Comics of 01/05/05

Ah, the joys of comics: it wasn't exactly an inspiring week of new comics, I thought, but there was plenty of good stuff I had missed through a combination of the holidays, poor fiscal planning, general dumb-assedness, etc. So before getting to any current savaging, allow me to express much favor and enthusiasm for such not-new items as the latest issue of Ariel Schrag's Likewise, the Brubaker cover issue of The Comics Journal, and particularly Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, which someone recommended to Hibbs. O'Malley's book is such a warm and witty mash-up of autobio comix, manga, videogame conventions and "rawk" (as Kolchaka would put it), it's a big-time charmer. My PICK OF THE WEEK, though it didn't come out this week. Bug your store or Oni Press directly for a copy. As for this week's stuff:

CAPTAIN AMERICA #2: The art on this was very, very strong, although the Lark flashbacks felt a little more tacked on here than they did last issue. Epting's action scene was impressive, all the more so since it's basically Cap 101, and I liked Cap's suspicion about the Skull being dead. I've got some reservation somewhere about the whole thing I can't quite place, but it's still Good work.

DETECTIVE COMICS #802: David Lapham is still working his butt off on this story: it's big, jammed with characters, and looks like it might be trying to be a Bat-noir version of a Tom Wolfe novel, where all the strata of society are shown colliding and colluding to produce a crooked town (pretty much the Batman story I've always wanted to read). But it's gummed up by a few items, not the least of which is the appearance of Mr. Freeze at the end--pretty much more or less the end of last week's Batman, giving this an utterly unnecessary feeling of warmed-up leftovers. I'm sure managing the Bat-titles is an utter nightmare, but the editors really have got to pay more attention to the storyline management--the books keep tripping each other up. Should be better than OK, but still not.

FANTASTIC FOUR: FOES #1 (OF 6): Did not like this at all: if there's one thing we never ever need to see again in a FF book, it's the "Reed, stop working and spend time with your son" scene, but I wasn't particularly crazy about the non-autopilot scenes either (Sue's not shoving people aside because of the alarm, it's because there's a sale on! See, it's funny because she's rude and clothing obsessed! You know, like all women! Wa-ha-ha!) Throw in some lackluster art, an existence predicated only on having a trade out for the movie, and you've got an Awful book.

FIRESTORM #9: Coming in late on this since I haven't bothered with the book in three or four issues. Interestingly, Killer Frost was so one-dimensional compared to the level of characterization I'm used to from this book, I found it distracting and annoying. (That's not a left-handed compliment, so I guess it's a right-handed complaint?) Not really a Firestorm fan old or new, so this book really can't seem to get more than an Eh from me either way. Which I guess is why I usually don't bother...

FLAMING CARROT #1: Says something about this week of comics that this felt kinda stale and sketchy and still seemed more vital than most of the other books out this week: is there anyone who still gripes about having to be politically correct other than lonely old guys who listen to too much talk radio? I still enjoy the loping storytelling of Burden's stories, though, so more of a high OK than a low one.

THE GIFT #9: I found the art on this appallingly bad--at almost every point in the story, the artist's choices (usually for a sketchy panel lacking detail) screwed up a later storytelling point. The writer isn't exactly innocent either, mind you, but there seemed to be a certain effort made to give each character type a distinct voice that showed some potential--or at least more effort--than what I saw from the art. Still, pretty damned Awful.

INCREDIBLE HULK #77: Liked that Lee Weeks art, but the story felt like Peter David aping Bruce Jones. In fact, a lot of the elements (random opening, weird flashbacks, strange island, monsters) seemed straight out of Wolverine: Xisle. Done a million times more competently, but still very much a low Eh at best. Prognosis not good.

NEW AVENGERS #2: Finally, after five or so straight issues of big team fights, Bendis and Finch seem to have developed some sort of competency with the conventions of it, although it's now become the superhero equivalent of bad disco music: all highs, no lows, and instilling an annoyed mindlessness in the audience. (Who would have thought Spider-Man being unmasked and having his arm broken would seem so perfunctory?) Oddly, it made me think of what Loeb and Sale--the equivalent of good disco music, I guess--could have done with it: dramatic moments that would have held a moment of resonance, big bright splashes highlighting the seemingly endless army of villains, and even tiny bits of characterization. Sure, it would have still been stupid (might have seemed even more stupid, in fact), but it might have actually been enjoyable. Eh.

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #23: I think they changed the cover for this, but I guess they couldn't do the same with the insides. Even if I had really somehow loved JMS's "Sins Past" storyline, I think I would have disliked this: it reads like really bad soap opera crossed with somebody's attempt to get their trip to Paris written off on their taxes. Could get better but I doubt it. Awful.

SUPERMAN: STRENGTH #1 (OF 3): Hmmm, the art was very Keiron Dwyerish, which didn't strike me as particularly right for a Superman story (particularly following an Alex Ross cover) but I liked a lot of Scott McCloud's story even if I wasn't as enamored of the whacky twist at the end as Hibbs was. But I couldn't help but wonder: why this price point? It's a good story, sure, but $5.95 good? Not with that art, I'm afraid. What would have been a high Good at $2.50 or $2.95 (I enjoyed it more than any of the regular Super-titles) becomes an Eh at $5.95.

SWAMP THING #11: Probably someone is appreciating the Cliver Barkerish ultra-gore approach to this title, but that's not me. In fact, seeing an animated corpse that talks from a barely-connected dangling head somehow breaks any suspension of disbelief: how can it talk through the dangling head if there's no air to push past the vocal chords? The more explicit the gore, the more those sorts of questions get pushed to the fore, I think. I liked the page where Arcane addresses Abby about his previously failed redemption (addressing some prior continuity I don't know about, I imagine) but other than that, really found it Awful.

TOE TAGS FEATURING GEORGE ROMERO #4: What's kind of a shame about this book is Romero finally has the space to develop some of his ideas as actual ideas (the nature of good and evil, a pessimistic belief in the power of the individual in modern culture, catastrophic change as being more than just a catalyst for horror) but he can't seem to do more than bring them up before cutting to scenes of head shots and zombie-stomping elephants. I guess it's a old dog/new tricks thing, but it's still kinda frustrating: this could have been better than just an Eh.

WILD GIRL #3 (OF 6): Liked this issue the best of all of them, although part of that is just some seriously ass-kicking art: the story is still too circumspect for my liking, as if the author expects us to connect all the dots because we've read lots of Alan Moore--which may not be an incorrect assumption, admittedly, but still keeps the story feeling stilted. OK.

So to sum up: Scott Pilgrim and Likewise? Yes. Loeb & Sale? Good disco music. Most of this week's comics? Not too inspiring. Hopefully, Hibbs will chime in with his .02 soon.