Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, No. 9: “American Vampire,” “Hercules: Fall of an Avenger,” and More

Written by Books, Comics Reviews

Number nine…number nine…

Yes, here we go with yet another Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I attempt to point out some various publications of a comic-bookish nature that I think might be worth your time to check out, or in some cases, avoid- many of which will still be on sale at various booksellers, both online and offline, near you.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE #1
Script: Scott Snyder, Stephen King; Art: Rafael Albuquerque
DC/Vertigo, $3.99

Despite Benecio Del Toro and co.’s best (?) efforts, vampires are still all the rage these days, even the non-sparkly ones, so it was only a matter of time before Vertigo got in on the act, and here we have the result. Of course, most of the buzz is about King’s byline, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m usually skeptical about writers of his celebrity “slumming” by writing comics; I usually figure an assistant, or some other uncredited writer, does the honors in exchange for the publicity. If that’s the case here, it doesn’t seem that way- King’s story has many of the usual writing tics he displays in his prose work (in the interest of full admission, I haven’t read a King novel since Insomnia), so I’m convinced, I guess. The writer on the lead, new-to-me Snyder, actually acquits himself quite well in comparison and this appears like it’s going to be a sprawling tale of vampiric goings-on, set against a background of various time periods and for now, anyway, seems like it’s going to revolve around one particular fellow, a long-haired, cowboy-hatted scruffy guy who is shown sitting around by the pool of an early 30’s apartment complex, also lived in by a couple of would-be starlets. One of the starlets gets what she thinks will be her big break, an invite to an exclusive Hollywood party by a big-time film star…but of course there’s more there than meets the eye, and of course the scruffy stranger seems to know more than he’s letting on. The lead reminded me a lot of some of the things I’ve seen Howard Chaykin get up to in stuff like Black Kiss and Dominic Fortune, to name a few…couldn’t help but think as I read that this could have used some of his trademark snarky dialogue. Which is not to say that what we’re given isn’t bad, far from it. The King-penned backfeature gives us the long-haired, scruffy cowboy-hatted guy as a desperado in the Old West, who’s being taken to his hanging via train along with an escort of various types including an odd banker with a skin condition, hmm…, and a writer, who seems like he’s going to be at least one of our point-of-view characters. Anyway, truth be told, the main attraction of this for me was Albuquerque’s art; I was impressed with his stint on the most recent Blue Beetle series, and was wondering about how he’d do other, more non-superheroic, genres. The answer? Pretty darn well. The only quibble I have with his dynamic, rough-hewn style is that some of the action sequences don’t flow very well, something I’m sure will get better and may not really be all that important anyway in the long run. I came away from this thinking that if they play their cards right, King or no King, that this could be very interesting, especially if they follow through on the cast-of-hundreds-throughout-the-decades premise. We will see, as the saying goes, what we shall see.

HERCULES: FALL OF AN AVENGER #1
Script: Fred Van Lente, Greg Pak; Art: Ariel Olivetti
Marvel Comics, $3.99

The now canceled but probably destined to return Incredible Hercules series was a heady mix of lowbrow slapstick and highbrow dramatic adventure, but unfortunately (and as so often is the case), sales suffered (perhaps a victim of its own hype; some issues were better than others in that regard, especially late in the run) and I suppose it’s a testament to the mojo of writers Van Lente and Pak that Marvel continues to carry on its storyline, albeit in limited series form. Don’t exactly know why they figured releasing this on its own as opposed to releasing it as part of the series would make that much difference, but I guess that’s why they’re the Powers That Be and I’m just someone pretending to be a critic on the internet. Anyway, picking up where they left off, we now have the gregarious God of Strength “deceased” and the survivors dealing with the loss via an amusing funeral scene in which most of the heroes whose lives he’s touched pay tribute by regaling the assembled company with tales of their encounters with him, assembled company including token gay super-guy Northstar, via a somewhat smirky revelation that isn’t quite as amusing as it seems, although it is interesting to see the Greek aspect of Herc addressed…for the first and I’ll bet last time. Thor’s reminisces about his old ally come across best, if Van Lente and Pak can be said to do anything, they do accounts of Herc drinking and chasing the ladies very well. Of course, this one ends on a cliffhanger, with scheming manipulator Athena arriving to break up the festivities and point towards the series’ relaunch starring Herc’s partner Amadeus Cho. We’ll see how that goes. Art honors go to Olivetti, who illustrates with a painterly, pastel-hue style that seems to be evoking Scott Hampton at one end and Maxfield Parrish at the other; brilliant sequences alternate with oddly paced and posed ones, full of weird gestures and inappropriate facial expressions. For those who were wondering what the fuss was about, perhaps they’d be better served by picking up a couple of the early TPBs and going from there.

BRAVE AND THE BOLD #32
Script: J. Michael Straczynski, Art: Jesus Saiz
DC Comics, $3.99

Brave and the Bold, the revival that is, has been kinda up-and-down since it was launched; no longer depending on Batman star-power to drive its teamups, it’s been a low-selling hodgepodge. Writer Straczynski, whose work I’ve not always been impressed with in the past, seems to be doing his best to mix things up a bit since he took over some time ago, and not just with odd pairings- rather than give us by-the-numbers super-struggles, he’s attempting to mix in some messages as well. This issue falls in the oddball category; we get the Sea King Aquaman teamed with Kirby and Moore’s Demon Etrigan, and this odd pairing is explained  in what comes across as yet another egregious infodump…but it’s at least a helpful infodump in this case. Seems that whenever something from Hell attempts to cross over into our world, and chooses to do so undersea (cleverly described in the same terms as underwater birth), then they’ll get together and prevent that from happening. Good idea. The tone of this story came across unusual to me; downbeat, almost lyrical, like an old legend of the sea or something like that. I could almost hear Captain Beefheart singing “Orange Claw Hammer” off in the distance somewhere. Much of the mood is established by Jesus Saiz, whose work I was familiar with from his stint on Manhunter; he’s never been this good, at least when I’ve been paying attention. His art gives me a Pete Snejbjerg/Don Newton/dash of Kevin Nowlan vibe, and that’s a compliment. I’ve only read a handful of the issues in his run, and I’m not saying these are essential comics, but I do think there is something good going on here and this issue impressed me.

RATE-O-RAMA! Shorter takes, with letter grades, because I tend to be lazy.

RESURRECTION V2 #8 (Oni): I remember reading and reviewing the first volume ages ago; I found it too derivative and amateurishly done. Surprise, surprise, Oni continued to publish it anyway, and now apparently it’s into its second volume. The only reason I bothered to look this time was the script, in the backfeature, by Internet bon vivant Chris Sims, of Incredible Super-Blog fame. Even though it featured characters and situations that I knew absolutely nothing about, I found it entertaining because while Chris is still getting his feet under him as a nuts-and-bolts scripter- there’s a prodigious infodump at the beginning of this short story, and sometimes the dialogue scans like Comic Book Script 101… but the damn thing is still FUN. And that’s how Chris has made his name and played his game as a blogger, pointing out the nutty crazy things in comics stories and spotlighting them, and you know the drill: ninjas, sharks, crazy silly old DC Comics, pirates, hybrid vampires/detectives/rockstars/what-have-you, Batman throwing car batteries, et cetera. It’s a lot like the stuff that Tarantino gets away with in his movie scripts, and early Kevin Smith had the knack as well. I think Oni, and any other publisher, would do well to encourage Mr. Sims to continue to hone his skills- should be fun, if nothing else! B-

THE BOYS #40: (Dynamite Entertainment) This has been an entertaining and often clever series, but sometimes even the master piss-taker, Garth Ennis, spins his wheels and this is one of those times. His pisstake on the Legion of Super-Heroes would have more teeth if it seemed like he’d actually read a Legion comic since 1991. Far more interesting is the whole Butcher KNOWS about Hughie and Starlite plotline, and we do get some time spent on that so fair play to ya, Garth. B+

BATMAN AND ROBIN #10: (DC) When Philip Tan took over for Frank Quitely four issues in, the drop in art quality pretty much scuppered whatever Grant Morrison was trying to do. Then Cam Stewart came on board and jumpstarted everything, only to give way to yet another new artist, Andy Clarke, assisted by Scott Hanna. Fortunately, this time there’s no dropoff and this issue, the first of another 3-part arc, is easily as good as any previous. I’ve always believed that Morrison’s scripts require an imaginative collaborator with a singular vision, and this comic series has been proof of that. A

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #24: (Marvel) Quietly, and without a whole lot of fanfare, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have taken all of Marvel’s various cosmic concepts and characters (especially those of Cosmic Guru Jim Starlin) and have jumpstarted them; this series is a great example.  The artist-go-round that has been a regular feature of this book since issue 1 has stopped for a while on Wes Craig, and while some may disagree, I like his open, somewhat cartoonish style. He does bring a lot of dynamism to the proceeedings, and I think it’s welcome. A-

That’ll do for this week, see you next Tuesday!

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