I really need to create a neato-keeno banner like all the music guys have.

Anyway, here we go again with Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I opine on various recently released publications of the sequential graphic nature, some of which may be sitting on the rack at a comics shop, or awaiting the click of a button on some online merchant’s web page, near you. If you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.

Script/Art: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Oni Press, $11.99

It’s been quite the ride, this Scott Pilgrim series, from when Bryan Lee O’Malley was first known only for a handful of webcomics as well as his standalone graphic novel Lost at Sea. Then, word filtered throughout the fledgling Comics Blogosphere about his next project, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, and things would never be the same. It was your basic internet success story, debuting to near-unanimous praise for its imaginative, clever, even audacious at times art and story. Of course, it helped that it was a freewheeling melange of video-game tropes, everything-but-the-kitchen sink pop-culture ephemera, and soapish relationship drama, and O’Malley’s expressive not-quite manga-esque art was able to bring it to life with verve, just the thing to appeal to a certain age group and mindset that was beginning to show its influence in various media. And here we are now, four (equally as good, and showing O’Malley growing as a storyteller every issue) sequels and an upcoming major motion picture (starring a too-old and too-nerdy Michael Cera) later, with expectations somewhere in the outer stratosphere (even more so than ever). I’ve reviewed each issue as it came out, and while I’m not really the target demographic age-wise, I have always enjoyed it just for the sheer energy and fun that’s brought to play. Mr. Pilgrim is in a depressed funk at the beginning of this final chapter; he has managed to defeat six of the seven evil ex-boyfriends that his literal dream girl Ramona has tasked him to do before they can be together, but she has up and disappeared on him, and now all he wants to do is sit on the couch and play his DS. Eventually his friends (most of whom are pissed at him) manage to get him out of the house, and slowly but surely he begins to achieve a few epiphanies (one which involves fighting a dark version of himself a la Link from the Zelda games) just in time for the final showdown with Gideon, the seventh and most badass of the exes. I don’t want to spoil any more than I have to, and I’m leaving a lot out, especially a lot of the relationship stuff (because if anything is more important to twentysomethings than music and video games, or so it would seem, it’s their love lives), in which Scott spends page after page careening like a pinball from this old girlfriend to that…and if it wasn’t all so skillfully presented, it would get get real old real fast. In many of my previous reviews of the series, I’ve wondered why this cast, other than geography, would even want to hang out together…and Scott has more often as not been a clueless dumbass for the run of the series (he does figure out a few things in this installment, thank god), which isn’t terribly conducive to reader goodwill or identification. Well, at least this reader- I’m in the minority there, I think. All things considered, the Scott Pilgrim series has been a hoot and a half, and this final chapter is that rarest of rare things, a satisfying conclusion to a long-running epic. Good job, Mr. O’Malley. You have delivered under extreme pressure. Now, what will you do for an encore?

Script: Jim Shooter; Art: Dennis Calero
Dark Horse Comics, $3.50

When I was a little kid, in the mid-60’s, I got the comics monkey on my back pretty early on. I had a number of dealers, too- there was none of this “have to go to the comics shop to buy comic books” nonsense. Drug stores, Five and Dime stores, even grocery stores stocked them on spinner racks and shelved units. One of my main sources was the Ben Franklin Five and Dime Store, right in the middle of my small town. They had a spinner rack stocked with Dell and Gold Key comics for most of the 60’s and early 70’s- issue after issue of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, Turok, Son of Stone, Magnus, Robot Fighter, just to name a few, as well as Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, which I liked more than Turok but less than Magnus. Anyway, the good Doctor was very much a creation of his time- the New Frontier era of atomic energy and its possibilities, as well as drawbacks, and it wasn’t much of a leap (in those days, before we knew a lot about the effects of radiation on humans) to envision a man with radiation-based powers- Gold Key’s Solar, Charlton’s Captain Atom, Spider-Man and the villainous Radioactive Man from Marvel, many others- all of these were created within this early 60’s time period. Watchmen‘s Doctor Manhattan was inspired by (mostly)Captain Atom, but I’d be willing to bet that Alan Moore had encountered Doctor Solar at some point as well. When Gold Key stopped publishing superhero adventure comics sometime in the Seventies, it looked like that was all she wrote for those characters, until Valiant Comics, with former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter scripting, acquired the license and revived them in the 1980’s. That went well for a while, but eventually Valiant went under, and later on, Dark Horse acquired the rights, putting out a series of very high-quality reprints of the original Gold Key material, and now, they’re all in with updated revivals, all under the aegis of, you guessed it, Shooter. The man who made Marvel Comics unreadable for me in his editing tenure, even though I thought he was a fair-to-good writer in the 70s on Avengers and such. Shooter revives the tried-and-true “writer’s creations come to LIFE!” storyline, and weaves it in and out of the to-be-expected origin recap and scene-setting. His script isn’t especially fresh or lively, and it tends to meander, but it tells the story with a minimum of fuss and his standard-comic-book-issue dialogue goes down easy. Not going down so easily is Calero’s art, which is hyped as “photorealistic”, but if that’s the case, it must be photos from Mars or some dream state- it manages the neat trick of being simultaneously underdrawn and overrendered and seems to try to make up for in Photoshop what he can’t bring us through more traditional means. It’s muddy, static and dull, with minimal backgrounds (many seem cut-and-pasted in) and his figure drawings come across as lifeless. The package is rounded out with a classic reprint, which is twice as entertaining as the lead, as dated and stiff as it sometimes is. Maybe that’s just my nostalgia expressing itself, don’t know, but Shooter and Calero are going to have to step up their game if they want this to be something memorable.

Script: Tommy Kovac; Art: Andy Hirsch
Slave Labor, $1.00

Some properties and concepts, as we all know, inspire such a fervent following that their most feverish, hardcore constituents become damn near unbearable to be around. Star Trek, James Bond, Star Wars, you name it. I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet that L. Frank Baum’s Oz books have inspired similar fervor, and it’s that fervor that provides the springboard for the foundation of this (I assume) ongoing series, which also owes a lot to Harry Potter and reminds me a lot of DC’s Vertigo series The Unwritten. The fact that many writers continued to write Oz stories after Baum’s death, each fancying themselves the “official” successor, also informs this. Anyway, in a story set a few years in the “broke-down, weary” future, we meet young Frank Fizzle, a sad-sack young man whose struggling wannabe writer father Jasper busies himself crafting stories of Oz, and wants to be the “Royal Historian” as a matter of fact, but has no success at it- in fact, he is considered the worst there is, so bad in fact that he’s presented with a cease and desist order by the snooty Official Oz Society itself. Frank is fed up with his father’s obsession, and their poverty, and they have it out. Despondent, Jasper goes for a walk, coming upon around an estate sale where he discovers a pair of silver slippers- he believes that these belong to the Witch of the East, but has no money to buy them with, and winds up stealing them and using them to travel to Oz in order to bring back artifacts (and a flying monkey) in the hopes of convincing the Official Oz people that he’s legitimate. Of course, this does not escape the notice of Ozma in the Emerald City (I don’t have to explain who these people are, do I?), and she sends the Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and a ragdoll character named Patches to investigate what’s going on. This was better than I expected; the setup is fairly fresh, and it’s intriguing that neither character we’re asked to invest in- the surly son and the hardworking, but ultimately dishonest, father- are all that admirable, and the brief glimpses we’ve had of the Oz characters make them come across as more threatening than you’d think. Still, it doesn’t come across as doom-and-gloomy, even though there’s not a lot of positivity to be found. I think Kovac is also working up to making some observations about the nature of obsessive fandom, as well as know-it-alls who get placed in positions of authority perhaps…we’ll see about that. Hirsch’s art style doesn’t grab me; it’s a bit awkward and bigfoot cartoony, but he does manage to move the story along fairly well, so I can live with it in order to find out where this is going. If you’re inclined to be interested in all things Oz, you could do worse than to check this out- at a buck it’s a low-risk high-reward enterprise.

Short Takes

THE MAN WITH THE GETAWAY FACE: My esteemed colleague Scott Cederlund described this in great detail right here at this very site a couple of days ago, and did a fine job of it, but I still wanted to put my two cents’ worth in. I didn’t read all of Darwyn Cooke’s previous Richard Stark adaptation The Hunter; I kept meaning to but haven’t gotten around to it yet. As much as I love Cooke’s delightfully retro artwork, the noir genre in general bores me, and so getting caught up on this series hasn’t been a priority, sorry to say. I did enjoy this prequel (“prelude”, actually, and that’s the only pretentious thing here) to the next full-length Stark/Parker adaptation, The Outfit; it’s a nifty heist caper with a decent twist or two at the end. It’s not often that an artist and the material he chooses to bring us are so perfect for each other, we should all appreciate that, if nothing else. Plus, the price ($2, just enough for the paper boy) is right. (IDW) A-

ASTRO CITY: SILVER AGENT #1: It’s a bit of a clichÁ©, but Kurt Busiek writes ’em old school because he is old school; one of the fans and letter column hacks from way back, he’s been giving us a whole new world of 70’s style comics for over a decade now via his Astro City series. I stuck with it for a very long time, because I liked Busiek’s clear-eyed and down-to-earth approach; no rosy-colored nostalgic specs for him here. He’s never tried to convince us that comics were better when he read them, he’s just writing them the way he knows best, and that was enough for a long time. I got a bit burned out, though, during his recent downbeat and despairing Dark Age arc, and dropped the book about halfway through. Out of curiosity, I picked this, the first of a two-issue miniseries, up and it certainly is a bit more upbeat, I’ll say that- otherwise, it’s pretty much more of the approach that reeled me in in the first place. Silver Agent, get it get it, is an odd cross between Captain America, Captain Marvel, and, oh, Marvel’s obscure Star-Lord character, he got set up for murder, was saved by an alien race and recruited to an intergalactic peacekeeping force, decides he wants to go home again. None of this is excessively theatrical or overdramatic, very matter-of-fact and surprisingly admirable for it. I wish I liked the earnest, but grubby, pseudo-Rich Buckler style of artist Brent Anderson more. (DC/Wildstorm) B+

GORILLA MAN #1: It’s hard to read this typically well-executed and enjoyable Atlas spinoff without being bummed that the mother title has been canceled. Can’t fault Marvel this time; they gave the title multiple chances to catch on in today’s ill-bred marketplace. Still, taken on its own terms it’s an entertaining romp with arguably the most charismatic of Parker’s characters. (Marvel) A-

The Review-Writing Music List, since this is Popdose after all: Paul Simon-Paul Simon; Faces- Good Boys…When They’re Asleep; David Byrne- Grown Backwards, Bob Dylan- The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue; Kate Bush- The Kick Inside; The J. Geils Band- Ladies Invited; Indigo Girls- Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, Frank Sinatra- Nothing But the Best.

That’s all, folks! See you next week.

Review inquiries, etc.: johnnybacardi AT gmail.