Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I can has comics!

My DCBS shipment, which is supposed to be coming on Friday:

DIANA PRINCE: WONDER WOMAN TP VOL 02: More swingin', slightly sexist, somewhat sexy 60's adventure with everybody's favorite Emma Peel stand-in.

NUMBER OF THE BEAST #8 (OF 8): Boy I'm glad this is done. Hopefully there will be more Sprouse art upcoming, now that he's shown he can do a book on deadline...

MADAME XANADU #2: Hope this one's better than #1, that's all I'm sayin'.

DAREDEVIL #109

NOCTURNALS: CARNIVAL OF BEASTS (ONE SHOT): Now HERE's a welcome comeback. I eagerly snapped up every new Nocturnals series for a few years there, and had given up hope of ever reading any more.

AMBUSH BUG: YEAR NONE #1: Speaking of comebacks, welcome back Bob Fleming! Gee whillikers, I sure wish someone at DC would let him create a new series, and no, not Thriller. That's not new.

CATWOMAN #81: For some reason, I thought this was the last issue. Instead, it's the penultimate issue. That word again, penultimate.

NORTHLANDERS #8

LIBERTY COMICS A CBLDF BENEFIT BOOK (ONE SHOT): this one slipped under my radar, but the nice folks at DCBS were kind enough to add it to my order. I'm told it has a Monkeyman and O'Brien appearance, I miss miss miss MM & O'B. I read the cute Garth Ennis intro at scans_daily.

BLUE BEETLE #29- New regular writer Matt Sturges takes over with this issue, which also sees the welcome return of Rafael Albuquerque (is there a more difficult word in the English language to spell and type?), he of the clenched teeth and dynamic action pose, on art. I think Manhunter will show up at some point.


What am I missing?

Monday, July 28, 2008

cloakdagger2

Again, I won't even attempt to recap all the Comic-Con announcements for ya, because that's the job of people who write for blogs with larger readerships than l'il ol' mine; some of which (I'd bet) even get a little financial remuneration for their efforts. I'm sure you know several that can hook you up with all the straight dope. However, one of those announcements that intrigued me was one that the above illustration refers to, a revival of Marvel's Cloak and Dagger characters- scripted by one of our own, Occasional Superheroine Val D'Orazio. Congrats to her; I think she's got an uphill battle ahead making these characters, who have always been on the Marvel Universe fringe (they've been teenagers for like 20 years, right?) and whose ludicrous, oh-so-"relevant" in that early 80's way origin merely serves to reinforce my entirely personal conviction that their primary appeal is visual (which led me to buy their first appearance oh so many years ago, as well as the miniseries that followed soon after, since you know that I often let my eyes convince me to make purchases that my head is not so sure about) readable. How's that for a convoluted sentence! Anyway, I liked 'em OK, and it wasn't until they got lost in the mid-80's Marvel mutant titles quicksand that I gave up on 'em.

Nice to see so many people who I have become acquainted with via blogging getting pro gigs like this. Maybe someday Marvel will greenlight my Modred the Mystic pitch*.

So this might help you to understand when I say that the main reason why this news is so interesting to me isn't so much Miz D'Orazio but her collaborator Irene Flores; the illo above, as well as those at the bottom of this page, show a lively line and some beautiful color. Despite the usual yawn-inducing manga stylings, which make it look at first glance like about a hundred thousand other young artists who learned to draw by tracing their copies of Fruits Basket (for lack of a better example at hand), upon closer examination there is a lot of subtle nuance going on that reminds me a little of people like James Jean, or even some of the early/mid-70's Filipino wave such as Alex Nino or Spain's SanJulian. Anyway, it remains to be seen if I'll put my money where my mouth is, but I do like the pieces I've seen. An Emily Warren is credited with colors on the series; it's unclear if she did the color on the above piece.

GB_WF_03

I also happened upon this illo via my Google Reader; it's an illustration of the lead character in the sadly missed and short-lived TV series Wonderfalls, found on the PunchPants art collective blog. One of these days I'm going to get the DVD set and watch the episodes I didn't get to see.






*only kidding. I don't even know how to write a pitch.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE.




Yes, it's time once more for Confessions of a Spinner Rack Junkie- that more-or-less ongoing and often overdue feature in which I write capsule 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 July 1st to July 23, 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 #93 Another well-done (and tenser/grimmer than usual, I might add) 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 7 issues. A-

ACES: CURSE OF THE RED BARON GN: Y'know, out of many neglected comics genres these days, none is more neglected (well, maybe romance comics) than those dealing with World War I adventures. And I suppose there's good reason for that; it was a hell of a long time ago, even before the creation of what we think of as comic books, and it fell to WWII to get all the attention of not only the fledgling funnybook market, but Hollywood as well. Still, I find myself enjoying WWI stories whenever I run across them; one of the best books that I have read in recent years was Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War, which was the reminisce of an Italian soldier in that conflict. But there have been some good WWI comic-book stories out there, mostly courtesy of the fine folks at Warren and EC as well as DC's Enemy Ace feature, and this one, I think, belongs on that list as well. In that grand buddy-pic tradition, we get two fighter pilots, one a Yank and one British, both of whom claim to have shot down the legendary Red Baron, teaming up to find his lost treasure, the whereabouts of which are supposed to be revealed by a map which the latter claims to have taken from the wreckage of the Baron's plane. Of course, complications ensue and we get not only the "Ghost of the Red Baron", but OF COURSE a deeper (and stranger, to say the least) conspiracy behind it all- it's at least a clever and novel one. Co-written by Shannon Eric Denton, whose name sounds familiar but whose work is not and G. Willow Wilson, whose byline has graced a couple of recent Vertigo projects, it moves along at a crisp pace even though there is the occasional clumsy bit of dialogue- I don't think that even a Brit (and I'm being sarcastic here, don't get mad, my British readers) would refer to another pilot as a "terrifying infant". Artist Chris Square-Briggs lays a small-town water tower full of ink and wash on his illustrations, and that certainly sets a mood, but much of this is almost too dark and murky for what would seem to require a lighter approach. He also has a real problem with 3/4 perspective when it comes to his renderings of characters' heads. These problems aside, he does tell the story effectively for the most part, and seems to get the period detail (no expert am I on that score) right, always important. If you're inclined to like war comics like the ones I've mentioned above, as well as Garth Ennis' recent forays into the genre, and appreciate a novel twist- I think it's safe to say that you'll find this a good read. It's not perfect, but it is entertaining enough to be worth your time. There's a MySpace page, if you'd like to see more. B+

BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM! #1: Yet another attempt at perpetuating the trademark, this time infusing a generous dose of that Disney Channel/Cartoon Network/Nickelodeon pseudo-retro-Flash animation style that someone somewhere behind a desk hears that the kids seem to like to watch on TV these days, and like those programs, this is all very manic and abstract and never lets up for a frigging minute in being active because all kids (as we know- or so we're told) these days suffer from ADD and microscopic attention spans and you have to constantly bludgeon them with a visual assault or they'll lose interest and go play video games or read comic books or something. Anyway, it works pretty well for those TV networks, as any selected viewing of the likes of Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Fairly Oddparents, The Replacements, you name it, bear out. And fortunately, if they're going to tread this path, they picked a pretty good artist to do so in Mike Kunkel. His style is loose and energetic, and as a writer he does a decent job of continuing the lighthearted tone of Jeff Smith's pretty-good Monster Society of Evil, from which this is supposed to be spun off. Like many others who have already held forth on this, I can't imagine who DC thinks will buy this; there's no cartoon tie-in to grab the kids' attention, X-Men and Batman fans can't care less, and the geezers who remain devoted to the original Beck/Binder comics of yore probably regard this with disdain. So there ya go. DC fairly reeks of desperation when it comes to Captain Marvel, and they try so hard to make him a success somehow...and unlike Smith's series, this one gives off a definite "let's throw THIS against the wall" vibe. I wish them luck, but I still maintain that Smith miniseries aside, there is no audience for an ongoing Marvel Family book- and I have no reason to believe that this benign but meaningless trifle of a comic will be any more successful at reviving and maintaining the franchise than any of the others. B

BLUE BEETLE #28: The second of Will Pfiefer's fill-ins doesn't work as well as the first; while he does a good job with the characters- no one stays on character better than Mr. Pfiefer- the story itself is weak and devoid of any surprises. The art doesn't help; it's trying to remain true to the Rafael Albuquerque pseudo-manga pseudo-animated pseudo-realistic style that has been established so far, except they're just not as good at it- storytelling choices that are just not quite sharp enough, dodgy anatomy, you know. Since Rogers and Albuquerque wound up the mini-epic of Jaime's battle against the Reach, we've been treated to a host of fill-ins and apparent tryouts, and while Pfiefer's professionalism shows through, very little else of it has been all that impressive...not the best way to stimulate interest in your struggling sales-wise title, Dan. I hope that they put some kind of regular team in place soon, so the creator-go-round can stop and hopefully some momentum can be reestablished. C+

THE BOYS #20: Outside of the dick-measuring contest between Butcher and the Homelander, which almost does the one thing that I have long maintained was a deal-breaker for me with this book, i.e. make the superhero characters look worse than the black-leather clad "good guys"- balance being everything with me here- not a whole lot happens in this issue; it's mostly a big infodump as Wee Hughie continues to get debriefed by The Legend and we apparently ramp up for the next big story arc. OK, fine. I've yet to be really let down by this book so far, so we'll see. B+

B.P.R.D.: THE WARNING #1: Picking back up where the last Arcudi/Davis miniseries left off, this time trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Fu Manchu-looking guy who's been appearing to Liz in her visions, as well as the presence of Lobster Johnson around the BPRD HQ. So far so good, Davis is excellent as always. Y'know, this newish character Panya, the mummy lady, reminds me a lot of the distinguished classic film actress Dame Edna May Oliver. Just an observation, more later hopefully as subsequent issues come out. A-

FABLES #74: While this issue is still of the same high quality that previous issues have been, and Willingham, Buckingham and Leialohaham have certainly achieved a consistent sort of excellence, I must note that this issue also continues a trend of recent issues that extends back many months, with only a couple of exceptions: in this big battle against the Big Bad Adversary that Willingham has established, he's done story after story in which we get a truncated view of the events of said war, mostly shown to us via minimal depiction and a lot of exposition- we're being told rather than shown how utterly and completely the good guys are dominating as they win it, and the whole thing is being baldly presented as such a fait accompli that of course discerning readers are immediately suspicious and await the other shoe's falling, which is now being hinted about here and there. OK as far as it goes, but I prefer to experience my storytelling revelations in a less transparent fashion, I do believe, so even though I'm fully invested in this series and genuinely like many of the characters I'm just a hair put out by the sheer artifice of it all. Artifice in a comic book series, what a concept- you'd think by now I'd be used to it wouldn't you? B+

HELLBLAZER #246: No real surprises here, in the second part of Jason Aaron's two-part fill-in; it's pretty much S.O.P for when people look into Constantine's background, and especially into the Newcastle event. Aaron does a great job with the dialogue, especially John himself. I gotta say that I found myself liking Sean Murphy's art this time out; while it's sometimes sloppy and he really likes to take liberties with facial expressions and such, it's often very sharp and reminds me a little of Chris Bachalo circa Shade. Since it looks like Diggle's moving on soon, and hopefully taking Manco along with him, I wouldn't mind seeing these two take a turn at doing this book regularly...as long as Aaron doesn't let Scalped slide. B+

HELLBOY: THE CROOKED MAN #1: At the risk of repeating myself a bit, since I've been gushing about this since I first read it several days ago, I'm a sucker for the sort of supernatural backwoods stories that are best exemplified by Manly Wade Wellman's great Silver John (aka John the Balladeer) stories, and that's exactly what we have here. Also what we have here is the return of the true Hellboy, the one that Mike Mignola himself writes (and no offense to Arcudi or Dysart, who have done superior work on the B.P.R.D. stories)- taciturn, gruff, no-nonsense but also reserved and calm, with the quiet air of a being who has seen just about everything and is prepared to deal with it, as far from the childish, surly movie caricature as can possibly be, and serving as a reminder that the four-color version is still superior to the celluloid version, no matter how much of a special effects budget Del Toro has. After looking into some "stuff" down South, HB finds himself wandering through the Virginian Appalachian Mountains, and getting involved with the mountain folk, who seem to be beset with witches and possibly the Devil himself. Along comes a tall, lanky former resident of the area, who's traveled abroad after fleeing his own encounter with evil, and now he's back to face his fate. Hellboy is almost a passive bystander in this scenario, and while you know he'll get to beat the hell out of something eventually (and get hell beat out of him, too) it's refreshing and gratifying just to get to absorb the situation through his eyes, rather than with him goosing the proceedings along- when he finds out something, we find out something. Absolutely invaluable in this is the art of Richard Corben; while sometimes he teeters on the edge of cartoonishness with some of his facial renderings, he is a master at establishing mood and illustrating backgrounds; this story reeks of atmosphere and it's all thanks to him. He takes Mignola's dry scripting and fleshes it out brilliantly. I think people forget that he initially made his name doing gore and horror for the undergrounds; in fact, he used to sign his work "Gore" sometimes. This is a brilliant reminder of just how good he is. This is one of the best comics I've read this year, and this is only part one. A+

MANHUNTER #32: Second third comeback issue is stronger than its predecessor, with lotsa fanservice- Blue Beetle fans get served via apprearances by not only Jaime Reyes but that title's gender-switched wannabe Al Swearengen La Dama, Batman fans get served via the impending Joker team up, even those few and proud of us who are Chase fans get served via the longish scenes with our Kate and DEO Director Bones. All of this is ably, if grubbily, illustrated by Michael Gaydos, who adheres to the Alex Maleev/Mike Lark/Steven Gaudiano template in his approach. Yet another really good book that far too few people are reading. And so it goes. A-

NORTHLANDERS #7: Sven gets payback of sorts in this penultimate issue of the first ongoing arc, and if it's not exactly cathartic (Sven remains too conflicted for that) it's at least very well illustrated, even as events sort of devolve into one big "yaaargh" before it's over. Gotta mention Massimo Carnivale's outstanding cover this issue, it's nicely detailed and is rendered to look like Prismacolors and ink. One thing this series has going for it if nothing else; the art. B

NUMBER OF THE BEAST #7: Well, the Authority shows up in this one, and it perks up a little, but mostly this remains an anonymous, convoluted, immaculately illustrated superhero Matrix swipe, and even though I'm in till the bloody end thanks to Mr. Sprouse, I really would be happy if he'd devoted his talents to something else, thus enabling me to happily remain in complete and blissful ignorance of the whole thing, like (I suspect) about 3/4 of the rest of comics fandom. C

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #10: Unsurprisingly low-key windup to what certainly has to be considered perhaps the strangest thing that Marvel Comics has ever put out- I think that when all is said and done its greatest legacy will be the amount of grist for the thought mill that it provides, not only in its apparent surface themes, such as the whole individuality vs. conformity, integrity vs. media-generated shallowness, but also other interpretations that have already begun to spring up...and how cool is that, to have a comics series with enough depth to allow continued discussion, unlike so many series that are here today and forgotten tomorrow? I've said it before, but I think we really have to hand it to Marvel for putting a comic like this out in the first place, especially since it falls so far outside of the purview of what they usually do. I know that there was some controversy at the beginning from original creator Steve Gerber and his partner Mary Skrenes, and as he feared this was quite a departure from the more straightforward superhero saga they together crafted...but I have a feeling that he would have respected, if not openly admired, this take on his creation. A

PATSY WALKER: HELLCAT #1: I had to work WAY too hard to parse Kathryn Immonen's choppy, disorienting dialogue style while I was trying to read this; too much disconnect and disjoint in service of trying to maintain a crisp pace, I guess- although the exchange between Patsy and Iron Man begrudgingly shifted into focus and provided an example of how I think she wants this comic to read all the time. I hope. Fortunately, she's got David LaFuente on art; he's definitely manga-inspired, and the cutesiness works well in the opening scenes but not so much when they get to the Alaskan bar, but he keeps things moving at a quick pace with some nicely done action sequences and helps bring out the wit that is floating around in the script. Special mention must go to "color artist" Jon Rauch- he cranks up the candy colors in the opening fashion shoot scene to great effect, and works the color palette very well later on in the normally drab Alaska scenes, contrasting Patsy's loud hues with the grays, browns and greens the scenery calls for. Excellent job. This is off to a decent enough start, hope it gets sharper. B+

POWERS #29: In which a lot of stuff that's been coming to a head for what seems like years (and this current storyline has been going on for at least one, perhaps two) and Mike Avon Oeming does a great job of ramping up the intensity. What this issue's events mean in the long term (and this book has some LONG terms, believe you me) is anybody's guess, but I remain impressed how Bendis stays with this title, especially in the face of everything else he has going on these days. A-

SCALPED #19: The spotlight this time is on Red Crow's slutty daughter, who sports a laundry list of addictions and personality disorders. However, this we already knew, so we get to find out a little bit more about why she is the way she is, and as is par for this particular course it ain't pretty. Such unrelenting grimness often becomes wearing, but Jason Aaron is skillful enough to know when to pull back the reins a bit. In fact, I think injecting a bit of humor in this book would be a major mistake, which is something I rarely say; Scalped is completely out of balance in its unrelenting bleakness but that's why it works so well. I don't think anybody's gonna get any life lessons out of this when all is said and done, except perhaps in a cautionary way. Davide Furno is back on art; I was under the impression that he was on board for the last two issues only. It's OK; he's not bad even though his somewhat Colan, Watkiss-or-Mandrake-ish loosey goosey style isn't as satisfying as R.M. Guera's mix. A-

WONDER WOMAN #20: OK, I got this because after I had read #21, I didn't really have a good handle on why exactly Wondy was traveling through realities or dimensions or time or something and encountering the various sword-and-sorcery characters of DC's failed 1975 line expansion, including JBS favorite Beowulf. After reading this, I really don't feel much more enlightened. Maybe when I read #'s 22 and 23. I will say this, though, after #21 and this I do have a newfound respect for Aaron LoPresti and Matt Ryan's art; while it's not distinctive stylistically, looking almost exactly like obvious inspirations the Dodsons and especially Adam Hughes, they do depict the goings-on in fine fashion- moreso in the fantasy fighting stuff than the real-world goings-on, but fine just the same. I can't imagine why hardcore Wonder Woman fans wouldn't be delighted with this version of the character, but I know they're a finicky lot. B-


And that's about it for this time out. New comics due Friday, and I'll also cover the first three issues of The Infinite Horizon as well as the collected Black Diamond. Oh, and don't want to forget Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, which I'm gearing up to feature by itself.

Friday, July 25, 2008



If you're looking for constant San Diego Comic-Con information, well, you should look pretty much anywhere else, because I just don't have the time or energy to post all the news and info that's coming in waves. But the Comics Blogosphere is in full force at Nerd Prom, (those who, unlike me, can actually afford to go) and many are posting tons o'photos including the ever delightful Bully, and the most excellent Michael at The Legion Omnicom, who unbeknownst to him has made my day- for the first time, thanks to the above picture (from this SDCC photo stream), has given me my first look at Thriller co-creator Robert Loren Fleming! That's him at right, next to Keith Giffen. I've spoken to him and emailed him more than once, but other than a sketch I seem to recall seeing somewhere back in the 80's, I've never laid eyes on the dude until now.

Lotsa Thriller mentions around here lately, huh! I REALLY need to get around to redoing that website.

Thursday, July 24, 2008



Sending out Bacardi Show Birthday Greetings to Thriller artist TREVOR VON EEDEN.

Don't know what the status of the Jack Johnson project is right now; hopefully the rough spots are being smoothed out so we can see this thing sooner rather than later.




Oh- also, My dear Mrs. B is celebrating another trip around the sun as well...but she said not to write about it on the blog. Oops!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I'm working on reviews, which should be up (hopefully) before all comics shops remove the books I'll be reviewing from the shelves!

Anyway, the reason for this post is to let you know to change your contact lists if you have me at the Excite.com address; Excite.com has gone to a really horrible user-hostile interface for their email and I'm phasing that one out of use. I started a shiny new Gmail account instead: johnnybacardi AT gmail DOT COM. Please address all blog-related correspondence therewith. Especially if you're a publisher and want to send me something to review.

Cheers.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Odds and ends:

Sometimes I think I should enable titles here; since I've started using Google Reader to read everyone's blogs (well, not everyone, but you know what I mean) it does make one's posts stand out a little bit more. Still, after five (almost six!) years, I'm kinda "what's the point" about it.

Holy gosh, I haven't posted here since Wednesday! I was doing better there for a while, but real life has been very busy lately and I haven't really had anything particularly pertinent to say about anything anyway. As always, I appreciate those who hang with me.

While I'm going on and on about me, did you know I had a Flickr account? Well, now you do. Believe me, it won't be as impressive as those by the likes of Kevin Church, Katie West or Zoetica Ebb, but recently I've had access to a good camera and have been moved to take a shot or three, and thought it would be a good place to put them. I am no photographer, and have no pretense towards being one, but many of these shots will be of a more personal nature (i.e., me, things and places around me and stuff that informs my personal life) so if you're curious, then by all means check it out. And leave a fricking comment, whydoncha- no one has done so yet. I won't get mad.

The Flickr account isn't in the sidebar yet; actually, lots of things aren't, and that's just sheer laziness on my part. I used to simply go in and edit the template, and in some ways that was quicker, but when I changed to this look, I started using the new tables or whatever you call them, and hate to mix and match. The new way of adding links is not all that much more difficult, but for some reason I kinda procrastinate about adding stuff using it, and that's why my link list is so incomplete. So honest, it's not because I don't like you if your link isn't included at right, it's just because I'm a lazy bastard. Chances are I follow you on Reader, and one of these days I'll get around to completing (or at least updating) the list. I hope.

It seems like much of the stuff I could be using for blog fodder, I'm posting on Twitter instead. I will do some linky stuff shortly; if you follow me on Twitter, some of this will be familiar (I hope) but bear with, please. If you're on that highly addictive messaging service, and you don't follow me, well please feel free to do so- I need all the followers I can get if I'm going to rule the world someday.

OK, since at odd times in the last five plus years this has, much of the time, been a TV/Movies/Music/Comics/Sports (not necessarily in that order) blog, here's a little about each:

Last night was the big two-hour grande finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and all things considered it was an appropriate sendoff to a series which has been often frustrating, but more often wonderfully imaginative and sometimes moving, in spite of everything. Of course, none of it turned out like I thought it would, which just further proves that I'm not so smart. While Nickelodeon, on the one hand, has seemed to do everything in its power to dumb the show down and drive away viewers via its scheduling, at least they did air the show in the first place, and I suppose they should get credit for that even though it seems like they never really understood what made it special in the first place, preferring the more conventional likes of Spongebob Squarepants and The Fairly OddParents, lively and entertaining cartoons but neither possessing or requiring the amount of depth and attention that Avatar needed. Nick just never really seemed to like the show, as if they were confused and intimidated by the attention it got from many critics and fans outside the preteen and tweenage demographic that is their purview. Anyway, last night's episode resolved many longstanding plot threads, but maddeningly left many dangling, even creating a couple of new ones. I have it on good authority that one reason was because "they didn't get the originally planned, full four seasons" and why? "...the film that canned the series early. Timing and all that.". This motion picture, set to be made by none other than that Happening guy M. Night Shyamalan, is to be a live action version, which would seem to be counter-intuitive to the appeal of the concept, at least as I relate to it, but you never know. MNS has a lot to prove after the lackluster box office of his previous film, and that may motivate him to excel- if he's got it in him. His last attempt at full-blown fantasy, The Lady in the Water, was a bizarre disaster. I will say this- it's going to be a little strange to not be anticipating the next episode; it's an odd feeling to know that the Nick series is now done. In a strange sort of way, I almost hope they don't show reruns all that much; it just won't seem fitting, somehow, to see the "Sozin's Comet" episodes come on on a Thursday afternoon, out of order with no buildup or context to speak of. I get the same feeling from seeing reruns of Justice League Unlimited, more on that later.

Other TV shows I've been spending some time on include The Middle Man, which is still enjoyable in fits and starts but the arch tone wears me out after a while. It wants to be a hip, quirky and lighthearted adventure story, and sometimes gets pretty close, but often it just tries too hard. Venture Bros. is still going strong, showing remarkable depth and complexity while remaining as absurd and fun as ever; if you're not watching this show, you really should be. Netflix or rent the first two seasons on DVD, and you can even get caught up with season three via adultswim.com. My NCIS viewing remains consistent, even though it's not really must-see TV anymore. Should be interesting to see what happens with the cast; looks like they're trying to break them up but that seems like a remarkably bad idea. I still watch the occasional Justice League Unlimited episode on Cartoon Network; while they seem to be perpetually stuck in episodes from late in the penultimate and the final season, many of those are highly watchable and have their share of classic moments, such as the Flash's super-speed dismantling of the Braniac-possessed Luthor, and Batman dodging one of Darkseid's Omega beams. I'm pretty much caught up with previous seasons of HBO's Entourage; new episodes begin in September. It's not exactly essential, but it has a great cast with good chemistry, and is often very funny. I started out watching AMC's Mad Men, and was quite enamored of it, but missed something like the third and fourth episodes, figured I'd be lost and decided to catch up via DVD in time for the season 2 premiere. Uh...didn't happen. There's still time, although I think the second season begins this week or next. I also kinda got interested in HBO's Big Love, about a polygamist and his attempts to live a normal (well, relatively speaking) life in the monogamous world, as well as the various situations that arise within his sect. It's got a good cast, too, with Bill Paxton as the lead and Harry Dean Stanton, Chloe Sevigny, and others in supporting roles. I rented the first DVD of season one, but never could really get the time to sit and watch it so I sent it back so I could get further down my Netflix queue. I'll get back to it someday. It's got a really nice intro, which features the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows"- you can see it right here. Anything else? Hm. Dirt's second season was a strike-truncated disappointment, and then it got canned, too bad. I find myself watching reruns of Two and a Half Men in the afternoons sometimes; it's surprisingly funny and nasty in equal measures, with a cast of pros playing the material well. The CW Saturday morning Spider-Man series overcame a tentative beginning to become a surprisingly good watch; the script is often witty and is often fast-paced and fun. I think that's it. Almost worthy of Tom the Dog, huh!

Movies? I've seen a few lately. Iron Man, Hellboy II of course; and I also caught a showing of WALL-E a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't as nuts for WALL-E as many were; it was entertaining and very well animated (I expect no less from Pixar) but I found myself second-guessing the science and logistics constantly. For example, the film expects me to believe that the former residents of Planet Earth, having evolved into still-somewhat-human blobs, could immediately begin to walk, and survive the turmoil on the ship in the movie's resolution, as well as rebuild their planet- I didn't think these people even had much in the way of bone in their legs, especially enough to support all the weight they had put on! And one tiny plant is enough to convince the ship that Earth is habitual again? What about the obviously-still-depleted ozone layer? The winds that were still coming up at regular intervals? Sure, we got a look at some more greenery as the film wound down, but color me skeptical. I've yet to go see Dark Knight; everybody and their uncle is praising it to high heaven, but I wasn't all that enamored of Batman Begins, not enough to drop six bucks towards seeing its sequel, no matter how good Heath Ledger may or may not be. I also viewed the new Watchmen trailer online; it's very impressive although it does kinda look like all the other recent comic-book based films lately; the Billy Corgan music was somewhat disconcerting as well. Just a little too 90's for a property that's still associated with the 80's in my mind. I think Ozymandias looks like a dork in that black domino mask; IIRC he spent most of the comics (which I haven't read in ages) without it. Yeah, I'm nitpicking. Recent Netflix rentals include Michael Clayton, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Black Snake Moan, Crank, and the Aqua Teen movie- the first was very good but marred somewhat by a contrived ending, the second was marvelous, the third was ludicrous but kept my attention, the fourth entertaining, and the last became too much to take after a while- 15 minute doses of absurdity can be fun; two hours of same was just too much, and I bailed on it. I plan on doing a proper movie post soon; stay tuned.

Comics? The usual suspects that I've been enjoying, and I hope you've been reading my reviews to know what I'm talking about. One which really grabbed me was Hellboy: The Crooked Man #1, the first chapter of what promises to be another excellent miniseries. Set in Appalachia in 1958, and dealing with witches and hillbillies, it shows Hellboy as almost peripheral to the events displaying a detachment that Ron Perlman couldn't begin to portray. Richard Corben is on art, and he's excellent; people forget, I think, that he was first and foremost a horror artist back in the day who used to sign his work "Gore". I'm a sucker for that backwoods supernatural stuff anyway; this reminded me a lot of Manly Wade Wellman's excellent tales of Silver John, aka John the Balladeer, who encountered various ghosts, witches, and demonic creatures as he wandered the hills with only a silver-stringed guitar and a little bit of experience in dealing with such matters. I don't know if any collections are available, but if so I give them my highest recommendation. Ah! Here's one- a bit pricey, but worth it I think if you can afford it. Also, thanks to Bully, I've been reading Blake Bell's new bio of Steve Ditko- fascinating stuff, and it reproduces a LOT of great art at a bigger-than-normal size...and the effect is somewhat breathtaking, especially if you revere Ditko's 60's work as much as I do. Of course, I'll write more about these, and the other comics I haven't reviewed yet, later this week. On a related note, here's info about some mighty sweet art books by a number of talented artists- here's a couple of samples:



Yep, that's Darwyn Cooke and Cam Stewart! Each of them has their own collection available. I really would like to get a copy of Stewart's The Apocalypstix, but I thought I was still on Oni's comp list so I didn't preorder. I haven't received anything from Oni in months now, so I guess that's no longer the case, and as a result I'm going to have to find a copy somewhere. Such is life.

Music? I haven't really picked up anything new lately- mostly it's just finding old stuff that I haven't heard in ages or haven't heard at all here and there on the Interwub. Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue came out before I got interested in the Beach Boys; having made up for lost time since then (1977) it was inevitable that I would get around to it eventually, even though to be honest I wasn't crazy about the songs Dennis had on 70's Boys LPs like Carl and the Passions. Much to my surprise, it sounds nothing like those cuts at all; it's consistently tuneful and clever, and Wilson uses his croaking vocal to his advantage a la Tom Waits or hoarse Harry Nilsson circa Pussy Cats. I also have obtained XTC's Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2), now eight years old- better late than never and well worth the wait, the only question being why the hell did I wait so long?!? Also, the two most recent issues from Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac, Under the Skin and Say You Will; Skin is stripped-down but tuneful, Will is overlong, and suffers from being in actuality a Buckingham/Nicks album with Fleetwood and McVie as the rhythm section and Christine McVie barely present except for a few lost-in-the-mix felt-but-not-heard backing vocals, but there are some very good cuts by both singer/songwriters. Been also listening a lot to Rosebud, the self-titled debut, and only release by, a contingent of LA musicians from 1971 that came out on Reprise and featuring Judy Henske and Jerry Yester, who as a couple released the noteworthy Farewell Aldebaran a yer or so earlier. I had heard one cut on a Warner/Reprise Loss Leader, a lovely tune called "Lullabye II (Summer Carol)", previously and was very interested in hearing the rest of this hard-to-find release. Never did find it on vinyl. It's OK, if unremarkable, kinda-country-pop-rock stuff and so far the aforementioned track is the standout. I fully intend to give it time to grow on me. Otherwise, it's been a panoply of stuff; I listen to several CDs on average every day of every week.

Boy, this is a long post, huh!

Sports? Beseball season has been pretty good so far; my White Sox are hanging in there in first place, managing somehow to hold off the Twins and Tigers in the AL Central, with smoke and mirrors, seemingly, sometimes. I think they have what it takes to win that division, and even make it to the Series if they can stay focused. My beloved Atlanta Falcons are just trying to regroup and rebuild after one of the worst NFL seasons ever with a new coach, who strikes me as somewhat vanilla but if he can get this team tougher and playing smarter, then I'm all for it, and a new rookie quarterback who probably won't see action right away, plus a new feature running back who was impressive in the backup role in San Diego, but is unproven as in the feature role over the course of a season. They've lost a ton of other players on both sides of the ball, as cleaning house was the order of the day in ATL. Hate to say it, but a 6-10 season would be a minor miracle. That said, I think they'll be at least competitive- their division isn't the strongest. The University of Kentucky is gearing up for a new football season with high hopes, and of course basketball isn't far from anybody's mind in Lexington, even in September.

One more thing- by all means, check out the "Items of Interest" box in the sidebar there at right; it's where I select other blog posts that I run across in Google Reader and want to share. I think most of them will be of interest to a lot of you!

OK, now I'll wind this up and get on with the rest of my Sunday. Thanks for reading, if you've made it this far, and stay tuned for more later!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

As of right now, I'm supposed to be getting some new comics this Friday- after last month's shenanigans, some uncertainty remains- and here be a list of them, with pertinent commentary:

NORTHLANDERS #7: I'm still interested in Brian Wood's Viking saga, and the art is certainly worth the price of admission, but if I was forced to cut titles this would probably be the first to get dropped.

FABLES #74

BLUE BEETLE #28
MANHUNTER #32: These titles have so much in common- both fringe DCU, both with pretty-good but not-great script and art, both selling in equally unimpressive numbers. But they're both also among the most entertaining mainstream superhero comics published by either of the Big Two, especially now that Catwoman has been shitcanned.

HELLBOY: THE CROOKED MAN #1: Hellboy with Richard Corben? Fine with me! I was pleasantly surprised the last time he took the artistic reins.

THE BOYS #20
POWERS #29

HELLBLAZER #246
SCALPED #19: Jason Aaron scripts both of these; Hellblazer was pretty good; Scalped has been magnificent so far.

PATSY WALKER: HELLCAT #1: I've seen some reviews of this here and there, have even seen some preview pages. Looks good to me, and I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing. Could be fun.

B.P.R.D.: THE WARNING #1: The welcome return of the Mignola/Arcudi/Davis team. Seems like a long time since we've had some new Guy Davis art...

NUMBER OF THE BEAST #7
100 BULLETS #93

I also have the first issue of DC's Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!; the latest from AiT/PlanetLar, Aces, which I am almost finished with; the first three issues of Phil Noto & Gerry Duggan's Infinite Horizon series, which I have yet to complete as well; Wonder Woman #20, and several back issues of Blue Beetle I have yet to comment on. I think that's all.

While I'm taking inventory, here's my July order, just in case anybody cares:

DAREDEVIL #111
MEAT CAKE #17
DIANA PRINCE: WONDER WOMAN TP VOL 03
THE BOYS #22
PATSY WALKER: HELLCAT #3
MADAME XANADU #4
MANHUNTER #34
BLUE BEETLE #31
AMBUSH BUG YEAR NONE #3
HELLBOY: THE CROOKED MAN #3
B.P.R.D.: THE WARNING #3
SCALPED #21
NORTHLANDERS #10
HELLBLAZER #248
FABLES #76
100 BULLETS #95
FINAL CRISIS #4
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To paraphrase Heidi: WANT.

If you can look at this pic and not hear the Dethklok theme in your head, you're a better man than I, Gunga Din.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Jesus wept.
Originally uploaded by jbacardi
From a store of sorts (it shares a building with a wrecker service) across the street from my workplace, a sight to make strong fanpersons weep- several late 70's- early 80's issues of X-Men and one lonely Doctor Strange, all in wretched poor condition, left on a rack out in the sun and elements. It rained the other day, and the man left them sitting right where they were (a little closer to the door than in this picture, but still...), getting wet. I'd say the rack is probably worth more now than all these books combined.

If you're concerned with values, that is- I'm sure they're still somewhat readable. But I don't want to buy them to find out!

Click to embiggen, and see just what exactly is on display...

Sunday, July 13, 2008



I'll never forget the first time I read a Hellboy graphic novel- it was 1994, and I had purchased the trade paperback of Seeds of Destruction, which I had been eyeballing for some time. I don't exactly recall why I hadn't been buying the single issues- while I was not yet a fan, I was intrigued at how Mignola's style had shifted from the stylized-but-Frazetta-inspired work that had graced the pages of Rocket Raccoon, on through the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser adaptations for Marvel/Epic, and getting progressively more streamlined in the adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula for Topps Comics. Guess perhaps I was reluctant to take a shot on an unknown character, perhaps I just overlooked them on the racks- unimaginable now, but that was before Mignola became MIGNOLA. Anyway, when my comics shop got in the trade, I took a shot and dropped the fifteen or so bucks, and took it home after work one Friday evening. Of course, this being 1994, I had to watch the new episode of X-Files first, but when I finally settled in, after the kids went to bed, I gave it a read. And boy, was I hooked. I loved this character- aside from Mignola's dynamic art, he had created a character that was gruff and no-nonsense, but also capable and very charismatic. I liked this demon guy and the world he inhabited, as presented to us by Mignola and (at first) John Byrne; it spoke to my love of pulp-style adventure as well as supernatural folklore, and I couldn't wait to read more. Since then, I haven't missed a series, even buying a few of the not-bad but not-always-satisfying prose novels, as well as the B.P.R.D. spinoffs, and nearly all of them have been at least entertaining, in different degrees, and some have been among the best comics I've ever read.

So of course, when the character made the transition to film, I was right there when the first Hellboy movie made its debut in 2004 (gosh, it doesn't seem that long ago!), and my reaction was, to be kind, mixed. As with its predecessor, HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY is a solid action picture with an exceptional visual panache, courtesy of its imaginative director. Also, as with its predecessor, my biggest problem is in its depiction of the lead. The Hellboy of the comics, the one I like, and have followed for over a decade now, is not the same character that is on the big screen- and while I understand that concessions have to be made and streamlining is inevitable, the Hellboy I like isn't as surly, rude, and childish as the scriptwriters and Ron Perlman make him seem. In the books, HB is respected by everyone in the Bureau, here, he's a pain in the ass as much as anything, making him a lovable lug, I guess, but one wonders why it's necessary. I dislike the whole "secret government agency" angle; it's always been my understanding that the BPRD is an above-ground agency that goes out of its way to avoid the spotlight. How can Hellboy be "the World's Greatest Paranormal Investigator" if he's relegated to urban legend status, as he's supposed to be in the movie? I didn't like that they trotted out, yet again, the dog-tired X-Men-inspired "unthinking, uncaring humanity hates us because we're freaks" trope. Focus groups and corporate decision-makers may think so, but NONE of this is necessary in order to tell a good Hellboy story. Just isn't.

More than anything, though, I absolutely despise the Hell-boyfriend/Liz Sherman girlfriend subplot that the movies are saddled with; in the comics, this is not an issue. I know, I know- mainstream audiences, always perceived to be a hard sell on movies of this nature, pretty much require some sort of romance or romantic interest for the lead. But to me, the HB/Liz romance is contrivance of the most obvious and unnecessary sort- it demeans both characters, and gives these films a "chick-flick", for lack of a better term, dimension that just grates. And I won't spoil, but there's a development in this romance which I am not looking forward to seeing developed.

Other characters get spotlights- the HB/Abe friendship gets better treatment, and the whole Barry Manilow scene is cutesy but charming, injecting a little needed humor. Fine. Abe's characterization is pretty consistent with not only the previous film but the books as well; that's mostly because he doesn't really have a personality to speak of in either. He's a persnickety, prim and proper fella, who's as refined and cultured as HB is crude and rude, we get it. At least in the comics Mignola gives him a spooky sort of detached nobility, but that doesn't come across in the movie because he's Robin to HB's Batman here. His romance, such as it was, with the Elven Princess was handled well, but really wasn't developed. Of course, this is not surprising because we only have so much film to work with. Selma Blair is still a natural as Liz Sherman, as good here as she was in the previous film; unfortunately, she isn't given much to do except act pissed off most of the time...she does it very well, I must say. Johann Krauss, the "ghost in the bag" of the comics, makes his first appearance; at first I was a little offput by his portrayal but the more I thought about it, I began to like it- in the B.P.R.D. stories, he just kinda gets added to the team because he is part of the spirit world and was necessary in that function. But in the film, he's brought in to ride herd over the HB/Liz/Abe trio, at first overbearing and priggish but eventually fitting in with the team. The ghost effects and his containment suit looked great. Another reason Krauss is added is as help for Jeffery Tambor's Tom Manning character; as the director of the team, he of course butts heads with Hellboy, and is usually played for laughs, as only Tambor can do- no one does weak-willed blowhards better. Still, it bothered me because I thought HB and Manning came to a kind of understanding in the first film, even bonding a bit over the "wood matches for cigars" thing. In the sequel, we're back to antagonism- and while Manning's character often has it coming, it's as if the first film's events are conveniently forgotten.

OK, that's enough bitching about characterization. Script-wise, this is actually fine- the dialogue is very good, and while I disagree with how some of the characters are portrayed and a couple of the plot wrinkled come across as quite random, they interact well and the action setpieces blend in well with the downtimes in between. It moves at a brisk pace, rarely drags, and there's dramatic tension in all the right places. Of course, the ideas, such as the Troll Market, the pasture in Ireland that hides the entrance to where the Golden Army is hidden, the clever tying in of the calcium-devouring "tooth fairies", are all very Mignolaesque, and I'm sure reflects his input. In fact, this whole "Fairie kingdom declares war on humankind rather than fade away" is something that's been kinda simmering on the backburner in the comics; there have been countless scenes of the shadowy fen folk standing in the shadows and lamenting their eventual extinction- it fits right in to the whole mythos, both page and screen. There weren't too many instances where I was bugged by scientific impossibilities; This is a SPOILER, highlight to read: I did wonder why Hellboy gave the crown to Liz at the end to melt with her heat; you'd think that the amount of heat necessary to do such a thing would have incinerated Abe and burned up Krauss' containment suit. I would think it would have made more sense to have HB just crush the crown in his big stone hand, and probably more fitting as well.

And the visuals- well, if you've seen Pan's Labrynth, you know what Del Toro's imagination (and that of his effects crews) is capable of. The aforementioned Troll Market (made me wish for a big-screen adaptation of Neverwhere), the battle with the plant elemental (reminded me of Swamp Thing, it did) and its surprisingly lovely aftermath, the scene in the Irish countryside (brightly lit, a stunning contrast from the rest of the darkly lit film settings) in which the gateway to the Golden Army's "barracks" reveals itself, reminiscent of the "rock-biter" in the otherwise heinous Neverending Story- all pulled off with aplomb.

Anyway, I guess I'm in the minority in my reaction to these films; most seem to be content with this calculated-for-maximum-appeal Hellboy and his friends. And really, this is not a deal-breaker for me either. The pros of the Hellboy movies so far outweigh the cons, and I can tell you that if you're on the fence, and aren't too attached to the comics version, you'll have a great time at The Golden Army. me, I'm attached and still came away enjoying it. It's a lean, mean, imaginative action film/monster movie, and I'm glad that we live in a time that such material can be given the presentation that would have been unthinkable in Hollywood as far back as 1993, when the character saw print for the first time. I hope that if and when we get another sequel, this will always be the case.

Friday, July 11, 2008

FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS IN BLANC & NOIR!



At the behest of Bahlactus, tonight's FNF is a true all-star throwdown as the current version of the Justice Society wreaks havoc on Gog (and gets havoc wreaked upon them in return)...who has apparently broken into their mansion. So much mayhem, in fact, that I couldn't just put one or two pages up, I decided to post no less than seven! I tried to open these up a bit because today's Photoshop-heavy comics pages tend to turn into mud when you convert them to grayscale. Click on the pages, of course, to embiggen.

It's been at least five years since I bought the JSA proper title, I'll bet; I got a comp of issue one of this relaunch, which just piqued my interest in the Cyclone character, who was apparently designed to become the modern Red Tornado anagram in current continuity. She gets eliminated from the fracas in the first scan above, sorry to say. Anyway, she's super-appealing, but I just couldn't get past the reason that I dropped the book oh so long ago- the oh-so-serious and oh-so-sodden spandex superheroics, all cosmic hoohah and big fight scenes with the interpersonal stuff somewhat devalued, unlike early issues of Johns' long-ago relaunch. It just got to be too much been-there, read that. However, having read pages from not only this issue, #14, but the next couple as well I am mildly intrigued by this storyline, and while I can't see me going to a lot of trouble to get the back issues, if they collect this arc I just might buy. Might. This is still a lot of posturing-laden, glumly grim superhero fighting.

Anyway, this was all stolen from scans_daily, credit where credit is due I guess, and if you want to see this in color click on the preceding link, s'il vous plait.

BAHLACTUS SAID KNOCK YOU OUT.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Today, Rockin' Roger Green posted the list of Entertainment Weekly's top 100 albums of the last 25 years, which ones he had, and some opinions on same and I thought it's been a while since I posted something music-related here- besides Beatle birthdays of course- so whaddaya say; let's all pretend we care what I think about them, too, and I'll bold the ones I own:

1. Purple Rain - Prince and the Revolution (1984): Not even what I consider Prince's best. Sure, the film was memorable, and this isn't a bad record (even though I find it unfocused and sloppy, and smells like songs taken from the vault and slapped together), but better than 1999? Sign 'o' the Times? I think not. Hell, I like Dirty Mind, Come, and Gold Experience better.

2. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - Lauryn Hill (1998): A friend of mine had this, and I remember hearing several songs from it that were OK but not anything I cared to own. It seemed earth-shaking at the time, though, and it's odd that you never hear anything from Hill or the other Fugees anymore. Not that I'm complaining, mind you.

3. Achtung Baby - U2 (1991): I think I prefer Zooropa, actually, but this is a very good record. Joshua Tree, in my opinion, is probably their best but that may fall outside the 25-year limit (I forget when it came out! 1986-87?). Anyways, this was the first album where they stopped taking themselves so...seriously... and let a little cynicism (and Eno/Lanios-induced willingness to experiment sonically) seep in and all the better for it says I. These days, they're back to being pompous, and they don't even have the saving grace of memorable tunes to balance it out.

4. The College Dropout - Kanye West (2004) Nope, I am not a convert.

5. Madonna - Madonna (1983): People forget it wasn't until Like a Virgin that she made a real impact, and MTV airplay of "Lucky Star" and "Borderline made this so-so debut seem more important and more full of import than it actually was. It's a decent enough album, though. Her best? Not hardly.

6. American Idiot - Green Day (2004): Never saw what other people see in this group. Probably never will.

7. The Blueprint- Jay-Z: (2001): Did this have "Girls Girls Girls" on it? If so, I really liked that track. Don't want to push my luck, though.

8. Graceland - Paul Simon (1986): I never liked this one as much as I did its immediate predecessor Hearts and Bones, and like it even less after reading this. "You Can Call Me Al" was a cutesy, catchy song, like "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover", which I hated.

9. Back to Black - Amy Winehouse (2007): I liked "Rehab", still do. There are one or two other tracks that are OK. I never listen to this anymore, got bored with it real fast. She's a real piece of work, isn't she?

10. In Rainbows - Radiohead (2007): My son made me a copy of this, and I could swear I've listened to it at least twice through but I'll be damned if I could tell you a single thing on it. This group is intermittently interesting, and I appreciate where Yorke's coming from, but other than "High and Dry" from The Bends I just don't get into the rest of their catalog.

11. MTV Unplugged in New York - Nirvana (1994): I remember when this aired, but other than a couple of tracks I never really bought into Nirvana (or the deification of Kurt Cobain, for that matter) either. The version of Bowie's "Man Who Sold the World" isn't bad.

12. Stankonia - OutKast (2000): Kinda wish I had this; I love "Mrs. Jackson" and dig much of Speakerboxx/The Love Below muchly. Someday.

13. You Are Free - Cat Power (2003): Another band which a lot of people really like, but I have yet to investigate. Maybe someday.

14. Disintegration - The Cure (1989): I went through my Cure stage at about the time this record came out, at age 28 a bit too old for the target demographic but isn't that always the way for me. This one's not as good as Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, the first one I ever got, nor is it as good as The Head on the Door.

15. The Marshall Mathers LP - Eminem (2000): Actually, I don't mind this guy too much. Don't own anything, either, although my son did and I heard a lot of it then.

16. Rain Dogs - Tom Waits (1985): One of the (I insist) only two indispensable Waits albums, but I prefer Swordfishtrombones.

17. Odelay - Beck (1996): Another example of my son having something first and then me coming along, hearing it, liking it, and buying it myself. This one's his best to date- he's done everything in his power to avoid sounding like it since which is artistically valid but frustrating from the listener's viewpoint. I like Sea Change, his soporific-but-tuneful 2002 release as well.

18. People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm - A Tribe Called Quest (1990): Nah.

19. Dangerously in Love - Beyoncé (2003): Nope, although she's certainly likable in films.

20. Tidal - Fiona Apple (1996): I had this because I liked "Criminal" but got bored with it and sold it. Don't miss it much, either. I did get Extraordinary Machine, but I never listen to it either.

21. The Emancipation of Mimi - Mariah Carey (2005): Please.

22. 3 Feet High and Rising - De La Soul (1989): I got this because I liked "Me Myself and I" with its Parliament samples and such. Still have it, but never dig it out. Maybe I should.

23. The Soft Bulletin - The Flaming Lips (1999): If I was making this list, this album would be #1. It's rare when I know I'm going to love a record from the opening notes, but that's what happened when I put this in the CD player. It's an imaginative, heartfelt set of ruminations on life and death and cosmic wonder, and it's one of the best albums I've ever heard in my life. Not to put too fine a point on it.

24. Come On Over - Shania Twain (1997): Twain's an appealing performer, to say the least, but I'm not a fan of her style of music, that overproduced, slick antiseptic pseudo-pop/country.

25. Turn On the Bright Lights - Interpol (2002): Don't know much about this group; I may have seen the name in print or heard a track.

26. Time Out of Mind - Bob Dylan (1997: Critics gushed over this, but I didn't really see what all the fuss was about. It has its moments, and probably is the best Dylan album of the last 25 years, given the competition...actually, I'm fond of Under the Red Sky, which most Dylanites despise. Figures.

27. Funeral - Arcade Fire (2004): Another group whose appeal eludes me. Granted, I'm more familar with Neon Bible than this one but I'm not crazy about it either.

28. Illmatic - Nas (1994): Not a fan.

29. Breakaway - Kelly Clarkson (2004): I don't own this (although I think my daughter does). Kelly and I have a history, as you may recall (I wish Imageshack hadn't "lost" the Jamaican vacation picture I had), and I don't mind her music too much, like some of it even- but I've never been moved to buy.

30. Appetite for Destruction - Guns N' Roses (1987): I never really warmed to these guys, although "Welcome to the Jungle" is a serviceable late-80's hair metal cut and I kinda like "November Rain" as well.

31. FutureSex/LoveSounds - Justin Timberlake (2006): I give Timberlake all the credit in the world- he's a good performer, onstage and especially in film, and doesn't embarrass himself in the recorded area either. But that doesn't mean I'm gonna buy or download his music.

32. Life's Rich Pageant - R.E.M. (1985): For a long time, this was my favorite R.E.M. album, and it was also the one which converted me to R.E.M. fandom. "Fall on Me" just might be my favorite of their songs. It's not a perfect LP, though; there are two or three cuts that haven't really stayed all that fresh. I might put Document, Automatic For the People, and even New Adventures in Hi-Fi ahead of it now.

33. As I Am - Alicia Keys (2007): Keys is a talented performer and a heck of a good actress, plus she's just stone cold beautiful...but I have no desire to own any of her sterile soul music.

34. Is This It - The Strokes (2001): I've heard this, and I thought it was OK, but I never bought it.

35. Jagged Little Pill - Alanis Morissette (1995): This was tuneful, but lyrically awful. Still, the dumbass "irony" song was catchy, and I liked that one about the "hand in (her) pocket" as well as yes, "You Oughtta Know". I also liked "Thank You" from the followup, but that's been it for me from Alanis. Oh, and I liked her cameo in Dogma. Does this belong on this list? I doubt it. Maybe in its influence on other female 90's artists, don't know.

36. CrazySexyCool - TLC (1994): I guess this was influential as well, so sure. You know what I liked by these ladies? "What About Your Friends". That had a killer hook and melody, and was free of the hip-hop diva posturing of later videos and songs.

37. The Moon & Antarctica - Modest Mouse (2000): I liked "Float On". That wasn't on this, was it.

38. Raising Hell - Run DMC (1986): I think I almost prefer King of Rock, but hey- you can't deny "Walk This Way" and I liked "It's Tricky", especially the video with Penn and Teller. "No! No Run DMC! NO!" "Yo. That's Tricky."

39. Sheryl Crow - Sheryl Crow (1996): I've been thoroughly unimpressed with everything she's done before and since, although I liked a couple of cuts on her debut. This one's so-so as well, but I'm nuts about "If It Makes You Happy", the best Rolling Stones song of the 1990's.

40. Ready to Die - The Notorious B.I.G. (1994): Not a fan.

41. Legend - Bob Marley and the Wailers (1984): Ditto.

42. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)- Wu-Tang Clan (1993) Likewise.

43. Paul's Boutique - Beastie Boys (1989): Now this one's a hell of a lot of fun, super audacious and super influential with some of the best sampling ever, back when musicians could sample with impunity and not pay a price. It really should be higher on this list. I'm not the biggest rap fan in the world, but this one kicks my ass every time.

44. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road - Lucinda Williams (1998): I wish I liked Williams more than I do; she's definitely a major talent. This one's probably her best, out of those I've heard anyway. Fave cut: "Drunken Angel".

45. If You're Feeling Sinister - Belle and Sebastian (1996): I tried to like these guys, really I did, but just couldn't develop a taste. My loss, I'm sure.

46. Homogenic - Björk (1997): This is in no way, shape, fashion or form better than Debut OR Post. This was the first album in which electronic noises became more important than song structure, and her constant warbling around in search of a melody became real grating after a while.

47. Exile in Guyville - Liz Phair (1993): I don't revere this like some do; there are too damn many melody-free cuts on this for me to embrace it fully. But "Never Said" and "Fuck and Run" are the shit.

48. American IV: The Man Comes Around - Johnny Cash (2002): Even though I like Cash and Rick Rubin, I don't own any of his latter releases. No, wait- I think I have the first couple in mp3s on my old iMac, but never got around to burning them on a CD. When Rubin gets hold of people like Cash, Donovan or Neil Diamond, he tends to want to cast them in spare, stripped-down settings, with minimal accompaniment- and while that's valid and I'm in the minority, for sure, this approach bores the living shit out of me. Maybe that's why I don't have any of these.

49. A Rush of Blood to the Head - Coldplay (2002): For the life of me, I don't understand all the Coldplay hate. Sure, they sound like U2 and Radiohead, and so what? There's nothing on the last three U2 releases that's half as good as "Yellow", "Trouble", "Sparks" or "Politik". Sure, their frontguy is self-effacing and bland to a fault. But I found much to like on their first two albums, and this is my favorite of the two, for "The Scientist" if nothing else.

50. Sounds of Silver - LCD Soundsystem (2007): I have a couple of mp3s, that Ken Lowery, I believe, sent me. They were OK, but I wasn't moved to investigate further.

51. The Score - Fugees (1996): See Lauren Hill above.

52. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon (2007): Nothing.

53. King of America - Elvis Costello (1986): This is a solid, if unexceptional, effort from Elvis- hell, I would have put Blood and Chocolate, Imperial Bedroom, or even Mighty Like a Rose ahead of it. For me, the most memorable thing about this one is the cover.

54. Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 - Janet Jackson (1989): I still love "Miss You Much", and one or two other cuts still entertain, but like all her albums it's too damn long and not strong enough. Still, I guess it can be included for its impact if nothing else.

55. It Takes a Nation of Millions... - Public Enemy (1988): Not a fan.

56. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco (2002): I prefer Summerteeth, a damn-near perfect example of experimental pop, but this one's excellent as well- perhaps the peak of Tweedy's experimentation, coming at the expense of the melody unlike its predecessor. I heart "I'm the Man Who Loves You", which sounds like a great lost Nilsson/Brian Wilson/Neil Young collaboration. Ghost is Born went too far in the other direction, and Sky Blue Sky is pleasant enough, but unremarkable.

57. Harvest Moon - Neil Young (1992): Many bought the hype and hailed this as a return to his halcyon Harvest days, but don't you believe it- despite the charming title track, this is strictly bland, overproduced, antiseptic late 90's-Aughts Neil all the way.

58. Surfer Rosa - The Pixies (1988): I prefer Doolittle, but "Cactus" is a good song.

59. Ray of Light - Madonna (1998): This is OK for the most part, but I prefer Bedtime Stories by a wide margin. Hell, I like Erotica better, too.

60. Crooked Rain Crooked Rain - Pavement (1994): Don't know much.

61. Paid in Full - Eric B. & Rakim (1987): Not a fan.

62. OK Computer - Radiohead (1997): See #10.

63. The Joshua Tree - U2 (1987): Oh yeah, this is when it came out. After all is said and done, I think this is their best and should be higher on the list if this is supposed to be hierarchic. Pretentious as all get out, but they back it up with their musical chops.

64. Mama's Gun - Erykah Badu (2000): I don't own anything by this striking lady, but I should. Maybe someday. I liked "Tyrone"; don't know if it's on this album or not.

65. Elephant - The White Stripes (2003): It's too damned long by about five songs, but you can't beat "Seven Nation Army", "Hardest Button to Button" and "Ball and Biscuit".

66. The Chronic - Dr. Dre (1992): No.

67. Metallica - Metallica (1991): I had a brief infatuation with these guys and a lot of other bands of this ilk in the early 90's; didn't last long. I have this, I think, although I haven't seen it in years...

68. Wrecking Ball - Emmylou Harris (1995): For some reason, I stopped buying Emmylou albums after 1984 or so. I liked most of them before that, loved a couple, but after a while her sound became homogeneous and bland and I lost interest. Getting Daniel Lanois to provide his trademark studio-gloss synthesizer "atmospherics" didn't help get me back. I'd give this a listen if I had the opportunity, but I have no reason to believe I'd be interested in taking it home.

69. Give Up - The Postal Service (2003): No clue.

70. My Life - Mary J. Blige (1994): No, although she did a song about five years ago that I liked OK. Don't remember what it was. It wasn't off this one, that's for sure.

71. Rock Steady - No Doubt (2001): Never acquired a taste for No Doubt, except perhaps the song "Bathwater". I kinda liked some of Gwenny-Gwen Gwen's solo album.

72. 1984 - Van Halen (1984): Not my favorite by these guys, but it's OK. It was certainly influential for a while there.

73. The Queen is Dead - Smiths (1986): never understood the appeal of the Smiths or Morrissey. Guess that's my loss.

74. Play - Moby (1999): I liked a couple of tracks on this, but was never moved to buy.

75. Born in the U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen (1984): It's a classic of its kind, but except perhaps for "Bobby Jean" and "Darlington County" thanks to FM radio and MTV I have no desire to ever listen to it again. Yeah, it belongs...but I prefer Tunnel of Love.

76. Heartbreaker - Ryan Adams (2000): I liked Whiskeytown, and I own this album's followup Gold, but I overlooked this one. Don't really feel like I'm missing out. Only hipper-than-thou critics would put this on a list like this.

77. Dummy - Portishead (1994): The appeal of this group has always eluded me as well. I'm such a philistine.

78. Vs. - Pearl Jam (1991): Sure, OK, but Vitalogy is a better record.

79. Let It Be - The Replacements (1984): Sure, OK, but Tim is a better record. Note to Roger: if you're expecting something like Don't Tell a Soul with this one, well, let's just say that you'll be surprised. Pleasantly, I hope.

80. Back to Basics - Christina Aguilera (2006): Until I heard her version of Lennon's "Mother", I would have snorted in derision at this. But now, I'll just shrug my shoulders and give the benefit of the doubt.

81. The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails (1994): NIN was my son's favorite band when he was a teen, so I heard a LOT of Reznor's music. I deplored the spiteful, self-pitying tone, but musically it was usually always interesting and "Closer" is a masterpiece.

82. Grace - Jeff Buckley (1994): I'm sorry- this one isn't as good as Sefronia even. Stll, "Last Goodbye" and the ruined-by-TV and Films "Hallelujah" are remarkable, and he was shaping up as a talent worth watching, if he could ever buckle down and do anything. He didn't inherit his dad's work ethic, that's for sure.

83. Learning to Crawl - The Pretenders (1984): Had to go look- I forgot I had this. I got real tired of the hits "Back on the Chain Gang" and "Middle of the Road" thanks to overexposure on TV and radio, and frankly, I don't remember anything else on the album. I never was a big admirer of this group anyway. "Brass in Pocket" and "Don't Get Me Wrong" were the only other cuts that yanked my crank.

84. Low-Life - New Order (1985): Nada.

85. Home - Dixie Chicks (2002): My daughter has this one; she's a longtime fan. Although Natalie Maines' overwrought loudmouth Daisy Mae Yokum act gets old real quick, they're all very talented, more often as not their songs are very strong musically, and I love the hell out of "Wide Open Spaces". So there ya go.

86. Loveless - My Bloody Valentine (1991): Another band I have never cared about.

87. All Eyez on Me - 2Pac (1996): No.

88. So - Peter Gabriel (1986): I suppose this is his best album of the past 25 years; his best IMO, III, came out in 1981. I bought this, enjoyed "Sledgehammer" on both TV and my speakers, as well as the Kate Bush duet and "Big Time", which was funny and catchy. I never dig this out and listen to it, though, haven't in at least (I'd bet) 15 years.

89. Bachelor No. 2 - Aimee Mann (2000): I want to like Mann so much, really I do, but outside of "You Stupid Thing" everything else she's done since has sounded whiny and tuneless. Sigh. I like this one's cover.

90. Toxicity - System of a Down (2001). Not interested.

91. Siamese Dream - Smashing Pumpkins (1993): My son has this, so I've heard it but the only Pumpkins album that ever grabbed me enough to want to own it was Melon Collie.

92. The Writing's on the Wall - Destiny’s Child (1999): No.

93. Either/Or - Elliott Smith (1997): Again, my son. I've heard it, but don't remember it. I do own X/O, like some of it, never play it.

94. Synchronicity - The Police (1983): I think this was their peak, creatively. SO naturally, they broke up after and were never the same again for good or ill.

95. Trap Muzik T.I. (2003): Whothewhatthuh-?

96. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - PJ Harvey (2000): I have Rid of Me, To Bring You My Love, and White Chalk. For some reason I don't have this. I LOVE Love, and if this is better than that one then I should immediately run out and get it, I think. Guess it's inevitable that one with limited resources such as I will miss out on some from time to time.

97. Britney - Britney Spears (2001): I guess when you look at the big picture, this probably belongs...but guys. C'mon.

98. Transatlanticism - Death Cab for Cutie (2003): One of my son's former girlfriends is a big fan of these guys, and I've kinda liked what I've heard from them, but as of this writing I own nothing. Gotta love a group that names themselves after the song that the Bonzo Doo Dah Dog Band sang in Magical Mystery Tour...

99. Live Through This - Hole (1994): I'm sure Britt had this too, and chances are I heard it. I certainly heard "Doll Parts", and it was OK. I've liked a couple of other Hole tracks in the past, Courtney Love solo as well, but again, not enough to buy.

100. Faith - George Michael (1987): If you want to get technical, my wife is the owner of this one, I promise. But there have been Michael tracks I've liked- "I Want Your Sex", "Freedom 90", "Fastlove"- just not very many of 'em.



Whee! Done! By my count, I own 38 out of the 100. Thought I had more. Hmph.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE.



It's way past time once more for another Spinner Rack Junkie- that more-or-less ongoing and often overdue feature in which I write capsule 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 June 6th to June 30, 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 #92 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 8 issues. A-

ABE SAPIEN: THE DROWNING #5: Our boy-fish Abe has a bit of an inferiority complex, it seems, and it's no surprise; he's probably been reading his solo showcase spotlights like this one, in which he mostly wanders around spouting minimal dialogue while a host of oddball mystic critters utters wave upon wave of expository dialogue, until the damned thing finally just expires, in this the final chapter. This wasn't Lobster Johnson pointless, but it sure was mighty damned close. C-

THE BOYS #19: I suppose that the whole "mucking out the stalls" bit counts for the gross-out this time around, but really, I got a sense of Garth trying to restrain himself throughout this mostly-flashback chapter. Since Garth is, after all, Garth, we get more military comics (has there ever been anyone more suited than Mr. Ennis to assume the Kurtzman war comics mantle?) action. Robertson illustrates everything in remarkably competent fashion, as is his wont. If you've enjoyed the previous eighteen, then you should like this one, too, and if this is your first attempt at reading this series, be warned- they're not all like this one. B+

CRIMINAL 2 #3: The sad tale of Danica, the third of the triptych of characters that Brubaker's devoting Vol. 2 to, and it's as squalid and down-to-earth as you'd expect. Now, it remains to be seen where we go from here, now that the stage is set...but I'm willing to bet that it will be fascinating. Once more, Brubaker and Phillips have me hooked, and I'm not even really a fan of crime fiction or noir filmmaking. A

JACK STAFF #17: Grist continues to work the same storyline from previous issues, the travails of Jack, balanced out with Becky Braddock and Bramble Son vs. Evil Vampire Harold Bramble, with the Shadow guy lurking around, as he's done for far too many issues now. That's one mystery I'd like to see solved. Also getting a little time are Tom Tom the Robot Man, always welcome and actually used to great effect in a small part here, an obscure character named Shock, who has made maybe one prior appearance is used well, and then there's the new guy- the Butler! Yep, he looks like a guy in a modified butler's uniform, and he's a great, fun character that very few writers not named Grist could get away with. He sure is taking his time with these current plot threads, though, and I'm getting a little restless. A-

MANHUNTER #31: Third time's the charm, they say, but if anybody thinks that this is suddenly going to become anything more than a marginally-selling cult favorite comic, well, I've got some prime real estate in a number of exotic places I'd like to sell you. No matter how well it's written (and it's written very well, make no mistake) and how well it's drawn (and it's drawn well, too- this Gaydos fellow has an appealingly grubby-looking style a la Azateca, J.P. Leon and most obviously the Lark/Gaudiano team), the concept and characters are just not expansive and captivating to appeal to a mass audience, and I realize that "mass", when we're discussing comics, is very relative. So I guess what I'm saying is we should, once more, enjoy it while we can because if it gets a dozen issues I will be surprised, and delighted, in equal measure. To address this one specifically, I will say that I enjoyed the Blue Beetle cameo, having recently read 26 issues of this title in the space of a few weeks, especially the clever idea of supersuit animosity. A-

NUMBER OF THE BEAST #5: The most notable thing about this 2000's superhero trope-infested Matrix ripoff is still the excellent Sprouse/Story art. What a waste of talent. C+

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #9 As this approaches its end next issue, I am struck by how curious this whole project reads; it's obscure, witty and involved narrative-wise, but it's not particularly difficult to follow or understand- kinda like staring at an ordinary household object that you've never seen before in your life. Matt Fraction could take some tips from Lethem and Rusnak, I dare say. The writers aren't showing all their cards just yet, but they're not especially concerned with obfuscating the readers, or trying to impress them with their cleverness. Perhaps it's the plain, no-frills drawing style of Faryl Dalrymple that helps, can't say for sure. Anyway, looking forward to the wrapup next month (or later this month, I forget how far behind I am!). A

WONDER WOMAN #21: I picked up my first new issue of Wonder Woman in decades just because it featured my old buddy, DC's version of Beowulf, aka Dragon Slayer, and I wanted to see how Gail Simone handled him. The answer? Pretty well, I must say. It's difficult to get the essence of a character across in the limited amount of space she had here, but she does so fairly successfully, even working in an approximation of Mike Uslan's humorous style in a couple of places. However, in all fairness I must also say that I came a way a bit disoriented because I don't have the slightest idea what exactly is going on in this issue- Wondy is apparently traveling through time or dimensions or something and encountering pretty much every character of DC's short-lived fantasy comics launch of 1975, such as not only Wulfy but Stalker and Claw the Unconquered as well (doubt we'll see the Warlord or Rima the Jungle Girl, although I'd like that very much- Rima that is), reminding me a lot of that storyline in the old Diana Prince-Wonder Woman days in which she dimension-hops and recruits legendary heroes to help her save Paradise Island from Ares. What's at stake here and how this is happening is a bit unclear, although if I were to go back and reread I might glean some more info. To this end, I have purchased via the eBay a copy of #20; hopefully that will help. Oh, and there's also a subplot involving Nemesis and Sarge Steel and ape warriors in Diana's apartment which I'm not sure I want to know about. The art by Aaron LoPresti and Matt Ryan is slickly done and very professional, and tells the story in a competent if unexciting way. I still wish Simone had a more distinctive writing voice; more often as not this is a generic comic book dialogue style she uses. But she does very well with the characterization, and I can't imagine why any fan of the character wouldn't be delighted with this creative team. Me, I'm interested enough to get the next two issues to see how this all turns out, and that counts for something, doesn't it? B+



ATOMIC ROBO AND THE FIGHTIN' SCIENTISTS OF TESLADYNE TPB: This is the book that's been getting the fanboys all hot and bothered? This? If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Robo boys are praising Mignola and Co. to high Heaven because there is practically nothing in these stories that doesn't come across like repurposed Hellboy- the lead character's personality and dialogue style, the organization he works for, the menaces he faces; all follow the Mignola template...Atomic Robo is to Hellboy as Tori Amos is to Kate Bush. But y'know what? Once in a while I like an Amos track- and in spite of all the secondhandedness, this is fun and fast-paced, and more often as not the quips and humorous situations in the midst of the quirky set pieces and action sequences are as amusing as they're intended to be. There's real talent involved here; this isn't hackwork. Brian Clevenger's dialogue isn't stilted or overwrought, and Scott Wegener's Mignola-meets Ted McKeever art style tells the story well. But what I want to see is something I haven't seen before- are Clevenger and Wegener capable of doing it? And since this is as successful as it is, will we ever get to find out? B

CATWOMAN #80: Mildly disappointing finale as Selina gets even with the mastermind behind her recent troubles, but said mastermind is such a generic villain that it doesn't really make much of an impression. Oh well. Otherwise, well done as always, despite that minor caveat, and one more to go! B+

DAREDEVIL #108: If the plan is to provide a Dakota North spotlight, well, Brubaker and Lark/Gaudiano team are succeeding spectacularly. As a Daredevil story, well, not so much as we get a plot that's too similar to the recently concluded Gladiator-in-prison-and-seemingly-nuts storyline for my tastes. At least Matt Murdock's Job-like trials have momentarily been put on the back burner...but I guess what I'd like to see is just a wee bit more...something. Adventure, perhaps? And that doesn't mean DD beating up thugs for three pages, either. B-

FINAL CRISIS #2: For God's sake, people, calm the fuck down. We're still only two issues in. Would you judge the Stones' Exile on Main Street, or any album for that matter, after two tracks? NO. True, Grant's being coy and not showing all his cards at once, but that's his style. Jones' art is as painterly and accomplished as ever, and I will admit that he could work on his sequential storytelling a bit, but I had no problem with the scenes (such as page 2 & 3's rising sun panel layout conceit) that many have been bitching about. All I'm saying is that we should let this thing unfold, rather than getting hysterical four more times. After #7, though, all bets are off. A-

HELLBLAZER #245: The first of two Jason Aaron-scripted books in this group finds Mr. Aaron taking a look at Constantine's Punk era via flashbacks and the device of having a TV journalist crew break into the abandoned site of the Newcastle Pub, which, as longtime readers know, was the site of one of his greatest failures. Apparently, malignant forces remain there still, and the unfortunate TV crew ends up in deep shit. Good idea for a storyline, and Aaron makes the most of it. I also liked the fill-in art of Sean Murphy; it's nicely expressive, even though his anatomy sometimes gets the best of him. Of course I reserve the right to recant if Aaron bungles the ending of this two-parter, but if heaven forbid Diggle moves on anytime soon, and not that I'd want to see another book added to his workload at the expense of Scalped, but I'd be fine with Aaron getting a shot at ol' Conjob. A-

MADAME XANADU #1: I've always liked this character, ever since I first gazed at her sultry Mike Kaluta covers on the otherwise undistinguished DC horror anthology title Doorway to Nightmare. After that, there was a one-shot which (as I recall, it's been a long time) had its moments but didn 't shed much light on its protagonist, and a not-bad ongoing guest role in the Ostrander/Mandrake Spectre series of the 90's, which did delve into her background a bit, but painted an unsympathetic portrayal that kinda rubbed me the wrong way even though I always generally liked what Ostrander did with that title, one of the 90's best in my opinion. She always seemed to be relegated to standing around in supernatural character group shots and posing, not really contributing much except the occasional tarot reading. In short, Madame X has been for years now a blank slate that not many writers have cared to try and scribble on, and this series is an attempt to redress that, and maybe provide the corporate masters at AOL Time Warner with another licensable property to exploit. Anyway, biggest attraction here is the mangaesque stylings of new artist Amy (Easy) Reeder Hadley; she acquits herself well, telling the story fluidly and clearly, excelling on the title character in her younger years, and kinda coming up short on the Phantom Stranger and Merlin. Her work suffers a little from the cutesy babyface style depiction which is a characteristic of lot of manga artists, and it's not always a style choice which agrees with me. All things considered, though, the kid does OK- which lays the blame for the general mediocrity of this issue at the feet of experienced old pro Matt Wagner, who seems to always whiff when assigned this sort of thing; God forbid he should be given the adventures of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to write on any sort of a regular basis. His Demon series of the mid-80's was bland and unmemorable, and he works in all those characters here as well to little effect- in fact, it all reads like a very precious issue of Fables, only without the benefit of Willingham's well-thought-out ideas. Wagner omits no cliche here, doubly disappointing coming from the man that gave us a very good Arthurian swipe via Mage. Still, as with Final Crisis, this is only one issue, and the best may yet be to come. I hope. One other thing that struck me upon reading this was Hadley's peculiar depiction of Madame X's footwear; she walks on tiptoes at all times, her shoe soles covering only the front part of her foot, as if to approximate deer hooves. I bet she needs a lot of foot rubs from sugar daddy Merlin as a result of this odd choice of shoe... C+

NUMBER OF THE BEAST #6: See above. C+

SCALPED #18: Catch-your-breath issue, which focuses on the one apparent honest cop on the "Rez", Franklin Falls Down. It's a typically solid character piece, as I have come to expect from Jason Aaron, and if it's not particularly memorable, well neither is its subject, although I wouldn't be surprised if some events here don't come back into play before this series is done. Not so impressive is the art by fill-in Davide Furnò; his loose, sloppy style is a distraction more often as not and his depiction of officer Falls Down is inconsistent with what regular artist Guera has established, equally disconcerting. Regardless, he tells the story well enough to get by, and this is another solid-if-not-exceptional issue of one of the best books being published today. A-

UMBRELLA ACADEMY: APOCALYPSE SUITE TPB: In which a Noo Joisey boy takes his best approximation of Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman straight to the bank. I'm not familiar with the music of Gerard Way's band, My Chemical Romance, nor am I familiar enough with his formative influences to get any insight on what could cause him to create something that comes across as a blend of Grant's Doom Patrol with the Lemony Snicket books...but the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. None of this is particularly innovative or original- in fact, nearly every one of these characters can trace their lineage back to the kinds of superpeople Morrison used to toss out there as window dressing back in the late 80's-early 90's. But derivative as it may be, it's still clever enough, with just enough attention is paid to fleshing this oddball cast out, to make this reader at least want to see more of and learn more about them. So mission accomplished, I guess. One thing I'm sure about is that this wouldn't be half as interesting as it is without the deft, angular hand of Gabriel Ba doing the visuals. Seemingly influenced in equal measure by Richard Case and of course Mike Mignola (and I'm sure a host of others I'm to dull to spot), he's up to the task of bringing this to life and giving it panache. I was afraid this would be almost too twee and precious to bear, but that didn't turn out to be the case- and while I still maintain that I'm really tired of teams of quirky superpeople facing bizarre menaces, I suppose I can make an exception in this case, since it's a first-class presentation all the way. A-