The Week in Ink: 8-23-06
This week's pulse-pounding installment of ISB Kick to the Face Action Theater is brought to you by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith's Fell #6:
I'm toying with the idea of doing one of those every week to open up my comics reviews. You know, just to set the tone for anyone who comes by accidentally looking for legitimate comics criticism. Plus, it saves me the trouble of writing an extra joke!
Which, really, just kept me from getting around to the reviews--in this case, for the comics I purchased during the Fourth Week of August, 2006--and we don't have that kind of time!
52: Week Sixteen: Maybe it's just the fact that one of them involves the Question and Renee Montoya in a race against time to stop a suicide bomber and the other involves Captain America and Iron Man seething at each other from opposite sides of the cake, but for my money, DC's "Wedding of the Century of the Year" came off a lot more entertaining than Marvel's. It's a fun adventure story, Montoya putting the clue together in particular. I actually stopped while reading it and asked myself why a city police officer would immediately assume missing rat poison meant a suicide bomb for a few seconds until I remembered that she's a cop in Gotham City, and then it all made perfect sense. Plus, Captain Marvel seemed a lot more well-adjusted than in his last appearance (and not nearly as petulant as in next week's Trials of Shazam, incidentally), and Joe Bennett came through with some sharp pencils. Very enjoyable.
Action Philosophers: The People's Choice: This issue of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey's incredibly entertaining series focuses on the winners of a poll on their website, and while it's pretty clear that the kids are into Kierkegaard, it seems like there are some German idealists who just Kant catch a break!
... Yeah, I apologize. Won't happen again. Anyway, it's another issue of the often-hliarious and always fascinating look at philosophy that you really have no excuse for not reading.
Astonishing X-Men #16: Hot on the heels of last issue's ridiculously awesome last panel comes what is, unquestionably, the single greatest X-Men comic of all time. And it's not because of Kitty Pryde's one-woman war against the Hellfire Club accompanied by a shrill, wide-eyed Wolverine, or even the surprise villain reveal that caps it all off. Those are all well and good, but what makes this one great? The book opens with John Cassaday's homage to the splash page of OMAC #2. And it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen:
For comparison, the original:
Note the guy in the upper left-hand corner of the Astonishing page. That is roughly how hard I was freaking out when I saw it.
Batman #656: This week's issue of Batman is one of those comics that's going to be incredibly hard for me to write about, because I love every single thing about it.
The plot? Both simple and incredibly awesome: Batman fights a gang of Ninja Man-Bats in an art museum. The script itself? Fantastic. The action's great, and--between this and the last issue of Detective (which I also absolutely loved), where Paul Dini put it to good work--Batman's got the dry, almost-smirking sense of humor that Morrison used so well in JLA, and the whole thing builds to a legitimately thrilling ending. And the art? Incredible.
Morrison's known for sketching layouts with his scripts, but Andy Kubert does a phenomenal job of pulling off one of the best visual gimmicks I've seen in a long time. The way the "comic-inspired pop-art" of the gallery interacts with the action of the story is great, from the simple EC-esque "Yikes!" in the background when the Ninja Man-Bats first show up to ISB favorite Sgt. Rock shouting "INCOMING!" in a panel hanging on the wall as they swoop down towards Batman. Visually, it's one of the most entertaining things I've seen since JH Williams on Desolation Jones, and Kubert executes the concept perfectly. Simply put, it's an excellent comic book.
Batman and the Mad Monk #1: And speaking of amazingly well-done Batman comics that I like to an almost-unhealthy extreme, we have the first issue of Matt Wagner's new mini-series. I'm a huge fan of Wagner's work, and while many have tried to pull off a "sequel" to Batman: Year One, Wagner pulls it off better than any of them. Which is to be expected, considering that he's actually re-telling stories from Batman's first year. This one picks up after the events of Batman and the Monster Men (conveniently released in trade this week), which wrapped up a few months ago as one of the best mini-series of the year, and it stays at the same level, riffing on Year One with a two-fisted Jim Gordon slugging it out with a gang of corrupt cops and Batman's encounter with Catwoman while setting up its own story, and the whole thing ends up being, in a word, awesome. Pick it up.
Birds of Prey #97: I mentioned last month that I really love the concept of Black Alice, and it's great to see more of her from Gail Simone and Paulo Siqueira, and that pretty much stands as the story with her wraps up, apparently leading into a mini-series next year. Fun stuff.
Blue Beetle #6: It's been six issues--only three of which, I believe, were actually pencilled by the "regular artist" of the series--and finally, all the players have been assembled to pave the way for what's actually going to be going on in the book. And therein lies the problem: I've read a lot of Keith Giffen books in my time, and with as muddled as the last few issues have gotten, I'm pretty sure he could've gotten to the same place in half the time, with a lot more clarity than he's been delivering here. It meets the bare minimum requirement of interest to keep me reading it from month to month, but only in the same way that, say, back issues of El Diablo do, and while I've gotten it up to this point, I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that it's not an experience worth three bucks every month.
Daredevil #88: Despite the fact that--when you get right down to it--he's the guy that brought Bucky back as an unstoppable communist killing machine (in a story that I quite like, actualy), Ed Brubaker's been spinning Marvel's revolving death door better than just about anyone else working at the House of Ideas today, and while he didn't really kill Foggy Nelson when "The Devil in Cell-Block D" kicked off, he certainly had me fooled, so I'm counting it. Which, really, is just a longwinded way of saying that this issue, which focuses on where Foggy's been for the past few months while Matt Murdock's been punching his way through the best Daredevil story in fifteen years is highly enjoyable indeed.
DMZ #10: "Body of a Journalist" wraps up with an unexpected and highly enjoyable climax (featuring a guest-star from Liberty News rival "The Deus Ex Machina News Network"), and while I'm looking forward to Wood and Burchielli returning to the shorter done-in-one stories that kicked the series off, I think it's safe to say that DMZ's first longform story-arc has been an unqualified success. It's a great read that manages to flesh out all of the "big picture" details of the world while still keeping a fast-paced action story going and turning Matt Roth from a guy doing his best in an awful situation into a purpose-driven crusader that we can all really get behind. If you haven't been reading it, check it out. It's worth it.
Doc Frankenstein #5: Despite the fact that the most recent issue featured a man with a staff capped at each end with chainsaws battling a talking shark, I've never really gotten into Burlyman's Shaolin Cowboy (but, assuming that they ever actually get around to putting one out, I intend to buy the trade). Doc Frankenstein--sorry--Ültimate Doc Frankenstein, however, is a hoot every time I read it. Last time I bothered to check, there was a lot made on message boards of the Wachowski Brothers' over-the-top anti-Christian sentiment in the book--which in this issue is represented by a Fairy telling a priest the Secret Origin of Jesus--but honestly? In a comic where a one-legged, one-armed reanimated corpse adventurer battles a windmill full of revenge-crazed redneck zombies armed with a hatchet and a couple pithy quips, I'd be upset if I saw anything remotely resembling subtlety.
Eberron: Eye of the Wolf: I'm always a little hesitant to bring up gaming-related subjects here on the ISB, since I get the distinct impression that most of you couldn't care less--you know, because comic books and roleplaying games cater to such vastly different markets--but even with my usual caution, I wouldn't hesitate to explain, in thorough, agonizing detail, why I love Keith Baker's Eberron campaign setting. The conceit behind the setting is one that appeals to me incredibly: a mixture of standard D&D fantasy infused witih a '30s-style pulp action feel. It's two of my favorite genres crammed together, and in Baker's Eye of the Wolf--much like in his highly entertaining Eberron novels--he pulls it off excellently, with a heroine that deals as much with swords and sorcery as she does with Spillaine-style tough-guy narration (along with a host of other pulp novel tricks) and postwar disillusionment, all set against the backdrop of a fun adventure and a cast of legitimately compelling characters.
Plus, I'm reasonably sure that Ir'ryc Greykell is the first fantasy heroine in the history of comics to actually wear armor that's a little more substantial than, say, a chainmail miniskirt, and that's got to be worth something. Give it a shot.
The Eternals #3: Well that was a pretty unexpected Civil War tie-in. So yeah, we're halfway through the series, and The Eternals really hasn't done much to spark my interest, aside from this issue's mention of recent ISB subject The Black Celestial. Mostly, it just seems like Neil Gaiman retreading a lot of what he's done before: The Deviants who torture Ikaris to death read like a Kirbyed-Up version of Neverwhere's Croup and Vandemar, Druig and the cheap narrative tricks he employs to shock people into madness are highly reminiscent of Sandman, and--to be perfectly honest here--the line "she is a weapon!" was a cliche five years ago, and the intervening time hasn't done anything to make it fresher. Make no mistake: It's not a "bad" comic: If nothing else, Gaiman crafts a perfectly interesting and readable story, but aside from the fact that it's got absolutely beautiful art from John Romita, Jr., there's really nothing here that I haven't seen done better elsewhere, often by the same guy.
Exiles #85: I really like the concept of a group of characters travling from one "What If?" world to another, but I've never been a big fan of The Exiles. As you might be able to tell from the cover, however, this issue is nothing but Wolverines fighting Wolverines, and that is a premise I can get behind, expecially when said All-Wolvie Battle takes place in a city with one of the best/worst puns ever for a name: Dark Phoenix, Arizona. Even better, it's actually a really fun read--Tony Bedard is an often-underrated, solid writer, and Paul Pelletier is more than well-suited to drawing a cast of stylistically varied characters. There's more than a few great moments to be had in this one, and--not surprisingly--a lot of them involve punching.
Fell #6: I almost wish Casanova hadn't come out last week, because I pretty much explained my feelings on Fell while I was discussing its sibling-in-format, but it bears repeating: The stories Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith tell in this series are surprisingly dense, succeeding by being reduced down to what amounts to a single idea--in this case, a relatively simple one--and having the extremely well-done characters play it out, as depicted by Templesmith's incredible, mood-heavy art. In a lot of ways, Richard Fell reminds me of No. 6 from The Prisoner--that same constant external calm coupled with the knowledge that he is the last righteous man (albeit one with regrets in his past) trapped in a place where everyone else has bargained away a part of themselves to some hellish force over which he has no control. And much like the Prisoner, it's great to watch the slow buildup of rage beneath the calm and the finesse that explodes into moments like the one with which I opened this post. He's a great character, and through his interactions with the rest of the cast--with this issue, Mayko in particular, they're great to read too.
Forgotten Realms: The Crystal Shard #1: Yeah, I think I've talked about D&D comics enough for one night, don't you? Suffice to say that while Devil's Due's "Legend of Drizzt" series is the best fantasy novel to comic adaptation I've ever read--I've never been able to put together a run of Chaykin and Mignola's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser--the fact that it's covering a third of a novel in each issue--even at 48 pages--means that there are a lot of captions that move the story along from swordfight to swordfight.
Hawkgirl #55: I've read this issue cover to cover once, and flipped through it two or three times. There's a giant naked lady, a bunch of ersatz cops, a suicide attempt during which Kendra Saunders' nipples almost pop right out of her bizarrely intricate lace bra (not to mention her heavy make-up), a two-page hallucination sequence that doesn't make any less sense than the rest of the story, Hawkgirl ripping someone's face off, and I have no idea what the hell any of these thigns mean in the story. Really, I think I've demonstrated my love for Walt Simonson enough here on the ISB so that you guys know I'm a pretty big fan of his, and I've tried my best to like it, but man: this thing's rough, and loyalty can only take a guy so far.
Jack of Fables #2: I hate to bring it up again so soon after I talked about Fell, but Jack of Fables is, as I said last month, essentially Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges doing The Prisoner with a character that's the exact opposite of No. 6, and I love it. There's even a scene in this issue where Jack finally meets the equivalent of No. 2, in a scene that thoroughly mirrors the meeting from one of my favorite Prisoner episodes, "Hammer Into Anvil," right down to Mr. Revise threatening Jack with a sword-like pair of scissors. It's an issue every bit as good as the first, too, with an appearance by The Man from St. Ives (and, of course, his wives), and any doubt I had about Sturges as Willingham's co-writer is long gone by now. As usual, it's incredible stuff.
Justice League of America #1: As you might expect from last night's post, I'm not exactly thrilled with Brad Meltzer's choice of a line-up for the new Justice League. I mean, really, I like Black Lightning, Vixen, and Hawkgirl just fine, but they're not the guys I want to see going up against, say, Solaris the Tyrant Sun. Which, really, is the problem: We had an entire zero issue to get us to a point where Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were sitting around a table, and when we join up for the kickoff of the new series, they're still there, trying to decide whether they should go with a couple of New Gods or the recovering heroin addict and fourth-best archer in the DC Universe. Still, with Meltzer's admitted infatuation with the "Satellite League" years, that sort of thing should be expected.
What shouldn't be expected is the complete lack of anything exciting happening at all. You know what happens in Brave and the Bold #28? The League fights a giant world-conquering telepathic starfish from outer space. Justice League #1? The League foils a terrorist suicide-bomber at the UN. JLA #1? White Martians disguised as super-heroes show up, solve World Hunger, hold public executions of super-villains, and THEN fight the Justice League (also, incidentally, in space). And in this one? Sittin' around a table. Roy and Hal watch a boxing match. Red Tornado tries to decide which of two options would allow him to be more emo. Plus, there's a line in there about how Will Magnus couldn't build robots with a sense of humor, and brother, I got a whole frigg'n hardcover over here that says you're wrong.
Beyond just the story, the art seems off, too. I'm not sure if it's just Sandra Hope's inks over Ed Benes's pencils (as opposed to Alex Lai inking him on Birds of Prey, which had a much cleaner look to it) or if Benes is going for a different, more Jim Lee-ish look, but the overall effect is something less than what I was expecting from him. And man, I'm not sure if it's Benes's doing or something that'll be revealed later in 52, but that redesign on Platinum is rough, way too busy, and thoroughly unnecessary.
But here's the thing: It's not all bad. Much like with Meltzer's Identity Crisis, wherein I liked most everything outside of the actual main story, there are a lot of good bits to it--Benes's dead-on art in the flashback sequences was a pleasant surprise, and while Meltzer might not have a good handle on the Metal Men, the concept behind his new villain Dr. Impossible is a good and interesting one, even if he does have the name of a character my pal Chad created and published two years ago. But yeah, overall, it's pretty disappointing. But I might just be upset because the preview of Meltzer's novel, The Book of Fate, had absolutely nothing to do with Jared Stevens.
The Last Christmas #3: Seeing as it's co-written by the awesome stand-up comic Brian Posehn and actually has the word "Christmas" right in the title, I'm pretty much obligated to buy this comic. Which is good for the people behind it, I suppose, because man: It's not that good.
Rex Libris #5: This is one of the few comics that I don't read the day I buy it, for the simple reason that it's not a comic I can get through while laying in my bed at two in the morning. It's not that it's boring--it's not that at all--it's just that it's dense. It is, however, the perfect comic to enjoy, as its creator suggests in the "How to Read Advanced Visicomboics" section on the inside front cover of every issue, while relaxing in a chair with a glass of wine while listening to smooth jazz. What can I say? Sometimes you have to do it up right.
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Warren Ellis was once discussing some television show--God help me, it might have been The Prisoner again--that was considered to be part of the "Spy" genre, which it maintained by just having the characters engage in one minor spy-type activity in every episode. Much in the same way, SM♥MJ is a Spider-Man comic by virtue of the fact that once per issue, every issue, there's a scene of Spidey fighting the Looter or something. But these scenes aren't just put in there to justify Spidey's appearance on the covers (when, really, it should be Peter Parker on there); the characters actually react to what's going on with him, making it an integral part to every story. I mention this because--due to the fact that it's, y'know, a comic about high school romance, which doesn't quite fit in with the usual comics I rave about--there is an incredible level of craftsmanship put into this comic by everyone who works on it that is nearly always overlooked, and just as often underappreciated. McKeever, Miyazawa, and Strain are really doing something amazing here every month, and considering that me and Ben's 9 year-old daughter are the only people I know who read it, the rest of you are totally missing out.
Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #21: So. To review: Over in her own book, Supergirl has recently gotten back from making out with her cousin and spends the issue in a dance club dressed like a refugee from a Cyndi Lauper video, smoking cigarettes, ignoring the signal watch, explaining that while her body might be sixteen, her brain was still active while she was in suspended animation, and therefore she's totally legal. Let's have a big hand for Jeph Loeb and Joe Kelly, everybody.
Meanwhile, in Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Kara is not portrayed as a thoroughly unlikeable whore. Instead, Waid spends a highly enjoyable scene putting the spotlight back on the solipsism angle and really gets to the core of what her character should be about--and, in Legion, actually is. Plus, there's a scene where Brainiac 5 flips out and attempts to throttle a fellow Legionnaire to death, which, all things considered, is still better than "accidentally" unleashing a massive, genocidal, death-ray-blasting robot on them. Great stuff from Waid, Bedard, Kitson, and Dekraker, as usual.
Supermarket #4: There's not really much to get into here, but it's a fun ending for a fun mini-series, wrapping up everything that the previous issues developed neatly, with yet another absolutely amazing cover by Kristian. Don't get me wrong: Brian Wood tells an entertaining story with a lot of great hooks and some fantastic high points, but for this one, there's a lot to be said about the look of this comic, from the stylized pencils to the incredible way the colors have built from what I recall as a muted pallette in #1 to the high-contrast brights in the final issue. It's a neat little storytelling technique, and it's well suited here.
Wonder Woman #2: Alan Heinberg seems to be getting a pretty big kick out of introducing minor characters to cap off each issue, which gives me hope that the next issue's going to end with Diana Prince being sent to the Quad Cities and having a team-up with the one and only Wild Dog. Completely unlikely and bizarrely out of character, I know, but a guy can dream, right? Anyway, Tug mentioned at the store that it's going to be weird if Nemesis, whose entire deal is that he's a master of disguise, can't tell that Diana Prince is Wonder Woman when a) She looks exactly like Donna Troy, save for the stars in the hair, b) she's just wearing sunglasses and putting her hair up, and c) she spends a lot of time standing right in front of gigantic pictures of herself, and I agree--but I'm willing to put a little more effort into suspending my belief if that means we'll be getting more lines like Nemesis's response to Diana's line about him working with Catwoman. That was solid gold.
And by the way? You can find a description of every Nemesis team-up Wonder Woman mentions right here on the ISB's Brief History of Nemesis. You're welcome.
The Middleman: The Second Volume Inevitability: I really, really like The Middleman, as you may recall from back when I reviewed the issues as they came out, which, in turn, begs the question as to why I bought the trade if I already had the issues. The answer? Three new stories ("Tales of the Middlemen" stories by guest creators) and a few pages of bonus material. Admittedly, I love new stories and bonus material, but the fact that I bought every issue of the series as singles and still had to get the trade paperback to complete the story is more than a little frustrating, even with the relatively low cover price of $9.95. If, however, you don't already have The Middleman v.2, it's a great buy and a fantastic read. Heck, I bought it twice.
But really, that's my fault.