Here we go again with Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, that more-or-less weekly and rarely on-time feature 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 right now, if you’re lucky. Or of you’re not, as the case may be.

Script/Art: Jen Wang
First Second Books, $18.99

I’m a little surprised that this is Wang‘s first full-length graphic novel; seems like I’ve been following her (and no, not in a stalkery way) career for a long time now, first via her webcomic Strings of Fate (I’d link, but I can’t find one, tho it’s mentioned on her website), on through the Pants Press art collective sketch blog, and her short stories in the first couple of Flight anthologies. Extrapolated from a shorter webcomic Wang did in 2004, we get the standard insecure, straight-laced young guy-meets-kooky, cute, free-spirited, living by her wits and thievery young girl tale, and we all know how that goes from there, right? Yeah, pretty much. But not so fast- sometimes, especially when we’re discussing sequential graphic storytelling, it’s not the story so much as how it’s told that becomes the impetus for determining whether or not a work is worth one’s time. Thankfully, Wang doesn’t go for the obvious here, choosing to evoke rather than entertain; the respective paths these characters wind up following don’t necessarily intersect, except at the end; as she threatens with one cliche (the guy’s girlfriend and her life as a teacher in Peru turns out to be not what our young guy wants after all), she deftly sidesteps the logical conclusion and if her refusal to give us some sort of resolution annoys, she at least zigs where we think she’s going to zag, and I like that sometimes. Basically, what it all comes down to is that she seems to be saying that it’s not always a good thing to do what we think is right, or what’s expected of us; it’s preferable to follow what you know to be true to your heart, and not what others say we should do. A moral which, I’d think, would be a lot more germane to someone in their early-mid twenties than to a jaded reviewer who just said goodbye to his forties, and whose life’s path is pretty much decided for good or ill. Anyway, he story isn’t the main attraction, it’s the art- this was obviously a labor of love, and it shows; full of joy, action and dynamics, it fairly bursts off the page- stops just this side of manic, and this extends to the downtime scenes as well, incongruously enough. There’s plenty of melancholy to go around in this story, and she evokes it almost in spite of her stylistic tendencies. Part of it is due to the color scheme; she employs a mostly sepia-tone palette, with some judiciously-placed greens and blues, just enough to keep it from looking like a Vertigo comic. The story doesn’t speak to me necessarily, and I found the non-resolved resolution frustrating, but for the most part this is a well-done, entertaining romance story, drawn expressively, and if you’re looking for that, you should give this a try. I think this is one stepping stone towards bigger and better things for Miss Wang.  (A copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher)

Script: Stuart Moore; Art: Jon Proctor
Penny Farthing Press, $19.99

Stone is a literary agent who happens to also be a pathological liar- he lies to his clients, playing one against the other; he lies to the woman he’s sleeping with, telling her what she wants to hear; he lies to his friends, regaling them with stories of sexual conquests and big money. He’s also very good at it, and is successful in spite of it all…he learned, from an early age, how to bullshit convincingly and get away with anything.  Things all change for him, though, when he happens to be walking down the street that fateful day in the September of 2001 and is right there for the fall of the Twin Towers. Something compels him to enter one of the buildings as everyone else rushes out, and he sees a fiery vison (because he’s named Shadrach, y’see, one of the Biblical furnace guys. Or is that one of the guys in the Sly and the Family (Shadrach) Stone song? Whatever). When he comes to, he’s not only alive but is some distance from Ground Zero; he also can’t tell a lie anymore, think about telling a lie anymore, or even be around someone who is without experiencing extreme pain in his gulliver. Then things get weirder- he finds out that his girlfriend is part of a secret group who deals with the consequences of lies that are told (they take on a life of their own, y’see), and they want to recruit Stone, since his state as a world-class liar who can’t do so anymore qualifies him for the job. If this sounds like Liar Liar meets The Matrix, well…it does. But Moore is a good writer, and he does a good job of establishing Stone’s personality, giving him enough charisma that we want to know what happens to him, even though we may not like him all that much. I remember Moore mostly as an editor (One of my all-time favorite comics series is Gemini Blood, which Moore edited while overseeing the short-lived DC/Helix line); I know he’s written a fair amount of things since that long-ago gig (I seem to recall a run on Firestorm a couple of years ago, among other things), but I haven’t read much, if any, of it so I can’t really tell if this is typical of his output. I’m a bit more familiar with artist Proctor, whom I last saw doing the art honors on Larry Young’s Black Diamond for AiT/PlanetLar a couple of years ago. He’s improved a bit since then, sawed off some of the rough edges and smoothed out his storytelling…but much of what he does, his whole style in fact, still looks like traced photographs, creating what I call a Waking Life effect; it tells the story, and does it pretty well, but my eye is constantly being distracted by stiff poses and odd facial expressions. It kinda reminds me a lot of Tony (Ex Machina, Starman) Harris, too. Shadrach Stone is derivative of several things, but they’re rehashed skillfully, and hopefully we’ll get more down the road. Wanna make special note of the cover above, by Jon Foster; it’s beautifully done and very clever, and if I was running things at Vertigo these days I’d be commissioning some covers from him ASAP. (A copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher)

Script: Bryan J.L. Glass; Art: Phil Winslade
Marvel Comics, $3.99

I’m sure Phil Winslade‘s done a lot of stuff since his turn on DC’s long-cancelled Monolith series- a series which I highly encourage you to check out, by the way- but I haven’t seen it, so I was happy to see an entire issue of his art, even attached to a project like this one. Well, it’s as good as any, but I’ve never really had a strong opinion one way or the other about the character. Conceived as a sop to the Women’s Lib movement of the early 70’s and spotlighted in comics like the Hulk and vol. 1 of The Avengers, she never really had much of a personality except to mouthe Steinemesque cliches. Steve Gerber, and later David Kraft and J.M. DeMatteis, in Defenders, tried to give her a backstory and some depth, and she became a fairly popular character in the latter half of the 70’s and 80’s. Lost track of her after that, not that I was trying all that hard to keep up in the first place. Apparently she got killed or lost her human host or something at some point over the last couple decades, because this tie-in (to one of the 18,764 different Avengers, or perhaps Thor titles) is concerned with just that, bringing Valkyrie back into whatever passes for Marvel continuity these days. I suppose it does so quickly and efficiently, putting the Valkyrie spirit (she keeps referring to herself as “Brunhilde”) in the body of a young hotel manager who got tossed off a balcony because she wouldn’t make whoopee with what turns out to be badguy Piledriver. Seeking information about what’s happened to her, she goes in search of people who knew her. There’s a nice sit-down with the Wasp (I’m assuming this takes place before recent events, last I heard Janet Van Dyne Pym is dead) and of course a big spandex throwdown towards the end. Mission accomplished, I suppose. Winslade is solid as ever; although there are a fair amount of his standard awkward poses, but he really knows how to keep a story moving, and his ability to draw beautiful women is undiminished. Absolutely inessential for all but Avengers completists and Winslade fans.

The All-Purpose Review Writing Music List: Bryan Ferry- The Bride Stripped Bare; Genesis- Selling England by the Pound; Nilsson- The Point!

As always, thanks for stopping by. Review inquiries, etc.: johnnybacardi AT gmail.