Sunday, March 15, 2009


Here I go again with 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 February 22 through March 5, 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.

BLUE BEETLE #36: As final issues go, this one turns out all right, despite an arbitrary, random, meaningless, and unnecessary death of a supporting cast member which seems to be designed to provide a shock of some sort on the way out, but the character it happens to last got any sort of meaningful development what- over a year and a half ago? Which definitely blunts the impact. Too bad Rafael Albuquerque couldn't squeeze out one more issue, but Carlo Barbieri did a fine job filling in. And now, this character, one of DC's better legacy revamps, now embarks on a career of making (essentially) cameo appearances in the likes of Teen Titans and elsewhere; good for keeping him in the public eye but terrible at showcasing what was best about this book, which was his supporting cast. Of course, this wasn't selling all that well when he was writing it, but creatively this comic never really got its feet back under it after John Rogers left; it peaked after the big battle against the Reach that ended in #25, and try as the writers (Nitz, Sturges, Pfiefer) might, they just couldn't recapture that momentum. Oh well, as I seem to be saying so often, it had a good run. Too bad it got nipped in the bud. B+

DIANA PRINCE: WONDER WOMAN VOL 04: The final collection highlights a transitional period in the early 70's Wonder Woman revamp- the decision-makers had already decided that the Emma Peel-lite Diana Prince was going nowhere fast, so Mike Sekowsky moved on, to be replaced by Dennis O'Neil (who seemed to be writing everything for DC at about this time, hope he bought something nice with all those paychecks), Don Heck, and Dick Giordano. Continuing the "needs a male partner" motif of previous issues, the first two stories, guest star somewhat bland PI Jonny Double (whose Showcase premiere had taken place four years previous) and see her mixed up with a murderous cult, as well as the return of Sekowsky's Doctor Cyber in a somewhat unlikely but still well-handled tale that has Cyber wanting to put her brain in Diana's body. After Heck and Giordano on inks on the first chapter, Giordano takes over on pencils and inks for the next few issues and they look very sharp. Catwoman joins the cast in a jewel heist adventure, which takes all concerned to one of those hidden cities of Tibet, and winds up (through the venerable plot contrivance of magic) depositing them all in Nehwon, which is of course the world of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. DC was gearing up to feature the duo in a title, eventually named Sword of Sorcery, in the hopes of getting on the Conan gravy train that Marvel was enjoying at the time. It's a rollicking adventure, for the most part, and the script was credited to SF writer Samuel R. Delaney, although it still reads like O'Neil. Somewhat more tellingly, and quite sad for a title which was initially conceived as a vehicle to showcase female empowerment and echo the Women's Lib movement of the day, Diana sells the boutique that was her sole source of income in between adventures, thus closing another chapter in her life, and paving the way for the star-spangled swimsuit to return. Next up is a reprint of Brave and the Bold #105, a Batman teamup with an unusually restrained Bob Haney script and Jim Aparo art from his peak period. Finally, we return to the DP:WW proper title with a really odd story about Diana helping out a group of female workers whose boss (whimsically drawn to resemble Carmine Infantino by Giordano) is apparently guilty of hassling the local Women's Lib group, and not paying his employees the minimum wage. Not exactly a threat along the same lines of a Doctor Cyber or even an Egg Fu! Delany is credited with this script as well, but it again sure reads like O'Neil, especially because it's as heavy-handed as he could be back then. Anyway, the final tale in this collection brings Diana back full circle- I Ching gets killed by a car that crashes into the restaurant in which they're dining when the driver is hit by a sniper. Diana goes after the gunman, falls out a window with him, hits a ledge and is knocked unconscious, and then awakes in the hospital with amnesia, along with the desperate desire to go back to Paradise Island. She steals a jet, lands in the ocean and fights a shark. The Amazons fish her out of the water, and one convenient memory restoration-via-Amazon-magic science device later, Wondy battles new character Nubia, a black Amazon princess, in the arena, and then Diana returns to our world, immediately getting a job with the UN as a senator's interpreter. As you may have guessed, this was written by the one and only Bob Kanigher, the man responsible for some of the nuttiest WW stories of the 60's and oddly enough, this awkwardly cobbled-together story has more vitality and spark than the last few of O'Neil and Delany's more socially relevant work. Go figure. Anyway, this effectively restored the WW status quo, which has been in effect pretty much ever since, as the Emma Peel-esque Diana Prince was relegated to the margins of DC's wild and weird history. That's why this reprint series ultimately is better as a whole than as the sum of its parts- a lot of that run was, frankly, not so good and brand perpetuation dictated the return to the classic look for the character. I don't know if sales improved or stayed the same. Still, there were times when Sekowsky and O'Neil got in sync and provided some very entertaining little superspy stories, and I'm glad that I finally got to read these- I didn't buy this when it was originally on the stands as a preteen. I find myself wondering a bit if these collections will have any effect or influence on today's readers, who probably will just regard it is almost-camp. Aah, most likely it will be as influential as your basic Showcase Presents, which is to say probably not much at all. We'll see. C+

HELLBLAZER #252: Some creepy moments and good characterization in part two, as John continues to deal with the weird skin rash that not only affects him, but also manifests itself in physical form to his new girlfriend. Oh, and all of this may or may not be tied in to labor strife at an area factory. Oddball kind of story for Milligan to begin his run, but it works OK so far and he writes the lead pretty well. A-

INCREDIBLE HERCULES #126: About a dozen pages for about a dollar more, and it's also designed as one of those "jumping on spots" we all hear so much about. In story one, we get an origin for Herc that I don't think Stan and Jack had in mind but does hew closely to the Greek myths, and in story two, we find out what happened to Amadeus Cho's coyote pup, which I had wondered about. It's not quite Old Yeller territory, but it does tentatively tug on the old heart strings a bit. A-

HOUSE OF MYSTERY #11: This title continues to steadfastly tread water, parsing out little dribs and drabs of information and stringing us along as to what exactly the heck is going on. OK as far as it goes, but my patience wears so thin these days. I really wish they'd get to the point. B

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #24: More of the sturm und drang that passes for mainstream DC comics these days, as we get the further adventures of what passes for the Marvel Family these days. It's not poorly written; everything has gravity and cause and effect, and the dialogue is just fine. It's competently illustrated by that most competent of illustrators, Jerry Ordway, an old hand at calcifying the Marvels from way back. Readable in spite of itself. B

The Madame's still in 19th century London, right in the middle of the Jack the Ripper stuff that went on, and try as she might she can't seem to prevent anything worse from happening. Not only that, but the Phantom Stranger seems to be making things even more difficult by appearing to abet the murderer. Wagner manages to mix all the magic stuff, soap opera stuff grand guignol stuff, and other...stuff pretty well, and despite a definite need to work on drawing top hats, Amy Hadley continues to shine on art. A-

More murders and strangeness in poor old Radiant City, and a some of the clues seem to point to the title character, but we know better- don't we? Another interesting and well-done noirish excursion by Motter, who really is a designer with chops and smarts, even though he's not such a great figure artist. A

SUB-MARINER: THE DEPTHS #5: Downbeat finale to an unusually restrained, even elegant, little miniseries which hasn't gotten much attention but on its own terms was quite well done, especially due to the soft focus painting of Esad Ribac. You could do worse than to get the trade, if you're looking for something to read on a slow afternoon. A-

THUNDERBOLTS #129: This works pretty well for what it's trying to be, I guess, even though all the plot beats are so obvious that one suspects that Diggle surely must have something else in mind eventually. Pleased to see he at least portrays Obama as dubious of Osborne's intentions. The art is adequate to the task at hand, telling the story efficiently and not much else. B+

Often threatening, but never quite succeeding, at devolving into incoherent weirdness-for-weirdness' sake, you've got to hand it to Gerard Way- this trap has ensnared many other writers, including obvious influence Grant Morrison. I still think that this works better as a showcase for Gabriel Ba's art, but it remains one of the more interesting books coming out right now. A-

This one gets back on track for a little while by giving us some face time with Dr. Lwanga's too-good-to-be-true wife, who finally gets to find her missing spouse, considerably worse for wear than he was when she last saw him. Then, it's back to hostile troops and running children and brutality aimed at nuns and my eyes glaze right back over again. B-

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