Time once more for another Confessions, in which I write a line or six or seven about newish releases of the comics and graphic novel type, hopefully still on sale somewhere convenient to you. Kind of a light slate this time out; it’s been a hectic week. I’ll try to do mo’ better next time.

Script: Brian Wood; Art: Ryan Kelly
DC Comics; $2.99

Every time I read and/or review a Brian Wood-scripted work, I am always confronted with my own personal Brian Wood Work Conundrum. I have tons of respect for his stuff- he’s extremely smart, extraordinarily talented (both as a writer and as an artist), and remarkably proficient. His is a body of work (Couriers, Local, DEMO, Northlanders, DMZ to name a few) which can take its place alongside the best of pretty much any creator of the last twenty years. Yet, for me personally, there’s something about his characters and their mindsets that keeps me at arms’ length. More often as not, a Brian Wood protagonist’s motivations or thought processes will be opaque to me- Local‘s often annoying Megan is one example, every other issue of DEMO is another. Maybe it’s an age thing, maybe it’s a small-town vs. big-city background sort of thing, who knows. It’s no knock on Wood; I think it’s more me than him, but it does keep me from really getting into his various series and I hate that; comics in general needs someone like Wood, who can write any genre and make it work. Anyway, this is a continuation of Wood and Kelly’s contribution to DC’s sadly short-lived Minx line; that one was called The New York Four, curiously enough, and it makes me wonder if further installments in the saga will continue this numbering quirk; will we see New York Fourteen in a few years? I’d say there’s a good chance of it, if this first installment is any indicator. I didn’t read Four, because DC had stopped sending me Minx comps by the time it came out. I did get kinda familiar with who’s who and what’s what via this website, which provided me with a synopsis, and really helped when it came to starting in on the sequel. There’s also a helpful recap on the inside front cover.

Four young ladies share a New York City apartment in their freshman year of college, and of course each has a particular set of issues they’re dealing with. Part of the deal is that they are required to make regular appointments with a therapist, so we can get some character-establishing scenes- well, it’s explained as part of a college test-making job, which also conveniently explains how our girls can afford that NYC real estate. Riley, our lead, has an older sister (who left to live in the city when Riley was younger), a musician of course, with whom she’s trying to re-establish a relationship; in the first GN her sister’s boyfriend came in and drove a wedge between them and younger sis is still dealing with the fallout. Lona Lo, a “dark and moody girl” from Vancouver, is stalking one of her college professors because she’s not making an A in his class, something which she’s just not used to. Ren, a “lapsed vegan” and the bespectacled member of the group, seems to also be the most together but is dealing with boyfriend problems.  Merissa Vasquez is dealing with personal problems which seem to be family-related, plus, she’s also lost the sweet job Riley set her (and the others) up with. We are introduced in this issue to Olive, who is apparently homeless (though no less attractive or trendily-dressed than the others); she winds up on the receiving end of some generosity from Merissa, and I’m sure we’ll find out a lot more about her before this is done. It’s all a bit like some sort of reality show produced for E! or VH1, with the added bonus of Scott Pilgrim-esque infoboxes that describe each cast member, but Wood’s hand with the characterization is strong and the Five are believable and engaging. There’s a lot going on with the multiple cast, but it’s not absolutely necessary to get up to speed on the previous GN to figure out what’s happening, and that’s a good thing.

Lest it seem like I’m only concentrating on the story, I really must praise Ryan Kelly’s art, especially his amazing cityscapes, many full page shots with an insane amount of detail. His characters’ body english and expressions are excellent as well. He’s always been a top-notch illustrator, but he steps up his game to a whole new level here.

I honestly don’t know who DC expects will buy this now that the Minx line, aimed at young female readers, is no more; of course, I’d hope that all discerning readers of either sex would be interested and want to pick it up for the involved dramatics and/or the outstanding artwork. Unfortunately, in today’s marketplace, with the types of books which top sales charts presumably defining the type of general readership is out there, I seriously doubt it will reach much of an audience. It remains to be seen where Wood and Kelly will take this, but I think this is a good first step and I hope it gets the chance to arrive at its destination…perhaps even a New York Six someday.

Script/Art: Joe Benitez
Aspen Comics; $2.99

Boy, Steampunk is a popular genre in certain circles; you see it here and there all over the Web and cosplayers abound. Steampunk tropes and affections have made their way into almost any period adventure piece you care to name in the last few years- witness Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes film, for example, or as I understand it Jonah Hex (I have yet to subject myself to that monstrosity). The awful Wild, Wild West film of several years ago is another example. Me, I have more of a visual attraction to it than anything; I like the blend of turn-of-the-previous-century fashion and the often-imaginative machinery. Often, however, the stories themselves are lacking in one way or another; one example that comes to mind is Joe Kelly and Chris Bachalo’s early-Aughts opus Steampunk (well, the term was newish in 2000), which was interesting up to a point but suffered thanks to Kelly’s frequently disjointed script and Bachalo’s often…adventurous…layout style. And before you say it, I like Kelly generally, especially his stint on JLA. But I digress. What we have here is some sort of alternate reality which seems to be late 19th century England, albeit a world in which the capability exists to graft human and machine parts together and have them work; also, in the best bet-hedging tradition, the supernatural is also a factor (a gentleman acquaintance of Lady M asks her at one point in #1 if she’d rather go hunt werewolves with him). Our Lady, a dead ringer for actress Kate Beckinsale, is apparently some sort of world-famous adventurer and certainly doesn’t seem to suffer from lack of financial security, as is borne out by her stylish clothing (contrary to the opinion of one young girl she meets) and her base of operations. That said, she has little or no memory of how she came to be; and judging by these first two chapters she seems to be determined to get answers about that very subject, as well as also seemingly protective of the unfortunate half-people half-machine beings she’s encountered so far. Her main adversary in this endeavor seems to be one of those shadowy government-based cabals, staffed by the rich and powerful as well as scientists and magicians, as well as one Commander Winter, all dressed in white with flaming red hair and most certainly set up to be Lady M’s opposite number. that are so important to stories of this sort. I suppose the whys and wherefores of how she managed to rise to her status in the face of this opposition is for on down the road. In #1, she is faced with the mystery of a young mechanical/human lady, like her, who looks like her, and was seen staggering around a train station, leaking petroleum before she dies; she investigates, and encounters resistance from the Shadowy Cabal. Stay tuned for issue #2.

Despite the marginally novel premise, there’s really nothing here you haven’t seen before; that said, the protagonist is somewhat charismatic and I do admit to being a bit curious about her origins. Benitez, a name I’ve heard of but have read little by either as an artist or writer, doesn’t thrill me as a scripter; the dialogue is flat and often cliched and the plot is so far hitting all the expected beats. He fares better as an artist, though he’s of that J. Scott Campbell/Travis Charest/early-middle Image school, definitely in the school of the late Michael (Fathom) Turner, who founded Aspen Comics if I’m not mistaken…more interested in dynamic poses and cheesecake than actually telling the story. I’ve seen much worse, though, and he does bring some style to the proceedings. This seems to be something of a labor of love for him, and who knows, he may hit his stride and develop something wonderful if he gets enough time.

Short Takes, just because…

TRUE GRIT: MEAN BUSINESS (Paramount Pictures): This is a free 24-page comic, downloadable via Comixology, adapted from the novel by Charles Portis, and of course based on the (outstanding) Coen Bros. film version which is currently playing at a cineplex near you. I suppose the script is taken verbatim from either the screenplay or the novel (which I haven’t read), because no writer credit is given. It basically illustrates the testimony given by Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn on the witness stand fairly early in the movie, and does a decent job, though the sketchy art by one Christian Wildgoose is nothing to write home about. If you’re a big fan of this property, both in print and on film, you might want to check this out.  B+

SCALPED #45 (DC/Vertigo): Remember how mad I was at the last issue and its contrived repurposing for one of the characters? Well, I’m happy to report that that was a speed bump on the journey, nothing more, and Jason Aaron is back in fine form in this installment, which sets up some intriguing new possible directions for the principal players, as well as introducing a couple of new ones and ramping up the tension on a plot thread that’s been on the back burner. Nice to see this back in form.  A

WITCHFINDER: LOST AND GONE FOREVER #1 (Dark Horse Comics): Everybody’s favorite Bible-quoting supernatural adventurer is back, this time investigating a mystery in the Old West, and brought to life by ageless wonder John Severin. I still kinda miss the previous series’ artist Ben Stenbeck, but Severin is a hell of a consolation prize. You all know I’m a sucker for a weird Western anyway, so… A

THUNDERBOLTS #152 (Marvel): I really don’t praise Jeff Parker enough here; month after month he delivers with solid superhero comics stories, and he’s so good at it and so proficient that I think he gets taken for granted, at least by me. T-Bolts is a consistently good read, with some great takes (both script-and-art wise) on a disparate group of characters, and I have no qualms about recommending it to anybody who’s on the lookout for something new to read in this vein. A-

CHAOS WAR #5, THE THANOS IMPERATIVE: DEVASTATION #1: (Marvel): Two big multi-issue crossover crisis titles, both purporting to provide finales to two very well-done, well received but low-selling recent titles, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Incredible Hercules, and both sadly dissolving into, appropriately enough, chaos before they were done. Especially disappointing is Chaos War, which had less than none of the charm and wit and all around good fun and adventure that writers Van Lente and Pak brought to the latter series. Oh, there was plenty of abstract Marvel-style cosmic god shenanigans and much hitting, blasting, and speechmaking, but absolutely no heart. Now we have a de-powered Herc, set to launch a new series bearing his name (as if him having godlike powers was the reason why Incredible didn’t sell like Marvel wanted), and no Amadeus Cho…and I’m not sure I want to buy. Devastation did manage to keep its heart, mostly (well, solely, actually) via GotG holdovers Peter Quill aka Starlord and the mind-powered Russian dog Cosmo; shown in flashback, Quill’s exhortation to Cosmo to assemble a newer, more powerful team before they deal with Thanos one final time at the end of the proper Imperative miniseries was very well done. Problem is, everything else was just incoherent hitting and blasting an pontification, plus, I don’t give two shits for any of the admittedly more powerful, as if that means anything, characters on this new “Annihilators”  team that Cos assembled. So I can’t see me buying this either, unless I get swayed by stuff like scenes of Cosmo hanging ten on the Silver Surfer’s board. That was fun. It all hinges on Cosmo, and how he gets used, I guess…plus that Groot/Rocket Raccoon back feature is intriguing. We’ll see.   Chaos War: C- Thanos: C+

The All Purpose, Ever-Popular Review Writing Music List: Chet Baker- Too Cool; The Beach Boys- Wild Honey and Carl and the Passions-So Tough/Holland; The Time- The Time; Status Quo- Rockin’ All Over the World; The Black Crowes- Three Snakes and a Charm.

T-t-t-that’s all, folks!

As always, contact me at johnnybacardi AT gmail for review requests and other stuff.