Saturday, November 30, 2013


BATMAN AND TWO-FACE #24 — The aspect of the New 52 reboot that I’ve enjoyed least is the way certain crucial bits of continuity in stories released during my formative reading years have been tossed out. As much as Snyder/Capullo and crew kill it over on ZERO YEAR, I’m still not great with every panel of YEAR ONE not actually having happened to the in-canon version of the character swinging around in the suit every issue. That said, Tomasi/Gleason/Gray drop in here with a retcon origin for Two-Face that not only absolutely works in its own right as straight exposition but immediately sets the stage for a compelling present-day story. Erin McKillen is a merciless worthy antagonist and addition to the Gotham crime family who I hope will stay in circulation for some time to come. Of course, this is a two-parter.

The huge deal that almost knocked me unconscious, though, is that single page of Alfred trying to fill in Damian and Talia’s graves. I really and truly believed that no one was ever going to pick up the gauntlet that Morrison threw down at the end of his run. Really, I almost hoped no one actually would run with it because I just about don’t trust anybody to hit the bar as high as it’s been set, but of course these guys were doing it side-by-side with INCORPORATED month by month, so it’s very exciting to have it set up that as soon as we’re done with the current situation, there’s potential follow-up to all of that insanity on the horizon. With Carrie Kelly still waiting in the wings, no less. These guys continue producing one of the best books on the rack every damn month.

BATMAN ’66 #4 — This is more great go-go camp fun from the land of daylight caped crusaders, dastardly villains, and commissioners without facial hair. I don’t really have any critical analysis for it past the fact that all parties are doing a fantastic job reviving the vibrations of a televisual sensation that premiered almost half a century ago.

BATMAN/SUPERMAN #4 — Pak levels it out a bit on the script as this opening arc winds up. It was solid enough but I’m not sure that I ever synched up with the disjunctive tonal alignment between Lee’s art and the content. I guess that’s why there aren’t a lot of Vertigo Superman mini-series.

BATWOMAN #24 — I was kind of bummed reading this, knowing that the writing team is about to leave, but thought that they had at least one more issue. No? That last panel punched me in the gut. The Zero Year issue is the replacement team’s first shot, yeah? THIS is how J.H. Williams’s run on Batwoman ends? That’s not, I mean, I just can’t no no nuuuuh

WONDER WOMAN #24 — Goran Sudzuka is first at-bat here as we head into Diana’s inaugural arc as God of War. And but why not Goddess of War? Is that like now some kind of retroactively sexist thing like with secretaries and stewardesses? Nothing here but the opening moves of what’s sure to be a year’s worth of sparring. Azzarello has definitely done a fine job heightening the stakes and setting up a dynamic that could make the third year of this title its best yet.

ANIMAL MAN #24 — To no great surprise, Rafael Albuquerque rolls in and absolutely blows it up, a terrific stylistic fit for this title. From Travel Foreman to Steve Pugh with a side of Francis Portela pinch-hitting, this book has really benefitted from top artistic talent across the board. And Lemire’s got the plot humming right along with the bad guys holding the Oscars ransom for Buddy to show up. The writer shows tremendous restraint in a page-turn slice of dialogue, the King of Limbs to Brother Blood saying, “There will be death, there will be rebirth . . .” because I have to tell you that I was turning the page expecting just to see Daniel Day-Lewis in straight-up Daniel Plainview mode. It seems like a bit of a jump for Buddy’s mother-in-law to suddenly be thanking God for her daughter’s reconciliation but I guess losing a grandchild, potentially both grandchildren, will do that to you. My main gripe is that I wish Albuquerque would stop signing every page that he’s really proud of. That’s what the credits box is for. Yes, you kicked ass on that splash, but probably the dominant element that draws my eye on initial glance to it shouldn’t be your signature in all that negative space. Even once an issue, I totally get, but we’ve got three signatures in twenty pages. I’m starting to feel bad for the other seventeen, they were all pretty good, too.

FABLES #134 — The tone of Bigby’s narration is really evocative of that first-person business Claremont used to sling around all over the place on his much beloved UNCANNY run. I like how Blue returns to tell us that he’s never returning. I hope “The Vast Shitstorm Awaits” is the title of Volume 20 or what not. Of course, the writing and art is so consistently great that this entire issue being pretty much a conversation between these two guys about death, the afterlife, and the meaning of life is both very interesting and pitch-perfect in terms of characterization. I tell you what, though, those last two pages snuck up on me and just about broke me down, tragic tragic shit.

MORNING GLORIES #33 — Oooohhhh, they flipped it again! How many Bad Twin revelations can one continuity withstand? Spencer/Eisma aren’t going to let up until we all find out.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #21 — This spooky story resolves just in time for Halloween. Glad to see that there’s only one arc yet, it does feel like this one’s time is about up.

UNCANNY X-MEN #013 — The business going down! Bendis hits the gas, giving us two warring teams of future X-Men to pair up with our own present-tense divided house of mansion and island. The glory of Gracia coloring Bachalo/Townsend can’t be overstated, really beautiful panels here, throughout. A bit light on the patented Bendis characterization, as the shit is hitting the fan too consistently throughout, but how many times does the poor guy ever get to hear that? Definitely ramped up to see how this is going to close out, hoping that Aaron and crew will keep the quality high next week.

FANTASTIC FOUR #013 — All right, this is much much better. As predicted, Kesel levels the situation out into something past the point of bearable as we’re thrown into an initially confusing parallel dimension take on the FF revealing that Allred’s Old-Man One-Eye Johnny Storm who’s been hanging out mainly over in the other title isn’t even from the 616. Bagley’s art feels a bit too cartoonish and rushed-looking for me this time out, but I can’t overemphasize how much better this was for me than the previous two issues. A bit of a limp cliffhanger, though, that really just made me want this whole thing to be done. Pretty soon, now.

AVENGERS #21 — It’s a really cool thing that they named that Shi’ar battleship Lilandra. And but Ronan just doesn’t care! No Supreme Intelligence will talk him out of the bloodbath that is his by right. Then, once again, Hickman delivers strong montage narration that’s a perfect tonal fit for the grandeur and scope of what the art conveys. But it all comes back to that old Annihilus. I really dig how Gladiator takes the foreground in that one panel with the old die-as-I-lived trope and meanwhile Steve and Carol are just staring into one another’s eyes and we don’t need a word or, God forbid, thought-bubble to know what’s going on there, terrific restraint and a hell of a beat. And then some serious advancement on the Captain Universe front, casting into doubt how much story there’s even going to be left to tell for the remainder of the event. Which is always how you want to feel in something like this, the very opposite of padding.

NEW AVENGERS #11 — The Builder thread finally overlaps into what’s been going on in this book since the beginning as our cast is invited to play tourist with a group of Builders from yet another parallel universe. Which, the mind boggles, I mean, with this precedent, there’s no reason not to just keep introducing nigh-infinite groups of Builders. But surely that’s not going to go down, what a clusterfuck. There’s more than enough going on, though, as this group of alternate Builders takes the premise of this series’ first arc and escalates it up past the outer rim of the galaxy. Massive doings afoot, it feels like really this might the one time that Everything actually Changes. Really! It does!

BEST OF WEEK: HAWKEYE #013 — Always more than worth the wait. Fraction/Aja/Hollingsworth manage to squeeze in several hyper-compressed little vignettes that are all memorable in their own right, the two pages with Kate Bishop being probably my favorites. As ever. This one’s all over the place, a Clint-centric that runs in and out of several fragments we’ve already seen and places Grills’s murder and funeral in the proper sequence with and context of Barney’s appearance and Kate’s exit (which was a total drag, those two pages, I at first thought she was already back and we’d just see the make-up talk another time). Now, we’re all caught up and presumably ready to rocket forth with some kind of main narrative some time. Or just more drinking and grilling and hanging out with the lucky best pizza dog in the whole world. It will be a hell of a thing, whatever form it takes.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Oh my dear ones! The combination of the back half of teaching my first semester of college English and the release of 282 pages by two of my favorite creators got our situation a bit logjammed up here, but we here at WEDNESDAY NIGHT MASS are making every effort to rectify the situation. Commencing now!

BATTLING BOY, VOLUME 1 — Glorious glorious day. Paul Pope is one of the most exciting creators working in the medium today, blending western and eastern influences into a unique voice that channels Jack Kirby not in the stylistically dynamic way that first the brilliant Walt Simonson and lately Tom Scioli appear to have locked down to a scientific line-by-line/crackle-by-crackle level but through a more thematic scope, that sense of wonder barreling out past the furthest horizons of imagination and plumbing the depths of all that starlight narrative and recovering it for all of us to feast our eyes upon. And I didn’t realize we had been so long without, time is accelerating and getting away from me, but aside from that wonderful twelve-page STRANGE ADVENTURES serial running through WEDNESDAY COMICS in ’09, it has been a full damn seven years since we have been fortunate enough to feast our eyes upon BATMAN: YEAR 100 and any interior Pope pages at all (unless he’s been having an affair with some overseas publisher, I always suspect he’s stepping out behind our backs, cheating on us filthy Americans with an international audience more attuned to appreciate what he’s got going on). All of which to say, when I got home at quarter past nine on the second Tuesday night in October and saw the cardboard package containing this volume on my doorstep, I uttered an involuntary, “Oh noooo….” the embedded content of which I was subsequently unable to articulate to my wife, the degree of positive connotation that this negative contained, the monosyllabic expression of how unprepared I was for over two hundred pages of the raw uncut goodness, even after all of this time.

Of course I snatched up THE DEATH OF HAGGARD WEST as soon as I realized that it was out and had devoured and enjoyed the hell out of it four or five times before BATTLING BOY ever showed up. But I thought HAGGARD was a prequel, so was a bit surprised to find that it was in fact that opening set-up of the book. Which was all well and good, I had had so much fun with it in the weeks leading up to this that I certainly didn’t mind getting a head-start on the greatness. And it was wonderful the way it threw me when the title came true again, only this time when I turned the page, instead of jump-cutting to the funeral, the scene shoots over to some kind of Rainbow-Bridge-wormhole type situation that turns out to be a parallel introduction and set-up for the actual protagonist, the eponymous hero of our story. It is an interesting set-up, though, the choice Pope makes to introduce Acropolis and its science hero champion first. This lends a bit more weight to the character of Aurora West, the fallen hero’s daughter, making her just about a co-lead, for my money. And more power to her! But before long, the kid’s fighting his first battle and basically choking, leading to his Thor-analogue father making the odd decision to just straight remote-bail his son out even though the whole point of this seems to be a coming-of-manhood-by-combat and everything we’ve seen of the father leads us to believe that he’d rather see his son fail than lift a finger to help him out, even from a few universes away. But that’s not what happens, remote lightning bolt destruction gives way to our hero taking credit for what he did not do and then falling into all the ensuing mortal fanfare. Am I the only one who thought the Humbaba was going to turn out to be his friendly monstah sidekick? The guy’s position on the cover made that twist seem like a dead giveaway to me, but I guess not. Really, before we know it, the story is careening to a close and I was starting to sweat it because had no idea that this was a multi-volume deal, thought it was one shot and done, and as the pages dwindled, the kid was really running out of space to prove himself. But in a terrific inversion of the opening scene, it’s Aurora West to the rescue and she winds up turning the tide. The last shot of our hero is of him confessing his lie and then before we see the immediate response to that, Pope cuts away to the bad guys’ lair for the final eight pages of the book, which badly freaked me out on the first read, thinking that this was the ultimate ending of the saga and just where the hell was Pope’s head at? It turns out this was only the pilot episode, which is terrific news because we barely got any sort of character journey at all here, just the very beginning, but that was of course by design, I realize now. Plotwise, this was barely the first act, but it certainly arrives with a bang.

Pope’s designs are across the board spectacular. It might be simplistic but really the best adjective is that everything just looks cool. The totem-animal T-shirts (we need to live on a world where a kid can collect all of THOSE things), the Haggard/Aurora West get-up, the Ghoul Gang’s hooded mummy thing going on with the chainsaw-in-a-guitar-case, the multi-secret labs and workshops of Haggard West accessed with the turn of his flight key, his three-shot blaster, even, everything is supercharged and imbued with this retro-pulp feel while also giving every indication of bleeding with both a sense of timelessness and the near future set to erupt any moment now. And every other aspect of his craft, the guy is just a master. I’m in particular a fan of the way he cuts to these incredibly long shots where the figures are just like these tiny tiny silhouettes traveling through whatever vast landscape is currently in effect. These 202 pages are Paul Pope throwing down the gauntlet, designing and populating both a world and a multiversal hub that are teeming with fascinating characters and ideas begging to be explored to such a degree that the reader can’t resist getting started in his or her own imagination while waiting for the next installment to erupt from Pope’s head, hands, and heart. He set out to create the first teen superhero to thrill children and adults of the 21st century and beyond, and he has done exactly that. And the best news of all is that he’s only getting started.

MULTIPLE WARHEADS: DOWN FALL — Well, I was clearly not paying attention ten years ago when Brandon Graham started firing off the first shots of this series and am damn grateful that a reprint was made available. This is a feast, all that we’ve come to expect from Graham pretty much in place. The playful tone, ridiculous puns and wordplay, mishmash science fantasy insanity, this certainly couldn’t have come from anyone else. It’s interesting to see how close this is from a standpoint of craft to the mini- from this past year. I mean, I’m not trying to say dude’s been stagnant for ten years, but it’s pretty wild to see how much of his unique style is already in place pretty much fully formed. I think he’d done the first few issues of KING CITY by this time? What’s cool is that though the aforementioned colorized mini-series that came out this year was completely inclusive to new readers, I didn’t feel lost at all or like I needed to hunt these original installments down to understand the whole story but still had a hell of a time reading them, even though I already knew stuff like Sexica was going to sew a wolf penis onto Nikolai for his birthday. The enjoyment was in the execution. We are all very lucky to have Brandon Graham making exactly the kind of comics that he wants to make.

BATMAN #24 — $6.99?!? That one came as a bit of a surprise. There was actually a guy at the rack eyeing it, unsure if he should protest this hike by boycotting it. I reminded him that the names on the cover are the ones who’ve taken us this far and it looks thick as hell and is probably going to be worth it and if he didn’t take a chance on it, he was going to be regretting it really badly right around midnight and of course he agreed. So, this is all a hell of a thing, I thought that ZERO YEAR was like a single arc but what we’ve got here that looks like it’s going to be a climax/New 52 Joker origin is really only the first part of the next arc. How much of a monster flashback have we signed up for, here? Not that I’m really sweating it when the quality is this high. It turns out to be 43 damn pages produced by the main team with eleven pages of back-up with art by none other than Rafael Albuquerque. Old Marvel would be asking more like $10.99 with that kind of page-count on business this high-profile. So but, how’s the story itself? After Alfred gives Bruce a really close haircut and the art team goes ahead and immaculately reprises the cover of DETECTIVE #27* because I guess why not since we’re in the same chronological neighborhood, then the main plot kicks in with the Red Hood Gang’s raid on A.C.E. Chemicals, the outcome of which any fan worth their salt has a pretty fair idea. I dig Snyder having Bruce ask the news crew/public the “What do YOU love about Gotham City?” This is a cool progression/escalation from the question first posited in his narrative captions in #1. Special respect to Fco Plascencia for the gorgeous orange-pink tones on that explosion. Really, just throughout the entire following scene, stunning work above and beyond the usual greatness. And that goes for Capullo, as well, his composition and camera placement, how effectively he stages his action scenes, the dynamism he brings to every page, you know what, the guy can act like as much of a badass as he wants because there’s really no acting involved, that man can back up as much shit as he wants to talk about anyone ever with the greatness and consistency of his own output. Then, we get a solid epilogue based on Alfred really ramming home the whole we’re-all-thespians-playing-a-part thing that was such a crucial component of Snyder’s all-too-brief run with Dick behind the cowl that serves as an effective coda to this first arc before The Riddler shows up to hurl us into the next crazy thing. Is Capullo going to be back next month after throwing down double-duty this time out? Anyone else I’d think would have to take a break, but that guy, man.

BATMAN: LIL’ GOTHAM #7 — All right, it’s been a month and I’ve probably read about 4,000 pages of comics since then and now can’t find this issue in the chaos of my little girl’s collection, which really needs to be sorted soon. I remember Barbara/Oracle was leading the charge in this one and I really liked it? Sorry.

AMERICA’S GOT POWERS #7 — Not sure how long it’s been, but it’s less than two years because I know I read the first issue here in my no-longer-that-new house, so I’d say that Hitch did a pretty respectable job knocking out the interiors on this, particularly considering that a couple of the issues were over-sized. Of course, the pages are gorgeous, Hitch is one of the top talents in the industry and is, for my money, still underrated, as beloved as he is. All told, beloved Englishman Jonathan “Wossy” Ross provides us with a satisfying resolution to the kind of Hollywood-friendly plot that Mark Millar would have generated if he wasn’t such a shock-driven shlockmeister with a black hole where his soul belongs. This one didn’t light the industry on fire but was a quality read that I definitely recommend picking up in trade if you missed it this go-round.

CHEW #37 — Wow, and the L O S T numbers right off the bat, there, first panel. 108 4EVAH! Guillory’s Easter eggs remain as on-point as ever with the Shawshank reference and the Layman Luv Edition (*shudder*), but I’m really a fan of the way he chose to depict the mind-meld memory playback situation between Tony and Toni. Cool tricks that of course only you can pull off in a comic book, I love it when people crank it up and try to push the medium forward as far as they possibly can. We get more epilogue with Antonelle, though this has got to be the last gasp, I should think. Still such heartbreaking business. This remains one of the most entertaining and original books on the rack and I remain glad that I decided to stop tradewaiting and treat myself to the singles.

ROCKET GIRL #1 — I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since I heard the short pitch and they know what they’re doing, give you all you need to know right there in that first panel. Teen rocket-cop from the future on a mission into the past to save the world before it’s too late! What more do you need to know? This is a charming and entertaining execution of that concept, Brandon Montclare’s script is efficient and does its job, the writer hits his beats and stays out of the way while Amy Reeder on full art soars as high and fast as her heroine. Just beautiful work and all the better for being all-ages (Rocket Girl does fly into 1986 Times Square, but we’ll give that a pass). This is a great pilot episode, a solid set-up that introduces our principal characters in two eras and sets the stage for the grand adventure to come. Recommended!

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #15 — I was on-board with this strictly for the insanity component because of course it’s got that in spades. However, it felt a bit skinny without the rest of the ensemble, not quite as satisfying of a read as when we’ve got them all packed in there, bouncing and supercolliding off of one another in all their improbably and glorious ways. Ryan Browne once again succeeds at the impossible job of filling in for Pitarra.

THE SHAOLIN COWBOY #1 — When the first volume of this was coming out, I used to wish that they’d just release non-lettered editions because as brilliant as the art was, I found the dialogue pretty nearly unbearable, all the puns and names, the whole deal. So, I don’t know if it’s just because I’m older and more appreciative or Darrow has gotten much better or what the deal is but the full-text recap on the first two pages is a revelation, a brilliant piece of writing that hits serious levels of wit and satire and kind of stark raving madness at the same time. The whole deal is bonkers. And that’s just the text piece. Once Darrow sets in on the panels, masterfully complemented by the incomparable Dave Stewart, it’s all the reader can do but just barely hold on and struggle with the eternal conundrum of racing through to feast eyes upon the next impossibly hyper-detailed and finely rendered page or hit the brakes and just sit there for five minutes really trying to see everything that Darrow’s packed in there. I have no idea what the lead-time is on this, if he’s already got five in the can or what, but whenever #2 comes out, it’s going to be more than worth the wait.

STAR WARS #10 — Carlos D’Anda roars back from his time off and continues tearing it up, both the photo-realistic depiction of actors near and dear to our hearts and the intricate linework on all of those glorious starships. Wood does solid character work with Wedge Antilles and how traumatized he is in the wake of the Battle of Yavin, another example in this book of a beat that had never occurred to me separately but that makes absolute sense once it’s out there. The only twentieth-century slang that Wood lets creep in this one is the new badass Imperial commander guy dropping the “Yavin, blah, blah, blah,” which, he might as well have said, “yadda, yadda, yadda.”

ASTRO CITY #5 — This is probably my favorite one of the new volume just because the team manages to pack so much in. Between the Chthulu-flavored pulp adventures of The Working Group On Unsettling Anomalies, Classification, and Containment (I wonder if these folks have been percolating in Busiek’s brain or on his desk since before FATALE was just a gleam in Brubaker’s eye) to the apparently massive potential revelation lurking within the temple of Lord Saampa, the Serpent’s Tongue, to the more Silver Age-flavored exploits of Dame Progress versus Mister Cakewalk, the creative team takes us on a whirlwind journey via thumbtacks and string littered with dozens of allusions and implications that breadcrumb into other stories. I’m still really loving the conceit of the Broken Man employing the readers as agents against some massive unseen force and we’ve got to be told things in the right order or all is lost. Plus, he’s got the best mullet since Longshot, no problem.

WOLVERINE #9 — Cornell pulls the trigger and just gives us straight Kitty Pryde narration for this one, a decision that much more effectively conveys how he’s handling the situation he’s in, through the eyes the first girl we ever saw him mentor, someone who cares about him very much, so much better than if we were getting first-person inner-monologue. The art, as ever, remains at the highest level of craft, creators getting out of the way of the story, tossing their egos to the side and just letting the characters act. Really hope these gentlemen feel like sticking around for a long time to come.

X-MEN #6 — Once again, Wood has serious trouble nailing the tone of a sizable portion of this ensemble, most egregiously with the sarcastic Cyclops and Psylocke quipping about a baby in her hand pooping while wielding a ninety-pound psychic ball-and-chain. That last one, in particular, scans as reaching for that kind of self-aware dramatic cum comedic tone that Whedon has down but that falls all sorts of flat here. And she’s one of his chosen cast, not some character shoe-horned into this issue because of the crossover. No excuse for that. And I can’t stand the deal of writing cliché into dialogue and then just having someone else point out that it’s a cliché. Wood should strive to be better than Johns. This isn’t a terrible book, it’s just nowhere near the standard that Bendis has been setting elsewhere or even that this series was rocking for its first three issues. Hoping that we can get it together by the time the Dodsons show up.

INFINITY #4 — Opeña/Weaver/Ponsor keep the quality terribly high as they embark upon the second half of this universe-spanning slaughterfest. We get to meet Thanos’s boy, who is of course a really good dude and totally nothing like his daddy until dude turns him into a younger version of himself. That shit always happens. That Builder bitch-slapping Thor is pretty rough to sit through, though of course we should all see the Mjolnir-as-boomerang payoff coming. Great last beat, too, the follow-up and inversion to Cap’s previous answer. Man, I hope that was in the core title and not AVENGERS. This one is still going great guns.

*it would be nice if Editorial let the BK WAS HERE graffiti be more in the shape of a finger, if you take my meaning