Second set of reviews this week, because, let’s face it: I should talk about the comics some more. But it's hard when BBC America is doing an Eddie Izzard marathon... 52 WEEK NINETEEN: I have no idea what it is about the “shocking” reveal at the end of this issue – It’s certainly not the shock, because all the reveal is is really just the confirmation of a fan-held suspicion for a while now – but it’s somehow made me much more excited about the series as a whole. Perhaps it’s because it feels like the beginning of some kind of second act: Now we know (one of) the bad guys, we can start to begin working out just what’s been going on behind the scenes for the last eighteen weeks. Was (spoiler warning) Skeets lying to Booster all along, and plotting his demise, or taking advantage of his cluelessness? Is time really broken, or was that just something that Skeets was telling Booster to cover his tracks? Is Skeets the one kidnapping mad scientists, and if so, is he trying to start the artificial intelligent wars that were mentioned as a future event earlier in the series? With this and the last issue, things are beginning to come together and a larger plot becoming apparent (although some of the threads seem to be being lost in this convergence: When was the last time we saw John Henry Irons?), giving the series some much needed forward momentum. Good, and interestingly-done payoff-without-being-payoff, reminding me of Lost.
AGENTS OF ATLAS #2: Jeff Parker continues to have fun in his corner of the Marvel Universe, away from Wars, Civil and otherwise (Is “War” Marvel’s version of “Crisis”? We’ve had Secret Wars, Secret War, Civil War, and next year we’re getting World War Hulk), and it shows in the dialogue here, whether it be Jimmy Woo’s 50s spy lingo or Ken Hale’s dryness (“Derek, I’m a freaking gorilla. What else can you do to me?”). There’s also a nice bit about alien toilets that sums up just how silly Jeff is prepared to be and how much of a breath of fresh air this series is in the very serious world of The Big Two these days. Very Good, and continuing to be a very pleasant surprise overall. If Parker can be kept around, I’d love to see this become an ongoing book.
CASANOVA #4: I love this comic. I can’t be objective about it, for some reason. It hits all of my buttons: Humor, action, sense of its own ridiculousness but rejoicing in it nonetheless, pop cultural thievery and magically some emotional resonance as well. And that’s not going anywhere near Gabriel Ba’s artwork, which is clean and cartoony and dramatic and and and. Just like the last issue, I finished this one and thought “It’s the best one yet,” and part of that comes from the way in which each issue builds upon the last while still managing to have a plot that manages to resolve itself within an issue – Matt Fraction’s mentioned that he’s following a Buffy model of writing here, with the A plot of each episode complete within each episode, but with B through Z plots that run the length of the season, and it’s not the only Buffy influence I got here; the importance of (and strained relationship with) family felt very Whedonesque, as well. Excellent, but like I said, I can’t be objective around this.
THE ESCAPISTS #3: There’s a sequence in the middle of this issue, where the characters talk to each other through their work, revealing themselves in the work, that felt new and exciting – the way the lettering changes as the fictional characters stop speaking as their characters and start talking as themselves, and the artwork setting their conversation as chase sequence – which only underscored how disappointing the rest of the book felt (with the exception of Max’s reaction to his first bad review, which also feels honest). It’s not just that Steve Rolston’s art is still an awkward Philip Bond impression that doesn’t have Bond’s lightness, even as it suffocates what’s good about Rolston’s own style, but Brian K. Vaughan’s writing, which comes across as entirely unrealistic and forced: The hand of the writer is too obvious as the characters’ comic is critically panned (Awww!) but magically successful, being a top ten seller (Huzzah!) within a few pages, while an evil corporate publisher appears at the end of the issue, wanting the rights to the character back and wondering where his moustache is, because he wants to twirl it to be melodramatic. I have no idea what’s happened to Vaughan here, because this is all much more false than his writing normally reads, adopting the melodramatic plotting of the Chabon source novel without the smoothness of Chabon’s voice to try and hide it. A disappointing Eh.
MS. MARVEL #7: Still in the middle of Civil War, and still oddly making the anti-registration side more sympathetic despite the best attempts of the creators, I mention this Crap book just to point out that David Mack’s cover art is really weirdly half-assed in its treatment of the background characters.
MYTHOS: HULK #1: Paolo Rivera’s art is nice, if muddy – he has a really enjoyably cartoony treatment of the characters, especially when it comes to exaggeration of body language – but it’s used in the service of a very badly written story that not only begs the question “What’s the point?” but also the question “Did Paul Jenkins think that he had more pages here?” It’s a very oddly paced story, with a lot of time spent on set-up that never really pays off, and the Hulk himself spending very little time on-panel, and none of that time hinting at any complexity in the character whatsoever – This is the Hulk as destructive force of nature and that’s it. It confuses more than anything, because it adds nothing to the character or the origin story, but it also doesn’t work solely as a retelling of the origin, either, due to the loose ends: Are we really meant to end the book thinking that the real tragedy of the Hulk is that Betty Ross ends up being dumped, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear? Awful, despite how much I liked the art.
PHONOGRAM #2: So, I did end up picking up the first issue, and enjoyed it in the “Britpop Hellblazer” way that it had. But this second issue felt too referential in ways that the first managed to avoid. I got all of the references, because I was in my twenties when Britpop was happening and I bought the singles and hated the songs – Oh, boy, did I hate Echobelly, as much as I fancied Sonya Madan – that get namechecked in here, but… I’m not sure that there was enough underneath all of then namedropping; plotwise, it feels like the first half of an issue, not an issue in itself. Which may be the point, and is kind of fitting; Britpop was always concerned with style more than substance, after all – although the best bands had both – but still… I’m hoping that next issue has more explanation of what’s happening than (admittedly well-deserved) hatred of shit DJs. Eh, but the first issue was better.
A short week of “singles”, as they’re called by some, this week. But that’s because it’s all about the graphic novels this time around – Hopefully you’ve all made your trip to your comic or book emporium to pick up American Born Chinese and/or Pride of Baghdad already (ABC is still my TRADE OF THE WEEK, if you’re caring), although I was surprised to find myself enjoying this week’s JONAH HEX: FACE FULL OF VIOLENCE collection as much as I did. I’d tried the first issue (collected here with the next five issues) when it came out and more or less thought “Yeah, fine, whatever”, but either I’ve become soft in my old age or the stories here get better as they go along. Yes, Luke Ross’s art still feels somewhat plasticy and photo-referenced, but Justin Grey and Jimmy Palmiotti get to play with the “Jonah comes and makes everything alright” formula enough to keep things entertaining: Evil nuns! Almost all lawmen being corrupt! Lots of people being hanged! I’d be happier if it wasn’t on glossy paper because, well, it should be on rough pulpy newsprint and cost next to nothing (and, in an ideal world, be read by macho men in hats and pubs), but that’s just me being snotty; it’s actually Very Good, and who expected that?
PICK OF THE WEEK is Casanova, however, and PICK OF THE WEAK is Mythos. Next week: As much as I'll want to write something about Civil War #4, I’m on vacation, so anyone who knows of good places to eat in New England, feel free to offer advice in the comments.