Monday, February 23, 2009


Here I go again with CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE, that more-or-less ongoing and often overdue feature in which I write shortish reviews of various works of sequential fiction that I have perused in the interval since the last time I inflicted such reviews upon one and all, or to be specific, the period from approximately February 7 through 21, 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.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #1: Where the first miniseries kinda danced around the edges of the Marvel U proper, this one immerses itself fully via a tie-in with this whole "Dark Reign" thing, and manages to emerge unscathed for the most part. So far. And since it is a "Dark Reign" tie-in, we get the obligatory Norman Osborn appearance; he's brought in for a dick-measuring contest with the Atlas corporation which unfolds in interesting fashion, reaffirming Jeff Parker's talent for such. That guy's really on a roll these days. Amusing (for every one but him): the fate of Man-Mountain Marko, a quite obscure 70's Marvel badguy who, to be honest, may be (have been) a major player in all things Marvel U for a decade now, but i wouldn't know because, frankly, I havent been paying attention. The art, by Carlo Pagulayan, Benton Jew (!), and Jason Paz is servicable; it lacks the professional sheen that Leonard Kirk brought to the first miniseries, but it gets the job done and is appealingly, rather than appallingly, raw in spots. Good first step; let's see where it goes from here. A-

BATMAN #686: Well, it's Gaiman, so you know it's fanciful fantasy; using some sort of funeral setting, so divorced from reality that it has a (appropriately enough for the Sandman auteur) dreamlike texture, even though we're told at the beginning it is not- it's a weird mix of events and styles from all aspects of all things Bat: the crude early days, the rootin' tootin Forties, the Camp 60's, the grimmer decades that followed. The whacked-out space-faring Batman tropes of the 50's aren't represented, but this is only issue one of two. We just went through a period in which Morrison was supposed to be doing the very same thing, trying to reconcile all the different aspects of Bat-lore from decades past, a Quixotic undertaking if ever there was one, and while Moz succeeded at some level, Gaiman outdoes him at his own game; this is twice as clear and more interesting than any part of Grant's tenure. I just wish I could discern a point to all this imaginary-story stuff. Neil's fortunate to have artist Andy Kubert along for the ride; although he's just a little too close to this side of Jim Lee and his ilk for my taste, he still has enough spark and imagination to stand out from that pack, and he shows a chamelonic streak here as well; I keep seeing subtle references to other artists' styles- a Kaluta face here, an Eisner perspective there, shades of Gibbons, Adams, and others but never once does he descend into Mike Allred-style imitation. I am intrigued by this in spite of myself; I wish that it wasn't so obtuse, and I wish someone with more poetry and less industry in his soul was illustrating it, but on its own terms it works. It may not be another "Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow", like some have suggested, but those don't come along all that often. We'll know more in a month or so. B

THE BOYS #27: Good to have Robertson back, I suppose, but I'm afraid it seems like Grant is stretching this arc out to no apparent good effect; this issue's St. Paddy's Day grousing is earned, I suppose- I can see why it would be galling to true Ireland natives, especially those inclined to be crabby about it, and the gross gag at the end is no less amusing for it, but I really wish Ennis would cut to the chase. B-

B.P.R.D.: THE BLACK GODDESS #2: This storyline rolls on and on, as we at least seem to find out what's been going on with Liz Sherman and precious little else. Good thing I like these characters so much, or I might find myself growing a wee bit impatient with this endless "Impending menace and earth-shattering consequences from frogs under the Earth with skullfaced robots and such" storyline which has been running through this series since 1994 or so. Fortunately, Guy Davis is on hand to make it all look cool. B+

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND THE MI-13 #10: Reviewed at A-

FABLES #81: Things keep going from bad to worse for our cast, as the evil Black-clad entity brings death, woe, and destruction upon they heads. The way things are going, I fully expect a guest appearance by Matt Murdock. A-

HAUNTED TANK #'s 2,3: This oddball mix of Topper and Three Kings continues to rumble around in the desert, just like the tanks they're all driving, giving us random skirmishes between US and Iraqi troops- except when ghostly Rebel Col. Jeb Stuart and the easily aggravated black Sgt. Jamal Stuart are having verbal skirmishes of their own. This is too heavy-handed in its message, and much too talky by half- and the dialogue is way too disjointed to really leave an impression, other than a general sort of chaos, almost like an Altman flick- if Altman's writers had no command of the English language. Flint Henry's art strives mightily to hold it all together, and whatever storytelling clarity there is here is due him, I think. I really wish this was sharper, or at least a little less obvious, and I wish it would give us an indication that there's a point coming up- but alas, I don't think one is forthcoming. C

HELLBOY: THE WILD HUNT #3: Nice to see an update on what I'm pretty much convinced is the best, and if not the best the purest Hellboy story to date, "The Corpse", as HB reunites with the baby he rescued from a changeling's fate, relatively unscathed- or is she? Anyway, more than meets the eye with her, I'm sure, but once more Mignola is effectively marshaling dire forces to go up against our hero, and I am looking forward to seeing how all the granly plot threads knit themselves together. If they knit themselves together; I remember the last Hellboy mini after all. Duncan Fregredo once more gives us the best Hellboy that isn't by his creator; There just hasn't been enough of his lively work over the last two decades. A

HEXED #2: We pick up where #1 left off, with our heroine "Lucifer" entering a extradimensional world located in the belly of a corpse in order to steal some kind of mystical object from a pissed-off demonic creature of some kind...and then she spends the rest of the issue talking about it. I like the art, Luci is interesting if a bit derivative, and the intensely bright coloring works OK, but I hope things pick up a bit soon. I'm comped, so I can afford to be patient. Others who pay, I'm not so sure. B+

INCOGNITO #2: Even though there remains a nagging sort of "seen this before" vibe to the whole thing, Brubaker and Phillips are so in sync that they make this, yet another rumination on identity and human nature and so forth as filtered through the prism of superhero and b-movie tropes, seem fresh and involving. I mean, holy crap, Phillips is so good at evoking nuance and subtle personality indicators, just via his linework and shading; I still maintain that he's one of the very best illustrators working in the field today, and has been for a long time now. A-

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #10: After reading and reviewing #9, I got kinda curious about what was going to happen next. We're still Dark Reigning, so Norman Osborn continues to twirl his figurative moustache, Stark is still striving to get rid of everything and get away, Pepper Potts is left to oversee the dissolution of the whole Stark Industries thing, and this Maria Hill person gets her smoove on with the still-dashing Mr. Stark. Oh, and we get Iron Person armor with tits. This isn't as compelling as some Marvels I've been reading lately, but it does work on a TV series, Lost/24/Heroes kind of level. B-

JERSEY GODS #1: It's as if the Kevin Smith of Clerks and Mallrats collaborated with Jack Kirby on yet another pseudo-mythological Grand Sweeping Epic, but that makes this sound heavier than I intend; it's played light all the way as we meet a young Jersey lady who has terrible luck with boyfriends, and gets mixed up with godlike beings from another world who happen to bring their battle to the local mall. This is obviously New Gods and Eternals territory, but it's enjoyable, and in no small part as much fun as it is thanks to the retro-style Dan McDaid art; it's somewhat Kirbyeque, perhaps reminiscent of some of Darwyn Cooke's attempts at replicating the advertising art of a half-century ago, but that's not really accurate either; regardless, it's quite good and brings this somewhat 3/4 baked concept fully to life. Well worth checking out, says I. A-

PATSY WALKER: HELLCAT #5: Kathryn Immonen frustrates me to the very end on this; after the relatively straightforward #4, she gets a bit scattershot again in the finale- but thankfully doesn't devolve into the chaos of the middle of the run. It's as if she had 12 issues' worth of story (and she probably does, no doubt) but felt as if she had to cram it into five because she would never get any more, and I guess looking at it realistically that's not unreasonable. Still, as a whole, it was a lively, sometimes dodgy read, and it was really enhanced by Dave LaFuente's appealing art and John Rauch's candy-coated colors. I sincerely hope we get more. B+

SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS #4: A nice tale, with a mostly-satisfying but not especially happy ending, most notable for being brought to life by the as always unique and completely brilliant illustration style of P. Craig Russell, one of the few artists that automatically makes a project worthwhile just because he's involved. A

SOLOMON KANE #5: The appropriately-enough-apocalyptic grand finale, which ends with lots of demon-killin' and fire and stuff. I think Scott Allie really did a good job on Kane's difficult-to-pin-down personality, and I hope that we get many sequels from his pen. Or keyboard. Or whatever. That said, I hope we get many sequels by some other artist; while this Mario Guevara guy was able to bring a crude sort of kineticism to his action scenes, I thought his linework looked scratchy and his figures were inconsistent. Looking forward to the trade collection. A-

SCALPED #25: We're in Ocean's territory in some ways, as a new player (in several manners of speaking) comes to town, to hit Red Crow's casino. I don't think this will end like any Ocean's flick, be it with Frank & Dean & Sammy, or Clooney & Pitt. This particular hustler seems to have some deep mental issues, which manifest themselves over the course of the narrative, and make for some involving, tense reading at times. Aaron and Guera, like Brubaker & Phillips above, are locked in right now and this is the first chapter in what I'm sure will be another excellent, if not particularly pleasant, storyline. A

SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE UNIVERSE: VOL 5: As always, a mile wide and an inch deep, as much Twentysomething relationship drama as it is anything else, and of course NOTHING IN THE WORLD is more important to Twentysomethings than their relationships, unless it's their video games- or so you'd think from nearly every single effing thing you read or see about them. But the not-so-secret weapon, this way this whole thing is redeemed, is by the enthusiastically creative way that O'Malley presents his weird mix of soap, video games, manga/anime cliches, and of course rock band shenanigans; it's so loopy and cheerful (even when the events depicted aren't so much), all drawn in his increasingly confident (bet he's wondering when critics will think he's become accomplished) and unique, ever-so-oddball drawing style that the reader is immediately disarmed and can't help but get caught up in it all. This edition is mostly setup for next issue's grande finale; it's a bit downbeat as well but not excessively so- there's still a lot of action and some humor mixed in with all the "Is you is or is you ain't my woman" stuff. A-

TINY TITANS #13: Aw yeah. Cute. A-

VIXEN: RETURN OF THE LION #5: By no means do I think Willow Wilson is a poor scripter, but this has been as enervatingly by-the-numbers as anything I've ever read, completely devoid of anything that could be interpreted as fresh, different, or unexpected. The bad guys get beat, our heroine reaffirms that yes, The Power Was Inside Her All Along, and she proves herself to the Justice League once more. Cut, print, wrap. The art is as generic as the script, and altogether this is a thoroughly competent, completely unchallenging experience, livened only by Josh Middleton's covers, which have been uniformly excellent and display the spark which this pro forma character spotlight/license perpetuation so desperately lacks. C-

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