Friday, January 16, 2009

CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE.



Yep, time once more for CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE, that more-or-less ongoing and often overdue feature in which I write shortish reviews of various works of sequential fiction that I have perused in the interval since the last time I inflicted such reviews upon one and all, or to be specific, the period from approximately December 28th through January 11th, 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.

AGE OF THE SENTRY #'s 1-4: Now here's something you don't see every day; usually the plan is always to take a fondly-remembered 60's or 70's character and darken it up, presumably giving it dimension and weight, but often stripping it of what made it likable in the first place. The redoubtable Jeff Parker takes the opposite tack with the newish Sentry character- as originally conceived by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee, he was all angst and dramatics, even battling the personification of darkness itself in the from of "The Void", a Nietzscheist concept if ever I heard one. You won't find anything that high-falutin' here, though- this is lighthearted all the way...and that's not only its greatest strength but its ultimate failing. By making the Sentry a sort of cut-rate Superman-type, and placing him in plot-and-gimmick-driven adventures, two-to-an-issue (just like the Weisinger era of yore!) and drawn in a faux Swan or Ogden Whitney style by Nick Dragotta, among others, well, he really kinda trivializes the whole thing and transforms it into a pretty good approximation of an ACG comic, something which I can't believe that there's a huge clamor for and thusly amazes me at its very existence in the first place. Among Marvel titles, this is like a two-headed sheep or albino squirrel or something. Lightweight and contrived as it may be, it still is as enjoyable, which is to say entertaining, as anything Marvel's putting out right now- it never gives off the sweet stink of a Mike Allred comic, for example. Besides, you gotta love a concept broad enough to include the Blonde Phantom or Millie the Model in its universe, and Millie's a recurring character to boot! And the Void? Well, he's almost as harmless as Snidely Whiplash. Oh well, since this isn't a Marvel Adventures title, it won't surprise me in the least if it all turns out to be some sort of drug-or-supernaturally-fueled nightmare that the "real" Sentry is having as part of some crisis or something. But until then, I can kinda dig it. B+

BLUE BEETLE #34: I think by now it's pretty clear that Sturges, while a fine writer, doesn't really have anything new to bring to this particular party, even though in all fairness by now we may be getting stories written after the cancellation news axe fell, and as I recall Rogers took some time to get up to speed before the outstanding finale to the Reach conflict. This is probably his best issue since he took over; the conflict with Doc Polaris II was nicely handled, as well as the character stuff with Paco and maybe girlfriend Brenda, and the whole awkward "border guard" scenario was dealt with. Rafael Albuquerque does a typically solid job on the art side, he's getting away from the tendency to have all his characters grimacing all the time, thank goodness. Anyway, let's enjoy it while we can 'cause it ain't never gonna be like this with this character ever again. B+

DAREDEVIL #114: I've been pretty critical, hostile even, of yet another downbeat soap-operatic Daredevil storyline, with what surely must be one of the most wrongheaded new characters of recent memory, and have bitched long and loud about what a drag it is to read these book these days, but I'm sticking around because I like the character and his cast, and I like the art. Well...usually I like Ed Brubaker too, and this issue was the first one in the current arc which really clicked with me, and I can't really say why. Maybe it's the well-handled Danny Rand appearances, maybe my angst tolerance level was surging, who knows. Anyway, even though our Matt is being agonizingly put through the wringer again, and I'm hating being a willing spectator to his troubles, I must say I'm curious about where it's going. Yep, it's like the good old Miller/Bendis days all over again. Next issue, I may be back to complaining...and probably will if anything terminal happens to Dakota North...but for now, a thumbs-up. For now. B+

EMPOWERED #3: Look, I'll admit straight up that I am just foolish about Adam Warren's art. Always in perpetual motion, full of clever sight gags and possessing one of the wittiest, supple ink lines (or Photoshop inks) in the business, in service of drawing all sorts of complicated tech (love the restraint devices that A.R.R. uses on poor Emp) and yes, sexy chicas (as this book puts it) and dudes as well...I can look at it all day and all night. And it's his art that serves as just one of the many things designed to deflect the inevitable criticsms, of sexism and objectification and all sorts of dire things- he bends over backwards to anticipate every single criticsm, and sometimes this comes across as all sorts of tentative and restrained, in spite of all the licentious subject matter. It's a very fine line he walks, trying his best to give us a sexy superhero farce that appeals to all and offends no one, even to the point of blacking out the dirty words in the dialogue, and even though I do appreciate the tender and downright healthy relationships between the principals here, it often comes across like porn trying to masquerade as an Toon Disney series, and I get a whole lot of cognitive dissonance (with apologies to Mrs. Draper Carlson) with every issue I read. So what I'm trying to say in my typically rambling way is that I like sexy superhero farce as much as the next guy, but I keep getting distracted every time I try to make it through an issue, and that tempers my enjoyment a bit. I have a feeling that most of you are not burdened with this disposition, and would enjoy this if you give it the chance and haven't already. I also have #4, which I haven't read yet. Somehow I doubt that I'll be able to find anything different to say about it. A-

FINAL CRISIS: SECRET FILES #1: This has been getting a lot of flak for being a slight origin recap, and it is, I guess...but hell, Len Wein never gave one-and-done baddy Libra a proper origin back in the 70's (when I was faithfully buying his Justice League of America right off the spinner rack), so since he is, after all, a key playa I guess he should have one. As retroactive origins go, this is a mostly entertaining one; I've always felt that Wein's writing style fit better at DC, and his work at Marvel and other places just never had the same spark. I'm pleased to say that he acquits himself well here- is this his first script for DC since the 70's? I don't know. Anyway, it's a shame he didn't get a better artist on this- Tony Shasteen is game, and is obviously influenced by Tony Harris, but the only thing he has in common with the erstwhile Starman artist is a tendency to stiffness in his figures. The rest of this book is pretty inessential. I suppose if you, like me, are old enough to remember 1973, and are keeping up with Final Crisis proper to the point of buying all the spinoffs, you'll probably like this. If neither applies, then you might want to think twice. B

GREATEST HITS #4: The later years of the Fab Faux Four are detailed this time out, set against the backdrop of missing film footage of an alien invasion the Mates thwarted in their final days as a group-- or did they? Tischman's script is clever without coming across as too contrived, mirroring but not especially imitating late 60's-early 70's events in the life of the real fabs, and Fabry does his usual outstanding work on the art- I think he's very underrated by those who think of him as a cover artist first and foremost. There is absolutely zero buzz about this comic, perhaps exacerbated by its generic, tell-nothing title, and it's perhaps only my love for the British music scene in the early 70's and the Beatles in particular that's causing me to enjoy this as much as I am, but this is an enjoyable fantasy and I wish more were paying attention. Hey! Just like The Vinyl Underground! As Macca would say, "pity that". A

HOUSE OF MYSTERY #9:
As nice as it is to see Bernie Wrightson art once more in a comic with this title, the joy is tempered somewhat by the realization that he just doesn't seem to have the facility and spark that infused his work so long ago. Still, he's still better than most run of the mill horror-comic artists we get these days, and his story interlude here is well-done, if a little reminiscent of one of Archie Goodwin's twist-ending Warren Magazines tales. The rest of the book finds our cast still trying to get out of the basement alive, with separated heroine Fig encountering her father- perhaps- and a short interlude on another world with the ghostly duo from the first few issues, negotiating with another figure, a dandified person who wears a white mask. I don't have a clue what the hell that's all about. Be that as it may, I remain interested enough to follow along a little while longer. B+

IMMORTAL IRON FIST #21: A nicely-realized tale of a possible future for the descendants of Danny Rand and the K'un-L'un warriors, a little slight on the script side, perhaps, reading like a fill-in- by the regular writer- but is most notable for the art of one Timothy Green- who draws with a nicely done fine-line style that reminds me a little of a Craig Russell, perhaps, or even the Pander Bros (remember them?)...complete with amusing sight gags (many of the robots are straight out of the Russ Manning Magnus book of schematics) and imaginative design. He's a keeper; I hope he doesn't do an X, Ultimate, or Spidey book for a long time. B+

INCOGNITO #1: In which Brubaker and Phillips take a break from giving us noir tropes in order to give us science fiction tropes with a pulp adventure slash superheroics lean, a dubious goal on the face of it but as long as the results are this enjoyable, well, who am I to complain? The duo are still riding high and completely in sync giving us the saga of a sociopathic supervillain who has been in a depowered witness relocation state after the death of his twin partner in crime, and we find ourselves getting into his head as he seeks to find something to help him cope with his life as it is, as well as the always-nagging desire to reenter the life he once knew, and he's fascinating despite being a real piece of work. One would think that Sleeper would have been the last word on this sort of thing, but it has a subtly different feel than that excellent series did. Don't know where it's going, but as usual with Ed and Sean, getting there will be a lot of fun, I think. A-

INCREDIBLE HERCULES #124:
Fast n' furious action as Herc spends much of his time scrapping with none other than the same Atlas that is supposed to be holding up the firmament, all brought about by not-nice Amazon Artume. I like how the writers are folding Greek mythology in to the story, the character stuff is as fast-paced and breezy (smelly in one amusing gag) as usual, the art is good-to-very good, and while this isn't instant classic stuff, it's one of the few non-nostalgia pandering series that is actually fun to read. Keep on keepin' on, Van Lente/Pak & Co. Also, good on you for not really killing that Delphyne character; she's kinda cool. A-

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #9: Reviewed at PopSyndicate.com. B+

JUSTICE SOCIETY of AMERICA #22: In which Johns takes an intriguing beginning and runs it into the ground, giving us the biggest non-ending that I can remember in recent years, plus, he also tacks on a coda of sorts to Waid's Kingdom Come, answering a question which I seriously doubt anyone was thinking to ask. Maybe it was Ross' idea, who knows. Anyway, anticlimax is the order of the day as the previously-omnipotent Gog gets taken down in about three pages, and while seeing them SPOILER ALERT cut off his head and stick it on the Source Wall (!) is an arresting visual END OF SPOILER, it gets undermined by the ease with which he came to that pass in the first place. Oh well, what little character stuff there is is done well enough, the main reason why I'm reading this in the first place, and I for one am always happy to see new art by Ross, even though he's walking over his own tracks in this backwards-looking chapter and it doesn't always sit comfortably next to that of the more conventional comics art of Eaglesham and Massengill. This isn't the first disappointing finale to a big multi-chapter comics saga, and it won't be the last, Too bad, though, because just like the ant with the rubber tree plant, I had high hopes. THAT'LL teach me. B-

LABOR DAYS: Brit schlub/arrested development case "Bags" Bagwell, your typical (to stories like this, anyway) 20-something directionless slacker type, comes into possession of a VHS tape which serves as the McGuffin, and various agencies, mostly hostile to our Bags, are trying to take it away from him for their own purposes. This tries really hard to be a fish-out-of-water action-thriller-comedy romp, like Hot Fuzz perhaps, but it's much too long and drawn-out, and Bags is too much of a slob to be really all that endearing. I found this kind of a chore to sit through till the end; by the last chapter or so I was really happy to see it wind up. The minimal plot is reeeeallly stretched thin. The art, by Rick Lacy, has an appealing sort of crude energy but BOY is it sloppily inked and often hard to follow. If you're in the mood for this sort of thing, and you're not expecting much, you might enjoy this if you don't run out of patience first. C+

MADAME XANADU #7: We now find Madame X in 19th Century Whitechapel, which means of course Jack the Ripper. I don't know what sort of spin Wagner thinks he can put on this hoary old material, unless of course he thinks jamming the Madame and the Phantom Stranger into the works will provide it (it won't)...but even though young Hadley Reeder has serious trouble drawing Victorian-era top hats, this still comes across as another enjoyable-enough chapter of the ongoing saga. B

MISTER X: CONDEMNED #1: Oh, gosh, 1983 was a hell of a long time ago, wasn't it? The original Vortex Mister X series, with scripts by Dean Motter and art by Los Bros., was one of a handful of early 80's titles, like Zot!, Thriller, Aztec Ace, and so on, that renewed my flagging interest in comics reading as I staggered tentatively into my early 20's. Even though the Bros. bailed about three issues in, to be replaced by Seth, I hung in for a very long time with this title, wondering what Motter had up his sleeve. Problem is, even though he wrote a lot of stories, he never really got around to arriving at any particular destination, and bailed after a baker's dozen to be replaced by a panoply of lesser talents (although Seth did briefly return, if I recall correctly), each taking the concept to vastly more confusing and convoluted directions...and I eventually threw up my hands and gave up. Even though Motter returned to form with the loosely-affiliated Terminal City miniseries, a small part of me hoped he would someday revisit the Mr. X character (I know, he had a cameo in Electropolis, which I didn't buy)...and now it looks like that day has come. It's interesting enough, as Motter reacquaints us with the flawed Radiant City, designed to be inspiring but actually inspiring suicidal thoughts, and all said it's a fine first chapter which leaves lots of room to expand. Dean also takes over the art chores, and while I'm not always crazy about the way he draws people, he excels at everything else and knows how to construct a narrative flow. So, an auspicious beginning, I think, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here. A-

PATSY WALKER: HELLCAT #4: Well! For some reason, all the storytelling quirks which Kathryn Immonen has been using, and driving me nuts with- the all-over-the-place fill-in-the-gaps-if-you-can storytelling style, the overly precious dialogue which rambles to no good end...all sharpened up or eliminated completely, replaced by an honest-to-Chili Storm linear-progressing narrative, with actual cause-and-effect and everything! Patsy finally finds the object of the quest that the Eskimo witch coven sent her on, and enlists the aid of thousands of snow bunnies to help her reach it, dodging rocket trees thrown by Pete the Yeti and...yeah, I know. It's still one of the weirdest things I've read in a while, but at least for this issue it entertained instead of frustrated, and for that I'm thankful. I'm also thankful for the art of David LaFuente, who makes this mess look really good with his cheerful renderings, in tandem with John Rauch's candy-coated coloring. A-

SCALPED #24: Red Crow winds up making a heart-breaking decision, but one with results, that, to be honest, certainly provide (mostly- should have been a more permanent resolution, if ya know what I mean) satisfaction- from the readers' point of view anyway. Another excellent, dramatically gripping Aaron script, brought to vivid life by Guera- in short, another outstanding issue of the best comic you're not reading right now. A

TOP TEN: SEASON TWO #3: Pretty good send-up of self-help cults, as Det. Peregrine's "confused" hubby Top Flight goes away to participate in a "Premise Keepers" (heh) weekend retreat but gets more than he bargained for. The other subplots, with Dust Devil and Shock-Headed Peter investigating the weird murders from issue #1, and the struggles of Girl Two to fit in, proceed apace, and all are well-done (as opposed to medium rare, I guess)- maybe Alan Moore might have taken them in other directions, but for my money Cannon is doing a real good approximation, especially in the characterization area. It also helps that the visual continuity is still there courtesy of Gene Ha. It's good to have a regular Top 10 series to look forward to again. A-

UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLAS #2: The kids are anything but all right in this issue #2, which seems to kick off the storyline proper more so than #1 did, and it doesn't seem that things are going to get any better anytime soon, what with masked psychopaths hunting for them...well, some of them, anyway. l give Gerard Way credit- this is some inspired imitation Morrison/Milligan/Fraction type stuff, with more going on than he's letting slip, giving me just enough to maintain my interest even though it's all terribly unfocused and arbitrarily violent. All the character stuff, which is nicely handled, especially in the Batman-style office confrontation/conversation between the vigilante Kraken, Inspector Lupo, and his sidekick chimp Body, is playing to Gabriel Ba's strengths, and he shines throughout as he has a tendency to do. Once Way gets around to providing the whys and wherefores of all this...stuff, this will really kick into gear, I do believe; I hope it's in his game plan. A-

UNKNOWN SOLDIER #3: My standard objections apply- I dont really get a good sense of who's in conflict with who and why, and what (besides the soul of our intrepid young doctor Moses Lwanga) is at stake, and the art is relentlessly mediocre. That said, Dysart still writes with the intent to provide verisimilitude, and succeeds on that level, and the scene in the middle that allows us to catch up with the young doctor's wife is a good one. This isn't blowing me away, but I'm determined to see it through till the end. B

VIXEN: RETURN OF THE LION #4: Oh noes! Superman and Black Canary are the helpless thralls of the bad guys! WHO CAN SAVE THE DAY? I suppose our titular heroine, who has just experienced her own clich├ęd epiphany (THE POWER WAS WITHIN HER ALL ALONG GASP) and is on her way. Predictable all the way, and the artist seems to have gotten the job because he can draw a passable Halle Berry. Nice Josh Middleton cover; too bad they couldn't have gotten him to draw the interior as well. C


I still have WASTELAND BOOK 03: BLACK STEEL IN THE HOUR OF CHAOS and WINTERMEN WINTER SPECIAL #1 to go, but I'm still reading the former, and I want to write a bit more about the latter than I have time for right now...so they'll come later. Pinky swear!

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