Time once more for Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I attempt to spotlight several works of sequential graphic storytelling that I find noteworthy and think you might too, many of which may still be purchased for your very own personal enjoyment at a comics shop, bookstore, or online merchant near you if you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.
Gonna be a short one this week. I get my comics on a bi-weekly basis, and I won’t get my box till Friday, and I don’t really want to foist a bunch of reviews of two-week-old comics on you. Still, I managed to find a few things lying around the Internets…so let’s dance.
There are some characters that publishers just won’t leave alone, even though the public continually votes in the negative with its wallets, try as they might to freshen them up with bold new directions and fresh new ideas. Most of the time, it’s fitting that these revivals fail; too often they reek of “perpetuating the license” aka “killing trees to keep the copyrights in order.” Once in a while, though, a revival/revamp attempt actually works, and works well — Robinson’s Starman, Andreyko’s Manhunter, and the Giffen/Rogers Blue Beetle are some of the more recent more or less successful examples, from DC at least.
Another of these characters, or teams, or concepts, what have you, is the Doom Patrol, which has averaged at least one revival per decade since its creation in the early ’60s. This one, the most recent, is eight issues in and for most, it has not passed muster, regarded as yet another downbeat and downcast modern angst-filled superhero opus. I say not so! Writer Keith Giffen surely does play up the always-present battered-psyche motif that the Patrol has always had, and yet takes time to show that the team is still tight-knit when danger threatens.
And the really interesting thing he’s done is that he’s attempting to merge and meld all the different versions of the DP we’ve been given over the years, preserving the various personality traits of the mostly (bizarre) plot-driven Arnold Drake/Bruno Premiani era- stubborn, obstinate, sociopathic “Chief” Niles Caulder, hostile, self-loathing but still loyal and determined to do the right thing Cliff “Robotman” Steele, Rita “Elastiwoman” Farr, former actress/athlete and divorcee, as prickly and short-tempered as always, and the enigmatic Larry “Negative Man” Trainor, who in this incarnation is playing the Court Jester- along with the funky and overwrought ’70s reincarnation, Grant Morrison’s seminal weirdness in the ’80s-’90s pre-and-post Vertigo run (more on this later), and even incorporating elements and characters from the stillborn Arcudi/Huat and John Byrne runs, attempting to do for the DP what a legion of writers have never done for the likes of Hawkman or Power Girl, give them a sense of (that dreaded word) continuity.
And yet, unlike many writers spewing out mainstream superheroes these days, Giffen (an underrated writer, who hits more than he misses, I think) keeps the histrionics subtle with some wry humor, wonderful dialogue (even Cliff’s constant “Shut up, Larry!”s don’t grate like they probably should) and a refreshing minimum of the shock-for-shock’s sake unpleasant carnage and trauma that is the stock-in-trade at both the Big Two these days. He (so far, anyway) steadfastly refuses to “go there.” Of all the writers who have played lip service to loving the DP, Giffen is making the strongest case since Morrison, in my book.
That said, the title kinda coasted along, with the premise of the DP sharing an island with some sort of military operation ostensibly there to keep an eye on them, complete with priest/psychologist, yielding some good character work and a couple of bland adversaries, until an event which could have scuppered the book, a two-part Blackest Night crossover — which Giffen absolutely nailed as he had the various deceased members of the Patrol come back, including Cliff’s dead human body. After that, Giffen has been working in elements from the Morrison run, verboten until now…we even get the return of arguably Morrison’s most popular character, the schizo meta-powered Crazy Jane, as well as what’s left of the formerly benign Danny the Street, once a pocket dimension of sorts that manifested itself Brigadoon-style as a city avenue, now reduced to a brick, delivered to the island by a group of mercs-cum-movers headed by none other than diminutive-statured Oberon of Mister Miracle/Bwah-ha-ha Justice League fame, festooned in a bizarre toupee and some sort of eyepiece, I assume replacing an eye lost in some multi-issue event I didn’t buy.
The full effect of the return of Danny the Brick has yet to be revealed, but I for one (old Morrison DP fan that I am) am on tenterhooks. I’ve talked so much about the job Giffen’s done that I guess I’ve given short shrift to the art, which has been mostly provided by Matt Clark with a fill-in by Justiniano (the Blackest Night crossovers)- it’s all been in that slick, polished style that’s so popular today, betraying little of its influences except that you just know that it was influenced by superhero artists of recent vintage. Still, Clark’s work has been mostly fine; he can be expressive, if a bit stiff, and he draws perhaps the best Rita Farr ever. Clark and Randall also gets big brownie points with me for giving Crazy Jane the little hair squiggles that Richard Case always provided for her. I don’t know what the future holds for the publication of this low-selling title; I do know that a collection of the first few issues is coming out in two months’ time. If I’ve piqued your interest at all, that might be the place to start, but know that it really doesn’t kick in hard until #4. Giffen, Clark, and company are giving us what I think is maybe, just maybe the best superhero book that DC is publishing right now, and doing it completely under the radar. Catch the train while it’s still on the tracks!
Backward-looking but forward-thinking takes on superheroes from an older, more innocent era (specifically the “Golden Age” of the Forties) have been with us now for a long time, and to be honest, I doubt whether there remains anything to say that hasn’t already been said. J.M. Straczynski and Chris Weston’s The Twelve began “life” as an announced 12-issue series, featuring a handful of characters that originally appeared in Marvel’s early years as the Atlas and Timely imprints. Fair enough game, I guess. I only read one of the now-on-hold-after-nine-issues original series, and if anything groundbreaking or profound was being done, it didn’t happen in the issue I read. As I said, the original series is still on hiatus, but somehow one of the creators managed to find the time to squeeze out this one-shot, which works in some of the Marvel/Atlas/Timely characters you’ve heard of such as Captain America and the Human Torch (Namor the Sub-Mariner is absent, but gets a namecheck), as well as the early 60’s creations Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (a clever cameo, actually), as we follow POV character “The Phantom Reporter” behind the lines in WWII, observing the superhero community’s contribution to the war effort. I’m mostly familiar with Weston as an artist via various Vertigo projects; he’s very good, with a finely detailed style that sometimes comes across to me as rather stiff. As a writer, well, he’s just stiff. This is pretty much a standard-issue superguys-at-war story that we’ve all of us seen a hundred times before, enlivened somewhat by the novelty of seeing these renditions of Cap and company. The dialogue isn’t bad, but it has no snap, either. As a showcase for Weston’s artistic talent, it’s excellent. Everything else, buyer beware. That said, perhaps it will whet some appetites for the resumption of the limited series, promoted at the end.
In the wake of Winter Men, B.P.R.D.: 1946, and other Soviet-flavored uncovered clandestine apocalyptic doings opii (opuses? Whatever), we get this, another plague-on-the-loose would-be movie thriller. Yes, I snark, but really, while I got a strong whiff of deja vu, I was reasonable entertained by this, mostly enjoying the opportunity to see some long-form Steve Rolston art. I had previously experienced it via his stint drawing Paul Dini’s Jingle Belle, about as different from this as it gets, and I was intrigued to see how he handled it…the answer? Not bad, considering his open, cartoonish style should be all sorts of wrong for the subject matter. He’s a pro, though, and knows how to convey emotion- and that gets this by. Writer Harris doesn’t really have a flair for the dialect, and my standard complaint about Russian characters speaking their translated-for-us-English-readers dialogue in broken Russian applies, but his is an unobtrusive and easy to read style. It’s a bit early to judge the whole thing by one issue, but what I saw here is somewhat promising. I’ll get back to you on this one.
Holy mother of Jesus, what will they attempt to shoehorn into the comic book format next? One of the cheesiest semi-military action adventure TV series ever, the A-Team is still fondly remembered by those of a certain generation, who grew up watching it sitting cross-legged in the floor, sipping their Kool-Aid Koolers and thrilling at the clownish antics of Mr. T and the phoned-in charm of stogie-chewing, just-happy-to-be-working George Peppard. Against all odds, they’ve managed to craft a reasonably diverting Losers-style adventure comic here, though the dense infodump and the rampant expository dialogue at the beginning almost caused me to bail before it began. Mooney does a good job of capturing, yet updating, the likenesses of the TV cast, but doesn’t exactly cover himself in glory on the action scenes, which I found a bit static. “Smokin’ Joe” Carnahan, of Smokin’ Aces (a film I find endlessly watchable, and know full well that I am in the minority) fame/infamy is credited as co-plotter. I suppose this will do until a CHiPs or Macgyver comic comes along.
That’s it for this time out…Rate-o-Rama will return, as will longer reviews, next week. Pinky swear.
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