Thursday, October 16, 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 September 29 through October 10, 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.

BATMAN #680: I don't know, everybody- yeah, this is Grant we're talking about here, but this is a frigging mess. Even though Morrison is usually a font of ideas and possibilities, sometimes I think he has trouble expressing those ideas coherently, especially when paired with, shall we say, less gifted collaborators- and he's certainly saddled with one this time out, I think it's safe to say, even though the three-issue arc with J.H. Williams III succumbed to incoherence at the end as well. I like that that Morrison is trying to stir in a lot of different ingredients from a lot of off-the-wall periods in the character's history; the whole what-the-hell aspect of it is probably its biggest strength. He's muddied the mix with me by throwing in the Joker, which evokes more of a "oh no not him again" reaction with me than a "Oh, cool!"- and the split tongue is just disgusting for the sake of being disgusting. Maybe I'd be more attuned if I had been reading as far back as the pre-Williams issues, where this cliched Damien character is introduced, but that's not the case; if I'm trying to read something titled "Batman: RIP", and they put that title at the top, then that's where I'm starting, damn it. Oh well. Short story long, this is very flawed but interesting in a car-crash kind of way, and I'm idly curious about the big revelation next issue that Grant has promised, so I'll be getting next issue no matter what and then we will see what we will see. C+

BATMAN STRIKES #50: Late for the party as usual, this was my first issue of DC's most recent animated Batman series tie-in, and it was provoked by fond memories of the last time I recall Etrigan the Demon popping up in one of these things, Batman Adventures Annual #2. While this isn't better that that 1995 annual (no Bruce Timm on art, for starters), it's still a passable supernatural adventure story, in which new-to-me writer James Peaty works in those three demon guys (whose names elude me and I'm too lazy to look up), a puzzle box straight out of Hellraiser in which they were imprisoned, and the odd-looking Trent Reznor-looking TV Riddler, of all people, and maintains a frantic pace throughout. Drawn in that almost-Timm style by Christopher Jones and Terry Beatty, and they acquit themselves well for the most part; it's not especially inspired but it is efficient. This is the last issue of this particular iteration of the character; I guess we're supposed to be sad but really- as long as there is a Johnny DC line, a Batman book will be part of I'm sure it won't be long before something takes its place. B+

Just in time for the MLB playoffs and the World Series, here's a nostalgic baseball saga by the same guys that brought us the somewhat fondly-remembered Hench. Writer Adam Beechen does a nice job with the random cast members' characterization; I especially like the ex-con junkball pitcher (in a movie, I could see him played by Joseph Cotten or even the Professor, Russell Johnson) who is fond of making up sounds-like-bible quotes, and he successfully evokes the spirit of a hundred and one late 40's-1950's B-movie baseball movies, not to mention low-budget noir flicks, with his story. But I don't think he understands baseball as a sport or business very well; the owner of a team in pre-free agency and guaranteed contracts 1961 didn't have to tell a manager to "retire" an unwanted player; the owner just traded him, sent him to the minors, or cut him outright. It was business. Also, while the whole "If we had this guy pitching for us, we'd win the World Series thing" sounds really nice from a stage or screen dramatics standpoint, in real life it takes a lot more than one good pitcher to take a team all the way to the top- just ask Steve Carlton about his stint with the Phillies in 1972. Anyway, it's still a diverting little prison break story, even though I wish it had zigged and zagged a bit more on its way to its final destination. Manny Bello continues to build on the promise he showed in Hench; all his characters have a well-worn schlumpy kind of look, like baggy-uniformed baseball players and their bosses tended to have back then- except the love interest, oddly drawn with simpler, cleaner lines and a more animated cartoon aspect than the remainder of the cast, almost as if he was trying to make her come across like Glenn Close does at "Wrigley Field" in The Natural. He still has more than a few awkward poses, and the art tends to be dark and the inking sloppy...but he still manages to tell the story well and I'll certainly be interested in what he illustrates next. Dugout, while far from perfect, is still a good, diverting read, especially if you are interested in, or even remember, baseball as it used to be. B+

EL DIABLO #2: Standard-issue Big Two supernatural superheroics, as the newly minted title character continues to face his various demons, so to speak, while being mentored by a ghostly Yoda figure and of course he's hotheaded and doesn't understand his place in the big picture and of course he's a hothead so he charges off on his own private agenda which of course doesn't go well and of course there are people who he thinks are his enemies that aren't really and he will of course eventually learn to work with them rather than against them and...well, I think you get the picture. While the story underwhelms, writer Nitz is very fortunate to have the assured hands of Phil Hester and Ande Parks to bring it to life with their jagged, kinetic style, aided by the bold hues and vivid Photoshoppery of colorist Guy Major. It's because of them that this is as readable as it is, not because of the recycled Ghost Rider (both versions) and Spectre tropes. B+

FERRYMAN #1: Don't pay the Ferryman, or so the song goes; however, in this case it would be a better idea to come up with the money I think. Pretty much one big Itchy and Scratchy Show episode, as the title character, a supernatural repo man of a sort, questions himself and his purpose while inflicting pain upon, and in turn getting pain returned upon, himself as he attempts to do his job and bring in a fellow who is trying to welsh on his Faustian deal with the devil. This could have been awful, but it helps that Manhunter's Marc Andreyko is doing the scripting; the dialogues, both inner and outer, are well-written and the pace is brisk. Artist Jonathan Wayshak, another new-to-me illustrator, has a sketchy, scratchy, kinetic style, reminiscent perhaps of Simon Bisley, that works pretty well with the material for the most part; it doesn't exactly move me but doesn't hurt my eyes either. As this sort of tv slash movie tie-in thing goes, it's not too bad, but I'm reminded of an issue of Global Frequency (drawn by Bisley, coincidentally- or perhaps not so- enough) that was similar in vibe to this, and it was my least favorite of the make of it what you will. C+

GEARS OF WAR #1: For the life of me, I don't know why the Powers That Be think that these video game tie-ins will be interesting to anyone- people who aren't hardcore gamers can't care less, and those who are won't get the same sort of experience from the static page. Undaunted, many publishers still throw these things together then put them out in the world to general indifference. Can't imagine why this won't suffer the same fate- it's pretty much a bunch of big guys walking around being macho and shooting mutants, and despite some not-bad Liam Sharp art (didn't care for his work on Vertigo's Testament at all), it's just kinda routine and dull. C-

HOUSE OF MYSTERY #6: The lead this time is the story of one of the House's servers, who used to be a pirate queen Bloody Bess type but was led astray by love. It works OK. Second half is taken up by the residents' plans for escape, and it progresses the story well enough. This isn't exactly a thrill-a-minute comic, but I remain mildly interested in the characters and continue to buy for that reason alone. Oh, and I like the design of the logo for what that's worth. Also, I keep hoping that Cain will show up again- he's far more interesting after all this time than the group of young handsome people we're being asked to invest in. B-

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST: ORSON RANDALL AND THE DEATH QUEEN OF CALIFORNIA: This is the sort of thing that Howard Chaykin used to be able to hit right out of the park back in the late 80's-early 90's. A solo spotlight for Danny Rand's predecessor, as he gets mixed up with weird cultists in 1920's L.A., it reads decently enough, if a little too unnecessarily cluttered; and seeming like Duane Swierczynski's tryout script for the main Immortal Iron Fist gig. Artwise, it's very unimpressive; Giuseppe Camuncoli's slick, modern art style is totally unsuited for the kind of Weird Tales/Spicy fare this wants to be. For current Iron Fist completists only. D+

NORTHLANDERS: SVEN THE RETURNED: You know how I'm always saying that this and that will probably read better collected, but I never get around to getting the collection to let you know if that's true? Well, for once (thanks to the fine folks at DC) I got the chance to follow up on that often-made statement, which I made (I'm sure) at least once about this very title...and y'know, I was right. Sven, which came across to me as uneven at best in one-month intervals, achieves a flow in one sitting- and perhaps because I'm rereading it, I picked up on the occasional overlooked detail here and missed nuance there which added to my enjoyment. Of course, I always liked Davide Gianfelice's nicely detailed art, as well as Massimo Carnevale's excellent covers, from the beginning. Of all the works of Brian Wood I've read so far, I do believe that this is one of his best to date. The latest issue, #10, also impresses in its bloody climax to the Saxon invasion story- the ending, with its somewhat unsatisfying outcome for its nominal young boy lead, rings true and I always enjoy Dean Ormston's too-infrequent interior art. TPB: A- #10: A-

Y'know, somebody at DC really likes this character- despite her obscure beginnings as one of the initial casualties of the DC Implosion of 1977, she's gone on to persevere and is now, if not a major player in the DCU as well as the DCAU, at least a solid second-stringer comparable with, oh, a Hawkman or Metamorpho. It doesn't hurt, either, that she fits right in with DC's admirable desire to diversify their character base. So now, here we are with her first solo series that I'm aware of, written by up-and-comer (or so DC wants us to think) G. Willow (Air) Wilson and drawn by someone named "Cafu", (gesundheit! Sorry...) whose work unfortunately reminds me of the clumsy stylings of Mike Grell, only Photoshopped better. Storywise, it's a good-enough setup I suppose, as new evidence comes to light via a Justice League terrorist bust (which included Superman, who looks ludicrously out of place beating up on ordinary mercs and soldiers) about the death of Vixen's parents, which sends Vixy off to Africa toot sweet to get payback. All of this is wrapped inside by a stunning Joshua Middleton cover; he's becoming a big favorite of mine. If you're disposed to like this character, or have always had a yen to see Halle Berry in a good superheroic exercise, well, you're probably already getting this. If you're just idly curious, you could do worse. B

Reviewed at B+

ZOMBIE TALES #5: As I always said when reviewing earlier iterations of this BOOM! title, I am pretty much tired of zombies. I bailed on Walking Dead and have avoided other zombiecentric efforts for (among other things) that reason. Still, when I saw that none other than comics blogosphere luminary "Pal" Ian Brill had his first professional comics script in this very issue, then I thought the least I could do was check it out if I got the chance. The chance came, and I can honestly say that Ian has done very well for himself, even coming up with a novel (at least to me) twist on zombie lore...and to say more would give said twist away so I'll let it go at that. He gets lucky in that he's paired up with a decent artist, who tells his story in a straightforward style in mostly coherent fashion. The other two stories, by bigger names, both feature nice art but are sabotaged by stories with ambiguous endings that leave you more "Huh?" than "Wow". So I'm thinking that BOOM! could do worse than to let Ian just take over the book- at least his story had an ending. B

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