Yes, it's time once more for CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE, where I opine in shortish fashion about comics that I have bought and/or received and/or read in the interval between August 5 through 18, 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.
ACE-FACE, THE MOD WITH THE METAL ARMS: Mike Dawson's other project, which has appeared here and there in Project: Superior and Superior Showcase, is a likable stab at doing superheroics in his idiosyncratic style. It's quite possibly the best comics series ever featuring a character inspired by an album by the Who, as well, so there's that. It deals with a fellow who was born in the early 60's without arms, and "his scientist" (did everyone have scientists of their own back then?) arrive at an unlikely solution: give him experimental, super-strong robot arms, that he can grow into. Of course, as he gets older, he embarks on a crime-fighting career as Ace-Face, the Mod with the Metal Arms, adopting a Who-style circle-arrow t-shirt as his costume, even joining in a couple of super-teams before retiring at the birth of his first child. This collection of shortish stories jumps around all through his career, which ends with him losing his job as a teacher when he stops a student who was doing some vigilantism of his own (more like bullying, actually). I'm sure Mike can draw parallels between his creation and his own life in places, and while I get some Paul Grist-style superhero-tweaking vibes, mostly this reminds me a lot of the stuff Scott McLeod did in the tail end of his Zot!; stories less about superguys and gals, and dealing with more stuff of a personal nature (even though we do get one kinda-fun Claremont-inspired adventure story as he faces an evil mind-controlling villain who forces Ace to fight his U.S. Outcast teammates)...Dawson's art, with its open, clean lines, reminds me a bit of McLoud's in places. Reminding me not so much of McLoud are the gnomish-featured people which populate his stories (with one exception, which I'll discuss in more detail later)...that's his style, nothing wrong with it, but it does draw attention to itself. Rounding out the volume is short stories of a pair of annoyingly bratty kids with superpowers (one is a telekinetic, one can teleport) who constantly pick on each other; it's OK for a while but before long they just get tiresome (their dad would agree), and most interesting of the bunch, an ongoing thread in which Ace-Faces' normal son tries to decide how to deal with unruly punks on the stoop below his apartment- it's drawn in a simpler, thicker-lined style, much different from his usual method, and it reminds me a lot of Paul Grist. I wouldn't mind seeing Dawson go more in this direction on future projects. I don't know if there are more Ace-Face projects on the way, but this collection is worth a look, especially if you like Mike's other work like Freddie and Me. B+
AGENTS OF ATLAS #9: Perhaps this series' best issue yet, as Jimmy Woo tries to pitch, well, Woo to old flame Suwan...but Suwan has, to understate, moved on and moved up in ambition and is no longer receptive to our Jimmy's charms. Lotsa action, too, thought not the kind that poor Jimmy was hoping for. I like the new artist, too- Panosian's art is lively, fairly threatening to bust out of the restrictive panel grid. If you despair of ever seeing good old fashioned honest action and sharp characterization in your funnybooks, and not cynical horror-movie-style wannabe movie-of-the-week potboilers, well, you really should be reading this. And I know there aren't nearly enough of you who are. A-
THE BOYS #33: For those who wondered why Ennis named the character "Butcher". He spends the majority of this issue doing just that to the hapless superpeople who have gotten on his bad side. And it's got you covered both ways, if you're invested enough to care about this comic; the backstory stuff, with its promise of trouble down the road, is involving, and the frontstory stuff gives us Butcher butchering with a sardonic smirk to assholes who seem to have it coming. Plus, John McCrea, not exactly inspiring Hitman nostalgia but not bad just the same. Win-win! B+
B.P.R.D.: 1947 #2: In which Dysart borrows just a smidge from Jonathan Norell and Mr. Strange, and that's just fine because first, no one's oversaturating us with adaptations of that fine novel (with its ambiguous, somewhat disappointing ending) so it's fair game as far as I'm concerned, and also because it's all brought to life quite vividly by the Moon/Ba duo's expressive, mood-evoking artwork. Don't know if I'm going to hold this one in as high a regard as I did 1946, but so far this is another winner from the B.P.R.D. team. A
DOMINIC FORTUNE #1: Welcome back, Howie, it's been a while. Sure, he doesn't exactly stretch out and break new ground on this revival of a Chaykinman character he created in 1974 (I bought 3 Atlas titles off the rack in 1975, and The Scorpion #'s 1 and 2 were two of them), but he sure seems awake and committed for the first time in, well, a long time. Like primo Howie, the humor is glib and sardonic, the action is fast-paced and furious, the layouts are not-as-good-as-80's-Chaykin-but-still-mighty-damn-good, the dames are voluptuous and the "hero" is as square-jawed and handsome as Max Glory, Cody Starbuck, Lord Brian Ironwolf, Reuben Flagg, Monark Starstalker...etc., etc., understandable, since he was roughly third in line in that progression. Anyway, it's also good to see Chaykin back in the late Forties milieu, a period he has a marked affinity for I do believe (well, I think it's post WWII anyway; it's not specified. It's either that or the early 50's judging by the clothes)...and if that wasn't enough, we even get the obligatory blow job scene! Whee! Happy days are here again. If anything, the whole Jewish Dom gets a job as bodyguard, runs afoul of a Nazi scumbag storyline so far seems a mite pedestrian, blowjobs or no, but I have no doubt that it will get better. Besides, how can I resist a comic in which the lead quips "Like I said, boys...behave yourselves, like gentlemen...or it's goodbye booze and cooze...hello hot fudge sundaes at C.C. Brown's."? I ask you. A-
FABLES #87: Buckingham returns, plot is advanced, and more bad stuff continues to accumulate around our poor beleaguered cast. In short, another solid issue of this most consistent of good reads. At least we don't get zombie Fafhrd and Mouser this issue. B+
HELLBOY: THE WILD HUNT #5: Gee, it seems like the wait between this one and #4 was about the same interval as between my review posts, doesn't it? Oh well, it was worth it because this is shaping up to be another excellent weaving of folklore and Mignola-lore, and for me, anyway, Duncan Fregredo's dynamic art is always worth the money. Yeah, sure, this is kinda the same basic plot- Hellboy runs afoul of some powerful evil magical being, usually female, who threatens trouble and wants to take over the mundane world- that we usually get for the more extended HB stories, but again, no worries because even if it is a well-worn riff, Mignola plays it well. A
INCREDIBLE HERCULES #132: A bit of a return to form after the rather joyless previous couple issues; of course, there's drama as Amadeus and Herc go their separate ways (we all know that Van Lente and Pak would be foolish to keep them separated, so no real worries there), but soon after we get Zeus, now reborn as a smart-mouthed young boy, and Herc (with Athena along as well) getting tabbed to replace none other than Thor as he's enlisted by Balder to battle Dark Elves who threaten Asgard, and by extension, the world. But of course, that's not exactly what's really happening, and good old oblivious Herc crashes right in to the middle of it. Lots of amusing jibes at Marvel's Thor mythology, especially in the snarky opening recap page, and I find myself liking the art team of Reilly Brown and Nelson DeCastro, a bit stiff in the figure department but doing a nice job with some very detailed pages, as well as some decent action scenes. A-
MARVEL DIVAS #2: Proving last issue was no fluke, we get another enjoyable blend of humor and drama, all filtered through the Sex and the City aesthetic, which is not to make that sound like a bad thing in this case. We also get a callback to the excellent Brian Vaughan mini Dr. Strange: The Oath, which remains proof that the character can work, and work well, and not need the sour, cynical, Bendis-style reimagining. Aguirre-Sacasa and Tonci Zonjic do a lot better by Daimon Hellstorm in this, too, but he still looks a bit too neat and tidy for my liking. Oh well, not bad, not bad at all, and it's funny how much better this, which no one expected anything from, is than the Distinguished Competition's Gotham City Sirens. A
STARSTRUCK #1: Few comics on the market today have had as convoluted a history as this one, fitting, I suppose, because it's got such a convoluted narrative anyway. I can't tell you how many times I had considered trying to do a series of blog posts about the issues that had already come out over the last three decades, but shied away because frankly, it's so densely plotted and loaded with so many characters with complicated backgrounds, and I just didn't feel equal to the task. As he so often tends to do, Jog did a pretty good job of summing it up in his review of the Marvel Graphic Novel a few months ago, but even he only really was able to scratch the surface, and that's in part because we've only been given the surface after one graphic novel, six ongoing issues, four reprints of the previous with a handful of newer pages, and a smattering of peripheral stories such as the Galactic Girl Guides backups that appeared oh so long ago in the short-lived Rocketeer Adventure Magazine. But I'm sure you want me to cut to the chase and tell you what I thought about it, I know, so here- yeah, I loved it. But understand- I loved it in 1982 when I read it the first time (and over and over a few more), and loved it again in the early 90's, when I reread it as part of Dark Horse's aborted revival/reprint attempt. So, yeah, I loved it again- the quirky characters, usually joined right in the middle of some scene, and speaking cryptic things to each other that only they know the meaning of; the gorgeously detailed Mike Kaluta pages, with all the clever architectural designs and all the well-thought-out panel layouts and body english. But if the total effect, for me the Starstruck veteran, was a bit like reading and re-reading a long novel, but only being able to get through the first chapter before having to put it away for a while, then forgetting what it said and having to read that chapter again...well, that's OK. I don't mind in this case. IDW seems to be committed to getting this in print, and therefore I know we'll eventually get to even more elaborate, clever, and wonderful places very soon. No, the main thing I found enjoyable this time around was the marvelous job Lee Moyer has done on color art- I'm not always the biggest fan of excessive Photoshoppery in my comics art, but when it's done right, as a compliment rather than as a band-aid, well, it can be wonderful, and that's what Moyer does here. So, anyway- look: I don't think Elaine Lee's ever been better than she is here; I've read a few of her other series in the past and never got the same buzz that I did from this. The intricacies and the imagination employed to build this universe amazes me just as much in 2009 as it did in 1982. The Altman-esque dialogue style is also a joy to parse out- as confusing and disorienting as it sometimes can be, it's always witty and clever. You all know what I think about Kaluta, and save for selected Shadow pages and illustrations, I think this is probably the finest work of his storied career as well. I can't tell you if you should buy this or not. It's not an easy read, not something you can turn your brain off and go with. You have to study and think about this connection to that thing or vice versa. You don't really have a lot of backstory to by about these characters, either, and I know that bugs a lot of people. It helps to have read the previous series, but I know many of you won't have that advantage. You'll have to work a little to follow along, but believe me, it's worth it, especially if you enjoy experiencing the unique. A+
WITCHFINDER: IN THE SERVICE OF ANGELS #2: When it comes to comics that deal with the supernatural, well, I guess I'm a little jaded- from the Warren mags of my youth, on through Taboo and such, to the grotesqueries often found in today's horror comics, well, I just don't usually see anything that gives me the creeps or even evokes a spooky mood. It's my shortcoming, not the various creators'. So believe me when I tell you that the unconventional seance scene in this issue, brought to life by Ben Stenbeck, whose work here suggests Mignola inked by Pete Snejbjerg, evokes mood quite convincingly; I don't think Mignola himself could have done any better. It's the kind of excellent sequence that can make or break a series sometimes, I hope it isn't the series peak. Otherwise, the supernatural murder mystery, as rooted in mummy movie cliches as it started out to be, is moving along well- I like the various odd characters Mignola introduces, and how they all interact with each other, even Ed Grey, whose predilection to uttering god-bothering screeds and quotations goes down a bit better than in issue 1. So far, another winner for the B.P.R.D. factory. A
Lotta good ones this time out, and as always, I apologize for being so tardy in getting these capsules posted. I'm usually more critical than this, but really, I got a very good stack of books in that period. I'll also get back to Wednesday Comics soon. Trying something new this time; instead of searching or scanning for all the cover images, I'll just link to them instead and you can click if you're curious.
Working my way through a new box of comics received just last Friday, and hopefully I'll get those reviews up sooner than I did these!