Thursday, August 21, 2008


Time once more for CONFESSIONS OF A SPINNER RACK JUNKIE- (with capital letters, no less!) 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 August 7 through August 21, 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.

100 BULLETS #94: Yeah, "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 6 issues". But this issue also gives us, even as Azzarello continues his maddening dance all around the clarity maypole, a great little scene in which the brutish loose cannon Lono squares off against sleek and sexy Dizzy Cordova...and it's as good a fight scene as I've seen in a comic (and no, I haven't seen any REAL fights) in quite a while, not to mention a very logical progression of long-simmering tensions. Good show. A-

AIR #1: We're not exactly in Coffee, Tea or Me? territory here as we get the adventures of a acrophobic stewardess (I'm kinda acrophobic myself, so I can relate) who gets mixed up with what at first glance seems to be terrorists vs. good guys on her plane, but soon gets a bit more complicated as no one seems to be what they really are, especially a handsome young fellow who claims to be from about what seems to be a half dozen different countries, and paranoia is the order of the day. G. Willow Wilson's script is an ambitious one, even though the airport/airplane setting reminds me quite a bit of many issues of the late, lamented-by-some American Virgin- and we all know how that one turned out. I do believe, though, that she has a plan and some ideas, and this is only the beginning. It could get quite interesting, I believe, if she can downplay the tendency towards fanfic-like situations (how many hospitals have you been in that provide for uninterrupted sex? I've never been in one) and dialogue (the line “You taste like the sky.” screams it), and (ironically enough) keep the story grounded. I found myself wondering about nitpicky things like how she keeps her job with all the running around through airports and different flights, and how such an acrophobic person could agree to jump out of an airplane with essentially a total stranger and not even seem to whimper (I'd be beating somebody up, let me tell you), also how handsome stranger seems to be able to board any flight he wishes, whenever he wishes...not to mention (and this is on the artist, I think) how he can get a "microchute" to open when it's underneath his sport jacket. Oh well. Speaking of the artist, I wonder what is it about the Vertigo imprint (or maybe the Vertigo editors) that seems to suck the life out of some artists who do work for it? While there are exceptions, take M.K. Perker here as an example- while his non-comics illustration work looks very interesting, on this title it looks like he's striving for a Phil Winslade or mid-80's Val Mayerik as inked by Craig Russell lefthanded look. It's awkward and oddly proportioned and over-rendered (despite a curious lack of shading and blackspotting) and almost the opposite of what you'd expect someone as accomplished as he apparently is to look. Never fails. Maybe he'll improve, too, or at least get more comfortable and less fussy with his approach. Who the hell knows. At least it's a Vertigo book, which means it might get at least 16 issues to get its feet under it before the inevitable canning. B-

BATMAN #'s 676-679: I think Grant Morrison must be a hell of a cook; certainly no one can recycle last week's (well, actually, the last decade's) worth of meals, I mean plots, like he can. And at the end of the day, that's what Morrison's doing- he seems to be determined to test the limits of the whole Batman concept, from day one to now, by introducing all the craziness and whims of fancy that writers and editors of all stripes saw fit to introduce (for varying reasons) in last seven decades...and so far he's getting away with it, despite a slightly disappointing reliance on the backbone of most Batman stories, at least in the modern era- question Bruce's sanity and/or present him with some sort of cataclysmic threat, have him down and out and tasting the bitter dregs, show him rising from the ashes to ultimately triumph, and oh yeah- the Joker. Got to have the Joker. Well, that's the backbone of most modern superhero stories, sans Joker (in most cases), but I hope you see my point. Grant's having fun and providing clever ideas (like Batman's "no Bruce Wayne" contingency plan) within the framework, but it's a frame I've seen used on many, many pictures before. Apparently penciller Tony Daniels and inker Sandu Florea's art education began and ended with Image comics from the mid 90's- they want to look so much like Jim Lee or Greg Capullo or J. Scott Campbell that it's kinda sad, really. Daniels tries, I think, to add some panache via shifting perspectives and random camera angles, but none of it feels organic or instinctive, but rather it just feels arbitrary and uninspired. It's mostly competent, but unexceptional and unexciting work. One can only wonder, I suppose, how memorable this series would be if a singularly talented creator (like J.H. Williams from a few issues back) had been on board from the beginning, to goose Morrison's complacency just a bit. Oh well, we simply have to get by with what we have, and fortunately it works well within its limitations. But it's far from over. B

THE BOYS #21: Of course the 9/11 setting is in poor taste; that's Ennis' entire modus operandi in regards to this book. That he manages to finesse it enough to where it comes across as fairly horrifying (in an of itself, and not because he chose to do it) rather than smirky is a testament to his writing chops. Otherwise, we keep getting dibs and drabs of backstory via Hughie and the Leader, and Darick Robertson continues to contribute good- not so good that it smacks you upside the head with its greatness good, but very good just the same- art. A-

B.P.R.D.: THE WARNING #2: Arcudi and Davis continue to do that thing they do so well, with lots of characterization and a generous helping of Indiana Jones-style crumbling temple action to boot. This is kinda review-proof as it goes; Arcudi is crafting great dialogue and pacing his story very well, and Guy Davis just can't do any wrong. If you're on board the B.P.R.D. train, then this is another satisfying chapter. A-

CRIMINAL 2 #4: Further proof of why picking up hitchhikers is generally a bad idea. Spotlight this time is on the unfortunate (well, he certainly seems so so far...) fellow who draws the Frank Kafka newspaper comic strip that has been referred to several times in previous issues. He gets in a bit of a sticky wicket this time, making what seems like a bunch of unfortunate mistakes- but who can say that they wouldn't make the same ones in his position. Anyway, we will see what we will see. As always, deftly scrpted by Ed Brubaker and impeccably drawn by Sean Phillips. A

FINAL CRISIS #3: The longer this goes on, and the more I see would-be naked-Emperor spotters opine, the more I'm convinced that this would have been better served coming out all at once, as a graphic novel, rather than in installments, where it's pretty much freaking people right the fuck out because they're only being given pieces of the puzzle in short bursts. Apparently these people have never read anything Morrison has done besides his JLA- this is Morrison's modus operandi when doing the sort of involved narrative that is his bread and butter. If you're unsatisfied by anything except the linear and demand neon-lettered resolution at every turn, you're bound for disappointment. Which isn't to say that this issue is perfect, far from it- there's a dogged ordinariness to many of these set pieces that one doesn't really expect from Grant; fan service perhaps, with the extended Wonder Woman/Oubilette Mary Marval fracas and all the Flashes running around. I'm afraid J.G. Jones doesn't help sometimes- from time to time he goes for the challenging camera angle, seeking to test his skills (I assume) and maintain his interest rather than help the reader suss out what's happening. Me, I think this is still a work in progress, and I'm being patient. Again, we'll find out in four more issues whether it's worth it. A-

HELLBOY: THE CROOKED MAN #2: OK, it was bound to be a bit of a letdown after the excellent first issue. Second of three chapters tend to be this way, I think. Hellboy and his new acquaintances set out to bury the formerly ensorceled father of one of them, and encounters creepy crawly resistance along the way until they take refuge in an old, crumbling church that has a blind minister living within. Of course, things promise to get out of hand at the end, and I'm still looking forward to the resolution although I hope it gets away from the slight predictability on display this time out. As long as Richard Corben provides more of his atmospheric visuals, I'm not worried. A-

JACK STAFF #18: I don't know if it's me or what, but Grist seems to be a bit on autopilot here. Granted, rote Grist is infinitely superior to 90% of what's out there, but I'm not getting the little unexpected delights and satisfying twists I was getting back in the old black and white days. Familiarity breeds...well, "contempt" is harsh and totally wrong, but perhaps "dissatisfaction" might be more apropos. Regardless, I still have high hopes for future issues, and while I would still hand the uninitiated a copy of Everything Used to be in Black and White before any of the Image stuff, I am far from done with this comic. B+

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #1-17, ANNUAL #1: I bought this title's predecessor, JSA, for well over 60 issues. I liked the characterization emphasis that co-writers Geoff Johns and David Goyer brought to the party, and it lasted a good long while with a rotating cast. Then, eventually, Johns (Goyer having bailed a good while back) seemed to be content with cranking out needlessly complicated superhero fights with cliched situatons and dialogue at the expense of the characterization I had previously enjoyed, and I, too, bailed. Then, after one of the Crisis series was completed, they decided to restart the title with its longer name and with a new number one issue, why I cannot say since Johns is still on board with a new artist. Funny thing is, though, there's also a renewed commitment (evidently) to the characterization that I grew to miss on the former title, with Johns taking the "society" part of the name literally and emphasizing family ties with the older members such as Wildcat, Flash and the Red Tornado. For the first few issues, we get to meet a lot of newish legacy characters (most probably introduced in the latter stages of the former title, or in one of the Crisis issues, I'm sure) such as Cyclone, a cute, chatty, endearing redheaded granddaughter of Ma Hunkle, the original Red Tornado, and one with the wind powers of the android version (it's done with nanobytes or somesuch); a twentysomething son of Ted Grant who turns into a cat person with abnormal strength and speed; yet another version of Steel, this one the grandson of the original who suffers a strange fate and fills the role of the requisite tortured superhero guy because of it; Stargirl (Courtney Whitmore) from the late, lamented-by-some Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. book, with a bigger role than she had before, and others. Less endearing is the 30th century Starman, who's stuck in our time and is batshit insane because of it (I always felt that the worst thing James Robinson did in his Starman was drop that hint that Thom Kallor was part of that particular legacy), and he mostly goes around spouting nonsense, eating sloppy joes and opening black holes for the Kingdom Come version of Superman to emerge from, and...well, let's just say that there's a hell of a lot of stuff going on here and let it go at that. It's a huge, sprawling cast, and Johns is doing a commendable job of giving nearly all of them respectable face time, and making most of them compelling on top of that. It's especially gotten interesting in the last four issues or so; Johns is expanding on the characters Mark Waid created for Kingdom Come, giving us the godlike Gog, who blissfully strides the Earth, granting the JSA'ers (well, most of them anyway) their fondest wishes- he handles the somewhat puzzled, often grateful reactions of the team members to his presence in engrossing fashion. Anyway, short story long, Johns is impressing me by the way he's handling this burgeoning group of characters and with this most recent plotline in particular. Never once have I found myself wishing he'd sacrifice a few to relieve the clutter. Dale Eaglesham is the regular artist, for the most part; he's got a meticulously rendered style that is occasionally too stiff for its own good but manages the neat trick of packing each page with a multitude of people and things and just plain stuff, and never evokes the far less readable clutter of a George Perez. His work has grown on me. A few weeks ago, an annual came out, which seemed to be designed to make the aging fanboys that grooved on the 1975 All-Star Comics JSA revival, not to mention the All-Star Squadron readers, happy- he had Gog deposit Power Girl back into that Earth-2 world in which the adult Robin was in love with the Huntress, the female Dr. Midnite was still alive, the Joker is old and decrepit, and so on. Jerry Ordway drew this one, and while his art was as mannered and lifeless as usual, it still fit the story well, as is his wont. It was a very readable "what if" kinda story, but of course it's going to be shoehorned in with all the Final Crisis satellite titles, as is the saga of the KC who the hell knows where it's all gonna go. Regardless, that doesn't change the fact that I was pleasantly surprised by the entire run- even when it got all angsty, and even when it devolved into mammoth superhero brawls, it was always interesting and well-done. So I think I'll have to get back into my Justice Society habit again, at least until the inevitable decline rolls around again. I hope it won't be for a long time. A-, Annual: B+. ETA: I had forgotten, but over a year ago I was sent a comped copy of #5 to review, and I did so right here. My opinion of the book has risen since then.

MANHUNTER #33: Looks like Kate is up against some mighty tall odds as she continues to investigate the girls with missing hearts along the Mexico/US border. Lots more cameos this issue as well, including an amusing exchange with Oracle, who winds up calling in some other Birds of Prey to help her out. Mike Gaydos' art still really hasn't grown on me yet- it strives for realism, or at least a J.P.Leon/Tommy Lee Edwards/Alex Maleev type of realism, but unfortunately so far all he's mastered is the sloppy ink line. Me personally, I prefer this style to the calculated slickness of many other DC/Marvel artists these days, but I can see why others might not like as much. Anyway, Andreynko has several intriguing plot threads lined up waiting their turn after this one's over, and I intend to hang in for the long haul with this book. Problem is, how long is long? B+

PATSY WALKER, HELLCAT #2: How in the world this manages to be so breezy and fast-paced, but so incoherent, is a puzzler. Perhaps LaFuente could help a bit more; he seems to get carried away with the breathless script and tries to match it pant for pant. Still, this is fun; the dialogue remains clever, the situations novel, and the art is awfully good-looking, especially as colored by Jon Rauch. I just wish Kathryn Immonen would just dial down the quirk, just a notch. B

TRINITY #'s 1-6: I went into this cold, not really having read a lot of the hype- don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting this. It's like there was a study group that was devoted to creating the most generic superhero comic book possible, and that's what this is- it's like Super Hero Comic 101 or something. I don't really think Kurt Busiek is untalented, far from it, when he's writing Astro City (the book he seems to care about), he's often engaging and clever (even though I don't buy AC anymore, go figure). When he's doing the major players for the Big Two, though, he's workmanlike and dull more often as not. It's a puzzlement, it is. I will say that I was interested for a couple of issues in the slightly clich├ęd Latina tarot reader whose adventures make up the back feature, but it's not long before she gets dragged into the same stale superheroics that plague the lead. I'm sure in a few more issues she'll be wearing a peekaboo cutout leotard and hitting people with her tarot deck or something. Mark Bagley is a solid craftsman (and a hell of a nice guy, judging by the telephone interview I did with him a few years ago), you can tell by what he does here...but what he does is merely competent. There's no real flair or enthusiasm apparent, no matter how many poses remind me of Gil Kane here or John Byrne there. Fabian Nicienza fares no better on the backfeature. You'd think that DC wold make damn sure that such a high-profile project as this aspires to be would make top-notch, inspired, committed (to something besides a paycheck) creators mandatory, but this is utterly devoid of anything that even remotely resembles innovation, flair, or excitement. It's just empty, toothless spandex posturing and that's a damn shame. Mike Sterling says it gets better in another six issues, but I'm not sure I want to wade through the next five to find out. D+

WONDER WOMAN #'s 22, 23: Well, this one got a little needlessly gnarly towards the end, with betrayals on top of plot twists on top of betrayals, and Gail Simone still has, I insist, no flair for dialogue- but hey, she did great by good old Beowulf, actually had me giving a shit about Stalker (my interest in 1975 was limited to art only), and she gives Wondy a definite charisma and presence, even if I don't quite understand what her relationship to the reality she inhabits is exactly. And the art was never less than outstanding- the Lopresti/Ryan team handled the action stuff the script demanded very well. Anyway, overall I liked this four-issue arc; any questions I had early on were more or less answered, or at least made unimportant, and it's all good. I liked. Will I buy any more? Probably not. I'm still just not that big a fan of the character. But if you are, I think you should be supporting this book. It's good enough. B+

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