Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends…oh, wait. Welcome back to Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, our often tardy feature 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.

S.H.I.E.L.D #1
Script: Jonathan Hickman;  Art: Dustin Weaver
Marvel Comics, $3.99

Well, I suppose it was inevitable- not a lot has been established in regards to the origins of the Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage  Law-Enforcement Division that Stan and Jack created and Jim Steranko made cool…and in the endless search to put a “fresh”, “edgy” spin on something that probably is better off without one, we get this, which echoes the whole 1602 franchise, or maybe even something like Action Philosphers! or Five Fists of Science, and blends it with a dash of the whole Steampunk aesthetic, as well as a hint, just a hint, of DaVinci Code– type “secret history” shenanigans. And I suppose that it’s a tribute to up-and-coming writer Hickman’s talents that he can make such a mishmash work as well as it does. I wish that artist Weaver was a little less beholden to the scratchy-line late-90s Image illustration technique than he seems to be, but he does keep the story moving along well enough and comes up with some nicely detailed machinery drawings, as well as background elements, and interesting armor designs. Admittedly, one issue is hardly a fair sample set by which to make a judgment, so all in all this one was a decent enough read, and one which augurs the potential for even more decent reads for the next four months, hopefully resulting in a decent enough series which could just as easily be forgotten by 2013 in favor of the next retcon, which will be available for download on the portable reading device of your choice, I’m sure.

Script: Peter Bagge, James Whorton, Jr.;  Art: Bagge
Fantagraphics Books, $4.95

Since Peter Bagge decided to stop doing Hate on a monthly basis, we now get these once-a-year smorgasbord annuals, usually stuffed with whatever projects he’s been working on for whomever, plus a new Buddy Bradley story to pacify the longtime fans. This one’s got a clutch of history/science based one page strips he’s been doing for Discover magazine, and they’re mostly amusing as well as quite informative, to be expected given the venue. A Reefer Madness-themed strip, done for the Turner Classic Movies website (which I recall reading before), is also included and while it’s fun to see one of the most notorious scenes from that legendary stinker of a film rendered in Bagge’s silly-putty style, it really doesn’t make much of an impression, though I do support its underlying “Is drinking (legal) better than smoking weed (illegal)” message. Other features include a radio listener’s pet peeves strip, typical cranky (but never without a point) Bagge, an oddball “Alien Family” series of four panel strips done for a toy manufacturer, and a short story illustrated by our man but written by James Whorton, Jr., dealing with observations about book festivals. None of this is must-have reading, but it’s nice to have just the same. Of course, the Bradleys story remains the best reason to pick up any of these Hate Annuals, and this time Bagge doesn’t disappoint; even though I still can’t stand Buddy in his Popeye the Sailor look, this story of wife Lisa wanting to get out of the house (since the kid is in school) and do something for herself, eventually ending up in a two-woman rock band playing in a strip club, is consistently funny and sharply observed. I hope he continues with the idea he presents at the end, with Buddy (who has the experience, remember) managing Lisa and her “friend”‘s band. Too bad we’ll have to wait another year to find out.

Script/Art: Brendan McCarthy
Marvel Comics, $3.99

Doesn’t seem like all that long ago when I first started seeing McCarthy’s phantasmagorical work in comics stories imported from Britain (often with Peter Milligan scripts)…insanely detailed, and whimsical in its trippy vision, I could never get enough of it. Problem is, I just didn’t see it all that often; his work appeared (at least in my orbit) far too infrequently, and often in titles I didn’t see or buy. Now, out of the blue, here he is, working for Marvel- and scripting, too, no less- doing a Spider-Man story of all things. It’s a Dr. Strange teamup, too, though the good Doctor doesn’t get to share the logo (his mug is on the cover, though), and it continues the dismaying trend of a Strange screwup goosing the plot into motion. Seems Doc has ordered a supernatural book from “Atlantis Books”, and unbeknownst to him someone has placed a hex on it, which releases spider-beings (who have a predilection to chant “harrah harrah”, of all things) from another dimension…one of which manages to possess the Vulture, who has just happened to be in the vicinity, fighting Spider-Man. Possessed Vulty sprays Spidey with bug spray, ha ha, and enables the spider creature to steal the web-slinger’s soul, and drag it off to his homeworld as an offering to his king, despite Dr. Strange’s efforts to prevent same. Of course, this is only part 1 of 3, so I’m sure we have a few more twists to come. McCarthy has an odd writing style, at least dialogue-wise, and you can tell it’s not his first calling; too many dead-end, flat-scanning sentences…strangely, no pun intended, reminiscent of late 60’s, one-eye-on-Hollywood Stan Lee. But who the hell cares about such trivialities when we can get page after page of McCarthy’s sumptuous, brilliantly imaginative, and deeply weird art? Lurid, colorful, full of panache (his Doc Strange is especially great; tell me again why we haven’t had a McCarthy Strange series or GN?), it’s well worth the price of admission. Harrah harrah indeed.

Script: Jonathan Ross; Art: Tommy Lee Edwards
Image Comics, $3.99

If nothing else, it’s looking like we’re in the Era of the Celebrity Comic Book Writer; more than ever, the likes of Rosario Dawson, Stephen King, Gerard Way and others, and now British talk show host and up-front Comics Geek Jonathan Ross are finding outlets for their fiction-writing aspirations. Okay, fine, no harm no foul; Way’s Umbrella Academy was good fun, King’s was fine, and Ross’? Well…Alan Moore beat him to the gangsters and vampires thing several years ago in Top 10, and anyone who watches Turner Classic Movies (or heaven forfend, reads a book) knows as much about the Prohibition days as they’ll find out via “Wossy”‘s somewhat portentous narration at the beginning. This starts out as a fairly standard 20’s gangster story, one with a refreshing lack of obvious expository dialogue…then takes a serious left turn into weirdness as aliens and the aforementioned vampires get introduced into the mix, and by the time the introductions are done and we’re privy to the discussion between the two vampire brothers (they have opposing views, don’t ya know) that lead the clan…well, darned if I, at least, didn’t realize that I was very interested in where this was going, and how it will tie together (especially in regards to the plucky young girl reporter we meet early on) and this Ross guy isn’t half bad (assuming he wrote this, and it isn’t being ghosted- yeah, I’m still suspicious about this sort of thing). But that’s not, for me, that main attraction anyway…no matter how much I liked Ross’ Ditko documentary. Tommy Lee Edwards, whose work I’ve been a huge fan since the DC/Helix series Gemini Blood saw print way back in 1995- his stylized, expressive style, with its roots in the likes of Toth, Kubert and dozens of newspaper strip artists, a bit choppy and with a sloppy, busily rendered line, is consistently excellent and I’m always happy to buy it when I see it. He’s right in his element, depicting the down-to-Earth retro gangster stuff, the more gothic vampire family stuff, and the interstellar stuff with aplomb and style. So far, a pleasant surprise. Here’s hoping Ross has a few more tricks up his sleeve.

That’s all for now, see you next week. No, I’m not committing to a date.

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