Yes, here we go again with another thrilling chapter of Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I spend a paragraph or three inflicting my opinions on comics and graphic novels of recent vintage upon all of you who care to read them. You may notice that this is later than usual; in the past I’ve tried to keep a Wednesday posting schedule. By putting these up on Thursday, though, this gives me a chance to write about comics which came out the previous day, rather than ones which came out the week before. It’s that little touch of something extra that I like to do, because we here at Popdose care about you, our faithful readers. So what do I do this week? I lead with a comic that came out on the 2nd of February. Oh well- as always, I’m a work in progress.

Script: Paul Levitz; Art: Keith Giffen, John Dell, Scott Koblish
DC Comics, $4.99

I’ve been an on-again, off-again Legion of Super-Heroes reader for many years now; as a child, the original Otto Binder/Curt Swan/etc. stories were always fun to read; as a teen, I loved the new-look costumes of Dave Cockrum in his brief run; years later in my late 20s and early 30s I dug the Tom and Mary Bierbaum/Chris Sprouse/Karl Story spinoff Leginnaires, and continued to buy the post-Zero Hour LSH titles for a heck of a long time, mostly because I liked a handful of the newer characters. It was a guilty pleasure read for several years, until the increasingly juvenile tone of the scripts and the increasingly poor art on one of the two concurrent titles caused me to drop it. That lasted about 3 months, when I noticed that yet another new team was on board: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, as well as newcomer Olivier Coipel on art- and this storyline was serious and full of consequence where the previous year or so had been plain old trivial and silly. DnAnC had a nice run for some time with Legion of the Damned and Legion Lost, but eventually ran out of steam, to be replaced by yet another reboot, with art by Barry Kitson, whose freeze-dried style bores me no end, so that was it for me and the LSH for quite some time.

These days, the fella who wrote the LSH back in the 70’s, Paul Levitz, is back in the driver’s seat (he originally left to become DC’s editor-in-chief, or something like that), but that hasn’t enticed me all that much, given that I completely ignored his long run on the series back in the day. I don’t really recall being all that impressed with his stuff; it was just like all the other Roy Thomas-influenced writers of his day (Michelinie, Wolfman, Conway, Englehart, Wein, etc.). However, I got a look at this issue’s cover, featuring another version of longtime foe Emerald Empress, drawn by Keith Giffen in full metal Kirby regalia, looking all haughty and powerful while escorting two bound Legionnaires bound by the neck by some sort of energy lash- and my curiosity was certainly provoked.

I don’t know much specifically about who’s what in this version of the LSH; I did read the Final Crisis series that led up to it so I know it’s a mix of characters from the different incarnations and fortunately I didn’t get too lost- lets face it, even though the Legion has a sprawling cast, most of them are somewhat basic archetypes that lend themselves to quick and easy reader identification. Seems that Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet have wound up on Orando, the home of illusion-casting Princess Projectra (who’s out adventuring with the LSH). They run afoul of the latest incarnation of the Empress, this one a disfigured young lady, name of “Falyce” (huh) who a year before discovered the day-glo lime green-glowing Emerald Eye while fleeing her disfigurer, a not-so-nice lord of the realm. She gets a whole lotta payback, and a bodacious new (undisfigured) bod as well. Since there’s no Queen, she manages to take over. A year later, she comes across a crashed ship which contains the two Legionnaires, and in best Squire of Gothos tradition she’s soon got the surprised pair captive, and summons others for her further amusement. It all pretty much plays out like you’d expect, but Levitz thankfully has learned to dial back the overheated style of his 70’s and 80’s output, and doesn’t go overboard with the exposition, either- a nice trick, since he managed to explain several things this casual reader did not know about this incarnation. Biggest reason to get this, though, is Giffen’s Kirbyesque art. Seems when he gets in superhero mode, he channels the king- and he’s very damn good at it, since he’s been working in that style on and off since the 70’s. While he follows the the King’s figure-drawing template, he doesn’t slavishly adhere to it, and as a result his characters have a more supple and graceful look. Of course, he draws great King-style rubble and castles and headgear with all sorts of metallic protrusions and…well, I think you get the picture.

I can’t say that this comic would be a good starting point for anyone curious about what Levitz is up to; I think someone else is doing the art on both the main book and the new Legion Academy. As a one-and-done, though (in the best Annual tradition), I thought this was a fun read for the most part, especially because I’m really digging Giffen’s work at present. Your mileage, as the saying goes, may vary.

Script: S. Steven Struble; Art: Sina Grace
Image Comics, $2.99

Aw, poor widdle Depressed Boy! Sorry, couldn’t help myself there. Here is another print collection of a webcomic of some renown in whatever circles that they revere these things, though I’m unfamiliar with it myself. Not sure if I’d follow it regularly even if I’d known about it- it’s yet another Friends-inspired “Twentysomethings and their lives, loves, and adventures” scenario with the main wrinkle being the titular character, who deviates from the others in that he appears to be a rag doll with a crudely drawn face on it, and, while I may be totally off base here, seems to be a Gary Stu for the author/creator. In this issue, he’s all lonely and mopey until he meets a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who encourages him to play video games (since video games are hell of important to everyone who reads and makes stuff like this, and it’s not all Scott Pilgrim’s fault) with his buddy and, after a chance encounter in a laundromat, invites him to a concert, then milk & cookies in an all night diner, both of them all the while spouting hip dialogue you’ve seen in movies and read in books a thousand times before. She seems to be the Greatest Thing That’s Ever Happened to our L’il Depressed Boy, and this issue leaves you with the impression that the dreaded Other Shoe will soon be dropping in subsequent chapters.

I know, I suppose I’m sounding awfully jaded and sarcastic, and that’s probably unfair of me- I know that at my age I’m far from the target demographic for this webcomic series. This probably serves that Twentysomething college-age demo pretty well. I do know this, though- another series with similar concerns, (again) Scott Pilgrim, engaged and entertained me like this series utterly fails to do. Other webcomics series like Girls with Slingshots, Octopus Pie, and Bobbins, later Scary Go Round and now Bad Machinery, achieved the same effect. While I care about the protagonists of those series, I don’t care one iota about the L.D.B or his Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and that’s a high hurdle to clear, looks like. I can’t really even appreciate this on an art level- Mr. Grace is competent, but his style is (ironically enough) graceless, often crudely inked with minimal backgrounds, and just doesn’t excite my eye. I suppose if you’re hanging out in Hot Topic and looking for something to read, this might hit a sweet spot…but all others should probably steer clear. There is better to be found elsewhere.

Script: Mark Millar; Art: Leinil Yu, Gerry Alangulian
Marvel Comics, $3.99

That title, oy. Reminds me of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus or something. Anyway, I don’t know, maybe YOU have been following all the iterations of Marvel’s alternate so-called “mature” universe, but I haven’t, having bailed after Millar left the first time upon completing Ultimates 2. Ultimates 3 just looked all kinds of awful, and the reviews did nothing to disabuse me of that notion, so I’ve pretty much ignored the Ultimate Universe ever since. It seems so…redundant now anyway- there is little or no difference in the tone and presentation of the rank and file Marvel titles and its Ultimate line that I can tell anyway. But still, they persist; I suppose the darn things sell pretty well to those who don’t give two shits one way or the other, and I guess that’s fine enough.

To the matter at hand- I thought this was kind of a mess. Of course, it didn’t help that (as I said above) I was not up to date with what had been happening in whatever this was a continuation of, so the ancillary stuff, like when did Scott Lang become Giant-Man, who the heck is this Black Widow, and the whys and wherefores of the New Ultimates and these Avengers just went right by me, even though the latter was helpfully explained on the contents page. That said, I still know Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man, and the Sam Jackson Nick Fury, and they all play prominent roles, so I was somewhat able to kinda roll with the changes, so to speak. This reads pretty much like your standard espionage thriller with superheroes, right down to the terse dialogue and the intermittent chasing and gun battling and would-be “fuck yeah” moments- Thor leaving his hammer on a train track to cause it to wreck was one pretty notable scene. Millar has his detractors, but I am not one of them, and I think if I’d been more familiar going in my reaction might have been different, but I’ve read better stories from him, or at least stories with a smoother flow. I was very impressed with Yu’s art; he still has that busy, overrendered style (Alanguilan’s- Elmer, remember? Small world!- fussy inks probably add a lot to this effect) but he has really stepped up his game as far as his staging and expressiveness goes, and he’s as good as any one of his generation of artists at this point in his career.

I suppose as long as the feature films- which are based on the Ultimate line, by most appearances- are getting made, we’ll have this line of comics, and it’s up to Marvel to do the best they can with it. Too early to tell if this will be very good, but despite its new-reader-unfriendly stance, I found much to like here despite its second-hand nature.

Short(er) Takes:

WARLORD OF MARS #4 (Dynamite Entertainment): Judging by all the cheesecake covers they’ve slapped on the four issues to see print so far, you’d think this should be titled DEJAH THORIS PRESENTS JOHN CARTER, WARLORD OF MARS. Some of the covers have been better than others; for every realistically-proportioned and nicely rendered one, we’ve gotten monstrosities like one of this issue’s variants, all done up in classic early 90’s Image “bodies don’t bend that way; it’s impossible to see boobs and butt at the same time” style. Understandable, I guess, because it’s by one of the architects of that style, J. Scott Campbell. The interiors are by a completely different artist, Lui Antonio by name, and aren’t that bad; they lack visual pizazz (that which isn’t supplied by Photoshop, that is), which is to say an especially interesting style, but they are solid, capable, and tell the story- and also render a mostly-naked Dejah Thoris in satisfactory fashion. That’s exactly what is required, it seems. The adaptation of the venerable Burroughs story by one Arvid Nelson is done pretty well for the most part; haven’t read the original in years but what I do remember doesn’t seem all that out of sync with this. As an introduction to ERB’s character, I think it works pretty well and it it reaches an audience, then perhaps it will drum up some interest in the upcoming feature film, or vice versa.  B

ACTION COMICS #897 (DC Comics): Paul Cornell’s quietly doing good things with Lex Luthor in this series, unsurprising because Cornell’s really on a roll these days. That said, my apathy towards the whole Superman line would have caused me to miss this issue if not for Ms. Esther Inglis-Arkell, whose post about this issue over at 4thletter piqued my interest. Basically an interrogation scene between the Joker and Luthor, it reads like one of those one-act plays you see sometimes, in which the two protagonists poke and probe each other verbally until great truths are revealed. Cornell does the back and forth between Lex and the Joker masterfully, and while it’s going on, this is one hell of an involving comic. Of course, it wouldn’t be half as good if it weren’t illustrated well, and Pete Woods does a fine job of enhancing the proceedings, even though  I hate the squigglies that he puts on Joker’s face to suggest the Health Ledger version’s disfigurement. Well worth a look if you like gripping interrogation scenes between supervillains. A-

The Ever Popular All-Purpose Review Writing Music List: Prefab Sprout- Andromeda Heights; David Bowie- Aladdin Sane; Prince- Come; Paul Westerberg– Come Feel Me Tremble; Traffic- When the Eagle Flies, The Beatles- Beatles for Sale.

This marks the 52nd of these I’ve written which means it’s been one whole year since I started. I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit, and wish to thank Jeff Giles, Dw. Dunphy, Scott Cederlund, and anyone else who has commented or linked here. All I can do is try not to suck for at least another year!

Comments, suggestions, review inquiries, monkey business- johnnybacardi AT gmail.