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 October 26 through November 7, 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.
BLUE BEETLE #32: Plot wheels grind slowly in this issue, and they're being spread awfully thin; we're still dealing with the leftover threads from the last few issues, and this time we get extended face time with legacy badguy Dr. Polaris, in a series of scenes designed to show us what an evil mofo he apparently is these days. As fast-paced as always, but this is coming across as inconsequential and slight, and that's not gonna move a whole lot of units...which is something this terribly sales-challenged book needs to survive. B+
THE BOYS #24: All the gross-out fratboy hijinks are clamoring to be the focus, but I'm liking the subtle character stuff more, such as the quieter scenes between the Frenchman and the Female, and Mother's Milk and the town cop as he investigates the death of Silver Kincaid. Here's the best-kept secret about ol' Garthie boy, y'see- while everybody remembers all the gross, irreligious, irreverent stuff in better works like Hitman, Hellblazer and Preacher, the glue that held them all together was the more-deeply-felt-than-you'd-think relatonship stuff as best exemplified by the three-way romance between Jesse Custer, Tulip, and Cassidy, John Constantine and Kit, or the BFF-style hijinx of Tommy Monaghan and Nat the Hat. It's here, too, but sometimes it hides. I can see it, though, and I hope you can too because that, and (once more) Garth's willingness to let his "good guys" be just as ruthless and arrogant as the "bad guys" is what keeps me reading. A-
CRIMINAL 2 #6: I said at the beginning of this arc that it this was not gonna turn out well for our kinda-sorta hero, and nothing I've seen since has convinced me otherwise, so there's a grim sort of inevitability to this story which truncates my enjoyment somewhat. Still, when you've got Sean Phillips illustrating your slow march to doom, that makes it worthwhile. A-
DAREDEVIL #112: Better than last issue, because if nothing else Brubaker once again gets to write Iron Fist for a few pages. Otherwise, this book remains in the same stylistic rut it's been in forever and a day now, but at least it's a still-mildly-interesting one, especially since Ed has expanded the focus a bit to work in even more recycled Miller concepts, the aforementioned Danny Rand, and that Tarantula dude he seems so fond of. Also nice to see Mike Lark back on pencils. I still have no use for this uninspired Lady Bullseye character though. B+
EL DIABLO #3: Writer Jai Nitz continues to establish the boundaries of his Robert Rodriguez-meets-Bernard Baily opus, working that "supernatural avenger from beyond the grave" thing for all it's worth as he establishes the ground rules as far as who's who and what's what. It's OK, even though we've seen it all before. I'm still enjoying the Phil Hester/Ande Parks art, too; it's as edgy and intense as the script demands. That said, I wish the parallel fight scenes in this issue had been spelled out a little more clearly; when you have your protagonists gain and/or lose their advantage off-screen, well, it doesn't help reader comprehension, I'm afraid. B+
FINAL CRISIS #4: There's so much noise going on with this book that it's hard sometimes to just look at it and see what's happening; between the scheduling gaffes and the artist foibles and adjusted expectations and so on, it sometimes seems that the actual story here is secondary to all the hoo-hah that has accumulated around it. Problem is, when you do actually try to look at this latest mega-event objectively, it presents itself as another ordinary "invasion of Earth by hostile extraterrestrials" saga, albeit one infused with the ideas of the King of Comics himself, Jack Kirby. I've come to expect greatness from Morrison (and I'm not alone), but sadly, this is a mess, and it's a bit disingenuous on Grant's part as well since this is merely the basic template he seems to always follow when writing this sort of story- his JLA comes to mind, and it seems like one of his New X-Men arcs was similar in execution. Which is not to say it's a mess like his concurrent Batman: RIP, which suffers from poor art as well as overstuffed plot; there is some imagination, spark, and Morrison's trademark succinct dialogue style in its favor. But really, the only thing that's in doubt is just how the good guys will triumph and reestablish status quo...and that's an awfully ordinary objective to strive towards. So perhaps Grant is just the victim of heightened, maybe even unrealistic expectations here, but in my opinion it seems like he's aware of this- and figures that he can't win no matter what so why not just try meet them halfway and be done with it. Another bone of contention lately has been the change in artists, as J.G. Jones has found himself unable to meet the arbitrary deadlines that have become attached to this project and had to bow out. That's a shame, because Morrison and Jones have a good sort of synchronicity when they collaborate under normal circumstances...however, this isn't a normal project and deadlines are more of an issue, especially when retailers get in the mix. In this issue, he gets assistance from Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino, whose work, with its dynamic action poses and lively layout style, has pleased me greatly in the past. They seem to be sublimating their tendencies in order to merge more smoothly with Jones' more designerly style here, however, and while overall the look is consistent, it doesn't really play to Pacheco and Merino's strengths at all. Anyway, come what may (as they sang in Moulin Rouge!) I'm in for the long haul, so we'll see how this all turns out. Is it wrong of me to hope that somebody shoots the Atom into Darkseid's ear again, just like Grant did in JLA? B+
HELLBLAZER #248: I'm really going to miss Andy Diggle on this book; nothing against Pete Milligan at all, and I'm sure he'll take ol' Conjob into some interesting places, but Diggle has such a great grasp of John's personality that it's been a pleasure to read his run so far. In this issue, we're still dealing with loose ends and characters from the last couple of storylines; John seems to sort things out in his typical fashion...but it seemed too easy, and it turns out there was a reason that it went as smoothly as it did. I have to give props to Leo Manco for really stepping it up a notch on art; his work is as good now as it's ever been since he came on board. A-
HELLBOY: IN THE CHAPEL OF MOLOCH: Reviewed at PopSyndicate.com. B+
THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #19: For the second issue in a row, writer Duane Swierczynski's best efforts are undercut by murky, incoherent art by Travel Foreman, especially in the big showcase fight scene department- I mean, I've read this issue three times now, and I'll be damned if I can tell you much of anything about the battle between the Iron Fist Killer and the Mystical Cities Champions other than it seems to have ended at some point in a stalemate of some sort. It's just that choppy and poorly staged. I think he has a good handle on the characters, though, and this arc has been enjoyable enough- the opening confrontation is sparked by a pretty nifty twist (that I suppose I gave away earlier in this review, sorry), and even though the sudden-but-inevitable-betrayal at the end loses a little of its shock value because let's face it, the betrayer wasn't exactly one we had gotten to know very well, I'm engaged enough to see it through for the time being. I really wish that Travel would travel on, and give way to an artist that can compliment, rather than compete for attention with, Swierczynski's scripts. B+
INCREDIBLE HERCULES #122: I like fun as much as anybody out there, believe me, so when I kept seeing pages from this posted all around the Net, with its "CRAKKAJAMMA" and the admittedly hilarious "Prince of Atlantis! Check thyself!" line from the lead, well, I got curious. I don't fully understand everything that's at stake here, despite Sappho's best efforts to get me up to speed in the intro...but I don't guess it matters; breezy scripting, eye-pleasing art that's only a little stiff- that adds up to an entertaining comic that has me curious about others in the run. Hercules, or at least Marvel's version anyway, has always been a fun character, so it's good to see the tradition continuing in these troubled times. A-
JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #20: On the other hand, this is not so much fun and is mostly devoted to that ongoing saga of Power Girl and her intradimensional adventures. I was never a fan of the old Infinity, Inc. book, nor of the 70's Justice Society revival (although I did have a fair amount of issues, mostly for the Wood inks), so most of this kinda leaves me cold. But, the characterization is solid if a little soapy, and even though competent but unexciting old pro Jerry Ordway draws about half of it, young buck Dale Eaglesham acquits himself well by comparison on his pages. Another good-enough chapter in the ongoing saga. B+
MADAME XANADU #5: In which Wagner and Hadley give us Madame X as a supporting character in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, continuing their Magical History Tour in mostly clever fashion. I like the on-again, off-again romance stuff with the Phantom Stranger, who conveniently keeps popping up when MadX is about to get in deep merde. I also think Hadley's pretty-face manga-esque style works very well with the Revolutionary French settings. Xanadu remains, if not essential, still interesting and enjoyable. A-
MIRROR'S EDGE #1: What sets this, the umpteenth attempt to capture the attention of the gaming crowd with comics (which is kinda akin to trying to capture the attention of hunters by promoting trap shooting), apart from other similar attempts is the stylized Oeming-cum-Mignola art of Matt Smith, he of The Keep, Astronauts in Trouble, and Day of Judgment fame. Even though his work is not quite on par with those gentlemen, he is a talented artist in his own right and he makes this visually interesting, at least, and certainly does a great job of reproducing the look of the game. Not being a gamer, I don't know what the lore is or what the objectives are, so I don't know how close this comics' account of a young, high-nerd-appeal Asian girl who gets recruited into what seems to be a group of people, couriers of a kind, who leap about on rooftops as they deliver sensitive information or what-have-you to people actually is to the source material. I do know that it can't be especially easy to craft any sort of narrative or storyline to what appears to be your basic running, jumping, shooting kind of game, and I'll give new-to-me writer Rhianna Pratchett, who apparently is involved in the game project in some capacity, credit for that. Well-drawn and mildly interesting, unlike about 99.9% of the rest of this genre, and if you're not expecting much, you might find this enjoyable. B+
SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS #1: Reviewed at PopSyndicate.com. A-
SCALPED #22: I wonder how, sometimes, I can be so dismayed by the constantly-bleak tone of books like Daredevil, but continue to champion this, one of the most unremittingly dismal narratives to be found in sequential fiction these days. I know that it has a lot to do with the fact that this is straight-up real world drama, with no fantastic elements, and it achieves a resonance that other more larger-than-life, fantastical narratives have no hope of achieving. Anyway, we continue our focus on Chief Red Crow, the nominal bad guy of the piece, who is besieged from all sides by all sorts of threats even as he struggles to come to grips with his past even as he is trying to carry out a heartbreaking task in memory of his late love/adversary Gina Bad Horse. Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera achieve an amazing synchronicity in their depictions of his memories and inner struggle; it's really something to see. Also, to a lesser extent we are watching young Dino Poor Bear, as he gets himself in deeper in his own troubles, which will certainly intersect with Red Crow's eventually. Another absolutely outstanding, deeply resonant issue. And yet, this comic sells less that 8,000 copies a month, no doubt due to the lack of magical fairy creatures or people who shoot force beams out of their hands...all I can do is hope, I suppose, that enough people are buying the trades (I myself bought the first two, foolishly dismissing this title after skimming issue #1) to make a difference and keep this going, at least until Aaron can bring it to some sort of conclusion. A
SGT. ROCK: THE LAST BATTALION #1: I'm not sure of Billy Tucci's research for this project went much deeper than screening Flags of Our Fathers and Saving Private Ryan, which this resembles, but I will say that I am absolutely amazed that his art, which I've previously associated with overly fussy and stiffly posed depictions of long-legged, Playboy-magazine-posed female ninja warriors and such, looks as good as it does on this subject matter- the soft focus touches, which seem to be so popular these days among some artists (Gene Ha is one which immediately comes to mind), really help add to the nostalgic air. Sure, Tucci's Sgt. Rock is downright metrosexual compared to the canonical versions by the likes of Joe Kubert, Ross Andru, Jerry Grandenetti and others, more Tyrone Power than John Wayne, I suppose- but not really ever having been much of a Rock fan in general (I was always more of a Sgt. Fury kid myself), I don't really care all that much. It's his scripting that bothers me a lot more- in attempting to pay tribute to, if not outright imitate, the inimitable Robert Kanigher dialogue cadences he just doesn't cut it, and the dialogue reads awkwardly to me. The everyman-whose-eyes-we-see-Easy cartoonist is a nod to Ryan, but it works OK and gives Tucci an opportunity to show us that he can do other styles as well. Setting Rick in the middle of a real-life wartime incident isn't a bad idea, however, so as far as I'm concerned the jury's still out. All in all, this turned out a lot better than I expected, and I appreciate the opportunity to be surprised...doesn't happen as much as it should. B+
SOLOMON KANE #2: Pretty much on a par with issue #1; well-written, passably drawn. Scott Allie has a good handle on Kane, and nails this issue's would-be seduction scene. Not having read the source for this tale, I'm looking forward to what develops. A-
SUB-MARINER: THE DEPTHS #2: Two issues in, and still no appearances by the fella whose name is on the front of the book...but that won't be such a problem when this is collected, which is probably how this should be read. I'm kinda liking this slow-moving, but dramatically valid, story which treats Namor like some sort of legendary creature being sought by a not-so-intrepid Skeptical Man of Reason, and the painterly soft-focus Esad Ribac art, which reminds me a bit of the visual style of Sky Captain. If you're the patient sort, you might too. B+
VIXEN: RETURN OF THE LION #2: This remains a resolutely mediocre showcase for a character that DC really, really wants us to like a lot. Storywise, fine if a bit on the cliched side as our girl, badly wounded by the supernatural badguy she scrapped with last issue, goes off into the plains to heal and see visions and stuff. Artwise, although the candy-colored color scheme is novel, "Cafu"'s figures are still stiff and his staging is bland. Showcases just aren't what they used to be. C+
Coming eventually, HOUSE OF MYSTERY #7 and more.