Sunday, December 22, 2013

12/18/13

BEST: LOCKE & KEY: ALPHA #2 — Two Funerals & Three Characters Saved From Fates Worse Than Death. That’s maybe even more than I feel like I should say but is as specific as this will get. It’s still too soon for me to really talk about the end of this series, which has been my favorite book on the rack since I finally started in on it almost two years ago. I’m grateful that I came in at least when I did because, like everyone else who had to catch up at any time before or since, it was impossible not to gobble down the first couple of volumes almost on the spot. It was then really a serious matter of discipline to dole out the next two volumes issue by issue until finally striking up pace with the singles of Volume Five, but the reason for my gratitude is because this is one of those stories that takes up residence inside of you, its characters inhabit your heart, you find yourself thinking about them and rooting for them or mourning them in surprising and seemingly random places that turn out to be perfectly appropriate once it all really starts coming flooding out of you again. And I’m glad I had to wait for The End, if not as many years as most diehards. If only because every Wednesday that a new issue arrived was an event unto itself. Which has probably been made clear here before now.

As fully developed and engaging as Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez have rendered this entire ensemble, this story of family has always at its heart had Tyler Locke as its protagonist and he takes center-stage in this epilogue as a Keeper of the Keys who has learned much from his journey, grown into a man who gives every indication of being a wise and even enlightened Last King of Keyhouse. But that’s the thing. And actually you know what, never mind what I said before, really do, stop reading here if you’re one of those people who thinks it’s okay to be reading a review of the last issue of a nearly six-year-old series but who hasn’t actually read the issue because that is just the worst thing, but the plot-specific business I really do have to get into is this: This was the Ultra-Mega-Happy Ending, right? I mean, we stopped just short of Twilight Sparkle and her crew roaring up over the hills of Lovecraft to tell us that now at long last everything is going to be fine, Bode’s been in Canterlot this entire time eating ice cream and working on stand-up bits with Pinkie Pie. This issue consisted of exactly one opening and hilarious knock-knock unjoke and then the two aforementioned funerals, amidst which Ty runs around and, man the name puns just never quit with these guys, do they? but he really does motor around tying up loose ends all over the place. Dodge gets as much redemption as he possibly can. Which isn’t much, anything higher up on the dial I’m not sure that people would have hung with, but Tyler does save him as well as he can. And Erin Voss only gets two pages, eight panels in all, but they are paced to perfection and send her on her long deserved way at last. There’s a nice little coda with Jordan’s dad and her motorcycle and ghost that leads right in to our final trip back up to Keyhouse (I guess really the last time we’re ever going to see it out here in the world in panels and pages) in which Bode does indeed make his return, which was the one aspect of this that everybody should have seen coming (even with the eyebrow-raising exposition with Dodge re: cremation, which was, yeah, pretty unfortunate). But, as ever, the greatness to be found is in the telling of the tale. Bringing in the sparrow as the vehicle about crushed me with the elegance of its resonant narrative perfection, the beautiful architecture arcing all the way back through the series.

All right, and so everyone freaking out about Bode, I was totally with that, all played to perfection, of course Nina questioning her sanity would be the knee-jerk reaction. I started to get a little bit suspicious on the next page, though, when Bode told Rufus that he could come live with them, because that right there is almost over the line, like Hill is now fucking with us and about to drop the hammer on these people at the very next turn of the page. I mean, things are like Really Turning Out Well Now for like EVERYbody, wouldn’t you say? To the point that it’s like Hill just had some horrible shit go down in his personal life and suddenly just cannot bring himself to take out these people he’s given birth to and transcribed and of course fallen in love with over the years and so suddenly they get a pass. I want to say that happened with Fraction not killing Zephyr in the first volume of CASANOVA. But the very instant that it’s like Rufus is going to move in with the Lockes now and he and Bode are gonna run around and work them magic keys and help Uncle Dunk rebuild Keyhouse and everything is going to be peaches and rainbows, then right there, not even hidden or tucked away but out of the mouth of the brightest most optimistic character of the series so that maybe it will fly right by, the road to inevitable ruin is made explicit. “It’ll be great?!?” Have you people learned NOTHING? Get off the land! Run! Don’t even sell the property because the money will be cursed and the things that you buy with it will kill you. Get out of Massachusetts. Get out of New England/the East Coast altogether. Absolutely stay the fuck out of Maine. Run. Run and dodge closed doors and locks and keys for the rest of your mortal lives. Find another way inside wherever you think you want to go or just don’t go into that place because behind that locked door, there will be a well or a portal or something leading to an alien evil that does not appear to be hampered by time and space and knows your names and wants to kill you.

So, all of this is running through my head when Ty heads back into, where else, the wellhouse. In just those first two panels alone, I am already thinking that my man is nothing but meat even before he utters the name of who he is summoning. And now it is perfect, everything comes together. Who else to send Ty and all of us faithful—and I believe one may sensibly argue Constant—Readers on our way than the nameless alien evil wearing this face of all faces and doing the deed, smashing Ty’s face up into jelly against the stone well. I’m not sure I have ever been gripped with as much dread as while reading that final exchange. And then, it just ended. Everything was all right. Ty saved, like, everybody and all’s well that ends well. But if we’ve learned anything from this series, isn’t it that the power of the keys always eventually corrupts? I mean, Bode’s going to grow up into a teenager, right? And saying that Rufus has some issues with reality is a pretty gentle way of putting it. Even allowing for Ty and Kinsey to gracefully cross the threshold into maturity, which we have every indication is exactly what will happen, are we really supposed to believe that everything is going to be hunky-dory now that we’ve got the team of Duncan, Bode, and Rusty hard at work raising Keyhouse back up from the ashes? It WAS a happy ending, to an almost freakish extent. I can actually see a sizable majority of readers a bit put off to seriously pissed that there wasn’t more bloodshed here at the end, that everything turned out so well on the surface. But did it? Really? What is the last detail we get? In a series with hundreds of examples of minutiae that always either pay off much much later or call back to something that has happened several volumes ago, what’s the last detail Rodriguez puts in? At first, I thought it was a butterfly, fluttering into the panel for our last shot of Tyler. But then on the last page, we get a slightly better look. That little fellow appears to belong to genus Acherontia, a species that achieved mainstream popularity over twenty years ago courtesy of Thomas Harris. That is the Death’s-head Hawkmoth from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, no question. Even if I’m hallucinating the human skull, the color scheme is a perfect match. Now, whether this was placed as our final image of the series in order to portend seriously ominous tidings for all of our as-of-yet-surviving Lockes or was just a cute allusion to the river in Hades that keeps Charon in obols, I certainly can’t say. But it casts a bit of shade over all of this perfect resolution spilling out all over the place, there is no question about that.

All I know for sure is that I loved this story as hard as I could and will for the rest of my life be grateful to Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, Jay Fotos, Robbie Robbins, and Chris Ryall for ushering it into this world. Knock Knock.



YOUNG AVENGERS #14 — And here we come to it. A pitch-perfect opening scene between Kate & America before we get the bad news in the jukebox credits on Page Six that McKelvie/Wilson have left the building. That certainly damages my imagined ideal of a just-this-once-PHONOGRAM-issue-reconfigured-in-the-616 but we’ve got to roll with it. And of course, all is well. Emma Vieceli give us a lovely coda to the whole Billy/Teddy/David triangle that was almost trying to come into being and then Christian Ward gives us nothing less than the secret origin of Miss (Princess) America. But the sweetest thing is of course Annie Wu & Jordie Bellaire on the final section with Kate, which is a really slick idea and sets up ideal visual continuity with her other book. And that vignette really did the trick from a narrative standpoint, moved us right past Marvel Boy, definitely Marvel Boy with just enough pages left for a real surprise and heartstopping kiss. A very happy New Year, indeed.

DAREDEVIL #034 — Javier Rodriguez is back to illustrate exactly what a beast he is all by himself as Waid seriously ratchets up the status quo. Right in the middle of this one, there’s a perfect panel. Matt does a reverse-dive off the roof while quipping all cute with Kirsten and ends the exchange with “I love this city,” and that’s really all it takes. Waid gets this guy So Much. Which has been apparent since the very beginning, but it’s still nice to see on display all this while later. And then of course serious shit at the end, down to the very last panel. Month in, month out, these guys show you exactly how mainstream corporate comics ought to be done.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #015  — Stone-Deaf Cap & Havok ride again! All was right in my world until it turns out Steve was just having fun. Which was almost even better. And oh, but a big important double-page Hickman title! We can still see that this is an important issue, even if Hickman wouldn’t let them use the white background. If Janet was going to call the Sentry out on a cliché, maybe he should have said “a finer world.” Metatextual! It will be interesting to see how Remender writes them out of this one. When Uatu tells you that there is nothing to be done about a Celestial executioner using an axe that Thor enchanted one thousand years ago to now kill all the humans on Earth, it seems like the options are becoming a bit thin and maybe we want to think about maybe Johnny-quick-on-the-spot inducting Reed Richards as an Uncanny Avenger?

ALL-NEW X-MEN #020 — Haha, expecting X-23 to be cool when she wakes up inside the Weapon X facility. Teenage Jean Grey telling Professor Kitty Pryde that Teenage Scott Summers fancies the female clone of Wolverine is, yeah, close to the weirdest shit I have about ever seen from The House of Ideas, at least since the turn of the century. Shudder, indeed.

FANTASTIC FOUR #015 — This was as good as it could have been under the circumstances. Solid scripting from Kesel, though he betrays us/pulls a Sebela in the penultimate panel, and this Raffaele Ienco is turning in strong work.

FF #15 — Allreds amok! Worth it alone for the multiple pages of Darla wrecking shit across the bottom of every page, and that’s before the real business even starts kicking in. The conclusion next month should be something fierce.

BATMAN AND TWO-FACE #26 — Of course Shannon was the better twin, I should have figured that one out already. I’ve got to say Boo on invoking the recent hit Netflix prison series, though, it does not enhance this reading experience to invoke those ladies. Immediately mitigated by that escape, though, those ladies are hardcore. This is turning into quite the lengthy arc with Harvey! Still digging it but wondering about all of the other irons these guys have in the fire.

WONDER WOMAN #26 — Terrific slam-bang greatness right up to the point that Orion tells Diana, “No duh.” Excuse me, but “No duh” is a product of fear on the lifeline!

ANIMAL MAN #26 — Cully Hamner is absolutely the guy you want to come in and blow it up on a single fill-in issue. Buddy makes a deal that will have far-reaching implications and in all likelihood lead to his title’s cancellation in a very few months, I just bet you.

BLACK SCIENCE #2 — Wow, so that first one was all the action science pulp bluster and then here, a scant three weeks later, they really sink their teeth into us with much more character work all the way around the ensemble, dials us in to three or four times’ greater effect than the first issue. Which, it should be said, I loved. But this one’s already cranked so much harder up. Like, I was impressed by the the blistering of #1. But now, I’m much more into these characters. The first scene alone, instantly iconic. There are too damn many modern-day classics unfolding before our eyes, it’s getting to be too much taking them all in at once.

EAST OF WEST #8 — A New Lady President-centric, which I enjoyed a hell of a lot more than the guy last time with the alien monster for an arm. Only five pages with Death but I have to tell you that is plenty of hook, I am real curious exactly what he’s going to be up to on his next page. Can’t believe there have already been eight of these, these people are slamming these slabs of quality out at an impressive pace. I think this one is going to be a lot more crushing binging on the trades, but with the packaging of the singles, there’s no rational argument to be made for not picking them up on day of release.

PRETTY DEADLY #3 — Now, this was a hell of a way to program it here, these last three. Already knew that this series would make a very complementary companion to the immediately preceding and it did not disappoint. I’m not sure if the ladies are finding their groove and more precisely channeling the voice of this story or if maybe I’m just getting better at listening. Image is just throwing damn thunderballs here at the end of the year, every one of theirs this week is Such A Special Issue!

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #23—This is pretty phenomenal work here, Wood & Burchielli are firing on all cylinders. A stunning bit of business, this, the type of cataclysmic fare that you only see at the end of a run. They are ending with a hell of an arc, going out swinging as hard as they can.

SECRET #4 — All right, it was a slow burn complicated by the serious delays between issues, but we’ve finally come far enough to get the revelation that’s more than enough to get everybody who’s still hanging on fully invested in the situation, here. I have got to go back, #s 1 and 2 are going to be much better, I’m thinking. Ryan Bodenheim once again has his tight controlled linework on display while Michael Garland’s extremely limited palette is a good fit for this genre. Old Rus Wooton keeps on with the hard-italic bold emphases, though, takes me out of it every damn time.


SAGA #17 — Pretty much GoTime business here, as well. Just a metric shit-ton of things going down this week, I tell you what.  No less than three major characters appear to all bite it in perfect and of course achingly poignant ways, and I’m thinking at least one of those is going to stick, terrible terrible news.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

12/11/13




BEST: GØDLAND FINALE — After nine years, Casey & Scioli at last detonate this all-encompassing monolith upon their unsuspecting flock, a tour de force whirlwind that right out of the gate not only roars right up next to BATTLING BOY for best single release of the year but then also manages to be one of the most satisfying finales to any long-form story that I have ever experienced, a profound and moving celebration slash invocation of the human spirit itself, imagination!

I reread the entire epic from #1 again in something like three days to get ready right before this came out, so really had a both well-informed and up-to-date handle on how completely batshit insane this book tends to pop off at the drop of a hat, but these boys crank it up so much higher and harder this last glorious rip through, it produces the exact same effect as reading FLEX MENTALLO #4 for the first time obliterated on no less than three complementarily administered controlled substances and liberal really actually toxic amounts of alcohol running through your nervous system accelerating your mind to the point that you can just about almost work the inner eye of memory to recalling, in correct sequential order and mostly page for page, everything that has transpired up to this point in the first three issues and then, so primed, reading through that final chapter and realizing that it is in fact a manifesto and call to the wonder, a new age of imagination and intellectual curiosity tempered by the abiding desire to do right, letting this last sixty-something pages of GØDLAND wash over you is exactly like that, a finale realigning and optimizing previously unfiring neural networks into a more enlightened and positive viewpoint on everything outside of you, from the room you are currently occupying in physical space all the way out past the borders of the galaxy, a transformative piece of art that really will, if you open your eyes wide and let it come all the way inside, make you better.





THE SHAOLIN COWBOY #3 — Ahahahaha, well Brother Darrow certainly had me going. For that first little thirteen-page stretch, I fully believed that he was going to do us this issue just as he had last month, which would have tickled and delighted me to no end, but then he does us one better with some serious escalation that it would be awful to spoil, but man. This guy. Ultimate master of the craft, is kind of the only way to talk about him. Just, holy shit. This is required reading for anyone who cares about comic books.

(I should pause here and note that I reread GØDLAND #36 immediately before hitting #37 for the first time, meaning that at this point in the evening, it was already very early in the morning and I had made it through something like 155 pages of pretty much just frothing-at-the-mouth crazy shit on mostly every page, this just to provide a bit of perspective on the way the rest of this evening’s material hit my already seriously overloaded and potentially critically damaged narrative processor.)

WRAITH #2 — Now, that is certainly a memorable way to begin a particular issue and meet a certain character right away through candid dialogue, my goodness! What a singularly peculiar way to begin an issue. During the first page of his appearance, I incorrectly surmised that Dennis Sykes was Our Charles Talent Manx III, as they bear some physical resemblance, as well as a similarity of speech patterns, but Mister Sykes, in no short order, made himself memorably known as a unique individual with whom we had not yet been acquainted.

STAR WARS #12 — So, not the last one, then. That was a bit of a shock, it certainly felt like it. And would have been a hell of a thing to do, given the content of this issue, I really can’t imagine a more perfect finale than everything headed in this direction we’ve never conceived and only our imaginations to guide our own individual series of events back to what we know of EPISODE V and its ice planet. Tremendous work from all parties involved. And I am, of course, glad to get a few more issues of this. But, man. Perfect finale, right here.

CHEW #38 — More Layman/Guillory/Chu greatness. Savoy’s enemies-over-the-years montage is another one for the ages with the last one so over the top I had to stare at it for actual minutes to make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating. So much imagination packed into these, just the level of creativity to come up with three new powers alone. And that’s before all the malarkey with the Sucroformautare. I’ve been looking forward to this development in the plot of this particular character, ready to see what happens with him running around amidst all of this other madness.

ASTRO CITY #7 — Winged Victory is a terribly compelling character. This issue blows away the first six in terms of my engagement with the story and I have really dug every issue of this volume thus far. But, come on. This is nothing less than a companion piece for “A Dream of Flying,” the single issue that started it all. Not to mention who just darts back in at the end. Busiek appears to have been hammering home this book’s central conceit of everyman-level perspective of the superheroic for the first half year back, but here at the turn, he pulls some pretty big guns off the bench and swings hard.

THE ROCKETEER/THE SPIRIT #4 — A terrific finale to this swell team-up. Perfectly delightful, but my sole reservation is that as masterful of an artist as J. Bone is, I feel like this issue veered even more toward the extreme cartoony aspect of his style, to the point that a couple of wide shots with a dozen folks in them both looked like spreads lifted straight from MAD MAGAZINE. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but I can’t help but wonder what these pages would look like if Paul Smith had turned in all four issues.

SATELLITE SAM #5 — Fraction & Chaykin serve up two blowjobs, some hot jazz, and the first named suspect in our “central series mystery.” Smokin’!

UNCANNY X-MEN #15INH — Now, I didn’t even realize this was one of those weird letters-in-the-issue-number things until I got home, but I guess the whole point of these mythos is to accept the freaky things that seem like they shouldn’t exist right along with the natural births? And as long as Bendis is scripting, yah? This Kris Anka, too, pretty terrifying, hangs with all the artistic sickness we’ve come to expect from this run. This is a reprise of the all-time classic UNCANNY X-MEN #244, the original ladies’ night out that resulted in the first appearance of one Jubilation Lee. Only this time, a Hickman Terrigen Bomb has been detonated and the new mutant our strong women encounter is a mutie-hatin’ Latverian. A real terrible sort, too, with one hell of a power set. This is that rare random tie-in that’s actually worth it and of the same caliber as the main title.

WOLVERINE #12 — This creative team continues to blow it out of the water. Alan Davis delivers a couple of heartstopping shots of Kitty Pryde reaction-shot acting, when she’s horrified at the latest thing that Logan has done/cut into pieces. Of course the splash reveal of Sabretooth is entirely worth the wait. Man is sportin’ one hell of a classy suit. I don’t know how Logan’s going to get out of this one, you guys!

JUSTICE LEAGUE 3000 #1 — Huh. I was as indignant as everybody else when DC bounced Kevin Maguire off of this reunion with his old eighties JL(I) writers but certainly wasn’t going to write this book off because Howard Porter was suddenly the guy. And the art is terrific. Unfortunately, while the premise has potential, I’m not overly fond of the execution. A team of Cadmus clones made up of the actual DNA of the classic crew only without the Kansas or Pennyworth/European upbringing so crucial to the characters’ core is a cool idea but so far, everybody’s just squabbling with one another and that’s as deep as it gets, at least this first time out. Which is interesting, that was always the thing back in ’87, how these guys just wrote a JL book like it was in the Marvel Universe with all the in-fighting and interpersonal drama that was more often displayed in that other universe. It’s not quite so charming twenty-five years later, at least thus far. A cute little nod to some future Wonder Twins is certainly not a reveal that carries the day. At the end of this issue, I’m pretty much not hooked at all. Out of respect and fondness for Giffen/DeMatteis, and their somewhat serial televisual style that admittedly lends itself better to post-pilot episodes, I’m going to hang out with this one for one or two more, but it’s early days chopping block out of the gate.

BATMAN: L’IL GOTHAM #9 — Shenanigans with Clayface and then, as far as I can tell, a new character who is actually a pretty cool idea, the lady who handles the physical infrastructure for all of Gotham’s rogues. Once again, this book is nothing but terrific and I recommend it to fans of all ages.

BATMAN #26 — I came down with a hard case of ZERO YEAR fatigue this issue. It’s all of course still immaculately rendered from a visual storytelling standpoint, Capullo doesn’t know how to stop being a beast, but it’s been how many months now? Is this series supposed to be released in real time and we actually have to spend twelve months reading about all these deeply poignant encounters that Bruce had with Gordon and Lucius, etc that will supposedly pay off years down the line if we can ever get back to the ding-dang present? I mean, the cliffhanger is Batman getting shot from behind by some of Gotham Central’s finest. The final panel is two serious globs of blood splashing to the floor in all the stop-frame balletic glory of Woo at his finest. Why do we care? We know he’s going to be fine, even more so than usual. We need a lot more meat in the plot besides cute-or-ironic-because-of-what-we-know-now-that-the-characters-don’t encounters to justify staying back here or just fast-forward this book back to the present, already. Please.

BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE #4 — Maybe I’m just getting spoiled or overloaded, that is probably certainly it here tonight, I mean GØDLAND, but while this issue hit me all right, it didn’t really blow me away. I liked Dustin Nguyen’s story best, that perfect last page in particular. And always want to see more interior work from Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, really do dig that dude’s style. Oh, and of course Kenneth Rocafort’s work is amazing and sickening in black-and-white. Overall, though, this one didn’t steamroll me like these usually do but maybe it’s actually the poor old crashed and crashing narrative processor that doesn’t work so good any

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

12/04/13

ACTION COMICS #26 — 22 uninterrupted pages of Aaron Kuder is a pretty phenomenal situation. If the idea of Tony S. Daniel or certainly Lobdell scripts was keeping you off ACTION, I am so thrilled to report that there has never been a better time than now to get right back with it. Just pay the four dollars and there are, no lie, twenty-two continuous ad-free nothing-but-gorgeous pages of our boy getting it done. This is my first issue since #19 but I need to go back and pick up #25, a ZERO YEAR tie-in that Pak also wrote. Of note here, they do a really great job with Lana Lang, both on her own and on her relationship with Clark. In just a very few pages, she’s established as someone who can take care of herself in almost any situation and is happy to go all action hero on a giant alien monster. But if she’s outgunned in that situation, she always has her best friend to call in with a whisper. Who she will still scream at when he throws her van at aforementioned monster. Terrific dynamic between those Smallville kids. It should be no great surprise, but I didn’t realize what a deficiency in my life it created, not remaining plugged in to current in-canon developments of the first and greatest superhero, but am so gratified to have him back.

DETECTIVE COMICS #26 — This was a perfectly serviceable done-in-one following up on and potentially resolving the thread about the Langstroms that Layman’s had running through various back-ups since he came on board. Aaron Lopresti fills in on art while Jason Fabok gets some lead time on what’s presumably going to be a hell of a lot of pages for next month’s #27, which, if it isn’t $7.99 and 80 pages nine months after the last time they had an excuse to crank it up that high, I’ll be shocked. This issue didn’t particularly offend me or blow me away, just your garden-variety Man-Bat & Bat-Queen hijinx.

TRILLIUM #5—Again, Jeff Lemire manages an idea that pushes the medium forward in a way that I haven’t seen, staying with the flip-book theme of the first issue but this time cutting each and every page in half and running Nika’s story across the top in the regular direction and then turning us around and sending us from the back to the front of the book upside down across the bottom of the page. That would be enough, but of course Lemire isn’t content to rest there but then goes ahead and lines up panels across the page from one story to another, some layouts, a couple of compositions, just top-level business. You could say that this issue was a master class in how to arrange flip-books if we’d ever even see anything like this before. One cool way that the difference between time-zones is highlighted is that series regular colorist Jose Villarrubia provides the tones for Nika’s alternate 1921 across the top while Lemire delivers everything except I guess the lettering across the bottom of the page for Spaceman William. Our main characters are once again separated across time and space but the white flash at “the end” of last issue flipped their situations so that now Nika and her cast are in 1921 and William’s in the far future. But they both sense that something’s wrong. What follows is a pair of first-person-narration-heavy stories that do a ton of character work on our leads showing how they react to their different settings. This is an entertaining and necessary comedown from the breakneck pace we got up to in the first half of this series and gives us one last bit of calm with these two people before they presumably find one another again and all hell breaks loose all over the place once again.

VELVET #2—The plot thickens and this really is going to just be one of the best books now for as long as it lasts before they move on and just create something else. Brubaker can’t sit still! But we do right away get reveals into the situation with her secret past, which is so far just what we’d expect, she was an ultra-operative, the best of the best, the main question is still why did she ever get out? Half of the issue is a chase scene with her trashing Roberts and his goons, then Roberts gets all of the case-files that his clearance will allow and then she decides to bail on England. And the first-person narration pretty definitively lets us know that she’s not really the bad guy, so it doesn’t look like Brubaker will be pulling any Roger Ackroyd-type malarkey, I don’t think, which is the first thing probably most folks were looking for.

PROPHET #41 — Badrock vs Troll! Our three-dimensional minds and two-dimensional pages are almost not capable of processing this depth of conflict! The three panels across Pages Seven & Eight are pure thunder. Only Old Man Prophet would respond to such cosmic catastrophe with “FLY TO MEET THEM!” I still can’t believe about Newfather. And then this one just goes all Kirby on the last few pages there, the sense of size and scale cranks way up, almost past my ability to hang with it, three times through and it keeps making my head too light and puffy. Going to really miss this when it goes but these guys have taken us on a hell of a ride every single time out.

THE FOX #2 — Okay, yeah, this is more my speed. It’s interesting that this was Haspiel’s initial take on a first issue and then they decided to rein it in for the actual #1. I guess not everyone wants the madness right out of the gate. But this was more my speed, Lennon-quoting psychedelic hallucinations and all. These panels have just the perfect amount of detail to tell the story as dynamically as possible and get you moving on to the next beat. I am certainly a fan of the more heavily rendered Darrow/Quitely/Burnham school of sequentials but there is a lean and ruthless efficiency here that appeals to me, as well. The back-up with The Shield didn’t knock me out but was a nice extra, as the eighteen-page main feature justified the cover price all on its own. It will be interesting to see if DeMatteis follows up on the left turn at the end there, that everything’s relative and our guy’s just as propanganda-programmed as the godless bastards with whom he’s about to engage in the good old fisticuffs.

CATALYST COMIX #6 — We close out Amazing Grace’s headlining stint in this anthology with what I actually expected to be the climax of the whole deal. It turns out this was all just precursor to the main event. Paul Maybury delivers in a big way on a pages’-long fight scene that would do The King Himself proud, concluding with a manual decapitation inside a volcano, natch. I’m definitely looking to seeing what kind of escalation we’re going to get in the last three chapters of that one. The Agents of Change crank things up with a dance-off and dance moves that are pure bananas and actual severe dance fever, and then Frank Wells is roused from his Lennonesque bed-in to freeze a water-based supervillain before getting the chance to quote some iconic Pacino on the way out. And I have to give respect to the MARLOW BRIGGS ad at the end of the issue, it did such a good job of evoking those old Hostess Pies ads from the seventies that I just assumed it was part of the regular program and not an advertisement at all, solid work.

MARVEL KNIGHTS: SPIDER-MAN #3 — These guys aren’t content just to tell the story of a drugged-up Spider-Man fighting basically his entire rogue’s gallery, they’ve got to push the reader’s accepted definition of what should be possible in a Spider-Man story and might as well go ahead and stretch out what you can get away with in terms of page layout and panel composition, all while making sure that we never lose touch with our protagonist by a first-person Parker anecdote, the word-choice of which naturally plays off and against the on-panel chaos in a way that would do mid-eighties Alan Moore proud. And that’s before we even make it to the symbiotes. I’m not sorry that I picked these singles up because they’re terrific fun to digest on multiple passes one at a time in between issues but this is one of those books where the art is so impressive that every single advertisement is just like such an insult and affront, you want to rip it right out of the issue. It’ll make a hell of a single-shot read in trade, is what I’m trying to say.

INHUMANITY #1 — It takes some balls to just straight up launch another event the week after the last one finishes, but I paid my money so can’t really say they were wrong to do it. But, it FEELS wrong though, right? But the talent is too strong, I had to see what Fraction was going to do with this, especially with Coipel & Martin on hand to make the pictures so pretty. I will say that it was cool to see Fraction’s Hawkeye in the panel with the Avengers during what at some point might turn into a Big Event rather than futzing around Bed-Stuy. What a terrific entrance, I hadn’t actually thought about the overlap with Fraction on both books, but that entrance was so perfect, my only response was, “Oh, it’s you!” So, that was cool. But then, yeah, maybe this should have been a prologue or some such? Because for someone who has actually studied all of these events over the years and professes to love FINAL CRISIS as much as I do, Fraction has produced a pretty lackluster first issue from a narrative standpoint. Of course it’s beautiful to look at. I wasn’t really reading it on the first pass thinking that nothing was happening but then got to the end and realized that, yeah, they pretty much just stood around Karnak’s cell for the entire issue and talked about shit. The big surprise at the end is more going through the motions than anything else, the sacrifice demanded to kick off a crossover such as this to illustrate that Shit Just Got Real! & Nothing Will Ever Be The Same!. I’m going to hang out with this for a little while but am bummed that the quicksilver mind that has been knocking me out all year with HAWKGUY and especially here in the tail end with SEX CRIMINALS didn’t show up with a little bit more krackle to a story starring the creations of arguably the greatest imaginations ever to explode upon a sequential page.


BEST OF THE WEEK: YOUNG AVENGERS #13 — This one right here is the climax in every way that would matter, were this a typical superhero book. And it is chock full of resolution and payoff. Loki, at long last, Tells The Truth. Mother is defeated. Billy & Teddy are most excellently reunited. Kate kicks Noh-Varr to the curb. And Miss America continues to talk all kinds of shit to everyone with the added bonus of being covered in at least three shades of blood for a significant portion of this issue. But, oh! The sadness! I took for granted that that was going to be an ongoing ongoing, had no idea that it was only a single season with an option to renew that the creators chose not to exercise. That is a bit of the old bittersweetness there, as I would certainly love to keep reading this series but also want them to walk away while still kicking ass. And this issue is yet another story that could only exist in this medium with Billy finally achieving demiurge status and tromping all over a tapestry of interlocked McKelvie pages from the past year. The silver lining is that it does free Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson to go back to work on the third season of a book that is near and dear to my heart. Which we’re almost getting a preview of next month, it looks like, the concept of these characters all sitting around not fighting extra-dimensional parasite invaders and just having an actual after-party has me almost ready to scratch my eyes out in all-consuming delight that seems like it would actually be quite unhealthy for me by the time it had run its course. “ATOMIC!”

Friday, December 13, 2013

11/27/13

BEST OF WEEK: INFINITY #6 — Here we have it, it’s all led up to this. The Avengers have been to the far side of the universe and back, triumphed over all manner of insurmountable odds but Thanos came and took Earth while Tony was holding the fort. Bad Tony! This last issue was the real test, I’ve enjoyed several Big Events from timely old Marvel Comics in the past dozen or so years, but just about every time, the final issue is too short on resolution and packed much too full of “COMING NEXT MONTH . . . [DARK REIGN/THE HEROIC AGE/NOW!/WHATEVER NEW BRANDING IT IS THIS YEAR FOR ESSENTIALLY THE SAME GIG THAT WE ALL SHOW UP FOR NO MATTER WHAT SILLY WORDS THEY HAVE AT THE TOP OF THE COVER THIS TIME]!” But this is the first Big Event that Hickman has been driving and I let myself hope. This time would be different. And it certainly starts out well. The Avengers finally land and are off to it. Thor’s line to Banner about harnessing his appetite is pitch-perfect, a gem of a little character beat tucked in amidst all the explodo. Weaver has been knocking the art out on this all along but really takes it to another level here, the level of detail and dynamism on his pages is really something to see. I loved Maximus’s role in the resolution. Hickman seems to really lock in with that guy. I’m not sure what the Star Brand did? I mean, he made that cool sign that I used to draw on my hand in fourth grade but that just sent the bad guys running for cover? And the main conflict resolves in classic Marvel fashion, more satisfying of a finish than usual but with the door certainly still open for further development. What is interesting are the different places in which this event has left the various factions of the alien alliance. The Ex Nihili, Shi’Ar, Kree, Skrulls, Annihilus, all of that is fodder for years’ worth of stories just based on what we’ve got right here. And you’ve got to wonder what the plan is for Thane and Ebony Maw. It seems like Hickman’s just barely getting started with those guys. And of course, no surprise in the world where Thanos winds up when all is said and done. Those guys, I swear.

NEW AVENGERS #12 — And then, on the other hand. How the hell do you release an epilogue to the big climax to your massive universe-spanning event and put the goddamn last page of that climax on the cover of said epilogue when it comes out on the same day? It wasn’t even only the last page of INFINITY #6 proper, that epilogue with the Illuminati also has this same damn shot on the last page. When I caught a glimpse of this cover in the store at 1:30 in the afternoon on the day it was released, I did a partial double-take (a take-and-a-half, call it), because without going out of my way to avoid the covers, I at least certainly don’t give them too much scrutiny before reading the issue lest I deduce the contents of the interior pages from that single image. I pretty much just double-check that this is the issue in my pull and it’s not some fill-in by garbage creators and then I pays my money and go home and read it that night. But when I saw this cover image of Thanos apparently turned into a statue, I certainly thought to myself, “Huh, so, it looks like the mad Titan won’t be that much trouble when all is said and done?” I mean, I was under no illusions that on the last page, he was going to like kill all eighteen Avengers and those other thirty people on that little cast-of-characters page and that the two Hickman books were going to suddenly be two interconnected titles entitled THANOS and THE CULL OBSIDIAN, but I can only suspend my disbelief so hard! I don’t know if maybe INFINITY #6 was late and these two weren’t originally supposed to ship on the same day and once that became apparent, it was too late, and if that was the case, I understand, not really much to be done at the point, but if these two books were originally solicited for the same date, then I rate the editorial situation Obsidian Abysmal because poor fucking form. I enjoyed the hell out of this entire crossover and then here on the very last night got to read the climax with the spoiler image of this issue’s cover in the back of my head the entire time. So. I needed to get that off my chest.

The issue itself. Once I get over being pissed at the cover. It’s just basically cleaning up the massive amount of character fallout from the crossover. T’Challa gets the boot, probably deservedly so. I can certainly see where his countrymen and –women are coming from. Solid interaction with Namor, there, those two really have been played off each other to tremendous effect this year. When Stephen Strange said that he is not a pawn, he is the Doctor, did anyone else holler “Doctah!” at the book? Because it has been that kind of month. But so yeah, Reed and the boys talk to Black Swan and Hickman lays down his cards, not unlike what Bendis has done over on the X-books in the wake of “Battle of the Atom” but to potentially far more sweeping effect, basically saying, “Yeah, all of these stories this year, the interconnected titles and big crossover, this might have all seemed like some serious shit going down, but we are really just barely getting started.” I love how he just throws in some insane concepts we’ve never heard of all Morrison-style, the Mapmakers and Sidera Maris and Black Priests and Sinnu Sarrum and Ivory Kings. Ominous tidings, friends! The last line of dialogue also bookends nicely with the “Solve Everything” motif that opened Hickman’s FF run. The man is laying down quite a tapestry of interwoven sequential glory. And Deodato remains an absolute hoss, A-list business all the way. This remains one of my favorite Marvel books.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #014 — Wow, man. I guess Remender liked the taste of all that shit he had to eat for writing Havok’s speech in #005 because I can see the people who did not care for that losing their goddamn minds over what goes down in this issue. They certainly can’t claim that he hasn’t been building up to this since #001. But man! Damn. Of course, you can say it’s comics and they’ll be right back at the end of the next Big Event (Rogue was rocking a Wolverine power-set at the time of her disintegration, so why not just healing factor that business right up?), but this still played out like an insane season finale. Even though it’s in the middle of the arc. It’s unfortunate that death has become so meaningless in comics and we’re all so jaded that the knee-jerk response is that of course they’ll all be back because then to have any sort of emotional connection to the events, at least what I have to do is trick myself with the hypothetical “What if all of this really counts? What if they DON’T come back? If McNiven’s drawing, doesn’t that mean it will last at least a few years?” and that this is actually the climax of Simon and Wanda’s relationship, the Rogue/Wanda animosity that’s been seething since #1, etc. And so, taken in that light, yeah, it’s pretty heavy shit. If Simon really goes out this way in a blast of Kirby Krackle to help Wanda successfully perform what amounts to an inversion of her infamous HOUSE OF M #7 spell, that is a poignant and beautiful piece of writing. And man, I really really wonder what is in store for next issue. Seems like I heard this initial story was going to last eighteen issues. I can’t imagine who’s going to be left to pick up the pieces after four more issues of all of this impaled-from-behind insanity. Did anyone else notice how in the same way Wanda inverts her spell, those stabbing-ladies-to-death-in-their-back is also a direct inversion of Bullseye and Elektra in the all-time classic DAREDEVIL #181? That is why I am paid the big American dollars!

ALL-NEW X-MEN #019 — Maybe instead of rush this thing out two weeks later, we could just wait for the regular art team to get this book out on time but not biweekly? Which isn’t a dig on Brandon Peterson and Israel Silva, who are very talented in their own right, the art is just such a huge part of what makes this one of my favorite books, I’m sorry that the motivation to move more than twelve issues a year means we’ve got to have other talent shoehorned in when keeping a monthly schedule isn’t even the issue. And but in-story, Warren goes straight-up post-Crisis Jason Todd on a bad guy, drops him and then we get a shot of our hero’s unrepentant face watching the guy plummet. Dark Angel all over again! I love Illyana’s incredulity at Teen Scott saying the police will need a statement. And I was definitely feeling not in the loop on the fleeing mutant there, but I guess that’s because I don’t really know her by first name. It looks like she gets her hair back and a New Teen Crush if next issue’s cover is anything to go by.

FF #014 — Wow, all right, this was cranked all the way up and even better than most of the Fraction-scripted issues. Which is a good thing, it’s certainly the direction I would prefer to be trending at this time. The art remains on fire but the plot has finally caught up with it with several interpersonal dynamics hitting a critical mass while Doom is drawn inexorably into the trinity amalgamate that he foreswore in the pages of this very issue. The Business is giving every indication of being just about to go down. I am very glad that, due to scheduling, the last word on these two series will be given here as they potentially come crashing together.

HAWKEYE #14 — Now, this is more like it. As previously noted in a now-classic archived review, the script for the annual left me a bit cold but, here, Fraction gets twice as much done in half the space, a solid Kate-Bishop-as-West-Coast-Hawkguy solo misadventure. Very entertaining. Annie Wu is well suited to drawing this half of the book, her sketchy and somewhat more cartoony style is a great fit for Kate. This damn book was so good, they split it in half and each half is now as good as the whole thing used to be all together.

BLACK SCIENCE #1 — Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera have the science-pulp dials red-lined in this new series about an anarchist scientist trying to teach himself the rules of the universe and all the eponymous knowledge that necessarily goes along with such an endeavor. Fans of FEAR AGENT will dig on this in particular. Dean White’s painted colors go a long way toward establishing the mood and atmosphere of these pages, recalling the covers of tattered old pulpy science fiction novels from years gone by. What’s so terrific about this issue is the breakneck pace. Remender drops us into a ticking-clock situation and never lets up, piling on the obstacles and complications for our hero, who’s trying to accomplish the relatively straightforward task of bringing some water to a pillar, but there’s a really cool juxtaposition in the balls-out on-panel action and the exposition delivered through first-person narration that comes off a lot like Grant Morrison dropping a stream-of-conscious monologue twenty minutes after drinking the entire pitcher of psilocybin tea. Seriously batshit concepts erupting on almost every page. So far, the biggest problem this series has is to put out a second issue that can hang with the pace and madness of this #1, just a hell of a ride.

MORNING GLORIES #35 — Oh, my aching brain. I have concluded that I read way too many other stories in this and other mediums to be able to devote the requisite amount of brainpower to fully appreciate the labyrinthine insanity of this title. Not that I’m asking them to dial it back, I just need to crank my situation up here a bit. At least we have Professor Meylikhov to explain the business to us and explain how this panel came from #26 and we first saw this shit back in #17. I wonder if Damon Lindelof really really loves this comic or thinks they’re making fun of him. Why can’t it be both?

KICK-ASS 3 #5 — This was actually a pretty solid comic book with plenty of heart. Which is chilling, from the pen of Millar, but there you go. Our hero is in a pretty good place, happier than he’s ever been, so of course that is terrible news considering that he’s, I believe, two issues away from his final issue. Especially given that closing montage, brrrrr.

SAGA #16 — The complexity of this series is certainly increasing as Vaughan appears to have no problem ratcheting up the meta-dial even higher with Marko going to something called the Open Circuit, which appears to be basically virtual serial drama/soap operas (I have always said that the day they finish up a fully immersive three-dimensional virtual-reality patch on old serial dramas, I am a doomed man because I will never be able to get off That Island)(if I ever even make it past the requisite warm-up drinks with Draper/Sterling). “Most of it is just melodrama but some of the storylines can be interesting, especially when the audience gets involved.” Dress it up just a little bit, fella! This whole second arc since they came back has been a pretty slow burn, but it looks like things are on-pace to crank right the hell up if the last two panels are any indication.


PRETTY DEADLY #2 — I didn’t realize so much until reading the recap from last issue but this series is at least as much style as substance. Which doesn’t have to be a bad thing, I don’t mean it in a pejorative way. Because there’s plenty of substance. There’s just A Lot of style, too, is more my point. This simple prose description of the events of a single issue is kind of an insane thing to wade through and a fairly beautiful work of art, in and of itself. Emma Rios & Jordie Bellaire continue to turn in art that manages to be perfectly suited to the story at hand while simultaneously reveling in the sequential storytelling experience in a way that is medium-specific. This right here is a highly stylized and gorgeous celebration of sex and violence that hits Tarantino-scale levels of rhapsody, a bunch of hard women leaving all manner of lifeless wreckage in their wake.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

11/20/13

BATMAN AND TWO-FACE #25 — This is more a team-up between Matches Malone and Erin McKillen than the title suggests but I’m with it. These creators continue to do what they have been for the past two years plus, present lean compelling adventures that are in no way extraneous, wasting no character beats or lines, be they artwork or dialogue. And then a panel like the bottom of Page Four comes along, Batman jumping from one roof to the other to save some hostages and there happens to be an American flag in the background and just that one shot, only a third of the page, is so damn gorgeous and iconic and over-the-top badass ‘Merica!, it’s almost like these guys are showing off but then they rein it right back in and get on to the business at hand, telling the very best Batman story that they can and taking us all along for the ride.

BATMAN ’66 #4 — Is that a shot of Batman & Robin on a gargoyle in the montage, there? At night? I don’t think these versions roll that way, actually. This is very well done and all but I’m thinking I don’t actually miss the old show enough to need monthly doses of immaculately constructed new material to the tune of $3.99 a pop. I wish the creators continued success and am ducking out. POW!

HARLEY QUINN #0 — This right here is a solid conceit, Harley on board with the writers while auditioning artists for the book, one page at a time. I actually took the trouble of going through the credits on the opening page so that I’d be certain of who was whom in the pages ahead, didn’t realize they’d all be getting name-checked along the way. But a quick scan down the roster of artists assembled definitely lets you know that you’re not gambling much for your three dollars. Simonson and Lee are on opposite pages, for God’s sake. And following Hughes with Baltazar was hilarious. Harley is indeed a bad fit for the Treehouse. The new guy Jeremy Roberts can certainly hang with the big boys, if this single page is anything to go by. And then you’ve got Cooke and Kieth. Truly an embarrassment of riches. Conner & Palmiotti also do a solid job with the writing, Harley breaking the fourth wall on every page could get shrill and annoying fast but they keep it entertaining throughout.

ANIMAL MAN #25 — This one didn’t really knock me out. Maybe it was due to the lack of Maxine. It certainly wasn’t a bad comic book, just kind of felt like we’d already been here and done this one time too many. Lemire might be running out of gas a little bit, we’ll see, though the Lost in Space cliffhanger is at least promising.

WONDER WOMAN #25 — And the Greek situation comedy keeps on rolling. Cassandra’s got Wesley Willis hanging from underneath a giant plane and the rest of the cast lets Strife pretty much do whatever she wants. Azzarello has always famously incorporated modern-day vernacular into his dialogue but I’m not okay with any version of Orion saying, “I got this.” Ever.

THE WAKE #5 — All right, well, I’ve been saying that I didn’t see how this cast was going to go the distance for the duration of this mini, and I guess the creators agreed with me. What a hell of a thing! It would certainly be nice if this was somehow not the end of the story for our present-tense crew but I have to say that the outlook as be bid farewell to them this time is decidedly bleak. It looks like we’re accelerating into the post-deluge future in a couple months and that will be that. Hard to believe that the creators have been holding back and are now REALLY going to let us have it, this book has been pretty devastating from the very first issue. Very much looking forward to the second half of the tale. It does my heart good to be this invested in a new book from Vertigo.

FABLES # 135 — That Russ Braun is a hoss. Just like with THE BOYS, when I was ready to drop a title over losing Robertson, Braun comes in and throws down finishing justice all over Buckingham’s pencils. I know Buckingham still did layouts but I’m very impressed by Braun’s chameleonic style. You would never know that this was the guy who illustrated the back third of THE BOYS just to look at these pages. Very impressive. Willingham keeps building Rose’s Round Table, taking enough time with it now that there’s surely going to be some serious payoff, while the plot thickens between Rose and Snow. Fifteen more issues doesn’t even seem like enough for all of this.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #22 — All good things must come to an end and Editorial brings in Wood’s old DMZ collaborator Riccardo Burchielli to see things through to #25, which was a good damn call. While the characters’ facial expressions/acting are not as strong as depicted by previous artists, Burchielli’s sense of staging and sensuous linework is a good fit for this series. Bêlit exudes both menace and sexuality through just body language, the way she carries herself while striding off The Tigress. Things are off to an ominous start and it already looks like there is no way that there can be a happy ending for these wild young lovers. As if such a thing were possible.

UNCANNY X-MEN #014 — Terrific Benjamin Deeds-centric. Whereas over in the other book, the ensemble representation has been incredibly nuanced and balanced, this book’s new new mutants really haven’t had that much room to develop as individuals just because we all certainly want to see how this administration is bouncing off of one another. But while across the street, it was very much Professor K & Her X-Men v. 2.0, this right here is all Emma training Deeds with a dash of Illyana and Cyclops for flavor. Bachalo pencils and colors everything and makes it so you can hardly be bothered by the fact that there are five different inkers. Emma’s Punisher shirt, of course, wins the issue.

AVENGERS #23 — This issue is entitled “…To The Very End,” which is a little funny because we all know that this one is surely going to end with the Avengers about aBOUT to hit Earthspace and really and truly start fighting the great big climactic battle but then, what ho, it actually happens in this issue and there is a great big firefight! It is a pretty cool thing Hickman has done, assembled Gladiator and the Imperial Guard next to Ronan next to Kl’rt next to fucking Annihilus, all believably motivated to fight for Earth because Captain America just is that awesome. But the most remarkable deal of all is how poor Black Widow manages to keep those bazooka breasts Yu’s got blasting out from her chest from exploding through her cleavage V on each and every panel, that is some Level-8 or -9 shit right there, my friends.

FANTASTIC FOUR #014 — Well, now Bagley walked, as well. To help go blow up the Ultimate Universe again or whatever the hell. Kesel’s script was all right but maybe all this fill-in bullshit is just tainting the situation too much for me to be objective anymore. I mean, I think we got the first page of the run in this issue. It’s on the cover and it’s in a small little panel there halfway through the book. The whole entire everything-coming-round-the-mountain-they-showed-us-this-image-on-the-very-first-page-of-the-run-and-now-we-finally-made-it-back shot and nobody appears to really even care. I certainly don’t. Am just barely hanging on until the end of this run but it’s going to be a close call. I fully understand that anyone who feels betrayed by corporate comics at this point is either an asshole or an idiot or still just terribly naïve and innocent in some primal unformed way, but yeah. Maybe INHUMANS will be really great.

DAREDEVIL #033 — Jason Copland pinch-hits for Samnee as well as anyone can, fully capable business but not quite enough to put Waid’s script over the top like usual. Nice callback to that climactic Mazzucchelli shot of “Born Again” but maybe the least bit desperate. Like, “These are the only twenty pages of DD I might maybe will ever get to do, can we just cut to the backlit-by-the-fire shot with Nuke and maybe have Bullseye filch Elektra’s sai and push it out through her back while we’re at it?”

SEX CRIMINALS #3—Well, they found a way to crank it up and make me love this book even more. Yes, that’s the banned musical number I’m talking about. Every bit as brilliant and all meta-hijinx madness like CASANOVA but kind of sweeter at the same time? The thing with Esteban is hilarious. And then there’s Jon’s porno star crush in the BARTON FINK porn, out of control. Zdarsky continues to turn in beautiful pages, I’m really a fan of his palette choices in particular. And the recaps! The PREVIOUSLY recaps are now almost my favorite part. This book is too gorgeous for iTunes, that’s what it is. It would melt all the servers.


BEST OF THE WEEK: YOUNG AVENGERS #012 — I really dig the notion of the crew having to recruit all the teens of the Marvel Universe to combat a menace that the adults can’t perceive. And the ’zine title page! Still so disappointed in Noh-Varr. But totes love Loki referencing Scott Pilgrim followed by the obligatory “the book was better” comment. SO much, right? Okay, so this was all amazing and climactic and everything but I have got to confess, maybe it was because this was the last book in rotation after a hard day of teaching and a harder night of Star consumption (I have sincere difficulty working the Lone part into the name when there are just so damn many of the little buggers) but I made it through the last page almost ignorant of the plot twist. As in, the fact that there had been one. Dear Kieron was good enough to make mention of it right in there at the beginning of the letters column but it was still all I could do to just shake my head and shamble off to bed. The next morning, the little girl went right to that cover, still on top of the pile, and asked whose arm THAT one was. The one at six o’clock. I kind of tilted my head at it. It . . . it looks like . . . oh-HO! PLOT TWIST. A reality warper’s powers gone astray, indeed! Well played, all. It seems like I have a lot of favorite Marvel books lately but this one is definitely one of my most favoritest.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

11/13/13

BATMAN #25 — The black cover was kind of tricky, made me think we were rocking a SUPERMAN #75-type situation, here. Capullo/Miki/Plascencia continue to absolutely burn it down on art, very much following the time-honored DC tradition of making whatever city the story’s set in a vibrant character in its own right. Hell, with these colors, even the sky’s pretty much a damn character. The price-point on this issue is a bit dicey, $4.99 for, yeah, 24 pages by the main team and then another five pages by Andy Clarke & Blond (the Adjective Who Walks Like A Colorist), but that one’s pretty much just a quick vignette dedicated to how awesome Snyder’s pet character Harper Row was even as a young girl. The main story moves things along but the extra dollar rubs me the wrong way. I did enjoy Bruce punking Gordon with the bats, though, both on a surface comedic level and because it is straight up the dumbest thing he could have possibly done to distance himself from his alter ego. “Oh, Gordon wants to look down the hole leading to the Bat-Cave? Let’s throw him off the scent by bombarding him in the face with an entire army of bats! That should resolve that particular secret identity crisis, yes sir!”

BATMAN: LIL’ GOTHAM #8 — These guys have done it again, produced another short that I somehow love more than all that have come before. I’m a huge fan of the way this book manages to maintain a playful whimsical tone while still remaining true to the core of the mythos. The idea of Bruce & Selina taking off on vacation is inspired but the execution is immaculate, too many perfect little character beats and one-liners to list here. My favorite thing, though, might be on the first page when Alfred asks how many moths did this to Bruce’s costume and it turns out that was just shenanigans in Apokolips with Darkseid’s Omega Effect. “Gotcha,” indeed.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #018 — Wow damn, so Bendis and company just turn in the best issue of this series yet in the aftermath of “Battle of the Atom.” I guess we don’t need to worry about the big event burning out this book’s fire. Bendis continues to juxtapose strong character beats between people who are family with funny little bits of the teen X-Men being ignorant of everything that’s happened since #8 of the original series, the first example here being Kitty dapping Scott on the shoulder with “That’s why you’re Scott Summers,” while Teen Beast asks, “What is Weapon X?” The two pages between Jean and the Cuckoos set up what looks like to be one hell of a dynamic, particularly if Phoebe dyes her hair red. But Magneto/Bendis! If subtext were spoken, it would no longer be subtext, so your “unspoken subtext” is quite simply redundant, as Henry might should have pointed out to you. Benjamin Leeds’s escalating reaction shots were really hilarious. And but how cool to get Katya & Illyana back together? Just like old times, yes. And how terrific, the deal with Scott & Hank’s thoughts combining to piss Jean off into levitating for the first time only to have Warren save her. This is a perfect update of exactly the dynamic that “The Man” had going to much less subtle effect there in the first issues of X-MEN back before the kids were ever UNCANNY or got kidnapped into our present. No review of this issue, this series, is complete without mentioning how beautiful the pages that Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger, and Marte Gracia are producing, one of the best looking books on the rack every single time. 

WOLVERINE #011 — I dig how Cornell’s going all IRON FIST on the members of Sabretooth’s Thirteen Ninjas Hand offshoot clan. It’s interesting, too, in Kitty’s dialogue immediately after the fight, tonally, she sounds just like a Whedon character. Specifically, the “I get that.” How much of that is a result of Whedon’s time with her in ASTONISHING rubbing off on other writers and how much of it was innate to the original Claremont version that creeped into Whedon’s pen over the years as a result of his affection for the character? And what a fun fact about the Hand/ninjas/stagehands. Logan with the obscure costume trivia! Once again, Davis/Farmer/Hollingsworth produce superior artwork that is a master class in all substance and very little flash, nothing but the craft of sequential storytelling at its finest.

STAR WARS #11 — So, twelve issues then? I didn’t know that but was figuring it out in the back half, there. Terrific reveal with the mole, I never saw that coming. D’Anda/Eltaeb continue to absolutely burn it down on art while Wood brings the various threads to what looks like will be satisfying conclusions. I’ve particularly enjoyed his take on Wedge Antilles, a very natural outgrowth of where it seems like the guy’s head would be at in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin. That last page is a hell of a thing.

ROCKET GIRL #2 — This is another beautifully drawn issue that extends the potential promised by the first. I do feel like a little bit more could have happened plot-wise this time out. That’s an interesting wrinkle with the Q-Engine paradox/conundrum but other than that, everyone basically tells Rocket Girl that she can’t do whatever she wants and then she flies around and tries to stop a convenience store holdup. I also don’t understand the right half of that final split-page. How did we get from her stepping into the time machine while telling O’ Patrick that he’d just slow her down to that last shot of Gomez standing over her with her rocket-pack all jacked up? That’s not an intelligent place to go non-linear, I don’t think, pretty confusing to most readers. This review sounds more like complaining than I felt, still enjoying immersing myself in this world and am interested to see where it’s going, just hope they Brandon Montclare tightens up some of the narrative beats to hang with Amy Reeder’s incredible art.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #16 — Aw, Einstein and Feynman look so sweet, dozing there propped up against one another. It was good to get all hands back on deck this month, both the ensemble on-panel and Brother Pitarra on the drawing board. These pages seem more intricate, like he either spent more hours and hours on them or is getting quicker at lavishing hyperdetailed linework on every panel. Maybe Geof Darrow coming back was some kind of massive inspiration. I’m a little bit unclear on the particulars behind Einstein and Feynman’s gambit, how they pulled that creature from redspace into Project Vulcan. Project Ares has something to do with it? Hickman makes my head hurt in all the good ways. Einstein with the chainsaw is truly one for the ages.

ASTRO CITY #6 — Mount Kirby. Man, I never get tired of reading that. Busiek/Anderson/Sinclair return with yet another quality issue of this title. It’s never what I expect but always an entertaining look at a super-powered world from a non-powered individual who the creators manage to make compelling solely through the complexity of his or her humanity. I was completely invested in Thatcher Jerome and very much wondering what choice he would make by issue’s end. We also get a couple of quality scenes with the Ambassador from #1. Is he as oblivious as he appears to be on the surface of his interaction with Jerome? Or cannily assessing the situation? I remain thankful to be collecting comics during a time when ASTRO CITY is released as a monthly title.

THE ROCKETEER/THE SPIRIT: PULP FRICTION #3 — My kid doesn’t understand the concept of covers with figurative images that aren’t meant to be taken literally. No matter how much explaining I did, I was unable to answer the fundamental question that this cover poses: How did The Spirit and The Rocketeer get so small and in those girls’ hands? Was it a shrink ray? At any rate, now J. Bone is on interiors, the third guy in as many issues, and while he’s certainly talented and well versed in the school of Cooke from the year those two spent together on a previous volume of THE SPIRIT, it’s a pretty serious drag losing Paul Smith’s ability to simultaneously evoke the styles of both Eisner and Stevens. Waid’s story is, of course, still rock-solid (I can’t believe I didn’t see the twist of making Betty an Eisner femme fatale coming, so perfect and obvious), but losing that dimension of Smith rocking an amalgamate riff on those two artistic styles definitely kicks this series down a notch from the first issue, I am sorry to report.

THE SHAOLIN COWBOY #2 — So, Geof Darrow is fucking mental. That is the simplest way to put it. There are thirty-three exhibits of evidence presented in this volume uninterrupted by advertisements but I am confident that you will come to the same conclusion that I have. I’m not even going to talk about these pages in any way because to know what they contain ahead of time would spoil the fun, particularly halfway through when you’re thinking to yourself that there’s no way he can possibly sustain this for the duration of the issue. Brilliant. But fucking mental.


BEST OF WEEK: WRAITH #1 — To offer fans of LOCKE & KEY the slightest comfort as we stand upon the threshold of bidding a final farewell to the Lockes and Keyhouse, Joe Hill and the fine folks at IDW have been good enough to serve up this mini-series that is a prequel to Hill’s latest novel NOS4A2 featuring the silver-tongued antagonist, one Charles Talent Manx III. And let me tell you! It is not a tale that you want to sit around the fireplace reading to your loved ones in these cold winter nights leading up to Christmas Eve! As purveyors of Mister Hill’s other fare might already suspect, this is a story that includes no small amount of gore and violence and even occasional misconduct of a sexual nature. But so compelling is the voice of our newly crowned protagonist that we are powerless not to follow his exploits all the way through to the last page with barely a pause to catch our collective breath. Hill really packs a great deal of narrative into this first issue alone. I expected the entirety of this series to serve as an extended origin sequence that would focus on Manx’s humanity and eventual transformation from a henpecked family man into the vampiric Wraith-driving serial killer we all know and love from the novel but that entire narrative journey is accomplished in a few pages in this very issue. It certainly leaves a great deal of pages in which to relate other horrific facets of the early life of Mister Manx, the details of which I can scarcely guess! The kernels of information revealed herein are not surprising to one familiar with the character and tropes of the genre but ring entirely true to those of us previously unfamiliar with the specifics of young Charlie’s boyhood. Hill is more than ably assisted in this endeavor by Mister Charles “Talent” Wilson III, an artist whose style has previously resembled more chiba-influenced art in the vein of Skottie Young drawing adorable baby versions of popular superheroes only with Wilson skewing his work into a darker vein somewhat reminiscent of early Tim Burton sensibilities, most famously on display in critically beloved series THE STUFF OF LEGEND. Here, in no small part abetted by the tones of stellar LOCKE & KEY contributor Jay Fotos, Wilson’s work veers closer to photorealistic with facial expressions and body language bearing a greater load in carrying the narrative with only occasional blasts of outright magical horror appearing as first young Charles and then the Wraith get closer to Christmasland. The cover with the Advent calendar is, in particular, an inventive delight, featuring images from the story contained herein as well as a few that we will presumably see in future installments, in addition to headshots from a couple of old friends who will almost surely not be making personal appearances, namely the Abominable Snow-Monster from 1964 stop-motion animation children’s special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the title character from the 1922 F.W. Murnau black-and-white film NOSFERATU. As previously mentioned, I do not have any guesses about where this series is heading. I fully expected Mister Manx to arrive with his daughters at Christmasland on the final page of the series, but I do not mind telling you that I am as excited to find out what comes next as would be the case were it already the night before Christmas and all of the stockings even now hung by the chimney with care!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

11/06/13

MARVEL KNIGHTS: SPIDER-MAN #2 — More greatness. Really cool usage of the Spider-sense as a hypothetical strategy barometer, clever as hell application from Kindt. I’m also a fan of the eight-panel villain-specific Chris Ware-style cartoons bridging the double-page spreads, very nice graphic design from Rudy. I really dug this entire fight scene, my only quibble with the entire thing was that having Peter figure out next issue’s bad guy in the last panel wasn’t really set up in any sort of believable way at all. He might as well have said turned to the reader and said, “NEXT ISSUE: KINGPIN,” all Deadpool-style. Still, tons of fun to be had, here.

EAST OF WEST #07 — Huh. This series just keeps burrowing all around in new directions. This issue is mainly an extended flashback chronicling the backstory of that Keeper of the Message fellow who showed up last issue and now has some demon from Hell-type thing bonded to his right arm. Gorgeous art, as ever, but for this entire issue to be a character study of this random dude we only just met, Hickman doesn’t provide any sort of hook to make us care about this guy one or another. This might read more devastating after another year’s worth of issues but for now seems like an unnecessary and overlong digression while there are other people we care much more about riding around. At least Dragotta keeps absolutely murdering the art.

CATALYST COMIX #5 — I’m going to miss “Amazing Grace” as the headline feature, she’s definitely my favorite of the batch. I guess this means she’ll wind up being the last page of #9, given the rotation, so that’s all right. This issue, things heat up from platonic to pugilistic with artist Paul Maybury dropping some serious foreshortened greatness there on the penultimate page. Really looking forward to her last main feature next issue. As for the other two, I continue not really connecting so much with “Agents of Change,” it’s not bad but also not really sinking its teeth into me narratively here at the halfway point of the series. “Frank Wells” continues to be good fun, this time riffing on Lennon’s “bed-in.” I dug the “TWO PARTS HYDROGEN! ONE PART OXYGEN!” Kirbyriffic hyperbole.

FATALE #18 — Every band that ever was has always wanted to do this to their drummer. Of course we all know what’s going to happen when Jane starts dancing. And I love the inevitability of 911, you might dodge it once, but that number’s going to be there waiting for you on the last panel, no matter what you do. As usual, I very much enjoyed the backmatter, was actively wondering how much Brubaker dug the end of BREAKING BAD and a Nevins essay on the afterlife of H.P. Lovecraft can never be a bad thing.

MORNING GLORIES #34 — Um, “Par Avion,” anyone? This flashback opening is such a dead-on riffage of L O S T 3.12 that I wish Brother Eisma would have just gone ahead and given us a first panel of a closed eye and then the same shot with it open. And then Jade whispers, “Chah-lie?” One of these days. “How does ANY of it make sense?” is the line of meta-dialogue to beat this week, no problem. And I do have to say that it’s unfortunate that Ike’s coining of the term “sympathy oral” just flies right by unremarked. Lots of memorable dialogue in this one as Jade all but comes out and explicitly states that the church ending of L O S T was total bullshit. Any other book, I’d just be thinking that I was reading too much into it, reaching, but not here. Very interesting last page with the white flash. This book is going to make a hell of a good binge-read one of these days.

TRILLIUM #4 — Which, I guess we can say the exact same thing about this one on both of those counts. Yet another gripping installment in arguably the best mini-series of the year. Events escalate to the point that it doesn’t seem as though there’s going to be any story left to tell! Indeed, when everything is engulfed by white on the last page and then the words THE END appear, it sent me scurrying for my computer to make sure that this was, in fact, an eight-issue series. That was kind of a dick move! I mean, in what way was this the end? This is the fourth issue of eight, right? A small quibble, though, I enjoyed the hell out of this, as ever. Lemire/Villarrubia’s art is a treat to look at while remaining perfectly in service of the story, moving things along at a breakneck pace. This is going to make one hell of a trade, but I am certainly enjoying having it doled out one chapter at a time.

SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #4 — Yes, yes, we get it. Superman is going to die. SOON. Snyder belabors that point to almost absurd effect, stating it no less than four times in the opening ten pages of the issue. “Hey, Jim, what’s for dinner?” “Superman is going to die. Soon.” I started to get bummed when this subject slacked off but then they brought it back a couple more times for the last couple of pages. I’m still really not crazy about retconning a previous Superman into 1938, but we’ll see what the explanation winds up being. The art on this issue is pretty good, I bet that Jim Lee guy can find work wherever he wants it.

DETECTIVE COMICS #25 — After “This is what you get,” on the bottom of the first page, I couldn’t get “Karma Police” out of my head for most of the issue. So, that was weird. This right here is nothing more or less than a solid Lt. Jim Gordon solo issue set during the so-called “Zero Year” when Bruce was still getting it together as a crimefighter. It offers a cool little origin of the Bat-Signal indirectly tracing back to a teenage Barbara Gordon and the art is as fantastic as ever.


BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE #3 — This is the first script I’ve seen from Lee Bermejo, haven’t made it over to NOEL yet. Pretty solid. The Spartan metaphor is a bit of a stretch but all eight of those pages are immaculately rendered, good Lord. And then Damion Scott comes in and blows it up, dude has got an insane high-energy hyperkinetic style that really suits this project, basically racing through as much of the rogues gallery as fast as he can. Why not do it in eight pages instead of twelve issues? Yes, that is a dig on HUSH. Then, always a pleasure to see Marv Wolfman back in Gotham, this time chronicling a very sharp little mystery, probably the tightest scripting we’ve seen from this volume so far with DMZ’s Riccardo Burchielli on art. And but oh man, have never seen Rian Hughes interior pages before. That’s why God bless Mark Chiarello! Hughes channels that old ooold time Silver-Age madness, bringing back Tal_Dar of the Inteplanetary Space Police (last seen 52 years ago, natch). That Kirby cross-section of the Bat-Cave is worth the $4.99 all by itself, never even mind the brilliant semiotic literary scripting. Hughes is a beast. This one is easily my favorite story of the whole volume thus far, just too damn clever for its own good. And then who can resist Paul Dini taking us out with a tale of Harley & Ivy operating on the side of the angels for a very few pages while concurrently robbing a bank? With Stéphane Roux providing sumptuous interiors. This is another terrific installment of this wonderful anthology. We expect nothing less at this point.