Tuesday, June 19, 2012


BEST OF WEEK: SILK SPECTRE #1—Wow. This is a triumph, right here. Get as bent out of shape as you want about the fact that it even exists, but taken on its own merit, this is a damn fine comic book that succeeds in every place where last week’s MINUTEMEN fell short. This is a story that sheds new light on a character at a crucial turning point in her life while in no way contradicting all that we know has come before. Unlike last week, these are not beats that we’ve all extrapolated from the original over the years, but instead a new narrative that is actually engaging and exciting all on its own. And what art from Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts. Gorgeous work. She rocks the classic nine-panel grid hard throughout the entire issue, inserts a couple of vertical double-panel shots just to be cheeky while paying due deference to Gibbons’s groundbreaking camera work, particularly in the opening scene. My favorite part of the entire issue are the little one-panel imaginary asides when some almost-involuntary image pops up in Laurie’s head and Conner renders them in this really cartoony style that is completely at odds with Gibbons and would have been terribly out of place in the original but works perfectly here. And the colors are beautiful throughout. I really loved this issue and can’t wait for the next one and am sorry that there are only four of these instead of six. Still really just stunned by how excellent it manages to be on every level.

BATMAN #10—All this time, I’ve been waiting for Morrison to follow up on the old EARTH 2 graphic novel with Quitely that included T. Wayne Jr being Owlman, never in a million years would have picked Snyder to insert the character back into mainstream continuity in a way that feels totally natural and unforced. Via a court of owls, even. This one too is top-drawer work from everyone involved, Snyder’s intricate plotting and pitch-perfect narrative captions, Capullo/Glapion/FCO completely destroying every page, this book has consistently hit such a ridiculously high level of quality every single month since September. Bruce contemplating the sunrise while absent-mindedly twirling the twin shell-casings of the bullets that killed his parents is powerful powerful imagery. Alfred’s answer to the mystery of their murder is perfect. And the final revelation is surprising but doesn’t feel like a cheat. And of course imbues earlier issues with all kinds of meaning for subsequent rereads. Next month is going to be a hell of a thing. Surely when the dust settles after the first year of The New 52, this title will stand head and shoulders as the absolute best of the batch.

BATMAN & ROBIN #10—Another impossibly strong issue from Tomasi/Gleason/Gray. Great shot of the family posing for the portrait. As much as the crew on the preceding issue killed it, there are almost just as many classic character moments here. That line about every year being a souvenir works so well, but is only a prologue for more Damian greatness. The kid has completely taken over this book. Can’t believe how much he’s won me over as a character. If only he and Valeria Richards could go a’courting in a few years. The centerpiece of this issue is yet another iteration of Damian versus Tim. Why is it so easy to root for the little bastard?  

FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. #10—I was certainly concerned about Lemire clocking out, but know that this Kindt fellow is a buddy of his and apparently been in the mix behind the scenes here since the beginning, so was more than willing to give him a shot. Really glad I did, as this issue is almost an improvement on what’s come before. As a single, Lemire really only managed to top it a couple of times. We do maintain artistic continuity with Ponticelli/Faucher/Villarrubia delivering the scratchy pulp goodness that have perfectly complemented this title all along. That two-page spread of Untroplolis is staggering, brilliant work. I am a huge fan of the Time-Sniper business being classified. We don’t need to know, so much better that way. And the cloudpacks should totally bleed Kirby Krackle in their wake. I really thought I’d be out the door with Lemire, but this book is going stronger than ever. Here’s to another year’s worth of S.H.A.D.E.NET updates and achingly poignant and terrible Byron quotes.

CONAN #5—DC really knocked me out this week, I had to take a break and get it together, even, but then returned to this serious business right here. Somehow this arc is better than the first three issues with Cloonan, which, I mean things like physics and all the other sciences should make something like that impossible. This Harren fellow is out of his mind and also conjuring up full-blast stellar magnitude from Dave Stewart. This is the best issue of this series yet and what’s come before has been nothing short of stunning. There might be the best Conan splash page of all time contained right here within this book. Certainly one capable of standing next to any other all-time greats.

THE MASSIVE #1—Just a real strong opening issue here. Wood has been around the block a time or two hundred, successfully brought a 72-issue run into harbor, along with giving NORTHLANDERS the premature send-off that it deserved. So there is absolutely no learning curve here in terms of narrative, we get gripping in medias res balanced with the perfect amount of expository infodump. And I’ve never seen Kristian Donaldson’s work before but he’s a pro, strong storytelling composition and pacing. Real interested to see where this is heading and grateful for yet another ridiculously strong new series. CONAN, PROPHET, GLORY, SAGA, THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS, it’s been quite a year.

THE AVENGERS #27—Noh-Varr VS the Kree + Thor gets out and pushes the ship from out of a freefall into the heart of the sun. Bendis & Simonson. There is Kirby Krackle on exactly ten of the twenty pages in this comic, and most of those others are covered in solar flares and seething cosmic energy that just happens not to have Kirby Krackle, I guess because maybe someone thinks that it shouldn’t or can’t be on just every page? Half of them felt about right to me. What great fun for Bendis on his homestretch, here. Just to see sequential pages of Simonson Thor again is a thrill.

FANTASTIC FOUR #607—Yet another shot of Hickman greatness. The team accepts an invitation to Wakanda and we get a one-page retcon that undoes that ridiculousness about all the vibranium going inert and T’challa’s economy tanking. You can’t do that to the Black Panther, son! Hoping Camuncoli/Kesel are going to stick around for the end of Hickman’s run over here, they’re a good fit. God, I’m so so sorry that he’s leaving, still really won’t let myself believe that it’s true. It’s going to get pretty pathetic around these parts in about four months.


BEST OF WEEK: MINUTEMEN #1—All right, I could burn a few thousand words, and many before me already have, discussing the circumstances behind this book’s very existence, but let’s wade through the context just as quick as we can. Moore & Gibbons entered into an agreement in good faith with regard to the rights to the original characters that they created based on the Charlton catalogue, DC screwed them over by never letting WATCHMEN go out of print, Alan Moore hates them with all the white-hot fury of his chaos warlock’s heart, yadda yadda yadda. I was apoplectic the morning of I think it was February 1st when DC announced that they were going to be releasing not one but seven prequel mini-series to the critically-acclaimed most beloved graphic novel of all time. I read the original in singles while I was ten and eleven and it is one of the finest and certainly most formative narrative experiences of my life. I always really respected Levitz for resisting the temptation to mine the rich backstory of those twelve issues for easy money. And hey, he held the numbermen off for twenty-five years. But these are new days at Detective Comics Comics and lo, the time for BEFORE WATCHMEN is upon us. Editorial has certainly done it right, started out at the top with Chiarello, who went on to recruit a bevy of A-list talent to wind the doomsday clock back hours and hours. The only one I’m not crazy about is JMS, I don’t really care if they give him Drieberg, but it’s pretty questionable putting him on the Dr. Manhattan book, particularly in the light of the way he managed fizzle out supposedly landmark runs on two-thirds of the DC Trinity.

But all this is neither here nor there! You see? Three hundred words already winding on and on about the mere fact that this thing, these things, even exist without ever so much as approaching discussion of the content of the actual pages. No more! Once you crack the spine and turn to the first page of Darwyn Cooke’s BEFORE WATCHMEN: MINUTEMEN, what in fact happens?

It’s actually pretty impressive. I had to reread those first four panels right away. Cooke writing and drawing a Minutemen series is such a perfect fit that I believe it’s the reason that this whole thing got off the ground in the first place, the tipping point at which other talent began to believe that they might have the moxie to try to extract new narratives from the fully realized world that Moore & Gibbons created. If the first two pages don’t live up to the astronomical heights of quality that the original achieved, and they don’t, but surely they’re as close as anybody is likely to get. The Kirby Krackle in the third panel is a nice touch and then the gears falling into place as background for Dr. Manhattan is a strong piece of work. Then that second page, we get a classic Gibbons zoom-out. Cooke definitely opens up with the due amount of compositional deference to the original while also doing a fine job nailing the salt-of-the-earth quality of Hollis Mason’s voice. Better than fair riffs on both Moore and Gibbons, all while staying true to evolution of the artist’s innate voice. A very strong opening.

Then it’s two pages of Hollis’s agent telling him he’s crazy to be publishing the autobiography that comprises the backmatter of the first three issues, cue the go-to splash page of the (in)famous Minutemen pre-attempted-rape team photo and we are back to 1939 for Hollis to narrate one-by-one introductions and origins for his team. This structure is nothing new, a callback to Rorschach running around in the original #1, introducing us to the rest of our 1985 cast. What’s different here is there’s no dramatic inciting incident, no shocking murder to drive the plot forward. Hollis is there in his new digs, busting out the “gold watch” statue that will eventually end his life (the only groaner for me in the entire script, even the single panel too much of a wink at what we all know is coming), he talks to his agent and then just sits there reminiscing. This then opens the door for little vignettes showcasing Cooke’s Minutemen and here we have another bit of a disconnect between the hot newness and original authorial intent that you hate to guess at but that in this case I believe we can all take for granted. The thing about the original is that it was as grounded in reality as a story could be that featured a bald blue man who perceives all of time and space simultaneously. The first major problem I had with the Snyder movie didn’t occur until #3 (because dude nailed nailed the first two issues) when the muggers rolled up on Dan & Laurie and they suddenly went all Neo & Trinity up on them. It was ridiculous. The protagonists of the source material were not superheroes. They were masked adventurers. Vigilantes. The second Nite Owl doesn’t know kung fu. One presumes this street-level brand of fisticuffs is nowhere more applicable than with our eponymous team, in particular. While Cooke is a master storyteller, one of the very best currently working in the medium today, it throws me off to see the Silhouette traversing gutters and hurling her body from panel to panel with body language that is much better suited to Selina Kyle in Cooke’s old stomping grounds on the animated Timm/Dini BATMAN show. Does this make sense? Without context, if you’re somehow like the one person who has never read WATCHMEN and came to this via Cooke’s latest work on the PARKER adaptations or just stumbled in the store today and thought the vertical logo up the side of the spine was a pretty revolutionary concept, then this is going to seem like nothing more than a really beautiful well-made comic that introduces a lot of intriguing characters. But folks who have lived with this story in our hearts for twenty-five years are going to be looking at these magnificent Darwyn Cooke pages and raising our eyebrows, asking all kinds of ridiculous questions like, Shouldn’t this have been done less in Cooke’s naturally evolved style and instead in more of a 40s kind of pastiche? Have more of that Shuster or Finger or Robinson flavor? And, you know, maybe those aren’t ridiculous questions. It’s even harder to talk about this one than when Miller did that batshit DARK KNIGHT sequel. I can’t believe that this thing actually exists, that they’re going to keep rolling out more of them until, I don’t know, middle of January? Not really sure I’m going to be able to deal with that. Maybe it’s a good thing. I think I feel as good about this enterprise as I’m going to right at this moment, before JMS shows up. Ah, I bet the Azzarellos are going to be pretty amazing. And of course Conner will smoke it on Laurie’s book. I wish they’d gotten Paul Pope to do Manhattan all by himself. Well, and Villarrubia coloring Mars all the pinks for four issues. Can you imagine? I’m so wild for those STRANGE ADVENTURES.

This is a pretty great comic, though it’s also an act of shameless corporate barbarism and a pale shadow of the original #1. I'm certainly not going to read it 34 more times and write a master's thesis on it. The thing about this series thus far is that we’ve been given the source material through the Cooke filter, but this one single right here almost feels like a one-shot. Besides getting a master’s class in panel layout and composition, so far there’s really no compelling narrative reason to be back here, treading these beats that are all implicit within the original. I said this already, no murder to solve, just really good-looking pages expanding upon but not as of yet adding anything of note to the canon. We will see. I do trust that Darwyn Cooke to burn it down and tear it up.

ACTION COMICS #10—Wow, you have got to love the simplistic brutality of Clark taking the train to the child-killer’s apartment, attempting to talk his way in with weak excuses while revealing both his face and actual place of employment in a single panel, then straight up breaking down his door as Superman and threatening to heat-vision all the bad parts out of the guy’s brain. I love this guy. Still feeling just a bit of hostility after losing Pa & Ma. It’s not the Superman I grew up with, but he’s making me smile. I also dug the two pages with the League. Though more for the dialogue than the art. Is Morales’s staging a bit weird to anyone else? I can’t tell if he’s rushing or evolving. But then we’ve got the very surprising Death of Clark Kent. Really? It seems like they can just do anything, now. What’s weird is, this very much came across as still like Young Superman. The doofus from the first arc. Right? I mean, he and Lois and Jimmy seemed in their mid-twenties and then his costume was just a red-shirt version of that hiking boots affair, not the red-V collar. So I’m guessing this isn’t a are-we-really-calling-anything-present-tense story and young Clark won’t stay dead? I guess that wouldn’t be any great shock. Another solid backup, especially CAFU’s last shot of such a sad face. My interest in this title will in all likelihood walk out the door with Morrison, so I hope he’s got at least another year in him, seems like I heard he plotted out to #16 before the first one came out.

ANIMAL MAN #10—Lemire & Pugh find a way to keep upping the ante, no mean feat after this steady ten-month ascent. It’s also no surprise that Lemire drops his new favorite toys into the mix the first second he’s able, though Constantine and friends do little more than distract the Baker family while the hunter grabs that loveable little mullet. Pugh continues to turn in strong pages and assert his artistic voice on this title, keep us moving forward and not missing Travel Foreman too badly, quite the accomplishment. So, we’re just going to do a full-on first-year arc, I guess? It’s certainly roared right on by.

SWAMP THING #10—Well, I guess if one of the best tag-teams in comics needs a breather, you might as well call in Francesco Francavilla. This book really is never lacking in the art department, a quick read that goes ahead and sets the stage for a serious confrontation between Abigail and her dear departed daddy.  The pages are pretty, but it’s a little light on story. Still interested to see how all this will resolve and what kind of status quo there will be, going forward. It feels like they’re going to swerve on us real hard at the end.

MORNING GLORIES #19—It is crazy how closely this series manages to nail the tone of dearly departed L O S T while still maintaining its own unique premise and character beats. Given that this was a –centric that pretty much seemed to resolve the main arc of a given character, it only ever occurred to me while breathlessly devouring all thirty pages that the only two possible outcomes were that the character was going to either going to be executed or not. I definitely believed Spencer/Eisma had the balls to do it, but it still would have been pretty a stunning thing. Then they went completely insane and I still can’t believe it. As shocking as the second death in “Two for the Road.” This series is on fire.

THE BOYS #66—Mm, well, I certainly don’t like the way it seems to be heading all of a sudden, the team turning against Butcher. That would be tragic. And of course perfect. This series remains a thing of greatness and unique wonder unto itself as it begins its final arc. The Legend’s non-sequitur Macbeth rant/Stan Lee retorts to the greedy estates of the scribblers are just about beyond belief.

SECRET #2—This is all right. Solid enough script from Hickman. I expect a little bit more, but he’s certainly earned my patience on a slow-burn in a different genre than I’m accustomed to from him. But it’s this Bodenheim fellow I’m not in love with. He’s not terrible, but after Hickman headhunted Pitarra for his last creator-owned, I expect actually a lot more than this in the art department. All the dudes just about look the same. Wait, shit, now I have to go listen to Mott the Hoople.

AVENGERS VS X-MEN #5—Ahahahah, maybe I’m jaded, maybe this series has been kind of underperforming for me enough that I’m just desperate, but I clapped my hands with delight at the “plot twist” at the end. I mean, they really just did this. We just bought this house nine months ago and I read it right here on this very couch in this very room. Now, if only they will cycle back through and homage/redux/copy the plot twist from every other event back from SIEGE to SECRET INVASION, CIVIL WAR, have Wanda say, “More Mutants,” Iron Fist falling back into obscurity while Luke Cage quietly surrenders the keys to the mansion and goes back to slipping it to Jessica Jones from behind and then the entire thing unspools and reboots back to the first page of AVENGERS #500 with Hawkeye and everybody at the breakfast table talking about the one supervillain they’d sleep with if they could, Bendis’s entire eight years unwinding like some kind of elastic double-helix wound too tight, all of this some kind of sublime meta-commentary on the fleeting illusion and impermanence of change in mainstream superhero comics. Oh, Bendis. If only.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES #1—Baltazar & Franco return with nothing more or less than their TINY TITANSesque take on the Superman mythos, which without doubt makes the world a better place. The plot of this debut issue is fairly standard boilerplate, Superman and family against a bunch of giant Luthor-controlled robots, but the fun is in the execution. And Super-pets. Now there is a mouse! Looking forward to the new continuity these boys are already hard at work building.

BEST OF WEEK: FF #20—As the weeks roll by, it’s getting increasingly more and more difficult not to degenerate into incoherent adulation of the beast this Hickman FF run has become. It’s really one of my favorite long runs of all time and never fails, two or three times a month, to deliver entertaining shocking story beats that payoff over the long haul and consistently reward the folks who have been around since the beginning. This one’s got most of the main team training Frank on the far side of the galaxy and leaving Johnny to substitute-teach with the Future Foundation kids. Which is of course a disaster right off the bat. Serious hijinx that are perfectly in-character building to a hilarious last page that makes all kinds of sense. I really pity the poor slob who’s going to get stuck with replacing Hickman, one day in the far far future, hopefully.

AMERICA’S GOT POWERS #2—This series is shaping up to be quite the strong outing. The art team, in particular, blows it up with every single page. The two inkers blend their styles to great success. Ross is doing strong character work, here. Which is just gravy, because Bryan Hitch’s pages have never looked better. 24 pages, no ads, this one is well worth picking up in singles. Full marks, all around.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE #27—Wow, it turns out this two-parter was really just an extended chance to meet Hobbes, who’s turning out to be quite the forceful presence in the mythos. Real on the hook here to see what happens next, this series is managing to keep burning quite nicely as it sets into its third year.

BATMAN ANNUAL #1—Snyder and his buddy who helped out on that excellent GATES OF GOTHAM mini show up with Jason Fabok and drop a pretty convincing ultimate origin for Mr. Freeze, combining the beloved Paul Dini animated version with your more traditional Gotham sociopath. Freeze is the protagonist of this, Batman doesn’t appear until the final eight pages (and it’s a pretty grand entrance when he finally shows up, kudos to Fabok’s staging for blowing the doors wide open at the perfect moment). You can hold this one up next to the eleventh and fourteenth villain-centric annuals from the original run, truly one for the ages. 


BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN INCORPORATED #1—Wasn’t this supposed to be called BATMAN: LEVIATHAN? It doesn’t matter! This is the first new Morrison Batman of 2012, the first part of the ten-issue homestretch that will bring Morrison’s madcap six-year run to its heartbreaking conclusion. Once more, we’ve got fractured chronology as the first page takes place after the rest of the issue and assumes quite a bit more gravity when reread knowing how the rest of the issue plays out. Burnham returns and is as on-fire as ever. I dearly hope that all of this lead-time means he’s going to be able to rock all ten issues without a fill-in. I tell you, these long Morrison runs start out with musical chairs in the art department, but they always seem to finish strong.

Of course, the single greatest thing about this issue is the master-stroke that drops in at the conclusion of the opening scene, which takes place in a slaughterhouse and, in a single panel, has Damian join the author and Buddy Baker in the ranks of vegetarianism while introducing Bat-Cow from TINY TITANS into mainstream continuity. Which I cannot be hyperbolic enough about. Wonderful wonderful wonderful. 

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #9—I bailed out on this one around #4 or #5 because Milligan wasn’t moving fast enough for my taste. Had to drop back in, though, as I’ve got serious love for Lemire and these are apparently some of his favorite characters. Glad to see Janin and Arreola still blowing it up on art. This was pretty solid. Lemire uses Constantine for more than like four pages, always a plus, and it feels like more happened in this one issue than all of the first ones that I picked up, combined. And, oh look, there’s a tesseract in this book, too, now. I’ve got a soft spot for those things.

FLASH #9—Manapul and Buccellato just keep on tearing it up, here, nothing much new to report. Nice to get a L O S T reference exactly on the second anniversary of the last episode. This series continues to be quality fun that feels pretty Silver Age, month in and month out. Love those Eisneresque titles pages.

FABLES #117—Ah, FABLES. How has it already been ten years? The quality continues. I need to figure out how many issues Buckingham has drawn. Of course, he’s had replacements, so this team isn’t taking a shot at the title for most consecutive issues ever, but they’ve got to be in contention for most of all time, with Bendis/Bagley I think in the lead for the first 110 shots of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN.

THE UNWRITTEN #37—Ah, is that Alan Moore on the first panel of page four? You would expect him to be up in the mix over this business. Shouldn’t “confidant” end in an “e”? Or is it like an English thing not to do that? I wonder how much of a time-jump we made here. It mentions that it’s been two years since #1, but clearly there’s been a hop since the end of #35. And no Tommy to be found! Hope he doesn’t sit out the duration of this storyline. Not sure where this one is headed. Something to do with climactic arcs, no doubt!

CHEW #26—It’s testament to the amount of depth that Layman/Guillory have given their supporting cast that on first read, I didn’t even notice that the title character only appears on four pages and, for that matter, is in a coma. No, this is Toni Chu’s show and we’ve now made it all the way up to #27, which we of course already got to lay our hands on last year. You’ve got to love the composition of those two shots of Barnabas Cremini and Chow dropping middle fingers on each other, hilarious stuff. And the return of the Russian “vampyre!” There is nothing in the world like this book.

PROPHET #25—Is Roy coming back? I think Graham’s drawing #26. This Milonogiannis fellow is also great and his style’s a good fit for the series, but I do hope that Roy is not out the door. We’re cranking it up here this month, starting out with a cast of three Prophets plus friends before everything quickly escalates to a point of critical mass that comes from completely out of nowhere and should have a serious impact on the mythos, going forward. Quite a lot to handle from the fifth issue since the reboot. I’m wild for the science pulp goodness of this series.

FANTASTIC FOUR #606—This one’s got a terrific high concept. Dumping Spidey and the wonderful two-dozen-strong ensemble that have found their way into these series, we get the first adventure starring solely the title characters in probably a couple of years. They’re on an unspecified mission in some red caverns that seems to be quite urgent. It’s not hard to guess approximately where they are (in terms of, shall we say, scale), but Hickman saves the revelation of exactly who they’re saving and from what until the very end, which definitely winds up punching you in the gut. You do have to work to suspend logic a little bit, the old Superman ending poverty thing, because you know, the Fantastic Four just beat cancer. The only thing they should be doing after the last page of this issue is working to automatize and streamline the process, not just congratulating themselves for this one good save they made. Don’t go down that path, True Believers! The 616 is not founded on logic but wonder!