Glutton For Punishment: Jeff Takes on the 12/06 Books (Part 1, Maybe).

This is both caveat and invitation. Six months ago, I stopped working behind the counter at CE and reading the week's releases as they came out. It feels like it's been fifty kajillion years, to be honest. I've only read one issue of Countdown, missed two wars (World War Hulk and the Sinestro Corps War), and let entire storylines I was kinda interested in finish up without me bothering (Action Comics, Wonder Woman, Justice League, Fantastic Four). I've continued to buy some monthly releases (everything by Brubaker, pretty much, Morrison's Batman, Blue Beetle) on which I am, with a few exceptions, completely behind. Since June, it's pretty much been Kirby Omnibuses (Omnibi?), some indy books, and a ton of manga.

I'd like to think this'll mean I'll bring "soft eyes" (as the people at The Wire would have it) to these old school big-ass round-ups. But what it probably means is you'll have to issue corrections-a-plenty in the comments field, and remind me that "Ben Grimm is The Thing, not The Hulk," "Norman Osborne is still alive and running Thunderbolts" and "Geoff Johns is only writing twenty comics a month now, and not forty."

Caveat/invitation (or cavitation, if you prefer) out of the way:

30 DAYS OF NIGHT BEYOND BARROW #2: Steve Niles and Bill Sienkiewicz have a lazy-off and we're invited! While I've never cottoned much to Niles' tin ear, he's at least trying to make things easier for his artist by setting the bulk of his scenes either inside a Humvee or in a snowstorm. Sienkiewicz, on the other hand, while turning in some lovely splash pages, can't even be bothered to make the book's single action scene slightly comprehensible. (If you've read Sienkiewicz's classic work, you know he's capable of doing it and getting all the neat splashy impressionistic effects he wants.) Didn't read the first issue of this; won't be reading the last issue of this. AWFUL stuff.

ABYSS #2: A sitcom version of Wanted, this works moderately well, with decent dialogue, great pacing, and a good change-up in the plot (also, a helpful, legible recap page which, since I didn't read the first issue, was a huge plus). I'm a little over books that use analogues to shorthand relationships (and provide for easy joke fodder) but that wasn't handled too badly. Highly OK and I wouldn't mind seeing the next issue.

ALL NEW ATOM #18: Didn't read the previous issue of this, but the priorities of the ending seem a bit off: what about Atom's date? Is Head dead? It's a bummer the big hero moments push away the small character stuff, but isn't that usually the way with Marvel and DC these days? On the plus side, having an angry mob burn Atom on a Foreman Grill is a funny spin on the classic Silver Age "Atom in Peril" scenes. If I was following this book regularly, it'd probably rank on the OK side of things for me. Since it's not really my thing, it got a high EH.

ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER #8: When a comic book opens up right after the Joker has finished making sweet love, you know it's gonna be weird. Although, actually, the rest of the book is relatively straightforward, slow-moving, and cameo-jammed; it's like it was written by Jeph Loeb on elephant tranquilizers. The only other notable bit of weirdness about it is Batman's interior narration concerning Dick Grayson, which sounds a bit like if you cast Marv from Sin City in the Adam Sandler role in Big Daddy: "Damn. This brat's starting to get to me. What am I doing, playing father? This is the dumbest move I've made in my whole life." Huh? Sadly, not insane enough to be more or less than EH.

ATOMIC ROBO #3: Every time I read that title and it doesn't say "Atomic Hobo," I die a little. The pacing falls apart a little--okay, a lot--at the end (there should at least be a "To Be Continued---?" or something before launching into the back-up story, and the back-up story has no real kick to it unless you know who Jack Parsons is), but writer Brian Clevenger has a nice, rambley way with the dialogue and Scott Wegner's art seems simple and clean without being lazy (although I might've felt differently if this book had been in black and white). Like Abyss, the high concept seems a little too clear to me--it's a robot Hellboy only much sunnier, basically--but, like Abyss, I can see myself picking up another issue if I come across it on the stands. Oh, and I also really appreciated the text page here, too. OK stuff.

AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE ANNUAL: With the possible exception of the guy who goes on military maneuvers in his wifebeater, this is all pretty intelligently crafted, less a typical Marvel annual than the sort of Secret Files thing DC was so big on not too long ago. What's weird to me, though, is how un-Marvel the approach to the Initiative is--with the possible exception of The Liberteens (an amusing Young Avengers style take on the Liberty Legion), these characters feel like they could be characters in the Wildstorm universe, or Shooter's New Universe, or half a dozen other generic superhero universes. Having the Avengers logo slapped on the logo only makes that stand out even more for me. It's highly OK at least, but it didn't instill me with the faintest desire to see the characters again, because I feel like I've already seen them twenty or thirty times before, and that's kind of a bummer.

BATMAN #671: I've been pretty underwhelmed with Morrison's run on Batman so far--that lovely work by J.H. Williams on the Black Glove story arc was the best case of lipstick on a pig I've seen in some time--but this issue makes me think I just shouldn't expect more than some clever jokes and a bunch of the good ol' kick & punch. Taken purely on that standard, this was pretty OK. In fact, considering it's part 4 of a 7 part inter-book crossover, it's really highly OK. It's still not kung-pao'ing my chicken, though.

BLACK SUMMER #4: First issue of this I've read, although I'm aware of the story's hook thanks to our pal The Internet. Juan Jose Ryp's art is always initially lovely but there never seems to be a lot of signal to go with all the noise, and while it makes for a pretty kick-ass street fighting scene, the following airfight sequence loses, rather than gains, tension as a result. Although I'd say this was mighty EH, it was also more interesting than the last three Authority reboots I read.

BLUE BEETLE #21: I tried to read this with an open mind, but guest writer Justin Peniston has still got a ways to go. He opens and closes the book with the old saying "there are no atheists in foxholes," but to do so, Jaime's father explains the saying means "you have to have faith in yourself" which couldn't be more wrong. Amusing ("And that's what the old saying 'never do anal' means, Jaime: you have to have faith in yourself"), but wrong. EH, but since this is normally one of my favorite books on the market, that's more disappointing than the rating would show.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER #9: Wraps up a pitch-perfect little arc by BKV, and if he ever decides to do a Faith miniseries, I'll be front and center. I'm extraordinarily underwhelmed by Georges Jeanty's work, however: there's a few shots of Giles where he looks like a ginormous headed Martian (the purple coloring doesn't help, I admit). Overall, though, really Good stuff.

COUNTDOWN ARENA #1: Of course, I wasn't expecting this to be good or anything, but I was still startled by how god-damned stupid it was, even by its own "Contest of Champions meets Saw" standard. Wake me when they get around to doing "Secret Wars II meets Hostel," will ya? Craptacular.

COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS 21: Second issue of this I've ever read, and it looks less like an epic storyline (or even several) than an epic excuse to cram in every secondary figure of the DCU so as to get cash from their readership. I mean, OMACs, Jason Todd, Karate Kid, Donna Troy, Batman Beyond, and the Monitors, all in one issue, plus Granny Goodness on the cover? (The last of which, by the way, I think even Kirby was never foolhardy enough to do.) This isn't a comic book, it's a mating call! And yet, when one gets down to such uninhibited pandering (as in, say, porn), what's fascinating is how fickle and impatient those being pandered to really are: like any cheesy porn, Countdown is actually really dull because the viewer, encountering a world ostensibly created entirely for them, can't help but pick it apart. (In the case of porn: there's no story; these women are creeping me out; why isn't the sex hot? In the case of Countdown: there's no story; Jason Todd is creeping me out; why isn't the art any good?) It's tempting to give it an EH since it could be much worse than it is, but pandering rarely engenders good will, which is probably why it's easier to call it AWFUL.

DEATH OF THE NEW GODS #3: Seeing Jim Starlin finally write and draw a New Gods comic is a dream come true for me: unfortunately, it turns out to be that dream where Mr. Spock won't stop making unwanted sexual advances. Seeing the guy who created the second best rip-off of Darkseid (with George Lucas arguably creating the first) finally get his hands on Darkseid should be fun and exciting, but instead I kept noticing how everyone in this book looked like they had to poop. So much squatting! It's like Starlin decided to draw Kirby poses but show them from new angles to highlight how unnatural they are. There's also some bullshit about fighting artificially created parademons so the heroes can destroy indiscriminately without worrying about taking actual lives. Lame, lame, lame. It's like paying money to watch Eric Clapton cover a Howling Wolf blues tune and seeing him not only blow the melody, but shear off a fingertip on a guitar string. Depressingly AWFUL.

EXTERMINATORS #24: That faux Kurtz scene amazed me by transcending simple parody--there's a great panel of the character staring with a despair and horror that that tells more than just the exposition he's delivering--and using "Heart of Darkness" as a way to comment on how cruise lines continue the evils of colonialism is really sharp. But once the focus is changed from "colonialism" to "patriarchy," the theme, and the story, falls apart as you read it. (Like, why would the guy go onshore to get his whores and rock when he could stay on the ship?) One of the few times I've read a book and wished it could get a do-over: I think I'd like the next draft of this a lot more than I did this one. EH, in the end.

HOWARD THE DUCK #3: This has a lot going for it--Templeton's script, like classic Gerber scripts, is a mixture of social satire and sheer absurdity, and Bobillo's art is wonderful to look at, particularly in panels when Howard looks a duck version of Harvey Pekar--but also kind of misses the boat in some fundamental way I can't put my finger on. Templeton nails Howard's "only sane person in a world gone mad" positioning, but it's Howard's unique mercurial reactions to that position (angry, depressed, bemused, weary, self-pitying, resigned) that make the character who he is, and the Howard here is maybe a little better adjusted than that. (I also think that Howard worked better on the fringes of the MU, rather than so front and center). So I don't know how to rate it: It's OK, but it also feels a bit like a big mistake.

HOUSE OF M AVENGERS #2: As long as you can get over the creative team's utter misunderstanding of The House of M premise (if I remember correctly, Magneto isn't able to retcon all of reality, which is why Wolverine remembers the truth when he gets his memory back, and why Hawkeye flips out after reading the back issues in the Daily Bugle's morgue--it's a precarious half-universe Magneto and Wanda have set up and the history doesn't go very far back), it's pretty darn good. Mike Perkins' art is glossy but expressive (although occasionally very stiff), and Christos Gage puts a lot of depth into his B and C list characters. There's some plot-hammering, sure, and, depth of character aside, I'm not really sure why we're supposed to care about this alternate reality spin of events, but as a Marvel Elseworlds kind of thing about characters only me and a few other '70s nerds would care about, it's GOOD stuff. Baffling in a "why is this on the market?" kind of way, admittedly, but Good.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #15: Haven't bothered with the book since Meltzer left, but this issue at least, thanks in part to the art team and McDuffie's script, reads like Meltzer without all the Mary Sue date rapery ("Come on, you really like Red Arrow, don't you? Don't you? Come on...") which makes it both much more readable and less interesting. It would've been nice if there'd been at least one establishing shot to let me know where this was taking place since there was, at most, two panels with any sort of visible background in them at all, but whatever. Seemed like a pretty vacuous wrap-up but I didn't read the first three (or four?) issues setting it up so maybe I'm wrong. EH.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #11: Might be the Alex Ross influence, or whatever nine million other deadlines he has going on, but Geoff Johns is usually better at having issues of his books read like actual issues and not just collections of cool scenes. I mean, we've got a cosmic treadmill sequence, the JLA and the JSA checking out Kingdom Come Superman, Power Girl crying, the JLA apparently fucking off because we never see them again, the JSA inspiring people by flying around like a Macy's Day parade float, we're introduced to Judomaster and three or four potentially embarrassing ethnic supervillains, there's a fight, Kingdom Come Superman thinks Judomaster should be arrested because she won't talk to people, Kingdom Come Superman and Power Girl have a touching scene together, then people find a body and Mr. America shows up. In the past, Johns was pretty good at traditional storytelling (something in the fight between Judomaster and those villains would make KC Superman realize he has to reach out to Power Girl) but this is frustrating in its "and then this happens to set that up, and this happens to set that up, and this happens because Alex wants an exploding Japanese fat man, and you can figure out why they're all in the same book." I'm loathe to call it AWFUL, but when I remember what this book was like in its previous run (particularly before issue #50 or so), I get very sad.

LOBSTER JOHNSON #4: I'll be picking up the trade on this. Hadn't bothered with previous issues since the Hellboy spin-off books usually don't do it for me (and I'm always suspicious of characters that sound like someone's nickname for their penis), but goddamn if artist Jason Armstrong and colorist Dave Stewart don't drive this baby to Awesometown. Mignola is also on his game here with a script that leaves plenty of room for big action moments, and he's got a nice way with the dialogue, so that when the villain says of this request for 369 dragons, "That will be the number of my army," you get that "hey, it's the pretentious-speaking bad guy" jolt without it just sounding like recycled Dr. Doomisms. VERY GOOD stuff and, like I say, I'll be getting the trade.

MIDNIGHTER: Some spiffy political subtext, brings back a character and ideas from Millar's run, filled with a lot of bloody violence, and has about the only plot hook (who was the Midnighter before he became the Midnighter) I can see being left to play with the character. Apart from a bad storytelling slip (Midnighter breaks the surveillance camera in his room, but a previous page shows that's he's being watched from multiple angles), there's not anything to bitch about. If Chris Sprouse was still on the book, I bet I'd even give this sucker a Good--but a combo of the art not doing much for me and being burnt out on the character puts it at highly OK for me. If you still like the character, however, you'll probably like this.

ROBIN #169: A real and ongoing problem with the bat-books--and with nearly all superhero books these days--is that the writers treat character motivations like switches they can turn on and off whenever they want. Not that I follow it that closely, but Tim Drake is fine with being an orphan except when he isn't; is the most level-headed member of the Bat-Family except when he's the most headstrong; and the least threatened by all the other Batman successors, except when he is. I'm okay with a gimme or two--Tim is obsessed with restoring Conner because he can't bring back his family, for example--but the conclusions Milligan comes to here about Robin's character seem like perfectly rational ones made by someone who hasn't bothered to read up on the character much. Which is all my long-winded way of saying: felt plot-hammered and I didn't care. EH.

ULTIMATES 3 #1: Weird and desperate even by Jeph Loeb's current storytelling standards, and I'm kinda shocked by the hubris at signing on to a book for which he has absolutely no affinity whatsoever. I read somewhere that Loeb had no interest in playing with political text and subtext as Millar did, but all that's leaves him with is making explicit the erotic bits and pieces Millar left more or less implicit, and the usual Loeb "here's a full page reveal of a surprise cameo" trick. The scenes are shittily paced (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver leave the room and don't come back when something crashes through the wall five seconds later), the characterizations are off (the Ultimate Thor is using faux Shakespeare speak, Ultimate Wasp acts just like 616 Wasp, Ultimate Captain America is a sullen prude), and new characters are introduced without the slightest bit of characterization. It's all genuinely terrible stuff, but, amazingly, still not as bad as the overly dark, stilted, sketchy art. I mean, check out that first splash page where Thor is apparently punching himself through a wall, or where Valkyrie would be leaping off her winged horse if it wasn't thirty feet behind her, or that sequence where Quicksilver apparently chases a bullet after it's missed Wanda (rather than go after the shooter) and the bullet is beside him in one panel, behind him in another panel, and moving in a completely different direction in another. By the time Millar and Hitch were finished with their run, I had lost already lost interest in reading The Ultimates, and this issue still made me all but weep tears of blood. True CRAP, and an embarrassment to everyone involved. Yikes.

WET MOON, VOL. 3: Fetishistic plump girl cheesecake intermixed with ultra-banal dialogue--kinda like if Larry Clarke was into chunky girls instead of shirtless skater guys. And while Ross Campbell's work is formidably realized, with detailed characters and an ear for conversational nuance, it also felt aimless, obsessive, and incapable of insight (which is why I prefer, say, R. Crumb's and Dave Cooper's and Los Hernandez Bros' material as it rises above mere chunky girl obsessions). The craft makes it an OK book, and it wasn't an unpleasant read, but the unsavory onanistic qualities make it hard to really recommend.


Whew. I've still got another twelve books or so to go, but lemme get this out into the world and give my brain time to recharge, 'kay?