Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Here we go again with 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 November 24 through December 6th, 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 #4: Damn. It pains me to write this, but this is just as tedious and unfunny as the stuff they're trying to send up, and somehow I don't think that's what they're shooting for. C+

APOCALIPSTIX V1: Hanna-Barbera get further validation, as this answers the question "What if, instead of Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space, we put them in a post-apocalyptic Mad Max-style future instead?" The girls, a rock band forced to fend for themselves after a nuclear explosion, encounter the standard giant monsters (cute little homage to Them) and punked-out goons and thugs (some of which are musicians, too) as they travel to California, where it's said to be relatively safe and unscathed. The scripts are kinda hackneyed, without a lot of spark, hardly dull but never breaking any new ground. Fortunately, artist Cam Stewart is on board to provide spark and then some- this is a great showcase for some of the best art I've ever seen from him- lively, appealing, full of wit and humor, it's really an eye-opener. I liked his stint on Catwoman, but this is light years ahead of that. Perhaps writer Fawkes will be able to expand on this and get in a groove, so you might want to get in on the ground floor here; I wish this was a bit more of this or that, but what it is is not bad. B+

BATMAN #681, 682:
The devil, Grant? Really? Isn't that kind of, oh, juvenile? Kinda cliché? Are you channeling Dana Carvey's Church Lady? OK, I'm willing to grant that you were most likely trying to dovetail this with All-Star Superman, a yin-yang sort of thematic thing...but was that any reason to give us such a whimper of an ending to what was already a convoluted mess in the first place? Even so, I'm willing to cut slack here because let's face it, you were saddled with a not-ready-for-prime-time illustrator; not since the bad old days of the early 90's has the major storyline of a flagship title been presented in such slipshod fashion. Be that as it may, the method in which Bats got the upper hand back with aid from an unexpected source, was well-done (albeit reheated; we've seen this before, you know we have), and for my money it's always nice to see the Squire, but ultimately I fail to see why this entire storyline has sparked the discussion it has- are we that desperate for something to write about, or so in thrall to Morrison's spread-thin genius, that we elevate this routine potboiler (which, let's face it, would have been done in no more than two issues in an Irv Novick-illo'd Detective Comics showcase in the 1970's) to the level of "something remarkable"?. #682 is slightly more fun, and slightly better-drawn, although not by much- artist Lee Garbett displays much better work on his website, here displaying a dismaying reliance on the scratchy-line inks of the Image early 90's heyday. For someone who has fond memories of the brief 70's Detective featurette "If Bruce Wayne Had Not Become the Batman", it has a bit more resonance that it probably should have. Look, I sympathize and to a point agree that Batman had become too much of a Miller-ish psychotic, arrogant prick and needed to be shifted back towards a more reader-friendly center...but I'm not so sure that rummaging around in his canonical closet and pulling out the zebra costumes, spaceships and Bat-Hounds are the way to go about it. Just stop writing him as a prick, that's all! ETA, because I forgot this point I meant to make for days now: Most importantly, though, what this issue does is give Grant an out for the events of the last dozen or so issues- if this Zur En Arrh crap proves unwieldy or unusable, then hey! It was all in Batman's mind as he was being screwed around with by the Lump (neat to see him again, by the way- he appeared in one of my favorite issues of Mister Miracle) and the two Apokolipsian scientists. How convenient! #681: C+ #682: B-

Despite some amusing byplay between the myriad guest stars (mostly the Teen Titans, back for an encore) which the decision-makers behind this dead title walking seem(ed) to believe was/is crucial to its success, this is another underwhelming exercise, well-drawn (mostly) by Rafael Albuquerque (who has some Travel Foreman-like clarity issues at odd times here) but ultimately more run of the mill superheroics. There's been a lot of discussion about the whys and wherefores of the failure of this title, some even from the previous scripter, and I can't really argue with a lot of the points people are making. Like I mentioned above, I'd posit that the endless stream of presumably interest-piquing guest stars didn't help; it gives the unspoken connotation that this character wasn't interesting enough on its own, and needed other, more popular characters around at all times to make it so. Maybe someday DC will trust its characters to stand on their own, perhaps even in our lifetime. C+

BODY BAGS ONE SHOT: The title describes even as it delegates! Anyway that brutal pop-and-daughter duo is back again, picking up right where they left off (I don't remember the last time I saw a BB story; perhaps in something affiliated with The Ride, maybe? This one's a tad overdue) with a lot of blood n' cussin n' sassy humor and of course excellent Jason Pearson art. I freely admit that this won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I have a soft spot for this sort of thing, especially by a talented creator such as Pearson, so I won't try to defend myself. If you share my predilection, you will probably already have this, but if you haven't partaken and aren't particularly offended by a lot of stabby stuff and crude humor, you might want to start here. Good luck with the back issues. A-

I forget who it was that was complaining about the White Tiger character when she was first introduced, but apparently their opinions were heard, because she's dealt with in desultory fashion by that Lady Bullseye character towards the end, a waste if you ask me- but that's the Big Two these days- if a writer doesn't understand, respect or want to use a character, don't let him/her/it languish in Limbo, perpetrate some sort of savagery on him/her/it! It's kewler and more adult that way! Just like Yelena Belova. Sigh. Anyway, just for the record, I'm passingly interested in how they'll finagle Matt out of his latest jam, so I'm sticking around for that anyway. B-

HAUNTED TANK #1: If I ever read any of the original sagas of Col. Jeb Stuart and the Tank, I don't remember them- even though I'd be amazed if I hadn't run across one in a reprint book or somesuch...so I guess I'm hardly any sort of authority on whether or not this is a satisfying continuation of an old character. But that rarely stops me from opining, so here you go! So here's the Colonel, all updated for the Aughts and plopped into the Iraqi War, and striving to help a stock multiracial cast of characters who drive a tank for the US forces. I wish the dialogue was sharper and the cast better defined except by their nationalities, but at least he doesn't skirt the issue of a Confederate soldier's ghost aiding a living black soldier, and while it's a lot too talky in the service of exposition, things do happen- enough to make me at least wonder what the writer has in mind, if anything. The art's not bad; Henry Flint can draw a little, although he has some awkward moments drawing faces and heads and hats on same, and he works a little too hard to ensure a Geoff Darrow-esque detailed style. I can't see this lighting any sort of fire under the collective asses of what passes for fandom these days, but I've certainly seen worse revivals, and worse comics in general, lately. B-

HELLBLAZER #249: Another in a series of John confronting various aspects of himself; OK as far as it goes, and it resolves Diggle's run in satisfying fashion. He did a good job; wish he hadn't felt such a burning need to write superheroes for Joey Q. A-

Reasonably decent conclusion to the whole "Iron Fists die at age 33" thing; Duane Swierczynski has a pretty good vision for this title, and I hope he gets the sales that will allow him to realize it. I also hope he gets a different artist soon; Foreman's muddled, poorly staged style makes these stories a lot harder to parse than they should be. B

Pak and Van Lente strive so hard for the yocks that this almost reads like a collaboration between Jack Kirby and Mel Brooks- Blazing Spandex, perhaps. But I like his buffoonish Herc, especially when he gets a good idea, and I love the deeper-than-usual mythological trappings the pair bring to the whole storyline- all the characterization, in fact, is nicely done. The slick, professional art, which seems like an amalgam of the best traits of Sprouse, Pacheco, and, oh, Leonard Kirk, makes it all look good, blending the comedy and high adventure pretty well. For once, I can see what the small but persistent fanbuzz is about. A-

Reviewed at PopSyndicate.com. A-

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #21: To the surprise of absolutely no one that's ever read a comic book before, this Gog character turns out to be less than altruistic in nature. The usual conflicts and scrapes ensue, some drawn by the regular artists, some by Jerry Ordway, who just can't keep himself out of these sorts of things, and altogether we're just marching tediously along to another "senses-shattering conclusion in which nothing will ever be the same". Or something like that. C+

Seriously, guys, that's too much title. And really, what's up with all these one-shots that could have been inserted easily into the regular title? Is this some sort of marketing strategy that I'm too naive and ignorant to understand? Fortunately, as superhero dramatics go, this is pretty solid, especially given the direction this title's gone in, so I guess it gets an objective B-.

MADAME XANADU #6: Picking up where we left off, with Madame X languishing in a Marie Antoinette-era dungeon, losing her power and vitality, and making a deal with Death (you know, from Gaiman's Sandman) to get it back. A highlight for me was the scene in which she lays the tarot for the cute Endless; it really played to Amy Hadley's strengths as an artist. Less interesting was the post-dungeon stuff (I guess that's a spoiler, if you're kinda slow on the uptake), which features the final fate of Miss Antoinette and yet another confrontation with the Phantom Stranger, ever the stick-in-the-mud. All concerned have settled into a good little groove on this book, and right now I hope it has a nice long Fables-ish run. A-

NORTHLANDERS #11: Father and daughter, on the run from the occupying authorities in 11th century Ireland. A new story arc begins, and gets off to a good start; even though the beleaguered daughter seems to cry "DA!" a lot, the relationship born out of desperation between her and her father rings true. A big plus is the art by Local boy made good Ryan Kelly; he really is a superior illustrator. A-

SALT WATER TAFFY V2: A CLIMB UP MT. BARNABAS: Matt Loux and the Putnam Brothers are back in Chowder Bay, ME with another whimsical adventure in this, the sequel to V1, "The Legend of Old Salty", and it's as much fun as the first. After their father brags about climbing to the top of the titular mountain and stealing his hat from the giant eagle from which it gets its name, one of the Bros. goes out with it on and promptly gets it stolen back by the same eagle! Now, they must climb to the top themselves and get it back, in an episodic fashion which sometimes seems a bit like a video game but is generally kept light and fast-paced. Loux's oddball art style adds to the general off-kilter tall-tale feel of the whole thing, as well as the conveniently quirky touches such as the Bros.' ability to talk to animals (those lobsters are especially a hoot). Sometimes he writes the boys as such dolts that it's a surprise when they display the ingenuity to get out of some of t he scrapes they find themselves in, but I suppose it all balances out in the end. Another entertaining issue of what looks like a fun series so far. A-

SCALPED #23: Things keep getting bleaker for all concerned, no surprise there, and while it certainly doesn't make this an enjoyable reading experience, it does have its rewards, especially if you're an admirer of a tragic tale well told. I hope you know what I mean. A

Same intriguing story with some really good That's Our Kane moments; same middling art that's just too under-rendered to be pleasing to the eye; same drab but oddly appropriate coloring. This remains a better adaptation than I expected, and will make a really good trade collection if the ending isn't botched. B+

We get more well-done JSA cameos, and a bit more info about our heroine and her world, if not her motivations necessarily. But once more, the chief reason to check this out, and the one thing that makes it worthwhile, is the art of Amanda Connor; it's sleek and sexy, yet playful and genial and she greatly elevates what would be, in lesser hands, a very marginal title indeed. B+

TINY TITANS #10: Still cute. A-

UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLAS #1: One of the oddest super-teams this side of the Outsiders is back and is dealing with the fallout from the previous series, which I reviewed here (go all the way to the bottom of the page). It's consistent in quality with its predecessor; lots of Gaiman/Morrison style oddness with it's biggest strength being the angular stylings of Gabriel Ba, and I have no doubt that this will be quirky, if nothing else. A-

UNKNOWN SOLDIER #2: The second issue of this earnestly sincere (is that redundant? Oh well) update/revamp of another old DC war comic hero proceeds in pretty much the same vein as the first; the idealistic young doctor we met last issue descends further into what seems to be some sort of schizophrenia as he continues his transformation into a killing machine in 2002 Africa. We also are introduced to a mercenary of some sort who is set to track down our soon-to-be soldier, thus establishing the menace and the conflict- besides his inner one. I really wish that more emphasis had been placed on Moses Lwanga's reaction to being torn from his life of privilege and his new state as a disfigured killing machine. He just keeps seeing visions and plunging into another rescue mission right off the bat, and I guess that's Dysart's way of goosing the story along. Perhaps I'm looking for something that he doesn't want to spend time with, who knows. The art is serviceable but bland; the run of the Vertigo mill. I'm interested for now, but not blown away- I think it deserves another couple of issues to get its legs, though. B+

Also featuring the return of the creaky old "the power was within you all along, child" cliche, as well as a guest appearance by the Justice League because Vixen sure doesn't seem to be able to sell many copies on the strength of her name alone, right? Be this as it may or may not, based on her not-bad JLA (especially Black Lightning) here, Willow Wilson seems to me to be a lot more comfortable writing superheroes than she does flight attendants, which suggests that perhaps her talents might be better utilized in that direction, rather than on indulgences such as Air...so it's readable, if not especially exciting. It would help if they had found an artist with such a less aggressively ordinary style; this Cashew or Cafu or Coffe or Cafe or whatever he calls himself adequately illustrates the story, and nothing more- he certainly doesn't enhance the narrative, that's for sure. Unless you're just a fan of the character, and a not particularly picky one at that, you can safely skip this and not feel like you're missing out on anything. C+

Look for a longer post on the Local HC, as well as the Oni GNs Labor Days and Crogan's Vengeance, along with El Diablo 4, and others soon.

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