Well, the original plan was that yesterday, Thursday, I was going to belatedly take care of last week's reviews. Not only was Sue on vacation, so I had an extra 3 hours of riding the register, but it was the first rainy day in SF all year -- first rainy days historically totally killing business as people adjust to the new weather (it did, we were off by 1/3), as who wants to buy paper when water is coming from the sky? There's no way I wasn't going to have MORE than enough time to get caught up on both reading and reviewing. And then Michael Lieberman walked in the door. For long-time CE customers, you'll remember Michael as "Little Mike", the store's original "Munchkin" -- a young kid who gets you lunch, does some scut work, etc. Michael is Munchkin no more, having been now to law school, just come back from a summer internship (I think) at the Hague (!), and about to start a new job in Washington DC at a law firm where, in his first year, will be making a greater salary than either my Mom (president of marketing), or my Stepmom (runs a 10 acre complex for the elderly) are after being high in their fields for 20 years.
Michael is also Ben's Godfather, because I'm not an idiot, and I wanted to be sure that if Tzipora and I died in a fiery cash accident or something, that Ben would have someone both young AND capable of taking care of him.
Michael showed up around 1:30, and before I realized it, it was suddenly quarter-to-six and we had jawed the whole afternoon away, talking about supply-side economics, political ethics, morality & money, and a dozen other light subjects. Chris Carter (no, the other one) also hung out for like an hour and gave us some interesting primers on how globalization is affecting animation.
So, no, I didn't write any reviews yesterday.
Wednesday was Ben's 3rd birthday, and a wonderful time was had by all -- a small party at his preschool, dinner with the 3 American grandparents (mm, Pauline's Pizza!), and the beginning of the presents. Tzipora got him a super-realistic 1/6 scale garbage truck (Ben has the odd fixation with garbage men and their trucks), which, for like the first time ever got Ben to play 100% all by himself for like 90 minutes at a time. Usually, he's too interested in his parents to play alone -- he wants us to do all the playing with him -- but finally, FINALLY he's got a toy which utterly absorbs him.
Me, I started the decade-long project of doling out *my* action figures to the boy -- gave him my "Super Powers" Superman, Batman and Robin figures, with the cloth capes and all.
He liked the garbage truck better, at least on day one!
Sunday, we have his birthday party with all of his friends. We've got a jump house, and there's a hot tub at my parents house. And tons of screaming little children. Should be awesome.
Finally, I'll be eating that bug for ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #100 today (I think). I've decided on crickets, since the pet store carries those, and I was wowed by the packaging (?!?) of live crickets. They're in a box in which they'll live "a week or two", that has marketing copy like "The classic cricket experience -- crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside!" Um, wow. I was just expecting a clear plastic bag, really.
(I was also offered mealworms to buy, but they don't look enough like a "bug" to me, although the clerk assured me they were reasonably tasty) (?!?!?!)
I just lost too much time last week to do the bug eating, but it should be today, as long as I remember to bring the camera to work this afternoon. Hopefully sometime middle of next week for pix, depending on Jeff's schedule to resize and post them.
Like a said above, I was originally going to do last week's books yesterday (then this week's books early next week), but since I missed that window, I'm just going to skip ahead and handle THIS week's books, much earlier in the cycle than you are used to.
However, here's a quick run at last week's comics: my PICK OF THE WEEK was STAN LEE MEETS SPIDER-MAN. Not because it was any good, but because it was the strangest god-damn thing I've ever read in my life. Not only do you have Stan psycho-analyzing Spidey, and giving him... dodgy advice ("You've got to keep doing it, son – think of all the people depending on you with toys and movies and underoos!"), but then it had a Joss Whedon story that ends up with, and I swear I am not making this up, Stan going off to PornWorld. Ah, Marvel comics! We're not just for kids any more! Oddly, STAN LEE MEETS SPIDER-MAN was also my PICK OF THE WEAK, since, wholly fuck, can you BELIEVE that content?!?!?! My BOOK/TP OF THE WEEK: SHENZHEN A TRAVELOGUE FROM CHINA HC. I thought last year's PYONGYANG was one of the best books of 2005, and I was really looking forward to this. It isn't at all the same as PYONGYANG, which really gave me "deep" insight into a culture I'll likely never experience on my own -- instead SHENZEN (and this has to be an earlier work, no?) is much more about how Desisle personally feels while traveling in China, with all of the boredom and banality that being a stranger in a strange culture can bring. But, I didn't feel like I learned anything much about China or Shenzhen itself, that I didn't already know. Despite that, this was still, easily, my pick of last week's stuff.
As far as THIS week goes....
52 WEEK #22: We're rapidly reaching the halfway point (4 to go), though it doesn't at all feel to me like we're halfway into the plots. The back half is going to need to be pretty dense, I think, to handle all of the threads they've opened up (like, gosh, hasn't it been forever since we've seen Vic and Renee?). Still and all, I'm pretty much enjoying the run. My only real problem this week : "Going Themyscira" doesn't real sound that likely to me as a (what would you call it?) catchphrase -- there's 4 syllables in that second word! "Doin' a Diana" or "Going Wondy" would both parse better, I think (though the former probably wouldn't translate that well without a footnote, as I tend to think the average reader would probably first flash to the real English one). This is spectacularly OK work, all around, which for a weekly comic is like the gold standard.
ALL NEW ATOM #4: Byrne's gone, and the book suffers from it a bit. I thought #3 was one of the best things Simone had ever written, but that spark doesn't follow through for this reader into #4. Probably because of Mr. Info Dump guy that lays out the Ivy Town weirdness in a very tell-not-show way. I'm also already getting pretty sick of the funny-talking aliens. The art is fine -- just a little too, oh, "DC House Style" for me, I guess. You can say a lot about Byrne, but at least there was always dynamism in his art, even (especially?) in scenes where its just people standing around talking. Merely OK.
AMERICAN SPLENDOR #2: This is much more what I was expecting from a Vertigo AmSplen -- Richard Corben AND Eddie Campbell? Cool! AmSplen's historical problem has always been the art -- I LIKE Gary Dumm's art just fine, but it makes Pekar's mundane tales that much more mundane, and having a Campbell or a Corben makes the mundane seem much more dynamic. Comics NEED dynamism, I believe. On the other hand, I kept expecting an ax murderer or something to show up in the Corben piece because, y'know, Corben. Still, I'll go with GOOD.
BOYS #3: Momentum builds here. Each issue has been better than the one before, which is great because I thought #1 was pretty darn weak. Here, finally, I'm getting a handle on the characters and their world. I'll go with a solid, if unspectacular GOOD.
CRIMINAL #1: Very dense, very strong, very pretty. Top notch stuff from two guys who have really strongly found their legs, and, clearly, work well together. I was going to go with an "Excellent", but I think I'm going to be a petty bitch and knock it down to a VERY GOOD because of the thin cover and the lack of "Good hand" when you pick the comic up. (But, it is actually really Excellent)
CROSS BRONX #2: There was that one SPECTACULAR page in issue #1 where the ghost lady rises up and causes the car crash, and there's nothing here that matches that astounding visual. But it is still GOOD.
DETECTIVE COMICS #824: There's something just a little tiny bit off here, and I'm not sure what it is -- maybe that there aren't any villains on display, or not any real detectiving going on, or maybe it's just the stupid Paris Hilton stand-in (which seems out of place even for foppish Bruce Wayne). Its certainly not bad, but it was pretty much just OK.
DOCTOR STRANGE OATH #1: Oooh, pretty. Plus it had some great bits of business (that Iron Fist opening), and some adept craft (excellent job fitting the origin into the issue without seeming forced -- that kind of natural info dumping is a hard trick to pull off, really), and, so, hard to not call it VERY GOOD from me.
FANTASTIC FOUR #540 CW: What I would have said, had I reviewed last weeks comics, is that, regardless of what you think of CIVIL WAR itself, they're doing some fairly amazing tie-in tricks; for the most part, every tie-in comic has seemed to be relevant and expansive, and you can see why they HAD to hold the crossovers for the main book, because core plot points are involved. That's REALLY rare in line-wide crossovers, especially doing them so well integrated. Which makes this FF even that much odder -- the only thing it seems integrated TO is last weeks AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, not CIVIL WAR itself. I mean, that's NOT how Sue left, is it? Now, I like this version better (Just like I liked FRONTLINE's Death of Giant Man better than the "real" one), but it is a real false note here. I also am really looking for a legitimate justification of Reed's actions, and I'm just not getting it at all. A big EH from me.
GIANT SIZE WOLVERINE #1: The front story was alright (if a bit MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS), but WTF is up with the reprint story as the back up? That kind of incoherent, ugly nonsense is exactly the kind of story that Marvel should be trying to forget, not mis-match pairing with a more "arty" Wolvie story. Brings the whole package down to an AWFUL.
IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN #1: Decent and dense read, but it doesn't really hold up. SHIELD is comprised of these kinds of agents? So, then, like the only reason Hydra hasn't taken over, is because they have bigger boobs working for them, then? "The world's most unlikable character" is, perhaps, not exactly accurate (THE FLASH's Griffen takes the 2006 prize, so far, I think), but that's not exactly a sustainable pitch for an ongoing hero book, I think. Hard time Savage Critic Scaling this one, since I think the faults in premise and setup are large, but the skill of execution is decent, so let's be wishy-washy and say OK.
JONAH HEX #12: I had a few problems with pacing, and who-shows-up-where-when, but it's all minor, and this is one of those books that almost certainly deserves a bigger audience than it is getting. I never EVER thought I'd like a Jonah Hex comic book, yet I really do, so I'm going with GOOD.
KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE #119: Just one of those periodic reminders that this crudely drawn comic, with all of the annoying (since I'm not playing, and have zero use for it) gamer material in the back, is still pretty much the funniest monthly comic on the stands. No, it IS the funniest monthly comic on the stands. There's nothing special about THIS issue, and, really, everything is mid-story so maybe not the best jumping in point (last issue, #118, is probably better for that), but every once in a while I feel the need to remind you this is VERY GOOD.
MYSTERY IN SPACE #2: Bored now. I used to have a "Zzzzzz" rating, so consider it brought back for this.
NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET #1: Nope, they're not really getting the appeal of Freddy here, are they? If this is what we're going to get from Wildstorm horror titles (especially where, I assume?, they're paying licensing fees too), then lets abort the line now, since this is just AWFUL.
NIGHTWING #125: So, first off, thank god Bruce Jones is gone. Wolfman and Jurgens are... well, they're kind of the equivalent of comfort food, as a creative team, aren't they? Not particularly good or anything, but filling enough, and evoking nostalgia. There's no way I could cal this better than OK, but, compared to what came directly before, this is a home run of a comic.
OTHER SIDE #1: Wow, that was a punch to the gut. Strong strong characterization, and a solid look at both sides of the Vietnam war. Loverly artwork. A solid home run, and one you should snap right up, because, let's face it, Vertigo is really really spotty about collecting mini-series into TP. VERY GOOD
X-MEN PHOENIX WARSONG #2: So, uh, wait, this book has nothing to do with Phoenix afterall? Now, that's a dead-brilliant move! Really AWFUL.
As for the Books/TPs, there were three major releases this week... all aimed at the bookstores, at that (though I'm going to sell a ton of each):
BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2006 is a really nice package of work, with a superb presentation, but I have to admit it felt a little too close to MCSWEENEYS #13. Still, I expect to sell a shedload. On the other hand, I want to kill Elizabeth Moore for that fucking introduction ("Please please please take comics seriously. We're all adult and stuff! Plllllllllllllleeeeeeeeeaaassssseeeee") -- we're in a really sad place if we need the validation of someone else to bless the medium. I was also a little ... amused maybe that Pekar's introduction goes on an on about how comics are not just superheroes, and the VERY FIRST STORY presented in the book is a SUPERHERO STORY. Sure it's got a "he shouldn't have been a superhero" punchline, but that doesn't make it any less of a punchline. These kind of collections/surveys tend to be pretty snobby, high brow, and otherwise elitist in their presentation of "Comics are Art, damn it! Plllllease believe us!" (and they have been since since Fantagraphics did the BEST COMICS OF THE DECADE (1980s) sixteen or so years ago -- and I keep thinking there was at least one other even before that), but, let's face it, this IS a collection of really fantastic stories. I'm not all the way through it yet, but I haven't read one story that was anything less than "VERY GOOD" so far. Next year, turn down the desperate rhetoric, and I'd have nothing but good things to say. Up to the point I've read, I'm calling it EXCELLENT.
CANCER VIXEN: Its breezy, its focuses on what I think is a largely superficial and vapid segment of American (and specifically New York) culture, but I find it hard to really review autobio, especially when it's about something really fucked up like breast cancer? (or domestic abuse, in the case of DRAGONSLIPPERS by Rosalind Penfold; or abuse and Multiple Personality Disorder in Madison Clell's CUCKOO) Actually, I think those two are also good comparisons, because from a comics-as-craft sense, none of these are especially "good" -- Marisa Acocella Marchetto's cartooning isn't really strong enough to carry the parts of the story that have weight here, but it's breezy enough to make the fashonista stuff clever and fun -- but they're all affecting works if only for the raw sheer bravery on display. I'd put this in the hand of someone who has, or knows a woman with, breast cancer, most certainly, because "Yes, you can survive" is a really important thing. I'd also recommend it to people who are interested in comics-as-a-form because there are relatively few works that try to tackle subjects like these (I'd add PEDRO & ME, and MOM'S CANCER, and I know there are 2 or 3 more, but I'm blanking at the moment), and because of the "it"-driven nature of the book, I think this might ultimately be seen as a historical book in the widespread awareness of comics. If I have to give it a Savage Critic rating (and I do), it's not really much more than an OK, though. That might just be me, however -- if you read VOGUE and watch fashion on E! then you'd probably like it much more than me.
CHICKEN WITH PLUMS HC: I haven't had the time yet this week to read it! I suck! On a flip through, it looks instantly better than EMBRODERIES, so I am heartened and eager to get to it, but I haven't been able to yet. But the reason I am even typing a thing is because I CANNOT believe they went for the cut-out dustcover. God, those things are a nightmare. Virtually every copy of EPILEPTIC that we received ended up damaged, if not from distribution or transport, then from rack damages. The cutout is "safer here, being in the middle of the book, but my god, if you're going to do a dustjacket that *in any way* can be mishandled (Also this week, Gaiman's FRAGILE THINGS falls into the same category), shrinkwrap the son of a bitch. Trust me, WE can open the ONE copy for display.
So, uh, PICK OF THE WEEK: Aw, CRIMINAL #1 by far.
PICK OF THE WEAK: it is either X-MEN PHOENIX WARSONG #2, or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET #1, and I gotta go with the latter. Freddy should have FOUNTAINS OF BLOOD, man
GN/TP OF THE WEEK: No contest, screwed up introduction or not -- BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2006.
ASSHAT OF THE WEEK: It really really bugs me when publishers ship the HC and SC version of a book at the same time. That, almost always, means the SC is DOA. So, give it up for both WALLYS WORLD and LIFE OF POPE JOHN PAUL II IN COMICS. Eedjits!
And, if I may ask, what did YOU think?