Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesday Wednesday Break My Heart...

Cure song lyric, OK? For the life of me I couldn't think of any cute post titles involving "Wednesday".

Anyway, WEDNESDAY COMICS. DC's latest attempt to do something a little different without really innovating, giving us a format nobody really was clamoring to see return at a price point that gives all but the hardcore pause, and featuring either obscure fringe players of the DCU, or mostly different, more "traditional" (i.e., not grim, downbeat and depressing) versions of the flagship characters. Not to mention, USA Today tie-in aside, putting them only in comics stores where none of the Great Unwashed that presumably would be entranced by the novelty of this product could find it. As a comics fan, as well as someone who gets their comics at a discount, I can't help but be interested; it was made with the deep-seated comics connoisseur in mind, not surprising since Mark Chiarello, whose design smarts and aesthetic savvy is second to none, is riding herd over it. Look, Steven Grant has already summed up the pros and cons very succinctly, as is his wont, so you should go read what he says. He pretty much nailed every point that occurred to me as I read the first two issues in one sitting. When you return, I'll put my two cents' worth in about each feature so far.

OK? Here we go.

BATMAN: Unsurprisingly, this reads like an episode of 100 Bullets that just happens to have Batman in it. Just like the last time Azzarello and Risso tried their hand at the Caped Crusader. Oh well, gorgeously drawn as usual, but the story is so far routine, and you have to believe that Azzarello will see fit to work the title character in at some point. B

KAMANDI: Ryan Sook's art on this is just magnificent; by choosing to imitate Hal Foster's Prince Valiant style, complete with caption narration rather than word balloons and such, he gives Dave Gibbons' script a resonance, weight, gravity, whatever that I just don't think it would have in lesser hands. There really should be more of this in the future. A+

SUPERMAN: Lee Bermejo's art is very good here, if a bit dark and excessively Photoshopped. Shame John Arcudi has chosen to write such a sodden script, featuring Supes flying around and indulging himself in self-doubt after an encounter with an alien. I know, I know, just trying to show that you can do serious drama with a man who flies around and lifts buildings, and show that he has depth and dimension. Fine, but is this really the best way to showcase (arguably) the most recognizable character your company has to offer? B-

DEADMAN sports wonderfully vertiginous Darwyn Cooke-style art by Dave Bullock in service of a decent murder mystery with supernatural overtones; kinda standard fare as Deadman stories go but the illustration goes a long way towards making it shine as far as I'm concerned. I guess it would help if you've never read a story about Boston Brand before. A-

GREEN LANTERN gives us the early days of Hal Jordan, in a deliberately early 60's-flavored Quatermass XPeriment-type story about an astronaut who returns to Earth and turns into a monster. It's reasonably well-done, if not particularly original, and Kurt Busiek keeps it moving along smartly- but again the real star is artist Joe Quinones, who has a light, dynamic style. I'd like to see more from him as well. A-

METAMORPHO benefits from Mike Allred's rendition of the title character and his supporting cast; while I've had my problems with his output in recent years- I eventually had to throw up my hands and walk away from his most recent self-indulgent attempt at Madman- he is definitely in his "element", if you'll pardon the pun, here, and his style is perfect for Rex Mason and Co. Neil Gaiman is giving us a most un-Gaimanish script, if you want to call it that, because it's so slight and not at all precious...and along with the intentionally cutesy accompanying features with the little kids or #1's roll call, it does evoke the feel of those old Haney issues of yore, even though Haney would have told the story we've been given so far in two panels of the old book. B+

TEEN TITANS is some amalgamation of the various teams that have appeared in the comics over the last few years, and suffers from Sean Galloway's ungainly art, which makes this a lot harder to scan that it should be, as well as some murky, unflattering color. Galloway seems to be trying to give us a TV-show style that evokes the recently ended CN series, but instead evokes Spectacular Spider-Man more, to my eyes anyway. His is a style that works much better in pinups and single-page illustrations rather than trying to tell a story- the figures and linework are much too stylized, loose and chaotic, and everything comes across as incoherent. For what it's worth, #3 was an improvement on that score. The story itself is again nothing special, just a way to showcase the featured team as they battle a previously-inept menace who is suddenly a serious threat. Stop me if you've heard that one before. Too late, I'm done! C+

STRANGE ADVENTURES gives us Paul Pope's Flash Gordon-style take on Adam Strange, and it's flat out brilliant. Even though this alien invasion is yet again not the freshest plot out there, Pope is so good that he can tweak it and provide nuance and subtlety in just about every panel. I would subscribe to any newspaper that featured comics pages like this. A+

SUPERGIRL's rampaging super-cat and super-dog story is pure fluff, but the chief appeal is (as is so often the case) Amanda Connor's likable art, which elevates it by default. A-

Dan Didio scripts the METAL MEN installment, and it's like he was working from a script-o-matic program in this by-the-numbers account of a bank robbery thwarted by the robots. The bank guard illogically, of course, turns on them after they apprehend the criminal, and of course he grabs the kid that just happened to be close by that we got to meet in a panel or two. I mean, geez- has Didio even read any DC comics before he got his current job? I've read a ton of Metal Men stories since I was a preschooler, and except for the old Harris/Sekowsky short run at the end of the original series that had them as fugitives from justice, I have yet to recall seeing an instance of the Metal Men being feared and shunned by meatbags a la Marvel's mutants. Old pro Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and relative newcomer Kevin Nowlan impress with the former's dynamic layouts and figure drawings, and the latter's assured inks. Beginning to detect a trend here? B+

Ben Caldwell's WONDER WOMAN is just a mess, an explosion of chaotic, crowded layouts (honestly, did he get paid by the panel?) and loosey-goosey figure drawings, colored in mottled pinks, greens, and purples, definitely not helped by the newsprint it's printed on. Apparently, this is set early in Wondy's career, as she is threatened by weird dreams and vague menaces which of course will turn out to be a real threat later, bet on it. That's not a bad premise for a WW story, but the execution is haphazard, to say the least. C

SGT. ROCK's main attraction is the art, by the great Joe Kubert. Otherwise, it's pretty much a standard issue DC war story, the sort that you could pick up on any given week for about 30 years back in the day when DC still did war comics. Not that that's a bad thing. B+

IRIS WEST/THE FLASH takes another standard-issue early-60's type plot, dresses it up in dynamic, modern-style art, and while it's certainly not bad it's just not all that good either. It's just there. C+

CATWOMAN/THE DEMON takes a pretty good idea- Selina steals an artifact from Jason Blood- and runs with it, soon finding herself (unsurprisingly) in trouble of the supernatural sort. Very good so far, again unsurprising given that it's Walt Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze bringing it to us. A

HAWKMAN so far is a showcase for Kyle Baker, and he makes the most of it- he's flexing muscles here he hasn't flexed in some time now, well since The Truth anyway. Hawky defies the laws of physics as he breaks into a in-flight jet plane, seeking to apprehend what appears to be terrorists on board, but as so often is the case, they're more than they appear to be! A fun return to the kinda savage old Fox/Kubert days, bad science and all. A-

And that's a quick and dirty look at Wednesday Comics as of issue #3. Honestly, I've been harsh on the scripts, and not so much on the art, and that's probably not fair. Most of the stories are still getting their legs under them, and the art has been outstanding from the get-go. Maybe they'll transcend their mostly derivative and uninspired beginnings. I hope so. I don't know what DC really hopes to accomplish with this experiment, and I really doubt they'll accomplish it anyway...but if they set out to give us a super-size art showcase that appeals mostly to presumably discerning comics geeks, then mission accomplished. As an intro for the uninitiated to the Amazing World of DC Comics as they now exist, well, let's just say that these uninitiated are in for a bit of a surprise.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"Although I Still Live, My Heart is Filled With Death."

This started out as one of my usual capsule reviews; it kinda got out of hand.

BLACKEST NIGHT #1, GREEN LANTERN #43: This whole "Blackest Night" thing has me a bit flummoxed, I must say. I've never really been a fan of the whole Green Lantern concept; which is not to say that I don't like it, but I've rarely been moved to buy, mostly because of lackluster art or just superhero ennui. In fact, I believe I have owned more issues of GL in whatever permutation you can come up with before 1972 than since. The character(s) himself (themselves) is/are fine; the concept of a guy with a magic wishing ring is a sturdy one and can definitely interest a grade-schooler; DC eventually gilded the lily by introducing the idea of a whole legion of similar characters, a space police force who flies around the galaxy fighting evil with a catchy catchphrase. I enjoyed the occasional Gil Kane-drawn story as a child, and GL was always welcome in whatever Justice League adventure I read, and that includes the comic-relief of Guy Gardner or G'nort or Kilowog. But on the whole, I've more often as not been left cold by the whole thing. "Blackest Night" itself is the latest example of the sour, nasty tone that pretty much all mainstream DC comics have adopted by default; having explored rape and murder/degradation, in particular that of previously light-in-tone characters now seen as hopelessly old-fashioned and cheesy, now we're getting overtones of necrophilia as well as that most overexposed of comics genres (for lack of a better phrase), the zombie tale. I have been on record many times in the last few years as being mostly disappointed and even repulsed by this direction, and quite frankly had planned to completely ignore this latest exercise in unpleasantness. But a funny thing happened- I got curious after reading everyone else's reactions, and decided to check it out for myself. And I actually kinda- well, I didn't really enjoy it, but I was interested, even wanted to read more...much to my surprise.

It can't be easy to write modern mainstream superhero comics, especially in this day and age in which your ever-shrinking and ever-aging core readership is more knowledgeable and more tuned-in than ever before thanks to the Internet, as well as other media. Gardner Fox, John Broome, even Stan Lee and Larry Lieber had the luxury of writing to an audience that wasn't always well-versed in what we all know now as geek canon; the Roy Thomas and Jerry Bails, the über-fans, were fewer in number and they all thought their audience would turn over every decade or so, and continuity wasn't particularly important, especially to DC/Charlton/Dell/Gold Key; even Marvel's continuity was more internal and dealt with character interaction (i.e., the Avengers knew the X-Men, Captain America might have an adventure with Giant-Man, etc.) rather than a strict timeline of "Green Goblin broke an ankle in issue #154, and must therefore have a limp in his next appearance in Marvel Spotlight #8 when he fights the Werewolf by Night" sort of stuff. And yeah, I know these things didn't happen in those issues, it's an example, OK? Anyway, these days, the average comics reader is familiar with decades of imposed continuity, and while I don't mean to turn this into an anti-continuity screed (I even kinda appreciate continuity, even though (as you can hopefully infer) I think it's gotten out of hand), I just bring it up as an example of what I think comes to bear in the thought processes of these men, who continually are expected to bring novelty, or at least the illusion of unfamiliarity, as they plow an increasingly spent field. The old days of plot-driven stories, chock-full of expository dialogue, expired aeons ago, and we've even become accustomed, nay jaded even, to the downbeat accounts of serious superguys, in stories that have weight and consequence. We just can't have a super-villain whose distinguishing feature seems to be his ability to memorize self-help books and instruction manuals, that's hopelessly corny and pathetic. The fanboys (and that includes the grownup ones who are paid to write about these characters) won't be able to respect or take them seriously. At the heart, it all comes down to the age old, desperate need to be taken seriously by the people that the creators and readers feel like they're judged by for reading "funnybooks". So what else to do but go where previous writers have been reluctant, unwilling or unable to go? Remove the funny. Remove anything but the grim, serious dramatics and if you mush have humor, it's got to be of the smirky, cynical, self-aware type. It's a vicious circle, when you have to continually out shock and outdo what has gone before, and it's been going on for quite some time now, with no end in sight. I suppose you could say it's the inevitable, natural progression. Entropy.

I'm not even going to try to recap everything that's going on; I haven't read every prequel issue or spinoff. Even though, as I said, it scans more clearly than you'd think, it's still somewhat convoluted; I suppose the Wiki is as good a resource as anything. Basically, as I understand it, as fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, a malignant force within the GL Corps, zombified Guardian Scar (gee, how could they not have known?) has enabled D-list John Broome-era badguy Black Hand to be her (the evil Guardian is female. Of course.) agent on Earth, and as given him the power (after he blew his own brains out and killed his family, of course) to raise the corpses of recently deceased super-people, to conquer the universe or something like that. The two issues I have read are pretty straightforward; especially compared to DC's last big company-wide crossover Final Crisis; a lot of that has to do with the fact that Geoff Johns comes from a more conventional space when it comes to conceptualizing than Morrison does, and by extension this reads in a more linear fashion. Johns isn't the type to get cute with the reader. A lot of this is as purple as the zombie "costumes" on display- in the past I've always regarded Johns as the type of writer (based on a limited sample set, mostly Justice Society series) who does well with character interaction but usually lapses into cliches when it comes to his overall plotting. There are familiar tropes here as well, but he's writing them in a dizzy sort of fevered pitch, as if he's trying to channel Stephen King at his most frenzied- the backstory of Black Hand in GL #43 is eye-poppingly lurid in more than one way, and while the sight of the shambling (and in Ralph's case, stretching) corpses of the Elongated Man and his wife Sue Dibny is every bit as deplorable as previous events with the formerly lighthearted and likable characters, it is effectively horrifying...and that, I think, gets to the rotten heart of it. You can tell that Johns is trying very hard to write something that doesn't just lie there on the page, and in these troubled times, that counts for much with me. It's not as cynical and self-serving as much of DC's mainstream output has been; I get the impression that Johns wants to horrify, and damned if he doesn't come pretty close, considering that this is, after all, a bunch of superheroes we're dealing with here.

Another thing that piqued my interest is that Doug Mahnke, one of my favorite artists currently toiling in the mainstream coalmines, draws the Green Lantern proper title. His work is stylized but not exaggerated beyond all reason, and he brings a sharp, well thought-out aesthetic to his layouts- to name but one example, the appropriately creepy recurring fetal position repose shots of the Black Hand. Johns doesn't get quite so lucky on the core Blackest Night title itself; Ivan Reis has a good-enough but unexciting Adams/Brent Anderson influenced style, not something I care to see but he has a few good moments, such as the two-page spread below, reminiscent of the goings-on that Bissette and Totleben used to pull off in their Swamp Thing days, that while on the choppy side, does succeed in building up tension as the Black Lantern rings seek out their hosts.

Click to see bigger. Along with Oclair Albert (who? sounds like a pseudonym to me) on inks, they keep things appropriately dark and murky.

Look, I don't know what to tell you, and by this late date, I'm sure you've already made up your mind if you're buying in or not- so I doubt I can sway you in one direction or the other. I was prepared to hate this, and it's very, very far from perfect...but I do admire the scope and the lurid drive of the thing, so I find myself interested despite my better judgment. Which is not to say that this will happen to you; I've seen other reviews that ran the gamut from praise to pan. I don't like this direction for characters I've grown up reading, but at this stage of the game, what else is there to do as the mainstream major comic publishers consume themselves, Ourobouros-like. Guess I can watch DC devour its own tail for a little while longer. Your mileage may vary, as the saying goes.

Green Lantern 43: A-
Blackest Night #1: B+

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"I'm going to wear them."

From Detective Comics #450, here's a spoilerific scene from one of my favorite old Batman stories, "The Cape and Cowl Deathtrap". For a synopsis, go here. It's an early Walt Simonson job, from an issue cover dated August of 1975. His art was one reason I liked it so much (even though that is a nifty, if improbable, twist at the end- how long does it take to remove a fatsuit, dress jacket and slacks, and slip on the cowl and cape, even assuming Brucie was wearing his costume under all that), especially that super-nifty bat-like rendition of the Dark Knight swooping in for the takedown. I remember copying it on my own, on a poster board. I don't have it anymore to see how I did. Anyway, wanted to share.

Friday, July 24, 2009


A couple of Bacardi Show Birthday greetings to send out today:

First, my wife Theresa, seen here with long-haired, grinning me in the first year we dated, 1978. Someday she will be sainted, no doubt about it.


BSBdG's to artist and all-around swell guy TREVOR VON EEDEN, who turns 50 today. And don't feel bad, I'll be joining you there soon. TVE has been enjoying an increased profile lately, thanks to the Comics Journal interview which I still have yet to read in its final version, and I hope it leads to more of his still-vital work being seen in the future. I guess most of you are aware of the stuff he's done and been a part of in the past- Batman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, his Jack Johnson bio, and much more including a little book called Thriller. Below is a nifty two-page spread from Thriller #4, which may be my favorite issue of the series. Click to embiggen, of course.

Cliff Meth has a really nice birthday tribute to Trevor on his blog, with lots of art, go check it out!

Reviews coming soon, as well as Part 4 of Hammer Locke.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hammer Locke, Part Three.

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Three years. Holy crap.

Back in the dim and distant past circa 2006, I began what I thought would be a half-dozen post tops look back at the early 90's DC sci-fi comic Hammer Locke. I did a prelim post, and even did the first one, an overview of issue #1, and then...nothing. One thing invariably led to another, and as so often happens to me, I never got around to doing any of the others, although I did do some page scans for issues 2 and 3, which have rested in my drafts queue since at least July 0f '06. Man oh man.

I think it's time I finally got around to completing this, don't you?

And so, at long last, I shall resume this look back. Hope it's worth the wait, especially in the off-chance that you are one of the people who might actually remember the first posts...and now, Hammer Locke #2.

#2's cover, at left, originally had a different color scheme; Joyner put it up over at his dormant website. I like it much better. The second issue picks right up where #1's cliffhanger ending left off, with a huge explosion high up on the Starbridge, just as Archer Locke is introduced to the reader with Lt. Nekemte. Quite understandably, they decide that they had best get to Olympus as quickly as possible, and find out what's happening.

Next is another flash-forward, to the conversation between the now-aged Admiral Nekemte and reporter Felicity Von Starben, in which Nekemte expands a bit upon Locke's mystique and philosphy.

Back to the past- Upon arrival, Locke and Nekemte are confronted with Entropist protesters; as they watch them, they're approached by Webster Christie, and the pair have a friendly reunion:

Note the black scorpion-looking thingy in the upper right-hand corner of the last panel? Well, it attacks the group, including the military personnel approaching- it throttles one soldier and fires a projectile at Locke, which is intercepted by Nekemte as he takes it in the shoulder. Locke then grabs it and makes short work of it, smashing it to the ground. Security head The Phade makes an appearance then, phasing up through the floor. He wishes to examines the thing, and just happens to spill the beans about Amanda Locke's abduction to her unaware dad, which causes said Dad to hoist him up by the lapel and threaten to clean his clock (and also provides the cover image) unless he explains what he means by that. However, he is prevented from taking a swing at the Phade (something I doubt that the density-shifting UNICORN product would allow anyway) when the mechanics in his arm lock up, and Phade skedaddles. He goes with Christie, to get his arm repaired.

Cut to interlude, as Amanda comes to in a cavern full of bells, which hang suspended from the ceiling. As she shouts out to see if anyone's about and can hear her, the bells start to ring, making a frightening racket.

Back to Olympus/Starbridge City next, as Christie and Locke continue to get caught up as he repairs the arm, and we find out where Locke had been in the few years previous. Using GALT, the computer that controls the whole complex, they determine where the explosion damage occured, and when Christie suggests that Locke help repair it, Locke angrily refuses, determined not to be seen as coming back to pull everyone's "sausage out of the grinder", as he puts it. He says he only came back to see ex-wife (and Olympus director) Miranda, then planned to visit Amanda in New York, and then thought he'd emigrate to Mars...which elicits gales of laughter from Christie, interrupted by the sudden appearance of Miranda. Hurriedly excusing himself, Christie makes a diplomatic exit, and the former lovers are reunited at last. Except the pissed-off Miranda is not happy to see him- she blames him for skipping out on her and their daughter after the events which left him in his cyborg state. She charges him to go to UNICORN head Jacob Kingman-Rhee, and do what it takes to find and bring back their daughter.

Next, we cut to the striking image of a young lady with wings, flying up the side of the Starbridge as people look on down below. Click the images to see them bigger.

That's another UNICORN creation, Sahara Skyhawk- and she and her partner Cactus Jaq are being tasked by Kingman-Rhee to investigate the Phade's findings, as he's traced the tech back to a nest of Eco-Terrorists in a place called Arcosoleri, and he wants them, along with the Phade, to raid it and perhaps get a lead on where Amanda Locke might be. Kingman-Rhee, ever the plotter, wants Locke's cooperation with the repair effort, and believes that he'll be more inclined to do so if it looks like UNICORN is trying to find her. Also, ever the bastard, he remarks to the Phade as they leave about how Jaq and Sahara may unfortunately prove expendable. Unaware of this, Jaq and Sahara have a friendly interlude (third page above) that not only points to the Tharn-written "Tales of Faraway" book that will be referred to and quoted often during the next seven issues, but also demonstrates one of the first lesbian relationships between two comics characters that I can recall; Hopey and Maggie from Love and Rockets, Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass from the Giffen-era Legion of Super-Heroes being the only other ones which come to mind. It's implied more than shown, and it may be more of a one-way thing, but one thing is clear- Jaq has a lot of affection for Sahara, and it least as much as the Code would let it, anyway.

The next scene is a short one, and a direct continuation of the last, and foreshadows a bit as a recuperating Lt. Nekemte (in Arcosoleri, of course) sees Sahara flying through a telescope, and is immediately struck by her beauty. His reverie is cut short by his sister, who informs him that Locke has come to see him, to check on him and make sure the Lieutenant is still "with him", so to speak. We also discover that although Locke created a "stairway to the stars", he has never actually been in space. This scene, to me, scans oddly because (and I have no way of knowing if this is true) as you can see, in the page scan above, that the lettering in Locke's first word balloon looks just a little different from the others; it just doesn't look like the distinctive hand of John Workman. That, and the fact that this version would have us accept that Nekemte is apparently living with his sister and her young child, suggests perhaps that Nekemte was originally intended to be married, and was possibly intended to enter into an affair with Ms. Skyhawk- but that got ixnayed at some point in the development by an editor, perhaps, not wishing to have an adulterous character in his comic book. Again, this is all supposition on my part, but as #3 will show, it would have made a lot of sense as things turned out.

Finally, the issue ends with another look-in with Amanda Locke, as she's confronted by the hologram image of Hugo Tharn himself, in the cavern of bells. He reveals the reason for her kidnapping, and indulges in a little villainous mania before he's done.

And that's the end of issue 2! As #2 issues tend to be, it's mostly concerned with introducing, refining and consolidating the plot threads and characters that will make up the bulk of the series. It's generally a good thing that this was a nine-issue series; it's so dense with exposition sometimes that to try and squeeze all this into four or six issues would have been difficult, if not impossible. That said, I'm not so sure that this (series, as a whole) might not have been better served with a little streamlining...but more about that later.

Hopefully, I'll be bringing the rundown of issue #3 sooner than the length of time it took me to do issue #2...stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Looking into the future, week of July 13

Yes, it's time to indulge myself in that time-honored blog filler tradition, Comics I'll Be Getting When My DCBS Box Arrives on Friday!

SOLOMON KANE TP VOL 01: CASTLE OF THE DEVIL: Yep, I've already read this very good miniseries via, shall we say, "alternative" means, but now I can put my money where my mouth is and get a hell of sweet Mignola cover in the process.

THE BOYS #32: More wacky hijinks with those rascally super-guys.

WITCHFINDER: IN THE SERVICE OF ANGELS #1: Edward Grey, a nineteenth-century occult investigator who was previously introduced in some older Hellboy short story or another, gets a spotlight here. Mignola writes, someone named Ben Stenbeck (who apparently illo'd B.P.R.D.: The Ectoplasmic Man, which I apparently didn't pick up) draws. Sometimes these Mignola spinoffs are kinda fun. Sometimes they go straight up their own ass, like some recent B.P.R.D. minis.

BATMAN AND ROBIN #2: People continue to rave, I remain skeptical. I still think Morrison's recycling his own recycled ideas these days, and needs to take a break...but he and Quitely mesh so well together it's hard to resist.

INCOGNITO #5: More super-people being cruel to each other, but it's better than that. Isn't it?

SCALPED #30: More not-so-super people being cruel to each other, and it's excellent.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #8: What the hell? This is weekly?

B.P.R.D.: 1947 #1: I loved 1946, thought it was one of the best of last year. Then Dysart came out with the earnest but dull Unknown Soldier, and suddenly I wasn't so interested anymore. Still, this is a direct continuation, and while I doubt the more glib style of the Moon-Ba tag team will bring the same vibe that Paul Azaceta did to its predecessor, I still look forward to reading it.

FABLES #86: Fairy-tale characters, being cruel to each other. But it's better than that, mostly. Fafhrd and the Mouser are still rotting zombies, too.

WEDNESDAY COMICS #2: Heh- I'm getting two at once! Most of what I've seen from this (and there's been plenty, along with a lot of discussion) has looked really nice. Hope the format won't be a pain in the ass to store. And, like Jog, I hope that this doesn't begin to come across as a bunch of inventory stories, refurbished for novelty value.

Also, I'll be reviewing
And probably a couple of others that I'm forgetting about. Cheers, and Happy Bastille Day!

Monday, July 13, 2009

"This mighty warrior whose heart beats to a distant drum."

Yep, I decided to make this its own blog post. It just seemed buried at the end of the big one yesterday, plus I wrote more than I expected to about this subject so it now seems like an adequate-size entry. So here 'tis!

I'll be reviewing the contents of my next DCBS shipment, which should arrive Friday, as soon as possible. In the meantime, I've been checking out the odd comic via...alternative means...and one such was the early 1970's attempt by Marvel to launch a series starring their then-new character Red Wolf. Marvel had introduced Wolfy as a modern-day character in the summer of 1970, in the pages of Avengers #80, part of the same diversity movement that gave us the Black Panther and the Valkyrie. I remember owning that issue, and kinda liking the character as a 10-year-old, but I did not follow him when they launched him in his own series, first via Marvel Spotlight #1, and then as the star of his own book. At some point, finding the shamanistic Native American trappings somewhat anachronistic when placed in the modern-day Marvel Universe, the decision makers decided to launch Wolfy as a different guy, and set his adventures in the Old West, at a time when Western comics were dying a slow death in the marketplace. Rather than Roy Thomas and John Buscema, who had drawn his original appearance, they assigned the scripting to the washed-up Gardner Fox, who landed at Marvel after he was kicked to the curb by DC (Mike Freidrich pitched in and scripted a fill-in issue), and drawn by another veteran, Syd Shores, who had primarily served as an inker at 60s Marvel. Shores inked himself on some of the stories to the best effect, but he was also saddled with Vince Colletta on several issues. Chic Stone and Wally Wood (on Spotlight #1) also assisted during the short (ten issues, counting Spotlight) run.

The premise was this: Wolfy was now Johnny Wakely, a Native American man whose parents were killed when he was a child by Pony Soldiers, and who was subsequently given to a white family to raise. Fortunately, the Wakelys were (mostly) good people (Fox often went out of his way to let us know that most of the crude and rude white folks were prejudiced against Injuns, even Mr. Wakely), and Wakely grew up relatively happy if quite a bit conflicted. Unfortunately, his foster parents are killed by renegade Indians, and he finds himself trapped between two worlds, both of which were responsible for the deaths of his loved ones. Eventually, he prays to "Wakan Tanka", I assume a NA name for God, and is led to try to get a job as a scout for the U.S. Cavalry at their nearby fort, and of course encounters more hostility and prejudice, especially from a Bluto-like Sergeant that picks on him every chance he gets. To Fox and Co.'s credit, the Colonel in charge of the fort is a more open-minded and reasonable sort (I think he's a character that appeared in another Marvel western title at some point), and he helps Johnny out every chance he gets. In the introductory story, Johnny finds himself on a desperate quest to return a sacred buffalo hide to a Chief and prevent an all-out range war; and it is while on this quest that he falls into the burial place of the last Red Wolf, complete with faithful wolf companion (lying there wounded) and the spirit of the Red Wolf itself, who informs him that he is now his Earthly avatar, with enhanced speed, strength, wisdom and agility, and also gets the now-recovered super wolf Lobo to help him out. Oh, and he also gets a badass coup stick (that's what they call it), which enables him to wreak havoc in a brawl. He spends the next few issues dealing with menaces both white and Native American; due to his background, he feels as if it's his duty to try to promote tolerance and keep the peace between his peoples. He faces threats such as Ursa, a strapping big buck who is to the bears as he is to the wolves, and a hired gun (who reminds me a bit of the character that Lance Henrickson played in The Quick and the Dead, except he's really as good as he says) who dresses in a hideous green ensemble. As if that wasn't duality enough, he gets two girlfriends of a sort; a white, redhaired young lady who hates injuns but has a yen for Red Wolf, against her nature, and a Native American princess. This sort of thing, along with his relations with the soldiers in the fort, makes up the first seven issues. In the hands of a more, shall we say, nuanced writer, this could have really been interesting; as is, as stiff and stilted as Fox's plots and dialogue can be, the stories move along at a pretty good clip and they're as good as much of the Marvel Western line of the time, for what it's worth. No living totems or invisible men, but diverting just the same. The real revelation is Shores' old-school art; he really shines on several of these stories, especially when he inks himself; the three pages I've posted here are examples of that. His work reminds me a lot of the stuff you'd see in pre-Marvel Atlas/Timely comics, but with more of a Kirby influence than Maneely- no surprise because he worked for them as well, along with doing some art with the King on early Captain America comics in the 40's. If anything can be described as "underrated", it's Shores' work on this book. Click the panels to see them all bigger.

At some point, someone decided that it might be better to get back to the contemporary Red Wolf character that we first met in the pages of The Avengers, and to that effect (and without warning), we get just that- in issue #7 we meet Johnny Wakely's descendant, who is fighting crime in the mean streets of the city. He gets involved with a full-blood Cherokee policewoman named "Jill Tomahawk", and it looked like Fox and co. were ready for another run...but unfortunately, #9 would be the final issue. Guess the sales boost just didn't happen.

The character's been used here and there in the MU over the last three decades, but to the best of my knowledge he hasn't headlined a book of his own since this. In the hands of a sympathetic writer, such as Jason Aaron (who does modern-day Native Americans so well in Scalped), Red Wolf might be an interesting character, I'd think. Aaron might not want to risk getting pigeonholed (probably not as likely since he's branched out with books like Ghost Rider), but heck, I'd buy it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Various and sundry.

For the Red Wolf overview, go here. Sorry about the curve. I'll try to keep that sort of thing to a minimum in the future.

Yeah, I know, it's been another week without posts here at the Show. Just can't quite seem to get into that routine for various reasons. But I have been watching, reading, and listening to a lot of stuff, and I thought "Hey, why not do one of those long posts which touch on a number of subjects!" And since I still haven't totally abandoned the notion that this is not just a comics blog, I'll just go from one thing to another and try not to lose everybody in the process. OK? Here we go.


Two birthdays I totally whiffed on in the previous weeks were those of:

RINGO STARR, who turned 69 years old back on Tuesday, July 7. How ironic is it that now, with two Beatles dead and the other survivor looking more and more haggard with every passing year, that the perpetually-ill-as-a-child and oldest of the four looks and acts as vital and lively as he did at least a decade ago? I did a favorite Ringo songs list a few years ago, and I don't think it's changed much today. In the past week, I've seen a few articles and blog posts defending Mr. Starkey's artistry, decrying how little respect he's gotten and taking pains to point out how good a drummer he really was. Thing is, I've known this for a long time, and not because I'm a drummer (I'm not) or even a Beatle fan (which of course I am, very much so)...but because it's plain as day and perfectly obvious to anyone who knows anything at all about music and drumming. I can't recall too many instances of seeing people put down or belittle Ringo's ability in print, but when I do, I automatically discount that opinion, chalking it up to plain' ol' ignorance or contrarianism. Now, ol' Ringo hasn't exactly endeared himself to people with his recent request for people not to send him stuff to autograph, citing being too busy as a reason. Hey, yeah, that's pretty cranky-sounding, but you know, as much pleasure as he's given people for over 40 years now, I think he's earned the benefit of the doubt. As always, we have no idea what he and his mates have been through. Here's Ringo's website, in case you're curious.


Good old BRIAN WILSON (shown here in 1976, from a Rolling Stone shoot I do believe) celebrated his 67th back on June 20. I think he's one of the great genius composers of the 20th Century, but I may be a tad biased since I'm such a fan of the Beach Boys and Brian's solo work. Back in 2003, I wrote this, and I think much of it applies six years later. Here's a list of my favorite Beach Boys songs, which I might change here and there now but probably not. I got his most recent release That Lucky Old Sun back during Christmas, and found it very good- a bit uneven quality-wise, perhaps, but it always sounded committed and his band is excellent. The track "Good Kind of Love" belongs right up there with his best, featuring some wonderful chord changes and a strong melody, as well as a charming, open-hearted sentiment that makes it a winner. The concurrent documentary DVD is also well worth a look; I rented it from Netflix a while back and found it very interesting as it showed us Brian and the Wondermints working on the album, as well as playing it live in the studio.

As far as any other music stuff goes, I listen to a constant stream of tunes all week long, all month long; nothing right now is jumping up and down, begging me to hold forth about it. I did enjoy listening to Hothouse Flowers' Home the other day; while it's got a very early 90's production sound, it isn't as egregious as some records I've heard from this period and boasts many great songs.

If you follow me on Twitter, I post comments on music I listen to fairly often. No plans to resurrect the Off the Record blog; I've been considering reposting the entries here and deleting it. Problem with that is I'd lose my comments, and I have a couple I want to save. Who knows.


I haven't done any movie reviews in ages; probably not since I saw Dark Knight Returns. Back in January, I thought it might be interesting to keep a movie diary, writing it down every time I watch a film in its entirety (or finish watching a film I had started previously). Believe it or not, I have faithfully done this to this day! That said, I don't really want to go back and write about each of them, even though I haven't ruled out posting the list at the end of the year. Recent flicks I've seen that made an impression, though, were Up, yet another excellent Pixar effort which I enjoyed very much, despite the constant aerial action that had my acrophobia going nuts, making me twist in my seat. It also featured a couple of flashback sequences that were so moving that they could wring tears from a stone. Had me awfully misty, for sure. On a completely different note, I was tremendously entertained by the over-the-top theatricality of Repo! The Genetic Opera, a musical about a bleak future in which mass organ failure has led to the creation of a market for organ transplants and a company which makes the possible- for a price- and if you can't pay, they send the black-hazmat-suited Repo Man after you to get the organs back. Forcibly. As in cut them out of you in the alley. It's an obvious attempt to create a cult-movie like Rocky Horror, with a noteworthy cast: Anthony Stewart (Giles from Buffy) Head, singing again; Alexa Vega of Spy Kids, veteran actor Paul (Mira's dad) Sorvino, celebrity scourge Paris Hilton (whose newly transplanted face falls off at one point), and Sarah Brightman as well as Skinny Puppy's "Ogre". One of the co-writers, Terrance Zdunich, makes an impression as a shady whitefaced character named Grave Robber; he gets one of the best songs, an ode to an addictive drug which makes the surgeries less painful called Zydrate. He reminds me a bit of Joel Grey's master of ceremonies in Cabaret. The visuals are very much in that NiN/Marilyn Manson video/Tim Burton aesthetic style, and the whole thing gets across via its sheer chutzpah. Its director helmed a couple of the Saw flicks, which of course I am determined to miss at all costs. Reviews were awful, but I wound up kinda digging it.


Not much of note right now; Earlier this year I had gotten interested in NBC's low-rated Kings, a thougthful reimagining of the Biblical story of David and King Saul. which featured a typically outstanding turn by Ian McShane. When ratings were poor, they put the show on hiatus and aired them late last month and early July, on Saturday nights when no one watches. I'm sorry to say that I missed the most recent episode myself, but will look to see it on Hulu as soon as possible. I think there are a couple more left before it's gone for good- I might consider getting the DVD set so I can watch it in its entirety. Also, at about the same time Kings initially aired, I developed an attraction to Joss Whedon's latest, Dollhouse. After a tentative start, I think it really got in gear towards the end and thankfully has been renewed for another season; the limitations of the concept itself, the adjustable morality brought to bear, and the limitations on the acting ability of star Eliza Dushku give me pause, but it works in spite of everything. TNT's Leverage is another show I watched intermittently earlier this year; it's new season premiere is coming up soon. Another show I like quite a lot is HBO's Entourage; its new season premieres tonight.

And finally, COMICS.

The writer John Ostrander, whose run in the 90s and early Aughts on The Spectre is, in my opinion, one of the best things to come from DC in that period, has been battling glaucoma- and needs help with the expenses that insurance won't pay for. We've all been there, I know. The Hero Initiative is trying to help; go here for more information and if you can I hope you can join in.

Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern? OK, sure. I liked him in Smokin' Aces, even though he was probably the most restrained member of the diverse cast. I might be more worked up about it if I was a GL fan, but I've never been listed in that number.

Go here for a couple of great Powerhouse Pepper stories by Basil Wolverton. You won't regret it.

Go here for an amusing Little Lulu satire by Howard Cruse. We don't see much Cruse these days, and that's a shame.

Tom Spurgeon has been killing it with his Sunday interviews lately; today's is with Peter Bagge, and is well worth your time as always.

Anyway, that's about it. I'm slowly but surely reading Clifford Meth's collection of short stories Billboards, but it takes me forever to read prose novels these days (I've been reading Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon for going on three years now) so I'm way behind on getting it done so I can review it as promised. I will finish it eventually, and I'll be sure to let you all know what I think.

As always, more later, hopefully sooner rather than. And as always, thanks for your patience.

Monday, July 06, 2009


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 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.