Hello again and welcome to Confessions, in which I inflict my opinions on recent comics and graphic novel releases on all of you wonderful readers out there, and hopefully steer you towards something that you will enjoy and cherish for the rest of your life, or put in a clear plastic bag and forget about five minutes after you read it. Or something like that.
INFINITE KUNG FU (Top Shelf): This thing came out in August, and I got my review PDF in September, and it’s taken me ages to read it…it’s a monster, no doubt about it. It’s an audacious mix of pretty much every 70′s martial arts film ever made, seasoned with some Chinese mysticism and served with some clever anachronisms on the side. It’s epic, and epically illustrated to boot- Kagan McLeod has a loose, appealing style that is tight in all the right places, and is a deft hand with the ink washes and brush strokes he applies.On the one hand, this would seem to aspire towards being a big-budget Zhang Yimou blockbuster thing…but there’s a intimacy, a soul if you will, to the whole thing when observed from a distance, that makes it all the more charming. A
AVENGERS 1959 #1 (Marvel): When you turn Howard Chaykin loose on one of your properties, you pretty much know what you’re going to get…he’s not about to change his stripes at this stage of the game. These days, however, Howard is delegating much of the art to collaborators/assistants while he apparently has his attention elsewhere and it shows- not that this is necessarily an insurmountable problem; he’s had assistants for decades, even on such seminal works as American Flagg!. He was an assistant himself, to Gil Kane. Which may help explain, but not completely, why this is so anemic and by-the-numbers. Perhaps we can just call it a stumble out of the gate- I mean, geez, we have characters that he’s done very well by before, such as Nick Fury and his own creation Dominic Fortune, and ones you’d think he would be ideally suited to explore, like Kraven the Hunter and the Blonde Phantom, set in a milieu that has been in the spotlight not the least due to TV’s Mad Men and its successors…but nothing really sticks. The period flavor is nonexistent, characters bump up against each other but there are no sparks, dialogue-or-otherwise. And his art- I understand his taking advantage of today’s computer techniques, but that doesn’t explain why so much of this looks so sloppy and rushed, especially at the beginning, which often looks like it was inked with a very shaky hand, or stylus, if you will. That said, Chaykin’s proved his mettle so many times before I’m inclined to chalk this up to another case of judging a whole series by its first issue, which isn’t always the smart thing to do when it comes to work like this by creators of his ilk. One encouraging sign is the nifty reveal at the end, which makes a clever play on the franchise title and definitely gets my nipples hard, as one of Howie’s characters in his heyday would say. C+
A GAME OF THRONES #1: (Dynamite Entertainment) I haven’t read the books, sorry to say, but I did watch the first season of HBO’s televised adaptation, and enjoyed it very much. It’s a good thing, however, that I didn’t come to the property via this bland adaptation, because I might never have done so if that was the case. Much of George R.R. Martin’s dialogue and plotting remains intact, as I understand it, so I place the blame on the inspired by everyone but inspired by nothing art of one Tommy Patterson, who does nothing wrong here necessarily, but does nothing right either, despite hitting everything very hard with the Photoshop stick. Its so blah that even though I am a pre-sold commodity- I like this series- I couldn’t make it through more than half this issue before skimming to the end. Recommended for Throne completists, no one else. D
SNARKED #1: (Boom!/Kaboom) The first full issue of Roger Langridge’s Carroll takeoff is as nicely done as the #0 issue from a month or so ago; his likeable cartoony style is every bit as witty as his script. If I had young kids, bet your sweet jubjubs that this would be bought for them on a regular basis. A
LOVE & ROCKETS- NEW STORIES #4: (Fantagraphics) I was wondering what Jaime Hernandez would do for an encore after his wonderful “Browntown” and “Love Bunglers” features in #3; well, now I know. He topped them. “Bunglers” continues in this issue, and it’s amazing- while sure, much of the appreciation is heightened for those of us who’ve been following his accounts of Maggie, Hopey, & Co. since the 80′s, it’s not 100% necessary; this is mature comics for mature readers; he manages to navigate the uncertainties, heartbreak, and sometimes humor of Maggie & Ray’s on-again, off-again relationship. While Gilbert’s contribution doesn’t exactly resonate in the same way, it’s solid just the same as he continues to explore Fritz and the other film-related that he’s been concerned with for quite some time now, and get in some amusing jabs at the whole Twilight-style vampire phenomenon as well as carries on the theme of perceived resolutions to relationships. Now, I guess I’m definitely wondering where the hell they can take any of this from here..I hope we’re all lucky enough to find out. A+
ALL STAR WESTERN #1: (DC) Well, I suppose having Jonah Hex in a fish-out-of-water Sherlock Holmes-meets From Hell style adventure in Olde London Town is fair game, and is a novel setting for the character. It also gives the Palmiotti/Gray team a little something to work with other than the recycled Eastwood movie tropes which seemed to make up the bulk of the run of the previous Hex series, at least the issues I bought- I bailed halfway through that run, feeling like it was spinning its wheels. Best of all, though, we get another 20-plus pages of Moritat art, fresh off his thoroughly outstanding run on The Spirit. He’s one of the most exciting and interesting young artists working today, and we better all get on board and dig him while we can. A
I, VAMPIRE #1: (DC) I was a regular reader, believe it or not, of the original version of this character; it appeared, wrapped in beautiful Mike Kaluta covers and brought to life by the late great Tom Sutton, in a surprisingly long mid-Eighties run in issues of House of Mystery. It told the obviously Anne Rice-inspired story of Andrew Bennett, who made his lover a vampire and soon realized that he had created a monster, and felt duty bound to thwart her plans and rid the world of her menace if possible. See? You thought DC only recently started hating on women, didn’t you? Anyway, I kid a little- it wasn’t mean-spirited and was often quite involving. However, other than the basic story, this ain’t that. It is, of course, a more jacked-up and modernized version, less Twilight and perhaps more Let The Right One In, all moody and brooding and oh so serious. Which is not necessarily a bad thing; the scenes between Bennett and his Mary have a glum charm and the overall story is still compelling. Andrea Sorrentino, another anonymous DC art recruit, does a nice Jae Lee impersonation throughout but often seems unable to finesse, that is keep coherent, the constant flashbacks that writer Joshua Hale Fialkov delivers throughout. This one bears watching, and I hope Fialkov has some interesting twists in store. B+
THE LAST OF THE GREATS #1: (Image) Yet another Joshua Hale Fialkov effort, this one for Image; it’s one more played out take on the notions of ordinary people coping with superhumans (which they cloyingly refer to as “The Greats”, oy) in their midst, done much better as The Mighty by DC a couple of years ago. Perhaps because Fialkov isn’t steeped in comics lore, as if he’s some sort of ordinary everyday person or something (coming as he does from the world of writing novels) he thinks he’s breaking new ground or exploring new territory, so I guess if that applies to you too, you might really think this is the shiznit. Unless you’re an aficionado of good artwork, in which case you’ll want to give a wide berth to Brent Peeple’s unoriginal, sloppy and clichéd effort. We even get an annoying 9/11 fakeout scene at the beginning, which may strike some in poor taste. Not recommended. At all. D
JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #1 (DC): I’ve got a dozen and one chocolate and beer jokes I could make in regards to this title, but I’ll try to restrain myself. Certain writers were born to write certain characters, I think, and if Pete Milligan was born to write any one comic (no matter how many hundreds of others he’s written in the past), that comic is the eventually-Vertigoized Shade the Changing Man. So, as one would expect, that character is the main focus of this opening chapter in the exploits of a collection of some of DC’s more esoteric licensed properties, and this is all the better for that. While I don’t really hold Milligan the writer of super-heroes in the same esteem as I do Milligan the writer of weird stuff (though I thought X-Force/Statix was aces), this augurs well for the continued readability of this brand-spanking-new series. Now, if only someone in a position of authority had seen fit to find Milligan an artist with more mojo than someone named Mikel Janin, who brings nothing we haven’t seen before to the party, then we’d be getting something potentially special. B
THE SHADE #1 (DC): Speaking of writers who seemed to be born to write certain characters, such it is with James Robinson and his Starman cast, and perhaps his greatest accomplishment in all that was his reclamation job on the Shade, whom he transformed from a hidebound C-list Golden Age Flash villain into a multi-faceted and fully formed intriguing foil/friend/confidante/mentor figure for his equally radically-transformed reluctant Starman, Jack Knight. We pick up where the Blackest Night tie-in of a year or so ago left off (I’m sure I’ve missed something in between, but I miss it not, if you know what I mean) with the title character sipping tea and waxing melancholy (it’s his birthday, and he foreshadows a lot as he muses) to his buddy, Mikaal Thomas the blue 70′s Starman aka James Robinson’s Mary Sue, then canoodling with Hope O’Day, who has never been seen in a better light to my memory (but it has been a long time since the 90′s), then we get an abrupt left turn into gore and unpleasantness via an attack by frigging Deathstroke the goddamn Terminator, runner up in the most ludicrous costume sweepstakes to Marvel’s Taskmaster- the sort of knuckleheaded cape comics hero that should never get within a hundred issues of this type of series, and almost sinks the whole damn thing thanks to the utter tone-deafness of it all. Robinson used to seem to have some sense of decorum, even when he was giving us death and mayhem; these days, he just doesn’t seem to give a damn anymore. I’ll give this a B+, docked a notch because good freaking grief. I’ll give it back a half point due to that rarest of rare things at DC these days, an artist with an actual honest-to-god style named Cully Hamner, who draws it all with flair and even a hint, just a hint, of creators as disparate as Mignola and Grandenetti- even though his Shade looks a lot like Wolverine’s older brother.
COFFEE AND BEER MONEY: (Minicomic) Got an email from Periscope Studios intern Becky Hawkins a few weeks ago, letting me know that her latest minicomic was available at her website, and offering me a PDF if I’d like to review it. Since it’s been my experience since almost the beginning of my time on the Net that the folks who make up Periscope are all, almost without fail, very cool and nice folks, I said why shore. This is billed as a “A New York diary involving sketchy karaoke bars, Art/Jedi Training, Comic Conventions, a phone call from the ex, and lots more”, and that’s pretty much what it is, no more, no less. It’s not especially well drawn, often crude in places, but she writes her character with a lot of self-effacing charm, and not in a straining-to-be-hip, clumsy fashion, and I got more than a few chuckles as I read…so I think you could do a lot worse than to check this out, as well as her other efforts, if you tend to like minicomics of the “New York Diary sort. Go here to buy. B
The All Purpose Review Writing Music List: Strawbs- Deep Cuts; Roy Harper- HQ; Teddy Thompson- Separate Ways, A Piece of What You Need, and Bella (someone loaned me all three, they’re very good, especially if you like his parents’ music); The Essential Bruce Springsteen; Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel- Timeless Flight; Lon and Derrek Van Eaton- Brother; Bert Jansch (RIP)- Birthday Blues and Moonshine.
Coming eventually- Craig Thompson’s Habibi, Jonathan Case’s Dear Creature, and more.