Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, No. 67
Well, hello there! It’s been a while, I know. I’ve had a variety of real world issues taking up my time and attention, including a death in the family and a graphic design project (for- gasp- pay) that wound up taking a LOT more time to complete than I initially thought. So my humblest apologies for the hiatus. I’ll try not to let it become a habit.
Wouldn’t you know it, while I was away all hell broke loose in the world of comics thanks to DC’s announcement that they will be relaunching nearly all their titles in the near future, starting over with new #1 issues and new creative teams, for better or worse, as well as providing day-and-date downloads, of interest to those who like to read their comics via iPads and smartphones and such, and certainly this is of more interest to those who can afford these devices than to me, who’s stuck in 2006. Anyway, of the newish series, some are potentially intriguing, like the prospect of a Wonder Woman series by Brian (100 Bullets) Azzarello and Cliff (Dr. 13: Architecture and Morality) Chiang or a new take on Kirby’s OMAC with Keith Giffen art (and lest we get too happy, Dan Didio on scripts). Paul Cornell, of Captain Britain sorta-fame, will be doing Stormwatch, as well as a silly-looking series called Demon Knights which appears to have Etrigan leading a group of armored demonic soldiers. There’s going to be a new supernatural character team, including the prodigal Swamp Thing and John Constantine (a more sanitized, cleaner-cut DCU version, apparently), sporting the Justice League brand. Failed 90’s title Resurrection Man, like its namesake, is inexplicably back among the living…most likely serving as a bone to throw series creators Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, to get them working for DC again. There’s an overdue Frankenstein series, spinning off of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers. Many are more of the same old same old, with only novelties like tweaked costumes and shifting creative teams providing any spice. The Bat-books have executed a musical chairs-like operation which finds current Detective writer Scott Snyder going to the main book but losing Jock and being saddled with a mediocre artist, and speaking of mediocrity, Tony Daniel continues his inexplicable run as Snyder and Jock’s replacement. Other, newer series with idiotic titles are making their debut- Batwing? Red Hood and the Outlaws? Ugh. Catwoman, since the classy Darwyn Cooke-initiated approach was perceived as a failure after MIA Will Pfiefer’s long run of a couple of years ago, is getting relaunched as an apparent T&A fest. On the plus side, Batwoman looks to finally get its first issue on the rack. The Superman books are getting a similar reshuffling, and among the most notable tidbits is that the venerable Action Comics is getting its reset button pushed and will be launched with a #1 issue. And so it goes, with many, many changes linewide. For an opinion piece that provides a helpful recap of every new series that will be coming out beginning in September, go here.
So DC, already as stable as a Kaleidoscope, is shuffling its deck yet again, and a few aces are falling on the floor. But for everything that irritates me about the lineup decisions that were made, I can see the business decisions that informed these choices. I suspect the ongoing Siegel & Shuster families lawsuit is a concern, hence the tweaking to Superman and his cast, designed to make them less beholden to the original version. Also, I have a feeling that there’s a strong element of wishing to clean up the messy backstories of many of these characters, to make them more palatable to moviegoers who may see, oh, Green Lantern and deign to pick up one of its comic book sources. This decision is the impetus, I’m sure, of the new corporate masters that DC has, most of which have read, I’d bet, very few comics in their collective lives. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it does create a sort of ignorant objectiveness that often creates some regrettable decisions. I’m also getting a whiff of a condescending “They won’t remember what happened with these characters five minutes ago, let alone five years ago” attitude as well. And fuck it, it’s not like perennial second-fiddle DC was selling comics like gangbusters anyway, so why not turn over the chessboard and start all over again? Me, I’m sad that some very good series, like Doom Patrol, The Spirit, and especially Xombi are falling by the wayside thanks to pathetically low sales, but that’s the market today- you can’t depend or even expect fandom in general to be attracted to anything except the biggest, loudest, crassest, grandest gesture, much like smacking a mule in the ass with a two-by-four in order to get him to move. The only way, it seems, to goose sales to acceptable levels is to throw event after status-quo changing event at the mindless general population of comics readers, who have little interest in series with subtler charms. Me, I wasn’t buying that many rank-and-file DC series anyway, and probably won’t be buying many of these new titles either…still, I hope this makes a difference because a strong DC (and I really don’t want to veer off into political commentary territory, I know there are similarities) is good for comics in general. It’s still, as of this writing, an ongoing story and very much in flux…so may I refer you to the usual reliable sites: Comic Book Resources, Comics Reporter, Newsarama, Bleeding Cool, The Beat, and Robot 6.
But anyway, back in the here and now (and there and then), just to get back in the saddle I’ll drop a whole bunch of Short Takes on you of comics I’ve read in the last couple of weeks:
STRANGE ADVENTURES #1 (DC): Yet another one-off anthology comic, presumably to burn off unwanted inventory and perhaps appease legal requirements for keeping the title registered. Other than an unsurprisingly nifty Paul Pope cover, a somewhat musty-smelling Azzarello/Risso story, and a downbeat, yet logical (if one has ever spent more than two seconds thinking about the character) Ultra the Multi-Alien short by Jeff Lemire, you can safely leave this one on the rack, especially considering the eight dollar price tag. C+
COURTNEY CRUMRIN TALES #2: THE LEAGUE OF ORDINARY GENTLEMEN (Oni Press): Yeah, this one’s been out a few weeks now, but I didn’t get it until early June. Ted Naifeh, at some point several years ago, decided that his noseless heroine wasn’t quite as interesting as her aged uncle, so he’s been focusing on expanding his backstory ever since, and here’s the latest installment. Now, I’m more interested in the story that was going on in what passes for the present in this narrative featuring Miss Crumrin, but fortunately for all of us, her uncle is a pretty charismatic fellow, so it’s all good as far as I’m concerned, and Naifeh does his usual excellent job on art, establishing mood in fine fashion with a strong layout sense. I don’t know if I can recommend this if you’re not already familiar with Courtney Crumrin to date, but if you make the effort to get acquainted, you’ll want it eventually. If you’re already a fan, well, you’ve probably bought and read this a month ago. Sample here. A-
EMPOWERED: TEN QUESTIONS FOR THE MAIDMAN (Dark Horse): Adam Warren continues to expand and refine the world of his spicy superhero sendup, this time focusing on an at-first minor character, a cross-dressing Batman analogue, who’s begun to take on an increased importance in the life of the titular heroine. Assisted this time out by Emily Warren, relation unknown, who works in a more traditional manga style and illustrates the scenes in which Maidman (get it? Made Man? Huh? Huh?) is interviewed on television and does a nice job though it’s not a style I find immediately likeable. Fortunately, Warren draws everything else in his lush black & white style, and provides a typically clever, pun-filled script- I especially like all the different alliterative nicknames he comes up with for Maidman: “The Garter-Belted Gladiator”, “The Dark-Night Domestic”, etc. While well done, this is a bit on the slight side, and is no patch on the regular ongoing series you should all be buying anyway- but it’s well worth checking out just the same. A-
DV8: GODS AND MONSTERS TP (DC/Wildstorm): I remember buying the first few issues of this “misfit genetically-created superpowered teen assassin” concept when it launched many years ago with Warren Ellis scripting; it was fine but I didn’t think it was anything I wasn’t already seeing in a number of places so I dropped it quickly. Many years later, after a few more attempts to make the characters stick, they’ve been trotted out again, this time under the auspices of Brian (Northlanders, DMZ) Wood, who does a typically solid, workmanlike job. While the basic plot (the DV8’ers get dropped on a primitive planet with no explanation, soon split up and join up with/create different factions within the indigenous population) isn’t terribly innovative or original, he does play once more to his strengths, characterization and character interaction, which gets this across. Artist Rebekah Isaacs is equal to the vibe of the script; while she has loads of talent, her style is not distinctive- but she still does a good enough job of illustrating the proceedings and moving the plot along. Worth a look if you’re looking for a quick read on a slow afternoon. B
JOHN CONSTANTINE: HELLBLAZER- CITY OF DEMONS TPB (DC/Vertigo): If I’m not mistaken, I reviewed issue #1 here some time ago; I was happy to see the return to Vertigo of Si (Vinyl Underground, which I thought highly of during its short time on this Earth) Spencer, though I was a bit dubious about the script despite a mostly clever premise; was quite enthusiastic about the Sean Murphy art, and thought it might be a better read when collected. Now that I’m holding the TPB in my sweaty hands, I can report after reading it that I was pretty much right about two of those things- Murphy’s art is top-notch and he should definitely get more opportunities to draw Constantine, either DCU or Vertigoverse, in the future. The script went off in several directions at once, none of them especially interesting, and combined with some disappointingly clunky dialogue was a disappointment, so consequently I didn’t enjoy it collected like I thought I might. Kind of a shame, really. Still worth a look for Murphy’s art, though. C+
KIRBY GENESIS #0, 1 (Dynamite Entertainment): In which Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross simultaneously pay tribute to and recycle ideas left behind by the King of Comics, Jack Kirby. Towards the end of his life, Kirby developed a lot of characters for second-tier publishers like Pacific and Topps, and while a few issues of such concepts as Silver Star and Captain Victory came out, little was done with them and they failed to find a significant audience, including your humble scribe, who cheerfully ignored them at the time, dismissing them as warmed-over concepts from a legend past his prime. The Powers that Be at the ever opportunistic Dynamite did not agree with me, though, and have snapped them up and turned them over to Busiek/Ross to do with as they will, and that’s what we get here. In #0, using expository comic-booky dialogue more mannered in its way than anything Kirby ever set to paper, Busiek shows us how a satellite probe, among its contents art by Jack Kirby, is drawn across the galaxy to rendezvous with some sort of black hole-ish alien entity, encountering several of these aforementioned Kirby creations along the way and witnessed from afar by a couple of kids in an inner city neighborhood, one an especially bright fella named, yep, “Kirby”. In #1, we see Kirby and his lady friend a few years older and in college, and they (along with the rest of the city) encounter giant rainbow-colored celestial beings who communicate with them cryptically before ascending again. At the same time, we see multiple news reports of various sightings of phenomena and beings all over the world; something cosmic and earth-threatening is going on, and it looks like our Kirby, as well as his female friend who gets transformed into a cosmic warrior (or Female Fury) type called “Midnight Swan”, will be right in the middle of it all. Busiek just doesn’t have a flair for dialogue, never has, really, except for imitation Roy Thomas- but he does everything else well and if this resembles another chapter of Astro City, well, that remains his best work to date so that’s not a problem for me. Such an ambitious idea needs an ambitious artist, and while I don’t know jack about this Jack, Herbert that is, between him and the mysterious contributions of Alex Ross (never the most ambitious of artists either), they pull off a heavily Photoshopped Brent Anderson look pretty well. Depending on your fondness for the King of Comics, especially his 80’s career, this could be worth your while. B+
BATGIRL #22 (DC): Well, they’re doing away with the Stephanie Brown version of Batgirl in September, and that’s a pity; this incarnation is a likeable character and Bryan Q. Miller has shown himself to be a solid, engaging scripter. This one features Stephanie traveling to England due to a Batman, Inc. summons, where she meets and of course has an adventure with one of my favorite current DC characters, the Squire. It’s not as wacky as the recently-concluded Knight and Squire miniseries was, and I wish Dustin Nguyen had drawn it, but it does evoke its spirit and was another fine romp in a book which has come to do exactly that very well. B+
FLASHPOINT: FRANKENSTEIN AND THE CRUSADERS #1 (DC): I always liked DC’s attempt to do Frankenstein, going all the way back to his ’70’s Wein/Wolfman/Kaluta incarnation as a backfeature in the Phantom Stranger comic, and thought out of all of Grant’s character reimaginings in 7 Soldiers, his Franky was the most interesting. So naturally, other than a cameo or three since then, the character hasn’t been heard from much till now, as part of the Flashpoint thing, and soon to be one of those aforementioned new DC books. Since this is an alternate universe story, much of Moz’s trappings are absent- S.H.A.D.E., the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive, to which he belongs; his multi-armed bride. Many remain, including his angelic sword and his dogged determination to fight evil. He’s teamed up with an updated version of the Creature Commandos, here called “Creatures of the Unknown” (werewolf, vampire, amphibious creature, etc.) and they fight Nazis until they outlive their usefulness, are placed in suspended animation, and get awakened in the present Flashpoint day, die to some sort of battle which is alluded to but not explained. This concept and its execution is unworthy of the character, which in the hands of Morrison and Mahnke was often grand and glorious. Lesser creators are in play here, and the law of diminished returns is in effect. Perhaps when they launch the new Frankenstein and the Agents of S.H.A.D.E. in September, this will be remedied. I won’t hold my breath. C
THUNDERBOLTS #158 (Marvel): For my money, this remains the best team book on the market today (and I do sample others, OK?)…Jeff Parker and Kev Walker are in perfect sync, well pretty darn close to it anyway, and while sometimes the events (particularly the storming the castle of the supernatural German guy who abruptly dismisses them) seem truncated in order to get the Fear Itself-related plot threads advanced, each issue is still a ton of fun to read. A
MYSTERY MEN #1 (Marvel): Despite the truly awful cover, a clumsy looking thing that evokes something that would have been wrapped around a black and white Indie or Comico product circa 1982, and the title, a disingeneous dis of Bob Burden’s nutball Flaming Carrot-led super-team, this is an interesting attempt to give us (for lack of a better description) a noirish Watchmen-style murder mystery involving, well, if not superheroes, costumed adventurers against some demon-summoning secret illuminati-style cabal that meets in the “brand-new Empire State Building”. New-to-me David Liss’ dialogue scans like standard-issue comic-book noir film imitation with some really clunky slang (Private eyes as “peepers”? Um… yeah.) but he does concoct a decent enough scenario, at least, to launch the proceedings and it remains interesting throughout despite the words the characters are speaking. Artist Patrick Zircher’s work reminds me of a lot of different people- you can tell he’s been looking at a lot of stuff by people like John Cassaday, J.G. Jones, J.P. Leon, and perhaps Paul Azaceta; he does the action pretty well- it’s static, but graceful, and he can do the menacing poses thing pretty well too. I wish there was a little more spark, verve, moxie if you will in the execution, but this first issue succeeds in what it sets out to do (at least it did for me)- make you want to read issue 2. B+
HELLBOY: BEING HUMAN (Dark Horse): Of all of Mignola’s recent collaborators, perhaps only Duncan Fregredo is better than Richard Corben, who returns for this set-in-2000 one-shot tale of hand of glory and a conjure woman’s revenge on a family who did her wrong. But that’s not really the main story; we’re getting a bittersweet look back at long-gone cast member Roger the Homunculus, who is questioning his place in the scheme of things, not only in the B.P.R.D. but in the world as well, and what exactly being “human” entails, hence the title. Mignola’s deadpan style delivers thrills, chuckles and creeps in equal measure, and Corben is typically solid throughout, especially when all hell breaks loose, as so often is the case in Hellboy stories, in the conclusion. Another outstanding chapter in the ongoing saga. A
OK, that’ll do for this week. More to come, including looks at Chester Brown’s Paying For It (I’m not done reading the darn thing yet), the newest Criminal series from Brubaker and Phillips, and as promised before, the upcoming new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (read, but I’m waiting till closer to its release date).
Thanks for your time.
The All Purpose Review Writing Music List: Bruce Springsteen- The River (RIP Big Man); An Evening with Wild Man Fischer (RIP, Larry); Roy Harper- Stormcock and Lifemask; Kindercastle- Number B; Nick Drake: Five Leaves Left; Richard Thompson- Mock Tudor; Santana- Caravanserai; The Essential Earth, Wind and Fire; Glenn Frey- No Fun Aloud.