Saturday, December 30, 2006

Time now for some catch-up reviews.

AMERICAN BORN CHINESE (Gene Yang, First Second, $16.95) started out its life as a webcomic, which I remember checking out quite some time ago- and at about that same time, I read where it was going to be collected so I figured I'd read it all in one sitting sometime down the road. It's been getting mountains of praise and recognition, too, including a National Book Award nomination. So, now that I've finally read it in its entirety, what do I think? Well...I think that sometimes because someone can do something doesn't always mean they should do something. And I'll elaborate on that later.

ABC has three parallel storylines: First, we get folklore in the form of an account of the Monkey King, who was looked down upon by the other Gods because he was a monkey and who set out to become the most powerful being possible so the others would respect him...but it isn't until he learns to be proud of what he really is, spiritually as well as magically and strength-wise, that he is able to progress as a complete "person". Second, we meet Jin Wang, (a slightly rearranged version of the author's name, although I found myself wondering what Jen Wang thought about that) who is dealing with growing up as one of only three Asian-American students in his school system, and the attendant prejudices, misconceptions and hostility that it encompasses. His best friend is Wei-Chen Sun, a nerdly little fella with big round glasses, who Jin doesn't cotton to at first but soon they become pals. Most of this storyline deals with Jin's troubles with fitting in and girls, and of course it isn't until he learns to be comfortable in his own skin that he is able to find enlightenment. Beginning to notice a trend here? Finally, the third tale is a broad, sitcom-themed account of a young Caucasian fellow named Danny who has to deal with his embarrassing cousin Chin-kee, who is a cartoonish amalgam of every wince-inducing Oriental stereotype you can name, and it's treated in true Saved By the Bell fashion.

I'm going along, enjoying the well-done Monkey King retelling, finding myself hoping for the best for the well-meaning but muddleheaded Jin, and tolerating the Chin-kee stuff (with an occasional couldn't-help-myself giggle- does that make me a bad person?) until we get to the ending, and the point where the three interspersed story threads intersect at the end...and therein lies the rub, at least for me. Yang blends all three together literally, introducing the fantasy elements of the Monkey King and Chin-Kee threads into the mostly mundane and straightforward (and after all is said and done, the most compelling and interesting for me) storyline, and by doing so, completely lost me. And I SPOIL HERE, so MOVE ON IF YOU DON"T WANT TO BE SPOILED! This isn't the first time, I know, that a writer has blended fantasy and reality in order to make his overarching point...but I just question its necessity here because he had a pretty good thing going by keeping the second narrative grounded in reality...and revealing Wei-Chen to be the son of the Monkey King, and the M.K. himself coming down to guide Jin towards self-acceptance by posing as Chin-Kee and enabling Jin to shed his self-created glamour of "Danny" and be content to be who he really is, well, it somewhat trivialized his message as far as I was concerned, and that's why I say that just because you CAN do something in a graphic novel (i.e., the blending of the unreal and real, easier to do and done more often, even expected ofttimes in sequential fiction, as opposed to film or television) or comics story, whatever, doesn't mean that you SHOULD do it. Of course, the "message" in question is a personal thing as far as the author is concerned, and fair enough, but I just felt like he diluted what he was trying to say...and he didn't have to. I think his purpose would have been served just as well if he had stuck with the Jin narrative all the way through. SPOILER OVER!

This thing is running a lot longer than I had hoped, so I won't be able to deal with the art as much as I'd like to, but I will say that a big part of the appeal that ABC holds for me is visual- Yang's work is nuanced, simplistic at first glance with a LOT of open space, but he has a nice sense of composition, a deft inkline, and does expressions very well in this deceptively simplistic style. The coloring throughout is beautiful, especially the oranges and yellows of the cover and the contrast of more subdued tones in the body of the story itself. There's a lot to like about American Born Chinese...I just wish the author had trusted in his message more and hadn't felt it necessary to gimmick it up. B+

AMERICAN ELF (BOOK 2) (S/A: James Kochalka; Top Shelf, $19.95, reviewed from CD/PDF) is the latest collection of Kochalka's "daily diary" type comics strips. Lots of folks (well, not "lots", but several) do this sort of thing, but nobody, unsurprisingly, does them as well as the idiosyncratic Kochalka. As usual with this type of strip collection, I have to read them in short bursts or they begin to run together- which is not to say that they aren't amusing or interesting. Most of these deal with life's little pleasures, as run through the skewed Kochalka filter: parenting, work, relationships, off-kilter observations, groaning puns, etc.; a example is at left. Whether or not you'll want this depends on how attuned you are to JK's previous efforts; me I love Superf*ckers and have enjoyed the rest, so I'm among the converted, but others may find this precious to a fault and get bored quickly. A-

S/A: Aleksandar Zograf (Top Shelf, $19.95; reviewed from CD/PDF)

Continuing with our "daily diary" trend, we come to Serbia, which is a collection of those type of strips done by Serbian cartoonist Zograf, detailing his life among the constant strife and struggle of the Balkan War. Which is not to say that it's a constant parade of panels depicting Zograf huddled in a corner as things explode all around him; he manages to contrast the effects of the conflict with the ordinary life concerns that continue in spite of everything, and does so with a subtle sense of humor and an imaginative cartooning style which looked kinda crude and unpolished at first glance, but soon revealed itself as darkly expressionistic, even oppressive when needs be- but also capable of a quirky playfulness when necessary. It's a nice blend of writer and artist, and if I was going to do an illustrated Kafka, he would be on my short list of illustrators. I'm not the most political creature in the world, and I must admit to being (sadly) somewhat uninterested in the subject matter, but Zograf held my interest for most of the 200 plus page count, and that's no mean feat. If you're not as shallow and self-centered as I, especially when it comes to world politics, you should check this out- it's definitely worth your while. B+

S/A: Jeffrey Brown. (Top Shelf, $5.00. Reviewed from CD/PDF)

And now we move on to, that's right, you guessed it- daily diary comics! This time it's Brown, who once again essays his relationship problems and wry observations on life, religion, and such and draws it all up with his loose, crude style for our reading enjoyment. As with Kochalka's efforts, it's completely idiosyncratic; if you appreciate Brown's sense of humor and whimsical forthrightness, then you'll like this (much of which is reprinted from places like Project: Superior- which I never got around to reviewing, now that I think of it), and if you don't, you should steer clear. B+

S/A: Jeff Lemire. (Top Shelf, $9.95. Reviewed from CD/PDF)

And now we come full circle. No, this isn't a collection of "daily diary" strips, but it shares something in common with the first book I've commented on above, that is, an engrossing story, somewhat autobiographical (I suspect, although it's not explicitly stated anywhere) and saddled with a tacked-on-feeling fantasy ending that works better than it probably should. Farm is an account of 10-year-old Lester, recently orphaned, who goes to live with his uncle on his uncle's farm. Of course, they don't quite get along, and the hockey-and-superhero loving Lester soon strikes up a friendship with the town's gas station owner Jimmy LeBeuf, who played for a brief time in the NHL before he got a career-killing injury which apparently left him kinda brain-damaged. Jimmy kinda becomes a big-brother type to the boy, encouraging his fantasies of being a superhero who defends the earth against aliens, playing hockey with him on a frozen pond, all the things that his well-meaning but distant uncle doesn't have time to do. Uncle Kenny doesn't completely trust Jimmy, especially when it seems that the big lug is introducing him to smoking and swearing and inspiring intense hero-worship in his nephew. All the dramatics are handled very well, without lapsing into soap opera cliches, and Lemire's loose-and-sloppy art turns out to be quite capable of illustrating the conflicting moods and emotions the story demands. Unlike American Born Chinese, Lemire indulges himself in his little fantasy scenario (to show Lester letting go of his hero worship) but has the smarts to bring his reality-based tale back to the "real world" for the ending. Farm isn't something that I would ordinarily seek out, Philistine that I am in my reading interests, but it is a evocatively-drawn and solid character-driven story, and I think that most discriminating readers would find it worth the ten bucks. A-

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Trying to do a little better job of posting more regularly, so in that time-honored blogging tradition of posting something just to be posting becuse I'm too tired to write something more substantial, here's what I'll be getting (Jan. 2, according to the DHL site) in my next DCBS shipment:

TEEN TITANS GO #38 (Mad Mod appearance, hopefully better than the last one)

That's it for now. Good night!

Here's a Bacardi Show Birthday Greeting for that huckster par excellence, the original Funky Flashman: STAN LEE, who turns 84 today.

Hard to name a favorite Lee-scripted comic- and I do believe he scripted, that is to say dialogued as well as (mostly) co-plotted, most of those long-ago seminal 60's Marvel comics. But the one that keeps coming back to me as the one that I was most entertained by was Amazing Spider-Man #16, in which Spidey and Daredevil teamed up to battle the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, and the snappy dialogue just flowed fast and furious- amusing 4-year-old me a great deal, and in subsequent years as well.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hello, everybody! Hope you had a great Christmas. Mine was great, from a material standpoint anyway.

I fully intend to get some actual content up here soon, too; I still have reviews of four upcoming (by the time I finally get around to writing bout them, they might have already come out if I'm not careful) Top Shelf releases coming, as well as the eagerly anticipated (I'm sure, right? Right? Bueller?) Bacardi Show Best of 2006 in Comics post. Plus, I'm getting a new comics box from DCBS sometime this week, hopefully Friday, but it will probably be Monday thanks to the holidays. We'll see.

Anyway, just wanted to post something, and perhaps this fits the bill: this is the cover to Justice League of America #95, "The Private War of Johnny Dune", cover dated December 1971. Cover by Neal Adams and Murphy Anderson, lead story by Mike Friedrich and the late great Dick Dillin. This is one of the first DC Comics that I recall seeing on the spinner rack at the Ben Franklin Five and Dime in beautiful downtown Horse Cave. Throughout the 60's (and probably long before that as well) the BF 5&D had stocked Dell/Gold Key comics, and I was quite surprised to see National publications in their place. So I probably begged my Mom for a quarter, and took this home. I wish I could tell you that I vividly remember the story, but I don't- it was another of DC's early attempts to be all relevant, with the titular character as some sort of Hendrix-ish mind-control guy. I think. Anyways, I believe that I remember the two reprints better- one was the origin of the Golden Age Dr. Mid-Nite, and the other was the origin of Dr. Fate- and for a while there, I was a big fan of those GA Doc Fate stories, with its weirdly calm and stiff art by Howard Sherman. I liked the character a lot more in that incarnation than in all his subesquent appearances, save for the Marty Pasko/Walt Simonson take in First Issue Special, which was certainly the best post-GA Fate tale I personally ever read.

Has anybody else read this issue of JLA, and can you refresh my memory about the lead story? Well, OK, here's a synopsis. But has this character, Stevie Wonder lookalike Johnny Dune, ever returned?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Not the news I wanted to wake up to on Christmas morning...JAMES BROWN has died.

Let's face it, the man had some personal issues...but the music he made in the 60s and 70s...oh man. "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag". "Get Up (I Feel Like Being Like A) Sex Machine". "The Payback". "Make it Funky". "Get Up Offa That Thing"...and that's just scratching the surface. He was such an innovator and influence: without Brown- no Parliament/Funkadelic/Bootsy's Rubber Band. No Sly. No Prince. Hundreds of thousands of rappers would have had to sample God knows what. Not to mention the sociological import of what he meant to African Americans in the 60's and beyond.

Brown's mojo was so strong that he could get an uptight white boy from Horse Cave, Kentucky to dance around like a fool.

RIP, JB...hope you've found peace. Dead on the Heavy Funk, indeed.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Here we are again- Christmas Eve.

Everybody and their grandmother is posting Christmas-themed comic book covers, and looks like I'm no exception. I would love to cobble something personal together, but y'see, my iMac with all the graphics software is behind me, covered with boxes and stuff piled up all around it so I can't get to it to create, and I sure as heck don't have time to do it at work! I'm writing this on Mrs. B.'s Dell, by the way. So anyway, I found this, which I don't remember seeing anywhere else but I admit that my memory may be faulty. And what this appears to be is Santa having a jolly old time on a carousel, which is made up of his reindeer, who have apparently been skewered on poles! And alive, too, if the winking reindeer behind the Claus is any indication! Is this an EC comic, by some chance? Perhaps this is at the urging of his animal buddies, who are sharing the ride...who knows. Perhaps there is some sort of ancient blood feud between the Raccoon and rabbit clan and the Reindeer clan and they have struck a deal with Der Kringle. The possibilities are endless! I think many of these artists who drew these things back in the 40s and 50s were smoking those "herbal jazz" cigarettes (phrase origin: Paul McCartney, from the Beatles Anthology) along with their Parliaments and Lucky Strikes.

And here's a great 45 cover (you remember 45s, don't you?) from none other than XTC, who released a seasonal single called "Thanks for Christmas" back in 1983 under the nom de plume "The Three Wise Men". I've been enjoying this song for several weeks now (it's included on their odds-and-sods collection Rag and Bone Buffet, which is the first place I heard it several years ago), since I placed it on my MySpace page. You can go there to hear it, but I'll be taking it off before the week's over so hurry!

Anyways, from all of me to all of you, here's wishing you all the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Here's a belated followup to the Death of Dave Cockrum post of a week or two ago- it's the two-page spread from 1973's Superboy #200, which shows the wedding ceremony of Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy in the presence of practically every LSH'er at the time. It's a really nice spread, and I found it on a message board last night as I was clicking around here and there. As the story goes, Cockrum's desire to get this spread page back from DC, and their refusal to give, was one of the factors that led to Cockrum's defection to Marvel.

Click to see it all biggerer.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Opinions, observations, and whatnot in regards to various works of sequential fiction that have crossed my optic sensors in the interval between 10 December and 22 December, some of which may even still be on sale at finer comics selling establishments worldwide.

Of course, newer reviews will go to the top of this column. Please adjust your reading expectations accordingly.

S: Mike McAvennie; A: Sanford Greene, Nathan Massengill. (DC, $2.25)

Had to get this, because of that great Phantom Stranger-trimming-the-tree cover! Glad I did. There are those that hold that the best representations of the bleak modern-day DCU are to be found in the pages of the Johnny DC titles, and based on the evidence of this issue, I can't argue with that at all. A nicely done mix of Dickens and Capra as the Phantom Stranger pops in to enlighten Flash on why Batman is such a stick, even at Christmastime, and it never once gets melodramatic or saccharine- not even in the very well-presented scene from Batman's past, witnessed by the Stranger and the Flash, in which Alfred presents the recently orphaned Mahster Bruce with a toy Gray Ghost figure and airplane. He excitedly plays with it, just like a regular kid, until he sees the portrait of his parents and immediately shuts down, re-entering grim mode once more. Alfred's eloquent tear in the last panel speaks volumes. Not that I've been a regular reader of any of the Bat-books for a long while now, but I'd be willing to bet that it's been at least ten or more years since there's been such a moving scene in any of them. The art is a barely-restrained amalgam of the established Timm/Murikami template, but Greene has the sense to rein it in when it's necessary. I've read two issues of Justice League Unlimited this year, and they've both been first-rate. A

S: Mark Andreyko, A: Javier Pina. (DC, $2.99)

Well, she's back, sporting one of the worst Art Adams covers I've ever seen- really, Adams, is that the way you see the configuration of female bodies in your mind? I know, I know, your style has always been something like this, but this one got away from you- Wonder Woman's waist and derriere are way too small to support such an exaggerated chest and arms, not to mention the gigantic legs- and Manhunter's not much better, with a left leg that has to be a good seven feet long! Nice detail on the foliage, though. Story-wise, fine, a continuation of Identity Whatever, which of course I didn't read but know enough to understand why Wondy needs our heroine to defend her on federal charges of murdering Max Lord, and in exchange WW offers to help train Kate in superhero fight-stuff. Also, Andreyko starts up a subplot which involves dear ol' Cameron Chase and takes elements directly from her late, lamented ongoing, as the Trap (descendant of Atlas' IronJaw, no doubt- how does his mouth form words, I wonder?) kidnaps Chase's sister. Stay tuned on that score, although I will admit that in today's grim, anybody-that's-not-a-major-DC-iconic-figure-can-die DCU, I am a bit concerned about what could happen. Keeps me interested, by the way, so I guess that's the goal. Artwise, not-bad; Pina is another DC Art Drone whose style is interchangable with at least a dozen other pencillers in their employ; Robin Riggs does a nice job of filling it all out and in, and I'm not just saying that because I'm afraid Elayne is reading. Manhunter deserves to continue, because it's mostly well-written and not overly cliched and pandering, and is about as good as mainstream superheroics get these days. Whether or not it will make the most of this second chance remains to be seen. B+

S: Brian Vaughan; A: Marcos Martin. (Marvel, $2.99)

Vaughan's Doc is not only a dry wit, but a stone killa, yo! Well, OK, not a killa per se, but his treatment of Brigand in this issue was a little harsher than we've come to expect from the good Doctor over the last three decades, for sure- Englehart, and of course very early-on Lee gave us this sort of Strange, but he's been little-seen ever since. Ellis might have, if he had continued, but we'll never know. Anyway, the plot thickens as we find out who's behind the failed hit and the theft of the cancer cure potion- Vaughan gets in some not-so-subtle digs at the US Health Care racket- and we're treated to a cool scene with many old foes like the Demon, Tiboro and even Shazana and her sister from Strange Tales 133; and of course a blazing cliffhanger. A

S: Christos Gage; A: Doug Mahnke. (DC/WildStorm, $2.99)

Y'know, there really isn't anything new under the sun, is there? Pretty much everything about this title so far has reminded me of such past titles like Sleeper and (of course) Warren Ellis' stints on Stormwatch and The Authority...but it's at least written with a modicum of detachment and tongue in cheek, like so much of Ellis' best stuff, and that elevates it to passable time-waster fare. Elevating it further, into "readable" territory, is Mahnke's typically outstanding art, done with an unusually scratchy ink line but fortunately it works as well as his earlier, less jagged self-inked stuff does. You could do worse than to read this, but I'll bet you'll have a hard time remembering it two months later... B

S: Rick Remender; A: Nick Stakal. (Image, $2.99)

Bethany, the Strange Girl of the title, continues her descent into Hell to look for her presumed-dead demon buddy Bloato, escorted by two of his weirdly attractive and hairy-legged daughters, and much psychodrama and demonic goings-on ensue. There are some nicely effective creepout scenes for our trouble, mostly thanks to artist Stakal, who's doing fine work in his loosey-goosey, early-Fregredo-ish style. B+

DMZ 14
S: Brian Wood; A: Riccardo Burchielli. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

14 issues in, and I'm no longer finding myself at odds with the whole US vs. NYC high concept, and kudos to Wood for pulling it off. Our boy Matt is in deeper with the terrorist cell that's working within ostensible reconstructionists the Trustwell Corporation, and winds up going through some intense psychological and physical torture for his trouble...with surprising results. There's also a preview of the upcoming series Scalped, the reading of which made me experience a little torture of my own. Think I'll pass on that one. A-

S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Jordi Bernet (DC, $2.99)

Not content with nicking The Beguiled in the first part of their horrifying (nee shocking) origin of Hex, we now get A Man Called Horse as we meet Jonah's dad, and learn the tale of how he came to be raised by the Apache tribe. Even though these last two issues have been kind of a crazy quilt of influences, they've been readable enough and fortunately they have an artist the caliber of Bernet to bring them to life. If you're craving goodlooking secondhand Western adventures, here's your place to start. B+

S: David Lapham, Brian Azzarello; A: Eric Battle, Prentis Rollins, Cliff Chiang (DC, $3.99)

Not to complain, but it's a little annoying having to spend a buck more for this book and 3/4 of it being taken up by the consistently poor Spectre lead, about which the less is said the better. Even more annoying is how Azzarello is beginning to dance all around that fine line between silly and stupid in the Dr. Thirteen back feature, which still remains the only reason to buy this at all, for Chiang's solid art if nothing else. I wonder what Azzarello was trying to accomplish by making Captain Fear, always a pretty good character back in the 70's, talk like Cheech Marin in his Cheech & Chong days? C+


S/A: Chris Wisnia, with pinups by Peter Bagge, John Severin, Russ Heath and others (Salt Peter Press, $2.50)

Wisnia's back again, with more funny sendups of those LeeKirbyAyers giant monster yarns or yore- kinda like if they had Not Brand Echh in 1959 instead of 1966. For some reason that I can't quite explain, I laughed out loud at Outer Space's splash page that starred "Muh! Muh! Muh! The Creature That Got Sucked...into the Black Hole!" and was amused throughout by the constant stream of asides and puns in both books. And of course, it helps that Wisnia is able to pull off a pretty darn good Kirby impersonation, as inked by Chic Stone, perhaps, or even D. Bruce Berry. Or maybe even Dick Ayers, who is once more represented with a pinup page. Not exactly essential works here, but big damn fun just the same. Here's the website. B+

S: Jeff Parker; A: Leonard Kirk, Kris Justice. (Marvel, $2.99)

Well, not too happy here with the New Origin of Venus- you all know I prefer the glamorous goddess of Bill Everett fame as opposed to what we're given here. Guess that was kinda hard to reconcile with the diverse personages that make up the rest of the team. That said, there are still enough high points in this chapter to enable us to overlook that save for the revelation of the Yellow Claw's spy in the ranks, this is just another "getting acquainted" story, in which we get to explore each of our Agents' neuroses for several epic pages and then- to be concluded! Well, if get acquainted we must, at least Kirk and Justice are up to the task, giving us visuals that are equal to the scope of what Parker's attempting. Hope it doesn't disappoint. B+

S: Garth Ennis; A: Chris Sprouse, Karl Story (DC/WildStorm, $2.99)

Boy, Ennis is just gonna write war comics no matter what, isn't he? At least this one doesn't lay on the sophomoric humor that Ennis likes to indulge himself in, surprising given that the French are marginally involved. So, we have Midnighter vs. WWI-era German and French soldiers, looking for a young Adolf Hitler with assassination in mind and trying to avoid being blown to bits by those who sent him back in time, wonderfully illustrated by Sprouse and the inker who is to his art like Austin was to Byrne, Gray to Williams III and Sinnott to Kirby, Karl Story. Pretty good so far. A-

Edited by Jesse Reklaw. (Microcosm Press, $4)
S/A: Al Burian. (Microcosm, $8)

I had never heard of Microcosm Publishing before receiving three of their publications in the mail a few days ago- makes me wonder exactly how many small press publishers there are out there, and who's buying their wares in enough numbers for them to maintain their output, especially Microcosm, who seems to have a million things listed on their website! Anyway, I'll do the biggest book, Sounds of Your Name, later- it's kinda longish and I haven't finished it yet. Nice art, I'll say that much. Applicant is kinda like if Marcel Duchamp had decided to do a comic- it's a readymade project if ever I saw one. Essentially, it's a small book that features old pictures of Ph.D. applicants that (as I understand the notes) Reklaw found in a recycling pile somewhere, and he's taken them and juxtaposed a snippet of a comment from the report on each. Often the straightfaced absurdity of the result is amusing, and sometimes it's just not, and I guess that what each reader will find humorous will vary greatly in each case. It's definitely an interesting curio, although I can't see me rereading it anytime soon. Things are Meaning Less is a collection of stream-of-consciousness musings by Burian, drawn in a crude sort of cartoonish style that reminds me a bit of the fellow who drew Home Movies crossed with Bob Burden. Sometimes he's witty, sometimes he makes a good point here and there, and sometimes he's quite tedious. Fortunately, he's more often the latter two than the former, so while this sort of thing isn't usually my cuppa reading material, I did kinda go with the flow and wound up interested enough to finish. To visit Microcosm's burgeoning website, full of publications they'd love to sell you, go here. Just be prepared to spend some time. Applicant: B-. Less: B.

S/A: Richard Sala. (Fantagraphics/Coconino Press, $7.95)

Gorgeous take on Snow White by way of something like perhaps Last House on the Left by Sala, whose stylized art has never been this soft or as subtle, aided by the judicious use of sepia tones instead of black and white. And while we're at it, rarely has his scripting ever been as straightforward, which is nice since sometimes his tales (and I'm thinking "Reflections in a Glass Scorpion" here) twist around so much that one loses track of who's stabbing who and why. The cover is in full color, and it's equally as beautiful in a different way. And this is part one! Looking forward to the rest. A

S: Warren Ellis; A: Daniel Zezelj. (DC/WildStorm, $2.99)

Ellis indulges his interest in the life and work of Philip K. Dick in this latest chapter as Jones delves deeper into the miasma of this L.A., trying to find out what happened to his old spy colleague John Asher. We also meet a movie producer who is an amusing rip on Robert Evans, and WE even sneaks a old baseball poem reference in, to my complete surprise. Is 2006 the Year of the Ellis or what? Zezelj continues to do a bang-up job of capturing the fractured, hazy feel of the title character's mindset with his impressionistic, jagged, woodcut-like art. A

S: Darwyn Cooke; A: Cooke, J.Bone. (DC, $2.99)

Mr. Cooke would do well to remember in the future that Denny Colt, formerly of the Central City PD, is not Dick Tracy...and it's completely unnecessary to give him silly villains like this issue's "Pill", who apparently has acid-producing epidermic pustules or something disgusting like that. Going for the gross-out just doesn't work with the Spirit's world, or at least not gross-outs that obvious. Otherwise, lots of good action, good characterization, a few chuckles and page after page of excellent artwork. All in all, not bad- maybe I'm just expecting too much. B+

100 BULLETS 79
S: Brian Azzarello; A: Eduardo Risso. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

The Standard Review: Another well-done issue what will engage the already engaged, baffle the uninitiated, and even baffle the initiated upon occasion. I think I'll just cut and paste this review for the next 21 issues. Oh, and there are a couple of surprising deaths this time out, if one has been keeping score at home. A-

I'm gonna do the Top Shelf offerings in their own review post, hopefully before the weekend's over. So...

BEST OF SHOW: DELPHINE 1. Really liked Jones and that Justice League Unlimited, too.

DOG OF THE WEEK(S): TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED 3. The Doc Thirteen story wasn't up to the standards of the first two chapters, and the Spectre is just awful.
OK, go here.

Stare at the panels of today's (and for that matter, the last few days' worth) For Better or For Worse comic strip.

Did you see it? SOMEONE HAS PUT SOME SORT OF ANIMATION ON THOSE STRIPS! THE EYES BLINK! Everything else is motionless, just like the newspaper incarnation...except the blinking eyes! Please tell me that you see it...!

As the saying goes...WHAT. THE. FUCK.

This is so lame that it's almost pathetic- is this supposed to be more of the weird "fun" that the whole website seems so desperate to promote, even as they give us third-rate soap opera day after day? Blinking eyes? Mike's fricking apartment is on fire, and they're undermining what dramatics they muster by sticking BLINKING EYES on their comic strip?

Of course, Lea Hernandez has her own issues with the website, specifically the nitwitted "letters from..." section which seems to gloss over the horror of a home fire, something which she's unfortunately well-acquainted with at present, and she has a gripe for sure. After reading her post, I thought I'd go check out the last couple of days' worth of the strip, to see what's been happening (I get my newspaper a day late- it's a long story), and that's when I was startled by the Phenomenon of the Blinking Eyes.

Oh, and you just know that it's going to be the fault of the obnoxious cigar-chomping downstairs neighbor- they've been setting something like this up ever since they introduced the couple- and I'll bet that he goes to that big humidor in the sky as a result, because FBoFW and Funky Winkerbean are competing these days for the title of Deepest, Darkest, Bleakest Comic Strip of Despair Ever.

(Crossposted from the LJ, by the way)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I'm off work tomorrow, so I'm hoping to finish the latest batch of reviews tomorrow sometime, and that will include some of the CD-ROMs I've been getting from Top Shelf lately, such as the fun American Elf Vol.2 by Kochalka and Essex County Vol. 1. It just takes me longer to work up to sitting down and popping a disk in and reading something via Adobe Reader- maybe it's because I'm constantly creating and viewing PDFs all day at the day job and don't want to face them all night, who knows.

Anyway, in the meantime, go here to hear about 30 seconds' worth of each song from Elliott Murphy's 1977 album Just A Story From America, which grows greater in my estimation with each year that passes.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bozhe moi.

Seems like 3/4 of the readers who care out there in the comics blogosphereiverse have an axe to grind with Brian Bendis, because of some of the changes and twists he's put many of Marvel's characters through, but until now I haven't really shared that viewpoint. Frankly, none of the characters that he's messed with have interested me much since the late 1960's, so my attitude has been "whatever". But now, as I mentioned in my post the other day, they took a character that I liked a lot from the late 90's-early 00's and pretty much ruined her for the future, for no good reason other than apparently the writer in question (as well as whatever passes for editorial at Marvel these days) had no use for her. I'm referring to Bendis here, and the character is the one on the left in that comic book cover- Yelena Belova, the second Black Widow. Scroll down about halfway through the Wikipedia entry for the Black Widow for an intro.

I enjoyed the three miniseries that featured her as well as her longer-tenured namesake: the 1999 and 2001 Black Widows and Yelena's 2002 solo turn, the often squicky but no less engrossingly gnarly Pale Little Spider. Moreso than the often distant and icy Natasha Romanoff, Yelena was an often vulnerable and sympathetic young lady who was often conflicted about her place in the scheme of things, understandably carrying around a bit of an inferiority complex regarding her predecessor, as well as the whole spy-making machinery in place in post-Communism Russia. Still, she was also super-deadly and super-efficient, and I found her a heck of a lot more interesting than Natasha, who has had three decades worth of Marvel writers' bullshit baggage to carry around. The new Widow was a clean slate of sorts, and all sorts of things could have been done with her in the hands of a writer who had the imagination and the chops to do so. But not anymore!

Apparently, at some point this year (after a period of disuse) she was stuck into Bendis and Olivier Coipel (gee, I still miss his Legion; haven't bought a thing he's drawn since)'s New Avengers Annual #1, which also featured the marraige of Luke Cage and the Jessica Jones character...and since these sorts of stories always have to have a super-villain in them, it fell to Bendis to provide one. He chose Yelena. And here's what he did, courtesy of the Wiki entry:

Belova is genetically altered by the terrorist organization HYDRA. Now equipped with the ability to copy all of the Avengers powers (see Super-Adaptoid), she engaged the superhero team in combat. She was eventually defeated by a combination of Tony Stark's 49 successive Iron Man armors - from the first, Tales of Suspense #39, to the then-current - and the Sentry's use of his Void persona, which she absorbed with the rest of the Sentry's powers and energy. When she was defeated, HYDRA killed her using a self-destruct mechanism they had implanted in her.

Christ on a crutch. What bullshit. What a waste. You want the fucking Super-Adaptoid? Sure, fine. Why not come up with another android? It would fit the bill just as well! Create someone to become the creature! Think! Write! Come up with a more interesting person to fit the bill, and not some readymade recyclable! But no. And now, unless she's revived through even more contrived comics bullshit, she's dead and gone and no one will use her in a story again, for good or ill. I just don't understand why this was necessary, that's all. Perhaps it's because creators Paul Jenkins and Devin Grayson (and Pale writer Greg Rucka) weren't around to complain or couldn't care less either, who knows.

And if this makes me sound a bit Alex Ross-ish, well, I don't mean to. Sure, Obsidian being gay probably isn't what Roy Thomas had in mind when he created him, but Andreyko's portrayal is a solid, logical and non-exploitative one, and it isn't like he was genetically transformed into some sort of batwinged werebeast with power-absorbing abilities, then disintegrated! Yelena's final fate is not a fitting one, and it is just the sort of smirking, dismissive and shortsighted plot twist that seems to be Bendis' opus moderandi on everything except Powers and most of his stint on Daredevil. Hell, life goes on and I won't lose a single minute of sleep over this...but this is a sad, pathetic waste and I just felt like bitching about it.

Yelena Belova, before and after.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

In which I opine in regards to various works of sequential fiction I have perused in the interval since the last time I inflicted my opinions upon one and all, or to be specific, from 25 November to 9 December, some of which may even still be on sale at finer comics selling establishments worldwide.

NEW REVIEWS AT TOP OF POST! These might be kinda on the short side, more so than usual. Time is fleeting, as Riff Raff would say.

S: Garth Ennis; A: Darick Robertson. (DC/WildStorm, $2.99)

Against all odds, I'm beginning to like this title. Ennis isn't reinventing the wheel, and it still comes across as an exercise in automatic writing- but he's providing enough shades to all the principals to keep this from becoming offputting, he still has that fratboy sense of humor which (to my detriment, I'm afraid) occasionally elicits chuckles, and I'm a bit ashamed to say that I didn't see the Hughie and his new acquaintance twist coming at all. And so it goes. B+

S: Warren Ellis; A: Stuart Immonen. (Marvel, $2.99)

As if Ellis' demented pisstake of Grant's Doom Patrol wasn't fun (and funny- they aren't always the same) enough, Immonen steps out and nimbly gives us his dead-on interpretations of such art stalwarts as Dan Clowes, Mike Mignola, J.P. Leon (The Captain segment, and I'm guessing here) and Gene Colan in the Forbush-vision segments. People just don't know what they're missing sometimes, do they. A

S: Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges; A: Tony Akins, Andrew Pepoy. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

I do believe Sturges is finding his voice! Not-bad wrapup to the whole "Jack imprisoned in Golden Boughs" thing, with a little bit of everything: action, chuckles, decent-enough twists, and a mildly surprising ending in that he seems to mean it and plans to move on, refreshing these days when some writers hang on to the one good plot idea they have for dear life. Also, I suppose that if we must have the return of Little Black Sambo, then this is as good a way to do it as any. The art though, well, if you can't say anything good... B+

S: Steven Seagle; A: Becky Cloonan, Ryan Kelly. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

I don't think that Becky Cloonan's art (with Kelly's help, of course) has ever looked more like Paul Pope's than in this issue, and I don't mean that as a slam. She continues to enliven the material, which stubbornly and steadfastly refuses to do anything but be predictable, and predictably inconsistent in tone. B

S: Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction; A: Daniel Aja. (Marvel, $2.99)

Let's go waaaay back to the dim and distant days of 1974, and witness a the young J. Bacardi-to-be as he takes his hard earned dollar and chooses his weekly funnybook fix. Ah! Look there- he's picking up a copy of Marvel Premiere #15, attracted by the promise of a kung-fu comic drawn by Gil Kane and written by Roy Thomas. He takes it home and likes it a lot, getting into the tale of young Danny Rand, whose father and mother are done in by treachery and who eventually acquires the power of the iron fist. He picked up several issues after that, but soon Kane was gone, to be replaced by a series of lesser lights until finally young JB gave up on the Fist, only getting back into it after John Byrne started drawing his exploits in his own book. Then the team up with Luke Cage, and more inevitable art-rot as lesser lights once more had their way, and that was about the extent of the not-so-young now JB's interest in Daniel Rand's adventures. However, IF has bounced around a lot in the last couple of decades, and has always been a welcome presence in the few Marvel comics I've picked up in that interval which includes Danny's recent appearances in the Daughters of the Dragon mini and, of course, Daredevil, so I decided to give this new book a shot and see if I liked it. Of course having Brubaker's name, more so than the willfully obfuscating Fraction's, on the scripting byline helped influence my decision. And what did I think? Well, a not-bad start as IF gets mixed up with Hydra, who is apparently trying to pull off a subtle takeover of Rand's business, and we're also treated so a couple of getting-acquainted type flashbacks, which in turn took me back a bit to the still-fresh memory of young JB at the Jr. Foods spinner rack that I assayed above. Decent enough springboard for a series, I suppose. Art-wise, Aja was fine- he seems to be shooting for that tried-and-true Alex Maleev-Mike Lark-Jae Lee feel, but should really try to avoid anatomy gaffes like the clumsy looking hand on page ten, or the often slinky-esque torso contortions on pages 16 & 17. Kudos for the hilarious Luke Cage mugshot on 16, though. This one could be a good one before it's over. A-

S: Ed Brubaker; A: Michael Lark, Steven Gaudiano. (Marvel, $2.99)

Well, speak of the Devil! Status quo here, a continuation of the whole DD-looks-for-man-who-he-thinks-had-Foggy Nelson-killed storyline, set in gay Paree. Top-notch characterization and a little more action than before, all impeccably drawn by Lark and Gaudiano. Still loving the John Leguizamo-in-Romeo+Juliet-inspired Matador, hope he returns someday. A-

S: Matt Fraction; A: Gabriel Ba. (Image, $1.99)

Fraction, you tricky bastard, just when you had me thinking I was finally getting it, you take me back into Whothewhatthe-!? land. Still, even as I curse your evasiveness, I have to give it up for your clever ideas- LOVE the T.A.M.I. Girls (and I'm proud that I get the reference), the scenes with Xeno and Seychelle were fun, and the ending as I understand it looks like it's pointing to a good one next time out. All I can say is thank goodness for Ba, who continues to make this all look real good. B

S: Geoff Johns, Richard Donner; A: Adam Kubert. (DC, $2.99)

I don't know about you, but I'm always leery when big (well, mostly big, some more than others) names from other media get their big name stuck on a comic book cover for doing something which never really is all that apparent. Apparently someone asked Donner what his plans would have been for his Superman film series, he mentioned a child for Lois and Clarkie , money for a byline co-credit was arranged and Geoff Johns took it and ran. Ran it into the ground, if this issue, number two (I'm thinking) of the arc is any indication. I'll freely admit that Morrison and All-Star Superman, as well as the superlative Animated version, aside, I'm not the biggest fan of the Man of Steel or his four-color exploits- but I can't imagine why this limp, dreary, beholden to the other corporate cash cow Smallville spandex soap opera bullshit would be anybody's idea of a entertaining, or even interesting read. And I must be confusing all the Kubert kids and Romita kids and so forth, but I really thought Adam Kubert had a style, something going for him other than a overrendered and barely-adequate Jim Lee impersonation. Geez, Ma and Pa Kent look barely older than Clark and Lois. Mainstream comics can be so depressing sometimes... C-

S: Various, including Frank Robbins, Archie Goodwin, Bob Haney, and David Michelinie. A: Various, including Joe Kubert, Jack Sparling, and Gerry Talaoc. (DC, $16.99)

Ah, the Unknown Soldier. Back before war comics became passe, he had a good long run in not only Star Spangled War Stories but his own title (which was a continuation of SSWS's numbering) as well in the 70's and 80's. The Soldier was a man who was disfigured by a grenade, and trained himself to become a master of disguise and top-notch assassin, and served the US as a covert agent in WWII. I've always liked this character, mostly based on the fond remembrance of the mid-70's David Michelinie/Gerry Talaoc version, which provided nicely understated dramatics and darn-near O.Henry-worthy twists on the premise. But, I have read very few, if any, of the pre-Michelinie issues of SSWS which make up a good 75-80% of this collection. So I got this, not only to reconnect with a few of the Soldier stories I liked so much back in the day, but to see what the character was like in his earlier versions, by a host of pretty talented writers, especially the great Archie Goodwin, no stranger to war sagas via Warren's short-lived Blazing Combat magazine, and Frank Robbins, who I've always admired most as an illustrator but always appreciated his understated early 70's Batman stories as well. To be honest, I still haven't finished this yet, but I can report on what I've read so far. You already know what I think about the Michelinie issues; Talaoc's art is a revelation- derivative of Alex Nino and a few other of the 70's Filipinos, but he always had a dynamism to his style that not even the sometimes static Nino could boast, and here (also in the next volume, whenever THAT will comeout) is probably the pinnacle of his career. I was a bit surprised to see that the character, as originally envisioned by none other than the great Kubert Sr. himself, started out as sort of a shadowy, mysterious operative who was summoned by the US when extraordinary wartime situations presented themselves; it wasn't until a couple issues later that the whole disfigured-by-grenade thing came into play. Kubert's art is excellent on these early stories. he eventually gave way to Goodwin, Haney and Robbins, and what I've read was solid, but a bit lifeless. The grubby stylings of Jack Sparling, an artist whose work was everywhere in the 1970's, graced a great deal of these tales. He was fine, if workmanlike. As I said, I'm still reading through this huge collection, so I may just happen upon some remarkable stories I haven't encountered yet, so keep that in mind when considering my opinion. Y'know, I never was really a fan of war comics, especially DC's- they were just so earnest and steadfast, and kinda dull despite some good art. I guess I liked the laffs-and-action approach Stan and Jack and Dick Ayers employed on Sgt. Fury a bit more. But those Michelinie Soldier stories kinda opened my eyes, and I can't recommend them enough. All things considered, I'll give this collection an incomplete A-, and I'll try to get back to it when I'm done.

S: Jeph Loeb, Darwyn Cooke; A: Cooke, Jason Bone. (DC, $4.99)

In the grand tradition of introducing classic characters to a presumably new audience, best exemplified by Batman #253's Shadow spotlight, here's the opening serve for Cooke's labor of love project, the Spirit ongoing. Even though I couldn't help but think of the late, somewhat-lamented Kitchen Sink project New Adventures of the Spirit when I finished it, it was still entertaining- though not quite as entertaining as the creators wished it to be. Hard to say exactly why, too- one too many plot twists, perhaps, the surprising incompatibility between the Spirit's cast of characters and Batman's (although I thought there were sparks between Bats and P'Gell), dialogue that strives for nostalgic resonance and gentle irony but just kinda sits there on the page, lifeless...who knows. Artwise, it's wonderful- Cooke is at his dynamic best, and he will never find a more sympathetic and skilled inker than Bone, for sure. One thing I did appreciate, and this is strictly a personal thing- your mileage will vary no doubt- is how Loeb and Cooke subtly give us (more or less, and despite the presence of Animated-era Harley Quinn and Killer Croc) the mid-60's Batman, (the Batman of the comics of the day, that is, not Adam West) with a eager young Robin, uncompromised, tolerant Commissioner Gordon, and so on. The mid-60's being, y'see, when I discovered the Spirit through the two Harvey reprint comics of 1966...this provided a nice nostalgia buzz. As a trailer for Cooke's series, I suppose this works well enough, and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because it's hard to say exactly what Loeb (whose edge was ground to a nub on the corporate trademark servicing grindstone years ago) contributed to the script. When this thing starts for real in a week or two, then we'll know. One thing that troubles me is the memory of the last big project that Cooke threw himself into with (at first) enthusiasm and energy: the current Catwoman series. He lasted all of four issues. Will this be the same? Guess we'll see... B+

S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Daniel Acuna. (DC, $2.99)

I can think of a lot of places I'd rather get my political discourse from than this...but actually, this issue's little tete-a-tete between Father Time and Uncle Sam doesn't get too heavy-handed and it's probably the most noteworthy thing about this issue, which involves yet another "Now we're beaten and hopeless, now we're not" moment and more "split-up and show off your powers" fight scenes, palatable in this case because Gray and Palmiotti totally seem to believe in what they're doing and aren't trying to be ironic or smirky, which I appreciate. It helps that I really like this version of Uncle Sam, who (as I think I say each time I review this comic) reminds me of a cross between Daniel Boone and the Spectre, and even though I wish he'd make different rendering choices sometimes, I like Acuna's naturalistic-but-stylized art as well. Plus, where else will you get to see the Red Bee kick ass? A-

S: Brian Michael Bendis; A: Micheal Avon Oeming. (Marvel/Icon, $2.95)

Very quietly, mostly because Bendis gets all the attention for his higher-profiled Marvel efforts, this has become a must-read comic again, and not just for Oeming's outstanding art. And this is even though we are being given the same basic plotline that we've had for the last five or six years, i.e. murder mystery among the superpowered. Biggest difference is the added wrinkle of both principals secretly acquiring powers of their own, and the tension that ensues as we wonder when that situation is going to come to a head in the face of all the murder mystery stuff. A-

S: Graymiotti; A: Francis Portella, Billy Tucci, Tom Palmer, Terry Pallot. (Marvel, $2.99)

Kaare Evans, come home! You are missed. Storywise, this is fine- humor, good characterization and adventure in mostly equal measure, with the dreary Civil War stuff thankfully out of the way. But the art, which is on the surface consistent stylewise, just isn't- it's hard to tell where Tucci ends and the other three begin, and that gets on my nerves for some reason. In all fairness, Portella and Co. are improving, but most of this is really subpar standard superhero art, without a lot of personality and charm (which Evans's work had, at least)...and really, Tucci's stuff isn't much better- I think the whole ninjas-in-silhouette vs. Tarantula interlude was his, and it's pretentious enough but it's not gonna make anybody forget Frank Miller or Zhang Yimou. B-

And that's it! New comics shipment coming Friday, so I guess I gotta do this all over again in about a week. Oh well, such is life for the comics blogger, I suppose. Also, I plan on doing a shortish review column in a couple of days, touching on some releases by a previously unknown-to-me publisher, Microcosm, as well as Regards From Serbia, and Tales From The Farm from Top Shelf and a new Doris Danger! book as well!

DOG OF THE WEEK(S): ACTION COMICS 845. Not the Superman I wanna read, sorry.
Dr.Fredric Wertham was an idiot; it was obvious that Batman was not intended, consciously or unconsciously, to play Robin's corrupter: he was meant to stand in for his father, and by extension for the absent, indifferent, vanishing fathers of the comic-book-reading boys of America.

For that one paragraph alone, I'd like to shake Michael Chabon's hand. Right effing on, Mr. Chabon.

Anyway, guess you can figure out that I have, after three years and two months, FINALLY finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. And in a weird way, I kinda felt that a chapter of my life is now complete as well. What began in October 2003, as I picked up a book I'd heard a lot about to have something to read on the plane flight to and from Denver in an optimistic mood with the prospect of a new job, new home, and new life ended today, with a huge disappointment and lots of frustration in between. I stopped reading it about two months after I got the news that I wouldn't get the position; it just reminded me too much of what I had lost and I just wasn't in the mood to read anyway. I picked it up again a few months later, thinking I really should finish the thing but only getting through a couple of chapters, and I did this several times over throughout 2004, 2005 and most of this year as well. But this time I finally got through it.

And what did I think, boring personal bullshit aside? I liked it very much. Chabon has a great way with words- often taking off and soaring with descriptions and clever asides, reminding me a great deal of Mark Helprin. He also has that knack for creating fully realized characters; the principals in particular were vividly brought to life. The last few chapters were especially touching, since we already had invested so much in Joe and Sammy and Rosa and the others. There were times when I thought he was going to let it all get away from him; after the Kavalier and Clay partnership dissolved until the reconciliation at the end, with all the WWII stuff and Clay's relationship with actor Tracy Bacon, it seemed to meander a lot but he managed to rein it in and bring it home nicely.

And as a longtime comics buff, I was highly amused by all the namedropping and cameos by people like Gil Kane and Stan Lee, and impressed with how neatly Chabon integrated his fictional comics companies with the real ones.

A wonderful, one-of-a-kind book, and I'm glad I finally managed to get it read.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

This and that, and the Always Popular Other Thing.

I have been on an insane, hamster-wheelish schedule over the last few days, since I so blithely promised to have more comics reviews in that notoriously vague descriptive unit of time named "later", hence my complete and utter inability to muster up the time, energy, and anything else to finish what I started on Saturday. I still plan to, hopefully tomorrow night (I have a new comics box coming Friday!), but in the meantime while you wait go here to read the brand spankin' new Consumer Guide by the fella who forgot more about writing paragraph-length reviews than I ever knew, Robert Christgau. Good to have him back. Who and Scissor Sisters fans might not agree. Oh, and don't forget to click on page two for a long list of "honorable mentions". Bill Sherman alert: The Dean opines upon no less than three Maria Muldaur releases!

Which reminds me, it's almost time to cobble together a "best of 2006" comics list, isn't it? Gonna be the hardest year yet, I'm afraid...

Apropos of nothing, the other day I found myself (for some reason) thinking about Marvel's Black Widow character, and thought I'd look up her Wikipedia page. Of course, I can't think about Natasha Romanoff without fondly (not fondle-ey, thank you) recalling the other, right sexy Widow, (Blonde Widow if you please) Yelena Belova- whose three starring/co-starring miniseries I enjoyed quite a bit, to the point where she was a favorite character. Maybe it was all the Russian stuff, maybe it was her resemblance to a certain creation that I've grown very close to over the last 20 years. Anyway, much to my dismay I discovered that some knuckleheaded writer has made some seriously f-ed up changes to her- and to say the least she's not what she used to be. What a waste, and I think I'll devote a paragraph or two to this sorry situation eventually.

Oh, and before I go, since I was never one to ignore a trend a-birthing, I have a ComicsSpace page now, to go along with the LiveJournal and MySpace pages. Friend me, why dont'cha? I'm intrigued by this new playground, although in my mind I imagine a whole lotta kids standing in it, looking around and saying "OK, what do we do now?". They are promising bells and whistles to be added later, we shall see what we shall see.

Geez. What started out as a short "hey, I'm still alive" entry has turned into a big post! I could have written a half-dozen reviews in the same amount of time. Oh well, managing my time (and money) wisely has never been a strength of mine, I'm afraid.

Oyasumi nasai.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Today is the 26th anniversary of the senseless and maddening murder of John Lennon.

Yasurakani nemure, John.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Not having a good week at all. One fricking thing right after the other. Comics are read, except for Casanova, which I've just been too tired lately to parse. Reviews will be coming eventually, but I don't know when...please bear with.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The great and powerful Mark Evanier posted this earlier today- it's the ending of a bizarre film that I have never seen before (even though I'd heard of it for many years): Otto Preminger's Skidoo...which features an unbelieveable cast consisting of Groucho Marx (his last film, sadly), Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frank Gorshin, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith (apparently Julie Newmar and Victor Buono had other commitments), Richard (Eegah!, "Jaws" in some Bond films) Kiel, Michael Constantine of Room 222...and in a cameo role, the great Harry Nilsson, who wrote the songs for the soundtrack with arrangements by George Tipton, who worked with him on his pre-Schmilsson albums. Released in 1968, it's some kind of bizarro counterculture satire involving hippies and prison inmates and acid and...who the heck knows. I haven't seen it! If you'd like a synopsis, visit the Wiki entry. The writer sums it up nicely, and even seems to like the movie. From what I've seen, it looks mighty cringeworthy; the older generation trying to be hip and groovy and appeal to those wacked-out hippie kids. However, my main interest (besides the bittersweet sight of Groucho, and the sight of all the Bat-villains) is in what Nilsson contributed- and the songs I know are a mixed bag. I flat out love the beautiful "I Will Take You There", inexplicably a flop as a single, but the "Garbage Can Ballet" and the title song are a bit on the trite side. Some of the title song's lyrics are kinda embarrassing- or maybe that's just the way Channing sings it. One thing this soundtrack and film are notorious for (in a good way, mostly) is that Harry sang the closing credits. Yep, sang them. And it's a highlight, as far as I can tell!

Anyway, thanks to Mark, I was directed to a new (to me, anyway) video site called, where someone has posted not only the ending, but another scene showing Harry as a tripping prison guard that sees a dancing trashcan ballet.

Here's the ending, with apologies to Mark for copying his post, and apologies to you for so much Carol Channing. Please bear with it until about 3/4 through, when Harry does his closing credits singing thing:

Here's the Zappa-esque (well, it reminds me of a scene from 200 Motels, anyway) "Garbage Can Ballet" which also features Nilsson in his prison guard cameo, as well as Peter Lawford, Gleason, Gorshin (freaking out and seeing an angel on acid), Kiel, and others:

This seems like one of those films that you'd want to see once, especially if you're a fan of any of these people- perhaps even own the DVD (if one existed, which it doesn't). But you'd never watch it more than once or twice, I'd bet!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Y'know, this looks very interesting. Here's a preview. Here's a link to Amazon, so you can buy it. You can also get it from Slave Labor, if you're so inclined.

Don't guess I'll be getting it anytime soon, since it's too late to preorder it from DCBS...but hey- it's got work by two of my favorites, Jen Wang and Raina Telgemeier, so that's a powerful incentive.

Oh...and in case you've got nothing better to do than to wonder what I will be getting from DCBS (hopefully)


And of course I will review them sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

It's finally over! Until I get a new comics box this weekend, that is...
In which I continue to examine various works of sequential fiction I have read from November 5 through 24, some of which may still be on sale at your friendly neighborhood comics shop, if you move quickly!

S: Josh Elder; A: Erich Owen. (Tokyopop, $5.99)

Look, you all know that I'm just not really a manga fan. With a few exceptions (Planetes, Bambi and Her Pink Gun), I just don't get the buzz I need from my comics from reading it, and I've dealt with the topic before, long ago, so I'll spare you now. I don't deplore it or even dislike it, and I like many of its stylistic quirks, especially artwise. So this had one strike going in- but actually, I didn't hate it. It had a lot of energy and youthful charm, often reminding me (if not borrowing outright) from the Scott Pilgrim series, not to mention DC's Eclipso- Diamond-shaped black "Heart of Darkness" jewel indeed! Didn't fall head-over-heels in love with it, either, but I think that had a lot to do with being a lot older than its intended demographic. This is a Norville Barnes series- "You know, for kids." To hold it up to what passes for adult scrutiny in the Comics Blogosphere is a sucker's game, if you ask me. If I was a preteener, though, I think I'd get a kick out of this account of a young boy who gets tired of his neighborhood bullies, brat sister, and spoiled rich-kid schoolmate and orders his very own ninja warrior from a mail-order company. Which self-respecting ten-year-old wouldn't like that? Of course, the ninja has a little history of his own, and will have to deal with it in due course- which of course sets us up for the big dance party faceoff, and the weirdness that follows with the aforementioned uber-rich kid magically setting herself up as the ruler of the town. If you've got a bratty preteen manga-loving brother or sister, you could do worse than to pass this on. For what it is, it's not that bad. B+

S: Andrew Cosby, Michael Alan Nelson; A: Greg Scott. (Boom! Studios, $6.99)

A college "Applied Forensic History" teacher finds an old encrypted Nazi document in an old book he buys, makes a copy for each of his students to work on for codecracking homework, and mails the original to the State Department...which brings down hell on all their heads as the shadowy side of the government mobilizes to make sure that everyone who knows about this document is dead, and succeeds, with one exception- a young girl who must now run for her life, pursued both by spooks and by the police, who think she killed her friends. Call me crazy, but somebody really, really wants to write for TV, don't they? That's what this reminds me of- a pitch to an episode of oh, CSI or NCIS or one of those anagrammed hour-long dramas. And for what it's worth, it's a good idea- right off the bat, we witness the deaths of people we only met a few pages back, a little surprising, and we're on notice to not get too comfortable. I wish we had gotten a bit more facetime with the prof and his other students, not important, I know, but it would make the feeling that they had to get them out of the way expediently so we could concentrate on the one young lady a little less pervasive. After that, it's more deliberately paced, with our heroine getting in and out of predicaments...and I'm sure we can expect more of the same for at least half of #2, until we get to the reveal of what was so important about that document. At least I hope we get to it, if nothing else but to help us understand why these people had to die. Artwise, X-Isle's Scott does a decent job, but there's something kinda incomplete about his pseudo-realistic semi-J.P. Leonish style that bugs me- kinda reminds me of those Charles Schwab commercials. A lot. Anyway, there's enough here to keep me cliffhanging until next issue!
Update 12/2/06: Ross "Rich" Richie has written to inform me of something which explains quite a bit about my earlier statement about Cosby/Nelson's presumed desire to write for television, and I quote: Coz is one of the hottest TV showrunners in LA. EUREKA beat GALACTICA
regularly in the ratings, and is the anchor show on Sci-Fi. Couple
years ago, Coz had a show with Matthew Fox on UPN called HAUNTED. No
doubt, you're seeing his background showing thru in the execution.
No doubt! Here's Cosby's IMDB listing. I seem to recall knowing this previously, but my memory storage capacity is limited to MBs instead of GBs and sometimes things slip through the cracks of my medulla oblongatta. Anyway, I stand corrected and chastised even as I also stand confirmed of my suspicions! And thanks to Mr. Richie. B+

S: Steven T. Seagle; A: Becky Cloonan, Ryan Kelly. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)


When last we left our boy Adam, he was all tricked out in bondage gear and cruising for the fellow who killed his girlfriend, who likes that sort of rough trade. About three-quarters of this issue is taken up by the results of his search, and then the final quarter is where more stuff happens- his tranny acquantance Alexis who has quickly become the second most interesting character in this thing, besides sister Cyndi) takes the rap for him when the police bust the club, he's photographed, and now must deal with the resultant publicity when his picture is featured on the front page of the Melbourne Special. Of course, since the conventional wisdom is that there's no such thing as bad publicity, his publicist is thrilled. But me, I'm thinking that these sort of sordid sex scandals didn't do much for the careers of other "holy men" like Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart, so I remain skeptical. But since when has Seagle let a little thing like logic or past histories get in the way of his storytelling here? At least it's well illustrated...Ryan Kelly's style is so similar to Becky Cloonan's that they look made for each other. Would that more pencillers could get so lucky. B

S: B.Clay Moore; A: Jeremy Haun. (Oni, $3.50)

This time out the Leading Man makes his escape by, appropriately enough, acting his way out of a jam...but goes from the frying pan into the fire, to coin a cliche. Nice job by Haun of bringing out the best in that scene through his staging, layouts, and expressions- and Moore's dialogue is typically great, not only in that scene, but throughout. Solid, enjoyable superspy stuff, and the film-star angle works well in the mix. A-

S: Denise Mina; A: Leo Manco. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

At least for a while we get back to doing what John does best: smarting off to creepy evil demons. If this endless, dull, ludicrous storyline goes on much longer, though, I'm going to follow Nicola over the ledge. D+

S: Brian Wood; A: Ryan Kelly (Oni, $2.99)

In which we meet fucked-up Megan's even more fucked-up cousin, and he spends page after page doing the usual irrational, punkish, fucked-up things that juvenile delinquents do in movies and TV these days. Hardly compelling reading at the sound of it, but as usual on this book Wood manages to invoke our empathy, if not sympathy, and besides, with this book it's not the story that's important but the reader's reaction, right? Of course, my initial reaction was perhaps if we'd been given some glimmer of a clue that Cuz had some sort of redeeming side, I might have cared more about him at the end- but I guess that's the way it doesn't always follow the script. B

DMZ 13
S: Brian Wood; A: Riccardo Burchielli. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Matty gets involved with a terrorist cell of sorts while trying to infiltrate Trustwell, Inc., a Halliburtonesque corporation that is attempting to rebuild within the NYC DMZ, with often explosive results. Wood gives us a protagonist that we can care about in this title, as opposed to certain others, and it makes all the difference to me anyway. Another solid art job by Burchielli, who's really gotten in a groove since he started. One other thing- I don't trust Matty's blonde girlfriend Kelly, just so you know. B+

S: Greg Rucka; A: Jesus Saiz. (DC, $2.99)

This professionally done account of four Kobra wannabes (one a double agent, of course, and one a vanishing-powered metahuman) trying to get in the group by killing white supremacists while the titular organization watches closely is OK as far as it goes, certainly NCIS-worthy, and benefits from a good-not-great art job by Saiz. But for some reason I remain uninvolved- maybeit's just a little too professionally done and thus lifeless; perhaps it's the incessant jargon-heavy focus on the internal politics of said titular organization. Perhaps I'm just getting hard to please in my dotage. C+

S: Will Pfiefer; A: David and Alvaro Lopez. (DC, $2.99)

The finale (for now) of the Film Freak's rampage, and the movie references fly fast and furious, much to this film freak's amusement. Even had me scurrying to consult my Psychotronic Encyclopdia in regards to the Killers From Space reference- if I've seen that one I don't recall it. Hats off to Pfiefer for coming up with such a great character, so great, in fact, that I hope he doesn't return for a good long while because his schtick can get old fast. All the other ongoing subplots take a backseat until the end, but the action is Fast and (the) Furious (heh- movie title!) throughout so it's OK. My only disappointment is that we didn't get a Taking of Pelham One Two Three reference. Maybe next time. A-

S: Gary Whitta; A: Ted Naifeh. (Image, $4.99)

Just like last time, well-meaning and naive D.J. gets hoodwinked by a evil acquaintance of his Pop, and just like last time, he's going to have to set things straight with a little help from his friend Pandora, who has to escape from Summer Camp from Hell first. Even though the blueprint is similar, this is still very well done- from the Terry Gilliam-via-Brazil-inspired "Office of Death" scenes, to the plight of DJ's freakish friends (reminiscent of Addams Family Values and at least one episode of South Park) and the Father Knows Best/Leave it to Beaver jibes of D.J.'s home life, this is amusing and clever all the way. And of course, if not for Ted Naifeh's stellar rendition of all this, it wouldn't be nearly as good as it is. A-

S: Kurt Busiek; A: Brent Anderson. (DC/WildStorm, $2.99)

Once more into the 70's we go, as we continue with the good/bad brothers that Busiek so desperately wants us to care about and their respective career paths, both filled with nothing but unhappiness. Don't know where it's going, and I wish I was more interested in its outcome, but I can still enjoy the imaginative, if always derivative, superheroics in this issue's new characters Street Angel (no, not that Street Angel), who in that always rose-colored nostalgia for the 60's superhero would have it, began as a laughing, swashbuckling crimefighter...but is now all GRIM and GRITTY, surely the bane of all right-thinking superhero fans. How sad it is that all the smiling happy heroes had to get all serious, isn't it? Anyway, now he's a hoodie-sporting ass-kicker, with ceramic steel-cored throwing haloes and a Spectre-ish girlfriend called Black Velvet (after that horrible song, no doubt) and the Bros. are faced with a fateful decision at the end, despite everything I suppose I do, at the end of the day, want to know how this is going to all end up. So it usually goes with me and this book. Anderson, taking his cue from the most influential artist of the 70's (I insist), lets his inner Neal Adams indulge itself more than he ever has before, and the art's a bit better for it. Nice V For Vendetta homage/swipe on the cover, Alex Ross- but V was the 80's. Whassup wit dat? B+

S/A: Tony Millionaire. (Dark Horse, $2.99)

Anybody who has ever woke up to find thousands of ants on their kitchen counter, surrounding a piece of some candy or something someone left out, will be able to sympathize with the plight of poor baby doll Inches. More droll quirkiness from Millionaire, and as the saying goes, if you're not a fan your mileage will vary. A-

S: Brian Vaughan; A: Marcos Martin. (Marvel, $2.99)

We get deeper this time into the mystery of who ordered the hit on Doc, and a mighty clever red herring to boot, as this second issue continues to hit all the right notes, and hit them with aplomb. A Doc Strange with a dry wit and who lets out the occasional F-bomb is a Doc Strange I'm interested in knowing better. Also an added bonus, Vaughan and Martin provide a look back at the Stephen Strange That Was via a flashback to his post-accident ordeal and the man who stuck up for him throughout. I was a bit surprised and yes, disappointed, not to see Alvaro Lopez' name missing from the credits; Martin does the pencils and inks this issue, and while I miss Lopez's wonderful inkline, I kinda like solo Martin almost as much, especially since if I look real hard I sometimes see Mort Meskin or Frank Robbins buzzing around the edges. A

S: Christos Gage; A: Doug Mahnke. (DC/WildStorm, $2.99)

I almost didn't buy this- I'm completely unfamiliar with Gage's priors and had no reason to believe that he could give me a Stormwatch I wanted to read about. But in the end, I just couldn't pass up the Doug Mahnke art; you all know how much I revere his work and he doesn't disappoint here. It elevates a not-bad not-great account of the budget-cut induced formation of a non-metahuman Stormwatch team who are specially equipped to deal with extranormal threats to the level of real good, and I guess I now have a new title to collect. Yay. B+

S: Bill Willinigham; A: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Inaki Miranda. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Odd choice for a story this time out- the whole issue is devoted to Pinocchio's account of what the Mundy world's reaction would/could be to the invasion of the hostile Homeland forces, making it a big elaborate "What If" tale, nothing more. Well done, but I don't really see the point except to delay the inevitable while Willingham pursues other plotlines, I guess. Also features a cutesy-and-short backup drawn by Miranda starring the Three Blind Mice, and it's good as far as it goes. This issue also has a preview of the upcoming Vertigo series Crossing Midnight, set in Japan and dealing with "Horror-Magic-Destiny", according to the ad copy. It boasts a typically good Mike Carey script, but its biggest surprise is the Jim Fern art. Together with inker Rob Hunter, they deliver a very well-drawn job which is light years away from his early 90's Scarlett stuff. A-

S: Jeff Parker; A: Leonard Kirk, Kris Justice. (Marvel, $2.99)

Namora gets the spotlight as the last of the Agents (at least for our purposes in this series, one supposes) to be revived, and it's a good showcase, although I can't help but marvel at her ability to jump up and kick giant monster ass mere seconds after reviving from decades-long sleep. It is at this point that I feel the need to call for a Bill Everett collection, featuring his Timely/Atlas work, especially Sub-Mariner and Venus, as well as other assorted horror stories and perhaps even room for his sporadic 60's and 70's efforts. Make it so! Otherwise, the plot gradually advances towards its conclusion, becoming at the end at least the third title I've read this month to feature the "one of your team is a double agent" cliffhanger...and I MUST object to the idea of changing Venus into a redhead. That just ain't right. A-

Part one.
Part two.

BEST IN SHOW: CRIMINAL 2. Although Dr. Strange: The Oath 2 and Jack Staff 12 were contendahs.

DOG OF THE WEEK: No competition this time: HELLBLAZER 226. Can't wait for Diggle.
CBR has done it again! Here's the second part of what was apparently a two-part look at CHASE, AKA, you know, one of those cancelled comics series that I will go on and on and on about with only the slightest provocation. This one is a tete-a-tete with artist/co-creator J.H. Williams III, last seen being slightly disparaged in my review of Seven Soldiers which managed to evoke approximately no reaction from anybody. Of course you know that I love Williams' work anyway, regardless.

If those big teases Johnson and Williams keep talkin' that way, they're gonna get my hopes up.

I think CBR should provide Chase-related content every week. Make it so!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The news is all over the Comics Blogosphere today: DAVE COCKRUM has died.

Now, you may be asking yourself "Why does JB have those panels from some old Legion of Super-Heroes comic featured above, when it's plain to everybody that Cockrum's main claim to fame was as co-creator of the All-New, All-Different X-Men back in 1975?" And here's why. Because that was the first place I ever saw Cockrum's work, and still is the place I liked it best. His X-Men was fine, and his usual excellent instincts about costume design and interesting layouts were in full flower when he did those books so long ago...but I won't lie: when he was replaced by John Byrne, I thought it was a change for the better. Byrne's art in the 70's was more dynamic, and I just plain old liked it more. I was 17, whaddaya want? After he stopped doing X-Men, I also felt like he stopped growing and advancing as an artist, to the point that his return to X-land in the 80's just looked lifeless and quaint, as did all of his subsequent work. It was a shame, but that's the way it goes with artists sometimes, even those more storied and accomplished than Mr. Cockrum was. Anyway, that cover at left was for Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #201, which featured the Miracle Machine as the menace, and introduced (IIRC) Wildfire and (perhaps a little less auspiciously) Infectious Lass and Porcupine Pete to Legion lore. I picked this up off the spinner rack at the Ben Franklin Five and Dime in beautiful downtown Horse Cave, probably at about the same time I got the second Spectre appearance in Adventure Comics, Ben Franklin only recently having started carrying DC comics after decades of Gold Key merchandise. Anyway, I quickly fell in love with the amazing costume designs of these characters- some of the established Legionnaires even had groovy-looking new togs, and it was like a breath of fresh air to the previously Swan-stodgy Legion. So I set out to get as many Cary Bates/Cockrum SatLSH back issues that I could, through mail order or just being lucky enough to get them off some other magazine stand (no internet in 1974, remember, and no comics shops in those prehistoric days). Anyway, I eagerly picked up #202, and then came #203, featuring the "Wrath of the Devil Fish" story, which in my less-than-authoritative opinion is among the best things he ever did, art-wise. Then...#204, and Mike Grell. No more Cockrum. Whahoppen? Well, Mr. C went on to Marvel in a dispute over original art or somesuch, and left me and my Legion jones with what I considered (still do, to this day) a vastly inferior illustrator. So, I bailed on the LSH and turned my attention to his new effort, Giant-Size X-Men #1, which I bought off the magazine rack at Caverna Drugs for a whopping seventy-five cents. And now we come full circle to what I wrote earlier in the paragraph.

And now he's gone. RIP Mr. Cockrum. Too many of the old guard are bowing out too early.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

So...does this mean that we'll see a comeback for this long-gone title?

Nah...didn't think so.

Anyway, lotsa luck, DC- although I'm far from the target audience, I'll probably be getting THIS, because it's new Andi Watson and I dig me the Andi Watson. Unless he's writing and drawing stories about new mommies and daddies and unemployed people.

UPDATE: Now see, this is why I generally don't try to do commentary on comics events. I see over at The Blog Which Hath Forsaken Me that the connection between the imprint's name and that comics series (which I thought I was so clever making) has already been made, and this pointed to a controversy between someone else using the name and DC, details of which can be found hyar and hyar. Guess I'll go back to whining about never posting and commenting on series that have been cancelled for a couple of decades.