Time once more for Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I attempt to point out, in often rambling fashion, 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. This time, four number ones!
Script: Paul Dini; Art: Stephane Roux, Karl Story
DC Comics, $2.99
Paul Dini loves him some Zatanna, in no small part because his wife not only bears a passing resemblance to her but is also a practicing stage magician, so whenever the Powers That Be decide they want to give the backwards-speaking sorceress a spotlight, be it one-shot or ongoing, then Dini’s only a phone call away. While I think his best scripting work is on lighter fare such as his Jingle Belle and Mutant, Texas franchises, he certainly does better here than with his recent stint writing Bat-books. It helps that Dini gets Zatanna; gives her a little personality and makes it a point to emphasize her standing in the DC supernatural community, both welcome. In a setup that almost reminded me of mismatch-buddy TV mystery/cop shows like Castle, Our Lady of the Fishnets assists the police with a murder in a nightclub, in which many of the victims, many underworld figures, have been transformed in hideous ways, when they weren’t outright butchered. This leads to a scene in which Zee confronts the mastermind, a new-to-me scary-looking (actually, he looks like he had one of those Brazil-type face-stretches) boss named “Brother Night”, in a neat little 48 HRS.-inspired faceoff that takes place in a bar frequented by magic-types. If we have to have this sort of thing, at least Dini does it wittily, which goes a long way with me. Artist Roux, with super-inker Karl Story, gives us a nice faux-Terry Dodson; expressive, dynamic in places, and of course the ladies look good. Zatanna’s an interesting character; I’ve always liked her myself, even though the backwards-spell thing has always struck me as pretty much impossible and I hate the thigh boots that Brian Bolland saw fit to give her. This has the potential to be as enjoyable, and probably sell just as well as, Power Girl. I give it 16 issues tops.
“In the vein of Inglourious Basterds“, trumpets Boom!’s solicitation copy, and they’re right; it’s not only in the vein, it’s part of the entire circulatory system, one that may include Valkyrie as well. According to the Mighty Jog, this (and the next two issues, it’s a 3-issue miniseries) is a pared-down version of a foreign series of books, from the early 00’s, that chronicles the exploits of seven teams of soldiers across seven time periods. What we’re concerned with here, though, deals with World War II and a somewhat unorthodox plan, conceived by an eccentric, curmudgeonly Jewish Professor named Goldschmidt and enabled by a dumpy, Teddy Roosevelt lookalike Colonel with self esteem issues named Thompson, who propose to kill Hitler by recruiting people who, shall we say, are dealing with mental instability. It’s not so much the story as it is the execution of it in this case; Vehlmann writes dryly, but not without wit, and gets better as he goes along, and quite frankly, I’ve long held that Phillips is as good as it gets these days, and he’s in top form here. Even though this is older work, he was that good even then, and makes this worth checking out, if for no other reason. All things considered, though, it might be more cost-effective to wait for the trade, all the better to read this in one sitting.
Guess we’ll find out if third time is the charm for Jeff Parker and his Agents; Parker is in such a groove right now that he can make not only the 3-D Man, one of Roy Thomas’ lesser creations, and Triathlon, one of Kurt Busiek’s, worthy of attention merely by combining the two and letting us see some depth of character. 3-D Man (who, it was established a few years ago, was part of the 1950’s Atlas Comics-based Avengers which may or may not still be in canon but figured prominently in Avengers Forever) dominates this issue, at least the lead; it establishes that something is possessing people and attacking him, he keeps getting flashbacks to prior adventures with the team, and eventually ends up on the lam from the law, forcing him to find Atlas and figure out what’s going on. The backstory gives us a flashback Agents vs. the reanimated (by Atlas science) dead action setpiece, and art by yet another new-to-me illustrator, Rosanas, who does a very credible Eduardo Risso and may bear watching. On the lead, as so often is the case (or so I’m told) a Hardman and his Lark/Phillips/80s Mazzuchelli-like style is good to find, and at least on the visual side of things this series has never looked better. Parker’s doing his very level best to make the Atlas Group something comics readers want to keep up with on a regular basis, he even answers readers’ Tweets in the back of the comic. What say you give him a chance this time to win you over?
Comics like this make me think perhaps I’ve been reading comics too long. It’s a textbook example of craft over inspiration; it’s a collaborative effort between two of Marvel’s A-listers, but it reads like a thousand and one comics from the last forty years, even given Bendis’ typically terse dialogue, which is nothing like Marvel scripters from days gone by, all given to Lee/Thomas style hyperbole. But the basic plot- some of the modern-day heroes’ children are setting themselves up in the future as despots and killers, and as the erstwhile dead-Captain America is putting the band back together, they’re interrupted by the time-bending badguy/warrior/terrorist Kang the Conqueror – is Time Travel Fiction 101, and it wouldn’t surprise me if someone like Steve Englehart or Gerry Conway did it in the 70s and 80s. Reading this with such a pervasive sense of been-there-done-that, it is tempered a bit with Bendis’ conversation-verite dialoguing tendencies; some deride even this but to my “ears” anyway, it sounds naturalistic, and sometimes the quips amuse and the dour, matter-of-fact pronouncements have an appropriate air of gravitas. I don’t have a clue whether this latest permutation of the endlessly shifting Avengers lineup will have legs, any more than other relaunches have; seems like Avengers-related titles sell reasonably well in today’s gnomish market, so I guess this will run for a reasonably long while, until Bendis gets bored and moves on or someone gets another bright idea for another status-quo-changing company-wide crossover multi-issue mega-event. One thing it has going for it is monolith-esque art stylings of Romita, Jr.; he can do action, and power, and while the constant conversation in this first issue doesn’t play to his fight-staging strengths, he still makes the talking heads visually interesting through a lot more nuance in facial expressions and body english than I’d expected to see from him. This is a good-looking, technically accomplished yet predictable and dramatically inert piece of product, and for many, that’s all they want or need. And they’re welcome to it.
As always, thanks for reading, and see you next week. Review inquiries, love letters, and other correspondence: johnnybacardi AT gmail.
RIP Stephen Perry.