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.

Here's a shamefully late RIP to DR. JERRY BAILS, who most fans of a certain age know as one of the first, if not the first, comics historians. Tom Spurgeon and Mark Evanier give you what you need to know about the man and his accomplishments.

Picture ganked from the Grand Comics Database; hope you understand, fellas, it was for a good cause.

Your art link for today: EM STONE, whose work I first spotted at the Comics Curmudgeon, of all places. Here's her deviantART site as well. On both sites you can find, among other things, an excellent redrawn Hellblazer page sequence.

I'm no Tom Spurgeon, but I do what I can.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Reviews in the post immediately preceding this!

But I wanted to point those of you who enjoyed the recent AiT/PlanetLar GN Seven Sons to what I just put up over at the LiveJournal Show- scans of a version of the original story, from the pages of Childcraft from 1967. Some really neat retro art there, I think. So check it, yo!
How about some Thanksgiving leftovers in the form of the
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: Grant Morrison; A: J.H. Williams III. (DC, $3.99)

I don't know, folks- is it too much to ask from my big, multi-layered, metatextual grande finale that it be slightly easier to grasp than, oh, Finnegan's Wake? After reading through this twice, consulting the Barbelith thread (the most recent entries, anyway), and reading Ian's epochal Morrison interview at Newsarama, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on it, and one thing for sure- like most of Morrison's comics work, and I'm thinking specifically about the Filth (which I regard as a failure) and Flex Mentallo (in my opinion classic), the forest is most definitely hiding somewhere behind the trees, just sticking their branches far enough out to give us a glimmer of an idea about the breadth and scope of what Grant had planned. I say "had', because I honestly think that this would have probably torn our heads right off if he had seen fit to devote his entire attention to it, instead of spreading himself thin and thinner with all of the other DC projects he took on after he had launched this. Oh well, we can play "what if" until the Sheeda come back, and it doesn't matter one iota because what we have is what we'll have, barring some sort of "director's cut" special edition down the road- and what we have is an ambitious, sprawling, chaotic, and often clever as hell mess of a story that has to be admired more for what he tried to do, rather than what he actually did achieve. And, when he got that rare synergy with his artist (I'm thinking Ryan Sook on Zatanna, Fraser Irving on Klarion and Doug Mahnke on Frankenstein mostly, and yes, I'm getting to Williams soon) it was magical and when circumstances betrayed him (the Mister Miracle debacle, more than anything) it landed with a thud. I'm not entirely convinced it would have been better with Williams on art for the whole project- sometimes he hinders, rather than helps, viewer clarity with his involved and creative layout and design. I'm not sure a work this complex really needed to be made even more visually cluttered, just as it was with the last issue of Promethea, ironic indeed given how much time Morrison has spent during this series tweaking the beard of Alan Moore. Oh well, better a noble, crazy failure than a play-it-safe success, and Morrison's made a career out of that. I just wish I didn't feel like Groucho buying racing tips from Chico's "Tootsie-fruitsie ice cream man" in A Day at the Races after I've read it. B+

S: Ed Brubaker; A: Sean Phillips. (Marvel/Icon, $2.99)

OK, raise your hand if you didn't see the inevitable betrayal coming. Liar! It's a testament to how in sync Brubaker and Phillips are that such an obvious plot twist doesn't disappoint, but instead ups the ante as the real suspense is in how Leo's going to deal with this. And of course you know payback is due, and even that turns predictablilty on its head because I just don't see how he's going to pull it off. Folks, this is the good stuff. Hope they can keep it up. A

100 BULLETS 78
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 22 issues. A-

S: Paul Cornell; A: Trevor Hairsine. (Marvel, $3.99)

I don't know anything about the title character (still don't really, after reading this), not having read any X-books in the 90s, so I'll give it an incomplete on that score. Story-wise, not a bad idea, this British Secret Service vs. the Fairie Kingdom- but geez, the scripter writes like Warren Ellis after a lobotomy (there's a lot of disjointed, dead-end dialogue) and the artist does a really poor Bryan Hitch/Paul Neary imitation throughout. Works in spite of itself, because even after that I'm kinda interested in what happens next- but somebody's gonna have to grow a style or something before I'll really get excited. C+

S/A: Paul Grist. (Image, $3.50)

Memo to Morrison: Grist uses many of the same tricks you used in Seven Soldiers- time travel, rotating perspectives, eternal champions/menaces, nature of heroism, even Alan Moore pisstakes- but I don't freaking need a translator to understand it when he does. And his artist of choice doesn't feel the need to up the ante in the complicated poker game on his scripter, either. God Save Paul Grist, long may he run. A

S/A: Matt Wagner. (DC, 3.50)

Good news: I'm still enjoying the gist of what Wagner's doing- taking Batman all the way back to his early 30's roots, pulp fiction all the way. Wish his art didn't look so ham-fisted all the time. Bad news: I somehow failed to buy #3, and didn't even notice that I didn't have it until I got #4. B+

S: Keith Giffin, J.M. Dematteis; A: Julia Bax. (Boom! Studios, $3.99)

Once more Giffen and JMD make with the bwah, this time in service of a look at the beginnings of the super-team from whence their Hero Squared protagonists came, and it's amusing all the way through. It also serves as a nifty satire slash homage to the classic Marvel origin story, aided by Bax's somewhat stiff but well-laid out in Kirby style art. They won't revolutionize the industry or push comics in any one particular direction, but I've enjoyed every one of these Planetary Brigade outings so far, and this one keeps the streak alive. A-

S: Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegoski; A: Paul Azaceta. (Boom! Studios, $3.99)

End of Chapter One brings home nearly all the ongoing plot threads in very satisfying fashion as Dane, the guy with everybody's memories in his head, encounters the psycho trio who have been in hot pursuit in a very Hitchcockian finale set in a theatre- shades of Man Who Knew Too Much! Kudos especially to Azaceta for evoking that feeling. Looking forward to what happens next. A

That's all for now- more soon, including Mail Order Ninja 1 & 2, Stormwatch: Post Human Division 1, and Doctor Strange: The Oath 2.

This is part two of the bi-weekly Revue. Part one is here. In case you missed it the first time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Here's the opening salvo of the
In which I cast my swinish opinions before my pearly readers about various works of sequential fiction I have read from November 5 through 20, some of which may still be on sale at your friendly neighborhood comics shop, if you move quickly!

S/A: Tim Truman. (Dynamite Entertainment, $19.99)

Come with me now, waaay back to the dim and distant 1980's, when several independent companies rose up and dared to challenge the almost complete hegemony of the Big Two (there were still Archie comics, although Gold Key and Charlton had pretty much expired by then) when it came to mainstream comics publishing. Eclipse, First, Kitchen Sink, Fantagraphics, Pacific- all had worthy titles, some more than others, and while the actual content varied wildly, from the Clowes/Hernandez/Crumb-led Fanta to First's mostly superhero offerings, none were putting anything out like Eclipse's Scout- which married Native American mythology, good old fashioned Reagan/Bush Sr.-era political cynicism, Soldier of Fortune-magazine style weapon worship, the macho biker ethic and a strong Texas blues-rock flavor to create the story of one Emanuel Santana, an AWOL Apache killing machine who finds out, through peyote-induced visions, that the Powers That Be in his near-future America aren't what they seem to be...they're really incarnations of evil Native American deities who mean us no good, and it's Santana's mission to kill them before they ruin our country any further. And that's pretty much what he does, in violent and explosive fashion, throughout this collection of the first seven issues of the ongoing series, which ran from 1985 to 1987. And while there's seldom any real suspense in any of these chapters- we all know that these dastardly creatures will get what's coming to them, it's just a matter of how gruesome their demise will be-, this still becomes engrossing reading simply because of Truman's commitment to his character and his attention to detail throughout. He was still very much learning his craft as he went along in regards to art as well; as he is quick to point out in the short interview at the end of the book, there is a lot of clumsy anatomy throughout. But his storytelling choices were usually always sharp, and his gritty, highly-Jaxon-influenced style really suited the material well, as it did on his later Jonah Hex books for Vertigo. Although I collected this series back in the day, I let go of my original issues and it was fun to get to read them again for the first time since 1987. I really hope they get around to collecting the rest of the run someday. One other note: most Eclipse titles had six-page back features in them, and Scout was no was paired, quite incongrously, with Fashion in Action, about globe-hopping mercenary soldiers who also happened to be supermodels, by J.K. Snyder III- and FiA was tons of fun, with Snyder's kinetic, angular art style adding a lot of pizazz. I'd love to see them collected someday, yes I would. A-

Creators: John Paul Leon, Trevor Goring, Tommy Lee Edwards, Sean Chen, Bernard Chang (Boom! Studios, $15)

Longtime readers will recall that I am always quick to heap praise upon the artwork of Tommy Lee Edwards, who I think is simply of of the very best illustrators working in comics today. Ever since I first saw his work on the late lamented (by me, anyway) DC/Helix title Gemini Blood, I've been a fan and usually will go out of my way to pick up anything his work appears in. So when Bernard Chang, in the course of some correspondence about his How to Make Money Like a Porn Star, mentioned that he was part of a collective called "the BLVD" along with Edwards and John Paul Leon, and wondered if I'd be interested in seeing a sketchbook they had just put out, well, I just couldn't say YES fast enough! And if you're a fan of these artists (Leon is another favorite of mine), then you'll want to get this as well- the work throughout is uniformly excellent, from the loosest pencil sketch to the tightest inked page sample. Leon's varied section boasts several pencilled layouts from Winter Men, as well as a lot of his other mainstream work; Chang's stuff (which I really haven't seen a lot of) shows his ability to change his style to fit the material but still maintain a dynamic, contemporary, and cohesive look; Edwards' blocky rendering enlivens a multitude of subjects, from mainstream Superman to some of his own creations, which I hope we get to see more of. His section is the highlight of the book, but I'm a little biased. Goring and Chen I'm less familiar with; can't quite put my finger on who his work reminds me of, but sometimes I'm reminded of the loose and sloppy (in a good way, of course) stylings of Tom Mandrake, and Chen's much tighter work often reminds me of Gil Kane, perhaps, crossed with Barry Smith (there are some Wolverine illos that are dead-on Smith homages) perhaps. If you're a fan of good art, then you should consider checking this out. If you're a big fan of Edwards, then you MUST. A-

S: Jim Massey; A: Robbi Rodriguez (Oni, $3.50. Reviewed from B&W preview.)

The misadventures of Doug and Manny, who are janitors at "TerroMax, Inc.", an evil science laboratory/think tank- they probably got this gig after henching for the Monarch. Venture Bros. joke there. Anyway, this is mostly amusing and often clever, with a nice art job by Rodriguez, whose style reminds me a lot of Disney's hand-animated TV output these days. Based on this first issue, this looks like a grower- while most of the story is spent getting acquainted, I'm thinking perhaps Massey will take this concept in subsequent issues and may just run with it a while, and might just come up with a sleeper success before he's done, aesthetically, if not finacially. If you're speculating on the next under-the-radar good read, then you might want to place a bet or two on this one. B+

S/A: Keith Knight (Keith Knight Press, $12.95)

Here's another talent worthy, I think, of a larger audience. It's a collection of one-panel strips, dealing with politics, race relations, and other subjects, and he's pretty good at finding the ironies and inherent humor in all of them. His cartooning style is a loose mix of John Kricfalusi and Peter Bagge (and others which don't come to mind), and suits the material just fine. The hit-to-miss ratio of the shots he takes at his various targets is pretty high, and if topical humor's your thing, you should check this out. B+

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

Boy, that Garth is a master of subtlety, isn't he? Everybody's favorite gay Batman analogue is captured, placed in a presumably hopeless situation (will he give in to the dark side?) and now we'll get to ponder this for the next five or so issues (this is a limited series, right?). This is the sort of scenario that Ellis and Millar took to the bank, with the seemingly unstoppable hero being set up to succeed against insurmountable odds, and Ennis does all right, I guess, even though the very secondhandedness of it all elicits yawning more than anything. Fortunately, Ennis (and the reader) have been lucky enough to get the dynamic duo of Sprouse and Story to draw it- that great missile-kicking scene wouldn't be half as satisfying if Sprouse hadn't drawn it with his usual dynamic, fine-line finesse, and that's just one example. Once more, for me anyway, good art will carry the day. And hopefully the next however-many issues we have. A-

S: Bill Willingham; A: Tom Derenick, Wayne Faucher (DC, $2.99)

Figures. Just when I find something that piques my interest in this sleepwalking comic, namely the art of Cory Walker, the artist-go-round spins once more and we get the earnest-but-dull JurgensOrdwayisms of Derenick, who absolutely calcifies what was a pretty stiff script to begin with. A hex on all of them- I'm out of here. C

That's all I have time for tonight...later, I'll post some covers and also drop a few lines about Seven Soldiers 1, Catwoman 61, Planetary Brigade Origins 1 and Jack Staff 12, among many others.

Here's a belated RIP for ROBERT ALTMAN, who died Monday at age 81.

Wish I could tell you that I've been a lifelong fan, and that I've seen every film that he's made...but I haven't. Guess that de-certifies my Film Geek Credibility a bit. But with only a few exceptions, I liked everything I've seen, which includes the classic M*A*S*H*,The Player, and his swan song A Prairie Home Companion, which struck a very wistful and resonant note as it alternately celebrated and mourned the loss of old-time popular entertainment, as well as ruminations on death (I'm glad I saw it before he died; the part in which the old fellow met his maker after performing his number onstage would have been sad beyond belief) and nostalgia. Great one to go out on. On the other hand, there were the likes of Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Custer's History Lesson and Popeye (one of the few times his trademark mise-en-scene style worked against him), which were misfires of epic proportions...but every great director has a handful of those on his resume, and if you're going to bomb, make a big noise, saith I.

Two I haven't seen in their entirety are Gosford Park and Nashville, and I think I'll have to sit down and watch them soon.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Well, I've been tagged. Tagged by the estimable Plok, of A Trout in the Milk fame- and this is what I've been charged with: The Jack Kirby Meme. And it goes like this:

Forget Jack's overall storytelling, forget his characterization, just look at the visual representation of his characters -- the actual drawings themselves. Now tell us what YOU think is the best character design Jack Kirby ever created and why.

Started by a fellow named Sean Kleefeld, another of those unlinked-to-by-me bloggers I was mentioning the other night, by the way. choice? You may be surprised.

First, let me preface this by saying that choosing one Kirby creation for this honor is a Herculean task at best- the King's fertile imagination gave us a million and a half great characters (and perhaps 500,000 not-so-great ones), and choosing between them is like choosing which star in the sky is the prettiest, or something like that. So what I'm going to do is cite a Kirby character whose appearance has always struck a chord with me personally, although he's not exactly one of the King's most celebrated characters. I'm talking about...


First appearing in Fantastic Four Annual #5, there was just something that grabbed me from the start about his appearance- the modified moon-suit, which is crowned with headgear featuring a mask that features a scored, deadpan orange face, with a look that only Kirby and few others could conceive of. It pointed out to his ironically emotionless, almost alien, clinical nature, befitting a Lee and Kirbyesque mad psychopathic scientist. Plus the typically nutball touch of the device he's holding below, in this illo by John Byrne (I think)-

Which controls his emotion-manipulating rays, helpfully marked "Doubt", "Fear", "Hate", and so on. He was an evil scientist from another of the King's hidden worlds, this one named Sub-Atomica, and he was part of a later extravaganza, cover below, which also featured the Silver Surfer and the threat of Galactus as the FF were stuck fighting Psycho-Man in the miniature world. Thrilled me as an 8-year-old, it did!

And that's my choice. I freely admit that ol' Psychie never attained the status of Doc Doom, the Frightful Four or even the Mole Man in the FF rogues gallery, but for my money there was no one that had a more unsettling visage, thanks once more to Kirby's excellent imagination.

Runner-up? Why, none other than the star of one of my all-time favorite comics, Fantastic Four #35 ("Calamity on the Campus!"): Dragon Man! Basically an update of the giant monsters he had paid the bills with not five years prior, Kirby's design was simple, but allowed room for a lot of expressiveness in the howling, childlike, fire-breathing homonculus of Diablo. Even with the ubituquous Code-approved trunks.

Those were the days.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Remember these? I do! And at the risk of once more promising something I don't deliver, I'm thinking it's high time I revived them. If I can only remember which albums I've done and which I haven't...!

Got Seven Soldiers 1 last night, two copies in fact (guess DCBS is trying to make up for sending me the wretched Secret Six 5). Don't know exactly what I want to do with that extra copy. Anyway, it certainly was a grande finale, more about it later when I do the proper review column- but I did come away with one question (Only one? I hear you ask- no I had plenty. But this is the one which is most relevant right now)- why is it that most writers, not only comics but many films and prose novels as well, equate "finale" with "overwhelmingly cluttered and chaotic"? And no, this is not necessarily my opinion of Seven Soldiers 1. But I had to ask.

Been watching a lot of Star Wars lately, since Cinemax has been screening them non-stop this month. Surprisingly, some questions came to mind while I did so, and I posted them at the LiveJournal. Go, read, and shoot down all my theories and questions!

I have also been giving a LOT of thought to updating the links list at right. There are scads of newish blogs (more every day, it seems, just as it has been for years now) that are publishing some fine pop-cultury (mostly comics, yes) stuff, and I really should link to them as Blogosphereiversal etiquette demands, but I just haven't had the energy or desire to do so for a long time now. That must change. There are still a few that are no longer active that I have listed as well, and I've tried to at least weed those out, but it's often difficult to make the time. At least for me it is.

I see via Johanna D. Carlson that Oni Press is selling several of their best titles in a "Scratch and Dent" sale, which means that they are offering right around 50% off on the likes of Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1, Gray Horses, Banana Sunday, most of the Courtney Crumrin and Alison Dare trades, and many more, with the caveat being that they are, well, scratched and dented copies! But as we all know, a beat-up copy of something good is better than no copy at all!

And speaking of Oni, y'know, I sure wish that Strangetown 2 would come out. I was intrigued by the first one, and since then, nothing.

I got comps yesterday of Mail Order Ninja 1 and 2, my first such package from TokyoPop. I'm a little leery of reviewing them, given all the hoopla that I've read about recently when others have tried! And given my disinterest when it comes to manga, they may be leery of my doing so... but nah- I will of course try my best to be fair and balanced, to coin a phrase.

While I'm "I Gottin'", I also got a great email from none other than Hammerlocke co-creator and principal scripter Tom Joyner a couple of days ago! I shall now cut-and-paste from my LJ: ...(writer of Hammerlocke) as well as such mid-90's efforts as Scarlett and Damage (he was none too pleased with what's been done to the character since he left, for good reason), to let me know that he had found my blog posts on HL while doing some research for a public speaking gig. He's been out of comics a while, doing graduate school, and now that he's almost done is contemplating a return to "...something NON-ACADEMIC, which might include some self-publishing in collaboration with my original and favorite collaborator, Kez." Kez being K.S. Wilson, Hammerlocke inker and co-scripter, BTW. He was also complimentary towards what I had written so far, which pleased me no end and has certainly re-energized me towards the HL overview project, which has stagnated a bit.

So I guess that means that I should finish my overview of #'s 2 and 3, doesn't it? Anyway, I hope I'm kept apprised of what Joyner and Wilson do next.

Anything else? Nah, I'm done for tonight. Reviews begin tomorrow or Monday.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hey! A music post! The occasion? the impending release of the "new" Beatles album, Love, which is, as I'm sure you all know, a mash-up creative effort perpetrated by Sir George Martin and his son Giles for the Cirque De Soliel show of the same name. And while the very idea might send many of the hardcore faithful scurrying back to Pepperland, whimpering and cursing, actually, based on a listen or two to these streaming audio samples posted on the official website...they're not bad at all. Go listen for yourself. You'll have to register, but it's OK. I did it a long time ago, and nothing foul has befallen me yet.

If it had been anybody else besides George Martin & Son at the mixing board, working with the Tabula Rasas themselves (the original Abbey Road masters, of course) I might have been less charitably inclined- but the results are very clever and interesting. Sure, they're snips and snaps of songs by the Band You've Known For All These Years, all blended in and out of the basic tracks, but they're often juxtaposed in unexpected and amusing ways...kinda like Harry Nilsson did in his so-long-ago version of "You Can't Do That", Ringo himself with Harry's help on his "Back Off Boogaloo" from 1981, or to get all obscuro on your asses, Danielle Dax with her version of "Tomorrow Never Knows"- anyone who received my last mix CD will know whereof I speak- and I'm sure others which elude me. So not exactly an unknown occurrence, this mix and match type stuff, but never done on this scale before. And if the effect comes across a bit like taking the scriptures of Matthew, Luke and Mark and cutting and pasting snippets of Proverbs, Leviticus and Habakkuk in every verse, well, you take your Fabs WAY too seriously. I found it hard to resist a version of "Lady Madonna" which opens up with the ba-ba-baaa BVs from the middle juxtaposed with the drums from "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" and later with the guitar riff from "Hey Bulldog" and the organ crescendos from "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"...and those are the ones I could identify quickly!

Aaah, it may get real old real fast, but I think I'll have to get a copy one of these days.
DMZ #13
100 BULLETS #78

My haul this weekend from DCBS. That is, assuming DHL doesn't screw around until Tuesday to get it to me like they did my last one!

Included in this shipment will be my final issues of Checkmate and Shadowpact, done in by my all-encompassing apathy. Hellblazer's leash is getting shorter and shorter, but I intend to wait around to see what Andy Diggle does before I cut bait completely.

And I cannot wait to FINALLY read Seven Soldiers 1!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

In which I assay my observations on various works of sequential fiction I have perused from October 31 to November 8, some of which, I understand, may still be available from your local comics retailer. Scroll down AAALLLL the way to the bottom for the Best in Show and Dog of the Week(s).

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

Mostly a can't-be-arsed Constantine wandering around, being argued about and yelled at by kinda-sorta friends and family, and encountering characters that have played various roles in Mina's interminable "Empathy Curse" story arc- and it's very bit as dull and lugubrious (and often unintentionally silly) as it sounds. Even worse, actually- "yelling" would seem to suggest passion, but this is as rote an exercise as you'd ever care to come across. Manco does nothing to enliven it, and he's defeated before he starts by the Standard Murky Vertigo Color Palette a la Lee Loughridge. How many more issues of this do we have? If the Powers That Be at DC have any empathy for me at all, they'll pull the plug early. D+

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

Didn't make it much farther than the opening splash page on the lead; if I wanted to read a mid-90's Spawn comic, I'd go hit the quarter boxes. No, main attraction here is the Dr. Thirteen backup, which is quite possibly the most fun and imaginative thing the previously humor-and-imagination challenged Azzarello has ever written, and it's nicely illustrated by Chiang, who hits all the right notes and makes it an even bigger success. Love that Kaluta cover, too...too bad they can't get an artist team on the lead feature that can channel some of his magic. B+

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

In which our Jack makes his escape attempt from the Prisoner-like Golden Boughs Retirement Home, and of course complications ensue. I've been kinda critical of Sturges here in previous reviews; this was the first issue where everything broke right for him, especially the character interaction/dialogue, and his (probably Willingham-suggested) spins on these characters were well-handled. I'm still not sold on the inconsistent art, though, so I still can't give this anything higher than a B+.

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

I'm probably never going to completely fall in love with this mishmash, but I will say that Ennis still has enough left in the tank to get me interested in where this is going. Of course, the "Supers" are all cretinous assholes, even though one or two of them manages to get some dialogue in that shows us that perhaps they have a tiny shred of perspective (if not humanity)- I'm thinking of the Homelander beatdown of A-Train here- and he's also savvy enough to show us that Butcher's "ends justifies the means" attitude isn't exactly all that different from the opposition. Balance and shades of gray, no matter how faint they may be, are always welcome in a Ennis book. B-.

S/A: Various including Mike Sekowsky, Robert Kanigher, Len Wein, Neal Adams, Jerry Grandenetti, and Jim Aparo (DC, $16.99)

Say, why don't I abandon all pretense to professionalism (since I'm no professional anyway, something I'm sure you're all painfully aware of) and hold forth with another of my typically rambling reminisces about one of my all-time favorite DC characters? Okay! The first time I saw the Phantom Stranger was in one of those old DC house ads for Showcase #80, which featured a new framing sequence for a handful of reprints from the short-lived 1950's initial iteration of the character, and is reprinted in this volume. I liked the Neal Adams cover, which depicted the Stranger huddled with a group of children, one wearing his fedora even, in a defensive stance against floating phantoms which beckoned to them from the left hand and bottom areas of the panel. Typically dynamic Adams...but I guess I never saw the book itself on the racks because I never owned a copy, not even years later when I became a fan of the character via his appearance in 1972's Justice League of America #103, set against the backdrop of the annual Rutland, Vermont Halloween parade, and which featured cameos by then-PS-writer Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, and others. Eventually (over a year later- no, I don't know why), I decided I should check out the character's own title, which I had managed to avoid doing all those years- but unfortunately, my first issue was #28, by Arnold Drake and the underrated Gerry Talaoc, which came out well after the primo Wein/Aparo issues- a fact I was ignorant of until one day a few months later when I was trawling the back-issue comics box at some little bookstore on Bardstown Rd. in Louisville and came across a copy of #24, by the Wein/Aparo team. It was also their swan song, and while I liked #28 enough to keep buying, I could tell that this had been something special- heck, if nothing else for the excellent Aparo art (which I had already been digging on Brave & Bold, as one look at the Comic Treadmill will verify) and the fact that unlike the Drake/Talaoc books I'd read so far, the Stranger was an active participant in the story, and in fact had a small supporting cast of sorts, even a love interest! After this, I collected Stranger going forwards and backwards, kinda stalling out going back and failing to obtain many of the single-digit issues in the run, but I did continue to pick up the book until the bitter end with issue #41 in 1976...the first time a book had been announced as having been cancelled while I was still reading it regularly. I was very sad, let me tell you. So now that I've established my bona fides in regards to the Stranger and his exploits, I'm sure you're wondering when I'll get around to telling you if you should drop your hard-earned coin on this. Of course, I think you should- if nothing else, this thing is a cornucopia of outstanding art, from Aparo in his absolute prime (he drew #'s 7-25) to some really good Mike Sekowsky on a couple of stories (including a full-length written-and-illustrated #6), to one (uneven) interior story and a host of fine covers by Neal Adams and some good stuff by the overlooked and underrated Bill Draut early on. And you know I can't go without mentioning Grandenetti's contribution- he did the Showcase framing sequence in that fabulous 60's hallucenogenic style you know I love so much, and it was a treat for me to see. And of course Aparo, who really blossomed as he did this comic, culminating in the incredible cover and first page splash for #21 (the b&w doesn't do it justice here, click on the lnk to see the original). If anyone doubts that he was one of the all-time best, I'll gladly point them to his work in this collection. Script-wise, it's kind of a mixed bag early on- it's pretty obvious that no one had a real good handle on exactly what they wanted this character to be, so they sort of threw stuff at the wall for about a year. The Stranger began his career as a mysterious supernatural detective of sorts, then became more of a supernatural figure himself when revamped for the late 60's, encountering all sorts of typical DC horror book-style menaces and bickering all the while with supporting character professional skeptic Doctor Thirteen, who was determined to prove the Stranger as a fraud, and never succeeded no matter how hard he tried. Whatta stick. Eventually, an arch villain of sorts was introduced in Tala, a sort of magical mischief maker who wanted to rule the world with the Stranger at her side (she's constantly planting big kisses on him). Tannarak, a sorcerer, got his introduction not long after and eventually the pair united to cause more trouble down the road. Most of these early issues sported Robert Kanigher (except for the aforementioned Sekowsky haunted house and hippies tale) scripts, and they're every bit as idiosyncratic, stiff, and wacked-out as Kanigher scripts could often be. No Egg Fus or that sort of thing, but wacked-out just the same. Eventually he gave way to pre-Marvel Gerry Conway, who was working his way up through the ranks and of whom (truth be told) I've never been a fan. He did turn in some solid efforts, however, especially compared to Kanigher's lame House of Mystery retreads. Wein showed up in issue #14, and while he recycled a lot at first, eventually he hit upon the idea of giving PS a girlfriend in blind psychic Cassandra Craft, and teamed up Tala and Tannarak as well and created a malevolent cabal in the Dark Circle, the affair of which came to a climax in that aforementioned #24, and isn't included in this collection. For once, the Stranger was an actual character rather than a mysterious bystander in a mystery story or even worse, a Rod Serling narrator type, and Wein gave the book a purpose and direction for a little while. Of course, it isn't perfect; Wein's dialogue style, like that of his peers Wolfman, Englehart, and others was heavily infuenced by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas' shuck-and-jive patter and was often floridly melodramatic to boot- not as much as Wolfman's on Tomb of Dracula, but very hammy just the same. In a way, he was just honing his chops in advance of his Swamp Thing (his first issue, #14, even features a Swamp Thing prototype of sorts that Adams draws to look like more of a Man-Thing proto) where he corrected a lot of these tendencies and made a little magic (just ask Mike Sterling!) before sinking into the Marvel quicksand of irrelevancy and obscurity. And oh yes, most issues had backup stories starring Doc Thirteen solo, many drawn by Tony (Jonah Hex) DeZuniga, and written by various scripters; they, too, recycle DC House-style tropes but the difference is usually Dr.T comes out ahead, rather than being made to look like a jackass by the Stranger. At the end of the day, it can be said that the Stranger is perhaps the most difficult character in all of comics to write- make him too mysterious, and you lose reader identification; make him to obvious and transparent, and you lose a lot of what makes him special. For almost forty issues, a handful of writers wrestled with this very predicament- some won handily, like Wein, Sekowsky and later Paul Levitz, and some just couldn't do it like Kanigher and Drake. Contained within this 500+ page collection are 21 issues' worth of shots in the dark, and when they hit, they hit in a really satisfying way. Plus, when the story lags, you can take in some excellent artwork by Jim Aparo. So your mileage may vary, but for my money (and I did buy this, I didn't get comped) it's well worth it- none of the tales are dull (contrived as many of the early ones may be) and I also get that extra nostalgia buzz. You may disagree, but I don't think you'll be bored. A rock-solid B+, for the Wein/Aparo issues and the Grandenetti story if nothing else...

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

***SPOILER ALERT*** (In the unlikely event you haven't read this already)

Other than the revelation that poor Matt is getting played again, there's a real sense of wheelspinning going on in this issue, which isn't to say that nothing happens- the scrap with Tombstone, a 70's Marvel badguy that never really made much of an impression on me until now, is handled well, and we do get some small revelations throughout. It's just more gradual plot advancement, well done as far as that goes, and it amuses me no end how Brubaker can make the Matador cool in that Antonio Banderas way, such an obvious idea that I'm surprised it hasn't occurred to someone by now. Also, this is yet another showcase for the Lark/Gaudiano art team; beautiful mood-establishment in the heavily photo-referenced opening scenes as well as the middle-book Paris episodes (In my mind, I kept seeing John Leguizamo as Toulouse-Lautrec sitting on the ledge on page 16, drinking absinthe), and good fight stuff throughout. Although I miss Lark's clean-lined inking style on his own, he and Gaudiano have become quite the dynamic duo. This book is going in a good direction, and it's perfectly fine with me if it wants to amble along the way. A-

S: Grant Morrison; A: Gene Ha (DC/Wildstorm, $2.99)

It's like some old goofy Silver Age DC comic: some mad doctor has switched Grant's brain with that of Warren Ellis! And then bade him go out and write an issue of Authority as if it were Planetary! Anyway, it comes across as a bit too much like Grant is trying out an exercise in writing styles, rather than telling a good story for its own sake, and one does miss the usual explosion of ideas...but taken on its own terms, I was engaged all the way through as it slowly built up to the big climactic shot at the end, and damned if I know what any of this has to do with Jack Hawksmoor and Co. I'm assuming Hawksmoor is still a part of this team; I've only read one issue since Millar left, the awful Robbie Morrison-scripted Vol. 2 #1, so I don't know a lot of what's happened since, or even if it matters. One thing in this book's favor is the outstanding Ha art; he contributes a lot to the mood and dynamics as he works that nine-panel grid with a vengeance, right up to one small climactic full page shot just before the final full-page money shot, and it was enough to elicit a small "yes!" from me. Anyway, not what one would expect, but readable just the same and pointing towards better later on. B+

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

Zezelj's art, which is stark, jagged, and dark and reminds me a lot of woodcuts, is going to take some getting used to after the boundless innovation and fine-line filigree of J.H. Williams...but it brings the story a certain brutality, a rough edge which fits Ellis' Spy Who Came in From the Cold-inspired account of a former spook named Asher whose orbit once included Jones, and now shows up wanting a way out of the biz. Thing is, Jones had just received a phone call informing him that Asher was dead...and the game is afoot! Typically terse Ellis script, with piles of dry humor and colorful characters, and while Jones' future is always cloudy, for us the reader our outlook is bright. A

S: Steve Niles; A: Justiniano, Walden Wong (DC, $2.99)

I must have been in a good mood when I read this one, because while I still deplore this take on Ditko's colorful character, and especially despise the whole Giffen-conceived notion of Paranoid Schizo Monster Creeper, I actually kinda liked this one. Well, actually, I kinda liked the use of Batman in this one, to be precise. The whole bit with him using his fantastic arsenal of computer gimmicks to ascertain the Creeper's identity reminded me about why I like that character (even though I don't buy any of his regular titles right now). The art, I still don't like. It's just too stylized, too sloppy, too unnecessarily detailed in the wrong places, and just too too much. Blah. So as I bid this misfire a not-so-sad farewell, I leave on a mostly good note, and move on accordingly. C+

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

Ah, now we're getting somewhere! Finally, after four issues, Fraction has stopped trying to impress us with how clever he is, and coincidentally gives us one of his best ideas yet- Coldheart Island, which is populated by the "last tribe of Pre-Neolithic Man" on the planet- or is it? And the answer, along with Casanova's involvement, is a clever one...also, for the first time, I actually finished an issue without having to go back and re-read and cross-reference. The lack of puzzlement was a refreshing change, let me tell you! And the best thing is, he still messes around with the same reality-time-and-space-twisting ideas of previous issues, but this time didn't leave behind probably his slowest-on-the-uptake reader, namely me. Hopefully this trend will continue before the first hiatus, but the way my luck goes Mr. F will think he's done something wrong and try harder to be more opaque and confusing. One thing I know for sure: the text pieces in the back, which have unequivically sung the praises of Mr. Ba's outstanding art, amounts to little more than preaching to the converted, as far as I'm concerned. A-

S: Warren Ellis; A: John Cassaday (DC/Wildstorm, $2.99)

The remaining members of the Four get what's coming to them in Ellis' typically terse and clever fashion, and we're set up for the further adventures of... that we're not 100% certain we'll ever get to see, given this issue's penultimate designation. One thing I've noticed over the small eternity that this title has taken to unfold- John Cassaday's art, always meticulously detailed and satisfying, if a bit static, has gotten more and more expressive over the course of the series- I'm not so sure he would have attempted the variety of facial expressions we're given over the first half dozen or so pages back when this all started, and good for him. As far as I'm concerned, this title has always been worth the wait, and once more I'm not diappointed. A

S: Wil Pfiefer; A: Los Lopez David y Alvaro (DC, $2.99)

Film Freak re-enacts King Kong as Selina attempts to bust Holly out of Police HQ. All the subplots and main plots progress nicely- Pfiefer is really in a groove right now, with characterization a particular strong point. Even though I'm a smidge disappointed that the big monkey FF liberated out of S.T.A.R. Labs wasn't Gorilla Grodd (like I first thought after seeing last issue's final splash page), it was still a clever play on the original and best giant ape film (I've sure the Freak hated Jackson's version) and a lot of fun. Next up, Dr. Strangelove. Artwise, the Lopezes are doing a fine job as well- their work is still not as fluid as I'd like to see, and the net effect is more DC Art Drone-ish than it should be, but they still tell the story with the right amount of fuss and to be honest, I like what they're doing as much as I did the Cameron Stewart era. A-

S: Bill Willingham; A: Cory Walker (DC, $2.99)

Signs of life! For once the action isn't as pro forma as it so often has been, and I'm beginning to sit up and take notice of this Walker kid, who seems to have a little Chris Sprouse by a very roundabout way of Mignola in his style. Every issue I'm on the bubble about continuing, and I do believe I'll make it at least one more. B

S: Graymiotti; A: Daniel Acuna (DC, $2.99)

Acuna is a skilled artist whose brain seems to be giving him conflicting signals on how to properly finish his work. Figures are all uniformly excellent- naturalistic looking but still stylized and very expressive, but after he's done Photoshopping the hell out of it everything tends to blend into a brown and yellow sludge, with events and characters only being discernable by virtue of the thick black ink line he tends to place around anything he wants to emphasize...and this very murk makes it harder to parse than it ought to be, for sure. And jeez, is that Black Condor revamp ugly. Oh well. Script-wise, I find myself wondering more and more about how the Graymiotti partnership works- this team has turned out the delightful Daughter of the Dragon mini, then only scant weeks later come across like they've forgotten everything they know on Heroes for Hire using mostly the same characters and setup but with much less satisfying results. Jonah Hex, Monolith are/were almost as schizo in the hit-or-miss department. Perhaps Gray is writing the good stuff, and Palmiotti's lacking, or vice versa. Who knows. Fortunately, since we're concerned with only this title right now, they seem to be in Daughters mode, giving us a well-done sci-fi/spandex flavored political intrigue thriller as well as their extremely charismatic version of Uncle Sam, who comes across like a cross between Davy Crockett and the Spectre, an amusing and clever take for sure. I'm liking, but others' mileage may definitely vary given on their tolerance for this sort of thing. A-

S: Gail Simone; A: Brad Walker, Jimmy Palmiotti (DC, $2.99)

I've been making a lot of jokes about DC Art Drones lately, to mostly puzzled silence across the Blogosphereiverse, but is it me, or does every other illustrator DC brings along bear the last name of Walker or Lopez? Shades of John Jackson and his bitter rival Jack Johnson! Anyway, you may be asking yourself (to my extreme amazement) "Say, Johnny B, didn't you drop this book after only one issue months ago?" To which I can only reply, "Yes, but DCBS screwed up and sent me THIS instead of SEVEN SOLDIERS 1!" Talk about getting a rock in my Halloween comics box. Be that as it may, I went ahead and read this anyway, and boy, was I sorry. Look, I know this is a miniseries about the exploits of a group of super-villians, so a dark tone is to be expected. And y'know, I've been an admirer of comics in the last four decades that dealt with more explicit, undesirable, and vulgar characters and situations. But I can't recall the last time that I felt, after finishing a comic, that I needed to go take a hot shower for about six hours. There's just something seedy and slimy and unpleasant about Simone's script and characterizations, something I can't quite put my finger on and can't cite any one thing in particular- and I congratulate her on skeeving jaded ol' me right the fug out. But her dialogue rarely rises above Stock Comic Book Scripting 101, and honestly, is this really any better or different than any number of DC mainstream titles right now? Isn't this just another Suicide Squad story, with the yuck factor amped up a notch or two? It might have been helped by an artist with some sort of spark to enliven all these lugubrious proceedings, but that Walker guy ain't it- his storytelling and figure drawing were awful, and not even a seasoned pro like Palmiotti can help it much. That splash on page two is one of the most inept action pages I've ever seen anywhere- needlessly convoluted and confusing. As far as I'm concerned Simone's following remains a mystery, I don't want to see anything else this particular Walker draws ever again if I can help it, and DCBS owes me big time. Too slick and professional for an F, but I don't think D- is excessive.

S: Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFillipis, Christina Weir; A: Cliff Richards, Bob Wiacek, Dan Green (DC, $2.99)

Speaking of the Suicide Squad, here they are again in a tale written by three scripters, no less, just like last issue- and the fact that I can't tell who did what is either a marvel of homogeneity and mediocrity, or a triumph of Team Comics Scripting in its most efficient form. Either way, there's lots of talk talk talk, par for the course for this most talky of comics (not Rex Libris text-heavy, but you know what I mean), but there was also a little more action this time around which leavened it a bit and enabled me to enjoy it more than I did #6, and #5, and so on. About the art, well, it's better than the art on Secret Six, let's let it go at that. C+

100 BULLETS 77
S: Brain Azzarello; A: Ed Risso (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Before I cut and paste my standard review of this commentary-defying title, let me say that it's never as lively as it is when Lono and Megan Dietrich get to have conversations...Azzarello really gives them some spark together. Wouldn't surprise me if they didn't ride off into the sunset in #100, arm in arm. Aw, who am I kidding... I also loved the Dave Johnson cover- he's been getting all sketchy and minimalist over the last year or so, but this one takes a good idea and runs with it. Best in ages. Anyway, here goes the Standard 100 Bullets 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 23 issues. A-

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

Oh, that Ellis. He's absolutely barking mad, isn't he? Forbush-Man...not even Grant Morrison would have brought HIM back, let alone worked him into the best Morrison-flavored Doom Patrol issue in over ten years! Ah me, it made this old Not Brand Echh reader very happy to see, no doubt. If only we could have also had Magnut: Robot Biter, Scaredevil, The Silver Burper, and the Mighty Sore along with Knock Furious, Agent of S.H.E.E.S.H.. Oh wait, we do have him- he's called Dirk Anger here. Artwise, Immonen continues his transmogrification from Alan Davis into Wassily Kandinsky, giving us a great Frank Miller satire on the side when we first meet ol' Forby. We'll miss this book when it's gone, you know...well, I will, anyway. A

S/A: The not-so-usual gang of idiots. (DC, $3.99 cheap.)

Just like nearly everyone else who has received this comp of the venerable humor magazine, I must point out how long it's been since I've read an entire issue of Mad. Think decades, not years- my interest kinda petered out when I reached double figures age-wise, approximately 1970. I have read the occasional issue in that interval, mostly ones found in a waiting room somewhere, or at somebody's house who had kids that had a copy, or other random places...but I dare say it's been a hell of a long time since I actually parted with coin for the privilege. And thanks to the fine folks at DC, that streak remains intact! But what did I think, you may be impatiently asking? Well, first thing I noticed was all the color. Last time I read Mad, it was still in black & white, and that's a bit of an adjustment. Second thing was all the cartoonists that I'm used to seeing in more, shall we say refined surroundings- Peters Kuper (on Spy Vs. Spy no less) and Bagge, and Ted Rall. They wouldn't have let those guys in the office back when Mort Drucker, Dave Berg and Paul Coker Jr. walked the earth! And where's the movie/TV show satire? Guess it moved on with Drucker and/or Angelo Torres. Otherwise, not much has changed- the general feel of the humor still aspires to junior high school-level. Of those for which I had high hopes, Bagge's Halloween feature was kinda obvious and disappointing; he just doesn't seem to have the fire in his belly anymore that made Hate so essential in its heyday. Old reliable Sergio Aragones is still on board, and excelling, and it's good to see Al Jaffe still plugging away. Kuper's style worked well on "Spy", as I said, and once I got acclimated to it the color was OK. I also liked, purely from a design/art appreciation standpoint, the "Red State/Blue State Monopoly" feature- even though it was as subtle as a bag of hammers, it was cleverly illustrated. Heck, if Time Warner was on the ball and wanted to make some quick bucks they'd strike a deal to have this come out in a real game edition! Be this as it all may, I still got many a lowbrow chuckle from many of the gags- dated as the Mel Gibson shots were, I couldn't help but snort at the unused cover, for instance. Guess my sense of humor never progressed much past Junior High, either. Which is not to say that I anticipate becoming a regular Mad reader; Entertainment Weekly is still the best bathroom read for my money. But the old warhorse still has a pulse- and some very talented people working for it- and is apparently still worth a look every now and then. So tell me why, DC, is Evan Dorkin not deemed worthy of writing for Gaines and Kurtzman's venerable love child? Just wondering. B

S: Graymiotti; A: Jordi Bernet (DC, $2.99)

Look, fellas, when you've seen your character backshot, stuffed, and mounted and placed on display in a traveling carny, there's very little else "shocking" that can be done with him. Oh well. Having grown tired of having Jonah take on corrupt town authority figures, we are now given his retroactive origin, which proves once and for all that he didn't cut himself shaving. And it's well done, for the most part- Graymiotti have gotten Hex's character down pretty well, the actual turning-point event is brutal, if not especially shocking, and if it's more than a little inspired by The Beguiled, well, all's fair. Besides, they could have Jonah being mutilated by Teletubbies for all I care, as long as the assured, expressive, graceful and all-around excellent art of Jordi Bernet illustrates it. After being introduced to it in his issue of the lamented Solo, I've been looking forward to what he can do with the Eastwood-influenced old west milieu, and he does not disappoint. B+

S: Harvey Pekar; A: Various. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

What do this and Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall have in common? Well, on Planet Dave anyway they are both more interesting as art appreciation exercises than actual reading enjoyment. You see, and here's where I wear my Philistine hat, I've never really been an admirer of Harvey Pekar's previous slice-of-life offerings, back in his self-publishing and Dark Horse-distributed days, and the sad part of it is simply that I just didn't care about Harvey's life and his presentation of it for our reading pleasure. And no matter how much the Comics Journal told me I should, I just never could make myself give a damn. I guess that I was just looking for something a bit more escapist, a bit more imaginative perhaps, in my comics reading- and as is so often the case, I'm sure I missed out on something quite revelatory and wonderful. He was cute on Letterman, and managed to make Dave look like as much of a horse's ass as he tried to make Harvey look, but that didn't make me want to pick up the comics, even as they got grimmer via cancer stories and the like. Before you condemn me completely, though, I would like to interject right here that I watched and liked the American Splendor film quite a bit- it had a lot more of what I was looking for, imagination and presentation-wise, than its print antedecent did. So here we are, years later, and Harvey is finding himself with a most unusual bedfellow in the Vertigo imprint...and my reaction to these vignettes is pretty much the same, except the art is a heck of a lot more interesting more often as not. And now, apropos of nothing, a personal note of my own: tonight, for the first time in my life, I ate two spears of broccoli. Never cared to try it before, but Mrs. B steamed it and served it with rice, chicken and carrots, and it was quite good. I might eat more one of these days. Now, was that gripping or what! No? Didn't think so. Now you may see where I'm coming from with my attitude towards Splendor and most others of its ilk- you see, I, too, have had epic battles with toilets and have had to pick up children several miles away in snowstorms, and while I may fervently wish that I could get top-flight talent to illustrate my accounts of these events, and even get people to cough up three bucks to read them, that doesn't mean I am impressed, enlightened, edified, or even interested in others' experiences doing the same old ordinary everyday things that I have done many times over in my short, wretched existence. Anyway, now that I've spent several lines of type trying to explain why I've never really been that big a fan of Pekar's previous offerings, I will tell you now that after all is said and done, I did, as with 1001 Nights before it, enjoy seeing wonderful art turns by Dean Haspiel (who was born to draw Pekar's stuff), Chris Weston (his story is so detailed and precise as to almost be maniacal), Ty Templeton, Leo freaking Manco, believe it or not; and Hunt Emerson. Some were not so good, more so for inability to enliven and enhance the dull material more than anything. Richard Corben's turn was fine, but he totally fails to capture Pekar's likeness whatsoever. I guess you can infer that I got comped on this; I'm happy to have the opportunity to check it out (I had been curious about Haspiel's contributions, being unable and unwilling to drop the large coin on The Quitter, not that I would have knowing my attitude), but I don't know if I would go as far as to hunt up #1 and get #4 when it comes out. I didn't hate this at all, so if that carries any weight with you then by all means hie thee to your comics shop and then you, too, can share in the ordinary-life trials and tribulations of Mr. Pekar, drawn by some of the best and brightest. B+

FINISHED! Well, except for the Scout trade, and that's coming- I haven't finished rereading it yet. Heh. Anyway, here's

BEST IN SHOW: Gotta be DESOLATION JONES 7, although the other two Ellis books aren't far behind. Is the Intarwub Jebus on a roll lately or what?

DOG OF THE WEEK(S): Close race here, but I'll have to go with the repulsive SECRET SIX 5, the book I got by accident, over the merely dull and silly HELLBLAZER 225.

Thanks, everyone, for hanging with and reading as I post. Coming this weekend: My next DCBS box, with Seven Soldiers 1. I hope. Coming sooner, looks at the aforementioned Scout, as well as The BLVD Sketchbook Volume 2.0 and Keith Knight's Are We Feeling Safe Yet? collection.

Monday, November 13, 2006

UPDATE 10/14, 10:30 am: The problem seems to have abated for now, with only a handful of searches for EEP showing up. Weird.


I'll be finishing the reviews soon, as well as something kinda...different...which I have yet to scan.

But I've had something happen that freaks me out a little.

You may recall a while ago I had posted a couple of entries, not far apart, about a series of animated commercials with a lead character whose initials are E doubled, as well as a brief entry about Neil Strauss and Bernard Chang's latest published effort. Neither post was related to the other.

I have, however, had several Google hits on my referrer page since looking for E.E. and a word which starts with "p" and ends with "orn", which of course I never mentioned, nor do I know where to find same. Not an extraordinary amount of hits, mind you, perhaps three or four per night.

Until now.

Looking at my referrer page before bed tonight, I noticed where I had suddenly been deluged with almost 100 hits, maybe more (my referrer only lists the most current 100), looking for that phrase or some sort of combination thereof. This is not good, I don't think.

I'm not the most web-savvy person out there; I know how to post links and pictures, and even how to write enough code to change a color or something...but when it comes to something like this, which has to involve "spiders" or "bots" or some sort of nefarious activity about which I (obviously) know almost nothing, I am clueless.

This kinda reminds me of a year or two ago, when I suddenly got a ton of hits on Google image searches for a certain (non-nude) pic of the actress who plays the lead in an NBC series that makes its 2006 premiere Wednesday night (I'm really trying hard not to name things specifically, cant'cha tell?). Eventually, this activity died down and went away.

So here's my question to the web-savvy among you who still read this blog, if any of you are left- should I be concerned about this? Or will this, too, pass? So far it's more annoying than anything, but if it is a threat to something, what can I do?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I've got what seems like a five foot stack of comics to review, but it won't be tonight. It will be soon, though, so please bear with.

I've also not forgotten about Hammerlocke; indeed, how could I with the incredibly overwhelming response I've had so far to the first post in the series? (Thanks, Scott!) But issues 2 and up will have to wait a little while longer. Please try not to let your disappointment bring you down.

Actually, the main fact I'm posting at all tonight is to point you to something which you've probably already read- a D.C. Johnson interview over at CBR about what is certainly one of my top five favorite comics series of the last ten years, Chase. It's got several page scans, too! So go, already!

And please check back soon; I'll be inflicting my opinions upon you again in short order.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Bacardi Show Birthday Greeting is in order for one of the titans, Sturdy STEVE DITKO, who turns 79 today. Ditko's work regularly blew my young mind in the 60's and 70's, not only on his stellar runs on Spider-Man (including one of my first and most favorite issues ever ('cause it's just so damn funny- maybe one of Stan's finest hours as well), #16's Daredevil team-up) and Doctor Strange, but also his beautifully inkwashed efforts for the early issues of Warren's Creepy and Eerie as well as the odd Charlton Comics title such as Captain Atom and Blue Beetle. In fact, I had planned to scan and post one of Ditko's finest hours, artwise, of the 60's- his story Demon Sword from Eerie #8...but I have apparently placed my yellowed, coverless copies of the two issues of that title I own, one of which is that esteemed #8, in a box or something somewhere and can't find it. I had also planned to scan one of the Grandenetti stories in those same magazines and post them on scans_daily, but that's a no go until I locate them as well. Like Myron and his Voodoo Doll, I gotta find those books! Anyway, please make do with the above cover for Beware the Creeper #1, and if I ever come across those mags, scan them I will!

Image Hosted by

Also, today marks the 25th anniversary of the death of another of the titans, my old pen pal, WALLACE WOOD. I hope he's in a better place.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Time once more for the BACARDI SHOW NEW COMICS REVIEW, in which I inflict my opinions upon you in regards to various works of sequential fiction I have perused from October 24 to October 30. Here we go:

S: Bill Willingham; A: Various (DC/Vertigo, $19.99)

I'm of two minds about this handsome collection: really, if you get right down to it, it's just a collection of backstories that could have probably been better served as backup features in the monthly, such as those that have been appearing for the last few months already. But the art lover in me is very pleased to see so many excellent illustrators assembled in one place, in service of some of the most open-for-interpretation characters in the history of literature. If you're not a regular reader of Vertigo's would-be Sandman successor, then I would imagine you'd be quite perplexed by all this; of course most of the names are familiar to nearly everyone, but the various twists and spins that Willingham has put on them over the course of the seventy some-odd issues of the monthly will more than likely go right over the uninitiated head, or at least not make as much sense as they will to the converted. However, since I am coming from the latter viewpoint, having drank the Kool-aid about issue #7 or so, I did enjoy this book. Not as much as I would have hoped to; honestly, the twists here aren't really all that twisty and are actually kinda obvious to the longtime reader, which prevented me from becoming all that engaged by any of these tales. Still, there's no way I can turn up my nose at Mike Kaluta's gorgeous-as-always text framing illustrations, albeit ones unnecessarily embellished by Charles Vess- whose style is not dissimilar to MWK's, but I prefer my Kaluta uncut- still a nice job by both men. John Bolton's up next, and his account of the breakup of Snow White and Prince Charming is muddled- he's striving for that golden glow of old Maxfield Parrish fantasy paintings, and mostly succeeds, but damn near shoots himself in the foot by being so maddeningly inconsistent with his figures. Some are lavishly rendered, like Snow and the Prince, some are done with a gnarly sloppy fat ink line, giving a Corbenish effect, and backgrounds are done the same way. I've seen better work from Bolton before; he's capable of a Hal Foster style when he's inclined, but here he comes across as wanting to experiment, and I would prefer that he experiment on his own dime. Regular series artist Mark Buckingham turns in a better job than I would have expected; on the monthly I'm not wild about his work but here, away from Steve Leialoha's inks, he seems to be working in a different style. It's colorful enough, but looks washed out. Quite the opposite from cover artist extraordinaire James Jean's turn next; by choosing to color his nicely drawn story in mottled grays and browns he makes it a lot more of a slog than it should have been. Mark Wheatley is an artist I haven't paid a lot of attention to; I'm mostly familiar with his 80's collaborations with Marc Hempel. Here he gets arguably the central feature, Bigby Wolf's origin story, and while I've never been a fan (and his is the most "comic booky" of the set) he acquits himself well with a nice stylistic energy that I appreciated. Derek Kirk Kim's is a lavishly illustrated one; I didn't see that coming based on what I've seen of his work before. It's really good but short. Fables' resident Wicked Old Witch, Frau Totenkinder, gets her spotlight in a tale-within-a-tale which sports lovely work by JBS favorite Tara McPherson- like Jean, if she's done interiors before I've never seen them. Her work in service of an actual narrative is a bit stiff and mannered, but it's so imaginative and pleasing to the eye that it gets by famously. It frames a story with art by Esao Andrews, whose work here didn't grab me at all. It's rough and looks charcoal-ish, plus his figures are really awkward looking and oddly proportioned. Finally, Jill Thompson is fully in her element here as she closes the book with a wonderful account of how King Cole escaped to the Mundy world- I couldn't help but reflect on how much more enjoyable the monthly would have been if she'd been on art for its duration. Anyway- that's how I saw this one, as more of an art showcase than anything else and on that account it succeeded...not as completely as I would have liked, but still very nice indeed. Is it worth it for you, especially if you haven't fully invested in the monthly like I have? Probably not. But you might want to wait for the softcover, because it's rare to have so many great artists in one place these days. A-

S: Alexander Grecian; A: Riley Rossimo (AiT/PlanetLar, $12.95)

As you may know by now, basically this is an new take on the old folk tale about the Seven Chinese Brothers, recast in the Gold Rush era more or less, with a fateful encounter with the residents of a nearby town. It's a clever idea, and fully realized- it's easy to mess this sort of thing up by striving to be too relevant or cynical or something...but Grecian manages to strike the right tone and maintain it throughout. Nice text piece in the back as well, citing and recalling the various iterations of the legend over the years. Although at first I was a bit reluctant, I came to really like Rossimo's loose and over-rendered art, it's reminiscent of Ted McKeever but a little clearer in its storytelling style. It's been a while since we've seen something new from the House that Larry (and Mimi) Built, and this one was worth the wait. And if you didn't hear R.E.M.'s "7 Chinese Brothers" playing over imaginary end credits when you finished the story, you're a better man than I, Gunga Din. A

S: Joe Casey; A: Charles Adlard (AiT/PlanetLar, $12.95)

Joe Casey updates The Man Who Turned to Stone for the us a Twilight Zone-ish account of Thomas Dare, a footloose El Lay musician who discovers one day that he is slowly turning, well, into stone. Apparently it's hereditary, and despite the best efforts of the medical community, especially after he becomes a celebrity of sorts by saving a child from being hit by a truck, he soon comes to realize that it's incurable. Dare does a lot of soul-searching, friendships are struck and reinforced, and various issues get resolved with his estranged wife...and by the time this concludes, in (thankfully) less melodramatic fashion than I expected, this reader at least realized that while he was engaged and committed all the way through, admired how Casey downplayed the melodramatics, and hoped against all odds for the best for the somewhat crusty (poor pun, I know) Dare and in turn was kinda saddened when it became obvious how it was going to turn out for him. When I closed the book, however, I realized that what Casey has given us is a straightforward account of a man who turns to rock, the end. No apparent moral, no pretense, no overarching message about, say, hardening up inside in response to life's troubles or sealing oneself off from his fellow man, no Paul Simon singing "I Am a Rock"...nothing hightoned or cerebral at all- just "Man turns to concrete. People react. The End." Which was kinda puzzling, and a little disappointing. I know, I know, sometimes it's all about the story and the telling of it, and not everything has to have metaphor piled on top of subtext with context sauce...but I was vaguely unsatisfied, expecting a bit more...oh, I don't know, enlightenment, perhaps- and got none, just like Mr. Dare. Oh well. When life gives you concrete lemonade, make sure you end up as a statue or something like that. Interesting art job by Adlard, who chooses to render everything in coloring book fashion, except for the creeping gray tones on Dare's body- ostensibly so he can highlight the transformation, I suppose, but also giving it an undernourished, incomplete look. Still, his figure drawings, straightforward ink line and storytelling choices (with the exception of that coloring book gimmick) are first-rate, and while I still have a hard time reconciling this Adlard art with the guy who gave us White Death and Warlock, it's a fine job. I liked this enough to say that between this and Seven Sons, the reports of AiT/PlanetLar's demise have been greatly exaggerated. B+

S: Keith Giffen; A: Kody Chamberlain (Boom!, $3.99)

Another of the seemingly endless legion of comic-book dead men keeps on walking and surfing the 'Net in this somewhat tardy second chapter of Giffen's patch on Thinner, and slowly finds out more about why he came to be what he has come to be. Even though I'm coming across a bit snarky, this is still smartly written, and it's nice to read dialogue about blogging and the internet that sounds like the writer has actually had experience with the whole thing. Chamberlain's art is solid but murky- his "Imaginary Friends" don't help at all by "coloring" everything in shades of mottled gray. Still interesting, but might read better collected. B+

S/A: Various. (Boom!, $6.99)

Nice art turns by Fabio Moon and Rafael Albuquerque, among others, enliven this attempt by Boom! to replicate the success they've had with their zombie and Lovecraft anthologies. I don't know, I'm not really crazy about pirates actually- sure, I loved The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood, but I think it's just because I've always dug Errol Flynn flicks, liked Cutthroat Island for all the wrong reasons, and was mildly entertained by Pirates of the Carribean- but at the end of the day I really didn't get my mainsail hoisted by any of these tales. They weren't dull or bland, but just kinda went in one eye and out the other (or something like that). I was often reminded of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' distracting Tales of the Black Freighter from Watchmen, which wouldn't have made me unhappy if it had been omitted completely. If pirates shiver your timbers, however, you could do worse than to check this out- there's a real sense of at least trying to do something different, and that counts for a lot as far as I'm concerned. And as usual with Boom!, the production values are first rate- nice paper, coloring and so on. B

S/A: Richard Marcej. (Baboon Books, $3.50)

Office Space-esque hijinks, somewhat autobigraphical, as Richard Marcej the writer/artist gives us "Richard Marzelak" the character, who labors, unappreciated and unhappy, at a large toy company as a concept artist and is given to occasional red-tinged daydream sequences as he yearns to get out of his predicament and become a full-time cartoonist. As an artist, Marzelak is a nice conceptualist- his figure drawings are stiff, awkward and often crude, but he's able to tell a story and cram it full of dialogue and never make it seem cluttered, and there are many other, far more facile and accomplished illustrators that haven't mastered that trick yet. Said dialogue, while rarely witty or clever in itself, is still natural-sounding and sometimes can't help but sympathize with "Richard", especially if one has ever felt underappreciated and overlooked at one's job, particularly one that would seem to be a dream job for many. If you're curious, you can go visit Richard the creator's website, where he has many other publications for you to sample. B+

S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti; A: Billy Tucci, Francis Portela, Tom Palmer. (Marvel, $2.99)

Last issue's big cliffhanger is resolved in very contrived fashion, there's lots more fighting and posturing and dreary Civil War-related shenanigans, and only at the end with the return of Otis and uberbitch Riccadonna are we reminded of how enjoyable the Daughters of the Dragon miniseries was. The art's somewhat better, but that's not saying much. I find myself wondering, more than anything, about this Tom Palmer that's inking- there's no way that it's the Tom Palmer of yore, who embellished the titans like Adams, Colan and Buscema. There oughtta be a moratorium on using legendary names, like retiring numbers in sports or something. Maybe he could, as so many artists are doing even as I grind my teeth, call himself "Palm". C+

S: Jim Starlin; A: Starlin, Shane Davis, Matt Banning, Al Milgrom. (DC, $3.99)
All right, Starlin, some of us were alive in 1975, and if I wanted to read Warlock again I'd go to the source instead of this half-assed update. If you can't think of anyting else to write, why bother? And by the way, in regards to Star Hawkins, I've read Twilight, too, so no soap there either. C-

More later, when I've made it through my newly-arrived-as-of-yesterday comics box...