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Monday, March 26, 2007

The Week In Ink: 3-21-07

And we're back.

Yes, my mother's back home and doing very well, so much to the consternation of Princess Zelda (who still hasn't managed to free herself from the evil clutches of the Twilight King), the daily update schedule of the ISB can finally resume. But I'm going to warn you, it's not going to be the same blog you might be used to, because in the four days since her heart attack, I've learned a few things.

1. With over a hundred comments offering sympathy and wishing her a speedy recovery, I've come to the realization that my mom has a HUGE fanbase. Seriously, she could be the most marketable property since Solomon Stone, and I've just been sitting on a goldmine. In the future, ISB readers'll thrill to Mantlo Mondays with Mom, featuring a 56 year-old school-teacher's thoughts on Marvel Two-In-One.

2. In times of crisis and personal trials, I've learned that there is a power greater than myself that I turn to invariably for support when things look darkest.

That power?

The power of a good solid kick to the face.

Okay, so maybe it is going to be the same blog you're used to. And what better way to get back into the groove than with a return to the internet's most mind-bending comics reviews for last week's books? Here's the list:

And now, here's what my stress-addled mind managed to process last Wednesday!

52: Week 46: on last week's Shopping List, I mentioned that I'd start caring about 52 again when the Mad Scientists came back, and that is exactly what happened in this one. It's easily the best issue in months as Black Adam takes on the crew from Oolong Island, and considering that it involves pages and pages of scenes like Adam being swarmed by Insectrons, Will Magnus fending off the advances of a topless end-of-the-world fetishist, and T.O. Morrow blithely remind us all that he used to fight the entire JLA by himself, it's pretty easy to see why.

Of course, it's not flawless: The inherent problem of a weekly series that moves in "real time" has reared its ugly head in the sequence where Lex Luthor's finally brought in by the cops in a scene that would seem a lot more compelling if it hadn't taken the cops six weeks to get over there and arrest him. And of course, there's the fact that the Secret Origin of Batman included neither uppercuts and shirtless makeouts nor battery throwing, and I think I'm safe in saying that those are pretty essential elements of his character.

Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter #5: You know, I did a lot of thinking in the few days I took off from the blog here, and, well, I'm not saying there's a connection between my mom's heart attack and the fact that I was thoroughly bashing a piece of lady-centric vampire-heavy fan-fiction, but it's the kind of thing that makes me think about whether I should be devoting so much of my time to tearing down the work of others.

And then I read this thing and remembered how beautifully horrible it is. Expect Annotations for this issue--which features Anita dressed like a mentally-challenged 3rd-grader for about twenty pages--later this week.

The Brave and the Bold #2: There's been a lot of discussion over this issue--what with the fact that a good portion of the banter revolves largely around Supergirl's crush on Hal "Blondes! My One Weakness!" Jordan and his constant thought-balloon reminders that she's Super-Jailbait--but I thought it was a hoot. Mark Waid's proven that he's pretty much the only person able to write Kara Zor-El so that she's likable and entertaining, and far from the angst-fueled tarting around she's been doing in her own title, Supergirl's flirting comes off as a lot more earnest and in tune with Waid's Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes version. As for Hal, the whole thing where he repeats her age like a mantra seems played more for tongue-in-cheek laughs than as him actually struggling to show restraint, and as a character who really does have an established weakness for flirty blondes, it makes for a good gag--especially once his "total honesty" comes into play.

Of course, when Supergirl shows up with her hair in pigtails in a fluffy-skirted Lolita costume, it gets totally over the top, but again, I'm way more inclined to view that as a parody of her constant oversexualization in Joe Kelly and Jeph Loeb's scripts than an actual continuation, and while it could be a textbook example of a biased reader giving Mark Waid and George Perez the benefit of the doubt when Joe Kelly and Ian Churchill get nothing but carefully measured-out scorn, it just feels more like a fun, goofy lark in this one. Plus, it's got the first appearance in years of the mind-blowingly awesome Planetary Chance Machine and a cover that was pretty much designed to thrill Ragnell, so there's something for everyone. It's great.

Conan #38: In this issue, Tim Truman and Cary Nord have pretty much captured everything that I want from my two-fisted loincloth-wearing barbarian adventure stories. Let's face it, people get killed every month in Conan, but man, this time around, there are some dudes who get KILLED. It's brutality at its finest, but like it has been for the past three years, it's amazingly well-done, with great character moments for Nestor the Gunderman right up to the point where he meets his inevitable end. Admittedly, I'm probably more of a sucker for a revenge story than the average reader, but if you can read a scene where Conan chops off a dude's head and then brings him back to life so that he can kill him again without getting crazy pumped, then you're probably reading the wrong blog, Buster.

Hellblazer #230: I've mentioned more than once that I consider Mike Carey's last issue of Hellblazer (#215, for those of you keeping track of my reading habits at home) to be the absolutely perfect last issue for the character, and that after reading it, I was fully prepared to put John Constantine on the shelf for the rest of my comics reading career, secure in the knowledge that I could consider his stories to be over and done with. Of course, that was before the announcement that Andy Diggle was coming on, and while I may not be a fan of his current work on the thoroughly unnecessary Batman Confidential, he's the kind of writer that I'll give anything he does a fair chance thanks to books like The Losers and--not coincidentally--Lady Constantine.

As for this one, well, John's in a heap of trouble because of some ne'er-do-well at the beginning, but by the time twenty-two pages have gone by, you realize that he's been four steps ahead of the villains and the reader all this way, and somebody meets the horrible fate that they so desperately deserve. It's as typical a Hellblazer story as you're likely to find, but like Mike Carey's one-issue fill-in last month, that's not a bad thing. It's a formula that showcases everything you like about the character, and considering that it's being billed as "To Be Concluded" next issue, it has the potential to work as a great foundation for events to come. When it comes right down to it, there are a lot of worse ways to kick off a run than this one, and it makes for a highly enjoyable done-in-one story for new readers to try out, so if you haven't, consider it recommended.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #11: Last week, Jeff Parker stopped by the ISB with some well-wishing for my mom, and with that, he's pretty much earned my loyalty as a reader for the duration of his comics-writing career. Not that he was ever in danger of losing it, as evidenced by the fact that this issue includes a well-run and efficient cult, Spider-Man working a crowd and lamenting the fact that nobody remembers that he's really smart, a sixty-foot woman wrestling a giant snake (no, literally), and best of all, a four-page throwdown with IT! THE LIVING COLLOSSUS!, and that guy's not even the villain of the story! It's another great issue that really lives up to the promise of an all-ages book with fun action and a few genuinely hilarious moments from Parker and Santacruz, showing that even with two ongoing Avengers titles in the "regular" Marvel Universe (and a third one on the way), this is unquestionably the best.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #16: This issue marks the first for new penciller David Hahn, and while he wouldn't have been my first choice to replace Takeshi Miyazawa (which would be, of course, Colleen Coover), he acquits himself pretty well here. That might sound like damning him with faint praise, but as big a fan as I am of Miyazawa and as attached as I've grown to his work on my favorite teenage super-hero romance title, I wasn't expecting to like him at all. Stylistically, he's a departure from Miyazawa's clean, sharply-drawn figures, he doesn't quite nail Spider-Man's motion as well, and his figures are a little inconsistent, but there are certain panels--like Firestar shyly kicking up a cloud of dust on a rooftop or Spidey's embarrassed reaction to her microwavey hug--that are just perfect for the story. The rest of the team, of course, performs excellently, from McKeever's standard top-notch story to Christina Strain's beautiful coloring, although I do feel I should point out that it's another month gone by and they still haven't printed my letter. It's tragic.


The Spirit #4: Darwyn Cooke's The Spirit is rapidly becoming one of those books that I know I'm going to have trouble talking about every time it comes out, because there's only so many ways to say it's awesome. Each issue so far has been amazingly well-written with fast-paced single-issue stories that are just beautiful to look at, thanks to Cooke, J. Bone, and colorist Dave Stewart, and each one seems better than the last. Even the Will Eisner-style splash pages are amazing every month, with this one standing out in my mind as one of the best examples of the trick I've ever seen.

But there's something beyond those elements that struck me with this one. At the risk of spoiling it, it's a moment that comes from the final panels of this issue, where Silk Satin quite literally claws her way back from the brink of death and talks about being tough enough to live and fight another day, and while it was certainly unique to the situation I was in when I read it, it was the perfect moment for me to see last week. It's a reminder of how good comics--and how good stories in any medium, really--can touch people in ways that even the creators might not expect, and if that's not worth being the Best of the Week, then I don't know what is.

If you're not reading it, you should be.

Wisdom #4: I don't think I've mentioned it on the ISB before, but I've been following Paul Cornell's Pete Wisdom story off and on ever since it got started, and for some reason, it's never clicked with me. It's weird, because I can't really put my finger on what I don't like about it. The plots, for example, sound awesome, and there's really no way that I'm going to miss out on a story where Kitty Pryde's old boyfriend fights an army of alternate-universe Jack-the-Rippers, just like there was no way that I was going to skip last month's story where he teams up with Shang Chi to slug it out with the last dragon in England, but it's just missing something for me.

It could be the fact that it's a MAX book, and the tradeoff of a $3.99 cover price so that I can see Pete drop the occasional F-Bomb doesn't quite seem square or the fact that John the Skrull often seems like an idea that's a little too clever for its own good, but I really don't know. What I do know, however, is that this particular issue, with references to Edgar Allen Poe and Alan Moore thrown around and a great little set of action sequences and Lovecraftian psychic warfare, is the best one yet for the series, and gives me hope that within the next few months, it's finally going to hit its stride and make it all worth it. Check it out, maybe it's just me.


Empowered: I will literally buy anything Adam Warren would like to put out. Seriously. It can be a story where Iron Man's armor gains sentience and listens to hair metal or an Elseworlds one-shot where a computer program emulating Batman takes over a kid's body and proceeds to kick people in the face with other people's feet, I will buy it, no questions asked. Heck, at this point, I'd sign up for a thirty-six volume Adam Warren Illustrates The Phone Book series as soon as it showed up in Previews.

Of course, Adam Warren's Phone Book would probably still involve sexy girls and explosion-prone robots made of nanotechnology, so there's a pretty good reason why I'd do that. I say this only so that you all know where I'm coming from when I say that Empowered is probably the most purely entertaining graphic novel I've read all year.

The whole thing's essentially Warren's 248-page treatise on bondage fetishism starring a heroine who is more prone to being captured and tied up than any character in comic book history. That's right, Golden Age Wonder Woman: You may finally lay down your burden. It starts off with Warren's customary zippiness, with Empowered--the character's name, an irony which she herself is well acquainted with--with short, slam-bang-punchline stories that clock in at a quick four or five pages before moving on to the next bit, and there's a lot for Warren's fans to enjoy here. It feels like it has its roots in his work on Gen13 and the elements he played around with there, like Fairchild's propensity for having her costume shredded and Freefall's body issues, but by the time you hit the "real-life" origin of the character, you'll realize that there's a lot more here than just leftover plotlines where hot girls get tied up in varying states of undress.

Not that there's not a lot of that, too, because brother, there's a lot of hot girls getting tied up in varying states of undress here. I mean, really, it's pretty much the most "Mature Readers" thing he's done since he dropped the cover to Milk #2, but just like his work with the Dirty Pair, it's the kind of story that--even amidst wildly over-the-top sex scenes, explosions, and ninjas--manages to transcend itself and find a solid heart to it.

Plus there's a character called Rum, Sodomy & The Lash, and that is pure genius. So yeah: I freakin' love this thing, and if you somehow managed to miss out, then get on it, doggone it..

Showcase Presents: Hawkman v.1: I hate Hawkman, and I really don't know why. I mean really, if you go by the formula of the things I tend to flip out over, than a bare-chested spaceman flying around smacking the shit out of winged gorillas with medieval weaponry should, by all rights, be exactly what I want to read.

And yet, it doesn't. He's Hawkman, and the one thing he does--you know, the flying--is something that everybody can do. But I'm getting all the Showcases, so I ordered this one, thinking I'd put it on the shelf and get around to leafing thorugh it whenever Silver Age Aquaman stories stopped being funny enough to post about here on the ISB.

And then Kevin goes and posts a panel where Hawkman talks about how Thanagarian science never got around to inventing the sandwich, and I'm forced to re-examine all of my paradigms.

And that's the reviews! As always, any questions on something I read or didn't read, or questions for my mother's upcoming advice column can be left in the comments section below. Feel free to drop a line!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back. My boring day stopped being boring!

3/26/2007 3:12 AM

Blogger Wrye said...

Make Mine Mom and Mantlo!

And Empowered is...jawdropping fun. Ludicrous and sexy and dark and self-aware and hilarious all at the same time. It's like the Anti-Tarot. That phone book concept sounds like fun, though.

3/26/2007 3:36 AM

Blogger LurkerWithout said...

In the future, ISB readers'll thrill to Mantlo Mondays with Mom,

If she starts with Rocket Raccoon then I would be all up on this...

3/26/2007 4:14 AM

Blogger Josh Reynolds said...

Glad to hear your mom is doing okay.

3/26/2007 7:43 AM

Blogger Siskoid said...

Things to like about Hawkman:

Joe Kubert

There's no way his helmet's eyes line up with his real eyes.


3/26/2007 11:58 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to have you back and ecstatic to hear that your mom is doing well. Congratulations!

3/26/2007 12:33 PM

Blogger Steven said...

Welcome Back, and thank god your mom is made out of pure grit.

(I'm actually curious to hear what you thought about the new issue of Aquaman and JSA, which I see weren't on your shopping list but that you might have read in the store.)

3/26/2007 2:14 PM

Blogger Benito said...

a) I am totally glad to hear your mom is doing okay. I am curious as to what her feelings on ROM might be.

b) I may have mentioned this before, but I am now completely convinced that you are the best comics reviewer on internet, less because of how crisp and funny your writing is, and more because I swear you're the only one who has the correct opinion* over 90% of the time.

So carry on, my wayward son.

*i.e., my opinion.

3/26/2007 3:48 PM

Blogger Edward Liu said...

In the future, ISB readers'll thrill to Mantlo Mondays with Mom,

There is a "Your Mom" joke in there BEGGING for release. I'm going to suppress the urge out of consideration for what you've no doubt been through, and just say that I'm glad to hear your mother's doing better and I'm looking forward to reading Mrs. Sims saying, "Because Bill Mantlo, that's why."

I'm also the exact opposite from you because I LOVE Hawkman and Hawkgirl and there is absolutely no rational reason why. OK, there's a rational reason for why I love Hawkgirl, but we're not going to get into that now. I spent far too much money getting the Hawkman/Hawkgirl DC Direct 2-pack a while ago and I skipped the Showcase volume because I already own the 2 Hawkman DC Archive volumes. After reading both, I still can't figure out why Hawkman has such a hold when, say, X-Men's Angel doesn't, but there's a pretty funny page in Vol. 1 where they marvel at Thanagar's technical advances over the Earth because of things we recognize now as Roombas, credit cards, and microwave ovens. It's a frighteningly prescient comic book page.

3/26/2007 4:38 PM

Blogger Mike Podgor said...

A question about "Detective Comics": Am I the only one who thinks the villain's mask looks rather like a smiley face?

3/26/2007 5:04 PM

Blogger Jacob T. Levy said...

Totally with you about B&B, Waid, and Supergirl-- it all seemed like very good fun, and I liked Hal more than I have in a long time and this Supergirl more than I *ever* have before.

3/26/2007 10:52 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence! But I have to say that David Hahn did far more than aquit himself on Spidey+MJ -- he was terrific! His work is like a spa treatment for my eyeballs. Mmmmm...

And let me add my voice to the chorus of well-wishers for you and your mom.

3/27/2007 12:33 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Hal trying to look at his own butt? His neck seems to be broken.

3/27/2007 5:04 AM

Blogger JOHNNY ZITO said...

I keep avoiding The Spirit despite my love for Cooke...

An auteur working with another auteur's toys is usually a recipe for disaster.

I should have known better.

3/27/2007 3:04 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait, ONE character named Rum, Sodomy and the Lash? Not a 3-person super-team?

3/28/2007 3:53 AM


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