Time (way past time, actually) for 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: David Hine; Art: Shaky Kane
Image Comics, $3.99

Comics about comics (and I apologize in advance for using this word, but I can’t think of a better one) tropes, especially those that veer off into surrealism, always run the risk of heading straight up their own asses, as the writer strains to convey to his presumed audience about how wonderful the comics he read as a kid were, and how sad it is that current creators are no longer able to capture that same essence that once seemed so potent, simultaneously indicting and celebrating his peers. Grant Morrison’s remarkable Flex Mentallo, spun off from his surreal stint on Doom Patrol, is but one example of this.

This isn’t quite on that level, but it does get off to a good start as we meet “Voids Contractor” Steve Newman, who is an employee of a firm that cleans up the houses of the recently deceased. Steve has an arrangement with his boss by which he can help himself to things he finds that have no obvious auction value, and in this case it means a stack of comics apparently issued by a publisher that didn’t exist when these were supposedly on sale. Adding to the mystery are a couple of Men in Black-looking dudes that occupy colorless panels, who are taking an interest in Newman’s find. After an interlude in which we read, along with Steve, one of the comics (an apparent lost “Hine/Kane” classic, get it get it?), a weird murder mystery featuring the “Unforgiving Eye of Ka-Bala.” Eventually, out of curiosity, he puts a quarter in the dead guy’s coin-operated TV, and is treated to the visual of his death at the hands of the black-suited guys. And then, the cliffhanger with the pair on the cover.

All quite Twilight Zone-ish, very reminiscent of earlier Morrison works, lots of ideas bouncing around…and it remains to be seen what Hine intends to do with them. Kane (real name Michael Coulthard), for his part, shows a strong Kirby influence (as he did in the only work I’ve seen from him prior to this, a few pages from the Morrison-era Doom Patrol), but if you look hard you can see echoes of others as well. I don’t think he was influenced by people like Mike Allred or Geoff Darrow, but I am reminded quite a bit of their work, as well as another possible influence, 1970’s Keith Giffen, a Kirby style swiper himself. Regardless, his visuals are up to the madness suggested by the script, and while it doesn’t have the psychedelic punch that Brendan McCarthy is dealing out on his Spider-Man/Doc Strange story, it’s imaginative and strong just the same. An intriguing start, but I really hope there’s a point to it when it’s done.

Script: Patton Oswalt; Art: Patric Reynolds.
Dark Horse Comics, $3.50

The ongoing Celebs-Writing-Comics event carries on, as we get comedian/actor Oswalt trying to capture the writing voice of Joss Whedon, and utterly failing. That happens sometimes; Whedon does have a distinctive style, and no one (outside of his TV writing stable, that is) has done it yet, no matter how good the intentions may be.

This particular issue eulogizes slain pilot slash comic relief Hobert (“Wash”) Washburn; as played by Alan Tudyk on the show he was  a humanizing element, and helped keep Firefly grounded and relatable with his quips and devotion to his wife, who was also Captain Reynolds’ second-in-command. Here, we don’t get to see him except in flashbacks, as a group of men (who either served with or had business deals with) gather to reminisce or pay tribute or something…right off the bat, I was left somewhat confused by exactly where they were and why they had gathered; the latter became apparent about two flashback stories in, but the former took a while longer.

For a fellow who makes a living in comedic acting and writing, Oswalt delivers a surprisingly flat script, with little more than a chuckle here and there and a less-than-remarkable surprise reveal at the end. Reynolds’ art is perfunctory; it tells the story, not always crisply, and he doesn’t do the likenesses of Tudyk or Gina Torres very well, despite it appearing rigorously photoreferenced; it’s all the more lifeless because of it. I was and remain a big fan of the universe Whedon created with Firefly and Serenity, but so far (in my opinion, anyway) it hasn’t been well served by its comics adaptations.

Despite this, I still have high hopes for the upcoming one-shot featuring Shepherd Book, in no small part because Chris Samnee is set to do the art duties. Unless you’re the kind of hardcore Browncoat that must have everything ‘Verse related, you can skip this without any compunction whatsoever, and Wash’s memory will remain just as cherished.

Script: Kathryn Immonen; Art: Tonci Zonjic
Marvel Comics; $2.99

You know, no matter how clumsily they market them, Marvel’s doing real well by their female characters lately. Recent titles like Marvel Divas, Patsy Walker: Hellcat, Girl Comics, Models, Inc., and even to a lesser extent Her-Oes have benefitted from solid storytelling and non-exploitative art (despite the occasional cover gaffe), and have shown off Marvel’s stable of lady superpeople in fine fashion for the most part. Immonen scripted the Patsy Walker mini; it had its ups and downs, but she really seemed to have an affinity for the character and that came across through some often incoherent storytelling.

The secret weapon of Divas was Zonjic and her expressive, somewhat old-school in style art, and they mix well together in this, the first of five issues. First, we meet likeable truckstop waitress Frances, doing her waitressing thing at a remote Nevada diner. Then, we catch up with X-People; Scott Summers and Emma Frost (her again!) on vacation in Las Vegas. I don’t know what the hell goes on in their books these days, and I’m happy to report that it doesn’t matter when it comes to parsing this story. Seems Scotty has set up a surprise birthday party for Emma, and invited a bevy of Marvel heroines including the Valkyrie, She-Hulk, Patsy Walker, Monica Rambeau, and someone named Abigail Brand, with whom I was completely unfamiliar, not having read Whedon’s X-Men or the lamented-by-a-select-few recently cancelled series S.W.O.R.D., of which she was a key member.

Anyway, short story long, some sort of alien blast caused a S.W.O.R.D. DNA storage facility to explode and unleash a horde of clones and dinosaurs and other stuff into the city, which the birthday party has to deal with, said dealing including a cutesy scene with Patsy slugging a clone of Albert Einstein “just because”. Anyway, Frances, closer to the event, freaks out and bails on the diner, stabbing an innocent guy in the process, and has a desert encounter which appears to be quite ominous- turns out we’ve met Frances before, I think. Don’t know where this is all going, but it was quite fast-paced and often fun, unsurprising given Immonen’s past resumÁ©.

It does help to have Zonjic on art; she draws real, as opposed to the photo-referenced or Neal Adams-inspired style that passes for “realism” in comics art these days, people and doesn’t sacrifice dynamism. Her page layout is inspired. Her work reminds me a lot of people like Javier Pulido and Cliff Chiang, even a less-uptight Michael Lark, and she draws the mundane stuff like the diner scenes just as well as she does the fantastical stuff like dinosaur fights or the DNA complex interior. I’m enjoying her art as much as I am practically any of the latest wave of newish illustrators to begin getting work in the Internet era, and I hope to see a lot more of it before she moves on to bigger and better things. Marvel’s on a roll with their female spotlight series, I think, and this is a real good start. Even better, #2 came out just yesterday!

Short Takes and Fazed Cookies:

HARVEY KURTZMAN: THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT: (Boom! Studios) Early 60’s parable by the legendary humorist and cartoonist, republished by Boom in conjunction with Denis Kitchen in hardcover. Kinda dated, but very well told in his loosey-goosey sketch style just the same. When oh when will someone include his James Cagney in Ireland in one of these? A-

HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD #1: (Marvel) I used to like to read Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom’s West Coast Avengers back in the ’80s, and these two characters were mainstays of those stories. So many years and many storylines later, the fun couple is back, this time with a Mr. and Mrs. Smith vibe. OK as far as it goes, we’ll wait and see how it turns out. Pleased to see the  David and Alvaro Lopez team, who did good work on the sadly missed Catwoman, back again. Also happy to see that they’re interested in trying to smooth out Mockingbird’s gnarly continuity; she’s almost up there in Hawkman territory. B+

JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE RISE OF ARSENAL  #3 (DC): I’m reminded of children, who keep shouting louder and louder at each other in an effort to get an adult’s attention. Really, is this what we want in our comics? Really? I grade this a notch above an F simply because it succeeds at being as lurid as the creators intended. D-

That’s all for this week- sorry to be so late with these; much family-related stuff going on, and that kept me away from the laptop. Hopefully I’ll be back on schedule, whatever that is, next week. As always, thanks for reading.

Review inquiries, love letters, salacious photographs: johnnybacardi AT gmail.