Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, No. 44

In case you were keeping score, you’re right, I skipped last week thanks to a very busy Thanksgiving week in which I just plain old didn’t have time to read much of anything. I’m fairly certain you guys would prefer that I read these things before I review them, so…Thanksgiving skip week! Hope you all had a good holiday, if you celebrate. So now, I’m back in the saddle with another week’s edition of CoaCSJ, in which I take a look at select comic book and/or graphic novel releases of recent vintage, presumably on sale somewhere within your reach.

THE LITTLEST PIRATE KING
Script: Pierre Mac Orlen, Art: David B.
Fantagraphics, $16.99

Zombies. Not just zombies, but pirate zombies. Of course, there’s more to this than that, but that’s what it deals with in a nutshell, and any Pirates of the Caribbean comparisons are uncalled for. I had not taken the opportunity to check out David B.’s previous work such as Epileptic, which has wowed critics for the last few years, before I decided to take a look at this, prompted by Joe McCullogh’s typically erudite and perceptive preview/review a week or so ago. Basically an account, based on a story written in the 20’s by Mr. Mac Orlen, of the crew of a Flying Dutchman-like ship, damned to life without death and doomed to sail the seven seas in search of final release. After so many years of this, they desire nothing more than the death of the living, out of hatred and jealousy if nothing else, and proceed to board other ships while they’re not trying to crash on reefs and rocks. Eventually, after killing one crew, they discover an infant boy survivor, who they bring on board to raise in hopes of perhaps currying the favor of the Almighty by this act of “kindness”. Of course, as they so often do, complications ensue. It’s an engrossing story which is marred somewhat by another of those inconclusive endings which please some but only irritate me. The story’s not really the show here anyway, though there is a lot of intellectual grist to mill in it- the quest to know and understand the whims and whys and wherefores of the divine being but one example. B’s art is really something to see here; while cartoonish in a superficial sense, he displays a masterful command of composition and visual whimsy and many pages and panels adopt an expressionistic, almost Escher-like, complexity which thankfully does not hinder reading comprehension but rather enhances and illuminates, like all “good” art should do. While I do wish it had a more definitive conclusion, this is still a visual treat and well worth checking out. I think I’m going to have to get a copy of Epileptic one of these days, too. Reviewed from a PDF provided by the publisher, go here for a downloadable preview.

DICK BRIEFER’S FRANKENSTEIN
by Craig Yoe; Reprint Story/Art: Dick Briefer
IDW, $21.99

I had heard about Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein comics for several years before I actually got to read any of them; the occasional mention in publications like The Monster Times made them sound awfully interesting, if a bit schizo. Beginning in the late 40s as the classic character in new horror/adventure type stories (a similar approach was taken by Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, and Mike Kaluta in the short-lived Spawn of Frankenstein back feature that DC ran in the 70s in the back of the Phantom Stranger comic), Briefer decided at some point to go in a humorous route with the character. Then, when straight horror comics became all the rage in the 50s, it was decided to revert the character back to its ghastly roots, with an even harder edge. The most remarkable thing about this is that all three approaches were very well done, which makes Briefer into one of those unheralded geniuses that we’ve all heard so much about. The early stories are a bit overripe and a bit on-the-nose as comics of that time tended to be; still, they’re not dull and Briefer’s art even then had a crude sort of vitality. I suppose the most interesting of these periods is the lighthearted period; when he went whole-hog into whimsy, he fell into an almost Basil Wolverton-esque approach. While not as witty as Wolverton could be, the stories from that period reproduced here are still amusing and often clever, even if Briefer does little more than introduce the setup, wander around in it a bit, then has Franky close out the events by dropping a boulder on it, literally in one case (a visually striking but somewhat bland Island of Dr. Moreau homage that must have seemed like a good idea at the time). You can tell Briefer was an Eisner/Iger assistant in another tale of a weird siren-like woman who can hypnotize men with her voice; he draws her with the lush lips and lascivious curves of any of the Spirit’s femme fatales. This story was (in my opinion) the best of the humor-era presented in the collection; Franky also, though some truly convoluted circumstances, gets frozen in ice wearing a Viking costume and defeats the siren almost without even trying. Less attractive is “Frankenstein’s Wife”, in which a salesgirl with a horrible overbite falls in love with our hero but soon ruins everything trying to change him into a social climber, but the story is fun. Eventually, he went back to horror and changed his style quite a bit; gone are the Hirschfeld-like loosely rendered figures, replaced by a tighter and cruder look, powerful and effective in its way, especially in the volume-closer, a tale of a tree which Frankenstein’s monster feels like he must protect at all costs. Based on the evidence presented here, Briefer’s Frankenstein certainly deserved all the buzz it’s had for the last few decades, and Yoe’s compilation is a great place to get a taste. I hope more gets reprinted down the line; this is but volume one in a series of horror comics reprints from the cartoonist/archivist. Reviewed from a copy I won- yes, that’s right- from the great Frankensteinia blog, your one-stop source for all things Frank.

BATMAN, INC. #1
Script: Grant Morrison; Art: Yanick Paquette, Michel Lacombe; $3.99
DETECTIVE COMICS #871
Script: Scott Snyder; Art: Jock, Francisco Francavilla; $3.99
BATWOMAN #0
Script: J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman;  Art: Williams, Amy Reeder, Richard Friend; $2.99
DC Comics, who else?

Here we have three of the latest iterations of DC’s Batman franchise. Say what you will about DC, they’re at least trying to keep things stirred up with what is arguably their most recognizable and popular stable of characters. Batman, Inc. is Grant Morrison’s continuation of what he’s apparently been trying to establish since Final Crisis; a not unreasonable notion that has the newly returned Bruce Wayne publicly declaring that his Foundation will officially bankroll the crimefighting activities of not only the Batman, but all the iterations of Robin and Batgirl and all the other auxiliary Bat-people. Morrison himself scripts Inc., and it’s pretty much everything that his scripts have not been since he first took over the Batman proper comic three years ago- tightly plotted, without the annoying sequential gaps and disjointed dialogue that have plagued his efforts so far. Bruce and Selina (Catwoman) Kyle travel to Japan (following up on the Batmen of the World conceit he’s reintroduced into continuity) to recruit a promising Nipponese Batman candidate; unfortunately, none other than Lord Death Man of Bat-Manga fame, has already dealt with him and targets his Robin analogue next. Bruce and Selina wind up searching for him, but will they find him in time? Morrison’s script is piano-wire tight, and the banter between Batman and Catwoman is excellent; it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him write like that. As good as Moz is in this opening chapter, though, I have to save my biggest props for Paquette, an artist who’s always been capable in his Dodson/Hughes-like style, but has never looked this good, at least to my eyes, before. I credit inker Necomte; he lays down a thick black line that gives Paquette’s pencils some funk, looking like J.P. Leon here or Kevin Nowlan there.

Detective now brings us a new writer/artist team: Scott Snyder, he of American Vampire renown, and Jock, whose gritty style has enlivened The Losers, the recent Green Arrow: Year One miniseries, and a ton of covers. It also continues the Inc. connecting thread. Here, we have Dick Grayson as Batman and Commissioner Gordon interacting as Wayne Enterprises is now providing a crime lab for the Gotham police’s unlimited use; of course most of the force is too proud to take advantage but longtime friend Gordon, when confronted with a case in which a young boy has been infected with a similar mutagen that created Killer Croc, and all signs point to the parents being the doser, thanks to one of the Mad Hatter’s psychoactive patches, which points to someone in the GCPD passing along evidence…well, of course there’s more to the investigation than meets the eye, and we’ll find out more about that, I’m sure, in subsequent issues. Snyder, despite tripping on some of the pharmaceuticalspeak, is otherwise sure-footed and solid, doing a fine job of balancing not-overly-dramatic narration with real-ish dialogue. So far, with me, he’s two-for-two counting Vampire, in which he outdid Stephen King in my book. Jock, well, he’s Jock- still owing a debt to Bill Sinkiewicz, but still dynamic and kinetic. Many of his trademark scowls to go around, which makes him the perfect Bat-artist, I’d think.  There’s a great little interrogation scene towards the end which showcases his ability to do darkish humor, too, and I got a smile out of it. Francisco Francavilla illustrates the back-up, also written by Snyder, which stars Commissioner Gordon in an unrelated storyline that shows Gordon dealing with what seems to be a person that he thought was dead, but now seems to be just the opposite. I’m not familiar with the character, casual Batbook reader that I am. It’s nicely done in Francavilla’s heavy style; makes me wish they still put out Gotham Central, just so he could have filled in for Mike Lark and Steve Gaudiano. Someone should get him on a Noir comic like Criminal, tout suite.

Batwoman #0 is a 16-page trailer of sorts for the long-delayed first issue of the character’s own book- co-written by illustrator par excellence J.H Williams III (who also did co-scripting honors, with the AWOL D. Curtis Johnson- he prefers collaborators with initial, then middle and last names in their bylines apparently- on the late, lamented late-90’s Chase; I’d love to see that character pop up at some point in the future if Williams stays on), with someone named W. Haden Blackman. Half the art, illustrating a story in which Batman secretly observes Batwoman in action and in civilian life, is done by Williams in his remarkable style; he doesn’t really pull any wow-provoking moves this time out, but he’s no less excellent. The other half, which mostly deals with alter ego Kate Kane, is done by the team of Amy Reeder, late of Madame Xanadu and inker Richard Friend- Reeder curbs her manga tendencies here, and almost holds her own, doing some nice sequences…but she’s not in Williams’ league, and if the braintrust at DC is giving her to us to get us used to her before Williams’ eventual departure (or delays caused by his methodical working speed), well, she still has a way to go- and while I do like her work, I won’t buy the comic for her, simple as that. We shall see what we shall see. That said, while in my case they’re preaching to the converted, I think this does a good job (if you don’t consider the $2.99 price point for such a content-light package) of piquing interest in the character and her book, and I hope any fence sitters are persuaded by what they see here.

The All Purpose Hey-I-Want-to-Write-About-Music-Too, Popdose Handy-Dandy Review Writing Music List: Rolling Stones- Voodoo Lounge (better than I remembered, but too long by about five tracks); Nick Drake- Bryter Layter; Badfinger- No Dice; Cat Stevens- Foreigner; Flo & Eddie- The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie; Nilsson Schmilsson.

Coming eventually, my Best of 2010 list- and I haven’t forgotten about The Unsinkable Walker Bean, either. As always, thanks for reading and commenting, and see you next time.




  • Jeff Dancer

    I haven’t had a chance to catch up on my books from the last two weeks, but I skipped out on Batman, Inc. If it as good as you say, I might have to go back and check it out. I think that I’ve gotten a bit burned out on Grant Morrison lately, but that might just be due to the convoluted mess that I thought The Return of Bruce Wayne turned out to be.

    I’ve admired Yanick Paquette’s art since he did The Bulleteer for Seven Soldiers, and while I hadn’t thought about it before, but I guess the comparisons to Terry Dodson and Adam Hughes are justified.

    I am also hopeful that the new Batwoman series can live up to the same standard the the Detective Comics run established. J.H. Williams’ art is always stunning, but if there is a weaker secondary artist, it could blow it for me. This and Detective are next on my stack to read. I’ll reserve judgement on Scott Snyder until after a few issues – he’s doing great work with American Vampire, but I haven’t read anything else that he has written (has he written anything else?), and it takes a certain type of writer to. . .’get’. . . Batman.

    Keep up the great reviews! I always look forward to them, even if I don’t have time to comment!

    Jeff. . .

    Also, Bryter Layter is one of my all time favorite albums by any artist, and in my opinion, the best Nick Drake album – although I don’t think he put out a less-than-stellar album (I know that there are only 3, or 4 or 5, depending on how you define it). His story is a tragic shame in music history, and he really deserved more recognition.

  • Anonymous

    Your mileage may vary, of course, but I did enjoy Batman, Inc. more than I have any Morrison Batman story in recent memory, including his Batman & Robin run.

    I meant to mention Paquette’s turn on Seven Soldiers, but forgot. He did a good job there, but I really liked the way Lecombe’s inks enhanced his style.

    I don’t mean to sound like I don’t like Reeder’s art; I’ve enjoyed it on Madame Xanadu more often as not. She didn’t suffer too much by comparison with JHW’s art, often on the same page…but (and I’m sure she’d agree) she’s not quite in his league just yet. Given time, who knows?

    I think Bryter has many of Nick’s best songs- “Fly”, “Hazey Jane II”, “Northern Sky”- and a lot of odd left turns, especially the instrumentals. Really, the only song that I don’t really like on that one is “Poor Boy”, interesting lyrically but the normally reliable Sue and Sunny are way off-key on backing vocals and the lyrics strike me as a bit glib, Drake trying awfully hard to be self-effacing. If I was forced to name a favorite, I suppose I’d have to go with Pink Moon…but I love all three of his original albums. It is a cruel irony that he’s become more popular than he ever dreamed of being thirty-plus years after his untimely death.