Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Once more into the breach, dear friends, with 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 19 through September 7, 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 AND ROBIN #3: Oh, Grant, Grant. What I am I going to do with you? I complain about needless obfuscation in Seaguy, yet I get dissatisfied when you play it straight here. It's enough to drive a poor comics geek to drink. Anyway, that's not to say that this is bad; anytime Morrison collaborates with Quitely there are multiple pleasures to be had- unfortunately mostly visual this time out, as Frank does the all-hell-breaking-loose resolution of the first story arc in smashing fashion. Recent fans of the Batman R.I.P. storyline have been delighted at the little bit of circular storytelling via the callback to that series which occurs at the end of this one...but I don't count myself among that number. This isn't bad, but it's no All-Star Superman- hell, it's not even in the same league as All-Star Batman and Robin, and it grieves me to say it. B+

Doesn't say much for your hero when he and his support have to call in the JLA to intimidate the latest threat. Nicely drawn, but dramatically inert. Isn't it about time for another Jingle Belle book? The back feature isn't much better, a disappointingly rote scuffle between costume-less (not naked, unfortunately) Manhunter and Jane Doe that is predictable in every way, and the art adds nothing. C-

Well, didn't see that coming necessarily, and I suppose it's at least a new direction, even if that direction points down Angel Street towards Wolfram and Hart. I suppose this is as good a way for Brubaker to exit the title as any. We also get a teaser for Andy Diggle's upcoming stint; a shortish story that brings Ann Nocenti, clumsy writing voice and all, back for a blatant nostalgia wallow, even though frankly (no pun intended there) I don't see how people can possibly be nostalgic for the Miller/Nocenti years when the character hasn't strayed from that path since his Marvel Knights resurrection over a decade ago. Anyway, it's a good-enough story made a lot better by David Aja's art. Finally, we get the standard pinups and a reprint of a Miller story, still effective after all this time (it has been quite a while since I've actually sat down and read those Miller issues, which I don't own anymore)...but sadly, I'm also reminded how much I hated Klaus Janson's inks then; sure, he could spot a black like nobody's business and was a deft hand with zip-a-tone, but his clunky, brittle line highlighted every shortcoming in Miller's equally clunky figure work, and he never made any penciller better except perhaps Sal Buscema. Anyway, as 500th issues go, this is just fine. I don't know why you'd want to get this, though, if you don't own the previous 125 or so. A-

Guess I need to dig my Rucka/Martinbrough 90's-00's issues of Detective out of storage and reread, because I sure don't recall any storylines with morphing monster people in them. It's been a while, though, and I don't have every one of them, so I'm sure I just missed it. Anyway, doesn't matter, because they just add another layer of weird to an already odd story arc...and besides, it's the art that's the star here anyway, especially in a wonderful formal-ball fundraiser scene that features lots of well-staged sexual banter and some genuine tension of more than one kind; for the first time, Rucka provides enough to keep Williams from having to do all the heavy lifting and it really pays off. The Question backup pales in comparison, remaining bland and unmemorable, just the sort of story that got backup stories killed off before. A-

FINAL CRISIS: RUN #'s 4, 5: Somehow I neglected to opine on #4; guess it got lost in the shuffle of losing my laptop. Anyway, it's pretty much on a par with its successor; despite the utter lack of anything remotely approaching a sympathetic character (even the Justice Leaguers are smart-ass dicks), Matt Sturges is somehow keeping me interested in the squalid goings-on as the Human Flame continues to run from, and confront, both the "good" guys and the "bad" guys who wish to a) kill him, or at least beat him up a lot before bringing him to justice, and b) kill him. Another writer might want to make us feel empathy for poor ol' misunderstood Flamey, but not Sturges- Flame keeps backstabbing, blinding, maiming, and dumping on anyone who comes in contact with him with one goal only- to become more powerful than those hunting him. He manages to achieve this in the cliffhanger ending of #5, what happens next remains to be seen and I'm happy to say that when all bets seem to be off to the degree it is here, well, who knows how it will end. Artwise, the hypermuscled style Freddie Williams brings to bear is not always a favorite of mine- think of a slightly more restrained Bart Sears- but he does a good job of ramping up the tension via pacing and layouts. By far the best of the Final Crisis Aftermath books I've read so far. B+

I don't know, perhaps it's because I'm just not following all the myriad Blackest Night spinoffs as closely as I should, but half of this was exposition that dealt with events that happened in other books, and the other half was a long, boring, talky fight scene between Sinestro and Star Sapphire that would have gotten me all worked up when I was 15, but just tries my patience now. My admittedly tentative interest in this whole thing has begun to fade. C-

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #17: I suppose it speaks to how comfortable Abnett and Lanning are with all this Cosmic Space Opera stuff that this modest little book is probably the best thing in that narrow, exclusive-to-Marvel genre since Jimbo Starlin broke that ice three decades ago, and the return of Jim's second-most interesting bad guy in this issue underscores it. The art, by Brad Walker, Victor Olazaba, and Scott Hanna blends together well and acheives a nice dynamism necessary for the breathless pace. Of course, this is still tying in with the War of Kings thing, but not to the story's detriment. The debriefing scenes annoy, because they're a kind of giveaway as far as who makes it through the events described (as if we didn't know anyway) and there are a couple of arbitrary cast member deaths that we all know probably won't last, but otherwise, this remains a very enjoyable little space romp. A-

HELLBLAZER #258: Things keep going from bad to worse for poor ol' Conjob, as the mess he started keeps escalating, as it so often does for him. Effective Hammer-horror goings-on, effectively rescuing what seemed like a (again, no pun intended) DOA storyline just two months ago. Artist Giuseppe Camuncoli seems to finally be in a groove as well, just in time for Simon Bisley to step in next issue. This prospect is not one which excites me; I've never really been a fan of his work. Oh well, I'll continue to roll with the changes, as the song goes. B

In which Garth gives us one of the more squirrely 9/11 conspiracy theories you'll ever run across, and this continues to slowly but surely build to a, well, climax, for lack of a better term, and I have to wonder what the ramifications will be for the main book. McCrea's art has been inconsistent, depending on who inks; I think this was his best issue yet, not coincidentally because he inked himself. B+

IMMORTAL WEAPONS #2: The Weapon with all the spiders (Bride of Nine, or somesuch) gets her turn, as does Damned (I wish to Jebus the second trade would come out!) writer Cullen Bunn, and he gives us a pretty good old dark house-style mystery story in addition to a times-past account of the Bo9S's early history as well; the clash between the modern artifact-chase thread and the ancient battle-in-China scenarios is handled nicely. A big benefit is some slightly surprisingly (well, not so- he's a tremendous artist in whatever media he chooses) good pencil-and-ink work by Dan Brereton, stepping out of his painted comfort zone and showing a style that betrays a lot of Gene Colan, Don Newton, and I'd bet Gray Morrow influence. It looks mah-velous, despite three, count 'em three inkers. Not so mah-velous, but pretty darn good just the same, is the back feature, the continuation of the Iron Fist story by Duane Swiercynski and Travel Foreman that I'd bet was intended for the next few issues of Immortal Iron Fist. A-

INCREDIBLE HERCULES #133: With Herc off pretending to be Thor, we look in on Amadeus Cho as he tries to get to the bottom of the events that lead to the death of his parents, his sister's disappearance, and why he's regarded as the "seventh smartest person in the world". What he finds is one of those "town under the thrall of an evil, mind-controlling genius" scenarios, but Van Lente and Pak typically handle it with a light touch, and have my interest. Love the reference to the wonderfully cheesy old Sci-Fi B-movie Fiend Without a Face in the floating brains scenes, and we get yet another amusing recap at the beginning. So far, gotta go with the Thorcules story as the most entertaining, but Amadeus' at least has me wondering where it's heading. I wish the art was a bit better; it's slick and professional looking, and Photoshopped up real purty, but it lacks personality, that little something extra that makes the eye sit up and take notice. Oh well, could be worse. B+

I suppose this is the time-honored "darkness before the dawn" type issue; things certainly don't look good for Pepper, Maria Hill, and especially Tony Stark, whose self-inflicted memory loss keeps getting worse and worse. Of course, I've been reading comics long enough to know that whatever happens won't be as dire as it seems it's going to be...but Fraction is enough of a wild card as a writer to raise the specter of possibility that something significant might...just might happen. The whole "Dark Reign" background remains a fertile ground for interesting character interaction as well. Salvador Larocca continues to provide adequate, but unexceptional art. B+

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #30: The character interaction was OK, I guess, but otherwise this is just another slickly done generic spandex slugfest, mostly bereft of the more purposed feel that Johns brought to the party. Nice to see Eclipso back, although the last time I saw the character, he was a she, Jean Loring to be precise. Guess something happened in some comic or another I didn't read. Oh well, if this is the kind of retro back-to-the-80's-feel comics you're looking for, then I guess this is as good a place to get it as any. Me, I'm beginning to think my time could be spent doing something else more worthwhile. That Cyclone sure is cute, though. D+

Sandman Mystery Theatre nostalgia continues unabated as Wagner gives us Wesley Dodds in full gas mask and fedora regalia this issue, as he encounters Madame X in the course of an investigation. So for that, if nothing else, this issue is a winner, and the encounter is done very well, as is the alternate Spanish Inquisition flashback. Mike Kaluta's art is a bit better this time out as well; of course, it's as finely detailed and expertly staged as usual, with excellent period detail as well, but the awkward figure drawings in evidence last time are practically nonexistent. Another fine chapter of this consistently good series. A-

POWER GIRL #4: This one thankfully returns to what made her previous miniseries, as well as the subsequent Terra series, as much fun to read as it was, as PG and her young friend team up to battle a magical ecoterrorist. It also helps that no matter how dire your script may be, putting Amanda Connor in charge of illustrating it is a recipe for success, she's just great as usual. This is the first issue that I can recommend to the curious, and for the first time, I hope it continues, and not just so I can see more Connor art. A-

SCALPED #31: The plight of Dash Bad Horse and the fallout from Red Crow's actions i the previous issue provide most of the story impetus this time out, although there are many other interesting things going on in the background. More of the hard-hitting dramatics we've all come to expect from Aaron and Guera. A

Growing up, I read a lot of comic books that were written by Bob Haney. I read many, many issues of Teen Titans, Metamorpho, Aquaman, and later on I was a regular buyer of The Brave and the Bold until I was in my early twenties. I generally liked Mr. Haney's work, as awkwardly dialogued and as jerry-rigged, plotwise, as it could be- he was rarely dull, and usually always seemed to be enjoying what he was writing. So believe me when I tell you that this is easily the worst Bob Haney stuff I've ever read. That said, I've always liked the Eclipso character, when he would pop up here and there in comics I'd read as a kid; you may recall the Metal Men story I wrote about the other day as one example. Ol' Clipsy seemed like a great, hissable villain, ruthless and evil and with a cool visual style and power. But the first run of Eclipso stories saw print (1963-1965) before I really started buying a wide variety of comics (or, more accurately, had my mom and dad buy them, heh), and while I'm sure I saw issues of House of Secrets on the racks, I guess there were just others I was more interested in. The first time I read an Eclipso solo story (i.e., not as a villain in Justice League or whatever), it was a reprint that appeared in Archie Goodwin's 1970's Detective Comics run; it was illustrated by Alex Toth, whose work I remember liking when I saw it in other places like CARtoons and other DC books. The story didn't make much of an impression on me, and reading it now once more as one of the selections in this collection, I can see why. I'm kinda getting ahead of myself here, I know, so to sum up so far: Appearing in House of Secrets #'s 61-80 (he closed the book down the first time, before they revived it with supernatural stories), Eclipso was an attempt to do a Sci-Fi kind of Jekyll & Hyde tale; probably inspired by the success Marvel eventually had with the Hulk, it's the story of a young scientist named Bruce Gordon who ran afoul of a hostile tribal chief named Mophir on an island, and who was scratched by the chief's mysterious black diamond as he plunged to his death in a scuffle with Gordon. After that, every time an eclipse of the sun or moon occurred, Gordon would transform into Eclipso, a malevolent doppleganger who used the power of the diamond to carry out his evil schemes, most notably by firing a black power beam out of his eye through the dark gem. Also mixed up in this is Gordon's mentor, Professor Bennett, and his daughter, Bruce's fiance, Mona. At first, only the Prof knows Bruce's secret, but eventually Mona gets wise. Anyway, right off the bat, we see that Haney isn't interested in exploring this schism; Gordon is portrayed as a stoic, heroic, good guy and Eclipso is cunning, vicious and cruel- but Haney never seeks to establish that perhaps this is a side of Gordon that he was never able to release, until the magic black diamond enabled him to do so. The typical plots, as the series went on, usually always followed a basic template: eclipse happens (or light passes over him and puts him in shadow, it often got ridiculous how many different ways Haney enabled Bruce's changes- eclipses don't happen nearly as often in real life as they do in these stories), Bruce changes (or splits off, that happened later), raises hell for no real good reason except some sort of vague "conquer the world/nation/something" master plan that only seemed to exist as a reason for 'Clipsy to act evil, Bruce and the Prof concoct a way to change Bruce back (often several times in a story), and eventually they get rid of Eclipso for good- or do they? Haney, to his credit, did seek to change things up from time to time- a (probably editor-mandated) team up with book-mate Prince Ra-Man, which was pretty much the highlight of the post-Toth issues simply because it was different, and contriving ways to physically separate Gordon and Eclipso, to allow for more movement of both and potential conflict, I suppose. Regardless, these stories, even the handful illustrated by the great Toth, are depressingly routine and often nonsensical; as so many writers did back then, the characters are constantly explaining and describing everything to everyone, and with the exception of Ra-Man, there was not one memorable villain in the entire run. After a few early issues by Lee Elias, whose Caniffesque style was fine, if unexciting, Toth took over for about six issues and delivered a typically outstanding job- he was really coming into the style that he became loved for. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be especially engaged with the scripts (I can only imagine what he must have thought of them, as finicky and outspoken as he could be), and his imaginative layout style is subsumed in favor of just the basics. He doesn't even letter many of them; the one or two that he does really stand out by comparison. Eventually, after Toth moved on (probably to Hanna-Barbera), Jack Sparling took over, and his grubby, awkward style really looked lackluster and unimpressive. I'm sure he was a reliable artist, and not without talent, but while he could do a mean horror/mystery tale he was all wrong for superhero action- as he proved not only here but on Metamorpho and other titles as well in his mid-late 60's stint with DC. So that's what you're getting with this package, I'm sorry to say- the worst of Bob Haney, and some awfully uninspired at best and sloppily-rendered, bland at worst art. Eventually, Eclipso kept popping up in other places, usually as a bad guy, until he finally was done well by Walt Simonson, and his notorious 1980's solo series had some definite highlights in the course of its 18 issues too. No wonder it took so long, seeing what we were given at the beginning- this is by no stretch the best of Silver Age DC at all. Recommended for Toth completists only; this would get a big fat D if not for him. C-

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