Time once more for CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE, where I opine upon comics that I have bought and/or received in the interval between June 22 and July 3, 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.
BATMAN: STREETS OF GOTHAM #1: In which the man who gave us Jingle Belle and Sheriff Ida Red decides to wallow around in the sleaze a bit, thoroughly in keeping with the rest of his DC writer compatriots, but that doesn't always translate into reading enjoyment. Oh well, Dini's good enough to keep things moving along at a good clip, and it hearkens back to the late lamented Gotham Central just enough to earn my sympathy. The climactic cliffhanger with the Firefly is serviceable, and of course makes him meaner and more ruthless, god forbid that any DCU villain be less than a stone merciless killer. The scenes with the kiddie pimps and the presumed avenger "Abuse" are squalid, and while far be it from me to criticize the man who created the character, to have Harley Quinn spouting such tin-eared Thirties Warner Bros. gangster movie cliches like "Lousy screws!" and "John Law", while it kinda works in the now-defunct cartoon, just scans oddly when it comes from the more pseudo-realistic Harley of the comics. Artwise, Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs together do a real good approximation of Phil Hester and Ande Parks; none of Nguyen's playful imagination, brought to bear on the covers I've been seeing, is in evidence. The Manhunter backup is little more than stagesetting, explaining how Kate Spencer has ended up in Gotham as DA; it seems like a stretch to me, but it works well enough. Georges Jeanty, along with the unsung inker Karl Story, are a definite improvement on art from what we were getting in the last few issues of Kate's own title. Oh well, there's room to improve on all fronts, but this isn't bad. B
CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI 13 #14: This issue hinges on a plot twist that we've all seen so many times- the heroes look utterly, hopelessly beaten...but wait! 'Tis not so! With a wry smirk, our heroes have prepared and stand ready to turn the tables on the formidable villain who is oppressing them. This goes back, at least written in the way with that particularly dry British sort of attitude, as far as Warren Ellis' old Stormwatch issues, probably even farther. We also get another neat twist that justifies our purchase of the Annual a week or two ago. Oh well, if you haven't been buying this, then for Christ's sake don't start now. Wouldn't want you to get interested in this outstanding dead title walking. A-
DAREDEVIL #119: Brubaker keeps taking the same old ingredients, and keeps blending them into a tasty concoction, with lots of help from Mike Lark and Stefano Gaudiano, who have never been better. Yeah, it's Miller Time- ninjas, Kingpin, gender-switched Bullseye, Foggy, the Owl (Elektra's missing, but the Hand is still present so there's that) ad infinitum yet again, but at least Brubaker's kinda spiced it up with the whole Dakota North thing, and once more, I'm right there with it. I'm beginning to wonder if I want to continue after Brubaker/Lark are done; I mean, how many times have I read this story since 1980-whatever? A-
DETECTIVE COMICS #854: In which J.H. Williams III proves once again that he is one of the foremost comics illustrators of our time, as he singlehandedly galvanizes a rather mundane Greg Rucka script (complete with the requisite oddball computer expert assistant- for both protagonists) with a bravura turn, full of his usual heady mix of multimedia, allusion, symbolism, and illusion- and this is just the first issue. Not to say that the Batwoman character is mundane; she has potential, and as nutty as it seemed when I first heard she was to replace Batman in the title in which he's appeared since God was a child, I think it will be just fine. Just as I got spoiled with each issue of Chase, then Promethea, I look forward to being spoiled all over again thanks to Mr. Williams. The Question backup is all setup; OK for what it is, but I still can't get used to the Montoya character in that role. A-
EMPOWERED VOL. 5: Can't help but think that this sly and witty sex spoof slash superhero satire would have really spiced up the pages of Playboy or even Penthouse Comix, if you remember that one. When it comes to going meta, Grant Morrison has nothing on Adam Warren...and he's now doing wonders exploring each of the characters, giving them shades and dimensions that I, for one, didn't think they'd ever have when this started. Even the titular heroine, who is sometimes such a doormat that I'm surprised that Warren doesn't draw "welcome" in glowy floating letters on her ample backside, shows some actual self-awareness and a faint ember of confidence. Of course, this is brilliantly drawn in Warren's hyperactive style. It's awfully wordy, though, and sometimes I find myself just reading one or two chapters at a time- there's just an awful lot to take in at once, especially when the demon overlord-trapped-in-the-belt starts in with his alliterative ranting. I also wish Warren wasn't so namby-pamby with the swearing; those black boxes are a real impediment to the eye and kinda disrupts the reading process. Who's he trying to self-censor for, anyway? This is Dark Horse, not Johnny DC! Oh well, none of this is a deal-breaker, and nitpicking aside, I recommend this highly. A-
GOTHAM CITY SIRENS #1: Oh, brother- if Dini was being sleazy in Streets of Gotham, here he's just being lazy; we've seen these characters interact in much more interesting fashion in the past, we get clichéd situations- how many times have we seen the intervention in the alley scene, not to mention the "young buck wannabe badguy trying to make his rep by taking down the alpha dogs" (well, in this case alpha cats) scenario? In all fairness, I did think my new obsession Poison Ivy was handled well, and her "arrangement" with the Riddler was amusing. Oh well, just table setting for the main show, which is the three ladies in question, and fortunately the characters have enough charisma to make them interesting even through lackluster execution. This extends to Guillem March's disappointing art; based on this, as well as his Ivy solo spotlight of several months ago, he proves that as an interior artist, he makes a great cover illustrator. On covers, he's excellent; there's a focus and and a panache to his work there. On insides, though, he's an amalgam of Alan Davis, Tom Mandrake, Trevor Von Eeden in places, combining all their worst tendencies, not the best. It's baffling, but there must be room for improvement there, one must think. Anyway, I'm not bailing on this yet, because of Ivy if nothing else, but it's on a short leash. C+
GREEK STREET #1: Vertigo's latest attempt to apply the percieved mojo of Fables certainly has a lot going for it; Milligan's usually always at least readable and is capable of brilliance when he's on, and artist Davide Gianfelice, last seen drawing Vikings for Brian Wood, is channeling Duncan Fregredo a bit on art here to good effect. The approach is fairly novel as well, with modern types acting out the old Greek myths and legends, complete with incest and matricide, just for starters. Plus, at least for this issue anyway, the price is right. You should probably get in on the ground floor, or at least set a reminder to get the trade collection- it could get very interesting before it's done. A-
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #'s 14, 15: More War of Kings tie-in action, and it's fun and fast paced, with great character stuff on all fronts- exactly what this sort of comic should be, if you ask me. Abnett and Lanning seem to really be in a groove here, and we're the beneficiaries. The art is good, too, mostly by Brad Walker and a couple of inkers, Photoshopped to distraction but Walker has a good way with action scenes. Both issues: A-
HELLBLAZER #256: In which Milligan has Constantine do something in the name of infatuation that you'd think he'd really know better than; such is the nature of love and lust, but it just didn't strike me as particularly smart. Milligan knows better, too, which makes me hope this will take a turn somewhere, which it probably will, but it just strikes me as uncharacteristic of the Conjob we've all known and kinda loved all these years. Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini's brutish rendition of John is also going to take some getting used to as well. I've seen better from people on this book, but I've seen much worse. C+
HEROGASM #2: Because we apparently didn't get enough of it in #1, we're back with increased drug humor this time, and it's on a Cheech and Chong rather than Freak Bros. level. Still, it's amusing and diverting enough, with some generic political humor inserted as well- and John McCrea's art, while not at Hitman level, is still good enough to convey the absurdity yet not gloss over the more serious ramifications for the parent title. Speaking of which, I still don't really see why this couldn't have been published as an annual or six issues of The Boys. Oh right, more money to be made this way. B-
INCREDIBLE HERCULES #130: This one stumbles a bit as we get Herc defending his unlikeable father to a rigged underworld (as in supernatural underworld) jury; it's readable but you don't really work up much sympathy for Dad, and you find yourself wishing Herc would just drop it, although it's commendable that he tries, and by taking up 3/4 of the issue on it one doesn't feel as if one is getting one's money's worth. The other part of the story follows Amadeus Cho as he looks for his parents with former New Warrior Aegis leading the way; it doesn't get as much screen time but was more interesting to me. Still enjoyable, but I'm getting a little restless. B+
IMMORTAL IRON FIST #27: Danny Rand has to deal with a multitude of crises, both personal and with his business, in the wake of the last few issues, and it's handled pretty well, setting us up for the hiatus (and eventual reboot, I'd bet) to come. As a finale to this run, it works pretty well, although I wish Travel Foreman had been a bit more consistent artwise- he uses a fussily rendered line to depict flashback scenes (and as someone who read the original Fist stories back in Marvel Premiere in the 70s, I appreciated the look back), and teamed with the lighter color palette Juan Doe (surely a pseudonym) uses, it works well. But the present day scenes are dark and murky, with a sloppy, scratchy butt-ugly inkline- and while I get that it's supposed to reflect the dark night of the soul that Danny's experiencing, it sure makes it more of a chore to read than it should. Then, abruptly, like Foreman lost interest and bailed, we get two final pages by David Lapham, whose art style couldn't be more different. Distracting and annoying. The preview of IIF's replacement limited series Immortal Weapons, with its amusing focus on Fat Cobra and his consternation at the fact vs. the myth of his early years, looks good and makes me think I should pick it up. Tolerable finale for a comic that was surprisingly good after its more high-profile creative team left, but not enough people cared to find out. B
INCOGNITO #4: Brubaker and Phillips are so good, and so in sync, that they can give you recycled Sleeper and we all take it and ask for seconds. Just like we did with Holden Carver, we see Zack Overkill trapped between the so-called good guys and the so-called bad guys, and feel his plight, even though he's not particularly likable at all. Even though one gets the feeling sometimes that this is an exercise to relieve some sort of ennui after doing realistic noir comics for a year or two, it's still very well done and it helps that it doesn't suffer in comparison to Sleeper. A-
INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #14, 15: Stark on the run from Osborn continues, reuniting with armored Pepper and working with the Crimson Dynamo to create a suit of armor to get him to his bases around the world, in order to get the power needed to wipe his memory. Also, Normie gets some mercenaries on his trail, as well as longtime foe Madame Masque. Not being much of a regular IM reader over the years, I'm a little uncertain about the nature of their relationship, but one thing is plain- Madame M has one of those psychotic love/hate things going on. Finally, Maria Hill contacts the Natasha Romanoff Black Widow, in order to turn over the data she risked her life to obtain, but finds the handoff difficult. Other than the fack I didn't buy the Widow's skepticism (and some of this is probably due to events in Marvel books that I don't know about), otherwise I think Fraction is doing a wonderful job of keeping this all moving along, with great character stuff and dialogue, with none of the offputting obfuscation he brings in his more personal work such as Casanova. Proves he's a pro, if nothing else. I'm getting used to Larroca's art; it's sometimes stiff, and his Scanner Darkly-style tracing effect is distracting, too- but he does have some nice moments throughout, doesn't hurt Fraction's commitment to characterization, and even gets a chuckle from this oldtime S.H.I.E.L.D. fan via the flying-squirrel-style uniforms worn by the H.A.M.M.E.R. Rapid Response Squad in #15. Both issues: A-
JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #28: Finale of the two-issue arc in which the JSA do battle with some sort of Asian superhero ghost, and it's pretty much textbook superhero adventure, reminiscent of something Roy Thomas and any number of generic DC 80s art drones would have cooked up in the pages of All-Star Squadron, done with the utmost professionalism by utmost professional Jerry Ordway. If that sort of thing is what you think comics should be, then by all means you should be reading this. The comic, that is, not this review. C+
MADAME XANADU #12: Only some occasional awkward anatomy (which I chalk up to rustiness and is not completely foreign to the Kaluta work of years gone by) mars this, the second issue of Mike Kaluta's revisit of the character he helped create at about the time I graduated high school. Wagner continues to skip back and forth between the Thirties and the era of the Spanish Inquisition, and throws us old Sandman Mystery Theatre fans a bone by putting Dian Belmont in the mix. Now if only Dian and Madame X would...stop it, Dave. Just stop. A-
MARVEL DIVAS #1: Now here's the surprise book of the year so far, especially considering how hamfistedly it was promoted in the beginning. Yeah, it's Sex in the City with superchicas, but Sex itself owes a debt to such fare as 1939's witty The Women or 1937's Stage Door, or hell, even Designing Women or Golden Girls...so it's nothing new under the sun. It got off on the wrong foot with its preview cover, a typically hypersexual, distorted and improbably posed cover by J. Scott Campbell, who will always evoke the sniggering spyspoof Danger Girl to those of us old enough to remember it, but the preview that Marvel put up a week or so ago got me curious, and I must say that this isn't bad at all. Of course, I was reeled in by the virtue of having Patsy Walker in the cast, fresh off her up-and-down miniseries, and I have fond memories of Monica Rambeau and Nextwave as well. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's script is breezy and more fun than you'd think, and very well drawn by Tonci Zonjic in a snappy style that recalls the MIA Javier Pulido. I don't know if they can sustain this for very long before it either gets monotonous or melodramatic for "balance" (the cancer revelation cliffhanger is already a warning sign), but I think I'll stick around and find out. Not to Tonci: get yourself some Warren Ellis Hellstorm comics ASAP, girl- Daimon Hellstorm would make a whole lot more sense, story-wise, in the long-haired biker look Leo Manco had him sporting than the sterilized Ken doll we got in this issue... A-
MYSTERIUS THE UNFATHOMABLE #6: Tidy enough ending to a not-bad limited series that was most enjoyable when giving us the ongoing foibles of the title character, who despite his dissolute exterior, is very interesting when Jeff Parker shows him interacting with his world and the oddballs within it. Of course, the Delfi character is a great straightperson, someone that we can identify with, but make no mistake- this book works best when Mysterius is snarking about some other magician, or pulling rabbits out of his hat figuratively. I wish I was more bullish on Tom Fowler's art here; he's a skilled cartoonist but his Mort Drucker-ish style worked against the story as much as it worked with it, as far as I'm concerned. OK, now all of you who failed to buy this in sufficient numebers to ensure another run- if you were waiting for the trade, you better come through so the bean counters will see fit to greenlight another series. It's up to you now! B+
PHONOGRAM 2: THE SINGLES CLUB #3: This issue's focus is on Emily Aster, who definitely has some issues, most notably a past that she strives to keep at arms' distance by affecting a sneer and an elitist pose; she made an impression in the first series, which mostly dealt with her friend of sorts David Kohl (and it's always good to see him back; he's still the most charismatic character we've met yet), but here we get a look behind the veneer, so to speak, and it resonates like it should. McKelvie's never going to be the most dynamic artist in the world, but he is good at staging scenes with an expressionistic touch. The backup features are fun as well; the first is an amusing recap of the pervious series, and the finale is one last shot from Emily, and equally amusing (although I kinda like the Killers, sue me). A-
POWER GIRL #2: Well, obviously someone somewhere decided that the problem with previous attempts to launch our pulchitrudinous heroine was that they were too light in tone; this issue is- well, besides the latest origin of the Ultra-Humanite- one long extended exercise in unpleasantness as Humey soliloquizes for the entire issue pretty much, and PG has to listen helplessly, bound, tortured a bit even (as much as you can torture mostly-invulnerable people) and prepped for brain-switching. We even get a reference to 9/11, just in case someone reading was still enjoying themselves. Oh, and did I mention the played-for-chuckles bestiality? Fortunately, this is leavened by the as-always delightful Amanda Connor art; it elevates Graymiotti's wildly varying-in-tone scripting and keeps it from being too maudlin. Can you imagine if someone like Benes or Jim Lee had drawn it? Anyway, we all know that somehow PG will turn the tables on her oppressor; I can't see DC having the balls to give us an Ultra-Humanite title anytime soon, not even one with his brain in Peej's body. Look, fellas, if I want dreary serious, I'll buy Justice League or something. It pains me to give a book with Connor art a C+.
THUNDERBOLTS #133: Nicely done character work. Diggle is very good at that, if anything else, and he's putting his cast through its paces, as they consolidate and make alliances, each with their own agenda. He also raises a hint that Yelena Belova may not be Yelena Belova, which will annoy me greatly. I'll want my money back if this turns out to be the case, lotsa luck on that, huh! Sepulveda's art is fine, a little stiff in places but I'd imagine that Frank Martin's Photoshoppery hides a lot and enhances even more. B+
I still have yet to finish that Wasteland trade; I'll get to it eventually and hopefully write about it next time.