I am Jeff Lester's Bitch: Graeme's reviews of 1/18 books

Ah, that’s more like it. This week was full of comicky goodness and hissy fits (the latter courtesy of The Comics Journal, where Michael Dean’s “Why Can’t Comics Websites Be What I Want Them To Be?” series has ruffled some feathers, to say the least). It’s also, if you’re anywhere near Comix Experience the store rather than Comix Experience the website, the week when the new Onomatopoeia came out with Jeff Lester making me sound much more interesting and mysterious than I actually am. But that’s enough about me! To paraphrase the scary woman out’ve the Overstock.com adverts, sometimes, it’s all about… the comics. ALL STAR SUPERMAN #2: Maybe what the All-Star line is all about is being some kind of rorschach test of the creators involved. All Star Batman shows Frank Miller having fun at the expense of the fans, by being “shameless” and giving them his idea of what they want. All Star Superman, meanwhile, seems to be all about Grant Morrison giving the fans the Superman that he wants – A character that’s full of love and calm in stories that avoid the traditional fight scenes for soap operatics augmented by science fiction ideas. It feels like nothing as much as the Silver Age Superman stories recently reprinted in the Showcase collection, right down to Superman’s soliloquy about his upcoming death (“How can I spoil her birthday with the news that I’m dying?”), but it’s more than just a retread. Obviously, Frank Quitely’s art helps there – his sense of space is second to none in comics, and his attention to detail makes everything feel more real – but Morrison’s at his playful best here, explaining the stories in coded form as he goes along in such a way that only a second read reveals. I worry that there isn’t really an audience for this book, beyond Morrison fans, but I hope that that’s me underestimating the world and that this ends up being so successful that Morrison and Quitely can continue past the initial twelve issues for however long that they wish… Excellent.

BIRDS OF PREY #90: First of two DC Universe books that reach their pre-One Year Later conclusions this week. This isn’t BOP’s official conclusion, mind you: There’s an issue next month, but it’s a fill-in by none of the usual creative team and so doesn’t really count. Gail Simone ties up all her loose ends in a surprisingly upbeat manner, happily, including Batman getting what Mick Jagger would call some girly action from one of the eponymous Birds. I’m astonished that there isn’t more an Infinite Crisis tie-in somewhere, but that isn’t a bad thing... (Aside to Elayne: The apparently-permanent new art team of Paulo Siqueira and Robin Riggs is easily the best this book has seen on Gail’s run, if not many years before that, as well.) Good, and here’s hoping that more DC books follow this lead…

EX MACHINA #17: Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’s “He’s a superhero! He’s a political figure!” story reaches 2003, and America goes to war with Iraq, which proves to be somewhat unpopular in New York. Who knew? It’s a frustrating first part of the story, with Vaughan setting things up without remembering to add much of a plot. None of the scenes really add up, and as a result, everything feels more like a series of talking points set to pretty art (and Harris and inker Tom Feister’s art really looks good here, although the see-through top that Journal wears in one scene feels kind of gratuitious). It’s an OK opener, but it’d be nice to think that there’s going to be some forward motion in the book soon (Hmm. Both this and Vaughan’s Y The Last Man seem to have stalled recently. Maybe he’s become distracted by other work?). For those of you who really, really like JLA analogs, there’s also a preview of the upcoming Wildstorm series The American Way in the back of the book, which is fairly dull.

THE FLASH #230: ...And the second DCU book to meet its pre-OYL end. As had been fairly obvious for the last few issues, this final story was entirely filler material to keep the book alive until the character entered Infinite Crisis, and this last issue does nothing to change anyone’s mind, ending with such heavy-handed narration as to almost kill the reader (“My name is Wally West. I’m the fastest man alive… for now. If you stop and think about it, we all live in an inifinite universe, where anything can happen...”). The most interesting thing this Awful book has going for it is confirmation that there is indeed going to be a new Flash #1 in a few months. Just as I’m wondering whatever happened to the announced Darwyn Cooke-written Flash run a few months back, maybe I’ve found the answer…

HELLBLAZER #216: Ahhhh, Scottish writers, how I love thee. Denise Mina’s first issue of the long, long-running horror title starts things off with a short story about a man who gets himself in over his head with magic, which is fairly traditional around these here parts. It’s done well, though, and starts off a longer storyline which seems to be about some Scottish version of Constantine being a bastard to the Sting who manages the tantric without the sex. Leonardo Manco’s art is nice but unclear, and the whole thing feels like a Good but unspectacular start to something that has the potential to be much better. That said, what the hell is going on with Greg Lauren’s cover, with the leggy brunette in the background who seems to have no connection to the story whatsoever?

INFINITE CRISIS #4: A crisis so infinite that the creative team grows issue by issue. By this fourth issue, we’re up to three pencillers (Ivan Reis joining Phil Jiminez and George Perez) and seven inkers. Say what you like about the quality of the comic, that’s some infinite art team right there. The action’s picking up as well, as we find out who’s behind all of the Countdown mini-series, the Spectre plot (and related Gotham Central plot – Everyone who thought that it was going to be Crispus, give yourself a pat on the back) gets resolved, Batman tries to make some friends and influence people, a couple of heroes kind of die, Superboy goes apeshit, some more heroes definitely die, and, oh yeah, Crisis on Infinite Earths gets undone. All of that in 30-odd pages, proving that Geoff Johns doesn’t dig that decompression jazz. It’s been a slow burn getting to this point, but now that we’re halfway through the series, everything (kind of) makes sense and is primed for whatever big finale lies in wait, and the wait is almost justified by the entire issue of action this is. It’s probably in DC’s favor that I’m still unsure about what the outcome of this series is really going to be – From the April solicits, we know that there’s not going to be a big retcon button hit to undo the major damage that opens this issue, which is kind of surprising, but at the same time, I doubt that the status quo that occurs at the end of the issue is going to be around by the end of the series, either. As I’ve said before, this is a series only being done for those who are already DC fanboys, but it’s more proof than Geoff Johns is a writer who knows how to milk those fanboy-anticipated moments for more drama and excitement than you’d have thought they could provide, while also occasionally throwing in some things that make you go “Huh?” For those who know what Space Sector 2814 means, Excellent, but I still have no idea what a casual reader makes of all of this.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #13: Finally, we reach the conclusion of the storyline that the book’s been following since it started, and… well, it’s kind of anti-climactic. There are some nice ideas in here, but the execution seems off (As it has done for the last three or four issues, after a near-faultless opening run). Despite some great scenes showing off the various characters in action and tying up plot threads that’ve been around since before the series debuted, it feels as if we’re cheated of what should be the emotional pay-off to what’s happened so far because the pacing is off, and some decisions seem to come out of nowhere and don’t get explained enough (Namely, what happens with Terror Firma, the anti-Legion of the series, which comes entirely out of nowhere despite being central to how the story resolves itself). As with the last few issues, there’s another pointless back-up story that doesn’t really add anything to the series, as well as another tongue-in-cheek letter column strip, which exhorts readers to read Infinite Crisis and the Day of Vengence trade paperback to find out if the Legion will take part in Infinite Crisis, before going on to also suggest “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Pride and Prejudice” as other things that readers should check out. It’s moments like that, an openess to parody fanboyishness in a series that’s based on the same tendencies, that made the initial issues of this book so fun, and it’s something that I’d like to see the book return to now that the first main storyarc has been finalized. This issue was OK, but the series has been so much better up until now.

SEVEN SOLDIERS: MISTER MIRACLE #3: This book may be the un-Star Trek of Seven Soldiers, in that the odd-numbered issues are great, and the even-numbers are… less so. After a patchy-at-best second issue, Grant Morrison gets a new artist to complete his mini-revamp of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, Freddie E. Williams II (who actually helped finish out the previous issue), and suddenly the book is enjoyably off-kilter again. It helps that this issue is more coherent, storywise, than the last, as well. Kirby Koncepts like Anti-Life and Baron Bedlam get a makeover, and poor Shilo gets more than slightly tortured both emotionally and physically, as Morrison brings this book closer to the theme that connects all of the other Seven Soldiers series (What makes a hero?) if not the plot. Williams’ art is very cartoony, but fits the tone of the book arguably more than either of the book’s previous art teams, especially in his portrayal of the plastic people that buy into Dark Side’s worldview... It’s still the weakest of all of the Seven Soldiers books, but much better than the series had been up until this point. Good.

SGT. ROCK: THE PROPHECY #1: I’m not a fan of war comics in general (Although Showcase Haunted Tank in April? The goofiness of the idea makes me want that one) but, hey. It’s Joe Kubert. Ignoring the fact that the man can draw like none other – his art in here is still a million times better than almost everything else that will come out this month, despite his advanced years – he can also write a mean story, too. There’s something about the situation he puts Easy Company in, in this debut issue, that feels more authentic than something like Marvel’s Combat Zone book from last year; a lack of patriotism, and of good guys and bad guys or moral absolutes. There’s something chaotic about the writing here, in a good way: Exposition gets interrupted by explosions from an unknown source, new characters appear without explanation or revealing motives, and the only constant is Easy Company themselves. It’s a weird book, feeling both old-fashioned and contemporary, telling the story in a solid and non-flashy manner but with everything having an honesty and intensity that make you want to read further. In other words, Kubert is still pretty fucking good at what he does. Very Good.

X-STATIX PRESENTS: DEAD GIRL #1: Or, as it really should be called, Peter Milligan does a weird riff on Doctor Strange. It was, I think, Paul O’Brien who made the point that Milligan can write up a storm, but his takes on pre-existing characters generally seem to be somewhere out of character with the way they’ve previously been written. His take on Doctor Strange here is a case in point. By the time Strange says, “Since when have I started using words like ‘suffice,’ Wong? Who the heck says ‘suffice’ nowadays?”, you kind of know that this isn’t the normal Dr. Strange, who’s more likely to say “suffice” than he is “who the heck”, and wouldn’t discuss his hemorrhoids with anyone. That aside, this is a fun enough book as a depressed Strange has to deal with various dead Marvel characters returned to half-life who want to be resurrected just like Colossus, Elektra and Psylocke, even though he himself isn’t incredibly enamored with that whole “being alive” deal himself. Despite getting her name in the title, Dead Girl only gets one panel at the end of the book, alongside some other dead girls you might recognize. If I was being snarky, I’d suggest that this kind of book is aimed at the kind of self-loathing fanboys that Joe Quesada used to vocally complain about; they’re the only ones likely enough to both understand the injokes Milligan’s writing here and also find them funny. But as that describes me pretty accurately, I’ll shut up and say that this is pretty Good, but probably not something that can carry another four issues, as this series has to.

PICK OF THE WEEK is All Star Superman, because I am a Morrison groupie. PICK OF THE WEAK is the Flash, who deserved much, much better even for a pretend end of a book that announces its own return on the last page. For TRADE OF THE WEEK, I’m cheating entirely, because I think you should spend your money on the latest issue of The Comics Journal to read all the Eddie Campbell wonderfulness contained therein. It’ll make you look forward to his new book, The Fate of The Artist, whether you like it or not.

(And just when I go to post this, I see that Jeff's posted his reviews, and he picks exactly the same Pick of the Week, Weak and Trade that I did. Good Lord, man, do we share a brain or something? And apropos of your reviews: I think that the mystery room in ASS is done well, for my part; I'll explain more when I see you next, because to do so here would spoil the story for everyone who hasn't read it...)