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.
Script: Mark Waid; Art: Paolo Rivera, Joe Rivera, Marcos Martin
Marvel Comics, $3.99
It used to be that a #1 issue meant something. Now, they’re cheap as dirt, a dime a dozen. Change letterers? Relaunch with a #1 issue! The fanmen and women won’t care! It’s rare when a series runs longer than 50 issues without a reboot of some sort. And does that really matter, in the grand scheme of things? Nah. I just felt like doing my best Art Rooney impersonation. So…what we have here, besides a failure to communicate, is two of the latest Marvel relaunches- one of a character who’s been thrust into a bigger spotlight via a major motion picture release this past weekend and I’m sure it’s timed to coincide with that, and the other a character who’s been through the proverbial wringer over the course of one of those rare longer-than-50-issue series I was just talking about.
Captain America has been one of Brubaker’s main gigs for some time now; it was he who masterminded the whole “Cap is dead” thing that kicked up a little controversy dust a couple of years ago in the mainstream media. Cap’s a lot like Superman to me; since he’s less an actual rounded-out character/person than an ideal or a symbol, I find it difficult to get really invested in him as a solo act and appreciate him more in group settings, even when he’s flying around in outer space with the Avengers and facing down Thanos and stuff like that. He just seems awfully one-dimensional, and in my mind, anyway, that’s borne out by the fact that even after all this time, we continue to see him involved with Nick Fury and his former S.H.I.E.L.D., confronting issues from his past life- Nazis, WWII, Baron Zemo, etc., etc. Every time I take a look at a Captain America book, that’s what I see. As the phrase goes, not that there’s anything wrong with that, many characters are still working within the parameters they came into existence with…but it just seems like to me like cover versions of the same song, over and over again. Anyway, since it’s Brubaker of course it’s solidly written; sharp dialogue that doesn’t lapse too far into soapiness and terse narration when necessary. The story moves along at a crisp action-thriller clip. His collaborator Steve McNiven doesn’t have a terribly distinctive individual style; his art reminds me of a number of other contemporaries of his like Stuart Immonen and Travis Charest, and it compares favorably to both. Together, they provide a perfectly adequate superhero entertainment for modern comics readers. It’s when we’re looking for something that transcends “adequate” that we come up short. Perhaps more of that sort of thing will be upcoming- this is only issue one, after all. You guys let me know, OK?
If, however, you’re looking for something above average…then we should discuss this new #1 issue of Daredevil. Unlike Cap, I have bought more than my share of DD comics over the years; the exciting Lee/Thomas/Conway/Colan years, as well as Frank Miller’s classic run, but when that ran its course I ignored the book until Joe Quesada and Kevin Smith relaunched with a new #1 and a new “Marvel Knights” imprint…which I faithfully bought until I couldn’t take it anymore, just a few months ago, actually! Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev gave us a relentlessly grim Daredevil who just couldn’t catch a break and whose friends and loved ones were in constant danger, extrapolating of course from Miller; Ed Brubaker and Andy Diggle carried on from there, accompanied by Gotham Central’s superior art team of Michael Lark and Steven Gaudiano, David Aja, and others. It was all dramatically engaging and often a compulsive read; but I also frequently felt like reading this take on DD was like taking pleasure at watching a worm twist on a hook, or rubbernecking as one passes by a horrific traffic accident on the highway. I would grouse about this at length almost every time I’d write a review of a single issue, and while I stuck with it a pretty good while, I eventually cut the cord and said I was done with Daredevil, at about the time when he took over the band of ninjas called the Hand and was possessed by a demon or something like that. I could not see me ever buying another Daredevil comic, ever again, especially given the propensity of the Big Two to get grimmer and glummer with their characters rather than the opposite. However, just to show that I don’t always know everything, here we have a brand spanking new number one issue of the Scarlet Swashbuckler (been a long time since he was called that!)…and oh my god, somebody must have screwed up- Waid’s take is fun! And light! And enjoyable! Does Axel Alonso know about this?
In the first few pages alone, drawn by Rivera in fast-paced fashion and colored daytime-light as if to say “we’re done with the Bendis Angst and night-time streets for a while”, we get DD crashing the wedding of a New York crime boss’ daughter, because he heard a hit was planned…and winds up tussling with the kind of comic-book-science powered baddie that you would never have seen in a Bendis/Brubaker/Diggle comic. Daredevil leaps, fights, bounces, and even (my god) wisecracks- and closes with a cheeky flourish. Waid even throws in a sobering scene in the middle of the scrap, just to show he’s keeping things honest. Its a bravura opener, easily one of the best things I’ve read in a comic this year, and it sets the tone for what sure looks like an enjoyable run if he can sustain the mix of humor, action, and drama…just like the character used to have before Miller deemed him lightweight and set about making him such a tragic figure. Waid even goes on to address some of the dangling plot threads Bendis and his successors left, first in the post-wedding remainder of the story, then in the second story in the book, this one illustrated by another excellent illustrator Marvel’s been employing for the last few years, Marcos Martin. This one is a running conversation between Matt and his law partner/best friend Foggy Nelson as they walk through the streets of NYC en route to a destination more in line with the previous series vibe…but Waid makes the journey worth the destination. Marcos does his typically nuanced and rock solid job of illustrating it all with panache. Marvel’s had its share of dreary, bland, crossover-ridden-epic missteps and pointless reboots (though DC has certainly beat them at that game) lately, but this is one relaunch which promises to be a keeper, and I recommend you get in on the beginning.
I was completely unaware of the first two GNs in this series; Penny Farthing sent me this, the third and final one. The painted cover on the front, combined with the overripe title, put me in mind of those paperback “Love’s Savage Fury” type bodice-ripper novels that are so popular in certain circles but it turns out that’s not what this is about at all- it’s actually more along the lines of a Pulp-flavored supernatural adventure, featuring one of those 00’s feminist-value heroines who just happen to live in the early years of the 20th century. The improbably named Miss Steelyard (is there anyone, ever, in the history of things, that had that surname?), a Mary Sue if ever I seed one, is quite the accomplished young lady; not only is she an adventurer archaeologist a la Indiana Jones, she also has had some mystic arts training, which comes in handy when she and her party are faced with German soldiers in the desert as they seek the lost city of Miyah, as well as the brother of a snooty Englishwoman who’s inexplicably along for the ride. I’m usually always a sucker for Pulp desert adventuring, plus, I usually always like adventures that feature strong female protagonists. Anne qualifies, I suppose, but she’s awfully swoony over a young fella who just happens to be working for zee Germans in that very same desert; apparently they were close as kids. She has some serious daddy issues, as well; part of the reason for her search is so she can complete her research, and somehow by extension get a measure of independence from her overbearing pop, who is always threatening disownership if she doesn’t return home and get married and start having babies. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the character, but the execution of all this is just leaden and dull. Hambly writes and writes and writes and writes tons of exposition, not trusting the reader to draw their own conclusions for a second, plus, she has no flair whatsoever for dialogue, especially that of the desert natives in her party. I usually love that “A thousand pardons on this unworthy son of a camel” jazz in this milieu, but Hambly’s is flat, and the font the letterer chose to present it in is really damn difficult to read. An artist with a modicum of style or flash might have made this easier to navigate, but Randall just isn’t it; he obviously came of age admiring the work of people like Kane (there’s a hint here and there, but none of it is anywhere near that dynamic), Cockrum, Ordway, and Perez- it’s quite professional, but also quite generic…the best thing I can say is that it’s adequate, and just that. I guess he was the best they could find for the money. Perhaps he was uninspired, knowing they wouldn’t put his name on the cover! Anyway, I wish I could recommend this, but it’s as dry as desert sand and about as much fun as walking through it for miles on end in the middle of the day.
The only other thing I’ve read by Phillips was the DC/Vertigo crime thriller series he did a few years ago called Angeltown, in collaboration with the underrated Shawn Martinbrough; to be honest, while I liked the art, I disliked the confusing, slowly paced story. So I promptly wrote Phillips off and hadn’t thought about him since…until I read this. And y’know what? It’s a lot better. This first issue has a much better flow, and a more interesting protagonist as well as premise. Jeff Sinclair is a high-powered money launderer, hence the title, who gets approached by a fellow who says he’s a Vegas accountant and has a large sum of money that he wants Sinclair to do his thing with. Of course, he’s being followed by a hired goon that works for the people the money was stolen from, and it’s Sinclair’s efforts to a) protect his client until he gets the money in his system; b) find out what, if any, is the story about it and if his client is on the level because Sinclair is nothing if not discriminating about his services; and c) avoid getting beat into paste by said goon, that make up the bulk of this first chapter. The narration, sometimes a bother in lesser comics, is well done, as is the dialogue and Phillips’ plot flows as well as Criminal, although it would seem to violate one of those Unwritten Rules of Noir Comics in that the lead isn’t a hopeless screwup. Another plus is Laming’s art; it’s very much in that Mike Lark/Sean Phillips/Paul Azaceta/80’s Dave Mazzuchelli/J.P. Leon et cetera Toth-inspired stylized realism mode; he does it in fine fashion, and everything is staged so well that it overcomes the often garish coloring. This has a lot of promise, and just goes to show ya that first impressions aren’t always the most accurate.
Since DC announced the line-wide changes a few weeks ago, that’s had the curious effect of making whatever events they’ve committed to in the meantime- Flashpoint, and this, the backwards-looking Retroactive series, in which creators (well, some of them, anyway) who were associated with certain titles in the past return to do the honors in a series of one-shots, seem somewhat inessential and irrelevant. Be that as it may, however, I was kinda stoked for this, since I am a bit of an aficionado of that late 60’s-early 70’s de-powered and Emma Peeled Diana Prince: Wonder Woman era (though to be honest, after reading all those stories, they execution didn’t always live up to the promise of the premise) as well as the art of Mr. Jason Bone. I wish I could say that my expectations were met and exceeded…and well, they weren’t. The Retroactive part of the creator equation is provided by good old Dennis O’Neil, who wrote tons of my favorite comics back in the 1970’s, including Batman and The Shadow, and also scripted on and off as well as dialogued Wonder Woman during much of Mike Sekowsky’s tenure, hence the connection. He’s concocted some sort of weird-ass tale which starts out as a Bob Kanigher-inspired mishmash with some sort of alien menace in a crab-shaped undersea craft who has apparently caused Paradise Island to sink a la Atlantis, with some sort of Kanigheresque giant blade slowly advancing upon it. When confronted by Wondy, is informed by an old bearded dude in a green cube that she has “Gravely sinned by making (her)self less than (she is). Gravely.” Not only that, but he tells her she can redeem herself by performing three tasks, two of which are performed by Wondy in her Diana Prince persona, which magically appears on her just before she travels to another dimension to scrap with Joan of Arc and the Biblical Goliath. Yep. Then, after she comes out triumphant, the menace seems to disappear, leaving only the craft which the Amazons study. The actual ending, and it’s entirely possible it just went over my head, makes no sense whatsoever. Very disappointing, as it seems like O’Neil was just making it up as he went along, and I know he’s (still) better than that. Bone, on paper, was an excellent choice to do the art honors; his lively, retro flavored art has that strong 60’s cartoonish vibe, plus he’s no slouch at drawing both action and lovely women. But, and I don’t know if it’s a rush job or what, this looks really sloppy, especially the ink line, which is usually a strong point for him…but here it looks really rough, almost like dry brush in places. I’m a bit surprised at how much it stood out to me. Perhaps it was intended as a homage to Irv Novick, who drew Wondy for a while in the mid-late 60’s, post-Ross Andru/Mike Esposito and pre-Mike Sekowsky. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Regardless, Bone isn’t the problem as much as the oddball script. This issue is backed up by another O’Neil-scripted story, this one a reprint of Wonder Woman Vol. 1 #201, which features Diana Prince tangling with the Catwoman, in her nutty Puss ‘n’ Boots 70’s outfit. It’s not dull, and it’s nicely illustrated by Dick Giordano, who took over on art for a little while after Sekowsky moved on. Oddly enough, though, this one ends abruptly as well on a cliffhanger that led into the first DC appearance of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd the Barbarian and the Grey Mouser, who would soon get their own short-lived (and very good, as well as O’Neil-scripted) DC series just a month or two later. Pretty strange for a one-shot, eh? Anyway, I wish I could recommend this; perhaps if you’re a less discriminating fan of the Sekowsky Diana Prince era or J. Bone completist, you’ll want to drop the five bucks. Otherwise, I’d avoid.
The All Purpose Review Writing List! The Flying Burrito Brothers- The Gilded Palace of Sin; Gram Parsons- GP and Grievous Angel (I watched a documentary about Mr. Parsons, OK?); Suzanne Vega- Nine Objects of Desire; XTC- Skylarking; Tim Curry- Read My Lips, Black Sabbath- Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Denny Laine- …aah, Laine.
As always, thanks for your attention, sorry about the delay between columns, and may every song you sing be your favorite tune.