Going the Way They're Going: Jeff's Reviews of the 2/14 Books.

I should apologize. We're really horrible hosts here at the Savage Critic(s). I was well aware that we got a ton of traffic links to Graeme's review from places like Bookslut, Wired and Time (and of course our pal Dirk at Journalista who started it all) but didn't think, until just yesterday, to write some sort of post to greet new readers who might stick around but wonder, like, why this blog never gets updated? So if you're a noob and you're still here, hello! We update at a rate considered lethargic by the Internet's terms--usually three times a week on average--with usually two (but sometimes three) reviewers tackling the week's books, and Hibbs chiming in with a shipping list, or an oddly-formatted link to some article or other he's written for Newsarama, or some complaint or other about toilet training. But sometimes you get a little bit more (one day, I swear, you'll get my post about NYC and Rocketship) and sometimes you get maybe just a little bit less.

This week? Considering there's a store newsletter to get out? Mmmmmmaybe just a little bit less. We'll see how Wonderman McMillan does. As for me, while everyone stayed away from the store and enjoyed our lovely end-of-the-world weather, I read:

52 WEEK #41: Putters along nicely, particularly if you're interested in the space opera story, or Renee's story. (I'm sure I'll be proven wrong, but the last six or seven appearances of Ralph feel like they're running out the clock on his arc--it's ready to end, but they're not ready to have it end.) (And, boy, is it a lovely feeling for an old-school paranoid like me to bust out a sentence with so many "they"s in it. I should go back and capitalize and italicize them: "Ralph is supposed to be the new Spectre but They won't let him!") It's Good stuff, I know it, but because I'm really only concerned about the Black Adam storyline, the mad scientist storyline, and poor ol' Will Magnus, I'd probably give it an OK if it was just you and me talking over a beer somewhere.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #20: I'm willing to bet Hibbs won't be posting reviews this weekend after all that insane number-crunching and summarizing in his Newsarama article, which is a kind of a shame since my take on the book was "Wow!" and his was "Yeah, it's all right. I guess. Pretty standard." His take is that he doesn't give a crap about Breakworld so the story has no tension. My response was that Whedon and Co. put the emphasis on the story not on whether Breakworld lives or dies, but what that'll do to Peter. Hibbs' response to my response was that that was a moot point because it's not like Whedon would bring back Colossus just to break the character (which makes me wonder if he's been paying attention to those Buffy seasons he watched at all) and then I don't know what happened because they next thing I remember we were both shrieking and flinging our feces at each other. To sum up: I think this is a Very Good work, being as it's well written and beautifully drawn and, while I can see Hibbs' complaint, he probably still deserves a face full of poop.

BATMAN #663: The thrill of the world's loveliest title page gave way to a sinking feeling as I discovered the whole issue was illustrated prose. I mean, I'm a fan of prose, really--hey, some of my fictional best friends come from prose!--but it almost always feels like a chore to me in a comic for some unknowable reason.

Here, Morrison gives us passable writing (it reminded me of the stuff I used to read in the lesser pulp magazines, purple, occasionally prolix, but definitely serviceable), perhaps as a commentary on how close to the pulps Batman can be, and while it allows Morrison the space to expound on the Batman's methods and The Joker's madness, it doesn't add much more to the story than the amount of time you'll need to read it. I'd give it a high OK/low Good, since it's a noble experiment and kinda cool to look at than actually to read, but if the construction of twenty-some-odd pages of prose is why this title had to run a fill-in arc for a few months and possibly lose several thousand readers for good.... well, I guess I wish Morrison had waited and done this as an Annual or something.

BLADE #6: You can tell Chaykin loved drawing the clothes on those flashback scenes, and Guggenheim continues working hard to throw some kind of cool twist into all of his action scenes (if nothing else, he's becoming the go-to guy for self-mutilatory characters) but this still feels like less than the sum of its parts--depending on how much you care about the character of Blade, maybe a lot less. OK, unless you're a fan of the character in which case it might be awesome, maybe.

CASANOVA #7: [Got about nine pages into it, then forgot to bring it to work. I reserve the right to retroactively add stuff in here later.]

GHOST RIDER #8: By creatively yoinking the hook of an old Night Stalker episode (where the headless horesman comes back as a biker), and tossing it into an issue of Ghost Rider, Daniel Way accomplishes the formidable task of ruining two of my beloved childhood memories at once. As always with Way, it's not the ideas that are the problem (frankly, that headless horseman on a hog is a cool idea, and a great fit for Ghost Rider), it's the execution: he lingers over his scenes of cruel cops and untouchable rich kid date rapists as if they were new breeds of rare orchids and not the bitter ragweed of cliche. The art's not bad, although Texeira's dramatic scenes continue to be overwrought, but books written and edited this shittily and cynically are why I always feel guilty when I don't praise some mediocre, but well-meant, book to the skies. Awful.

GØDLAND #16: Hey, speaking of which.... I was kinda bummed that Casey and Scioli published a sixty cent issue of this title to nab new readers and pretty much muck it up. Admittedly, summarizing fifteen issues of storylines and introducing all the characters isn't an easy task, but the approach taken here (a bunch of pissy military men argue about it in a room and you get flashback panels) is the path of least resistance...and even lesser drama. I thought this was deeply Eh, and like I said, I feel guilty as hell admitting it.

GREEN ARROW #71: It almost feels like genuine tension when Winick has his two favorite Mary Sues (Green Arrow and Red Hood) fight it out--I mean, since neither one can ever lose, who will win? Actually, despite my sassmouth, I liked this issue OK: Judd and Scott McDaniel are doing pretty much the opposite of something new and yet they're doing it pretty damn well. It certainly could be worse.

JLA CLASSIFIED #34: I missed the first issue of this arc by Dan Slott when it first hit the stands--and most of the people whose opinion I trust was pretty dismissive of it, at the time--but it hasn't been that bad. This issue is my favorite so far, as it uses the alternate reality powers of the bad guy to indulge in the classic Imaginary Story trope of the Earth being evacuated before it explodes. Slott, Jurgens (writing and drawing) and Ordway are really just going for an extra-large Gardner F. Fox story here and, if you like that kind of thing, I think you'll dig it. Good stuff so far, if you ask me.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #3: Poor Alan David Doane. I remember thinking he was kind of going overboard a few years back when he was loosing long tirades about Geoff Johns and his overly violent, age-inappropriate handling of DC icons, but these days, Doane's screeds seem more and more prophetic. I mean, by page five of this book, you get to see a woman and child torn apart at a picnic, an invulnerable silver dude killed by having a metal shard jammed through his open mouth... it's like Friday the 13th: JSA for a bit, there. Hibbs was bemoaning the fact that this is a really good JSA book except that he doesn't feel comfortable having kids read it and how sad is that? (Note: the proper answer here is very, very sad, since the original JSA stories from All-Star Squadron are some of the earliest books Hibbs read as a kid and a cursory glance at the Matt Wagner original art on CE's walls will attest to Bri's enduring fondness for the characters.) Me, I'm just bothered that Johns, who's always struck me as the professional's professional, thinks that this is the best, strongest and most effective way to craft a gripping story and that's really, really sad. As the non-maimy parts of this book show, Johns has a good handle on characterization and the clever hook. But I kinda doubt he'll ever really develop those traits to any significant extent now because this is the kind of stuff that keeps him at the top of the charts. It's an OK issue, but it's also kind of a god-damned shame, you know?

MANHUNTER #28: Skimmed through this issue and it was Eh. The parade of sales-saving cameos continues, but for me the most noteworthy thing about it is that on the last page Kate sees the chess piece, the mark of covert government agency Checkmate, and looks all alarmed. And you know, no matter how Rucka and Co. try to make it work, Checkmate just isn't alarming, and it's not cool. (Maybe for the same reason that a top secret organization called "Bingo!" or "Yahtzee!" wouldn't be cool. I'm not sure, to be honest.)

NEXTWAVE AGENTS OF HATE #12: Yes, okay, of course, the revelation of the ultimate villain (which I'm loathe to reveal) had me initially squeal with glee. But, after thinking about it, it's really just the "Fin Fang Foom" thing + the Kirby character piss-take of the first two issues rolled into one. I laughed once or twice reading this, and the art was insane and gorgeous, but to tell ya the truth, I don't think they could've gotten much more from this series: as it was, it often felt like one part inspiration to two parts rehash. Good issue, a fun bit of skylarking, and a pretty decent miniseries overall, but I think it's probably for the best that it's the end.

PUNISHER PRESENTS BARRACUDA MAX #1: If this had been a prequel to the Punisher storyline with Barracuda, I would've been much closer to loving it: as a sequel, it really diminishes the impact of the original storyline. And your enjoyment of the rest of the issue may depend on what you think of Ennis's imitations of Christopher Walken's vocal stylings (not bad) and/or how you feel about a trope from the first Fury miniseries popping up (the tagalong nebbish? Really?) But I did like this issue despite all that: some similarly perverse sense of humor on the part of Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov makes Barracuda a strangely appealing nightmare. The character's monstrous good cheer is infectious. I was actually hoping for better to be honest, but I thought it was Good.

I have another four or five books I read, but I realize I really don't have much to say. So let's just cut to

PICK OF THE WEEK: Even the stuff I liked I damned with faint praise. ASTONISHING X-MEN #20 was the stuff I bitched about the least, maybe because I was defending it from Hibbs.

PICK OF THE WEAK: Well, if that movie is as much of a turd as it looks to be, then at least Marvel is putting out material in the direct market perfectly suited for any new readers it might bring in: GHOST RIDER #8 sucks, too.

TRADE PICK: SHOWCASE PRESENTS AQUAMAN VOL 1 TPB and I can't wait to get a day or two to dig into it.

And howzabout your fine self?