Monday, August 11, 2008


Time once more for Confessions of a Spinner Rack Junkie- that more-or-less ongoing and often overdue feature in which I write shortish reviews of various works of sequential fiction that I have perused in the interval since the last time I inflicted such reviews upon one and all, or to be specific, the period from approximately July 24th to August 6, 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.

AMBUSH BUG: YEAR NONE #1: Bob Fleming and Keith Giffen pick up right where they left off sixteen years ago (My God- has it really been that long since the Nothing Special?), giving us nonstop DCU-based absurdity, a welcome tonic for all the gloomy, oh-so-serious comics DC's been issuing for the last five years or so. Problem is, at least on the internet, there have been many talented (and many not-so-talented) people who have been poking fun at Silver Age DC for several years now as well, mining that rich lode for all it's worth- and the Bug's anarchy isn't quite as anarchistic anymore. But that doesn't mean that there aren't many laughs and chuckles to be found here, so by all means check this out, especially if you like fun. And who doesn't like fun? Well, lots of people evidently...but I know you're not one of them. B+

BLACK DIAMOND: GET IN THE CAR AND GO! TP: Having read the entire series now in one sitting, the objections I had when I read most of the singles still apply. Although I still am skeptical about presuming that U.S. citizens would be amenable to the possibility of a thousand pounds of automobile dropping on their heads or property with no advance notice, the basic idea of the superhighway high over our heads, the people who use it and the people who live on it and depend on it for a living as well as the political jockeying going on in regards to it is an intriguing one, and that Larry is able to make it so is a testament to his writing chops. On top of that, I don't think he's even begun to tap the potential of this concept- there's a million stories that can be told involving that stretch of road, I'll betcha, and this story's quest is only one of them. The back features, unfortunately not included in this trade, bore that out. But calling it a "quest" is a bit highfalutin'- this story, with its QT-esque dialogue and non-stop muscle car action, is strictly 1973 drive-in fare all the way- a spiritual cousin of such double feature diamonds as Two Lane Blacktop, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, and yes, even Death Race 2000 or maybe, just maybe, a hint of Mad Max. To carry the film comparisons further, as I said when I wrote about the final issue, I enjoyed how Young breaks down the wall between story and storyteller, superimposing the actual script and directions over the images; it's unorthodox but I thought it worked nicely and reminded me a lot of movies such as Dennis Hopper's weird-assed The Last Movie, or even the ending of Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. I sometimes think Young was born too late, actually- in another life I believe he would have been destined to pitch scripts to Roger Corman. Biggest problem I have with this, though, is simply Jon Proctor's art. I wish I could be kinder to it, but it just too often looks crude and unappealing, although he does exhibit strong graphic design skills- there are several well-done collage style spreads. Time and again he resorts to what appears to be tracing photographs or photocopies with a Sharpie, and the effect took me right out of the story too many times to count. The coloring is garish and ugly, too- perhaps to evoke some sort of dystopian future in which the ozone layer is fubared or somesuch, but the oversaturated reds, oranges, yellows and greens just make it look like sunset all the time- and the effect is monotony. This may not be such a problem for many of you out there; visuals have always been, in most cases, as important to me as story- but I know not everyone shares my viewpoint. If you're looking for a good, diverting read, say to kill an afternoon or take along on a flight somewhere, then I strongly recommend you check this out. It's not perfect, but neither were the great drive-in pictures of the 50's and 60' Black Diamond, what they were, above all, was entertaining. B+

BLUE BEETLE #29: New writer Matt Sturges takes over and semi-regular artist Rafael Albuquerque returns, and they blend together pretty well as we get deeper into the whole illegal alien mystery that's going on both here and in Manhunter as well. Don't know how related they are, exactly, even though Jaime made an appearance in her book. Lots of Peacemaker this time out, as well as a goofy-looking fight between a tattooed luchadore and a giant rat-guy, some action involving illegals hopped up on some sort of super-serum, some corporate skullduggery, and overall this is a not-bad little superhero comic- action packed and leavened with judiciously placed humor. No wonder it's not selling- not enough brooding, I'm sure. A-

CATWOMAN #81: More of the same outstanding superheroics that Pfiefer and the Lopezes have been providing for many months now. But as we all know, this is a dead comic walking, so it has been all for naught, apparently. Makes you wonder what readers want from a Catwoman book; since this one spends a goodly amount of pages reestablishing her villainous cred, I have a sinking feeling we're about to find out soon. B+

DAREDEVIL #109: OK, I give- I'll buy a Dakota North solo book, if it's handled as well as Brubaker, Lark and Gaudiano handle her here. She's the featured star of this particular storyline, a bit too similar to recent arcs but no less well-done. Don't really understand what was up with all the automatic weapons on the cover. B+

DIANA PRINCE: WONDER WOMAN TP VOL 2: This time out we get not only more of Denny O'Neil and Mike Sekowsky's Emma Peel/James Bond/Girl From U.N.C.L.E.-styled spin on the erstwhile Amazon Princess, but also a couple of examples of how hard the decision-makers tried to make her stick- there's a crossover appearance reprinted here from Lois Lane #93, written by Bob Kanigher and drawn by late 60's-early/mid 70's stalwart Irv Novick, that seems to pit Diana against Lois for Superman's affections; typical goofy Kanigher stuff. The other is the notoriously silly racing-themed Batman team-up in Brave and the Bold #87, nicely drawn by Sekowsky for the most part but a lot depends on how long you can take Bats in a little racing helmet, driving a LeMans and fighting stereotypical German bad guys. Otherwise, everything else is from the Wonder Woman comic proper and it's a mixed bag- by now, Sekowsky is writing and drawing, and while his dialogue style is mostly terse and to the point, it suffers from (what I hope is unintentional) sexism- even though much is made of this new, liberated Wonder Woman, she still is awfully dependent on a rotating cast of rough, tough he-man types to help her out of jams and scrapes- the ones that her blind Asian mentor I-Ching doesn't get her out of, that is. For a character whose name is on the masthead, Diana actually does precious little to make a difference in many of these stories other than get in fights and defer to others to resolve the situations at hand. Not exactly inspiring. Which is not to say that there isn't entertainment value, if you're not expecting much- this collection leads off with the jaw-dropping "Them", which works in a flamboyant trio of lesbians, who keep young girls in bondage as slaves until one escapes and hides in Diana's boutique and by extension gets her to help. She stands up to the trio, but it's a man that bails her out. Sigh. It sounds very kinky, but it's PG-rated kink. Much better is "Morgana", in which a group of kids accidentally conjures up the daughter of Morgan Le Fay, who wreaks supernatural mischief until...I Ching bails Diana out. That's dismaying, but the magical hijinx are fun. The malevolent superspy villainess Dr. Cyber, who played a big part early in the run, comes back for an U.N.C.L.E-flavored storyline involving earthquake machines and a girl that claims to be Ching's daughter, culminating with Diana going undercover in Red China with her boyfriend du jour, tracking Ching's whereabouts and eventually helping some refugees escape forced labor in the land of godless communism. This is some dicey stuff- by today's standards at least borderline racist and sexist in places and quite dated in others, but also very much of its time and certainly in line with the prevailing mindset of the day. If you can overlook this, these are some fast paced and action-packed super spy-espionage stories, and if you're disposed to like Sekowsky's idiosyncratic style (as I am) he's in very good form. That's a big if, I know. B-

LIBERTY COMICS: A CBLDF BENEFIT BOOK: At first I was so offput by the heavy handedness of practically everything in this collection that I was ready to pan it mercilessly, but after some thought I understood that in order to get a mule's attention, you don't tap him on the shoulder or tickle him with a feather- you whack him on the head or on the ass with a two-by-four- and that seems to be the prevailing aesthetic here. A lot like reading Frank Miller comics, actually. Nice to see Monkeyman and O'Brien again, even if it was just a satirical two-page spread. Also standing out are a Kurtzman Mad-style Darwyn Cooke feature, Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's cutesy-in-a-revolting-kind-of-way intro starring the Boys, and two stories which don't seem to have much to do with the subject at hand: Mark Millar and J.P. Leon's melancholy story of an aged Dracula, trying to life a non-vampiric life in a dingy London flat, and a typically handsome-looking Brubaker/Phillips Criminal tale, puzzlingly referred to as an "emission". Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones also get an ongoing framing story which runs throughout the book; they have such great chemistry together that it's enjoyable even though it's predictable. As an art showcase, this is pretty good, and it's for a good cause as well. Wonder if I can deduct it from my taxes? B+

MADAME XANADU #2: Now this is more like it. Well-done dramatics from Wagner, working the epic Arthurian story from a pagan viewpoint as well as toeing the DC continuity line, and Amy Hadley contributing some really lovely visuals in said story's service. I now look forward to finding out where Wagner's going. My only objection, really, was Hadley's decision to depict Merlin as an ancestor of Betty Boop's Grampy. A-

NOCTURNALS: CARNIVAL OF BEASTS: It's been a hell of a long time since a new issue of Dan Brereton's Nocturnals has graced my stack, and unlike many prodigal titles, this one is better than ever thanks not only to Brereton's always excellent work itself, but outstanding contributions from two other well-chosen creators. The lead story, which is all Brereton, is a continuation of previous storylines, but this time he gives the tale an mean edge which hasn't been quite so evident in issues past, and it works very well in what, at least on the surface, is a simple account of Doc Horror trying to escort his daughter Evening to school, while struggling to contain the transformative changes that are an ongoing battle he must wage, as well as encountering some old "friends" with murderous (and worse) intent. Somewhat intriguing is the suggestion of a Harry Potter-ish supernatural school; if Brereton ever gets around to expanding his universe a la Mignola and the B.P.R.D., this could provide some interesting storylines. The other two tales deal with other members of the group- first, fish-girl Starfish, who encounters an undersea leviathan in a haunting and evocative story, wonderfully drawn and digitally colored (with a nicely restrained use of greens, blues and purples) by Viktor Kalvachev, previously unknown to me, and a lighter-in-tone, wordless story of Eve, the undead Gunwitch, and ghost-girl Polychrome (if you see her, the nickname makes perfect sense) getting involved with a Something Wicked This Way Comes-style circus, drawn in a lively, cartoonish style by Ruben Martinez and Viet Nguyen (what is it with so many talented creators named Nguyen, anyway?)- it doesn't make quite the impression that its predecessors do- it's just a tad hard to follow in spots- but is fast-paced and fun just the same. I want more from Brereton and whatever collaborators he deems necessary, and I hope I don't have to wait 14 more years to get it. A+

NORTHLANDERS #8: Well, that was an ending, wasn't it? Yep, yep, sure was. An ending. That's what it was. It sure did end all right! Lots of angst, and bloodshed, and stürm und its cousin drang...and then, well, it stopped, and our haunted, conflicted Sven finds out what's really important in life, as anyone who's ever watched a movie or TV show will tell you. Anticlimactic as it was, I can't help but be reminded of a certain professional writer who has also recently found himself as a father, and can't help but wonder if he didn't write this story with, just perhaps, a more personal touch than usual. Well, idle speculation aside, even though this has been a solid historical adventure yarn, I'm not sure it would be as good it was if not for the art of David Gianfelice; I'd say he has established himself as an artist to watch out for, if he hasn't already. I, for one, would like to introduce him to the editors of Dark Horse's awful-looking Solomon Kane adaptation. B+

NUMBER OF THE BEAST #8: Oh, so this was just the springboard for yet another Wildstorm linewide relaunch, another imitation Crisis on Infinite WhatEVER that absolutely no one is asking for but DC feels compelled to do anyway. Why do they bother? Anyway, this is where the Chris Sprouse/Karl Kesel art ends, (they didn't even do all of this final issue, instead leaving chapters to lesser talents) and where I get off. C

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