Sunday, August 30, 2009

CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE.

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!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"It Pays to Advertise"

Billboards is a new collection of short stories by author Clifford Meth, who also maintains the Everyone's Wrong and I'm Right blog, which I'm sure you all have bookmarked. I was recently (and I use that term very loosely, it's been some time and for my tardiness I apologize) given the opportunity to read and review a PDF of this release- and in the spirit of better late than never, here's what I thought.

The collection leads off with the titular story, one of the two longish tales that bookend the collection, and it's a slice of William Gibson/Blade Runnerish dysfunctional future SF slash social commentary about a world to come in which people rent out their bodies for billboard space in the form of illuminated tattoos (hence the title), and it's probably the best one of the set, with a resolution that I didn't see coming. It's also the only story that has illustrations, and they're fine, but one thing bugged me- at one point we're told that the young lady on the cover at left there has words tatted on her eyelids in five point Friz Quadrata type, but the illo shows a font that looks like at least 12 point and and is most definitely not Friz. Picky, I know, but it's the graphic designer/typesetter in me. Whaddaya gonna do. Communication breakdowns aside, Meth gets in some good shots about the ever-spreading rampant commercialism we deal with now, and he knows as well as we do that it's only going to get worse.

After that, we get a handful of vignettes about different subjects; in the first, we sit in on a business meeting of "Advanced Septic Systems", yep, that's right, A.S.S., as they plan to go forward with a system that can transform feces into toothpaste. It's got some crude humor and a cynical surly tone, something which informs many of these shorts. Next up is a script conference between a "smaller god" and a "medium god", said script seeming to be an account to a pregnant woman going away on a trip with her (and I'm assuming here, from the tone of his description) gay son; we cut back and forth between the script conference and the events of the script, and it ends abruptly with a big deal being made of said son being unable to get comfortable in his airplane seat. There's a "Princess and the Pea" joke inferred here, a play on the title "Revisions on the Pea"...and I'm sorry, I just don't get it. I guess there's something there I'm not seeing- wouldn't be the first time.

Next up, "Blowing Smoke", another script conference of sorts, this one set in the children's book world. It at least makes surface sense and has some amusing lines, mostly involving the book's title- Timmy's Weiner. Stan Lee also gets some namedropping in the course of the discussion. I suppose the idea here is to once again make a statement about how absurd creative people (and the not-so-creative people that tend to make decisions affecting them) can be. It, too, ends on an odd note, as the exec in charge reveals a brainstorm involving a new form of mass communication involving smoke signals. Again, I feel like there's a big underlying point I'm missing, but I just don't see it. "The Other Woman" follows, and it's a fairly straightforward account of a man being harassed by a nutjob young lady who apparently was also the cause of the breakup of his marriage. This one at least has some verisimilitude, but both leads aren't particularly likable or interesting (and in all fairness, the story's so short we don't get the chance to get acquainted), and that blunts the impact a bit. Speaking of crazy girlfriends, the next story also deals with that sort of thing as well as a writer deals with a phone call of a fan who seems to be on the Annie Wilkes side, although it really never gets that serious. The intent here is to make a comment on the whole obsessed fan mentality, I'd think, but it's resolved in a somewhat weak, or at least unremarkable, fashion. Ascribing real-life motives to fictional stories is always a sucker's game, but I can't help but wonder if there aren't some real-life events with the writer that may have informed some of these shorts.

Finally, the second of the two longish stories, "Queers", rounds out the collection. It imagines a future where people are genetically engineered to be predisposed to be attracted to the same sex, and attraction to the opposite sex is looked down upon and persecuted. However, our protagonist Craig is different- he's attracted to girls, especially a new girl at school, Alynn. Complications ensue, as Craig fends off the advances of a young man who takes him to the prom, and he somehow makes the connection with the real object of his desire- which leads to a conclusion that I didn't see coming (and neither did Craig, I have to say). Meth saves the best for last here; Craig's plight was quite involving.

So there you go- while I can't say this was the best book, or collection of short stories, I've ever read, I was entertained and drawn in to the longer ones, and can say that you might enjoy the collection if you're so inclined to check it out and are looking for social satire with an attitude.

It can be purchased through Amazon, and other venues.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Bacardi Show 15 cover birthday greeting.







Some of my favorite artists, I don't remember the first time I saw their work. Or, to be more accurate, I don't recall exactly when I first noticed their work. However, with Michael William Kaluta, I remember exactly- it was the cover of The Shadow #2, the first issue of DC's 1973 revival of the venerable character that I had seen on the spinner rack at the local Jr. Foods Store. I had heard of the Shadow, and had seen an ad or two in DC comics at the time; he sounded interesting. For some reason, I didn't see #1, but when #2 came out I plunked down my 20 cents to find out what the fuss was about...and got a lot more than I bargained for with my first exposure to the graceful, nuanced, 30's pulp-styled illustration work of Mr. Kaluta, and it was that first exposure that led me to be a lifelong fan. I tried to imitate it in my own crude way, me still being a 13-year-old aspiring comic book artist, but I just never really could get it right...it was just too idiosyncratic. I could draw a decent Shadow (relatively speaking), but his other characters, no. Much to my chagrin, Kaluta abruptly abandoned the Shadow's exploits with the issue that I posted above; the monthly deadlines were too much. I would see his work pop up here and there over the next few years, mostly on covers, until 1982, when he and Elaine Lee hooked up to give us the amazing Starstruck, and I fell in love with Kaluta's work all over again- this was vastly more detailed and clever than his earlier stuff; Lee gave him a whole universe to play with, and he brought it to life vividly- as those who picked up last week's Starstruck #1 from IDW are finding out. After the inevitable failure of a title that readers just weren't ready for in the 1980's, it was back to covers, mostly, for Mr. Kaluta, and almost all of them were typically intricate and often more gorgeous than the interiors of those comics deserved. Through thick and thin, I've remained a staunch fan, and have often named him as my favorite illustrator, comics or otherwise. He's had a hell of a career; I wish there had been more sequential work, but these things tend to play themselves out the way they're meant to, and I'm happy for what we've had.

Anyway, I post this because today is his 62nd birthday, and I wanted to pay tribute. I could post at least 30 more covers, there are that many that I have liked over the years; I tried to choose a mix of ones I loved as a teen with others that I have admired recently. I'm sure I've omitted a great many excellent ones. For more on Mr. K, including some pages from that second Shadow issue that galvanized me so, go here to last year's birthday post.

So happy birthday, Mr. Kaluta, good luck with Starstruck, and I hope it's been a great one.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Passing along an appeal.



Got some disturbing news Friday night when I was reading Steve Bissette's Myrant blog- seems that Timespirits scripter and co-creator Steve Perry is terminally ill and apparently destitute besides; according to Bissette he is in dire straits, and he has put out a call for help for his friend.

Please go here to read Bissette's post, if you haven't already.

Even though I don't know Perry personally, I had some brief email correspondence with him a few years ago after I wrote this post about the 80's Epic series that lasted a too-brief eight issues. A year or two later, he emailed me out of the blue to let me know that Image was planning to reprint TS in a trade collection, which has yet to see print due to what I understand are technical issues of some sort. He was very nice to me in both instances, and I appreciated being kept in the loop. Timespirits is one of my absolute favorite series; a true unappreciated and overlooked gem in my opinion, and even after all this time, when I reread these books I am often amused, excited, and even moved by the drama, humor and adventure contained in those stories. Of course, a large part of this is due to Tom Yeates' excellent art (as well as a couple of others who did short features, including Bissette himself and Rick Veitch), and I don't know what the exact ratio of ideas and concepts was between the two...but Perry had a really dry, but marvelously expressive, dialogue style that served these stories very well and he made the two leads, Cusick the Tuscarora and Doot of the Wawenoc, come alive in a way that few writers could, as true then as it is today. Anyway, this news makes me very sad, because I have been touched and moved by these tales, and it hurts to hear that one of the men responsible is in such straits.

Even if you've never read Timespirits, I hope you can find it in your heart to perhaps send something along or take some sort of appropriate action. For my part, I will try to send something, but as always I live paycheck to paycheck and rarely have much to give. I have considered perhaps doing an illustration of the 'Spirits, and auctioning it on eBay, to send whatever I get along to Perry. I'll let you know here when I do.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE.

Here we go again with CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE, where I opine upon comics that I have bought and/or received in the interval between July 20 and August 4, 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.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI 13 #15: Last issues, especially last issues in which an ambitious plotline has to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction, are rarely effective and/or tidy...and this is no exception. Still, it gets the job done quickly and efficiently, and all that's left is to shake our heads at a marketplace that can't, or won't, support a well-done comic book like this one was. The racks will be a poorer place without it. A-

GOTHAM CITY SIRENS #2: Guillem March, so good on covers, is just not impressing me all that much on interiors with his awkwardly distorted figures and not-especially-compelling layouts, negating whatever pleasure can be derived from the teaming of some fairly interesting characters. Plus, if you get that Hush character involved to the extent he is here, then that's pretty much a good sign you don't want me to read your comic. So au revoir, c'est la vie, and I miss Pfiefer's Catwoman ongoing more than ever. C-

DELPHINE #4: The conclusion of Richard Sala's latest "fever dream" doesn't make for compelling reading on its own, despite its not-so-subtle "beware of obsession" message...but when rendered by Sala's excellent linework and gorgeous sepia-tone, then it becomes worthwhile. Excellent work from one of the most distinctive stylists around, but my patience for writers who won't just say what they mean sometimes is wearing thin. A-

DETECTIVE COMICS #855: I still think Rucka was in a better groove on his first stint on this book; but that was then and this is OK for what it is- the whole mystery about what this cult wants with our fiery Bat-redhead is intriguing enough, I suppose. The main reason to buy this remains J.H. Williams III, and he continues unabated with some of the best work of his career. That said, I think I liked the villainess better when she was called the Painted Doll, and I don't really know who's at fault for that one. A-

FINAL CRISIS: LEGION OF 3 WORLDS #5: Didn't really know what to expect from this WAY overdue finale, but a kinder, gentler take on Wanted wasn't really it. All's well that ends well, I guess, unless you're a Kinetix fan, and even then we got a small sliver of hope for a revival down the road, so there's that. I guess Legion fans can be happier (they'll never be completely happy, this much I know) that we have yet another, streamlined Legion for their eventual (I presume) reading pleasure, and it's nice to know that at least one of the Archie Legion, perpetually outspoken teleporting bug Gates, is among their number. Otherwise, this is pretty much your standard issue Perez-drawn comic, with masses of bodies all flying around and pointing and swinging and hitting and shouting with gaping mouths and rubble rubble rubble and Kirby Krackle everywhere, and if this sort of thing doesn't give you a headache like it does me, then you can bump this up one letter grade. C+

GREEN LANTERN #44: One long extended fight scene between Hal, the Barry Allen Flash, and the Black Lantern-fied Martian Manhunter, impeccably drawn of course but rather routine otherwise. A functional chapter in a multi-issue crossover thing that I am following out of idle curiosity, if nothing else. B

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #16: It's 1976 all over again as we get the original Gerber/Stern/Milgrom era Guardians, minus Nikki (grumble grumble, why does Marvel and DC conspire to keep me from the comics women I love?) in a odd little story that finds part of the current team encountering the old-school GotG in the Avengers Mansion, and fighting off the Badoon before all reality comes to an end or something like that. It shouldn't make a lick of sense, but DnA pull it off thanks to the well-earned familiarity we have with the current team and how they play off their predecessors, and only the lack of Nikki makes me grade it no higher than a B+. Well, that and the earnest but not-great art.

HELLBLAZER #257: In a plot which might have been better served in a romance comic, John realizes he's not done such a good thing by giving Miss Right Now the love potion mickey given to him by the standard issue creepy demon in a kid's body...but wait, maybe it's all a scheme to get out of the s.i.c.d.i.a.k.b's pocket (the scab curse and its eradication, remember?) , and for some reason that I really can't articulate, that little wrinkle makes this more interesting somehow. So good for Milligan and good for us. B+

HEROGASM #3: More superguys behaving badly, ad infinitum. Fortunately, done with good humor and a tolerable amount of cynical snarkiness, Ennis' stock in trade. This issue's Fantastic Four satire reminded me of a sour Not Brand Echh, and I'm not sure that's what Garth intends. McCrea's on autopilot, but he's telling the story well enough. If I damn with faint praise, so be it- this is worthwhile if you like The Boys; all others stay far away. B-

IMMORTAL WEAPONS #1: It's Kung Fu Panda meets Hero meets Forrest Gump, filtered through the Marvel Comicsverse, as the first spotlight falls on the gargantuan Weapon Fat Cobra. It rambles a bit, but there are some funny lines (from a writer, Jason Aaron,who generally doesn't bring the funny all that often) and the artist does a nice job on FC's expressions as he runs the emotional gamut while listening to his life story (which he's conveniently forgotten), related by a writer he hired to help him fill in the blanks for his memoirs. In addition to the main narrative, a bevy of other artists do the flashbacks; Mike Lark's is the best, but the others, including Khari Evans and Stefano Gaudiano aren't bad at all. The backup story is an Iron Fist proper tale which pretty much picks up the dangling threads from the latest (to date) issue of Immortal Iron Fist, by the same writer- and I thought it was fine, with Swierczynski, Foreman, aided by that Gaudiano guy again, doing a better job than the previous one. B+

INCREDIBLE HERCULES #131: Been kinda hard to put a finger on it, but recent issues of this still-enjoyable title just haven't been quite as...well, enjoyable. Not bad, just not all that great either and certainly not as enjoyable as previous epic story arcs. Maybe it's the lack of a major threat, with inter-family squabbling taking its place, maybe it's the lack of an artist with a dynamic style, who knows. Still a pleasant enough read, but I hold out hope that the upcoming Thorcules business will pick up the pace a bit. B+

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #29: The post-Johns era begins with some new, and rather generic members, one of which is quite surly, and a big superheroes vs. supervillains group throwdown culminating in the somewhat surprising brutal stabbing of one of the good guys. In short, pretty much your standard DC comic these days. C+

MADAME XANADU #13: The Thirties era storyline continues, and unsurprisingly since the same person wrote both this and that, it will appeal mostly to those who really miss Sandman Mystery Theatre. For those of us who like Madame X, fear not, she's still the most prominent character in this pulpish tale of a demonic being who is driving his business associates to an untimely end. For those of us who revere Mike Kaluta, the news is not as good- he seems a bit rusty when it comes to this sort of extended sequential storytelling, and awkward anatomy and unsuccessful perspectives abound. That said, I'll take lesser Kaluta over the best efforts of many artists any day of the week. B+

PHONOGRAM 2: SINGLES CLUB #4: In which we spend some time with DJs Seth Bingo and the Silent Girl, and what it lacks in narrative clarity it makes up with nifty character moments (love the Blondie tribute), sort of shorthand for this entire series so far, both this and its predecessor. McKelvie has improved a lot since the beginning, though (or maybe I've just gotten used to his style), and this series is really humming, boogieing, choogling, whatever you want to call it, now. It also benefits from the backups by David LaFuente and Charity Larrison, which are nicely done. A-

POWER GIRL #3: PG turns the tables on the Humanite, escapes bondage, and with the help of (good to see her again) Terra saves New York in credibility-stretching, but still convincingly done, fashion. I hope you don't consider this a spoiler. Lighter in tone than the two previous issues, hence a lot more enjoyable and Amanda Conner is aces on art as always. A-

THUNDERBOLTS #134: If I only knew then what I know now about the big revelation this issue, then I wouldn't have bothered. Still, storywise OK, artwise as inconsistent as ever. Docked a notch for getting my hopes up. C+

WEDNESDAY COMICS #4: Pretty much everything I said in my review a week or so ago still applies; whaddaya say I check back in on this series after I've read #'s 5 and 6, and then after #9, and at the end with #12? Until then, incomplete.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

"Pictures don't interest me any longer..."

Here's the explanation I promised yesterday about Rita Farr and her film career, as I continue to read old issues of My Greatest Adventure, which eventually became Doom Patrol.

In my last post, I expressed my long-held conviction that when it came to my perception of the team of "fabulous freaks", that I could never really buy the shape-shifting Ms. Farr as one of them, since her appearance wasn't disfigured and she seemed to be able to remain normal in appearance anytime she wanted. I also wondered why she couldn't have continued her film career, which seemed to be doing well when we first met her. I understood that scandal sometimes derailed film careers in the late 50's and early 60's, the approximate time period these stories were conceived in, and speculated that the only thing she should have to worry about would be an unscrupulous producer or director who would be looking to exploit her new abilities. I had the feeling this would have to be dealt with at some point, but couldn't recall any instances, and hadn't read a lot of the original team's 60's exploits so it was possible that this came up, but I didn't know about it.

And sure enough, I was right! In a way. In My Greatest Adventure #85, we're given a scenario which deals with Rita's former occupation and at least answers the question of why she couldn't resume her film career when she wasn't out fighting the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man.

We join the DP after they've made a successful rescue at sea, although Rita kinda went off-program to resolve the situation:






The Chief and the others persuade her to take the film offer, reasoning that it will help the public perception of the DP if she shows that they're not just a bunch of freaks. The Chief, as he so often does, (and unbeknownst to the others) has ulterior motives. Interestingly, Rita initially refuses because she apparently prefers the thrills of fighting weird menaces with the Patrol to fighting off casting couch directors, it seems, and says so in no uncertain terms. I do wonder where her income comes from now. Still, she gives in.

On the set, here's how it goes:






She is initially set to appear as the wife in an Incredible Shrinking Man type flick, the lead injures himself (or DOES he?) and at Rita's suggestion, they switch her role with the male lead's, in order to exploit, I mean take advantage of, her shrinking ability. Anyway, soon, Rita finds out that the Chief set this all up in order to keep her out of harm's way while the men deal with a dangerous underground mission. Why this is that much more dangerous than the other incredible menaces the trio has faced before isn't really explained to anybody's (well, not mine anyway) satisfaction...but I guess good old fashioned chivalrous early 60s sexism is as good a reason as we can find. Anyway, Rita's a bit pissed, but not so pissed that she doesn't come to the rescue when the boys find themselves in a jam:



With Rita's aid, the DP deals with the threat, basically (as they're described in the story) "living nuclear reactors" that are mobile and heading for the Earth's surface.

At story's end, Rita gets in a little jab at the Chief, but all's well that ends well, apparently:



I wonder if this wasn't one of the Beard Hunter's favorite classic DP tales...?

So anyways, it seems as if Rita is sticking with the DP not because she's ashamed or shunned, but because she a) craves the kick only fighting monsters and supervillains can bring, and b) fears being exploited by Hollywood suits. Works for me, I guess. If I run across anything else noteworthy as I continue to read old DP stories, I'll pass it on!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"I didn't win a swimming gold medal at the Olympics for doing the dog paddle"


Above you see the character known by many of you, I'm sure, as Elasti-Woman, alias Rita Farr and charter member of the Doom Patrol. She features prominently in the first issue of yet another attempt by DC to perpetuate the license, this time brought to you by writer Keith Giffen and artists Matthew Clark plus the eponymously named "Livesay" on inks (shouldn't you have at least accomplished something noteworthy, a la Cher, Nilsson, Kirby, Garbo or Bowie, before you can expect to be addressed by one name only?). DOOM PATROL Vol. 5 #1: as relaunches go, it's about par for the course for recent DP revivals; Giffen by now is an old hand at this sort of thing, and they display the requisite angst expected of all DC properties right now, and in the case of the DP, that means lots of self-pity and surly attitudes. Not a lot of bwah-ha-ha here. It reminds of the short-lived and disappointing Suicide Squad revamp Giffen spearheaded a few years ago, especially when we're treated, right off the bat, to a mission gone all squirrely and the death of one teammate and the abandonment of her partner at the scene, as the original 3 (because after all, that's all we're supposed to care about, right? Not the lame-o members introduced in failed revivals) make their escape. The rest of the story is taken up by the standard "meet the principles through the eyes of a "normal" person" scenario, as a priest counselor volunteer talks to each member in turn, and then the requisite cliffhanger for the next issue. We also meet what I assume is another leftover character from a previous run, a diminutive young lady called "Bumblebee"- a character I was passing familiar with, especially her animated incarnation, and who has apparently hooked up with the DP as of 52 due to being stuck at tiny size, counting on the Chief to solve her problem. Lotsa luck with that; Niles Caulder is of course every bit as sociopathic as he's ever been (maybe not late Morrison and Pollock run sociopathic, but almost). The way DC operates right now, and since she's a) obscure and b) likeable, I give her six issues tops before she's raped and eviscerated, maybe not in that order. Anyway, nothing groundbreaking at all, but it's reasonably well done, surliness and all. Clark and Livesay's art isn't bad either; sometimes the figure drawings are stiff and awkward, sometimes (as with Rita above) not so; hopefully they'll loosen up a bit before they're is done or the book is canned, whichever comes first. A most atypical Metal Men backup feature rounds out the book; it's slight but since it's by Giffen/DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire (outstanding as always), it is (don't tell Didio, whose bland Metal Men in Wednesday Comics is very weak beer in comparison) a fun read, evoking, unsurprisingly, the old bwah-ha-ha Justice League as well as a gentle tweak of Lee/Kirby's Fantastic Four monster Tomazooma, the Living Totem. It's almost as if someone wasn't paying attention and they snuck a lighthearted superhero tale by the editors- wonder how long before we get the expected rape and evisceration? I give this issue a B+, and even though I've never been the biggest fan of the DP (except for the atypical Grant Morrison run, as well as the last few issues of Rachel Pollack's), I might follow along for a few issues to see where it goes.

Anyway, reviewing this issue isn't the only thing I wanted to do here; something else occurred to me as I was reading it, and it's something I've noticed before when reading the old reprints (I only bought maybe one or two issues of DP as a child in the 60s)...and it has to do with the Rita Farr aka Elasti-Woman character. Below, here's a look at her introduction, along with her origin:



Of course, click to make them biggerer for the easier readin'. Now, that's a pretty standard origin for the second wave of DC superheroes back then; "underground chemical vapors" weren't all that more far-fetched than the "Orb of Ra", white dwarf stars, or a scratch from a magical black diamond. Here's the thing that's always bugged me about this character, though- as far as I can tell, she has no real reason to adopt that "Oh, woe is me, I'm a pitiful freak who is shunned by humanity" stance, especially when compared to her teammates. Cliff Steele's brain was placed in a robot body, Larry Trainor is covered in bandages to keep the negative energy being form getting out of his body. Caulder is in his wheelchair. But Rita...well, she grows and shrinks and stretches a la Plastic Man, Elongated Man, and Mr. Fantastic. Otherwise, she looks perfectly normal and can remain so. In the sequence above, she claims to be unable to control her power, and the implied suggestion is that the Chief can help her learn to harness her ability...but a few panels later, a bomb threat conveniently pops up, and she helps the DP eliminate the threat by shrinking and entering the bomb, defusing it. No other mention is made (and bear in mind I haven't read all the subsequent adventures, it may have popped up again later) of her inability to control her size changing and limb stretching, and she seems perfectly capable of controlling it in both that episode, as well as the first battle with General Immortus later on. She says that she had to hide out of "shame and fear" after her "accident", and it's implied that she was being shunned by Hollywood. Now, I realize this was the early 60's, and in those days a career could be easily derailed by a report of scandal- when I broached this subject on Twitter a while back, I was reminded by Johanna Carlson of Robert Mitchum's pot bust and an affair that Ingrid Bergman had, that set back their careers for a good long while. This may be true, but it seems like something like Rita's "affliction" is different from getting caught in an illegal or immoral (by 50's-60's standards) act; I'd think that as long as Rita could remain at normal height and limb length, and be able to control this, that she would only have to worry about ruthless producers who'd wish to exploit her abilities. If she couldn't, as she said in her origin story, then that would be a problem and she would be perceived as freakish and shunned. But since she's shown every sign (at least in what I've read) of being able to exercise control, shrinking and growing and stretching at will, I just don't see it. She looks the same, which is why I've never been able to buy her as a "freak" and whatever angst she's displayed has always rung false, especially in the new series, which takes place in the modern-day DCU, a place where the extraordinary is commonplace and super-beings of all varieties are everywhere. Which doesn't make her any less cool when she's slamming helicopters around, but in all other aspects I have a hard time staying interested and feeling that she belongs- which must have been a problem with other writers, since only ├╝ber-nostalgist Byrne could be troubled to bring her back after she died at the end of the original series. All this said, I do kinda like the character, although I'm mostly indifferent to the whole non-Morrison Patrol in general; she has a nasty, prickly temperament which sets her a part a little bit sometimes.

One cool thing about her character, though, and one which ties directly in to this blog, is this scene, from her wedding in issue #104 of the original series:



It was at her wedding that the Official Mascot of the Johnny Bacardi Show, that none other than Super-Hip! (bottom right- he kinda stands out a bit in that company) made his only appearance in a DC comic outside of his own Adventures of Bob Hope series. Groovy, baby! This was Arnold Drake having some fun with his creations, I'd think.

ETA: As so often is the case, once I got farther into the run of the early Doom Patrol, I came across a story that addresses some of the complaints I noted above, most notably why Rita couldn't continue to lead her normal life. I'll do a separate post about it at some future date.

Reviews coming soon, I hope- comics, incl. Mike Dawson's Ace-Face collection, Green Lantern-First Flight, and Cliff Meth's Billboards short-story collection.

Monday, August 03, 2009

CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE.

Time now for a horribly overdue CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE, where I opine upon comics that I have bought and/or received in the interval between July 4 and July 19, some of which may even still be on sale at finer comics selling establishments worldwide if you're lucky. Or not, as the case may be.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #7, 8: #7 was mostly tying up the loose ends of the whole Namor/Namora/Dark Reign thing; #8 gives us a freaked-out doped-up Hulk doing the sort of stuff you'd imagine a freaked-out doped-up Hulk would do, and we get nods to the old Hulk TV show as well as grotesque mutants to boot. I don't know how much it jibes with what's going on with the character in his own title, or titles, and truth be told, don't care much- he's done well here. Parker and Co. continue to roll on like a well-oiled machine; the effect is similar to that in other genres such as music or film, when a eight minute song, to name but one example, is so good that it doesn't really seem to be an eight minute song, and is over before you know it. Working with and also independently of the whole Dark Reign thing, every character is handled in an intriguing fashion, even Venus (although my standard objections apply), and character interaction as well as plot direction is always fresh. Yet strangely, each issue is also as easy to forget about afterwards as it is easy to read, and if I could figure out why that is (and it may just be me), that would be wonderful. Perhaps if the better-than-I'm-making-it-sound-here art was a little more distinctive, who knows. Both issues: A-

BATMAN AND ROBIN #2: Maybe I'm just being stubborn, but while this is still better than the run of the mill DC comic, the creators seem bored, content to give us a serviceable Batman thriller and little else. Quitely, with his ever-scratchier ink line, gives us a few of his patented time-lapse multi-panel action shots, always welcome but after two issues I find myself underwhelmed by the whole thing, nowhere near as good as the best issues of All-Star Superman. Be that as it may, it's still better than Gotham City Sirens and Streets of Gotham. B+

BATMAN: STREETS OF GOTHAM #2: If Morrison's bored, Dini's just punching the clock here; this is some of the most uninspired Batman writing I've seen since the dozens of late-80's and 90's scribes not named Doug Moench calcified Bats in the pages of Legends of the Dark Knight, Detective, and name your Bat-title of choice. Dustin Nguyen's art is fine, often very good; I still think he could do better but perhaps he's just not particularly inspired by the script. The Manhunter backup is fine, but is hamstrung by the presence of one of DC's less-believable Bat-villains, Jane Doe, whose shtick is completely dependent on comic-book science, and less likable because of it. Still, it's early and I liked Andreyko's stuff enough in the ongoing to cut some slack. C+

THE BOYS #32: The gang gets ambushed in the hospital in which the Female of the Species was recuperating (glad she didn't get killed). By now, you ought to know what to expect from Ennis and Robertson, and here's more of the same. A-

B.P.R.D.: 1947 #1: I was a bit concerned about how smooth the transition would be between the art styles of the Moon/Ba team and 1946 illustrator Paul Azaceta, especially because I've become a big fan of Azaceta's work. Shouldn't have worried; as we all know, the brothers are an excellent team and more that equal to the task. True, they're a bit more whimsical in their choices than the more grounded Azaceta (some of the facial expressions on their Varvara are priceless), but always to the enhancement of the story, never the detriment. Some of the sequences, later in the story when Professor Bruttenholm's quartet is trying to cool their heels in the village, masterfully evoke mood and apprehensive atmosphere. Writer Josh Dysart's straightforward, terse style is much more effective on these fantastic goings-on, as opposed to the more overheated Unknown Soldier, and this continuation of the previous series is promising. A

FABLES #86: In this issue, we get, well not exactly an origin for the Man in Black that isn't Johnny Cash and has done such terrible things to my beloved Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, but more of a look at the mysterious (and quite interesting) magic cabal who is charged with keeping the likes of him in captivity- in particular one brave soul who succeeds in leading the effort to "box", or magically trap and keep him from doing harm. Jim (Scarlett) Fern, at liberty since Crossing Midnight got the axe, teams with Craig Hamilton to provide some very handsome, if a little stiff, art. Another solid issue of Fables, and it's good to be done with the crossover I didn't follow. A-

FINAL CRISIS AFTERMATH: DANCE #2: Well, it's bright, and breezy, and colorful, with the requisite dash of cynicism in place. But it's also X-Statix, in different clothes, and without the benefit of a U-Go Girl. Proceed accordingly. B

FINAL CRISIS AFTERMATH: RUN #3: Of all these Final Crisis follow-ups, I'm enjoying this one the most; it's somewhat gritty, but not so grim- a total superhero wallow, and in the fetid current DC mud bog at that. However, I'm finding the desperate plight of the Human Flame, despite his resemblance to Carl of Aqua Teen Hunger Force fame (well, to me, anyway), improbably interesting, and unlike the other spinoffs (especially the execrable Escape), I actually look forward to finding out where it ends up. Kudos to Matthew Sturges, who has pretty much left me cold in his other endeavors. And kudos as well to Freddie Williams II (what is it with artists named Williams and the attendant numerals?), whose style has really improved since his Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle stint, and who does a good job of depicting the cluttered group superguy fight scenes and not lapsing into incoherence. Nicely done, fellas. B+

INCOGNITO #5: Our hero, or at least our main protagonist, spends the evening on the run with the amusingly named Eva Destruction, who helps fill in some of the blanks in said protagonist's memory as we rush headlong into the resolution next issue. Despite the superficial resemblance to Sleeper, this has been a very good series in its own right, and a testament to how in sync Brubaker and the always-excellent Sean Phillips are. A-

THE MIGHTY #6: I'm pleased to report that this quiet, under-the-radar little title, yet another deconstructionist look at a Superman-ish character who of course isn't as benign as we're supposed to think he is (of course, anybody who's got an IQ of 25 or above saw that coming) is still quite readable, thanks to the continued emphasis on sympathetic human liaison Gabe Cole (a redhead with a signal, but not quite a "Pal"). He begins to put the pieces together in this issue, and a scene in which Alpha takes Cole up into space takes on a nicely done air of tension and danger. Credit to Peter Tomasi and Keith Champagne for taking such derivative material and making something of it; I'd bet that it was some sort of Superman pitch at some stage or another. Also props to Chris Samnee, who took over for original artist Pete Snejbjerg and didn't miss a beat. B+

SCALPED #30: Even though circumstances are closing in on Dash Bad Horse like a vise, he's beginning to get his head straight as well as find his balls and get away from some bad habits, proving that he is shaping up to be a survivor. Of course, surviving is sometimes relative, and I have no hopes of anything resembling a happy ending, when an ending of some kind does arrive (and I hope it's gonna be a long time coming). Nice scene with hoodoo man Catcher at the beginning as well; you'd think introducing the- well, "supernatural" is not quite right, but perhaps "extraordinary", in the strictest sense, will do- extraordinary would completely wreck the mood, but Jason Aaron isn't going to let that happen. Another solid issue in a long line of solid issues of the best dramatic title of the last few years. A

SOLOMON KANE TPB VOL 01: CASTLE OF THE DEVIL: I reviewed this as singles; I was favorably disposed. If you want the details, go here, and here. Just flat out love the Mignola cover to this collection, so reminiscent of old Dell/Gold Key comics cover design. I hope we see more Kane from Dark Horse, and soon. A-

WASTELAND TP BOOK 4: DOG TRIBE: The focus is narrowed in this collection; rather than the Byzantine and often confusing power struggles of all the different classes of people Mr. Johnston has seen fit to populate his post-apocalyptic saga with, we spend most of our time with nominal leads Michael and Abi and their captivity at the hands of the titular tribe, whose entire social structure is based upon dog terminology- and yes, their women are called "bitches", and all the other slang and oaths all the characters use is still kinda sun-damned goat-sucking cheesy. Be that as it may, this more intimate scenario provides more opportunities for drama and tension, with fewer characters clamoring for our attention, as both sides (as well as a well-intentioned but mostly ineffective stranger) get a chance to let us see what motivates and shapes them. I suppose it's a good thing when, four collections in, I find myself more interested now than I was at the beginning. Artist Chris Mitten has improved, as well- he still has a default chin-on-chest position for nearly everybody he draws, but it's not as much in evidence and he's getting real good at using his deliberately spare and scratchy style to give us an appropriately cinematic and evocative feel. Can't really say you should start here, but if you're curious, know that you can start at the beginning and be assured it gets better as it goes along. A-

WITCHFINDER: IN THE SERVICE OF ANGELS #1: Mignola seems determined to flesh out every fringe character that gets a mention is one of the many sagas he's given us so far, and now it's Edward Gray's turn. Victorian-era "occult investigator for the Queen" Gray is, even though he comes across as a cross between Poe, Van Helsing, and Billy Sunday (with his perpetual scripture-quoting), an interesting dude, and Mignola's given him a decent enough mystery to solve, beholden to mummy-movie tropes as it may be. Ben Stenbeck does a good job of giving us approximate-Mignola murk, but keeps it straightforward and manages to keep enough of his own style to not appear to be an imitator. Promising start. A-



Sorry this has taken me so long, but life seems to find new and varied ways from keeping me from reading stuff and writing about same. Hopefully I'll be able to get to the contents of the DCBS box I received last Friday sooner than I did its predecessor...