Thursday, May 31, 2007


Formerly the Bacardi Show New Comics Revue, (hey, I briefly used that title before the fine folks at PopCultureShock decided they didn't need my services, and nobody else is using it, so that's why I'm changing) is the venue by which I take the opportunity, unsolicited, to opine in regards to various works of sequential fiction I have perused in the interval since the last time I inflicted said opinions upon one and all, or to be specific, the period from approximately 11 to 22 May, some of which may even still be on sale at finer comics selling establishments worldwide if you're lucky. Or not, as the case may be...

** Newer Reviews.

100 BULLETS 83
S: Brian Azzarello; A: Ed 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 17 issues. "Boomped" up a notch for satisfying, honest-to-QT understandable resolutions to the convoluted art theft plot and the somewhat nostalgic Agent Shepherd backstory, as well as a surprisingly sexy scene towards the end. I'm so easy to entertain sometimes. A-

S: Neal Shaffer; A: Joe Infurnari. (Oni Press, $5.95)

Continuation of last year's account of a writer who disappears into the Bermuda Triangle, and reappears in some sort of weird alternate world, similar to ours but different and populated by others who have had the same experience. In this issue, he begins to get acclimated to his situation, and meets someone who may be able to provide him with some answers. Good enough concept, if a bit reminiscent of Lost and that sort of TV type thing...but the protagonist is sympathetic enough, and his plight is portrayed convincingly enough to maintain our interest. Infurnari's art is kinda sloppy and grubby, but his anatomy and layout skills are fine, and he enhances rather than distracts. And for once, all the gray tones actually add to the mood rather than hinder readability. Not bad. B+

S: John Arcudi, Mike Mignola; A: Guy Davis. (Dark Horse, $2.99)

Since this remains a kaleidoscope of plot threads that steadfastly refuse to cohere even as they float there, all twinkly and distant (and for a change I am patiently enjoying watching them gradually play out), just let me once more state my extreme admiration for the art of Guy Davis; how he can juxtapose the mundane and the extraordinary and make it all look so off-kilter, and yet so correct. If anyone was born to illustrate an Avengers (no, not them- Steed and Peel) graphic novel, it's our Guy. So yeah, I'm enjoying this series, pretty much as I have previous installments. But I'm a fan of Mignola's cast. Those who aren't afflicted with this malady might get a little impatient. A-

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

Not a whole lot of subtlety in this one, pretty much non-stop action as those slow-arriving (honestly, it seems like they've been on the way for ten issues now) brother-and-sister Soviet super-bad-person duo, Hammer and Sickle, arrive looking to kick Selina's leather-clad boo-tay for her perceived betrayal back when she was playing super-criminal. Pretty much status quo; good characterization and dialogue, solid-if-still-stiff art by the companeros Lopez. One negative: the "badguy of the month threatens Selina's baby" plot is getting a little worn from constant use- still, not a deal breaker just yet. For those that likes, here's more of what you're looking for. Just wish there were more of us. A-

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

So cheerfully and cleverly written, and so wonderfully illustrated by Naifeh, that it takes a while to realize that this story's plot foundation is almost exactly the same as the last mini-series': Jr. gets his Dad in serious trouble, involving some figure from his past, and with help from raccoon-eyed buddy Pandora manages to straighten everything out in the final chapter. Only the particulars change. Not that this isn't as fun as the last one, far from it- it's a familiar song but Whitta and Naifeh play it well. I just hope that next time, if there is a next time, perhaps we can do something just a little different. A-

DMZ 19
S: Brian Wood; A: Riccardo Burchielli, Nathan Fox, Viktor Kalvachev. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Well, what do you know. Rashomon, with Wood's Weird War as the setting! Interesting so far, but it's hard to tell which direction he's going in right now. Last time I said I wanted to see more Nathan Fox art, and I got my wish- his Pope-lite style looks as good as it did last time. The gimmick is, apparently, that with each testimony we get a different artist, and this issue's officer's account is done by Kalvachev, whose work is unknown to me...but it does plow the same field as Fox's, and is good in its own way. So far, this is shaping up as a good arc. B+

S: Bill Willingham; A: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha. (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

Here's another title that simply does what it does, and more often as not does it very well. We're into the beginning of a major story arc, and we're moving along with baby steps as Willingham advances the plot slowly, trying to give the principals plenty of camera time. Buckingham and Leialoha, the regular team, are back in the saddle as well, and while I never had my doubts about Leialoha's abilities as an illustrator, I am being slowly won over by Buckingham's less facile but ever-more-assured and always cleverly designed layouts and pencils, to the point where by now I'm quite content to have them draw the book as long as they choose to. In fact, I'm beginning to be of the opinion that they deserve every bit of the identification and praise (not a lot from me in the past, sorry to say) with this project that they've garnered, and have certainly earned. B+

S: Mike Mignola; A: Duncan Fregredo. (Dark Horse, $2.99)

Hellboy's back in deep doo-doo, as he so often is, with evil witches in service of Hecate (in the form of Ilsa Hauptman, last seen getting fitted for an iron maiden by Rasputin in Wake the Devil) and lizard-arsed wannabe sorcerer Igor Bromhead (from Box Full of Evil)'s old home week in HellboyWorld! Typically Mignolaesque script, terse and minimal; it's the addition of the outstanding Fregredo that makes this really interesting. For his part, Fregredo reins in his normal style, all angles and Hitchcockian perspectives and scratchy lines, to work in a fashion that retains his stamp but also plays to Mignola's strengths- much of what makes Hellboy as fascinating as it is has to do with Mignola's deadpan and placid layout style- often he has single panels with characters' heads staring at a point which is just to the readers' right or left, and uttering plainspoken dialogue, and Fregredo tries to keep this vibe in play, along with the ever present oppressive blackspotting. That he does a bang-up job just speaks to how good he is. Once in a while he indulges himself; page nine, middle panel is a good example- that's a camera angle that Mignola would never attempt. Same with pgs. 22 and 23, the perspectives are more extreme, and the figures are a lot more fluid, and it creates an interesting contrast to how the normal Mignola Hellboy cliffhanger climax works. I don't know if any of this means jack to the casual reader; for them, I say it's as good as any rank-and-file Hellboy story to date, and promises to be great...but then again, I'm a fan of all concerned. Others may not be. Guess we'll see what happens. A

S: Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis; A: Joe Abraham. (Boom! Studios, $3.99)

So we're supposed to be getting the real story this time- the story of how sweet Stephie came to be the evil Caliginous and slacker Milo came to be Captain Valor, and why they hate each other so. But since we get it from each self-interested party, we still don't know if it's the truth, so in reality we've learned nothing. Way to pad out a maxiseries, fellas! Still, it's fun to read just the same, as G & DeM's work so often is. More interesting to me is Abraham's art; he's style-morphing right before our eyes. Early issues had him employing a scratchy, thin-lined inking style, but slowly ever since he's been growing in assurance and now is delineating with a fatter inkline, as if he changed brushes a few months ago, or perhaps inked with a pen early on...who knows. Regardless, I'm liking his art and look forward to seeing how far he can go. B+

S: Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction; A: David Aja, Travel Foreman, Derek Fridolfs. (Marvel, $2.99)

Old Fist and New(er) Fist get to know each other better, when they're not fighting ninjas. Fast moving and entertaining chapter in the ongoing story, still one of the best, if not THE best, Fist tale in over 30 years. A

S: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti. A: Phil Noto. (DC, $2.99)

Hex takes a missing persons job, runs afoul of a murderous madam. This series has been very up-and-down so far; this one's an up. Good dialogue, and the plot doesn't go in predictable directions, always welcome. For his part, Noto's usually stiff art is more loose and expressive- reminds me a bit of Chaykin in places. Not a bad direction for him to go if he's going to remain on the book. What will next issue be? Peak, or valley? Ya got me. B+

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

This time out, Megan deals with the news of the death of her mother- and while a story about the death of a parent will always elicit at least a little sympathy from me, having dealt with it myself several years ago, Wood has squandered whatever sympathy I can evoke for a character that he's bent over backwards to portray as mercurial, dishonest, and downright the emotional impact is most definitely stunted with me. Kelly is as sharp as always, and works very hard to evoke the proper mood of melancholy. Local hasn't always worked for me, especiaqlly the last few issues, but there's something that keeps me coming back. I'm sure I'll figure out what it is one of these days. C+

S: Cecil Castellucci; A: Jim Rugg. (DC/Minx, $9.99)

The flagship offering from DC's somewhat controversial attempt to reach out to that coveted-by-people-who-wish-comics-were-more-popular demographic, teenage girls, succeeds on one level, at least: As an account of a young lady who has to cope with personal tragedy and the special hell of a new school, and finds a very successful way to do so, this can certainly serve as an example to those who may be dealing with similar situations. As a story in general, and a work of sequential fiction, however, it doesn't work quite as well. It's very episodic and is hamstrung by the decision to write the titular Janes and the other kids in their orbit as one-dimensional "types"; more attributes than fully formed characters. One is a plus-size theatre devotee (like my daughter, come to think of it- too bad she's in her twenties now or I'd solicit her input), one is a tall jock, one is a big's like the Newsboy Legion, except with teenage girls. The adults don't fare much better; the main Jane's mom is shown with very little dimension other than her constant paranoia; her Dad comes across as a sympathetic, if somewhat ineffective figure...but it's his little father-daughter talk at the end which give this story one of its few genuine emotional moments. Rugg does a fine job on art, overall, but there's a niggling inconsistency with the way he draws each character that distracts me quite a bit- compare the cartoonish way token gay kid James is drawn to the more expressively rendered main Jane or Cindy. Hardly a deal breaker, but it took me out of the story a lot. Not having been a teenage girl (I swear!), ad being over thirty years out of high school, perhaps I'm missing something, can't say for sure. Despite the flaws, this is a sincere work, and it succeeds in spite of itself- and I think it's a fine start for this imprint. Didn't blow me away...but if it had, maybe that wouldn't have been such a good thing, either! B

S/A: Jeff Smith. (DC, $5.99)

I'm not sold on Sivana as Albert Gonzalez, but everything else works wonderfully as Smith continues to give us one of the smartest and sharpest updates of a Golden Age character in recent memory. Not much else to say about it! Perhaps I'll wax more effusive next time. A

S: Ian Shaughnessy; A: Mike Holmes. (Oni, $14.95)

Boy meets girl, girl has tutoring gig which keeps them apart nights, boy gets jealous and cooks up a scheme that has him impersonating an Irish IRA fugitive in order to find out if his jealous suspicions are founded. I liked the first issue of Shaughnessy's MIA Strangetown, but this leaves no cliche unturned as it progresses- and it progresses way too slowly- and by the time the Mrs. Doubtfire-inspired mistaken identity climax, capped by that time-honored favorite the sincere, tender confessional, unfolds you feel like you've sat through a retrospective on the entire film careers of Hugh Grant and John Cusack (without Grosse Point Blank, of course). The characters are likeable, but one thinks that if these two just sat down and talked to each other, and made things clear, then their problems would be lessened, if not solved. I know, I know, of such things are date-movie comedies not made. Happens to the best of 'em, and who knows- someone more attuned to this sort of thing might find this enjoyable and charming. One thing I did like a lot is Holmes' art- he has a nice, clean, lively style that reminds me a lot of Les (Middle Man) McClaine. He especially has a talent for facial expressions; though he too often appears to be trying a bit too hard to provide them for every single panel, at least he's trying and that counts for a lot. This didn't exactly rock my socks, but I did like the art and just ask Mrs. B- I don't tend to like this sort of movie either, so keep that in mind when you give this a cursory glance on the comics store rack. B-

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

Pretty much follows the standard template: Team gets taken down by ruthless, seemingly more powerful adversaries, and has no prayer of coming out on top. Then, they get a break, turn the tables, and prevail. Ho hum. You've seen it in the original Ellis/Millar Stormwatch and Authority, and Morrison's JLA. Worthwhile, as usual, for Mahnke's always-outstanding art. What's that? This is Mahnke's last issue? Oh, my. C+

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

The best thing about the Spectre story is that it's over. I fully expect future Spectre tales to feature the Goateed Ghost forcing some heinous murdering psycho to read the entire 8 issues of Lapham's career-reputation-killing run. Divine retribution, indeed! The best thing about the Doc Thirteen backup is Chiang's art, of course, but the Flex Mentallo-lite plot resonates in these troubled times. And for those who were smart enough to wait for the Architecture and Morality trade, I hate you with the white-hot fire of a thousand suns. A&M: A-. Spectre: D. Total: B-.

S: Mark Millar; A: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary. (Marvel, $3.99)

I don't think this is a complete failure- after the long wait, it does come across as a bit of a disappointment, no doubt, but I doubt that there's any way that they could have met the expectations that were built up by the seemingly-endless duration between #12 and this issue. And while it's scattershot and seems rushed, like they had 8 days instead of 8 months (and significantly more pages) to get it finished, everything does get resolved for the most part, and some of these resolutions work pretty well from where I sit: Hawkeye's revenge against the Black Widow, for example, or Thor finally proving that he isn't a nutjob...and I even liked the little quiet-time interlude with Tony Stark towards the end. The tacked-on finale with Cap, not so much. Hitch and Neary turn in a fine art job, as well; as unnecessary as the big 8-page battle centerfold may be, it's still a remarkably detailed piece of comics art and the whole thing seems to be on a par with what they've done in issues past. Long past. Yeah, not a failure, but not exactly a high note to exit on either, and the childhood Giant-Man fan in me feels it necessary to dock Millar a notch for taking the easy way and making Hank Pym an asshole yet again. B

New comics coming in this weekend, so my take on Homeless Channel will be coming next week sometime. In other words, I haven't had the chance to read it yet...but I'm hearing good things about it, for what that's worth. And so...

DOG OF THE WEEK(S): TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #8, I suppose. But it's not Azzarello and Chiang's fault.

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