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. I’m way behind, I know. Sorry for the delay.
PUNK ROCK JESUS #’s 1-3 (of 6)
Script/Art: Sean Murphy
Murphy, late of Grant Morrison’s Joe the Barbarian (which I still haven’t finished because DC is dragging its feet about getting an softcover collection out there), returns with this ambitious one-man show of a tale which mashes together a whole lot of hot-button topics into a casserole that, at least two issues in, isn’t completely cooked yet but smells awfully nice.
PRJ opens with a nice scene- the McKael family: mom, dad, son, saying grace before they eat dinner. Then, dad notices armed gunmen outside and the family springs into action-dad and mom get automatic weapons, hand the young lad a sawed off double barreled shotgun and tell him to hide in the closet, not to open the door until he hears their voice. After the gunfire outside the closet ends, the anxious boy hears someone approaching and, remembering his parents’ instructions, opens fire. Problem is, it was his father, who had been shot in the throat. He emerges to see everyone in the house dead, but before he can process this, his uncle barges in, killing the last attacker and finishing off his brother- right in front of the stunned boy. Uncle Brothershooter then takes the boy away with him, promising to take care of him and “train him better”. We then fast forward 25 years to 2019, and the grown-up Thomas looking all badass Punisher-esque on his motorcycle…I assume Uncle B fulfilled his promise. We soon find out that Thomas is head of security for the Ophis entertainment corporation’s “J2 Project”, (yep, reality TV) which has the stated goal of cloning Jesus Christ from DNA taken from the Shroud of Turin. We’re soon introduced to Dr. Sarah Epstein, the head scientist in charge of the project; Gwen, who serves as the Mother Mary surrogate, and the unctuous Slate, the Ophis rep cleverly drawn to resemble Aaron Eckhart of Thank You for Smoking fame, of course as unconcerned about the religious implications and the reaction of the hardcore evangelists as he is the players in his televised scenario…all he cares about is the ratings, and is willing to manipulate as he sees fit to maintain them. Murphy seems to have put a lot of thought into the whole scenario and so far it shows, and surprises continue, three issues in. He remains quite an expressive artist; everything is done up for maximum impact in his scratchy, excessively rendered style and it keeps things moving along at a smart clip.
You don’t see as many one-man-band comics these days as you used to; the whole writer/artist thing definitely seems to be on the outs at the Big Two, and that, I think is a shame. Fortunately, Murphy promises to give us something that may show that the auteur, at least in comics, is not dead yet. Now if I could just stop singing the title to this melody. A-
BLACK KISS II #’s 1,2
Script/Art: Howard Chaykin
Image Comics, $2.99
Since I’m still, after all this time and after all those projects of varying quality since his 80’s-early 90’s salad days, a total mark for Chaykin comics, I dutifully checked this out. This is of course a prequel to the utterly batshit original Black Kiss limited series, which mashed together 1980’s Hollywood, vampires, noir tropes, and the transgendered and was entertaining (it was, after all, conceived as a response to the proposed comics rating system that was one of the burning issues of the day) if a little bit incoherent, if I recall correctly. Haven’t read it since I put down the last issue, I don’t believe, other than to skim through the occasional single issue that I’d come across, no pun intended, while archiving comics. Also, I recall being kinda pissed off that I was paying a buck and a quarter , eventually a buck-fitty a pop for a skinny 16 page black-bagged comic that the nice matte paper stock of the cover didn’t compensate for. By issue 8, I was wishing I had just waited for the trade, perhaps the first time that thought had ever entered my little brain. Naturally, when they did eventually collect it I declined because of the incoherent thing and the fact that I had already paid for it once.
Anyway, on to the future- I don’t know what has motivated Howie to resurrect this property this time, other than the promise of a paycheck of some sort, no doubt…I don’t think there was a huge clamor for him to revive the property. However, because no matter how many years of mercenary slumming he’s indulged himself (and his apparent legion of assistants) in, he’s still HOWARD VICTOR CHAYKIN and he is always worthy of your attention. In the first issue, he’s all over the place, giving us a combination lesson in immigration and celebration of cinema which simultaneously lets us watch a burly Irishman projectionist and his lady friend giving it a bit of the old in-out in-out in the booth while outside in the theater, an orgy is breaking out as everyone in the audience is copulating both with themselves and with a transsexual Jayne Mansfieldesque blond demon/god who looks like two of the protagonists from BKI and who emerges from the screen, possessing about five hundred poorly drawn (and all circumcised…what the heck, Howie?) penises; everyone has a foine auld tyme and leaves the theatre vaguely aware that something extraordinary has happened and feeling “entertained”. Next, it’s six years later and we’re on the Titanic with 20 year old wannabe actor Charles “Bubba” Kenton (not “Keaton”, he’s quick to respond) who winds up having back-door jollies with that very same demonic entity…and afterwards gets thrown out a window by the big ship’s death throes, thus ensuing his survival. In issue 2, he winds up in Hollywood, making pictures, and also making more sexy demons, two of which have their own plans.
That’s the first two issues in a delirious fever-dream nutshell. It all comes across as Howie with a smirk on his face and a trace of perspiration on his upper lip area, mixing Spillane and Lovecraft as intended for publication in some seedy stroke book like From Sex to Sexty, and while he’s earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants, the whole enterprise seems a little tawdry, even for the man who gave us blowjobs in a Blackhawk comic. He’s always been good for snappy dialogue, and there’s a fair amount of it in both of these issues so far, but there is also heaps of overheated, clunky narration in the captions, and his characters throw around racial epithets like he’s getting paid by the slur. I guess it’s all in keeping with his smart-aleck tough-guy style, and I shouldn’t complain too much because I was always quick to defend it in his salad days. Artwise, there’s less rampant Photoshoppery going on here (by virtue of its black-and-whiteness), so that’s a relief…the last few Chaykin-credited art efforts I’ve seen have been, shall we say, inconsistent in their quality. At least this looks like Chaykin’s doing most of the art and not his assistant(s); it’s pretty loose and sloppy but solid, layout wise (I suppose he’ll never lose that) and badly drawn schlongs aside, he still has a way with the sexay.
If you’re not already a Chaykin fan, I can’t really recommend this to you unless you’re attracted by the sheer vulgarity of it all…there are better places to start. This is definitely not for kids or the easily offended, but you probably figured that out some time back. Still, for those of us who were resigned to seeing little else but junk like Hawkgirl or Avengers: 1959 from Mister C in perpetuity, it’s heartening to see him do something that he seems to be having fun with. If you’ll excuse the expression, Howie can still get it up. I hope he keeps it up. B
Script: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Art: Dexter Soy
Script: Matt Fraction; Art: David Aja
A couple of recent fairly high-profile launches from Mighty Marble; one is a perpetual B-list character with a newly enhanced public profile and the other is another attempt to do female-positive comics, despite the market’s disheartening reluctance to embrace such titles. Both have their ups, but they also have some downs as well.
Back in the 60’s, when someone at Marvel realized that no one was publishing comics that featured a character than shared a name with their company, probably Á¼ber-comics fanboy-turned pro Roy Thomas, Stan hurriedly corralled Gene Colan and said “Let’s do something, quick!”. The result was the original Marvel Captain Marvel series, featuring the imaginatively named Captain Mar-Vell, of the alien Kree race that Stan and Jack Kirby had introduced a couple of years prior. For all the various changes the character went through, including a classic Jim Starlin run and eventual death due to cancer in a memorable (and one of Marvel’s first) graphic novels, go here. After Mar-Vell passed, several characters came and went using the name, but there was one wild card; one who went by “Ms.” originally- Lee/Colan era Mar-Vell love interest Linda Danvers, who was given enhanced abilities by some alien cosmic menace or another that she had the misfortune (“ms-fortune”, yuk yuk) of running afoul of with Mar-Vell. This happened so they could launch her in her own title in 1976; it had a healthy run for a few years. After that, as most Marvel characters did in the late 70’s up till the current decade, chaos ensued; she took up with the X-Men (they shared a writer in Chris Claremont), changed her name to “Warbird” and joined the Avengers, had a drinking problem, and so forth. She’s been in play nearly the whole time; while she’s never really had a large fan following, someone at Marvel likes her so she keeps coming back. This, the latest attempt to launch a successful female-led Marvel ongoing series, is written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, who’s Matt Fraction’s better half and even though I’ve been hearing about her since I got on the Internet back in the late 90’s, it seems, with whom I’m mostly unfamiliar, work-wise, save for a couple of not-bad stories in titles like Girl Comics and a Sif one-shot. Here, she definitely has her serious face on, and much of #1 (after the obligatory confusingly-illustrated superhero battle with the Absorbing Man) is dedicated to showing us Danvers in self-searching mode, struggling with the decision to change her name to Captain Marvel (she doesn’t want to dishonor Mar-Vell, y’see) and her interactions with Spider-Man and Captain America (the military-themed banter is very good) are well done. The last half sets the stage for the next two, as she visits an invalid friend (it’s hinted they’re closer, or maybe that’s just me) and sees where a pilot, that was a hero and inspiration to her, has died- when taking her ashes into space in her supersuit, she decides to try and set a altitude record that the pilot achieved but could not prove. When she makes the attempt, things happen and she’s suddenly transported into what seems like an alternate reality where she fights alongside a female Howling Commandos type team in WWII against the Japanese. A couple of interludes at the end of #3 point to further developments down the road, I suppose. I think DeConnick strikes the right tone, although sometimes that tone is like an especially earnest Hallmark movie…and it doesn’t help her case that they’ve saddled her with an artist like Soy, whose sloppy, blocky Vertigo-inspired Photoshop painterish style lets her down at almost every opportunity. He seems more interested in kewl poses than actually telling the story, and while I suppose that is all the rage in superhero comics these days, I hate it. I think I would have preferred seeing what the snazzy new CM costume’s designer, Jamie McKelvie, would have done…his style is placid, the opposite of dynamic, but he knows how to tell a story. C+
Thanks in part, I’d think, to Jeremy Renner’s likeable performance as Marvel’s brash archer Clint Barton in the Avengers movie, we get this miniseries which hopes to cash in on the somewhat higher profile the character is enjoying. Sure, fine, not the first time a comics company has done this, nor will it be the last. However, a funny thing has happened on the way to pushing an extra five thousand or so funnybooks…the creators actually seem to be invested in the results rather than an anticipated paycheck, and that makes this a pleasant surprise, though not without its problems. Fraction has decided to give us a urban, Mean Streets-ish Frank Miller style take on the guy Stan and Jack and Don Heck called “The Battling Bowman”, and in issue one we get to see him get attached to a dog and also see him try to help out the people in an apartment building who are in danger of being tossed out when their obnoxious Russian landlord raises the rent in anticipation of selling the property. Despite some odd choices on Barton’s part (I mean, really- throwing a bag of money at the guy? I know Hawkeye’s an Avenger and all that, but surely he knows the ways of the world better than that) and some dubious physics (is it really possible to throw a playing card hard enough to cut a man’s throat? Paging Ricky Jay), it works pretty well. Issue two has a foot more in the superhero door, as Clint and some archer character introduced in (if memory serves) the 90’s, which is mostly a black hole for me as far as Marvel comics events go, take on the Ringmaster (cleverly drawn as John Carradine, probably the inspiration for that character in the first place) and his new improved Cirque De Soliel style Circus of Crime in a heist yarn that also sports some dubious physics- I mean, come on, she can shoot an arrow with enough touch to lodge itself in a man’s eye, blinding him, but not continue on into the brain? Whuh? David Aja, last seen by me illustrating the Fraction-scripted Immortal Iron Fist, decided to go full-on Daredevil/Batman Year One era Mazzuchelli (with a dash of Von Eeden in there as well, if you look closely) here, deviating from his previous style and giving us a very well done impersonation. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say, and Aja is definitely honoring the man. So far, I’ve found this take on Hawkeye entertaining, if flawed, and love the art. A-
NATIONAL COMICS #’s 1, 2
Scripts: Jeff Lemire, Ian Edginton; Art: Cully Hamner, Mike S. Miller, Derec Donovan
DC Comics, $2.99
Marvel’s not the only company recycling characters, trying to make something stick- here’s DC, reviving a long, long dormant title that just happens to bear the former name of the whole darn company, and so far featuring revisionist takes on old, and not-so-old, properties like the former Quality stalwart (and onetime Vertigo series) Kid Eternity as well as one of Mike Barr’s most ridiculous creations for his 1980’s series Batman and the Outsiders, Looker. Eternity takes a well-worn path most recently trod by Eliza Dushku in the recent TV series Tru Calling, that of someone who can interact with the recently dead in order to solve the mystery around their deaths, be it murder or other causes. Where the original Kid E could say “Eternity” and summon the likes of Abe Lincoln or Attila the Hun to help him out, and had a benign, Clarence Odbody-type companion in the ghostly Mr. Keeper, this Kid E (he was shot at the same time as his Dad, who he was arguing with, in a drive-by but he unexpectedly returned to the living with his new abilities, no explanation given) touches the corpse and is propelled to purgatory, where he finds the dead person and brings them back as a ghost in order to (presumably) right the wrong. Mr. Keeper here is a more cynical, shadowy figure, a big man in shades and goatee who warns our boy enigmatically of misusing his power but of course doesn’t stick around to provide concrete answers, despite the threat of trouble if he doesn’t. It’s all very downbeat and “serious” in that TV/movie crime thriller sort of way; it wasn’t a chore to read, though- Lemire is pretty good, after all, you know, and I do like Hamner’s Chaykin-meets-Colon style. That said, this is all way too familiar and I don’t know if I care if they continue it, despite a surprising cliffhanger ending, surprising not only in the identity of the body on the slab he encounters, but that they would end what seems to be a one-shot with such an ending. C+
Looker, on the other hand, totally reinvents the character from a standard superhero type with mental powers and a ghastly awful costume to match, a model no less, to a whole new creation with a whole new backstory, something like a cross between Twilight and The Devil Wears Prada. She retains her modeling career, but since she’s a vamp and can’t appear on film, she starts an agency (called “Looker”, hence the title) and is dedicated to protecting young models from the seedier side of the industry. Chaykin would have a field day with this. Anyway, she comes into conflict with a decidedly monstrous opponent here, who has been preying on young girls. I’m not crazy about the art by Miller; it’s not terrible but looks like Steve Dillon with more manga influence and less of that artists’ deft touch. It’s also nice to see that cover artist Guillem March is still capable of doing outstanding covers. Overall, I enjoyed this one; it’s fast-paced and the heroine is likable. The art doesn’t blow me away, but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment too much. I’d like to see more of this one, it has potential if Edginton can rise above comic book cliches in the scripting and bump up the fun. B+
In the small eternity that has gone by since my last column, the great comics creator and teacher Joe Kubert passed away. As a kid growing up, I liked Kubert’s work, but I didn’t see it quite as much because I didn’t buy a lot of DC War and Western books, and that’s where his work appeared the most in my formative years. Still, I sure as hell knew who he was and loved his Hawkman stories (written by Gardner Fox) when I’d see them reprinted in the 100 pg. Giants of the 70’s, as well as the Golden Age work he did that got reprinted. A master craftsman, teacher, and by nearly all accounts by those who knew him personally, a hell of a nice guy. Go here for Tom Spurgeon’s thorough obit, and here for a roundup of tribute links. I sure wish I had gone to his Kubert School of Art when I got out of high school back in 1978.
Also, I’d like to give you all a heads-up about Top Shelf Productions’ “Massive $3 Sale”, in which they’re attempting to clear out some room before next year’s new title rollout by offering excellent deals on some very fine comics and graphic novels through September 28. If you’d like to get in on the action, go here.