Time once more for yet another Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I attempt to point out various offerings of a sequential graphics-type 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 real-world, near you.

Script: Kevin Smith; Art: Jonathan Lau
Dynamite Entertainment, $3.99

It’s a dream that dies hard, I think- publishers are always looking for something that will grab the readers’ attention, and presumably create the next hype sensation that will sell lots of comics…and more often as not (since, let’s face it, there’s very little concept-wise that hasn’t already been done and done to death) said publishers will seize upon some character from days gone by, specifically the 30s or 40s, and trot them out in some sort of revamped fashion- or in some rare cases, exactly like the original, hyped as a return to former glories, which hardly ever lives up to the billing. That’s exactly what we have here, a legacy relaunch of the venerable Green Hornet- known mostly for the short-lived 60s TV show, launched in the wake of the camp Batman TV show wave but played mostly straight, which probably doomed it to also-ran status, and that even mostly known (to those who even care about such things) as the show that introduced Bruce Lee (who played the Hornet’s chauffeur/sidekick Kato) to U.S. audiences. Of such are desperate comics revival attempts made. Not dissuaded by the failure of Hornet comics in the decades since (I can think of at least one, in the late 80s or early 90s, I forget), Dynamite at least has the name curiosity factor going for it by recruiting Smith to script it. The notoriously procrastinating Smith, who at least managed to finish his last couple of series for DC, doesn’t really break any new ground here in setting up the way in which Britt Reid, Jr. takes over the Hornet mantle from his father, but it’s readable enough if you ignore some of the anachronisms (assuming Reid’s last exploit as the Hornet took place in the 70s on a sliding scale, no one referred to headgear as “pimp hats”, except in a literal sense and certainly not as slang back then) dialogue wise…in fact, seeing as how Smith is noted for his snappy patter in his films, the leaden quality of these exchanges is a bit surprising. The Jonathan Lau art is pretty much par for the course these days as well; heavily Photoshopped, relying on speed lines and choppy staging to suggest acting. The figure drawings aren’t bad, despite a predilection towards drawing 20-foot-long legs to suggest kicking or leaping. I don’t know if I can recommend this, although I’ve seen worse; the Hornet character and his whole setup is somewhat quaint, even with the sexay new female Kato, and so far Smith hasn’t shown any inclination to break out of the standard “war against gangsters” setting…but it is only 2 issues in. I suspect, I hope Smith has more up his sleeve.

Script: Howard Chaykin, Art: Stephen Thompson
Boom! Studios, $19.99

Even though it never would have occurred to me otherwise, I can’t think of anybody on God’s green Earth that’s more suited to write the exploits of a pre-Die Hard movie John McClane than born and raised New Yawker and transplanted El Lay-er Chaykin, who has always written everything with the same cynical, hard-nosed, jaundiced tone that Bruce Willis brought to the character in that hugely entertaining first film (the sequels have been up and down, to be kind). I wish I could say that Howie rose to the occasion, but I’ll have more on that in a moment. Anyway, this takes place in 1976, during the Bicentennial in NYC; we then proceed to get introduced to a varied cast of characters- Young John McC and his cynical, older partner, a young girl fresh off the Indiana turnip truck, just tryin’ to make a livin’ in the wild, wanton Big Apple, two other corrupt cops, a scheming long-haired activist type, complete with 1976-style headband and curly long locks, constantly on the telephone coordinating some sort of mischief, and a rich land baron and his dowdy, sex-starved wife (the most quintessential Chaykinish of the cast), the target of curly-haired dude’s ire. When the two corrupt cops murder an associate, witnessed by Young Indiana Girl, she flees, setting the events in motion, eventually winding up on Rich Land Baron’s yacht in what you suddenly come to realize is almost the exact same plot as the first film- substitute Curly-Haired Guy for Hans Gruber, and Rich Dude’s yacht for the Nakatomi Building, (no Reginald VelJohnson analogue, though, unless Young Indiana Girl, who is a damsel in distress here, counts) and I think you’ll get my drift. In both, McClane finds himself in the middle of the action almost by accident, and tasks himself to set things right as covertly as possible. Of course, this being Chaykin, it’s all plotted very tightly and thus becomes an agreeable page turner, issues of contrivance aside, but there just something missing- the dialogue has none of Howie’s usual bite, and events unfold in fairly routine fashion, even though there is an amusing coda to be had. It would help, perhaps, if he had an artist that was up to the task; Thompson alternates knockout spreads like the one on story pages 10 & 11 with a clutch of uninspired, grubby-looking action sequences and pedestrian figure drawings, despite sometimes looking like Chaykin himself might have assisted on a page layout here or there. The art, as utterly competent as it is, mostly succeeds in grounding the already struggling-to-lift-off script. That said, sometimes teams take a little while to gel, and since Chaykin has seen fit to bring us further adventures of Young John McClane (I think the ongoing is up to issue #7 by now), perhaps things will get much better real soon. (PDF provided by publisher for review purposes)

Scripts: Peter David, various; Art: Jonboy Myers, John Byrne, various
Marvel Comics, $4.99

Nothing says “desperate, blatant cash grab” than female versions of male superheroes (and to a lesser extent, vice versa)…which sure seemed to be the case back in 1980 when Stan Lee tossed the idea for a “She-Hulk” out on his way out the door to go to Hollywood. After a modest run of standard late 70’s Marvel-style superhero slugfests, the character knocked around a while, joining pretty much every Marvel superhero team this side of the Champions before John Byrne had the bright idea to treat such a ludicrous character in the fashion she deserves, casting her in a series of fourth-wall busting lighthearted, often surreal adventures before people tired of the joke and she got cancelled again. Several years later, many others took a stab at the character, Dan Slott having the most success aesthetically, if not sales-wise. While many of these were, by most reports, quite entertaining I just never could get interested enough to follow along, so you can probably count the number of She-Hulk comics I’ve read on one hand. So why the hell have I chosen to write about, let alone read, this anniversary one-shot? Who knows. A big part of it is curiosity, another is lack of anything else to review. The main attraction is the lead story, a jokey, self-referential Christmas Carol-style tale by Peter David (who wrote the Hulk of both sexes for a long long time), with decent enough, manga-inspired art by Myers. Story two is by a team that I’m not familiar with at all, and it’s a pleasant enough if mostly trivial team-up between SH, Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman (all three female versions of previously male characters, in case anyone was wondering). The art is just as manga-inspired as Myers’ but isn’t half as skillful despite a decent scene here and there. The figure drawing is really inconsistent. If it’s a tryout story, it does promise better things down the road. Rounding out the package is a reprint of one of the more notorious surreal Byrne issues, in which She-Hulk spends several panels jumping rope at super speed in an effort to satirize gratuitous nudity or something like that. I’m not a Byrne basher, not really, although I think the man peaked sometime around 1984… but this isn’t half as amusing, or as quirky, as he wants it to be- and it’s more interesting from a historical perspective than in a “classic you all remember fondly” way. Should you spend your hard earned five bucks on this? Hell, I don’t know. The first two stories are entertaining enough. But I think sometimes characters work better as supporting players rather than leads, and from where I sit in my admittedly narrow-view balcony seat, I think Shulkie is one of those. You may disagree, and will buy this whether or not I give it thumbs up or thumbs down. But I bet there aren’t many of you.

Short takes and letter grades (“Rate-o-Rama” is so cheesy):

JOHN CONSTANTINE: HELLBLAZER #265: Peter Milligan, after a tentative start, has his cast in place and seems to be getting in a groove. This, the first part of a two-parter that plays on John’s Punk-rocker past and may, just may include the ghost of Sid Vicious, benefits greatly from some tres sympatico Simon Bisley art, who, when not concocting grotesqueries for covers, chooses to rein in his tendencies to service the story, and does so in excellent fashion. Some of the facial expressions he gives John are wonderful. A-

DETECTIVE COMICS #863: Unfortunately, this looks like the end, for now, of DC’s engaging Batwoman character, especially since scripter Greg Rucka has picked up his toys and moved to another playground. This finale of the split-screen slasher arc works well enough, despite a jarring change mid-story in artists from Jock to Scott Kolins, who’s done better work elsewhere…I hope this isn’t it for Kathy Kane, but you never know. B-

SCALPED #36: Aaron’s back to expanding the cast, this time giving us a spotlight on one of Chief Red Crow’s entourage, name of “Shunka”. Shunka has a secret, just like Madonna’s baby (and there’s your obscure pop music reference for today) which we find out about about three pages in…and it sets up a typically engrossing first part of a two-part story, and a brave one at that. Davide Furno pinch-hits for regular artist R.M. Guera, with no drop off in quality. As always, highly recommended, if not in singles, in trades. A

MADAME XANADU #21: Matt Wagner’s attempt to give us a more proactive Madame X continues to zig when we think it’s going to zag, and remains readable, if not always exciting, because of it. Hadley’s art, despite a tendency to draw all her men as smooth-faced mannequins, delights more than it disappoints, and of all the DCU guest stars to make the scene, J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, is an unexpected and refreshing choice.  The scene in which Madame X’s sister Morgane (as in le Fay, yeah, that’s the one) assumes control of a demon cult is wittily written as well. B+

Sorry about all the DCs this time, but that’s pretty much all I got last Friday! Anyway, thanks for stopping by and I’ll see ya next Tuesday or Wednesday.

As always, love letters, review inquiries, and song requests to johnnybacardi AT gmail.