Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, No. 43

Written by Books, Comics Reviews

Here we go again with Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I opine on various recently released publications of the sequential graphic nature, some of which may be sitting on the rack at a comics shop, or awaiting the click of a button on some online merchant’s web page, near you. If you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #4
Script: Nick Spencer; Art: “Cafu”, “Bit”.
DC Comics, $3.99

When Tower Comics launched back in ’65, anticipating the upcoming Batman-fueled superhero fad and reacting to the James Bond and Man from U.N.C.L.E. crazes, I was still a year away from Grade school. Of course, I was getting comics right, left, and center but I don’t recall seeing a single issue of anything that company put out on the spinner racks and magazine stands I had access to. Maybe the 25¢ price point made my parents cast a dubious eye, who knows. Anyway, didn’t get to read any until many years later, when I, in my nascent Wally Wood fandom (inspired by his comeback in DC’s All Star Comics at the time -1977), was looking to read everything I could get my hands on by the artist. My pal Dave Puckett showed me a couple of issues of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and I thought they were swell, if a bit simplistic, but never tried to obtain any because they were fetching premium back issue prices even back then. That, an amusing satire in Not Brand Echh!, and some random articles in places like The Comics Journal and Comic Book Artist are pretty much my whole background with Tower Comics. I didn’t even check out Tippy Teen; my heart belonged to Harvey’s Bunny Ball. Anyway, the line, despite some great art by Wood, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky, and others, didn’t catch on and fell into disuse until an enterprising soul bought the rights in the 90’s and published a bunch of undistinguished comics starring them, which of course tanked, and then DC, doing its best Engulf & Devour impersonation, bought them like they did the Charlton and MLJ stables. I seem to recall a reprint archive edition a year or two ago, and now here we have yet another shot in the dark via a modern, oh so 2010’s redo of the concept. And surprisingly, it kinda works. Of course, the superhero espionage template was born long ago with Lee/Kirby & Steranko’s Nick Fury series, and was refined by Warren Ellis and Mark Millar on Stormwatch and The Authority, not to mention DC’s very own Checkmate, and this follows it pretty well- the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. team is charged with retrieving one of their agents that has fallen into the clutches of the enemy. Spencer only dips our toe into what I presume will be deeper waters; we just get the most perfunctory of introductions and not much else- unlike many first issues, where the creators want to dump as much background info on top of you as possible so you won’t feel lost and will presumably come back for issue 2 instead of abstaining due to not having everything spelled out in big neon letters, he gives us what reads like one big extended action scene right off the bat. And thanks to a somewhat surprising twist at the end, it works. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. also gives us art by one of the more unusually-named creative teams in recent memory; despite this, the art is resolutely bland and rather stiff, with the standard-issue requisite Photoshop blur effects lathered on. Still, I’ve seen worse, so it will do for now. I don’t really know what  DC hopes to achieve by bringing this out now, in today’s cutthroat market; I suppose rack share is a consideration, also the desire to perpetuate the licensed property. Perhaps some sort of film or TV adaptation is in discussion stages. I’d like to think someone somewhere greenlighted this simply because they thought the old comics were pretty cool and want to do them for modern audiences…but while you’re laughing derisively at my naivete I’ll just say that this was better than  I expected, you might want to check it out, and let it go at that.

THE GOOD NEIGHBORS, BOOK THREE: KIND
Script: Holly Black; Art: Ted Naifeh
Scholastic Graphix, $16.99 

Try as I might, I can’t keep up with everything, so this, the third book in a three-book series, took me completely by surprise by its existence. It’s not so much that I follow books sold in Barnes & Noble and the likes for teens and young adults; far from it- but the presence of artist Ted Naifeh would have been something I would have been very interested in, as I loved his Courtney Crumrin series, Polly and the Pirates, and other work for various publishers, even as far back as the Gloom Cookie days. Even though I check in with his website and  saw an illo or two from some fantasy story or something, it didn’t dawn on me that he had this project in the works. So, I missed the first two issues, which made this a bit hard to get caught up with. But no worries; it was easy enough to figure out what was at stake, and which side most of the characters were on. As I understand it, this series focuses on one Rue Silver, whose mother was apparently a Fairie Queen and whose father is a mortal who managed to seduce her. Through machinations in the first two books, somehow the Faerie realm has merged with her hometown, and both sides are still getting accustomed to each other. As you can imagine, tensions are high. Meanwhile, our Rue finds herself torn between a mortal boy and a faerie boy, and must rescue the former from a trio of Lamia, who are drinking his blood and other stuff like that.  Eventually, she figures out a way to resolve the situation, and has to make a difficult choice. Black’s writing style is low-key, with a refreshing lack of melodramatics, and I appreciated that. Naifeh turns in his usual outstanding art job; this guy is truly underrated. He uses a lot of wash tones in this, something I don’t recall seeing in his earlier work, and that provides a strong feeling of melancholy and oppression. In some ways, his work in this fashion reminds me a bit of the black and white art of the great Alfredo Alcala. His figures, though they have an odd idiosyncratic kind of slanted perspective, are all well realized- these people (fairies and elves excepted, of course) look like real people, not some stylized ideal of people; I was somewhat struck by the heroine Rue’s resemblance to a younger Neve Campbell, or Carnivale‘s Clea Duvall. Of course, Naifeh’s on familiar ground here- the tense co-existence between supernatural and mortal worlds is part of the base of his Courtney Crumrin stories, but this is aimed at a different demographic, I’d think. Coming as it is from the co-writer of the Spiderwick Chronicles series (remember that movie?), I would imagine that anyone who likes Goth stuff, Harry Potter, Twilight, and such would find much to like here.

Short Takes, anyone?

MOVING PICTURES: I’m not sure it’s possible to review this after Abhay Khosla’s epic dissertation from last week, but I’ve never let my inferiority complex stop me before, so here goes.  I had been reading this on and off when the Immonens serialized it via their LiveJournal; while I admired Stuart’s art, I found the story dry and often hard to follow. I thought, thought I, when it was collected and published it might be a bit easier. And it is, to a point; it does achieve a continuity that reading it in tiny pieces, once a day, makes impossible. Kathryn Immonen’s matter-of-fact script presents her WWII-era tale of a Canadian art museum curator dealer in France who gets mixed up in intrigue between the French and Germans over art treasures, not to mention her own survival, well enough but one misses the quirkier side she displays on her superhero work. It’s a glacially paced read, all the more surprising given her predilection for the breezy quirk in places like Patsy Walker: Hellcat. After all is said and done, though, it’s her partner that shines here; Stuart strips his style down to the absolute bare minimum needed to tell the story, a logical progression from his early fleshed-out and more conventional style through the angular jagged NextWave stuff, and is often stunning with his use of negative/positive space, all stark black and glaring white and sharp edges. It’s as if he’s just trying to see what he can get away with, how much he can leave out and still tell the story. If sometimes certain comics resemble Cinemax late-night thrillers, this one is Sundance Channel all the way.  (Top Shelf Comics; $14.95)  B+

BATMAN AND ROBIN #16: Grant Morrison’s way-too-convoluted-for-me arc, as well as his tenure on this title, concludes, in a way, in this issue…but fear not, Moz fans, he’s just moving on to the new Batman: Incorporated and others. While my grasp of all the random factors is tenuous at best, I did think that Morrison brought it home with aplomb; his treatment of the Joker, here portrayed as a true wild card, is exemplary. It was still too damned much trouble to get here, and the multiple artists were a distraction, but this was an enjoyable read, and I think I’m done with Morrison’s Batman now, unless I get curious and sample Batman Inc.. (DC Comics, $3.99)   B+

THE THANOS IMPERATIVE #6: This is being presented as a conclusion of sorts to the body of work that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have created over the course of the last few years; truly, they have done the finest job with Marvel’s cosmic characters since Jim Starlin was in his 70’s heyday.  I, for one, am sad to see it end, especially in the case of the Guardians of the Galaxy book, which while not perfect, was a rousing good time with some wonderful characters. This is no less rousing, and while I think I prefer my Thanos a bit more devious and cerebral and a lot less brutish and berserk, it provides a satisfying conclusion to the last few years’ worth of stories. Hopefully someone else will be able to take up the mantle one of these days. (Marvel Comics, $3.99)  B+

KNIGHT AND SQUIRE #2: Since I seem to be unable to write one of these columns anymore without mentioning Paul Cornell, here he is again with another enjoyable British-flavored superhero romp; while the resolution isn’t as clever as the first issue, it’s no less enjoyable and I’m getting a huge kick out of all the Anglophile servicing going on. Plus, the Knight gets to show why he’s Blighty’s Batman, and we see the Squire out of uniform! Not like that, get your mind out of the gutter. I’m liking this series a lot so far, as if you couldn’t tell.  (DC Comics, $2.99)   A

B.P.R.D.: HELL ON EARTH #4: I’ll say this- I think that sometimes we get kinda jaded to the comics in this series because they come out so often and maintain a sort of under-the-radar appearance…but this issue is a reminder that when it’s in a groove, it can evoke a sense of dread and horror as effectively as any out there, in no small part due to Guy Davis’ solid and kinetic art, as well as John Arcudi’s willingness to poke around in the edges of Mignola’s universe. (Dark Horse Comics; $3.50) A-

The Ever Popular All Purpose Handy Dandy Review Writing Music List: Matthew Sweet- Girlfriend; The Rolling Stones- It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll; Chicago II; Harry Nilsson- Knnillssonn; Bruce Springsteen- The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle (domo arigato to Mag).