Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, No. 10: “Criminal: The Sinners,” “Supergod,” and More

Written by Books, Comics Reviews

Time once more for yet another Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I attempt to point out various offerings of a sequential graphics-type nature that I think might be worth your time to check out, or in some cases, avoid- many of which will still be on sale at various booksellers, both online and real-world, near you.

Before we get started, I’d just like to take a minute and mention the passing of Dick Giordano. Giordano was one of the most important figures in comics in the 60’s through the 80’s, first at Charlton Comics and later at DC. For a quite thorough career overview, I’ll refer you to Tom Spurgeon’s typically eloquent bio/obit; Mark Evanier’s is, as usual, well done too.

For me personally, it’s hard for me to recall when I first became aware of his work…I just didn’t buy or read very many Charltons in the 60’s, so I figure it had to be in an issue of Batman or Detective, where he inked Neal Adams (I think Giordano was arguably Adams’ most sympathetic delineator) or perhaps some of the Len Wein/Dick Dillin circa 1972-73 issues of Justice League which he inked over Dillin’s pencils. Perhaps the first time I saw his full art was in the Human Target series he did with Wein, which appeared as a back feature in Action Comics at about this time. I couldn’t care less about the Bates/Swan stodgy (but admittedly weird and all-over-the-place) Superman stories, but the Target feature was something I didn’t see too much in comics in the day- a TV-style action thriller which played to Giordano’s strengths- he was firmly in the late 50’s-early 60’s advertising art-inspired tradition rather that one which lent itself well to superheroics (although his inking work was fine on these endeavors). I’ve seen a lot of it over the years, but I’m not sure if he ever did better work on his own. I’ve posted a couple of pages from one such story, in Action #423. This is the art I think of when I think of Giordano. Oh, and as an editor, he was the man who gave Bob Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden the green light to do Thriller, so I owe him for that. He also was the one who had some pages of the original art that he had inked in that series (#’s 5 and 6), which enabled Von Eeden to help me acquire a page for my own collection. That’s my absurdly tiny connection to the man.

He was definitely one of the greats of the field, and his influence will be felt, I’m sure, for years to come.

CRIMINAL: THE SINNERS #’S 1-5
Script: Ed Brubaker; Art: Sean Phillips
Marvel/Icon, $

When Ed Brubaker’s not getting crap for stuff he really had no control over when he writes superhero comics, has been giving us a series of noir inspired comics for several years now, first mixing it with superheroics in two unjustly overlooked Sleeper series, then going all in with the guns, shadows and dames straight up Criminal. After two “seasons” of that, he went back to the superguy pool with Incognito, but returned to the former series with a season three, entitled “Sinners”…and I myself think it’s the best of the lot so far. Brubaker brings back a character from a previous season, an AWOL soldier named Tracy Lawless, this time in the employ of a mob boss and OF COURSE in the time honored noir tradition he’s been schtupping Mob Boss’s wife. M.B. sends Tracy out to find out who killed some well-connected business associates of his, and of course complications ensue, including a military officer charged with bringing Tracy back to the base, your standard issue Big Sleep-style rebellious teenage daughter, and a priest who, Fagin-like, leads a group of young killers charged with keeping the streets clean. Sure, there is much that is derivative about this, but Brubaker has blended them all together in fine fashion, and this one never lapses into dullness. It helps that he has as his collaborator one of the best in the business, Sean Phillips, to whom blackspotting and shadowy staging is second nature, and can draw expressive people like very few others can. Frankly, it’s for Phillps’ art that I started buying these series in the first place, no big lover of noir films or prose I, and he’s kept me entertained and amazed throughout. This issue came out a couple of weeks ago, so that means the trade collection will be along soon, and I hope you pick it, and its predecessors, up.

AVENGERS VS. AGENTS OF ATLAS #3
Script: Jeff Parker; Art: Gabriel Hardman
Marvel Comics, #3.99

Jeff Parker, the hardest working man in the comics biz, has been presenting us with the adventures of a group of repurposed (ad in some cases reimagined) heroes from the pre-Fantastic Four years of Marvel for a couple of years now; Agents of Atlas was yet another cleverly written and engaging book that just couldn’t attract a big enough audience to justify continued publication. But. Maybe it’s because Parker’s writing about 55% of Marvel’s output these days (I kid Mr. Parker, I hope he knows), but someone in a decision-making position seems to have enough faith in the potential of the concept that we’ve been given a clutch of miniseries and backfeatures in other titles starring the Agents, with the promise of a resumed run as the light at the end of the tunnel. This time out, the Agents confront several groups of time-tossed Avengers, in various incarnations (reminding me a bit of a less incoherent Avengers Forever), with a time anomaly causing the fate of the world to be in balance. This is pleasant enough, and the back-and-forth between the Agents and the various Avengers is often priceless, but overall it just seems kinda trivial somehow, and stands exposed for what it is: an attempt to curry interest in the Agents by association with the now-hot Avengers, in its numerous incarnations. There are far worse justifications for launching a miniseries, I suppose, and we do get some good-looking, albeit heavily Photoshopped Lark/Azaceta/Leon style art from Hardman, who (if memory serves) did some time on the Agents’ original doomed title. Again, wait for the trade of you’re curious; while it may be inconsequential, it is no less well written and drawn for it.

SUPERGOD #’s 1-3
Script: Warren Ellis; Art: Garrie Gasconny, Nursalimsyah
Avatar Press, $3.99

Even though Warren Ellis is generally counted among the British writers, like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, and others, who have redefined and reshaped the way comics are written , in a lot of ways I think he’s a throwback of sorts- in a different time, he would have been a prolific writer of short stories and novels for pulp magazines and those digest-size omnibi that are still being published, albeit in smaller and smaller numbers, and which have been spotlighted from time to time by none other than Mr. Ellis himself via his website. These days, the Web informs so much of his work; like a sponge, he soaks in information from all over, and finds inspiration from that to produce…well, a lot of stories. He’s truly one of the most prolific writers out there right now, and if it takes Metafilter and Boing Boing to get his inspiration on, well, that’s fine with me. That said, this has a very good idea at its base; a logical extrapolation of almost any “super-man” story idea since day one, and a continuation of themes investigated in such as Rick Veitch’s The One, (anybody remember that one?)  Watchmen and Winter Men (and I’m sure there are probably a thousand and one precedents in prose fiction to draw from as well that Philistine me can’t recall right now)- most of the developed countries of the world have created, through various means bothy intentional and accidental, a super-being- ostensibly to protect them, but as we all know the best laid plans oft gang astray or something like that, so of course one sets himself apart from the rest (“Krishna” from India) and the rest of the world must deal with him or face global destruction. We are helped through all this info thanks to our narrator, Simon Reddin, who was involved with the British leg of the whole Supergod movement and serves as our guide, dispensing explanations with dry wit. Ellis gets in some clever shots at religion- we can never have enough of them can we-  and never fails to keep my attention, anyway, via his always-wonderfully terse dialogue style, which only gets better than age. To be honest, I haven’t read a lot of  Ellis’ Avatar-pubbed works; with me, y’see, art is very important and he always seems to get himself paired with no-name people who have a similar style that often reminds me of a heavily-inked Paul Gulacy, technically impressive but often stiff and not so good at just plain old telling the story. I’m pleased to report that these Gasconny and “Nursalimsyah” fellas have a bit more juice in their pencils and brushes, if you’ll excuse the clumsy metaphor, and while there’s still a Chris Weston/Phil Jiminez-like stiffness, he does right by what Ellis is trying to do, and helps make this a thoughtful, engrossing read. Of course, we’re just three issues in, who knows what will happen before this is done, but I have faith in Ellis to bring this home in interesting fashion. So, we’ll stay tuned.

RoR!

JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE RISE OF ARSENAL #1: (DC) Not superhero porn, but the inevitable continuation of the creatively bankrupt resolution of Cry For Justice, as we follow Roy Harper nee Speedy nee Arsenal nee Red Arrow through the aftermath of the death of his daughter and the loss of his arm. Amateurishly drawn and no cliche is left unsprung in the script. You can do better than this. D+

THE MYSTIC HANDS OF DR. STRANGE: (Marvel) Back in the day, they used to commission, then stockpile, various stories from various artists and writers in case the regular creative team missed a deadline. They ran the gamut from inspired to insipid, and in large part are why we don’t see that practice in play too much these days. Everybody and their mother that wants to write comics, at some point, seems to want to write a Dr. Strange story, and what we’re getting here, all dressed up like a circa 1975 Marvel Magazine, seems like a whole lotta auditions and pitches. Best in show here is Kieron Gillen and Fraser Irving’s lead story, in which the Doc investigates a psychiatrist and encounters an old “friend”. My personal favorite Doc artist right now, The Oath’s Marcos Martin, does some nice spot illos for a Mike Carey prose piece. We also get a rare appearance by Ted McKeever, an artist with a difficult style that’s an acquired taste, but I’ve always liked it. Hate that title, surely one of the worst on a mainstream comic since DC’s Sinister House of Secret Love. Makes him sound like a masseuse. B

GALACTA, DAUGHTER OF GALACTUS #s 1, 2: Adam Warren, once more doing That Thing He Do so well, namely, bringing us hypertalky adventures of an attractive superchica, and while it’s not as good as if Warren drew it himself, it’s very nicely brought to life by someone named Hector Sevilla Lujan. A Marvel Comics Digital exclusive, a one-shot is said to be coming out in May. No, I don’t know how the hell Galactus had a daughter either. Maybe they’ll tell us eventually. A-

As always, thanks for reading and see you (hopefully) next Tuesday!

Love letters, review requests, and other random correspondence should be directed to johnnybacardi AT gmail dot com.