Here we go again with Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I attempt to spotlight several works of sequential graphic storytelling that I find noteworthy and think you might too, many of which may still be purchased for your very own personal enjoyment at a comics shop, bookstore, or online merchant near you if you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.

Script/Art: Daniel Clowes
Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95

I think Clowes has refined his take on the “Sequential Narrative” (see, Dan, I didn’t call it a graphic novel!) almost to its purest state; unlike previous efforts in this vein (Ghost World, the excellent Ice Haven, The Death Ray), there’s less than meets the eye yet more between the lines than ever before. Clowes gives us the titular character, a dumpy, balding, bearded nobody with no apparent inclination to stop talking or stop being a misanthropic asshole, kinda like we all imagine ourselves being in our worst moments (OK, me anyway). At first, we get to know him through a series of one-page gags- five panels of setup, one panel of punchline, usually Wilson being an asshole to somebody (in lesser hands, this could turn into a prolonged riff on SNL‘s “Gilly”). But eventually, oh so gradually, we see pieces of Wilson’s life- his dying father, the wife that left him, the daughter she abandoned- and his clumsy attempts to forge some sort of meaningful existence with them or without them. Like so many of us, Wilson stumbles and bumbles towards his goal…and if he finds it in what I found to be a bravura last page, it’s not immediately plain (because Clowes would never be that explicit) but it’s no less moving, especially when one realizes that in spite of everything, we want even the repellent Wilson to achieve his goal. Clowes chooses to use a variety of styles to depict these events; one page is Wally Wood-style realism, another resembles Charles Schulz, some seem somewhere in-between and none seem particularly geared towards illuminating or embellishing the events depicted; it’s as if Clowes drew names out of a hat.  But it does keep us on our toes and heightens the sense of unpredictability, crucial in a narrative that’s as one-note in feel as this tends to be. And I don’t use one-note in a pejorative sense; think one-note as in Neil Young guitar solo. At first, I thought this may be yet another cynical exercise by a non-mainstream creator, said as much, even, in a misguided comment on Robot 6 (I think, I forget now) that thankfully everyone seemed to ignore- but even though it may seem that way (especially when Wilson gives us film criticism) on the surface, really, this may be the warmest, most human thing Clowes has ever presented us with.

Script: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; Art: Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessey
Marvel Comics, $2.99

Sometimes I don’t think Jim Starlin gets enough credit for what he did when he started at Marvel Comics; he was the first (Yes, Steve Englehart was doing Doctor Strange concurrently, but Captain Marvel #25, came out before Englehart’s first Marvel Premiere) creator since Kirby left the first time to expand upon and introduce new sides to the cosmic epics that the King had worked into his Fantastic Four and Thor stories, with counter-cultural doors-of-perception-type theories that Jack just couldn’t have conceived of. Anyway, many creators have dabbled with the toys that Starlin left behind (including Starlin himself, who did two tours of duty with the whole Warlock/Thanos thing), but none have done them as well as Abnett and Lanning, who collaborated on a lot of stuff for a hell of a long time (yes, I read Fate and I don’t care who knows it) before they found they had a knack for all this space opera stuff during a stint on the Legion of Super-Heroes at DC that was as good as anyone- yes, Legion Freaks, even Saints Levitz and Giffen- ever did.  DnA (that’s the nickname their fans have coined) have been masterminding Marvel’s cosmic players for a couple of years now via books like Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy, not to mention previous multi-book epics like War/Reign of Kings, and this is the latest, springing mainly from events in the final issues of Guardians, in which Starlin’s heaviest hitter, once thought dead, gets revived as an unthinking, pissed off brute. Of course, it won’t be in their best interests to have the normally-scheming Thanos like that for long, so I don’t worry too much about that, and it’s besides the point anyway- this thing starts with a bang, as befits the title. After the obligatory recap, it’s pretty much nonstop action as Intergalactic policeman Nova chases down and brawls with a fake Quasar, checking in with players like the Inhumans and the Guardians, until encountering even greater evil before a somewhat surprising plot twist and another resurrection at the end. Lots going on, and this is just the beginning. Its all brought to energetic life by artists Walker and Hennessey; Walker, another LSH vet (if memory serves), has a style that does keep things moving, although it’s not especially distinctive from the run of the mill these days; I’ve seen better on this stuff, but I’ve seen much, much worse and I’ll be fine with him drawing the whole thing, if he can. There’s also a short Drax the Destroyer story from the 70’s by Scott Edelman and Mike Zeck, early in the latter’s career; it seems rather quaint now, and Edelman fails to capture Starlin’s writing voice…but I guess they needed to pad out the page count, so no harm no foul, and it was kinda fun seeing it again- I can’t remember for the life of me where it first saw print, though it was a comic I used to own. So to sum up, no one’s ever gonna call this stuff art comics, nor will it have the impact that Starlin first had when he introduced many of these concepts over 30 years ago, but so far these titles have been fast-paced fun, and by and large a tonic for the dreary state of what passes for mainstream comics these days. Looking forward to where this rocket ride leads.

Script: Valerie D’Orazio; Art: Karl Moline, Rick Magyar
Marvel Comics, $3.99

It’s hard to work up a lot of sympathy, or empathy, for a little rich girl with daddy issues who falls in with the wrong crowd and becomes a super-villainess, before eventually being won over to the into the side of the angels- and D’Orazio doesn’t really succeed here. She doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong, she just hits all the expected beats. And let’s face it, in all fairness to Miz D’Orazio, it probably isn’t easy to flesh out a character that was conceived as a caricature and has been worked over and reimagined by everyone from Grant Morrison to Judd Winick. Also not really helping is the neither-here-nor-there art of Moline and Magyar, which defines inconsistent as it alternates between a more “realistic” Dodson-style for the “current time” scenes, and a cartoonish, almost Chris (Lilo and Stitch) Sanders (they wish)-like style when drawing Emma as a kid.  Young ladies with daddy issues might find something of interest here, as well as schoolgirl-outfit fetishists. Everyone else, I’m not so sure. I’m not sure this has sold in the numbers that Marvel expects from an X-spinoff; while I can’t care less about the fate of that line, I do hope that this doesn’t discourage investment in Miz D’Orazio’s talent- it’s there. While she doesn’t offer anything revelatory, yet, she doesn’t write cliche with a heavy hand either…and there are far too many of the former writing comics these days to allow one who isn’t to fade into obscurity. She deserves a chance to develop her voice, I’d say.

Script: Chris Roberson; Art: Robert Adler
Boom! Studios, $3.99

Having published a maxi-series adapting one of Sci-fi author Philip K. Dick’s most well-known books (in no small part because it served as the source material for the cult film Blade Runner), in partnership with Dick’s estate, to acclaim in many corners, Boom! has now stepped out with a prequel which purports to give us a look at events and characters who hunted androids before Deckard. Roberson, currently scripting iZombie for Mike Allred and DC/Vertigo, does a good job establishing mood, mostly via extended monologues, and the notion that someone who is sensitive to the emotions of others might make a good spotter for replicants is a good one. I’m not sure how much of this whole scenario is Roberson’s, and how much was established by Dick in his writing (alas, I have not read the source material- I’ve led a sheltered life), but it all seems like a logical extrapolation and I have a feeling it will only get better as it goes along. Adler’s art is sympathetic towards the goal- a bit sketchy but also reminiscent of Steve Dillon in its staging, perhaps inked by Trevor Von Eeden circa 1984. It’s hard to judge after one issue, but SF lovers, and lovers of P.K. Dick in particular, might find this a good read.

Short Takes, complete with Christgau-like letter grades:

POWER GIRL #12: Fun while it lasted. Where oh where will I get my Amanda Conner fix now? B+

SCALPED #38: The best comic you’re not reading rolls on, continuing to cast a spotlight on some of the more peripheral figures of the sprawling cast. This time: Dash Bad Horse’s dad, who in a 70’s flashback parlays an incredibly lucky knack for not getting shot in Vietnam into a drug running job. Artist R. M. Guera does an excellent job establishing a Traffic-like vibe. A

GIRL COMICS #2: The Jill Thompson Inhumans story is a delight, as is Kathryn Immonen and Colleen Coover’s take on the super-obscure Shamrock character. Stephanie Buscema disappoints a bit this time out; Faith Erin Hicks does a fun story of Boom-Boom and Elsa Bloodstone that really makes me miss Nextwave. Abby Denson and Emma Vicieli’s entry is somewhat trivial and not indicative of the very good work I’ve seen them do elsewhere; and the Doc Strange story that rounds things out is well done but seems a bit out of place. Enjoyed the one page bio of Linda Fite, who I’d wondered about before. Another solid issue of  this regrettably titled anthology series. A-

THUNDERBOLTS #144: Jeff Parker can do no wrong these days as he gives us Luke Cage reforming the Marvel Universe version of the Dirty Dozen, for more badguy-on-badguy shenanigans in the aftermath of Dark Reign. Neat twist at the end. Kev Walker and Frank Martin’s art combines for an unusual look, especially in the figure drawings- not a while lot of time is wasted on backgrounds, but the talking heads are expressive and they do a nice job on the Man-Thing. No, that’s not the twist. B+

TEEN TITANS #83: Skip the lead, it’s standard issue DC superheroics these days. The backfeature is the interesting thing here, as it gives us what I assume is Ted Naifeh‘s first work for the company, starring “The Coven of Three” (Traci Thirteen, Zach Zatara, and Black Alice vs. the trio of demons (whose names I’m too lazy to look up and type out) from old issues of Justice League. He starts a bit tentative, but after the first couple of pages settles in and it looks great. Hope this is just the beginning for Naifeh. Lead D+, backfeature B+.

BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE #2: The spinning artist wheel stops this time on Fraser Irving, who drew a memorable Klarion the Witchboy miniseries as part of Grant Morrison’s 7 Soldiers event. He’s in fine form, and right in his comfort zone, as we get Witchfinder Batman this time (with Witchy Wonder Woman tossed in for good measure). Art is good; story is somewhat routine and disappointing. Next up, Yanick Paquette, of whose work I’ve never really been a fan. Yay. B-

As always, thanks for your time. Review inquiries, love letters, bomb threats: johnnybacardi AT gmail. If you can’t get enough of me, visit the sporadically updated Johnny Bacardi Show, and I’ve been known to post at Trouble With Comics upon occasion as well! Also, I’m on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

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