented as a run-down tourist attraction, with a corporate controlled air supply system, we're given lead Boone, who's a live-by-his-wits kinda guy who deals in junk and such and ekes out a living; Lou, his snarky femdroid friend, and a anthropomorphic bear dude named "Spinner" who gives him a hand upon occasion. At the beginning, a scientist friend of our company comes up with a way to make Mars' atmosphere breathable for everyone, and of course the government, represented by a thuggish fellow named Alcalde, who is willing to go to murderous lengths to maintain the staus quo on the less-Angry, more-Destitute Red Planet. Yep, this is all pretty much been-there, seen-and-read that territory, and things progress more or less like you expect them to. Still, McNamara has talent, as First Moon proved, and he's clearly put a lot of thought into his scenario- so while this is an overly-familiar refrain, it's still a pleasant enough song. I wish McNamara had better luck with his collaborators; Continuity and Moon's Tony Talbert had a raw and loose, but energetic style which worked better with the former than the latter, but it could have used more polish. Confederacy's Paige Braddock has a mini-comic style, but she's trying to draw a graphic novel epic and she's just not up to the task. There's a crudeness to the figures, as well as a lack of confidence in the sequential progressions and practically nonexistent backgrounds that just doesn't help the script at all. It's not egregiously bad, but her work looks like it would be better served on three-panel slice-of-life humor strips than this sort of endeavor. Martian Confederacy is an agreeable page turner, but sadly nothing special. C+
PATSY WALKER: HELLCAT #3 - I'm sorry- this is wonderfully drawn, but it's as shallow as a mud puddle on an asphalt highway and while I'm sure Immonen is trying really hard to write a breezy, fun story, it's just too scattershot and random and (yes, here's that word again) incoherent for me to really get behind. Of course, I'm in for the long haul (preordered, that is), so I hold out hope that she'll bring it home in grand fashion. I'm less and less optimistic on that score with every issue. C
SECRET SIX V2 #1: Everybody (well, everybody whose posts on this and the previous series I've read, anyway) seems to think this book is the bee's knees, but for the life of me I can't see why. It's utterly generic superhero stuff. Sure, it may have once been a little more "gritty", i.e., the characters might have been more unpleasant than the run-of-the-mill, but DC has spent years now living down to that standard, and thus what we end up with is just another title populated with characters that are charismatic in a seedy sort of way, some more handy with the quip than others, who go through the same motions that you can get pretty much anywhere within either universe of either major comics publisher. Anyway, as with V1 #1, for them that likes, here's more of the same. For what it's worth, the whole Catman and Deadshot at the grocery store holdup thing was cute. At least this issue didn't squick me out as much as V1 #5 did. C-
SUB-MARINER: THE DEPTHS #1: Here's a comic that has kinda slipped in there under the radar; what with all the Secret Invasion/Skrull hoohah, I guess there's only so much attention that can be paid, even to a series that has a pedigree like this. Pete Milligan, always worthy of attention, is the writer and he sets up a situation where the Sub-Mariner is thought to be a legendary being like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, and introduces a fellow who's made it his life's work to travel 'round the world and debunk such myths. Enter a group of businessmen with Chester A. Arthur facial hair and a lot of money, who hire this fellow, Doctor Stein by name, to find him and by extension, Atlantis. This seems to be a retelling of his origin, although the time period in which it's taking place is not specifically referenced. Artist Esad Ribac does a really nice job of establishing mood by painting the whole thing in dark hues intermingled with soft-focus pastels, giving it a sort of nostalgia-evoking Sky Captain mood. This promises to be a modest winner. A-
VINYL UNDERGROUND #12: While it certainly seems that Si Spencer had to tie up a whole bunch of plot threads in one issue, thanks to this unfortunately overlooked title's cancellation, he managed to do so without too many stitches showing, and the series went out on a high note as far as I'm concerned. I can't add too much to what I wrote a few weeks ago about the first eleven issues; I guess this will be forgotten soon...but personally, I'll regard it as yet another short-lived series that I liked and few others did, and left too soon as far as I'm concerned. It would be great if Spencer and Gane could continue it somewhere else, but I won't hold my breath. A-
WONDER WOMAN #24: When the Beowulf crossover ended, I figured I'd stop my short-lived Wondy habit, but I had the chance to read the next issue I figured "why the heck not". It's a kinda schizo story; the first half features an awkward encounter between Wondy's new boy toy Nemesis and Queen Hippolyta on Themyscira as Diana brings him to meet the 'rent; it's supposed to be light and fun and is pretty much just that, and there's even a genuine laugh-out-loud moment at the end. It's here that I can see why Simone has such a cult of admirers. Then, we very abruptly switch settings to Hollywood and lapse into incoherence as Wondy goes out to negotiate the rights to a proposed film about her (pfft- everybody knows THAT isn't going to happen...!) and winds up encountering more than she bargained for of course in the form of a threat from an old JLA-era adversary. This set piece isn't nearly as successful, but also ends on a cliffhanger so I suppose the jury will have to remain out. Bernard Chang does the art honors, and does them well; his style is not one that stands out from the crowd these days, but he makes solid storytelling choices for the most part (more so in the first half than in the second) and his figure drawings are very appealing. Simone's Wonder Woman remains, to me at least (and based on only five issues), a good read, especially when she's not trying to give us superhero tropes. B+
Coming in the next Spinner Rack Junkie, reviews of AIR #2, TINY TITANS #8, and others.
Reviews of Vertigo's latest, GREATEST HITS #1, A-, and BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS #11 C- can be found at PopSyndicate.com.