The Week In Ink: 2-14-07
Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday saw the release of the final issue of Nextwave, and so I will offer you no kick to the face tonight.
Like all good people with a love of the awesome, I am in mourning.
But be that as it may, it's still Thursday night here on the ISB, and that means that it's time for the world's punchiest comics reviews! Here's what I bought:
And here's what I thought about it:
52: Week Forty-Two: Between finally getting the fight between Renee Montoya and Richard Dragon that we were promised last week and a scene where Ralph Dibny pulls a Walter Sobchek on Professor Milo to recover one of the artifacts of the Demons Three, this ended up being one of the more enjoyable installments of 52 thus far, and I think that has a lot to do with how much it's tying in to the rest of the DC Universe. That was, after all, The Whole Point here, and it's something that's been lacking pretty heavily as we all try to get through the long, middling stretch to pad things out while we wait on the four-issue spin-off book to cover what we missed. Even the scene with Mogo--who stands as a prime example of a neat idea that's been in danger of becoming annoyingly overused in the past few years--was a good twist, although I have to admit that it would've been a much nicer surprise if it hadn't been spoiled right there on the cover. If it only had a Cricketron, we'd be in pretty good shape.
Astonishing X-Men #20: One of my biggest gripes about Marvel is that nine times out of ten, I have no idea why I'm supposed to care about their top-tier flagship titles. With this one, though, it's easy: Say what you want about Joss Whedon's dialogue quirks and his tendency to write one set of characters in everything he does, but I'll be darned if that guy doesn't cram more action into his stories than almost anybody else at Marvel. In this issue alone, there's a spaceship battle with a pair of crash landings, excellent character moments for Emma Frost and Wolverine, a new character picking out a codename, and nice little cliffhanger ending. There's even a scene where Collossus hits somebody so hard that they fly up into the ceiling, and even if it wasn't drawn by the talented and--just so we're clear on this--phenomenally handsome John Cassaday, there's a good chance that that'd be enough to get me excited just on general principle. Excellent stuff.
Batman #663: By this point, everybody out there probably knows that this isn't exactly a comic book in the traditional sense, but when this thing came into the store yesterday morning, that was a pretty big surprise. Mostly, I'm just left wondering what sequence of events that led to this thing, which was originally solicited back in September as featuring art by Andy Kubert, shifting into its current state. I can't imagine that it was something that DC set out to do (which seems to make sense considering that it had to be resolicited after two months of dismal Ostrander/Mandrake fill-ins), but if it was, then I've got to hand it to them: Taking one of your flagship comics and turning it into a 22-page illustrated prose novella is a pretty bold move.
As for how it worked out, well, it's not half bad. The narration's overwritten to within an inch of its life, but it's really hard to tell how much of that is Grant Morrison's style and how much of it is Morrison working up a Mickey Spillaine-style frame for a story with greasy, palpable shadows and a killer dame in a domino mask, and even then, it's a lot of fun. The introductory chapter's rough around the edges, and if you've followed Morrison's career, there's a lot of the stuff that hs to do with the Joker that we've seen from him before--and in fact, Tug made a pretty dead-on assessment that it's a lot like Arkham Asylum, only better--but there are some pretty fantastic moments in there as well, including a great All-Star Batman & Robin joke and a great exchange between Batman and the Joker at the climax.
The biggest problem, for me at least, was John Van Fleet. With the exception of two or three images--like the one of the Batmobile heading towards Arkham--the whole thing looks like a remarkably well-written story from the instruction manual of a PlayStation 2 game. It's good, and for the amount of time it takes to get through it, it's certainly worth three bucks, but, I'm pretty sure it'd be better if it was a comic.
Immortal Iron Fist #1: Director's Cut: Yes, I am weak. I've got a couple of them, but I normally try to avoid buying the "Director's Cut" editions of things that I already have--if only so that I won't have to deal with Marvel's incredibly annoying insistence that comics are just like movies, with directors and "DVD-style extras"--but I've got to say, this one's pretty well worth it, especially if you missed out the first time around. Admittedly, I like Iron Fist a lot, but for the extra dollar, there's a good bit of interesting design-oriented bonus material and--most importantly--the eight-pager from the otherwise-skippable Civil War: Choosing Sides one-shot. It's rare that it happens, but yeah: This one's worth it.
Justice Society of America #3: Earlier this week, Kevin Church and Benjamin Birdie's new webcomic, The Rack had one of the characters wondering if Geoff Johns would be able to make it through a script without eviscerating someone, and to his credit, Johns makes it all the way to page 3 before featuring the graphic murder of a woman and her young daughter. So there's that.
Admittedly, the person doing the killing here is a Nazi, and anybody who isn't expecting a Nazi to do something horrible--especially in a comic book--hasn't been paying attention for the past seventy years, but still: This issue's nothing but a massive showcase of everything I don't like about the way Johns writes these days. There's the ridiculously high body count and violence for the sake of violence that's being passed off as Super Serious Mature Storytelling™, a character who's going to get his super-powers by being puked on by a metal Nazi (because that'll make a great issue of Secret Origins one day), the continued and laborious obsession with Kingdom Come, and the fact that I had quite enough of Maxine Hunkel 3 months ago. And of course, to top things off, we've got a last-page cliffihanger featuring a naked cat-person battling someone with what appears to be interpretive dance, and that's really not the kind of thing I need in my life.
Any good will that had been generated by the surprisingly decent portrayal of Ted Grant and his kid has now officially been spent, thus moving this one back into Last Chance Territory. If the next issue doesn't thrill me, it's gonna get dropped like a phat beat.
I know. The suspense is maddening.
Manhunter #28: Long-time ISB readers will recall my continuing frustration with DC and their utterly horrible pop culture-inspired cover blurbs, but man: "Knight Court" might be a whole new low in that department. Anyway, despite the fact that it's well on its way to a second cancellation, Manhunter just keeps getting better. It's a testament to Mark Andreyko's ability that he takes something like the Acro-Bat--a concept that I fundamentally disagree with, as it involves a bat-themed vigilante in Gotham City that predates Batman--and turns it into a thrilling subplot that's got me hanging on each word. Plus, the idea that Dylan's calling in an army of Gotham City ex-henchmen has me excited almost beyond words--and that's not even touching the main story. It's an excellent piece of the DCU, and if #30 really is where it all comes to a close, then we're going to be losing something great.
Nextwave: Agents of HATE #12: The fact that Nextwave has been cancelled is unquestionably the single greatest tragedy in the history of comic books, and I have no doubt that it also ranks in the top three for the history of mankind.
And that, friends, is really all I have to say on the matter. After all, if you haven't read it, I honestly do not want to spoil anything for you, and if you have then you'll understand how mere words cannot explain the pure, wonderful joy felt reading every single page. Especially page five. Oh, page five! Let's run away and get married!
Punisher Presents: Barracuda #1: Despite the fact that he's become one of my favorite guilty-pleasure characters over the past few years, I've pretty much given up on reviewing issues of Garth Ennis's Punisher series. For all that I enjoy reading them, after all, they are some of the most formulaic comics ever produced, with the only thing that changes from one arc to the next being the nature of the horrific crimes that the bad guys commit so that we can get behind a sociopathic serial murderer like Frank Castle killing them in the most imaginative ways possible. With this, however, it's not the graphic violence that Garth Ennis seems set on outdoing, but rather the sheer, fun stupidity of the concept.
I mean that in the nicest way possible, too, but let's be honest: All the fun of Barracuda is that he's a big dumb cipher of toughness who swears every fourth word and gets into ridiculously over-the-top hijinks. And in this case, said hijinks are being offered by a thinly-veiled simulacrum of Christopher Walken--who not only bears both his name and likeness but has his dialogue broken up into different balloons to match Walken's trademark speech patterns. It's a hoot.
Stormwatch: PHD #4: One of the highest compliments I can pay to a comic book is that it's reminiscent of Warren Ellis's Stormwatch--easily one of my all-time favorite runs--and when the comic book in question actually happens to be StormWatch, I think that says a lot. It's consistently been the best Wildstorm book of the relaunch--which might not be saying much since two of them haven't shipped in months--and it's easily one of the better comics I read, and this issue's a perfect example of why. It revolves around a "Girls Night Out" that plays off of the similar themes in the Ellis run, and Christos Gage's script hits every beat perfectly as it builds to a wonderfully executed ending. If you haven't been reading it, pick this one up and give it a shot. It's well worth your time.
Tales of the Unexpected #5: As much as I've been complaining about the Spectre story in this thing, I still feel like I ought to read through it every month seeing as I pay for the whole comic, and after five steady months of it becoming more and more unreadable, I think I've finally learned my lesson. It's really only curiosity that kept me going, but this time I found myself just flipping through the pages trying to hurry up and get to the end so I could do something else, and that's no way to be working. The Dr. Thirteen backup story, on the other hand, just keeps getting better with every installment, and with this issue, Brian Azzarello finally reveals what he's been doing with his whole motley cast of characters, and it's a great concept. Why not throw in Nazi Gorillas and french cavemen and have a couple of hilariously stereotypical ghosts fighting each other if nobody else is going to do anything with it? I hesitate to say this given the amount of praise I just leveled on it, but I'm honestly starting to think that this story is, for all intents and purposes, DC's version of Nextwave. And that is awesome.
Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys HC: I'm not quite as vocal about it as I am with, say, Batman, but Spider-Man's always been one of my favorite characters. Even so, I haven't actually owned either one of these stories in any form since my copy of The Very Best of Spider-Man fell apart from being read over and over when I was fourteen, and I've got to say: I'm pretty glad I waited on getting them. I think the "bookstore-friendly" design of the recent Spider-Man hardcovers is actually pretty attractive, and coupled with excellent paper quality and color restoration and a handful of (thoroughly unnecessary) extras, it makes a pretty fantastic package. What really caught my eye while I was reading through it, though, was Gerry Conway's introduction. It's ostensibly about the death of Gwen Stacy (as you might expect given the subject matter of the book), but he ends up talking a lot more about Mary Jane, and it's pretty revealing stuff.
I remember the first time I read Gwen's death when I was a kid, and I got to that fantastic last page where Peter yells at MJ to get out and she just closes the door and stays with him. It was while reading that that something clicked, and thanks to Conway, I immediately understood everything I had to know about Mary Jane and instantly knew why she and Peter were together--which is really a bummer when you're reading Spider-Man comics from the past ten years that aren't written by Sean McKeever, but that's enough of a digression for now.
My childhood memories aside, it's pretty common knowledge that the stories this one contains ain't no joke, especially considering the pretty reasonable $20 cover price--and even less than that on Amazon--so if you've somehow managed to miss out all these years, it's pretty essential.
And that's everything this week. Well, almost everything except Casanova, which I've been saying nice things about for the past six months and could really just be summed up by the panel I stuck on the shopping list, but if you have any questions about what I've been reading, feel free to leave a comment or drop a line.
And also, PLEASE TAKE NOTE: For those of you without Netflix, Martin Allen of the indomitable legion of ISB readers has informed me that IFC is going to be showing Sonny Chiba's twin masterworks, KARATE BEARFIGHTER (reviewed by me on this very blog) and KARATE BULLFIGHTER on Friday, February 16 (that's tonight!) and February 23rd, both at Midnight. Do not miss them.