Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, No.57
Welcome to a overdue, mostly rushed, and special been-under-the-weather edition of Confessions, which will this week be made up of one longish and a bunch of shortish takes on various comics that I’ve read in the last few days. This is necessitated mostly because I didn’t have much time (or, to be honest, energy) to read the one or two things I did have that would be worthy of longer reviews. Mostly, these will be a bunch of DC’s, it looks like…just the way the ball bounced this time. Shall we?
The first Xombi series came and went as part of the Milestone
imprint joint publishing effort, under the aegis of DC Comics, waaaay back in 1993. To my discredit, I did not have much interest in this new endeavor, designed to establish a line of minority characters, when it first came out…not because I didn’t want to read about minority characters, far from it, but just because there didn’t seem to be anything particularly unique or special about the concepts, other than of course their ethnicity and backgrounds. Eventually, I did start picking up Static at the behest of my son, who was developing a brief comics habit of his own back then, and I did enjoy reading it as well. I picked up another couple of miniseries; Ho Chi Anderson’s Wise Son was one of them, for no other reason other than Anderson was getting a ton of play in The Comics Journal at the time, and I found something about the name “Wise Son” interesting. Unfortunately, it didn’t blow me away, and I mostly ignored the imprint joint publishing effort’s other releases. Xombi, in particular, I had incorrectly pegged as a Simon Garth-type walking dead guy-type thing without actually picking up a copy to find out what it was really all about, and that mistaken impression has been in effect until just yesterday. Better late than never, I guess!
Turns out that Xombi, Created by John (Midnight, Mass.) Rozum, (does anybody else want to pronounce that “x” hard, like “ex-ombi”?) is only tangentially about a reanimated corpse; our main protagonist, Korean-American scientist (and I assume nanotechnician, because he developed a “nanotechnological virus” according to Wikipedia) David Kim did pass away, sort of, but due to the machinations of a hostile rival, he wound up gravely wounded and subsequently injected with said virus in order to save his life by an assistant who, due to his being in her arms, was partially “devoured” by the nanites- and left Kim alive and virtually immortal as well as “technologically enhanced”. What exactly that entails I can’t say because again, I didn’t read the original series…but it enables him to turn popcorn into paper and back again, as well as do battle with freaky occult menaces later on. (Is it me, or is it safe to say that nanites are the “gamma rays” of modern comics?) This condition has made him, in his words, a “weirdness magnet”…it was the early-mid 90’s, after all, and X-Files was all the rage, especially in comics. Fortunately for us all, Rozum is ready, willing and able to bring the bizarre, and do so with aplomb…we get talking coins, a miniature prison complex, housing shrunken victims of the supernatural operated by the Catholic Church (two ongoing allies of sorts for Kim, from the previous series and reprising their roles here- a sister codenamed “Nun of the Above”, haw haw, and “Catholic Girl” who dresses like a stereotypical one and has impressive religion-based powers, including force beams issuing from a rosary), and more. This, in a nutshell, is what really got this series across to me- many writers try, but just aren’t always up to the task of bringing the inspired strangeness, the Morrisonesque “Mad Ideas”- and Rozum does so very, very well here, like he did, to a lesser extent, in his Midnight, Mass. series. I am especially reminded of the oddball menaces that Grant concocted to encounter his Doom Patrol- the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and the like. I am a sucker for this sort of thing, and Xombi promises it in spades. I also admire Rozum’s obvious delight at having fun with religious tropes; you have to love his cheek.
We’re also fortunate that Rozum has, for the first time that I’m aware of, an artist with an imagination and chops equal to the task; Frazier Irving has a quirky, somewhat Corbenesque style that allows him to present much of this in straightfaced and convincing fashion, and can work a Photoshop color palette like few others can, using monochromatic color and shading to create mood and add depth to whatever he depicts. He’s more than up to the task of depicting the occult menaces Kim faces later on in the story; the struggle with the brilliant-light “Snow Angels” in the basement location of the prison is a highlight, as well as its outcome and the cliffhanger reveal at the end. Irving first came across my radar when he did Morrison’s Klarion the Witchboy as part of his 7 Soldiers event; he has rarely failed to disappoint since. That said, I wish he would rethink Kim’s hairdo, which looks too much like The Fifth Element‘s Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg for my liking. The nanites can do much better, I’d think.
The late Dwayne McDuffie was instrumental in the creation of the Milestone line, of course, and I’m sure he would have been delighted to see this title return, and return in such fine fashion. I may have to go back and scare up copies of the original series, despite my distaste for the work for its artist, Denys Cowan, whose awkward wannabe Sienkiewicz style always made my eyes hurt. I’m afraid that I’m not optimistic about the commercial prospects of this series; I hope it’s a huge hit, but quirky and imaginative art and story doesn’t exactly fly off the shelves in these troubled times, when people would rather stick to the safe and familiar. Here’s hoping that enough people will step out from their comfort zones and give this a shot.
And now the aforementioned whole buncha Short Takes:
BATGIRL #’s 18, 19 (DC): When Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs do the interior art, this really sings.#18 was a Valentine’s-themed issue which brought Klarion, the Witchboy, of all characters, into the mix; it was pretty much as fun as writer Bryan Miller intended it to be and was nicely drawn by Nguyen & Fridolfs, though I wish he hadn’t done such an exaggerated, cartoonish Klarion. Oh well, stylistic choices and all that. #19, not drawn by Nguyen & Fridolfs, was more closely hewn to the main ongoing storyline, that of the switch in computer whizzes/mentors from Babs Gordon/Oracle to Wendy/”Proxy”. It’s also shoehorned into whatever “Death of Oracle” business that was going on in other books like Birds of Prey. Also in the mix is a newish reoccurring character called the Grey Ghost, who’s an admirer of our Stephanie as Batgirl, and is loosely based on a character from Batman: The Animated Series. They scrap with a super-speed baddie named Slipstream, who seems out of place; it’s not the main focus of the book so it’s fine. When it doesn’t lapse too deeply into standard DC superhero melodrama, this is an enjoyable light read, especially if you tend to like a) young-hero titles, and b) Bat-books. #18: A-, #19: B.
INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #’s 501, 502 (Marvel): In which Matt Fraction continues to put on his Warren Ellis hat and write a compelling Tony Stark Adventures, full of snark and cynical wit and characters saying snarky and witty and cynical things to each other constantly, and lots and lots of technospeak to fill in the spaces when people aren’t being snarky to each other. I may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not; in the hands of people who know how to write this sort of thing, like Ellis and Cornell and Fraction, it can be quite enjoyable. And to be honest, I’m just happy that Fraction is making narrative sense, unlike his gnarly, convoluted Casanova. These two issues find Stark coming into conflict with Spidey villain Dr. Octopus, who’s apparently had a grudge against Stark for years, dating back to when they were both young and being courted by the Military-Industrial Complex. Seems Doc Ock is dying from a brain condition, and challenges Stark to find a cure, even though it’s supposed to be incurable, the upshot being to humiliate Stark. To up the ante, Ock has rigged a nuclear bomb to explode if Tony attacks him, and has also kidnapped one of his staff and has Electro and the Sandman holding him hostage. The insults and snark fly fast and furious, but this still manages to be quite compelling, because (repeat after me) Fraction, knows, what, he’s, doing. Although I still think it’s annoyingly underdrawn at some points and overrendered in others, I do think Salvatore Larroca has improved quite a bit; only once or twice do I see inappropriate facial expressions for the actions being depicted, and he even deigns to draw backgrounds once in a while. Both issues: B+
HELLBOY: THEY THAT GO DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS (Dark Horse): Rousing little one shot, featuring typically grubby art by Jason Shawn Alexander, whose work I’ve actively hated on previous Abe Sapiens miniseries but I have to admit I liked it much better here- he does very well by the tense action scenes, and his Hellboy is nicely expressive. Surprisingly, it’s scripter Josh Dysart that fumbles the ball (yeah, Mignola is listed as co-scripter but it doesn’t really read like him, so I figure it’s his story idea); the dialogue, including a couple of quips that fall flat, isn’t up to the standards he set for himself with B.P.R.D.: 1946, still his career high point as far as I’m concerned. Regardless, he manages to recover his own fumble; overall this was pretty good, with Hellboy and Abe running afoul of Blackbeard’s resurrected corpse, brought to life by a couple of greedy nitwits who come into possession of his decapitated skull. I especially liked the part in which H.B. informs us that the Bureau was tipped off by a medium channeling the ghost of the antique store owner who one of the nitwits killed in order to obtain the skull in the first place. That, boys and girls, is why I like Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. so much- where else can you get that sort of thing? I’d trade a thousand giant frog-worm monsters for one such scene. A-
THE SPIRIT #12 (DC): For the first time since I discovered that this dead-book-walking, spun off from the ill-starred First Wave project, is really very good, I’ve been somewhat disappointed. Mostly, that stems from the use of far-fetched comic-book science to facilitate the plot, in which a malicious inventor tries carry out a contract hit on Dolan by using a mechanical Spirit doll. Of course, it’s handled with a (mostly) straight face, and at least has the courage of its convictions…also, Moritat tries really hard to make it look convincing. But it’s all for naught because even in the nebulous, shifting time period (not quite retro 40’s, not quite modern-day) that technology does not exist, and even if it did/does, it wouldn’t work as smoothly and efficiently as Hine & Moritat make it look here. Heaven knows Eisner himself wasn’t above the occasional whimsical indulgence, but this kinda goes beyond that line. Otherwise, they do very well by the character beats- Ellen, Dolan, Ebony, the Spirit, and even Mr. Ovsack (aka, I think, the Octopus), who gets a brief cameo. Moritat, despite a couple of awkward looking poses (Ellen crouching over Dolan on page 19 should probably have been redone), does another smashing job- I love how he sets up scenes and draws the sprawling Central City urban landscapes. While I’m a little disappointed that this is a continued story, to presumably be concluded in #13, and another artist is scheduled to do #14, which essentially means that this far-fetched two-parter is Moritat’s swan song…I still found much to like. B+
THUNDERBOLTS #155 (Marvel): Jeff Parker and Kev Walker continue to explore Marvel’s seamy occult underbelly, even as they also continue to bring us super-science criminal dramatics. This issue begins with Luke Cage and Doc Strange, with Man-Thing in tow (and assisted by Daimon Hellstorm), seeking to recruit Daimon’s reclusive and reluctant sister Satana in the Ancient One’s old Tibetian stomping grounds. I am always up for a well-done Son and Daughter of Satan appearance. Quietly, Parker and Walker have elevated this title into must-read status, at least with me. A
ZATANNA #10: (DC): Dini & Co. have done a lot of good things with this perpetually on-the-come character, setting her up as a Criss Angel-style stage magician and trying to establish her with a cast of allies and adversaries. They even have the underrated and quite excellent Cliff Chiang on art these days. This issue continues #9’s role-reversed take on Magic or 1964’s Devil Doll as she deals with a former puppeteer whom daddy Zatara trapped in the body of his puppet when he caught him in a highly dodgy criminal situation. There’s one of those “Oh my god how will she ever get out of this seemingly final and impossible situation” type cliffhangers that we just know won’t stand for long. This title’s been fair-to-middling; I really wish Dini could come up with something special but he seems to be shooting for the mundane every time and is achieving it quite successfully. Unlike Thunderbolts above, there’s nothing about this series that I find especially compelling, though he’s trying to set up a cast of allies and adversaries for our girl, which shows at least a little effort. If I can’t get excited about a comic with regular Chiang art, something’s not working. C+
TURF #4 (Image): Boy, this thing just comes out when it’s good and ready, doesn’t it? This Prohibition-era gangsters vs. vampires with a dash of aliens from outer space remains interesting, but it’s been so long since issue #3 that it took me a while to remember who was who and what was what, and that’s not good. What is good, however, is Tommy Lee Edwards’ art, and this remains worth the wait for that very reason. A-
BOMB QUEEN VS. HACK/SLASH one-shot (Image): Now, I like sex, heaven knows, and I like good cheesecake in proper proportion, so don’t get me wrong here, but I don’t know what’s worse- that there was good cash money spent, in these benighted times, to print this poorly drawn and leering, trashy, excessively violent and smarmily written sexcapade, or that there are people apparently willing and able to spend good cash money on this tripe, thereby enabling and even worse encouraging the fine folks at Image to publish more. The circle of mammon, I guess. Hakuna Matata, motherfucker. D-
KNIGHT AND SQUIRE #6 (DC): Hugely satisfying finale to one of the more barmy limited series of the last few years. Paul Cornell introduced a ton of new characters, but the one I want to see more of is “Birthday Girl”. Sadly, as I said in the Xombi review above, quirky and imaginative doesn’t sell to today’s fanboys and girls, so this hasn’t and I’ll be amazed if we see another. Which is a shame. A-
By the way, in case you were wondering exactly what my grade scale means, and haven’t read my blog before, here it is, reprinted from the Show:
A+: The cream of the crop. The tip of the top. The exception rather than the rule. A/A-: Solid, outstanding, excellent. Well worth your time and money. A- slightly less so. B+/B/B-: Very good, but not as good as the A book; missing a certain something somewhere in script or art- enjoyable, but not excessively so. C+/C/C-: Titles that are thoroughly average in every way. Lackluster art and/or poor script, but still somewhat readable. D+/D/D-: Brainless, heartless, soulless, pointless. F: No God. NO GOD! So now you know. And knowing is half the battle!
And just because, here’s the All Purpose Review Writing Music List. Accept no substitutes. Keri Hilson- “Pretty Girl Rock”; The Asteroids Galaxy Tour- “The Golden Age” (love that Heineken commercial); Black Oak Arkansas- If An Angel Came to See You, Would You Make Her Feel At Home?; Wilco- Summerteeth; Jethro Tull- A Passion Play; King Crimson- Islands.
As always, thanks for your continued attention. Review requests and stuff n’ junk: johnnybacardi AT gmail.