1/26/05 Comics...

[Opening statement; half-hearted apology for being underwhelmed by week's comics; statement of appreciation for readers and incisive commentary by posters; statement blaming Hibbs for refusing to initiate first post.] And with that out of the way...

AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS #1: I very much wanted to like this, and it says something about how low on fumes I've been lately that I was grateful for just kinda liking it. Although I can respect their decision to throw the reader right into the middle of action (it's not like Scooby-Doo had an introductory or origin episode, for example), that, in tandem with art that I think is supposed to be joyously anarchic and cluttered but instead largely comes off as merely cluttered, made this a tougher read than I would have liked. It's got potential, and like I said, I very much want to like it, but right now, it just makes me miss Jay Stevens' work. And wonder when the volume of Scott Pilgrim is due out. OK.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #516: Didn't like this much last issue, don't like it any more this issue. Again, not only are the continuity implants annoying here, they also work against each other: if Uncle Ben deemed wassisname is lacking enough moral character to hang out with Peter, what kind of asshat is Peter to completely ignore that twenty years later and attach his name to this guy's research without keeping the slightest eye on him? Huh? Not Awful-Awful but still, Awful. Also: isn't this just The Molten Man, only kinda different? Seems like a lot of work to dupe up a villain Spidey's already more or less got...

ARANA HEART OF THE SPIDER #1: I got six pages into this. No Rating.

AVENGERS: EARTHS MIGHTIEST HEROES #6: Yeah, fine, Kolins art good, blah-blah-blah. Thanks to the bi-weekly publishing schedule I feel as if I've been reviewing this book every week for the last nine years. It doesn't suck but, if it ends where I think it does (I'm assuming the formation of Cap-Hawkeye-Quicksilver-Scarlet Witch Avengers in, what, issue #16 of the original run?), what does it say about comics storytelling that we get a quarter of the stories, in dramatically truncated fashion, in approximately half the space? OK.

BATMAN #636: Pop quiz, hotshot: which sticking point most dramatically points out the shortcomings with the Batman editing team: (a) A line being cut before it could be pulled 'taught'; or (b) Batman working completely totally on his own in the wake of War Games--except for the Nightwing cameo here, and Batman's cameo in Robin? Pretty art, and the story is certainly readable, but come on guys--put down the bong and the X-Box controller and start paying some sort of attention, okay? OK.

BETTY #144: Between the cover to this issue, Tarot, and Dave Robson's infectious glee regarding Sci-Fi Channel's upcoming Chupacabra: Dark Seas, we had a fine ol' time in the store Friday night. (I tried to find a an easily importable version of this cover, but no dice.) As for the stories--well, "stories" might be too strong a word--as for the anecdotes from this issue, they were inoffensive and that's the point, right? I think some highbrow critic should examine how Betty stories often tread dangerously close to suggesting that Betty has absoutely no self-definition outside of her social structure, and the best Betty stories have her pondering exactly this sort of quandry, and edging toward the existential horror that results from realizing we have individual identity and yet must rely on a societal structure to impart this identity, before something happens (like, the opportunity to bake cookies) and Betty forgets all about it. But that highbrow critic, alas, won't be me--I picked this up because my girlfriend and I were in a restaurant the other night and saw three young girls at a table excitedly pass around a Betty & Veronica Digest, and it was sadly sweet. OK.

DETONATOR #2: Hey, the Detonator talks to his dog! Awwww. And yet he doesn't detonate anything. Is this decompressed storytelling? We have to wait six issues for him to detonate something? Eh.

FANTASTIC FOUR #522: This book has really been suffering from "I love you, man" syndrome. Reed: "Johnny, we're so glad we found you. We love you, man." Johnny: "Wow. I just got to see you guys in a new way that is oddly similar to the way people see you each and every issue! I love you, man." Sue: "You know, Ben, I can't believe Johnny actually gave orders to Reed, and Reed listened. I love him, man." Ben: "Yadda-yadda-clobberin'-something's-on-my-foot. Oh, and dont' tell anyone I told you, but I love you, man." Also, giving Galactus an origin and then making it such a half-assed origin sucks. Eh.

FLASH #218: Got more creepily convincing as it went on, but I think a more ambiguous ending would have left me with a bit more tension: is Heat Wave going to lose his shit, or not? Instead, the ending--"and then Heat Wave lost his shit. The End."--underlined how pat some of the psychology has to be to work this into a single issue. I'd still give it a Good, though.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #2: Well, that's two for two--great art, characters are nicely established, done in one with some threads for a future story in place. What the hell, let's go with Very Good.

LUBA #10: A nicely elliptical ending made me want to sit down and reread a whole batch of last issues at a go, although I still think what Beto is trying to pass off as his point--that these people are so utterly lost in their largely sexual obsessions and jealousies they are incapable of seeing any larger picture--is really more a problem of the author (Beto is so lost in his characters' largely sexual obsessions he's incapable of imparting any larger picture) than his characters. The ending gave me a certain amount of hope, though, and as always, the storytelling chops on display here are staggering. Very Good for this as well.

PLANETARY #22: I kinda admire Ellis' moxie in refusing to try and amp his story up to meet everyone's heightened expectations--if his outline says issue #22 is going to give us the secret origin of the Lone Ranger then, by Christ, that's what we're going to get. And as an incredibly dark twist on the Ranger, it was great. As part of the larger story: who can tell? Are we supposed to infer something about how Snow, like Leather, saw the true nature of the universe in a state of heightened consciousness, and yet still didn't refrain from being vengeful and vicious? Is there some secret to the secret of consciousness that makes people violent torturing bastards? Or is it just that's what Ellis finds cool, and that's what's on the outline for this issue? Incredibly well-done so at least a Good, but I'll be curious to see if this can wrap up at all satisfyingly.

RICHARD DRAGON #9: The plot hook--working as a bodyguard for a guy you're going to eventually wipe out--I liked. The actual execution, what with the mask, and the dopey superpowered stuff I no longer even remember--I didn't. Let's go with Eh and hope Dixon re-uses that hook for something a little more durable.

ROBIN #134: Pop quiz, part two: What's a more egregious sign of bad editing: (a) the post-"War Games" appearance of Batman despite the supposed point of "War Games" being that everyone has to stay away from Batman; or (b) "Wow, Batman wants to adapt me. That's so cool! I'm so happy I can barely remember my father being gunned down in cold blood?" Willingham is smart and clever, but he so obviously can't be arsed with this book I wonder why he's still around. Again, Bat-editors: stop emailing that brazilian waxing video to all your friends and get on the stick. Awful.

SLEEPER SEASON TWO #8: Miss Misery is, let's face it, an awesome character. And in this issue stuff--a whole lot of stuff, actually-happens, which is great. But it all seemed pretty pat--I figured out the last page by somewhere around the sixth page and nothing in there really threw me a curve. Maybe reading it all in a go will prove me wrong, but Season Two seems pretty damn lackluster making this Good issue seem far better than it actually was. (In short, I almost gave it a Very Good before I thought about it a little.)

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #24: Ugh. Even worse than last issue, in part because Peter Parker comes off like a super-powered Archie Andrews. Awful.

SUPERPATRIOT WAR ON TERROR #2: Was there a reason we had to wait so long for that? Because unless someone on the creative team lost a limb and then waited for it to grow back, there was no reason a book that mediocre should take so long to put together. Eh.

TRUE STORY: SWEAR TO GOD #12: As always, a pleasure to read, but there was more narrative tension in Betty #144 than here. Either Tom's gotta tackle some of his topics more deeply, or he's gotta put a pretty bow on it and wrap it up. I'd hate to see it end, but I'd hate even more for it to become perfunctory. Eh.

WE3 #3: Saved the best for last as Morrison and Quitely jam on the gas and knock us all on our asses. Sure, it left me wanting to see more, but I think that was precisely the point--it's a fine little antidote to the fumes of all the decompressed leftovers the market's been running on. (And how did I miss that the Rabbit poops high-explosives out its butt? That one little detail makes this must-read of 4-H and FFA kids everywhere!) I could quibble (Christ help me, I can always quibble, it seems like) but I'd rather just call this Excellent and exhort everyone to pick it up. PICK OF THE WEEK, for sure.

And, finally, to mention some of the other stuff on the racks quickly:

If you wanted to read a goth Locas drawn by Frank Quitely and/or Homer Tanuka, you should check out Wet Moon, Vol. 1. It's wayyyy too slow and wayyyy too precious, but the art is exquisite and the eye for body language and telling details is top-rate.

Ibooks' republication of Introducing Kafka by David Zane Mariowitz and R. Crumb is good news for the direct market, as the matching of Crumb to Kafka results in a spot of terrific work from Crumb--I think his retelling of "The Judgment" is a perfect wedding of artist to writer--and Mariowitz's cutting between the biography and fiction is edifying and smart. The neither-fish-nor-fowl arrangement of text and alternating comix won't please everyone, though, and I gotta wonder why this wasn't just drop-dead fantastic, considering how similar Crumb and Kafka are (what with their similar domineering fathers and shlemiel as hostile outsider routine). But it's nice intro to Kafka and Crumb fans like me are grateful for any new work.

And finally, I haven't read Epileptic, but jesus, that's one sweet-looking hardcover, isn't it? I can't wait to dig into it...