Welcome back to Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, my little forum in which I attempt to spotlight several recent 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: Brian Michael Bendis, Art: Alex Maleev
Marvel/Icon, $3.95

Young college-age Portland couple runs afoul of corrupt cops, who accuse them of dealing drugs; boy hits cop, gets shot, killed and is made to look like a dealer in the papers (even though there’s no prior history), girl takes a gun butt to the head, wakes up in hospital, realizes that “everything is broken”, and decides to do everything in her power to make things right by becoming a sexy vigilante. I make this sound rather hackneyed, I know, but honestly, it is effective in the telling- Bendis has his protagonist address the reader, breaking the fourth wall at will as she describes what happened in clever fashion, and combined with Maleev’s sloppily-rendered (but always inCue Bob Dylan's "Everything is Broken". control) cut-and-paste Xerox style, it works. One gets the impression that Bendis feels this character more than those in his superheroic efforts, and relishes the opportunity to hold forth on a number of things that bug him; the page at right is, I think, a good example ofthis. Sure, there are echoes of all kinds of things here; La Femme Nikita of course, Tarantino’s Beatrix Kiddo, his own characters like Powers’ Deena Pilgrim, even his long stint on Daredevil, which also featured Maleev art for much of the run…but he does imbue his new heroine with a convincing sadness and distinct conviction, and that makes a big difference. Of course, as usual with #1 issues, it’s early and we’ll see how it goes from here, but this is a good start…and as I’ve long held, sometimes it’s not the ingredients, but how the stew is prepared, that is the ultimate measure of success.

Script/Art: Neal Adams
DC Comics, $3.99

“Hi, Neal!” “Hi, (editor) Mike Marts! I’m interested in doing some comics again. Got anything you’d like me to tackle? ” “Well, sure! Say, your Batman was classic back in the day, want to take another crack at the character?” “Sure! Boy, it’s been a long time since I read anything with him in it, though…got any reference material for me?” At this point, Marts  glances nervously at the nearby desk, on which there are piles of Batman comics, mostly Grant Morrison’s Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman and Robin, and thinks to himself “Holy crap, this stuff will blow Neal’s mind! What can I…oh! Yes! All-Star Batman and Robin! I think I have some of those right over…here. Yes!” “Neal?” “Yes?” “I have just the thing, and I’ll send it right over.” “Thanks!” Click.

After years of imitators and the comings and goings of comics styles and fashion, as well as the low profile he’s kept (some through no fault of his own) it’s a little difficult to remember the impact Adams’ art had on readers back in the mid-1960’s, when he burst on the scene at staid, Curt Swan/Murphy Anderson/Carmine Infantino DC- first doing covers, then the odd issue of Brave and the Bold, The Spectre, and Strange Adventures featuring Deadman, eventually culminating with the Batman stories with (mostly) Dennis O’Neil and the late Dick Giordano that changed the character forever and cemented his rep. His art was lifelike and dynamic, a bit beholden to the newspaper comics strip artists that were his early influences…but nobody, not Foster, not Ingels, Caniff, Toth, Eisner, Kirby, even Al Capp or Frazetta looked like him. Lifelike, yet dynamic, exaggerated and kinetic, his figures fairly burst off the page and shouted, often screamed, their emotions right in the reader’s faces. Kane and Toth were as dynamic, but their figures were still cartoonish. Wood could do realistic and lifelike, but there was still an artificiality about it. Adams’ art was like real life cranked up to eleven, all jacked up on meth and Red Bull, and arranged in daredevil panel layouts, upping the ante by spurring the motion on even more. It still amazes me that they even let him in the door at DC. When I was a kid, I loved his art. Eventually, he gravitated to Marvel and began a run on X-Men with Roy Thomas that remains some of my favorite comics ever, and he went on to do some great issues of Avengers as well. But, unfortunately, he just wasn’t cut out for turning in comics pages on a monthly basis, and more lucrative advertising opportunities beckoned so Adams work soon was limited to the odd cover or short story, as well as the memorable Superman vs. Muhammad Ali treasury edition. He was an early advocate for creators’ rights. In the 80’s, he launched a whole line of comics, named for the artists’ collective studio he founded, Continuity Studios. The line, mostly done by talented creators (post-Thriller Trevor Von Eeden was one of several) who had the misfortune of not being Adams, was mostly met with indifference and was discontinued in the mid-90’s.

Anyway, history lessons aside, Adams is back, doing Batman, and while (again- perhaps I should start reviewing, oh, say, fifth issues) it’s a bit premature to make judgments based on one chapter, let’s just give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s rusty, because holy gosh is this a mess. In the past, most notably (in my experience, anyway, others have different examples I’m sure) on his brief 1967 -’68 Spectre stint, he tried his hand at writing, and it wasn’t all that bad- he wrote with a more naturalistic voice than the Gardner Fox stuff we were getting on the book previously, and while it didn’t stand out, it didn’t call attention to itself either. Here, he seems to be taking his cues from overwrought Frank Miller on ASBaR, with florid, overheated prose and bizarre dialogue quirks, such as Batman jokingly referring to Robin as “Boy Blunder”. It’s screaming as hard for your attention as it was low-key back in the day. Plot-wise, he seems to be trying to work in everything he can think of- flashbacks to Batman’s gun-carrying days (love the floppy Bat-ear on his early costume), Man-Bat and some sort of secret bat-people who live in a “Cave” that they don’t want Batman to know about, the Riddler, flying-and-aquatic Batmobile, straight outta 1966; hijackers at the dock…enough for four miniseries. I guess he’s trying to make up for lost time! Adams the artist fares better; his layouts and figure drawings are as energetic and in-your-face as always, although there’s a looseness and a shaky-inkline sketchiness now in his work that perhaps the Giordanos and Tom Palmers covered back in the day. This might be kinda entertaining in a car-crash-rubbernecking kinda way,  and it is nice to see Adams’ byline in a comic book again…but as we found out a few years ago when Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers (another celebrated Batman-story duo) attempted a return to the character to less-than-stellar results, it’s really, really hard, damn near impossible, to go home again.

Script/Art: Jason
Fantagraphics, $12.99

You know, for such a Mr. Know-It-All about comics, there’s an awful lot of stuff out there by many revered creators that I just haven’t bothered to check out, or, I like to think, just haven’t gotten to yet. One of these is the works of John Arne SÁ¦terÁ¸y, who goes by the nom de plume Jason. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t been exposed to his efforts before; I’ve seen reviews, as well as contributions to this or that anthology or collection. If they’re as enjoyable as this one, then I suppose I have some catching up to do.

Werewolves gives us Sven, an artist by day who commits burglaries by night, wearing a werewolf mask to scare anyone who might catch him in the act. This, of course, brings him to the attention of the real werewolves in town, who want to have a word. You’d think this would be the main focus, and Jason does return to this plotline before he’s done, but much of the tale is also occupied with a romance story, as Sven is crushing hard on Audrey, the girl across the hall, who happens to have a girlfriend. Yep, your basic Chasing Amy situation. They all spend a lot of time together, and even though “Audrey” even goes as far as to try and fix Sven up with other women, but of course these others pale next to his crush. The relationship stuff all rings true, and when it gets weird at the end, it doesn’t seem random and arbitrary, and that’s a difficult trick to pull off.

Of course, Jason’s Herge/Joost Swarte-influenced style is a big part of it; it’s a clean, open, placid style that bears much of the burden of getting across the emotions and mood necessary for what’s being depicted, since the dialogue is often minimal at best. His bizarre anthropomorphic figures take a little getting used to at first (and there wasn’t that much difference between the werewolf mask and Sven’s actual face, which threw me a little), but he manages to make them expressive, even though much restraint is applied. I found Werewolves to be a delightful read; no profound life lessons were learned, but Jason’s storytelling is first-rate and life lessons are overrated anyway.

Short Takes:

HELLBOY: THE STORM #1: Mignola and Fregredo pick up where they left off last time in Darkness Calls, with HB and his cute redhaired girlfriend Alice in England now, looking into reports that dead knights are up and leaving their tombs. Of course, more’s going on than that, as is borne out a few pages later, when they’re attacked in a moving car by a giant armored werewolf. As always, it’s Fregredo’s dynamic art that never ceases to amaze me; he’s so good with facial expressions, body language and vertiginous layouts that I’d rather see only Mignola himself draw the big red guy. I don’t have a clue where Mignola’s going with all this; it certainly seems made-up-as-he-goes-along, but for once the bits and pieces fit well together and as long as he has artists the calibre of Fregredo and Richard Corben assisting him, it’s all good. A

THOR: THE MIGHTY AVENGER #1: Wags have dubbed this “Thor Loves Jane Foster”, an amusing reference to a previous Marvel young-romance title of a few years ago, and that’s not inaccurate; we witness a first meeting between our Thunder God, seemingly homeless and without his hammer, which resides in a museum where Lee-Kirby first Thor love interest Foster works. In the brutal aftermath of a brawl with none other than another C-list Marvel badguy who goes back to the Journey Into Mystery days, Mr. Hyde, Jane helps Thor reclaim his mallet, and we’re off. Roger Langridge, of Muppet Show fame, turns in an appealing first chapter, and surely-on-the-verge-of-stardom Chris Samnee, does the art honors. Good stuff, a great start if perhaps a little slight at first glance. Clunky title. A-

X-WOMEN #1: Chris Claremont’s labored, leaden, joyless writing style is anathema to my brain, so I’ll be honest- I stopped reading about halfway through this l-o-n-g jungle/high seas adventure story, starring the conveniently de-powered X-women characters, and skimmed for the art the rest of the way through. Of course, the only reason I looked at this in the first place was to check out the art of legendary Italian erotic artist Milo Manara, and while he’s game, this sort of tale doesn’t play to his strengths, so he ramps up the strut and pout posing. He’s good at it, of course, but everything grates and nothing coheres, and all we can do is hope that someday, if Manara deigns to work with American comics people again, he finds a more sympathetic collaborator. C-

RIP Harvey Pekar, who died Tuesday morning. He was a major figure, especially in the world of Alt Comics, and his influence will last for as long as there are people who want to make confessional-style comics about the mundane details of their lives. More from Heidi MacDonald and Tom Spurgeon.

The Razzle-Dazzle CoaCSJ Popdose Review Listening List: Jill Jones, Vanity 6, Prince– Sign “O” The Times, Lloyd Cole- Antidepressant, Paul McCartney- Band on the Run, Wendy & Lisa- Fruit at the Bottom, Brian Wilson- That Lucky Old Sun, Grand Funk Railroad- E Pluribus Funk.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week. Review inquiries and other divers inquiries: johnnybacardi AT gmail.