Monday, December 31, 2012

12/26/12


BEST OF WEEK: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700—Forget the death threats (much easier to do if your name isn’t Dan Slott). Forget the complaints that this kind of thing happens all the time and that this will be undone/Peter will be back/the status quo will be resumed/etc. The only thing that matters to me is a single question: was it a good story, a compelling narrative true unto itself? In this month, in this moment, are we not entertained? I am. Slott & Ramos guide Peter & Otto through territory as yet uncharted throughout fifty years of much-more-than-monthly publication, quite an accomplishment in and of itself. [Spoilers ensue] Even knowing that this was (for now) the last issue of the main title, I couldn’t help but follow every blind alley that the narrative led us down, sure that Peter was going to find a way to pull it off in the end, that there was some twist coming that would cast the adjective “superior” in a new light. But the twist turned out to be not the arrival but the journey, in a way that is dead-bang bull’s-eye spot-on in terms of Parker characterization. The brain swap wasn’t like a clean regulated thing with borders. Inevitable bleed between the emotional states caused by the sharing of two lives’ memories in totum of course leads to personalities starting to blur a bit. After jamming through 30+ years of memories, you can’t help but be a bit affected and soak up some of what they taught the other fella, once you get a chance to process. And so it is that even in total defeat, straight-up failure, Peter Parker has his greatest victory as he manages to find a vessel for the massive Uncle Ben guilt complex that has been driving this storytelling engine since 1962, and not only the guilt but the sense of great responsibility that makes him, and now Otto Octavius, choose to do the right thing every time. This suggests a compelling character study that should be fertile ground for Slott and company to explore in the months to come. As for the question of de facto rape that arises from Mary Jane having consensual relations with a body inhabited by a foreign mind unknown to her, that it is a pretty gray area, particularly as the months go by and Otto bleeds over into Peter a little bit more. Or what if, you know, she starts to prefer this guy? He’s more of a dick now, but maybe that’s her thing? She certainly seemed in no way put off by the straight supervillain lingo that started coming out of his mouth the moment the alarm sounded. All I know is that I’m glad I don’t have to write it or get it approved by editorial. I don’t know if old Dan Slott is a David Foster Wallace fan or not, but he has certainly gone where few have to mine a particular subset of reader and given himself the howling fanboys.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #15—Well, it is a very light week, so I figured I’d check back in with these A-listers, seeing as how I jumped ship with Mr. Lee, particularly in light of Mr. Daniel’s subsequent role in the proceedings. What we have here is nothing less than a war between Atlantis and the surface world. Tidal waves smashing cities! Aquaman and Mera in Gotham! Superman and Wonder Woman wearing glasses on a date and then saving Metropolis from an aircraft carrier falling from the sky! Ivan Reis’s art looks great, he’s been tearing it up long before this last run on AQUAMAN and he’s definitely ready for the big time. And there were no false character beats, nothing that really stuck out for me in a bad way in the character interactions, but also not enough to keep me coming back. No need to run out and get AQUAMAN #15. Solid but not compelling. Still love the Gary Frank art on the SHAZAM update, still can’t stand the way Johns writes Billy as a thug, no matter how much redemption is inevitably coming down the pike.  

MARA #1—Wood sets us up with a decent initial hook here and the Doyle/Bellaire art is perfect, but this feels a little skinny for a first issue. I get that it’s a whole big thing that happened at the end there, but, maybe I’m just jaded with all of the other mega-powered #1s that have been getting launched lately (I mean, surely I am, good night, it is probably not a good idea to go back and count how many #1s I’ve hit here in just the past couple of months), but not enough time is spent establishing the mundanity of a future world in which athletes are linked to millions of viewers via tele-bravo uplink channel or what not, so that when something crazy happens at the end, it’s not nearly as flattening and potentially paradigm-shifting as I feel like it should be. Am certainly still interested enough to pick up the next issue, really dig the art, but hoping the story delivers something a bit more substantive.




BLAST FROM THE PAST! SPIDER-MAN’S TANGLED WEB #15—Well, I was home for Christmas, back in my very original local & friendly neighborhood comic shop and that dear ol’ Comic Bob was helping me look for an all-ages Spidey title that might be appropriate for a two-year-old reader (something on the near side of Kraven’s Last Hunt, faithful readers!) when this gem emerged from the back-issue bins. Paul Pope writing and drawing a Spidey story! What is not to there love? I am crazy for the Pope. And this is the perfect week to happen across such random wonderfulness. The story turns out to only have Ol’ dearly departed Webhead in it for a couple pages and really be all about a teenage girl who is a big fan and whose dad ignores his job as superintendent of a run-down tenement building to build super-villain armor. Like you do in the 616. The art is typical Pope, madcap and seemingly blasted out at super-speed but with an expert director’s sense of composition, camera placement, and shot movement, along with thousands of messy details that imbue all of Pope’s pages with a palpable sense of grainy grimy reality. The story doesn’t as much end as come crashing to a halt, exactly like the man ran out of pages, and the reader is left as breathless as the protagonist with at least as many questions. Strong material from the House of Ideas released under the watchful eye of Axel Alonso, freshly poached from Vertigo and bringing that independent aesthetic to mainstream Marvel in a big way. And a killer read for two dollars! 

12/19/12


BEST OF WEEK: LOCKE & KEY: OMEGA #2—This is just the best. On every level. Character, first and foremost. We are not only fully invested in these people but we love them and hope the very best for them, despite the unlikelihood of such a scenario occurring, at least without a serious percentage of casualties. The plot. Hill is a consummate master of storytelling, spinning every written word to maximum incantative effect. I’ve said it before, but I care more about What Happens Next in this one than in any other serial narrative in which I am currently invested. Even though I completely did it with the first two volumes, slowing down to enjoy the third and fourth before finally going monthly, even though it still has not been a full calendar year since I’ve read the first page of this thing, I still already kind of hate the people in years to come who can just roar through this whole damn thing as fast as their attention spans and pocketbooks will allow. Who didn’t wait for it, didn’t earn it! Because Hill does such a fine job of ratcheting up the tension level of every single issue, notch by notch, in a way that is simply not perceptible on the marathon read. I am enjoying savoring these in monthlies to a ridiculous extent. An example, third panel of the second page this time out, Ty says that Bode went down to the water and that’s like the most terrifying thing ever. We don’t know for sure but presume that this is happening concurrent to the final pages last issue and you just want to scream at all of them, “Omega! Threat level omega! Fucking get down there, it’s too late, you’re probably all already too late, they’re coming, THEY’RE COMING GET DOWN THERE!” And but then the next two pages. Man. Here again, it’s the whole marathon vs monthly juxtaposition, for which I this particular case split the difference. I haven’t seen this fella for the majority of calendar year 2012, but all the noble Constant Readers out there haven’t seen him for I guess at least close to a year past that? And I shouldn’t have been but was so surprised at how glad it made me to have him right there on the page after all of these months, how great it was to just see him. I guess I did actually involuntarily holler out “Fucking Bode!” to the empty room but managed not to wake up the girls upstairs. So yeah, like two pages of good times, which means Hill’s got to immediately swivel it all back the other way into just The Horrah. Poor old Rufus is never going to catch a break, you feel like.

It is difficult to express how exhilarating it is to see a well-worn trope in the work of my very favorite author growing up used to such magnificent and powerful effect in this masterpiece written his son, who I presume is just a very few years older than me. But you know young Joe grew up with Tom Cullen and Wolf, got to know Sheemie and good old Duddits just a little while later and it really was just a nearly overwhelming feeling, that first time Rufus showed up in I want to say Volume 3, any King fan worth his salt had to immediately be like yelling at everyone else within earshot, “Oh shit, he’s got a retarded kid, there is . . . yes, we have at the very least an autistic type of fellow here who is so completely sympathetic, we’re heading more over in the realm of like the beatific saints, and it’s pretty likely this poor sweet kid is going to either hang out on the bench and/or eat just a terrific amount of shit for the majority of the story, but dollars will get you donuts and I don’t shiv that before all is said and done, this little bastard is going to be flying up or hurling fire or reading minds or dropping all kinds of life-saving telekinesis all over the entire climaxing mess right before keeling over, eyes rolled up to the top of his head and blood dribbling out of his nose, the last guardian, the sacrificial virgin, the super-powered messiah who gives his life to save the world from unthinkable and seemingly unstoppable evil.”

This issue, at long last, pushes all of that along rather well. And is also a war comic for part of the time.


MULTIPLE WARHEADS #2—This, in all kinds of other ways, is completely overwhelming. Brandon Graham packs so much detail, so many panels (29 across two pages at the highest point of madness), so. Many. Puns. into every page that it is almost exhausting to make it through an entire issue in one sitting. Which is in no way a complaint. Full art across 28 pages plus both inside covers, no ads, is in incredibly wonderful immersive experience. Particularly for the two American dollars plus ninety-nine cents! It just wears you out, man. This comic is a funny thing. There’s not so much conflict as just day-in-the-life-type mundanity, only the world in which it takes place is such an insane naked shot into the great teeming insanity crackling at the heart of Graham’s imagination that just pages and pages of someone waking up and walking down and getting breakfast is probably almost more than your average reader can bear (and see, at this point in the book, after that line, there would be like a close-up shot of someone opening a can that has a bear on the label, followed by a question about that “Cannes bear?” and then someone dropping their drawers in response, “No, CAN bare.” The man is nuclear. He is doing things with the form which no one in the world, past or present, is capable. Jawdropping business all around and we are lucky to have him.

HAPPY #3—This is kind of a fucked-up read the week before Christmas but I guess that’s the point. A bit even more disturbing as well to get Morrison on the cover with the DARICK power drill. Nick’s secret origin is a bit boilerplate by way of YEAR ONE Gordon but a thematic fit with what’s come before. This has been a fun if horrifying romp through ideaspace more traditionally mined by Ennis, and it has been interesting to watch Morrison play with the tropes and tone, scored by the intricate and hyperviolent linework we have come to expect and love from Robertson. Thinking there’s going to be some amount of blood next issue.

SAGA #8—This one continues last issue’s trend of moving along a lot more how I would like it to, though the present-tense tone of some of the jargon continues to just slap me out of the narrative. And I wish I didn’t have to keep talking about it, but it keeps happening. To be fair, sometimes it works, like when the squid thing in the tank on the bottom of Page Three says that guard duty with Alanna is the fucking worst, that was funny. But then Hazel narrating about her parents dreaming of her being an acrobat or a brain surgeon, that suddenly sends everything crashing into Planet Earth at lightspeed. I see that the whole trick is that whole validation-of-science-fiction thing wherein we ground the fantastic in the mundane details of our own personal experience to make it more resonant and universal, Luke Skywalker dreaming of getting off the farm/saving the galaxy, that kind of situation, but Vaughan’s still cutting it a bit slangy for my taste. There’s no rule that says everyone needs to talk like Joss Whedon wrote their dialogue. We don’t need a narrative caption that this is a “meet-cute,” we can fucking see what it is. And speaking of STAR WARS, you know what exactly this reminds me of, when Anakin drops a clone trooper out the back of a transport toward the end of EPISODE II and Obi-Wan says, “Good call, my young Padawan.” This anachronistic tic is, for the most part, hitting me terrible like that. I know I’m in the minority about this because everyone can’t stop falling over themselves about how incredible it is, and Fiona Staples does a magnificent magnificent job and I love her lettering and am fine with the mechanics of the plot so far, it’s just the intricacies of the dialogue between the characters, the way they relate to one another, that is kind of driving me crazy. And it wouldn’t as much if our boy hadn’t turned in 112 on-point issues of Y THE LAST MAN and EX MACHINA and hit both so completely out of the park on such a regular basis. Hopefully, he’ll find a better balance that I can lock onto without alienating the rest of the free world who already loves this thing.

FABLES #124—I have never really been into this back-up feature and figured that them dumping all of the final chapters on us in a single sitting was unlikely to produce a more enjoyable effect. “I’ll take paying the $2.99 cover price just to get this one over with and on back to Snow & Bigby next month, which, not counting them fretting over their kids last arc, don’t feel like we’ve really hung with them in three or four years, now,” I said to myself at the point of purchase (except it was more in internal brainwaves and flashes, without as much phrasing and grammar). And I was right about those last chapters Eleven through Thirteen. Could not have cared less. However. What follows is an eleven-page epilogue montage that goes all SIX FEET UNDER finale and fast-forwards us through the next 742 years of adventures that Bufkin & Lily share while trying to make it back to that beloved lunchbox tree in Oz. And that business is devastating. Somebody call the Eisner judges, Willingham can do no wrong.

THE UNWRITTEN #44—Tommy’s journey through hell with those two kids from the prison where some serious shit went down like three years ago continues. Harpies are terrifying en masse! Nearly four years running, Carey & Gross never fail to pull just enough narrative sleight-of-hand to keep us engaged, even if we have no idea where we’re heading. And one of the best last pages of the week, no question, you just want to go around waving it in people’s faces with no context whatsoever.

WONDER WOMAN #15—Man, this one definitely gives just enough to tickle our four-month-simmering curiosity while leaving us all twisted up wanting more. Chiang/Wilson are nothing less than a force, what gorgeous art. I mean, the cover alone. Really hope Azzarello doesn’t pull his usual cleverly-subverting-expectations shenanigans and actually gives us at least a few pages of Diana and Orion slugging it out next month. Because I need to see this art team go straight Kirby for just a few panels. Maybe this guy in Antarctica is supposed to be Vandal Savage, it’s hitting me as suddenly terribly obvious?

BATWOMAN #15—Mm, a Maggie Sawyer fill-in with 90% of the art supplied by Trevor McCarthy. Bless his heart, he does fine, great even, a style grounded in realism that reminds me of earlier Sean Phillips or even Chiang back up top. But when we’re conditioned to expect the mind-blowing compositional and rendering hijinx of J.H. Williams III and are confronted with anything else, it just doesn’t, can’t, measure up. This is a perfectly entertaining comic book on its own merits, the writing is solid, etc. But in context, it is nothing more than a fill-in issue of J.H. BATWOMAN.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #4—Man, this is just really quality. I wish they weren’t shipping it so much so I could be hanging out with my principles of not paying $4 for twenty-pages-a-pop twice a month, but this title is, unto itself, all-star-as-good-as-it-gets-X-Men-greatness and I’m powerless not to gobble it up with a spoon. I had to go three places to find #3 when it was sold out by the middle of the afternoon Wednesday, and it wasn’t until I had it that I remembered I assured myself that there was No Way I was diving in when the book was announced. Bendis has really dropped in with his A-game from the first beat, dropping all kinds of deft little perfect character moments right and left, which fuel this title’s fire like no other, but then never failing to push the plot forward. Emma’s reaction to the news that Jean is back is so pitch-perfect I can’t handle it, one of dozens of lines within these pages that not only defines but codifies a character. And the art is some of the very best on the rack, Immonen/von Grawbadger/Gracia rendering every page in brilliance on every level, composition, layout, and such lush lush tones.

DAREDEVIL #21—Waid just keeps on rolling, man, what a monster, and manages to both pay off and tie up what’s been going on with the past twelve issues of this book, all while propelling us forward into the bold new era of Superior NOW! Samnee & Rodriguez’s art continues to perfectly complement Waid’s words and display storytelling at the highest level of craft. There’s so much hype about this book for a reason. 

HAWKEYE #6—And speaking of hype. Yeah, man. This one right here is indeed The Real Business. Maybe it’s getting Aja back, maybe Fraction’s just getting better and better, but this issue feels like the best one yet, and the bar is already fairly stratospheric. What we have here is a non-linear romp through six days in the life of our own eponymous off-duty Avenger trying to hook up a black-market DVR to his A/V situation at home so that he can finish up the season of DOG COPS, which is apparently the most riveting must-see TV going in the 616 at the moment, but then also finding time to quote Roy Batty’s “tears in the rain” soliloquy along the way, as well as having the guy who sold him the DVR channel Henry Leo Fraction’s viewpoint as to why his alias is really Hawkguy, and then also get Clintnapped by the ever-antagonistic Tracksuit Mafia (Bro), from whom we learn something new about the femme fatale from #3, and but also, yet again, Kate delivers a short but eloquent lecture on how Clint needs to man up, quit being a jerk, and Do the Right Thing. It’s very fashionable to boycott Marvel or even corporate comics altogether, but folks making that call are missing some of the very best books on the rack, week in week out, look no further than only this streak of Marvels batting my own true and personal cleanup for the proof.

FF #2—Fraction is really hitting on all cylinders here, lately. Diving back in to CASANOVA had to be a good thing. But here we are in the fourth part of this double-title situation wherein our team of replacements bid farewell to the eponymous quartet only to discover on Page Four that, big surprise, said eponymous foursome does not in fact return as scheduled. Because how could you have a sister title were that the case? Of course, the media goes bananas while the team hunkers down and then the Mole Man attacks. Which makes all kinds of sense. The Allreds’ art on this is as great as you expect, they’ve had a couple decades’ worth of professional interaction to really lock into perfectly complementing one another’s styles and I guess the old matrimony hasn’t hurt matters. Great great call those last four pages too, though, so far it was a perfectly paced enjoyable enough issue but every beat fell right where you’d expect, there was virtually no surprise, just respect for the commendable execution of the craft, but then the portal opens back up and Johnny comes roaring through from presumably far into the main title’s future, late-2013 at the very earliest I’m hoping, proclaiming that the other three are dead, so now we’ve got them having their adventures over in the other book in relatively linear sequence while back over here three days after they’ve left, there’s the Torch prophesying probably whatever disaster was about to go down on the first page of the first issue. Really fine work, these two titles just could not be going better, loving the ride.

AVENGERS #2—All right, after hitting the Martian landscape running last issue, we dial it way back and drop in some exposition, learn the secret origin of The Garden, who are really just benevolent as hell to hear them tell it, and then do a roundin’-up-the-troops scene that’s basically a straight lift from the X-MEN: FIRST CLASS movie subbing in Steve & Tony for McAvoy & Fassbander, which is maybe more riveting than it sounds with Opeña and White still absolutely blinding you with lines and colors that no American comic book has ever seen. The hell of it is, I can already tell that I’m going to have to have these in hardcover volumes just to drink all of this down without any ads, but there’s no way I’m going to be able to hang out until they’re published, never mind losing the effect of two issues of this one for every single of NEW AVENGERS. So it goes in the Novel Noble NOW!, True Believers! With Fraction blowing it up back over at the Baxter Building and this run still barely idling up out of second gear, I don’t even miss Hickman FF, an insane concept I am having serious trouble wrapping my brain around as the last days of dear old 2012 burn themselves down into the past, always the receding past.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

12/12/12


BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN #15—These guys just do not quit. They keep raising the bar for themselves and then hurdling right up over it next time out. That first page alone is a masterful piece of text all by itself but the art certainly elevates it to another level. Snyder does fine work throughout but never more so than in the Cave when Bruce is trying to convince his various charges that all is well, employing logic and rationality only to have all five of them speak for virtually every reader, firing back at him, “But he’s the Joker! None of that means anything!” Terribly gripping as a single installment, this one again does nothing more than leave you on the last page breathless for the next installment. After 23 years, another writer has finally dared to venture back into the ARKHAM ASYLUM premise first set forth by Morrison & McKean, with a fairly economical set-up to get us right back to that classic static shot of Batman heading up the stairs into the black-hole heart of darkness. Terrific work all around.

And having a regular Jock back-up feature, I can’t stop saying how great it is. We didn’t get enough madness from the Clown Prince in the main feature, so Snyder and Tynion rectify that here with the already classic “This ______ is ruined” one-two gag. The Riddler has been built up with some degree of consistency over the years, ever since Dini got a whack at the main title, it will be interesting to see how he comes into play now that they’re bringing him back off the bench, or out of his cell.

BATMAN AND ROBIN #15—Yeah, and these guys, too. Once again, the focus of this series shifts over to the latter portion of its title as Damian takes exactly two pages to decide to disobey orders and only six more to get captured by the Joker himself. Tomasi always does such a great job about seeding this book with all these perfect little character moments amidst all the action and the one on the bottom of Page Four when Damian utters Alfred’s first name in horror is one of my very favorite. Absurdly great work from Gleason/Gray/Kalisz all around. So, is that really Bruce on the last page, there? I guess we’ll find out in three long weeks.

FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. #15—What a brutal sad bit to open with on the first three pages. Kindt is not afraid to mine the big ideas and Ponticelli and friends certainly take the rest of us there. So many breathtaking splash-page vistas. And then suddenly the secret origin of King Frankenstein’s monster army. And a last-panel shocker! There is an air of finality and sadness as this book marches toward its close, but no one involved could have done a better job, every issue has more than delivered on the monster pulp goodness of its premise.

RORSCHACH #3—That was a hell of a trick with the cover there, I didn’t get it at all before opening it up. Bermejo is doing unbelievable work on these interiors, really on a level all his own, here. And Azzarello once again displays not only a total grasp of how this character functions but enough nuance to give us a believable 1977 version of him, which is really quite the trick. While he’s certainly taking Eddie Blake on a journey, that guy’s personality is for the most part fully formed by the time his series begins, but we’re here with Walter two years after he put down the dogs but still just barely on the cusp of truly and actually becoming Rorschach. That’s of course against canon, as Moore has it happening in that single eyeblink instant back in ’75, but I think it’s a little bit more believable, a little bit more imperfect, more gray as opposed to black/white, for him to maybe relapse a little, not as much in terms of humanizing character moments but just not being this unstoppable badass all of a sudden. He isn’t Batman. But wait, was that Travis Bickle giving our hero a ride and pep talk? The usage of prostitutes as examples seems to indicate that this might be the case. It is not a bold statement to predict that this mini-series will not end well.

CONAN #11—The stakes are high as Conan races around trying to find a cure for the plague that has befallen his ship and, most importantly, his pirate-queen. This one is still doing it for me, Declan Shalvey is turning in sparse expressive linework and of course Dave Stewart is one of the very best in the business. The sole false note came for me when Conan told Bêlit, “I got you.” Never in nine hundred years. That’s how Xander talks to Buffy. I have tried and tried to make allowances for how Brian Wood, who has done such fine work on both spoken dialogue and Courier-font prose that reads like it might have been banged out on Robert E. Howard’s own Underwood, to have submitted that line as something that our favorite Cimmerian might ever conceivably have uttered, but I can make no excuse. I’m pretty sure he actually said, “I have you,” but there was some kind of ripple in the space-time continuum, almost certainly caused by the FF’s departure two entries down, messed up that one word.

THE MASSIVE #7—This one really did it for me in a way the others haven’t quite managed. I guess we’ve hit the balance, I’m invested enough in the characters from these last three done-in-ones that I’m ready to head forward with a big old ensemble narrative? Part of it is just the realism in what Wood’s envisioning, as grandiose and wild as the idea of a rig nation might seem at first blush, it rings true. I am anticipating #8 to a degree that this series has not yet achieved for me. Too bad about losing the backmatter for this one, but hey, if Wood is getting ahead on actual sequentials on this or CONAN or something about rebels in a galaxy far, far away, so much the better for all of us.

FANTASTIC FOUR #2—Fraction is three for three and we’ve only just now hit ignition on the great space-time adventure of the century. Once again, there’s not a sour note or mistimed beat in a single interaction amongst the ensemble, from Ben’s warning to the Yancy Street Gang to Reed’s admonition to Scott Lang to Sue introducing Medusa to the kids (with the potential for odd den mother already terribly palpable) to two pages of dead-on Thing/Shulkie banter, to Johnny of course making the offer an issue too late and having to provide the issue’s only time-travel action scene to seal the deal. The back third of this installment is dedicated to the launch, which seems appropriate given that this is presumably the last time these two quartets are going to see one another for quite some time. And the last page is a perfect reversal of the first page of the first issue. Everything is set up, all the character dynamics are in place and we are ready. I’ve read hundreds of Mark Bagley comics and have never enjoyed his work more, he’s broken through to a higher level after his run to and back from DC. Hey, if he had to go burn a year doing the sidekicks JLA with Robinson to get this much better after years and years of killing it with Bendis on ULTIMATE, well, whatever works. Mark Farmer, the other half of Alan Davis’s heartbeat, is probably responsible for that in no small measure, as is Paul Mounts, whose choices here can be called jaw-dropping but never too much, always in service of the extreme circumstances that our imaginaut voyagers craft for themselves. This is the only non-all-ages comic that I regularly read to my little girl because, though it’s not labeled and marketed as such, it really is, embodying the best of what this family should be about, the drama and love of a tight-knit family cast against the heartstopping magnitude of all the cosmic grandeur and fury that can only be birthed in the seething heart of a Kirby.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

12/5/12


ACTION COMICS #15—We’re heading into the homestretch of Morrison’s run and he’s pulling it all together, this is probably the best issue yet. Certainly the most mind-bending. Here, we have not only the secret origin of Mxyzyptlk and Clark’s landlady, Mrs. Nyxly, a princess from the 5th dimension, but also their nemesis, a fellow called Vyndktvx who is assaulting our hero concurrently across three timelines, the past, present, and future. The princess relates this origin after coaxing her tenant to at last take a drink, and Morrison’s language is a rhapsodic wonder, polydimensional and nearly unfathomable to three-dimensional folks like us, subbing “time” out of the familiar opening in favor of “Once upon an always, further than forever and closer than the back of your head . . .” or “TRICEVERYDAY30” instead of “EVERYDAY.” This is all quintessential Morrison, ideas crackling on every page, months’ worth of stories that just get tossed out and left to the reader’s imagination to actualize into narrative. The three Sublime Weapons left over from CHROMO-CONFLICT 2 are The Nothingcoat, The Imaginator, and the Million-Pointed Multispear. That’s from a single panel on Page Thirteen. Or, I mean, Superturtle. Five pages of a Morrison-scripted Superturtle adventure might chain-react into the end of this network of dimensions. The art is also the best we’ve seen from the regular tag-team of Brad Walker/Rags Morales, their styles blend very well and there’s no jarring shift between their pages. Sholly Fisch and Chris Sprouse also turn in a back-up that expands on Mrs. Nxyly’s story as a kind of fifth-dimensional fairy tale, fine work all around. I’m going to miss this crew on this book, it’s always been the very first new comic I read every month since #1 came out sixteen months ago, but am looking forward to all the madness on their way out the door.

DETECTIVE COMICS #15—Layman/Fabok wind up their initial three-issue arc with just as much thunder as they began. Everything about this is top-shelf, Layman nails the narrative voice in the captions, the plot roars right along with plenty of twists and turns that are all engaging but perfectly plausible, and Fabok’s intricate art presents a series of striking images that conjure symphonies of motion from the imagination in the gutters. Jeromy Cox’s rich tones also deserve mention. I was really thrilled when this team was announced and they have completely knocked it out of the park thus far. Hope they feel like hanging out for quite some time, these guys over here opposite the Snyder/Capullo/Glapion madness has got to be one of the all-time best double-bills on the Batman books.

ANIMAL MAN #15—In the opening scene, we have Frankenstein’s patchwork army coming to the rescue of Animal Man, Constantine, Beast Boy, Black Orchid, and Steel from an army led by Gorilla Grodd and including M’sieu Mallah and The Brain, all of this taking place one year in the future when almost everyone else is dead. So yes, madness abounds. Green & Silver do a fine job blending their pages in with the majority of the issue drawn by Pugh, it’s so much better when there’s not a jarring shift in art style. Lovern Kindzierski’s colors throughout go a long way toward easing up this transition. Narratively, it’s a cool touch for Lemire to send this contingent to Metropolis after the green folks over in SWAMP THING took off for Gotham at the end of their last issue, nice bit of symmetry, there. It . . . really doesn’t look good for Buddy’s family in the One Year Ago section. And I guess there had to be a twist there on the identity of the Metropolis prisoner, if they managed to rescue Superman, that would pretty much be game over. Of course, we don’t know the specific identity of this individual and it’s not apparent from the last page. Luthor would be an inspired decision.

SWAMP THING #15—And Rotworld just keeps happening! This is Marco Rudy’s swan song on the title. At first, it seemed like Rudy was simply filling in on the title, but it’s turned into more of a tag-team affair between him and Paquette with both men not only holding it down but pushing each other in a way that makes both of their work stronger, both incorporating these immersive vegetation-based layouts that wind and snake across the page in a way that’s reminiscent of J.H. Williams. This issue’s probably a little more horrific than ANIMAL MAN, owing mainly to the Abby scenes, which are downright creepy, but the reveal at the end of this one is much more insane than Lemire’s juke over in the Red. Very very interested to pick back up with this one next month. Best of luck to Rudy, who will surely be a force to watch wherever he winds up next.

COMEDIAN #4—J.G. Jones manages to just barely keep his head above water and get this one out if not right on time, at least the very same week as the first #5. Very much worth the wait, this one demands full engagement from the reader and will benefit from multiple readings, particularly if you can’t place all the song lyrics right off the bat. Azzarello writes a pitch-perfect Edward Blake, taking a couple of young Vietnamese kids under his wing, giving them beer, and calling them Hearts and Minds is bang dead-on. As is all the LSD homicide. As is, more than anything, the Kennedy man-love, such a great inversion on what we have known and always expected but that still feels so true. Looking for a pretty disturbing #6 whenever it makes it out on the rack.

MINUTEMEN #5—Okay, I’m pretty dense. It wasn’t until Sally’s list this issue that I realized that the main content of this series is just straight up UNDER THE HOOD. Which certainly makes all kinds of sense. This time out, Cooke delivers by far the best issue, after the framing sequence once again establishing what a Good Guy Hollis is in terms of his affection for and protection of young Laurel Jane, we get probably the best Minutemen adventure likely to see print. Our heroes manage to rally from their collective washed-up trajectory with a little help from Bluecoat & Scout, a pair of Japanese-American vigilantes who lead them against a plot to poison New York City with a sixteen-pound ball of enriched uranium filched from Los Alamos. Darwyn Cooke on art, remember. Nothing else to say.

FASHION BEAST #4—When there’s that first shot of Le Patron at his desk from the neck down, did anyone else automatically assume that he was really Alan Moore? And wasn’t all of his dialogue much better in that Northampton baritone than it might otherwise have been? The characters are heading on down the pathways of their arcs, our transgender slutty cloakroom attendant is already too big for her immaculately designed britches and the tomboy designer is emerging as the most sympathetic protagonist, all while Le Patron looks on from his dark room. But who is Beauty and who is the Beast?

HAWKEYE, BRO #5—This series continues its run out of the gate as one of the very best things that Marvel is publishing. Fraction’s script hums along as crackly as ever and Pulido/Hollingsworth frame everything beautifully, particularly the cityscapes. All the crashing-out-a-skyscraper-window-tied-to-a-chair-Madripoor-ninja-throwing-star dictator-assassinatin’-espionage you can stand.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #699—After last issue’s monumental reveal, Slott’s got quite a bit to live up to here in terms of filling in the missing pieces, making this work as a unit of entertainment unto itself while keeping the tension jacked up at that insane level throughout. (Spoilers for this last arc, including #698, follow. If you love comics and have Internet access and still haven’t either read the issue or read about the issue, I highly recommend you go track down a copy of #698 if you still can, because it is a piece of immaculate craftwork.) The answer turns out to be, of course, don’t cut to Otto in Peter’s body at all, the only scenes from that scenario we get this week are worst-case type business in Peter’s imagination. This is a perfect call, working the old off-screen Hitchcock angle, because no matter how horrible of a thing old Otto might be getting up to, we can always imagine something worse. Of course, nothing can approach the horror of the Aunt May revelation, of which we will speak no more, ever. Poor poor Peter Parker. The stakes are raised to an almost unbearable level as we head into the final issue of this volume. I most certainly will be there the day after Christmas with my seven dollars and ninety-nine cents to see how it all goes down and just what the hell “superior” means when all is said and done. Surely it can’t be what I’m thinking.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #3—With the frequency of this one’s publication, it makes sense for Bendis to devote entire issues to factions of the crowded ensemble rather than try to keep every issue perfectly balanced. Cyclops and his crew were entirely absent from #2, so here we bail out on everyone at Logan’s school and spend all twenty pages with this new Brotherhood. Shacking up at Weapon X is definitely an interesting call. As is having the White Queen quote one David Desmond Hume, I’m not sure anybody else should be using those words. Unless they’re Scottish, maybe. And funny that the eponymous kids from the past come face to face with Cyclops and Magneto at a party in Austin of all places. We know how to do it! Three issues in and this one continues to impress, Bendis takes a deft hand with the various characterization of a couple dozen characters with nary a false note, and the art team is consistently delivering some of the very best looking pages on the rack. Strong work, all around.

DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS #3—The cover is beyond glorious. Bendis has already come to terms with the grisly sight before them, but poor Mack looks like he’s time-traveled back to 1981 and is getting his heart broken by Frank Miller and Bullseye burying Elektra’s sai in her gut all over again. We’re settling into a bit more of a pace on the interiors here, Urich is making the rounds, visiting most of Matt’s former flames in this one. Good thing Echo didn’t have any little Matts of her own running around, Mary’s twins showing up after Elektra’s boy made it look like we’re gearing up for a Sons of Murdock-type situation. Maybe we still are. That opening double-page Sienkiewicz is absolute majesty, particularly if you’ve been carrying his groundbreaking work on ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN and LOVE & WAR around in your heart for all these years. It’s also such a gift to get those painted pages of Echo, amazing work from David Mack. Always a pleasure to get any interior pages by him. The only problem about reading this in singles is that the wait between issues is rough. The entire creative team is murdering it with every installment, from the brutal Bendis/Mack scripting to Janson/Sienkiewicz/Hollingsworth tag-teaming sequentials to either Sienkiewicz or Mack painted pages dropping in whenever they like. This series is an embarrassment of riches for fans of Daredevil.



BEST OF WEEK: AVENGERS #1—I have been rapt and waiting with bated breath ever since it was announced that Hickman was taking over this franchise. As much love as his FANTASTIC FOUR run received, it was still criminally underrated, one of the greatest monthly/bi-weekly runs it has ever been my pleasure to experience in thirty years of collecting comics. So, of course, coming from this direction at least, this next thing is burdened with all kinds of expectation before I ever lay eyes upon the first page. The only thing we knew ahead of time is that it’s about the Avengers “going bigger.” Well, that first page doesn’t disappoint in the slightest, a PREVIOUSLY IN AVENGERS tag up top that both acknowledges the slot this run will take in nearly fifty years of corporate continuity while simultaneously kind of winking across the aisle at the various continuity-heavy serial dramas that have popped up in the last decade-plus. If you heard those first words in Jeffrey Lieber’s voice when you read them, then you know what I’m talking about. But what follows is one page of The Big Bang, the debut of Hickman’s info-graphic sickness take on the roster on the next page, six panels across two pages of completely apocalyptic flashes of all the horrible shit that is going to happen, and then zeroing in on Tony Stark designing the graphic and approaching Steve Rogers with the idea that the Avengers have to get bigger. Nothing but throw-down-the-gauntlet thunder right out of the gate. Oh, wait, because we’ve got to talk about the art. Jerome Opeña has been in rotation on Remender’s UNCANNY X-FORCE since it started and just laying waste to all he surveys every chance he got, but here he really takes his game up to the next level, more than ably abetted by Dean White on colors. At first blush, I guess it’s easiest to describe the art as European widescreen. Very much incorporating the lessons learned from Hitch AUTHORITY but with all these non-traditional exotic tones seething in there and all kinds of tricked out design work. It doesn’t look American. And I mean that as a compliment. That first shot of the core sextet in the quinjet pretty much sums it up. 
This is the opposite of what you expect from the #1 mainstream Marvel 616 title in the wake of all that success that old Brother Whedon and the gang had this summer. Though it does open with the core six from the film, a very clever little hook that shows whatever first-time readers might have stumbled this way exactly the scope upon which Hickman and crew are operating. Biiiiiiillions of big-budget movie dollars worth of comic book glory right there on the page. There are origin bombs. And I love how Opeña/White pretty much toss out every steroid-enhanced over-muscled design perpetrated upon the Hulk these past fifty years and just send a Kirby brute running right at the reader across the plains of Mars. What is not to love? This book and its complementary title are going to be a big deal every time they come out, a perpetually rolling thrice-monthly event unto themselves. It’s not too late to let the rush carry you away.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

11/28/12


SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES #7—The toy angle is played out to maximum hilarity as Toyman assaults the Fortress of Solitude with a gang of Justice League action figures and My Little Pony analogues. I wonder if Baltazar/Franco knew that this was coming out the same day as the debut of a certain ponycentric toy property newly licensed by IDW? I feel like they work so far ahead that it’s not that likely. The universe is a terrifying latticework! This one’s also good fun because we get some some Tiny Titans action, always a treat, but the real greatness is Kara’s over-the-top reaction to Conor’s missing tooth. I would have been totally okay with nothing but a no-conflict Kryptonian Tooth Fairy Party with the rest of the Titans for the rest of the issue. UNCANNY X-MEN baseball game-style! Worth it for just whatever three panels of Raven would be had.
Miller says: I like Supergirl in the issue and I like all the ponies and the little bears. And Superman and Superboy. But their real names are Kal-El and Conor and Kara Zor-El.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #1—All right, I’m about as completely ignorant of this rebooted franchise as a child of the eighties could be, but the little girl is alllllllll over it, so of course we’ve been counting down the days until this issue hit, with me all the while explaining the unnecessary evils behind variant covers and how you really do not need to buy all twenty different offerings, the interior content is the same in each and every one. I really have never hated variant covers as much in my life as I have during the past four weeks. So how does the issue read to someone who isn’t a fan clamoring for cutie marks? Pretty accessible. You can dial right in, appreciate the rhythm of the back-and-forth between the characters, and there are a crazy amount of allusions to other stories in various media, from the Blues Brothers appearing in a splash page on a balcony above ponified versions of the writer and artist (who are sporting Phoenix-force and Batman cutie marks, respectively) to lines that are straight-up quotes from ROAD HOUSE or allusions to the remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or MAGNUM P.I. There is a lot going on in here, even if you can’t tell your Twilight Sparkle from a Rainbow Dash.
Miller saysWell, I really like the cover and I like Twilight Sparkle talking and I like ponies and I really like the story. And Princess Celestia and Spike, too.

SILK SPECTRE #4—It absolutely does not matter that this is a few weeks late as Amanda Conner, abetted by Darwyn Cooke, completely sticks the landing and brings the first and finest of these prequel minis to a close that lives up to the promise of the excellent preceding three issues. Is it possible that the colors improved over the course of the series? Paul Mounts started out at Incredible and only went up, those tones are breathtaking. One of the best pages is a montage wherein we revisit all the various art styles used over the course of the book for single-panel shots of whatever Laurie’s thinking at any given time, a trick that would have been jarring and inconceivable in the original series but that completely conveys the scattershot lightning crackle of a sixteen-year-old’s racing thoughts. When we’re done roaring through the red cartoon Sally Jupiter devil, the orange-tinted romance comic, the blue children’s book, the purple pirate comic, the yellow Tijuana Bible callback, and the indigo high-fashion shot, it’s on to Munch’s “The Scream” and Waterhouse’s “The Lady of Shallot” with nary a backward glance. An incredible recap and single-page justification for this entire series to exist, Conner’s chameleonic work here is a tour de force. Then, it’s on into some over-the-top slapstick violence that is terribly jarring and would be much more at home in the pages of something written by Ennis but that works for me in this setting. Pretty insane escalation. The only false note of the entire series unfortunately takes place during the next-to-last page when we’re finally at that ol’ Crimebusters meeting once again but with a richer appreciation of Laurie as a character than we’ve ever had, but then she starts internally appraising the other characters in individual shots, dropping all these incredibly on-the-nose insights that are absolute groaners since you know what’s going to happen, bits like how Ozymandias is surely the sort of fellow who thinks he can change the world without punching and kicking, or how Laurie could NEVER date a square like Drieberg, or, wait for it, the Comedian looks “more like somebody’s old man.” The quasi-redemption for this one-yard-line fumble comes in the last panel of the page wherein we first see Janey Slater scowling in the direction of our younger model’s POV and then turn the page to discover a new character motivation for Laurie’s relationship with Dr. Manhattan that is a completely earned natural outgrowth of everything that this series has been about since the first page. This was damn fine work, all around, and I look forward to everything Mrs. Conner produces in the months and years to come.

OZYMANDIAS #4—This one’s picking up steam as we learn about Adrian’s connection to and support of JFK and see just what he was up to on 11/23/63. I’m really a fan of that dropping-circle thing Jae Lee’s got going with the layouts, an innovative trick that honors Gibbons’s groundbreaking work on the original series without emulating it. Like Kirby said, the most Kirby thing to do is not draw like Jack Kirby, it’s to draw like no one else but yourself, blaze your own trail. Wein burns the entire final three pages on that same Crimebusters meeting that I guess must be like an editorial mandate to work in on every series since it’s the only time that everyone was together, but, as in #1, Wein unabashedly just straight-up throws down the Moore dialogue for pages at a time and we just see WATCHMEN as Jae Lee would have drawn it. Which, maybe I’m just taking off my blindfold here, but there’s something really disgusting about that, filling up more than a couple of panels with the original. Even if it’s original editor and industry legend Len Wein making that call.

THE NEW AVENGERS #34—And so it ends. This one’s a bit more personal than last week’s, to be expected, as Luke Cage & Jessica Jones have been Bendis’s pet Avengers for most of his run. Dr. Strange fights Brother of Brother Voodoo across astral planes, resulting in an artjam that is far less cohesive and impressive than what showed up last week, though I did enjoy Dalaymple and Cloonan’s pages. A nice bit of callback closure with Cage turning a profit off the mansion out of Stark’s pocket followed by a killer double-page splash montage of highlights of Bendis’s entire run that is pretty impressive to look at, all of it right there in one image, and of course there is the inevitable last dialogue-heavy page of the family and Squirrel Girl nanny walking off into the sunset, but I wish I was a little bit more crushed by the final issue of this longest run in franchise history that lasted eight years and 232 issues (which, incidentally, I thought I had dialed out for more than I did, but according to the cover gallery, the only Bendis Avengers I abstained on at all was DARK AVENGERS and AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, meaning I rocked 212 of 232. No small amount of dialogue beats! It was pretty cool to look through those covers one by one and catch little flashes of what was going on in my life as the months roared on by. Congratulations, Bendis.)

THE ALL-NEW X-MEN #2—The art on this remains top-drawer, Immonen/Von Grawbadger/Gracia really deliver A-list material, while Bendis keeps things humming along rather well, managing the crowded ensemble with much greater finesse right off the bat, what with those 232 issues under his belt. There are a couple of great lines in here that are the complete opposite of those SILK SPECTRE groaners, Jean’s “You think I want to be dead and dating a homicidal mutant terrorist?” and Warren not even wanting to know what happens to him are hilarious. I wasn’t in any way sold on this as a premise, but these guys are really making it work. I wish I could be strong and put my foot down and refuse to buy twenty-page four-dollar overshipping Marvel books on moral grounds, but when they make them this good, I just can’t help myself.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #2—All right, with the Oh Shit! out-of-nowhere madness card already played in the first issue, I was curious to see what Remender was going to do to advance the plot now that we’ve got some kind of status quo to expect. Again, he takes a deft hand with his ensemble, providing strong and convincing character work with the majority of the team Cap is organically assembling before jumping over to Rogue and Scarlet Witch in the hands of this first arc’s nefarious nemesis. As spot-on as the writing is, of course I would just pick this up to look at Laura Martin coloring John Cassaday on interiors. PLANETARY all day and night, y’all. Oh, and that other series that Joss Whedon wrote all the smart words for. Good fun to see Whedon dress Logan in his Days of Future Past jacket here, too.

FF #1—I might have liked this one even better than the main title. So great to see the Allreds back on a regular Marvel gig. Tonally, it’s going to take me a little while to lock in, though, just because I so associate their style in this context with Milligan’s X-FORCE/X-STATIX and everything’s a bit brighter and Silver Ageier here in the Baxter Building. Fraction cribs from himself and throws in those interviewer POV shots that were such a hallmark of the dearly departed THE ORDER. And I was unclear, I thought the entire Future Foundation was hitting the space/time highway with the team, but I guess it’s just Franklin & Val and all the other kids are staying behind in this book. It’s hilarious to hear everyone keep repeating “Just in case” something goes wrong, because we all know that if we’re going to get months and months’ worth of adventures in this parallel title, the main team is going to be gone much longer than four minutes. Congratulations to Fraction, Bagley, the Allreds, Brevoort, and the rest of creative and editorial for keeping me not only buying but excited about both of these titles after Hickman was done, because it just shouldn’t have been possible. The $2.99 price-tag is also much appreciated.

CHEW #30—Evil evil evil twisted sick and evil bastard. And heartless! How could I forget heartless? The next time Lucas changes EPISODE IV, there’s going to be an added scene where Luke & Obi-Wan make it into the back back room at the Mos Eisley Cantina and come face to face with the real power behind the Hutts, the puppetmaster orchestrating all the corrupt and horrific things that transpire daily on that Outer Rim desert planet, and his name is John Layman. I can’t believe how much this issue affected me. Masterful writing, because in hindsight, this outcome seems inevitable and quite obviously foreshadowed, not only throughout this issue but at the very least on the last page of last issue (and I suspect there are a few more examples in earlier issues), but it came as a complete and utter shock on the first pass through this one. A pair of shocks, really, if you count all the amputations, and we probably ought to do that. What courage, what grace, what heroism. And all that before the last page, which is crushing, really heartbreaking, payoff to what’s until now appeared to be nothing more than a running gag for this arc that was suddenly exponentially intensified by the fact that #27 was released out of order so that instead of it being in the back of our heads for the last half year or what not, it’s been like three times that long. Horrible horrible horrible. So damn sad.

(PS-the art was really good, too)

MORNING GLORIES #23—Spencer does not pull any punches or really appear to feel like he needs to hold the reader’s hand in any way, because I’m reeling through all of this and feel like I can handle your fractured multiple-thread timehopping narrative better than the average bear. Probably need to go back and do a marathon reread at some point. Eisma continues to refine and streamline his business, delivering dynamic high-energy shots of this crowded ensemble while never losing sight of delivering substantive storytelling over stylized flash, which really makes a double-page splash devastating when it does show up. Great depiction of this David chap too, the way he’s drawn shot me right back to that trick Adrian Lyne used in JACOB’S LADDER where the actors waved their heads back and forth at a low frame-rate, then when the film was played at normal speed, the results were horrifying. So good on ya, Joe!

FATALE #10—This continues the trend of providing no surprises in the main story, Josephine brings everyone around her to ruin, but then pulling the rug out from under us in the framing sequence. As ever, though, in this book, the yield is in the journey not the destination. Phillips and Stewart bring Brubaker’s beats to life in a dark world that is as unflinching as it is immersive, true pulp greatness improbably springing to life eighty years too late. And at long last, Jess Nevins returns to teach us more than we ever imagined was possible about some hidden corner of the genre. Devil pulp is the topic this month, and Nevins employs his customary encyclopedic level of knowledge and hyper-keen insight to draw a straight line from Faustus and the first femme fatale of 1772 right to ROSEMARY’S BABY and EVIL DEAD 2, a double-feature if ever there was one.

PROPHET #31—This remains glorious insane and one of my favorite books on the rack. There is science dripping off of these pages, children! Graham and friends have quite the crew assembled but it’s still tremendous to continually mine old Image characters from the nineties who have no business being taken seriously ever and are instead redeemed into menacing warriors of the future. Troll is actually scary, skulking about like that. Who ever would have thunk it? And that’s even before he mentions Badrock. Noooo! I am ridiculously jacked up over the notion of what these lunatics will do with Future Badrock, cannot wait. And Diehard suddenly has this Snake Eyes-type mute badass thing going on. The Breakout Character Find of 2012! That’s right, Diehard. I’m can’t believe how good this book is.

MULTIPLE WARHEADS #2—But as crazed as PROPHET is, it’s still actually work-for-hire, just work-for-hire on the bleeding edge of possibility. For the true and actual mental illness, look no further than this blast of unfiltered Brandon Graham. Dude writes, draws, colors, letters, the whole n-chilada. And puns. There should probably be a credit for puns. They are a freakshow, this whole thing’s got a witty, playful vibe about it. The splash pages of buildings are beyond belief, you can stare at them for days. I’ve jammed KING CITY in the month since #1, so am much more acclimated to what Graham’s got going on here and it’s very impressive, the guy has a ridiculous amount of talent, one of the most exciting creators I’ve happened across in some time, don’t think I’ve been this gacked out and inspired since first running across Paul Pope.

FLASH #14—The gorilla warfare heats up in the second part of this arc. Apparently, Buccellatto is leaving pretty soon, which is a damn shame, his colors on top of Manapul’s lines are hands-down the best reason to buy this book, such dynamic energetic imagery, which is to me is the most important part of telling this character in particular’s story. The dialogue between the rogues was a bit strained, conflict for conflict’s sake. But this was maybe my favorite title page of the entire series, these guys must just be smoking THE SPIRIT pages while they’re laying this business out.

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #14—Graham Nolan of KNIGHTFALL fame, abetted by Victor Drujiniu on finishes, do a fine job pinch-hitting for Mikel Janin, whose lush style has gone a long way toward defining this book. Poor fella finally needed a break after thirteen straight issues. Nothing too seismic happens here, Lemire moves things along well enough. Frank and Orchid and Amy foolishly enter the House of Mystery and are of course assaulted. Orchid stumbles upon one of those secret rooms Geoff Johns keeps where he’s got all these really tantalizing hints about future plot beats on a board in Post-it notes. I think I liked Rip Hunter’s chalkboard better. This series is all right, but the news about HELLBLAZER getting cancelled kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth, at least every time Constantine lights a cigarette.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE #33—Snyder/Albuquerque bring it all roaring to a finish. No big surprises here, the beats fall about where you’d expect them. I mean, the cover alone. But characterization is consistent and the energy of Albuquerque’s lines is more savage than ever. Sorry to see this one heading out to pasture for a while.

 BEST OF THE WEEK: BATMAN INCORPORATED #5—And the stark-raving batshit psychosis continues as Morrison & Burnham bring it all crashing down around us one month at a time. I was halfway hoping that all of the Bruce Wayne madness would improbably come to a sudden climax in like #7 or 8 and then we’d get an entire last arc with Damian-666 Batman (or even accelerating beyond the way they did there at the end of BATMAN #700) because that future Damian set-up is maybe my favorite alternate Batman of all time, and there are certainly many contenders (and here I’m leaving Pope’s YEAR 100 out of that discussion on the still-valid possibility that that really is Bruce running around in those pages). But, take a look, shaved-headed son of Batman attempts to redeem hellfire-drenched Gotham after making a deal with the devil that resulted in (probably Dick Grayson) Batman’s death with only Alfred the Cat and all of his bat-gadgets to help him and Commissioner Barbara Gordon as possibly his greatest nemesis. That is one hell of a set-up. Not happening in #9-12, though, boys and girls! We hit the gas pedal on that scenario here and now for good. The second page is instantly iconic, our first shot of Damian in the cowl since the aforementioned #700 with a three-panel zoom-out that conjures Frank Miller’s camera direction in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. So well-drawn, you can tell who it is from the jawline alone. Burnham’s work on that and the subsequent five pages that form the initial high-octane scene is a jaw-dropping masterful bit of business and would have cost Christopher Nolan no telling how many millions of dollars to bring into this set of dimensions.
I’m really pretty wild for every beat of this thing. Morrison packs in so much into every single panel and interaction. You get months’ worth of characterization and depth in just those first six panels of Damian interacting with Barbara once he makes it into the asylum. That look on Damian’s face when he’s talking to Alfred, love filtered through all the madness he’s endured just to last this long. Oh, and the “grubby madhouse from grubby madmen” line is such a bull’s-eye that it about melted me down. As far as Damian has come, he is still that same little aristocratic piece of shit he was when he was first showed up in The Cave at age ten, insisting on only referring to his father’s surrogate father as Pennyworth. I find that kind of consistency terribly poignant.
Is that Superman in the Oval Office? It’s not overly apparent, and there’s only the two panels, but that was my first reaction to seeing that first shot. It would be quintessential Morrison to make Kal-El the unnamed president in this future, particularly in light of the decision that he makes and how it functions as an inversion to the final installment of Miller’s masterpiece, THE DARK KNIGHT FALLS. And of course, Damian’s nemesis The Devil returns for the last blast. Still wearing the face of Dr. Simon Hurt, it looks like? I really can’t believe that this entire final glimpse into this future is begun and done in a mere seventeen pages with one page present-day in front and two afterward to frame it. So much going on. That shot outside the front doors of Arkham is something to see, the last stand of Batman and his irregulars (featuring Jackanapes and even a quite elderly version of Flamingo, that pink fellow from way back in BATMAN & ROBIN #4). 
And then there’s the following page, flawless work from Burnham which I won’t discuss, but what I will talk about is the greatness of the layout of that following page, the way the aftermath of the flash-forward climax resolves into the broken orange panel background that falls away as we zoom out, of course making the shape of a bat on its way down before leaving us with a long long shot of father and son alone in a background of no-panel white space, all of Damian’s barriers and defense mechanisms wide open as he can only whisper his fondest wish, to stay in the big house with his daddy forever and for all time, this sudden and affecting moment immediately disrupted by a distress signal coming over the emergency channel forbidding the reader from lingering but compelling us to turn the page to see who’s in trouble or what the next clue might be, when or where is the next deathtrap going to be sprung, or maybe even why the villain set it in the first place, to find out what happens next.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

11/21/12


THE AVENGERS #34—Well, this was more big fun than we’ve had in the rampup to Bendis’s final issue of the main title. Peterson & Mayhew draw most of the issue with the Dodsons batting cleanup after a terrific artjam featuring Deodato, Simonson, Yu, Cheung, and Coipel drawing the entire team assembled in Central Park and just beating the hell out of a giant Lord Gouzar of, I think, Micronauts fame? The opening tiff between Hill and Daisy is classic Bendis. He even manages to work in a joke about their haircuts later on. And the much-ballyhooed Ultron thing is, in fact, going to be next year’s big event. That has the effect of not putting quite the punctuation I’d prefer on this epic run, nothing like Hickman just did on his relatively much shorter run across town over at the Baxter Building. I predict we’ll get more long-arc resolution next week with the Cage-Joneses in NEW AVENGERS but this right here is basically nothing more than a lateral to the next creative team, Tony’s last line of dialogue apparently feeding directly in to whatever’s coming next with Hickman’s run on this title, and you know what? I can’t wait.

BEST OF WEEK: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698—Well, damn. I haven’t been picking this up lately, not due to a lack of quality but just because I can’t afford to keep up with its frequent publication schedule, but Dan Slott has been going on and on to such an extent in social media about no one spoiling it that finally, after his fifteenth post or so, I decided I had four dollars to invest and see what was such a great God-amighty deal. And boy! Glad I did. This is insane. I can’t imagine it’s going to stick, but it’s much more ominous, knowing that this original title is about to get cancelled and relaunched with a new adjectival moniker, one that is tonally in rhythm with the quite audacious jump in status quo that we get in this issue, something that might have been set up as far back as #600. I don’t know! Great to see Richard Elson, who was so excellent pulling art duty a while back on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, get bumped up for this headlining gig. And I don't recognize colorist Antonio Fabela's name, but he provides thunder throughout. But what a level of craft on just Slott's part throughout the issue. A really well-done re-introduction to the title if you're just dropping in like me. After a compelling opening hook (the web-slinger's greatest nemesis on his deathbed, struggling to utter the name of his secret identity), we race through various aspects of our hero's life, checking in with how he's doing in terms of relating to the NYPD, his job, and of course MJ, before he gets a call from the Avengers and everything is we know is wrong, completely upended. This is the very definition of the term "shock ending," one that will send you all the way back through the issue rereading and suddenly picking up on little hints, things that just seemed the least bit off or that maybe you explained await as nuanced character evolution that is really anything but. That cover is total horror after you’ve hit the last page. Slott and his amazing friends knock this one out of the park and have definitely got me on the hook for the duration.

HAWKEYE #4—Well, I was pretty concerned about what would happen for our first inevitable no-Aja issue, and the good news is we come out all right. I mean, Javier Pulido is certainly no David Aja, the perfectly framed cinematic angles, masterful use of negative space, and innovative panel designwork are all gone, but Matt Hollingsworth’s palette goes a long way toward providing consistency and continuity to what’s gone before. And Pulido’s work has this scratchy kind of indie aesthetic that works for me, somewhat channeling a Beto Hernandez aesthetic. The premise is excellent high-concept fare that is well suited to this title, a VHS tape of Hawkeye committing a U.S. government-sanctioned assassination is released into the world and he has to go to Madripoor to buy it back at the supervillain black market auction. Like you do. Kate Bishop only needs a few pages this month to add to her resume making a strong case for her being this year’s breakout character under Fraction’s pen. Still tremendous fun, you could be reading only this and DAREDEVIL and have nothing but very good things to say about The House of Ideas. Hark! a transition . . .

DAREDEVIL #20—Man, when AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #589 hit a few years back (not as many as the numbers might suggest, Wacker has been cranking that business out!), many folks were wowed by what Fred Van Lente managed to do in a single issue with The Spot, a D-list Spidey villain who nobody ever cared much about. Mark Waid was on-deck to follow that issue on an arc with his usual cohort Barry Kitson and must have just been rubbing his hands together at all the things that either that issue suggested to him or that he already had in mind, because blow me over if we’re not now in the second of a three-part arc featuring the next model of The Spot as an antagonist who is as terrifying as he is horrific. This might be as dark as this series has gotten since this run began and that is really saying something, even given as much that was made of its lightness during those first few months. I mean, a closet full of living slave heads. Gah. I’ve finally made it around to that Landridge/Samnee THOR series they choked in the crib a couple of years ago and it’s a real delight to get to see Samnee’s stellar work back then and compare it with the subtle evolution that’s taken place in just a couple of years’ time. Truly an underrated master of the form. If only I could view his art in a slightly different context . . .

THE ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM #4—This was a hell of a ride. I believe it’s the first non-Stevens Rocketeer story to ever be serialized, quite a leap from the all-star eight-page stories that IDW has been cranking out the past couple of years. With Waid/Samnee/Bellaire, they couldn’t have landed a more crackerjack creative team to push Cliff and the whole crew back into the spotlight, to say nothing of the potentially blasphemous addition of new members to the supporting cast. The art style, while not quite as hyper-detailed as Stevens’, lives up to the original in spirit, particularly in energy and dynamic motion. And of course Waid is maybe the best possible choice to be doing this, crafting brand-new yarns that feel as timeless as they might have under the original creator’s pen twenty or thirty years ago. Three years ago, I thought the world of him, and he’s suddenly burning brighter than ever, seemingly incapable of doing wrong. There is not a single false beat or misstep in either character or plot to be found within these pages. A more-than-worthy addition to the canon.

GLORY #30—Keatinge & Campbell continue to crank it up throughout the issue, this is real solid escalation and terribly entertaining throughout. The battle between the sisters has to be seen to be believed. “Arms exploding” will never never convey the madness. I tell you what, though, old Roman Muradov sneaks in the front door with those first three pages of art featuring the titular character rampaging through Paris in the Twenties in pursuit of Fantomas while member of a league including Picasso, Stein, and, naturally, Hemingway. That first three-panel strip across the top of Page Two is as wonderful a thing as I can recall running across lately. Magdamnificent. This series continues to tear it up, I’m very happy to follow it and brother John PROPHET up north of the one-dollar price-bump, but am rabid for the idea of a series featuring more adventures of Glory in the company of The Lost Generation. What an incredible way to open the issue.

WONDER WOMAN #14—All right, I can’t tell if Akins art has just improved in some subtle way or the content of the script seemed more essential, but this is the first non-Chiang issue that felt like an indispensible part of the narrative and not just a fill-in. Matthew Wilson’s colors remain a thing of lush beauty. I can’t figure out who the prehistoric brain-eating chap is, had halfway convinced myself that it was Orion, but the last two pages of course knock that theory right out. Very good-looking pages, too, it must be said. I dig the design on those vertical lifescan bars or whatever they are, Source measurements, maybe. I hope Siracca is going to hang out and join the cast. Azzarello is building quite the merry band. Can’t wait for things to really get crackling with Orion and Chiang next month.

BATWOMAN #14—And the Amazon hat-trick power-hour keeps on slamming! I don’t know how much more I can take. Liked this one even better than last month. Williams’s layouts and composition are, as ever, jaw-dropping and staggering and probably make four artists give up for every one they inspire because, really, who can touch this guy? A singular talent. Once again, big kudos to DC editorial for letting twenty pages of story run straight through with no ads to disrupt the constant flow of double-splash artistic greatness. That just is not something you see every day. I especially like how balanced the two characters are written, Diana freaking out on how courageous Kate is, even while the opposite is obviously taking place as well. Because, you know, Wonder Woman. Glad to see that Maggie will apparently be the focus next month. This book is a gem, I seriously hope they’re talking to A-list talent to pick up the torch from Williams when he finally takes his interior sequential genius elsewhere.

FABLES #123—The second and final part of a ripping good yarn, here. I said it last month: if you simply must occasionally bench the regular art team for a fill-in, it is a grand and glorious thing to recruit talent as prodigiously gifted as Gene Ha and Art Lyon. Gorgeous lush art showing us just how Bigby wound up with the fate that we have been watching unfold page by page, month by month, lo these past ten years of Mundy-relative time. This two-parter has reinvigorated my love for this series, which, with all the rampant rebooting and –launching that’s been firing up all around the past couple years, is now the longest continual run that I’m still picking up. Will Willingham ever run out of gas? It doesn’t look like it, seems like he’s got enough to get to #200 and beyond. While just kicking out graphic novels and spinoffs on the side like it’s no problem. The man has drunk deeply of some powerful fountain, quite possibly made up out of words.

THE UNWRITTEN #43—The action definitely proceeds apace. In which we welcome Baron Karl Friedrich Hieronymous von Münchausen back to our august narrative, watch him send a carnivorous butcher polar bear into orbit with an ingenious blue salve, and make the twin revelations that all of reality is “a sort of infinite cetacean regression” and that the Bennet sisters are willing, under the proper degree of dire circumstances, to prostitute themselves for nutritive sustenance. In short, sir, the quintessential Vertigo tale.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

11/14/12


BEST OF WEEK: LOCKE & KEY: OMEGA #1—Roaring back this week amidst a very crowded field of thermonuclear contenders and just wiping up the floor with them, this book doesn’t let little things like the last issues of THE BOYS or Brendan McCarthy’s latest slab of glory or Snyder/Capullo and company’s sustained white-hot Gotham brilliance get in the way of being the very best book on the rack. Hill plays fair with his readers and doesn’t in any way hit the brakes on the promise of the final page of the last volume, refusing to contrive a bunch of obstacles to stand in the way and instead advancing our antagonist pretty much just a few feet from the threshold of total victory by issue’s end, juxtaposed opposite a B-plot that is a magnificent characterization device, Scot Kavanaugh filming several supporting players on the eve of graduation expressing what advice they would give their younger selves were the option available, which of course leads to all these really perfect little three- and four-panel blasts of strong strong work. Hill maybe gets the most mileage out of Jordan, I would say? If you don’t count the Locke kids, of course there’s aren’t as much vignettes as milestones in their long overall arcs. The Kinsey resolution kind of broke me down. Gabriel Rodriguez and Jay Fotos continue to produce absolutely jawdropping work page after page after page. This is my favorite story currently being serialized certainly on the rack, possibly in any medium. Though I sure do like HOMELAND, TREME, and MAD MEN. And BREAKING BAD is pretty okay. But I don’t know. I feel like I think about this one more when I’m not directly experiencing it. Todd, you should really.

(NOTE: attached image pulled from a previous issue, #4 of Volume 5, but too perfect not to lead with here, at the beginning of the end)


THE BOYS #72—And so it ends. It’s been so long, but it seems like this was also the case with PREACHER, the main dramatic narrative came to an end before the final issue, which was pretty much an epilogue. Which makes sense. This is a worthy sendoff to those still standing. Great to get Robertson back, though it is a shame that he has so few original characters left to draw. All of the beats fall in places that feel right after six years’ serialized immersion in this world. Ennis pulls a great trick at the end, ramping up the potential for absolute heartbreak and horror in the very last pages. If any writer, if any book has the potential to just completely and explicitly disembowel the remaining protagonists on the cusp of a happy ending right there on the last page, it is this book, and I honestly could barely even spare the art a glance on the first pass, so enthralled and concerned was I for our potentially star-crucified couple. Of course, I’m not going to talk about the last page, but I will say that I really wish the opposite page had been all black out of respect for the conclusion of the run, as opposed to a pin-up of a character who I, in those first heartstopping instants before turning the page all the way and arriving at the final page of a 90-issue run, thought had somehow inexplicably returned. Which kind of messed with the momentum of the entire experience. Upon repeated viewings, I can kind of look at it as him watching over whatever’s happening on that last page. Tremendous tremendous long run, though. We shall not see anything like it again. Much gratitude to Ennis for never ever compromising, Robertson for every bit of hyperdetailed linework and exploding gore horrah, Braun for showing up two-thirds of the way through and turning in monthly work so excellent that it improbably kept me from walking off this title with the exit of Robertson and concurrent price-bump, quite the audacious step on Dynamite’s part. Really grateful for such a compelling longform narrative that kept me company for so many Wednesday nights.

BATMAN #14—This monster keeps rolling. It looks like Joker just grabbed Alfred as an incidental until we make it out to that bridge and he lays the entire premise on us and the comlink-assembled Batkiddies combined. Of course, everything is perfectly written and drawn, the in-panel staging and composition is some of the very best in comics today, the colors are lush and all of the captions are pitch-perfect. Even the lettering for Joker’s dialogue is a perfect fit. This is still, no question, the best of the New 52. And we’ll see how it all plays out. But right now, it’s hard to get too worried over the idea that Joker’s going to off any or all the sidekicks. Or that if he does, it’s going to stick. I mean, at this point are we supposed to get all worked up over the idea of him taking out the Red Hood with a crowbar? I’m sure it will still be a gripping yarn, but those are not the stakes that keep me on the edge of thrill and wonder.

BATMAN AND ROBIN #14—Ah, sorry not to get Gleason for the full twenty pages, nothing against the other fella but you can really tell. We still have several iconic images. Tomasi continues to mine all kinds of emotional depth from the dynamic between father and son as mentor and sidekick. Really beautiful last page there, man.

FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. #14—This one’s kind of running out of gas for me a bit. Still good fun, but I miss Lemire. And Villarrubia this time out, what the hell?

THE NEW AVENGERS #33—Wow, Oeming dropping in I bet messes up some dyed-in-the-wool Marvel Zombies who are not down with the POWERS. Quite a bit more stylized than the great Carlos Pacheco, mm? The art really works for me, though, Oeming’s a singular talent. It kind of felt like Ba/Moon dropping in to play. So, yeah, apparently the Hitch Ultron thing is just going to be next year’s big event, kind of a shame not to let that play out as the climax of this Bendis run, but I guess we can all just hold our breath for four or five months and pretend the gap didn’t happen.

FANTASTIC FOUR #1—This was really excellent, much better than I dared hope. Very much more the CASANOVA/HAWKEYE Fraction showing up rather than the fellow who phoned in those couple years of UNCANNY. And I couldn’t be happier, regular readers will recall that there is a Hickman-sized hole in my heart that cannot be filled by all the creator-owned Image series he can throw at us (though we must give him credit for trying). But we get to keep colorist Paul Mounts (continuing his record-breaking stint on this book) for continuity and Fraction, Bagley, and Farmer drop us right in the thick of it, a Page One ONE YEAR FROM NOW . . . flash-forward that’s pretty much straight Morrison (the exact same trick as R.I.P., now that I think on it) and then we’re off to the races with some in medias res action from the mouth of a T-Rex to all over the breakfast nook at the Baxter Building. Kirby Krackle at the bottom of Page Four, we’re good, check. Fraction doesn’t quite nail Valeria’s voice, but it’s a nuanced thing, I’m sure he’ll get it. Or have hopes. The two-pager with Johnny & Darla in The Negative Zone is priceless, as is the bit with the Yancy Street Dummies. I’m also a fan of the premise of taking the entire Future Foundation aboard the deweaponized hyperdimensional warship for Adventures Across Space & Time. Why reveal who the replacement team is on the cover for FF? What ever happened to silhouettes and question marks? An auspicious debut. Looking forward to the Allreds clocking in.

THE ALL-NEW X-MEN #1—All right, I was planning on passing this up in general protest of the new Merry Marvel Double-Shipping-40-pgs/month-for-$8 policy, but that cover looked too good and I had to see how Bendis kicked off his run in this corner of the 616. It’s pretty solid. The art is magnificent. This Marte Garcia came out of nowhere, a serious force on colors. I was pretty taken with this the first time through, but it does seem a bit skinny on the second pass. Especially when you put it up next to Fraction’s FF. Or certainly LOCKE & KEY, though maybe that isn’t fair. Much has been made of Hank’s plot-driving decision being out of character, but it works for me, particularly in light of the fact that he’s dying and desperate. I would totally be on-board for this if it was single-shipping, I think I heard that it’s going to shift to that soon? Haven’t decided whether or not to pick up #2. I do want to support Local Boy Made Good David Marquez, so will probably have to at least snag his issues when he rotates in.

SAGA #7—All right, this one is the first since #1 to pretty much do it for me. I’m still not a fan of the choice to have every single character using an up-to-the-bleeding-minute sort of twenty-first century tone, very much not digging on a baby from the future narrating the sweeping space opera with bits like, “So yeah, that happened.” But the characters are punching through into my heart, regardless. Or I’m at least developing empathy for them. I guess I didn’t just adore Yorick, 355, and the gang by #7, to be fair. Fiona Staples’s art is majestic. And the last page is perfect, probably the most perfect beat of the entire thing thus far, and that’s all down to Vaughan. Cautiously optimistic about this thing, going forward.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #10—We welcome a fourth artist to the fold, Declan Shalvey, and while his (his?) lines are even looser than Lolos’s, I’m finding myself able to acquire the taste a bit faster if I simply don’t expect everyone to just lay waste to every single page the way Cloonan and then Harren managed to. Appreciate the art on its own merits, not in relation to what’s come before. The plot thickens for our warrior pirate royalty couple as they head into their third act under the shadow of plague. Almost a year in, this one’s still holding my attention. Wonder how long Wood’s planning to hang out, whether or not he’s leaving with Bêlit.

THE MASSIVE #6—And speaking of Mr. Wood, it has proven a rewarding double-shot to get his other $3.50 periodical every week along with CONAN. Just the Dave Stewart colors alone justify yer seven-dollar cover price, no problem. This series is still exploring various corners of the globe while providing gripping done-in-ones, this time featuring Mag. I’m a fan of this pace, really tight little three-issue arcs with individual issues that all stand alone pretty well. Garry Brown continues to do a fine job drawing everything that Wood throws at him, and the backmatter is consistently the best on the rack at the moment, all kinds of efficient world-building going down just four pages of text at a time.

THE ZAUCER OF ZILK #2—What a mad phantasmagoric ride! Having never experienced ROGAN GOSH, this is the closest I’ve come to pure undiluted McCarthy. Some seriously resonant themes are tucked in amongst all the surging bleed of every technicolor known to man, age and accepting one’s mortality and adulation or lack thereof. Highly recommended to fans of the slipslide psychedelic and particularly Morrison’s more hyperdimensional fare.