Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reviews from Hither and Yon, or Catchup Confessions of a Junker Rack Spinnie.

Here's a few paragraphs containing opinions, poor attempts at humor, and idle speculations regarding stuff I read during and after posting the last Spinner Rack Junkie the other day. BEWARE OF SPOILERS, even though I figure that most of you have read these already. Even better, there will be another one coming in a week or so- can you stand the wait?

DEAD OF NIGHT feat. DEVIL-SLAYER #'s 3, 4: If you'll recall, this is a new Devil-Slayer, not this fellow (not really) but an Iraq War soldier who returns to duty only to find out that there are demonic (and angelic, too, if you want to be spoiled) goings-on going on under his very nose, and he is the chosen one who is destined to fill the role that our previous D.S. abdicated. And it goes pretty much how you'd expect these sorts of stories to go, our hero fights against insurmountable odds and achieves a victory of sorts, only to realize that his work is not yet done, and he must remain ever vigilant in the face of a possible repeat of demonic activity, armed with magic and a sword. Of course, the main reason to check this out when it's collected is the art of Chris Samnee; he's got a very good-looking style that reminds of Mike Lark, David Mazzuchelli, or Kano, and he's able to crisply depict the action and adventure stuff that the somewhat shallow script demands. This is nothing groundbreaking, but if it's collected it will make a good read on a slow day. Oh, did I mention that Daimon Hellstorm has a cameo on the final page, and it looks like Ellis' Hellstorm, not the Max imprint version that came and went a year or so ago? Well, yep, he's there. Well, I thought it was cool anyway. B+

INCREDIBLE HERCULES #'s 114-120: I'm not reviewing the last four issues (#'s 121-124), which (unless I'm mistaken) I've already covered- I read them because (I hope you're sitting down) I downloaded three of them from one of those sites, you know the ones. But fear not, I have now put my money where my mouth is, and I consider it money well spent- so suck it, those who would abolish such's one person who bought. Anyway, I was happy to do it not because I think Marvel needs more of my money, but because these are some well-written and entertaining comics and I enjoyed them in my tryout quite a bit. Hercules has always been a bit of a wild card in Marvel years past; "created" by Stan and Jack back in the old Journey Into Mystery days as a foe/foil for Thor, just as Jack was nudging the book into the cinematic mythological adventure direction, he bounced around a lot after then- he kinda became a gregarious token strong guy who just happens to be as strong as the Hulk, and oh by the way just happens to be a god even though Thor already kinda fulfills that criteria- and I'd bet he's been a member of every super team that Mighty Marble has trotted out for the last four decades. There were a couple of enjoyable miniseries back in the Eighties, as I recall, drawn by (I think) Bob Layton, that reinforced Herc's rep as a not-especially deep thinking, hard-drinking ladies' man, and they were played for laughs more often as not. Wisely, Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak have embraced this approach with this series; taking over the numbering of the Hulk's title in the aftermath of the big World War Hulk thing (which I haven't read), in which Herc and his new comrade-in-arms, young junk-food-fueled genius Amadeus Cho (with coyote puppy in tow- it's a recurring joke, which takes an odd twist during the whole Skrull thing) apparently played a major role. A lot of this was in the issues immediately preceding the ones I purchased; I haven't yet obtained #'s 112-113. The first few issues I have deal with an ongoing struggle with Herc's brother Ares, who's also been represented in the Marvel Universe before (one of the more clever jokes is how the Black Widow- yes, lots of guest stars in this particular arc- tricks a drug-addled Herc into thinking he's once more in the Champions with Ms. Romanov). Once this is resolved, it's hurtled pell-mell into the middle of the next big company-wide crossover, the Skrull Wars thing, in which our boy and a group of other mythological figures unite (with Cho, and pup) and sail on a big intergalactic spaceship to battle the god-figure of the Skrull world. This reminded me a lot of the vastly more serious issues of Lucifer in which a few of that book's cast undertook a quest with a similar agenda. Next, the threat of a renegade Amazon who wishes to reshape reality using an Atlantean magic artifact, which guest stars Namor and Namora (I'm sure you remember the "Namor, check thyself" and "Crakkadoom" panels that made the rounds a while back) and is actually yet to be resolved. All of this is portrayed with wit and good cheer, dramatic when it needs to be but hardly ever resisting the opportunity to crack the obvious joke (much hay was made of the Greek god traveling with a young boy, can't believe they went there) when it pops up, but never to the detriment of the story. It's a neat balancing act, and they pull it off with aplomb. The characters, and it's a large cast which includes most of the Greek pantheon, including Titans, and their motivations are clearly defined- I've always had a soft spot for Greek. myths and legends, and this folds them into the current Marvel continuity, not to mention modern society, in very clever fashion. From resigned, depowered dupe Poseidon to scheming Athena to aggro Ares to the affable strongguy ("...the brawler, the roustabout...I was never the leader!") whose name is in the title, they're all vividly realized. Artwise, it's kind of a mixed bag, all of it quite accomplished but working despite the contrasting styles used from one arc to the next. Khoi Pham, with a couple of different inkers, does the first few, winding up with the Ares arc; his style is heavily 90's Image-ish, all jagged edges and over-rendered, but he has a good sense of the epic in his layouts; the Skrull stories are done (mostly) by Rafa Sandoval and Roger Bonet, who merge to create a Kubert Kid kind of look- their action scenes are somewhat muddled and chaotic. Clayton Henry and Salva Espin (on flashback scenes) are the current team; the latter (as I've said in previous reviews) reminds me of a less facile Chris Sprouse, perhaps, or a Leonard Kirk style. It's static, but well-staged and his figure work is very good most of the time. Comics won't be pushed forward by this title, but it's a hell of a good read, full of fun and adventure and just enough continuity porn so as to not turn off those who might be turned on to such. Even the snobbiest reader of sequential graphic narratives can peruse these and be able to respect him/herself in the morning, I would think. I would also think sales would be better, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. After all is said and done I believe I can safely give each issue an A-.

SUB-MARINER: THE DEPTHS #'s 3,4: Milligan's In Search of... style take on Namor is nothing new under the sun; we've seen this type of "Rational guy seeks legendary beast/person/city/thing" story many times before. Pete's such an old pro at scripting, however, that he can amp up the personal drama and engage the reader just the same, aided and abetted by Esad Ribac's elegant, soft-focus painted art. A nicely done under-the-radar title, too low key to get excited about but quite possibly the best Sub-Mariner story in decades. Not that I've read that many in the last few. A-

THUNDERBOLTS #'s 126, 127: OK, I have enjoyed Andy Diggle's recent DC stuff a lot, especially his much-missed Losers...but I was not enamored of his decision to go to Marvel to (essentially) write Suicide Squad, or so I thought; I don't think I've read more than one issue of Thunderbolts that I can recall. Anyway, I was pretty determined to ignore this title...but then I read that he was going to insert none other than my old cause celebre Yelena Belova aka Black Widow II in his new T-Bolts team, and well, I got real curious and decided to check out the two issues previous to the upcoming issue, his first two scripting efforts on this title. And...well, I liked them. He writes here with the lean, mean vibe that he brought to The Losers, and these two issues, which deal with the post-Skrull aftermath and the Norman Osborn-sparked dissolution of the previous team, are fast-paced and exciting. He's definitely got something working if he can make me enjoy a story with hideously overexposed Daredevil villain Bullseye in it! Of course, it's also awfully beholden to current continuity, of course, and if not for the handy recap page at the beginning, not to mention my recent tentative forays into Marvel storylines of the last few months, I'd have been quite lost. Roberto De La Torres' art works pretty well with the subject matter; it's a lot like Hitch/Neary, inspired by Neal Adams and with harder edges reminiscent of Diggle's old partner in crime Jock; he has good command of facial expressions and handles the action scenes very well, too. Looks like I'll be sticking around for a while, just to see where Andy takes this. A-

WASTELAND BOOK 03: BLACK STEEL IN THE HOUR OF CHAOS: Writer Antony Johnston has obviously spent a great deal of time and put in a lot of thought when it comes to the concepts that he's putting forth here; in the wake of Mad Max and the like, it can't be easy to innovate and be fresh in the Post-Apocalyptic genre of fiction, if you want to call it that. That said, he hasn't exactly succeeded; this is a mishmash of lots of sources- Max, Waterworld, Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns, you name it. He's gone to a lot of trouble to create this elaborate society, with its own cribbed-from-modern language, but a lot of it's arbitrary and even nonsensical at times, and it never fails to distract me when a character can swear "fuck" in one line and then say "sun-damned" in the next. Made-up languages are never easy to write or parse, and I have to tell you that I almost didn't make it through the first quarter of the book because it was all written from the point of view, and exclusively in the incomprehensible language of, the Skeksis-like sand-dwellers whose attempt to overwhelm the walled city of Newbegin takes up almost 3/4 of the book- and frankly I could barely read and/or understand the gibberish they were constantly spouting. Another problem I had reading these in collected format rather than issue-by-issue, was that I had forgotten a lot of the whys and wherefores of the sprawling cast members, with all the intrigues that one usually finds when dealing with stories involving the privileged and mostly corrupt haves and the grasping, desperate have-nots that make up the city that most of this collection takes place in, and I was really struggling for a while to get with the flow of the story. But somehow, against all odds, it did kick in about halfway through and before it was done, once more I was interested in what was going to happen next. This is a reoccurring pattern with me and this series, it seems. One thing that I was happy to see is that artist Chris Mitten has really improved; he still draws everyone's faces the same, with only the occasional forehead spot or different color of hair/beard to remind us we're not dealing with a society of inbred lookalikes, but he's learned to vary his rough ink line a lot, helping his characters stand out from their backgrounds more than in the first, admittedly mostly-set-in-the-desert, couple of trades. I see a loosening up of his layouts and his figures as well, and I think this collection features some of the best art I've seen from him to date. See you next trade, I guess! B-

WINTERMEN WINTER SPECIAL #1: Part of the problem with writing on such a delayed basis as I do is that other, better writers get their best shots in before I ever get the chance, and wind up saying things that I either wanted to say, or would have said if I was a better, more insightful writer and had they occurred to me. The latter happens a lot more often, believe me. So with this in mind, let me point you to this typically erudite review by Joe "Jog" McCullogh, and this amusing (and informative) one by Greg Burgas. When faced with adding yet another, probably redundant review of a comic that a) few people bought; b) was pretty much outrageously tardy each time it was supposed to see release; c) seemed to be compromised and interfered with from its troubled beginning; and d) fewer still really cared about, well, one wonders what is left to be said. Actually, I'm still wondering. But be that as it may, I'm compelled to say something about the series which pretty much knocked my socks off for four of its five previous releases, and smacked them pretty hard in the the first thing that comes to mind is that when it comes right down to it, this Frankensteined finale is that rarest of rare things- a resolution that actually resolves the story, and even manages to leave a path for a sequel, as unlikely as that seems. I wish I had had my previous issues handy, to reacquaint myself with previous events; because while reading this I found myself at a loss to what had happened to cause this situation, or when that character had been introduced or not. I'm not sure that I envisioned this sort of Watchmen-flavored finale back when I read #1; the final confrontation presented here makes sense in its context, and there is certainly enough fill-in-between-the-lines to frame it well...but that said, all six issues seem strangely truncated and compressed, as if it would have been better served as a (unlikely as it seems) 12-issue limited series, in order to give Lewis' fantastic-realistic Russian supersaga room to breathe and explore its many and varied characters and settings. Of course, sales and scheduling being what they were, we're damned lucky to get what we got when we got it. I do hope that this gets a collection someday soon, however; I'd love to read it all in one sitting, even though Lewis' dense plotting and wonderfully gnarly dialogue will make it a deliberate task. Taken on its own merits, this particular issue moves along at a smart clip; the dialogue is as good as remembered but I did find myself wondering how much was Lewis and how much was co-credited, for this issue, scripter/artist J.P. Leon. Regardless, it was a smooth blend. Leon the artist is a marvel; he packs a wonderful plethora of detail and dramatics into every page. I don't know who was more responsible for the delay between issues, which seemed like an eternity, but the effort is represented on the page. I've always maintained that I was more than happy to wait on a creative team to do their work, and remain true to their vision, even if it meant lengthy delays between chapters, and this title certainly tested my resolve. I was slightly disappointed when it was over, but mostly because it was over, with so much of this world left uncovered, and that's a real shame. That's the way it goes sometimes, especially in comics. Let's all hope for a collection, what say? A

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