So much for a light fifth week!
BEST OF WEEK: LOCKE & KEY: GRINDHOUSE—What a nasty bit of business this was. I had heard that a one-shot was coming down the pike but had no idea that it was today, so finding it on the top of the ol’ weekly pull was about the best news possible in that particular circumstance. The choice of dropping the old EC Comics font for the lettering is pitch-perfect. This was basically Hill/Rodriguez roaring their Buick 8 into Brubaker/Phillips country at 80 mph and claiming all the land that they could survey for themselves. Everything played out exactly the way it should have and I really kicked myself a couple of times for not seeing the twists and turns coming, really quite obvious in hindsight, but I was so bewitched by the narrative. And the backmatter pages are priceless, Rodriguez is apparently an architectural madman. I love how Hill had no idea that Tyler and Kinsey’s bedrooms were on the fourth floor. Also a fan of Kinsey’s Komix Korner, that three-panel one at the bottom was a scream. This issue is nothing less than the creators of the best comic series on the rack kicking off their shoes and doing whatever the hell they want, just because they can, delighting us with how great it is but also causing no small amount of infuriation because every minute spent working on this wonder could have been in service of bringing the first issue of OMEGA closer, ever closer . . .
MINUTEMEN #3—Okay, I think I get it, the point of this series is to track the journey of the group from idealistic greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts unit to the collection of alcoholic opportunistic fame-hungry Sodomite-and-otherwise-evil-bastard types that were such a cornerstone of the whole horrific grim’n’gritty movement following the original series. The framing sequences are all right, but I don’t really see much point. I mean, we know he publishes. I did dig the juxtaposition between the circles of Golden Age propaganda opposite the seedier more unfortunate reality. Though it was maybe more effective when Parker and friends pulled the trick first in that THE AGE OF THE SENTRY mini a few years back. I did like the Comedian’s exit from the group, not something I ever even imagined in all these years, but Cooke’s version feels completely authentic. As do Hollis’s feelings for Ursula, it never would have occurred to me and they aren’t really implied by the source material, but they ring true. At the halfway point, I don’t feel like this series has quite justified its existence narratively, though of course Darwyn Cooke simply storyboarding scenes implied by one of the greatest graphic novels of all time is pretty okay.
JUSTICE LEAGUE #12—I definitely should have realized what an easy walk-back was possible to execute from that last cliffhanger, but Johns goes a little overboard with that caption “...believed to be where the dead…” I mean, he might as well have said, “according to the last page of last issue, but hang on, dear readers…” When I saw the names on the cover, my first reaction was being bummed that Lee needed help from both Reis and Finch to get it done here for the last issue of the year. Of course, it turns out those guys just jumped in at the end and Lee knocked out the pencils to the entire main story with the help of nine inkers and five colorists (!). That’s insane. You could definitely tell which pages were Williams/Sinclair, but otherwise, I suppose the mob did a pretty fair job locking in to a mostly unified style. It didn’t take me out of the story, anyway. What really cut into my enjoyment reading this comic book was that two of the three things that had the potential to freak me out were spoiled the previous week. And I get it. If you’ve got Superman kissing Wonder Woman, that’s going to spike sales and you’ve got to promote it. But should you do so at the cost of wrecking the experience for the 150,000 people who have already been showing up every Wednesday for the past year? Sales are tabulated in monthly values, not daily. You don’t get extra points for selling out on Wednesday. What if they let the regular readers have first crack at the story, maybe even don’t put the Big Iconic Moment on the cover and keep it a complete surprise, and then let the story build from there? Drop the USA Today or Newsweek stories on Thursday and Friday to get people in the stores that weekend. It seems like that way, everybody would benefit to no one’s detriment. As is, reading those two pages of Superman and Wonder Woman talking, all I could think about was how contrived and hackneyed the writing was to get the two icons in position for the next page that I had already seen posted all over the Internet dozens of times. And that might be a disservice to the writing. Possibly, it would have swept me away if I didn’t already know for certain where it was leading. The other thing was the ad for the new series. Not a huge deal, not like you can even call it a spoiler, but the one remaining surprise about the issue was the reappearance of those COMING THIS YEAR IN JUSTICE LEAGUE vertical panels that Johns used to do every twelve months in JSA and BOOSTER GOLD and that I always loved, so they were a great ride and caused all this momentum that would have led to a real cool way to announce the new title. I guess they needed something to say at FanExpo. Too, was the coloring screwed up on anybody else’s issue, the Big Iconic Kiss page and then the page facing opposite? Like, there’s this splotchiness in the shaded part of their faces. And I was thinking that it might be intentional, but the same thing is on Amanda Waller’s skinny face on the next page, which makes me think someone forgot to hide a layer in Photoshop or something.
FLASH ANNUAL #1—All right, I’ve been wondering how Manapul/Buccellato were going to be able to crank out so many extra pages for this thing while holding down their duties on the monthly title minus one fill-in and the answer turns out to be have Manapul do all the layouts and then kick it out to a different crew for every chapter. Which works pretty well, supplying a cohesion and consistency both in the book and to the main title while letting each chapter retain their own distinct artistic flavor. Glider gets a bit more weight once we know her secret origin. I’ve never seen Marcio Takara’s work, but enjoyed Chapter 4, kind of a Samnee thing going on striking a real fine balance between cartooning and photo-realism. And then a bunch of hand-grenade-shaped pods crash down from the sky full of Gorilla Grodd’s minions. Readers of the regular series who gave this a pass are going to be scratching their heads next month, I tell you what.
AMERICAN VAMPIRE #30—Man, and then again, this one feels like one of the better issues of this series. That’s been happening a lot lately. Snyder/Albuquerque remain at the top of their game. Nice of them to blow up that car with a hand-grenade to help celebrate the recent release of THE INVISIBLES OMNIBUS. And I really dug Skinner’s “Wrong genre, asshole,” line. And, of course, really serious business there at the end, cutting back and forth between those two scenes with the phonograph lyrics getting all kinds of weight from the adultery. That’s actually the kind of synergistic alchemy they haven’t been able to quite hit over there on BEFORE WATCHMEN, as of yet.
SPACEMAN #9—This was a hell of a series that never shied away from challenging its reader. And pretty much all of that comes from narrative decisions made by Azzarello. All the dialogue is rendered in this slangy future patois that the writer invented solely for this story, which sounds like a dicey proposition, but Azzarello crafts his syllables with such a deft hand that, not only did I never get lost or confused about what they were saying for the entire course of the series, but I actually managed to internalize this brand-new dialect and in some cases even anticipate what they were going to say. Say? On top of that, though, the timeshifts between the present-day action and whatever went down with Orson, Carter, and the rest of the Spacemen on Mars are presented in a way that seems constructed to deliberately disorient any reader who doesn’t stay right on top of things. And the art. I mean, Risso/Mulvhill/Robins are pretty much universally acknowledged as one of the best teams in the industry. Hell, they’ve got over a dozen years of experience working together under their belts! And it shows, expressive faces delivering the unique dialogue, body language as dynamic as it is unique, gorgeous tones depicting everything from dock explosions to lush panoramic Martian sunsets, and a lettering style that is completely invisible, Robins gets out of the way entirely, I didn’t think about him while reading a single word of this series. Which means he was doing his job. I haven’t even touched upon the actual narrative content of this final issue, and I don’t think I will, but I will say that I didn’t expect it to be half as heartbreaking as it turned out to be. If you loved 100 BULLETS or are a fan of very intelligent literary science fiction that makes you work for it and rewards the effort, definitely pick this one up when the trade comes out. Top shelf work, all around.
PROPHET #28—God, I love this series. We check back in with Old Man Prophet and his tree sidekick Hiyonhoiagn in their starship moving at the bleed of light. An act of wordplay that I’m wild for. Maybe I’m just the last person in the world to realize this, but does this mean that every artist on this book is assigned to a particular Prophet. I’m think that Milonogiannis drew these guys last time? But I can’t be sure, every one of these issues about completely scrambles my brain by the time it’s done. The crowning achievement of this issue by far is the resuscitation (on both levels of an on-panel influence on the plot and just the character in general) of Diehard, who first exploded into the lives of millions of readers (or hundreds of thousands of readers who bought multiple copies) twenty years ago as probably the most cliché and derivative member of a team comprised entirely of clichéd analogues. Of course, in the hands of this brain trust, he’s wildly compelling to an almost laughable extent. “Diehard’s headless body leads them on,” is, no problem, my favorite sentence of the week. If tragedy struck and for some reason I had to jettison 90% of my pull list, this one would still get picked up every month. I just hope we make it back to this crew sooner than three months from now. I actually really care about what’s going on with Diehard. Inconceivable! This one missed Best of Week by the narrowest of margins, to the point that the whole hierarchy of the thing almost seems pointless.
MORNING GLORIES #21—And brand-new psychopath du jour Irina is on the cover about to pull the pin out of yet another grenade. Almost too much to take! Spencer/Eisma and friends continue to put Marvel to shame, delivering massive value on another issue, this one’s 36 pages, no ads, still for $2.99. You can’t afford NOT to be reading this one! The Lindelof story structure adoration continues as we get resolution to a dangling cliffhanger opposite flashbacks that you can’t really call “The Other 48 Days,” but close enough. This new gang of kids who’ve been here all along jump right in and provide plenty of spark to a book that’s going to have quite a ridiculous ensemble if everyone can ever get in the same place at the same time any time before #50. And when the hell are we going to dial back in with Casey?!? She’s just been hanging out at the Academy for years incognito or in disguise? I think? One of the most consistently rewarding serial experiences in comics today, this.
FF #21—So sad, you can definitely see Hickman putting all the madnesses back in the toybox one by one, here. Unless things just go batshit bananas on his way out the door, which would of course be wonderful, this issue seems to completely retire the Inhumans/Kree cosmic conflict, a really sparse affair, but beautifully rendered. I hope Nick Dragotta stays through #23, his crisp economical lines are just enough to fully depict the body language and facial expressions without over-rendering, and Cris Peters fleshes the images out with soothing hues that are always well-chosen. The counterpoint between Reed and Sue on the station and Ronan and Crystal was well done, and of course, Spidey getting called out by the Centaurian was the perfect comic relief to dispel the crippling tension permeating this issue, if only for a page. Let’s shut it down here, I’ve still got four more of these to get through and it’s going to get better, not worse, my dears. As Jerry Horne once sagely noted, “Man . . . now I’m depressed.”