Welcome to an even more-overdue than usual Confessions, in which I comment on a number of comics and/or graphic novels and/or trade paperbacks that I have consumed in the interval since the last time you allowed me into your headspace. As you may or may not recall, I’m a graphic designer in my real-world secret identity, and every year about this time I get a big project that commands most of my off-work attention, and it’s certainly been that way for most of May and so far in June. I’m finally done with it now, so I figured I had better get busy and drop a few reviews on all of you…so, let’s do this thing, OK?
Vaughan is known, first and foremost, for his long-running Vertigo series Y: The Last Man, which was a big seller for the line in the Aughts; it retains a fanatical following, though in the interest of full disclosure I myself was immune to its charms- I thought it took a good premise and proceeded to spin its wheels in the most steadfast and dull manner possible, and I didn’t really care too much for Pia Guerra’s blandly equal-to-the-task art. So, as you can imagine, I haven’t really followed Vaughan’s career arc too closely, and this one really wasn’t on my radar till I kept seeing several folks on the Net whose opinions I value saying positive things, so I thought I should check it out. So far, I’m glad I did- this tale of an extraterrestrial Romeo and Juliet and the child they’ve borne, set against a backdrop of warring planets, spatting families, mercenary bounty hunters, and general weirdness in the forms of the odd denizens of the planet they’re trying to escape from is far more lively than Y ever seemed to be, plus, the cast of characters has a greater imaginative potential. Artist Fiona Staples does a good job of bringing the proceedings t0 life; it seems like I’ve heard of her for a long time, but looking at her resume, there’s not a lot there that I picked up so your guess is as good as mine why this is. Her sketchily-inked-figure and background-scenery-by-Photoshop style reminds me a bit of someone like Phil Noto or some of the come-and-go illustrators that have labored on Vertigo series, especially Hellblazer, all these years; but unlike Noto, whose usual default is “minimal”, just when you think Staples is going to settle into underdraw mode for pages on end she whips out arresting images like #3’s page 19-20, all full of digital color and nice staging. I wish there was a bit more there there, but she hasn’t hindered my enjoyment of the story so far by any means. Saga promises to be just that; an extended fantasy/sci-fi blend with interesting and likable characters, with no clear end result in sight just yet and my full attention so far. That said, however, three issues in, Y: The Last Man seemed like that to me as well, as I recall. B+
Can’t fault Pete for trying to bust out of that Bradleys bag he finds himself in; he’s tried many different vehicles and venues, from the unfunny and forced Yeah! with Gilbert Hernandez to the bland Sweatshop and Apocalypse Nerd, it’s all consistent with his style, but the execution has just seemed off and it’s no surprise that (at least to me) the Hate! Annuals remain his strongest work since, well, he stopped doing Hate on a regular basis. How-ev-uh, as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith would say, I think that he just may have finally come up with a vehicle suited to his idiosyncratic brand of rancor-laced humor (or is that humor-laced rancor? Anyway.) with the Sci-Fi informed Reset. Reset gives us a not-Buddy-Bradley named Guy Krause, who’s a washed-up sitcom/movie actor and former standup comedian, possibly an amalgam of Pauly Shore, Charlie Sheen, and probably a dozen other candidates, who’s so down on his luck he can’t even get a part in a kiddie show wearing a gorilla costume. While doing his time in traffic school (a “road rage” incident- is that vintage Bagge or what?), he meets a young lady who propositions him (and not in a way he’d like) to gauge his interest in participating in a research project for a tech firm…seems she’s actually a psychologist, y’see, and she wants him to take part in a virtual reality project. Needing the dough, he reluctantly agrees and shows up the next day, gets strapped in, and is thrown into a hyper-realistic scene taken straight from his own memories, all to gauge how he reacts…and as you can imagine, he promptly freaks out. The idea is to get Guy to interact with his past, but he wants nothing to do with it, smelling a psychiatry trap- but the need for money keeps him coming back. As you would expect, it doesn’t go as smoothly as either party plans, and most of the joy in reading this is the back-and-forth between Guy, Dr. Angie, assistant Ted, and the shadowy group of men who are secretly bankrolling the whole project (and keeping Krause unemployed as well), unbeknownst to Guy. Bagge’s Libertarianist leanings inform a lot of this, plus a sideways commentary on the things people are reduced to to find work, and some TV industry satire is mixed in as well…plus, as always, Bagge’s delivers the goods with his idiosyncratic art style, especially when it comes to body english and reaction shots. I had pretty much given up on enjoying anything but the intermittent Hate! Annual from Mr. Bagge, but this (so far, anyway- he still has two issues left to bring it home) is by far the best non-Hate! related thing I’ve read from him in too long to remember, and if that intrigues you, then by all means you should check this out. A-
Oh gosh, Bernie Wrightson. I’m old enough to remember when he dropped the “e”. For a period of time in the 1970’s, when he was doing the original run of Swamp Thing, I loved Wrightson’s art as much as anyone in the business- Kirby, Kaluta, Toth, Adams, you name ’em. In 1977, at the height of my Wrightson fixation, I dropped an exorbitant sum (well, it was for me- I was a teenager, OK? I made $1.75 an hour at a local pizza joint) to purchase a signed and numbered art portfolio that Bernie issued- its subject: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Intended as teasers for an upcoming Wrightson-illustrated edition of the famous novel, I didn’t care- here was an opportunity for me to get my hero’s autograph and some excellent art to boot, and holy Jesus, was it sweet. Insanely detailed, gorgeously rendered and blackspotted, it was a thing of morbid beauty. Anyway, I think that represented a peak of sorts for Mr. Wrightson; something changed subtly in his work after that, which had by then begun to appear in a lot of different places, many of them affiliated with National Lampoon. I recall reading something about health issues related to his drawing hand or wrist; whatever the reason, his work seemed to lose a lot of its grace and subtlety, looking awkward and stiff and underdrawn in ways that Graham Ingels or Frank Frazetta never went. Of course, inferior Wrightson is superior to most others in the field, but something changed for me, and I had lost interest, moving on to other creators and other publications. Anyway, to his credit, Bernie has continued to keep his hand in, often turning out some outstanding stuff for a variety of publishers. Here, he’s under the IDW wing with horror maven Steve Niles, and they’re once more going to the Shelley well to extrapolate a little on the fate of the Monster and his creator after the events of the novel. Seems the monster has found a home of sorts, as a carnival geek, and we are privy (after a show in which he chases the crowd, who was expecting a flat headed and bolt-necked creature, out of the tent) to him reminiscing about how he came to be, as well as a couple of attempts to end his own life with Victor Frankenstein present to debate the whys and wherefores, a move which does really echo the tone of the source material. I liked the Hammeresque Monster-as-carny idea more than I liked the flashbacks; hopefully future issues will emphasize the former at the expense of the latter. Wrightson, for his part, does a wonderful job; early on, things look somewhat sketchy (with what I’m assuming is a lot of dry brush work that doesn’t flatter his drawing) but about halfway in, during the flashbacks, he comes alive and delivers a little callback to the portfolio days with a drop dead gorgeous three-page ink/wash/indigo snowstorm sequence that reminds me why I loved his art so much back in the day. I posted a page at right; please click to see bigger. As Frankenstein adaptations go, this is familiar territory for the most part, but you never know, Niles might be planning to go off on a tangent at any time…plus, it’s a pleasure to see Wrightson art on a sustained basis. B
ZEGAS #2 (Self published, $12.00, go HERE to buy): Michel Fiffe‘s back with another issue of his gorgeously colored and imaginatively expressive stories of the Zegas siblings and their relationship/work issues, as well as a mid-book interlude called “Habana ’76”, starring a young Italian fellow named Hugo who also has girl problems (and even worse, problems with her dad too) and, much to my delight, reads CREEM magazine. Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many of Mike’s blog posts and work he’s written about and admired (just look at this awesome take on the Suicide Squad), I can’t help but see a lot of his influences evident on almost every page- Los Bros., Von Eeden of course, Frank Miller, Adams, and, I dare say, recent interview subject Tony Salmons- but he blends them all together with a brave design and color sense that sometimes makes turning each page a thrill. I told you last time you better get on board early on, and now you have another chance. Take it, you won’t be sorry. A
SKELETON KEY COLOR SPECIAL (Dark Horse, $3.50 ): The recent issues of Dark Horse Presents have been chock full of great work by a variety of creators, but at almost ten bucks a pop, I haven’t been picking them up. It’s my loss. Fortunately, they are taking some of the serials that appeared in the single issues and are collecting them; that’s the story behind this, in which Andi Watson returns to his first published series, and it’s almost like he never left. By simply returning his magic-key-wielding Tamsin and her fox spirit friend Kitsune to their roots as supernatural adventurers of a sort rather than Zot!-like subjects fit for an Afterschool Special, this is the most enjoyable take on the girls in a long time. The opening story, in which Tam and Kit encounter a group of dancing dead and the foolish musicians that summon them, was very effective. I haven’t loved Watson’s recent work; I found Glister too twee by thirds and dislike the scratchy wannabe children’s-book-illustrator style he adopted for it so much that I haven’t bothered checking anything else out since. Nice to see his mojo is still working. A-
WONDER WOMAN #’s 1-9 (DC, $2.99 each): Well, by now we all pretty much know the score with DC’s New 52- some successes, some failures, some that deserved better (O.M.A.C., we hardly knew ye), and yet another attempt to make Wonder Woman and Aquaman and the “savage” Hawkman and the Teen Titans interesting to today’s readers. For my money, it’s no soap on any of them…but not so fast. This take on Wondy, helmed by Brian (100 Bullets, Spacemen, Loveless) Azzarello and drawn (mostly, there have been a lot of fill-ins) by the solid, eye-pleasing style of Cliff Chiang, has a lot going for it. Wisely eschewing the opaque narrative that made Bullets such a chore to parse (and, to a lesser extent, Spaceman as well, though I am tradewaiting on that and haven’t finished reading it), retaining only the internecine family relationships of that title as it applies to a pantheon of cleverly re-imagined Greek Gods, this is a rewarding and engrossing read. As I’ve written many times before, I’ll probably never be a fan of the character, but I sure do like what the Azzarello/Chiang/Tony Akins team has done with her and her world. Finally, a reboot with something going for it! A
DIAL H #’s 1, 2 (DC, $2.99 each): Yet another license-perpetuating revival of a intermittently interesting property, this one the magical telephone dial which changes its owner into a different superhero each time H-E-R-O is dialed. This time around, we have a slumming writer of “weird fiction” (read: hey, “real” books), one China MiÁ©ville, doing the honors with another new-to-me artist (Mateus Santoluoco) providing appropriately grubby art in keeping with the desired darker, weirder, Vertigo-yet-not-Vertigo tone that evokes little more than early 90’s Grant Morrison with, oh, Steve Pugh on art. While it’s not without merit so far, we’ve seen this all before, and returns do tend to diminish. C+
DARK AVENGERS #175 (Marvel, $2.99): You may be aware that Thunderbolts, one of the two best superhero titles being published right now, has been retitled Dark Avengers, which is basically just a bandwagon-jumping experiment in order to goose sales a bit, which, as so often is the case with excellence, have been stagnant. Since most of the T-Bolts team we’ve been following for the last year or so is still lost in time, the Shadowy Government Figures that Call the Shots have chosen a new team, which erstwhile leader Luke Cage wants no part of, and that’s understandable- it’s a lackluster bunch of uninteresting characters: Thor clone, not-so-affectionally referred to by many as “Clor”, a six-armed Spider-Man clone or something dressed in the Venom outfit, wannabe Scarlet Witch (not a clone, thank God) called “Toxie Doxie” and so on- the effluvia of the maddening mess of failed attempts and false starts by a multitude of creators- these aren’t C-listers, they’re Y or Z listers, and it’s a testament to Jeff Parker’s skill and imagination that he makes them pretty damn interesting (and a testament to artist Declan Shalvey that it looks as good as it does), especially in the big fight scene that takes up much of the book. Parker tells me we haven’t seen the last of Satana, so I’m relieved to hear that, but I am a bit peturbed about whether co-artist Kev Walker will be coming back- we’ve had no indication so far. Still, the last-page reveal of a character already spoiled on the cover that still hits in the right spot reassures me that this is still the Marvel comic to buy. A-
For the record:
I saw Marvel’s The Avengers, in 3-D no less (it didn’t improve the experience, really), on its opening weekend, though I did give serious consideration to skipping it in consideration of Marvel’s shoddy treatment of Jack Kirby’s heirs. Still, I figured I have worse things than that on my conscience, and I also applied a karmic band-aid by contributing my ticket price plus to the Hero Initiative, which I hope you did too. Anyway, I found it hugely entertaining, nicely acted, even by Chris Evans and ScarJo- of course I knew Downey, Jackson, Hiddleston and Ruffalo would be good, and I loved Jeremy Renner’s all-business, nonchalantly-shooting Hawkeye. Anyway, more than anything, it was a triumph for Joss Whedon, who juggled the mammoth cast and all the attendant battle scenes with a steady hand, never lapsing into incoherence, and can probably write his own ticket now. Maybe he’ll even do another Serenity! Oh well, I can dream, right? I was, as an old 70’s Cosmic Marvel Comics fan, geeked to see the reveal of who I hope will be the Big Bad in the next film. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed for Adam Warlock or at least Mar-Vell, but I won’t stand on one leg waiting.
If, though, you’re waiting for me to review any of the Beyond Watchmen books, well, keep waiting. I’m not going to partake. Ethics aside, and DC certainly did give Moore the shaft, this whole thing just seems so unnecessary and I have no real interest in seeing any further stories with those characters, who pretty much were filled out to my satisfaction back in the mid-1980’s. I hate to do it, because I do love the work of many of the assembled artists like Amanda Conner, J.G. Jones, Jae Lee, Darwyn Cooke, and others…but I’m gonna pass on this. Hope you’ll all understand.
Whew! That’s it for now. Hopefully I’ll be back sooner rather than later! Thanks for your patience.