I should be asleep, or doing something more interesting: Graeme's reviews of some comics.

The downside of vacation? Potentially missing seeing Brian Hibbs eat insects, but I think that happened after I was back, but just nowhere near the store at the time. Still, how often do you see people eat bugs because they lost a bet? Brian Hibbs – Man of honor. Me – I’m a man of grumpy and overlong reviews, as you’re about to find out. BOMB QUEEN II: QUEEN OF HEARTS #1: So, despite the Mature Readers block on the cover (A cover that features the titular character lying on her bed in the throes of pleasure, her hand wrapped suggestively around a stick of dynamite acting as phallic symbol, with the shadow of a male lover against the wall behind her, ready for the male reader to project himself into the scene. That whole “Never judge a book by its cover” thing? Don’t bother; this particular cover tells you all you need to know about this particular book. Its purpose is some weird fan service titillation, and little else), there really is nothing in this book for mature readers. Yeah, there are breasts and swearing, but really? This is the kind of book a horny 15 year old could come up with, right down to the reductive – and somewhat offensive – portrayal of women as personified by the eponymous heroine. The plot, such as it is, is this: Bomb Queen is a hardass supervillain who meets a man, fucks him, and then falls in love with him, missing the point that he is plotting her downfall. Bomb Queen is gifted with such thought balloons as “Yummy British accent. Handsome. I want him.” and “Holy fuck! I think that was the best sex I ever had?” while showing off her nipples at any given opportunity, and the man she falls for spouts unbelievable “British” dialogue like “James Barry is what me mum fancied and I’m stickin’ with it.” It’s a really weird comic, as if some mid-level 1950s DC writer tried his hand at softcore porn, but somehow less interesting than that sounds and more Awful.

CRIMINAL #1: Yes, I know; everyone has reviewed this by now and loved it. I’m not any different. It really is Very Good and an amazing first issue, wonderfully evocative and still spare in the execution; there isn’t a superfluous line of dialogue and Sean Philips’ art is probably the best he has ever produced (helped a lot, it should be said, by Val Staples’ coloring, which keeps the palette of Matt Hollingsworth’s best stuff without seeming a complete copy of his work). Ed Brubaker’s writing is so tight here that it almost reflects badly on his mainstream superhero stuff, where things don’t flow as naturally or as well (even though they’re very enjoyable, especially Daredevil, which currently has a feeling not a million miles from this). You come away from the book feeling as if the crime genre is not only where Brubaker thrives the most, but also that it’s a genre with more potential than any other for interesting stories, the writing is so good. Although I doubt everyone will agree with me, I thought it was miles better than Sleeper, as good as that series was.

DOCTOR STRANGE: THE OATH #1: I’ve just watched the last three episodes of Venture Bros on TiVo, and as a result, find it very hard to take Dr. Orphe – I mean, Dr. Strange that seriously right now. Luckily, Brian K. Vaughan seems to be in the same mindset, having him complain about having to incant in Latin while manservant (and plot McGuffin) Wong kicks some gangster ass in the background. He’s not playing for laughs, though; it’s just that the jokes – Iron Fist grumbling about people asking him where Luke Cage is, Night Nurse’s amusement about Strange’s title Sorcerer Supreme – offset the potential overblown nature of the plot (Dr. Strange – spoiler – cures cancer!) without defusing the tension. Nonetheless, the star of the show may be Marcos Martin’s art, which is gorgeous, mixing Mazzuchelli, Lark, and Risso into something that’s spacious and simple and really rather special. Very Good, even if I expected Strange to say that he had to check his daughter’s closet at any point.

DORK #11: Despite Evan Dorkin’s self-depreciating commentary, this might be one of the funniest things you’ll see all year, with joke upon joke upon joke. With each joke being – with only a couple of exceptions, at most – four panels long, if you don’t find one particularly funny, there’s another one along in seconds. Luckily, most of the jokes are Very Good. Especially the Prisoner of Second Avenue one, which made me laugh far more than it probably should have.

GEN 13 #1: I’ll admit, I never read any previous version of Gen 13 (According to the indica in this issue, this is the fourth volume of the series, which seems kind of amazing. Isn’t the series only about ten years old?), so I have no idea if this is a new, grittier take on the characters or not, but this was much darker than I was expecting. Starting with date rape being watched on the internet by those who’d bid highest for the “pleasure” was definitely an unexpected opening, and while nothing else in the issue gets that unsettling, nothing here feels very light or fun, either. It’s obviously an intentional move, but one that feels curiously false for some reason, as if it’s dark for the sake of being dark, if that makes sense. Which isn’t to say this isn’t worth reading, because it was actually Good, but I’m really curious where it’s going next and whether or not the hand of the author (or editor, perhaps, in this case) will feel less obvious as the series progresses.

THE PIRATES OF CONEY ISLAND #1: I read East Coast Rising while I was on vacation, and saw Pirates artist Vasilis Lolos’s name in the credits in there, credited with toning Becky Cloonan’s linework. You can see Becky’s influence in Lolos’s own art here, along with the influence (as I think Beaucoup Kevin Church has already pointed out) of Supermarket’s Kristian Donaldson. It’s Supermarket that this book reminded me of, for the most part; Rick Spears’ script being reminiscent of Brian Wood’s writing when he does his disaffected young urban loners thing with the ultraviolence and sparse dialogue that always makes me think of Frank Miller’s teen gangs in Dark Knight Returns. I liked Supermarket more, perhaps because it had an easier-to-follow narrative, but this came together enough in the last few pages for me to want to check out the next issue, if only to actually see the eponymous Pirates and see what’s meant to be so great about them. Okay.

(East Coast Rising, by the way, was a lot of fun, and annoyingly short – it ended just as the story felt like it was getting going, although I was a fan of the fact that the plot really does center around a treasure map. Becky Cloonan’s artwork was pretty damn nice, as well, a step on from her Demo stuff.)

STAN LEE MEETS SPIDER-MAN #1 and STAN LEE MEETS DOCTOR STRANGE #1: Yes, I know that they’re both one-shots, but both of them are listed as issue 1s on the cover, just in case the world demands a second issue down the line somewhere. I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind seeing these as miniseries, just to find out if, if you keep Stan Lee doing these stories, he’ll end up breaking down in tears at what his creations have become. That’s the feeling I get from the Lee-written stories in both of these special issues, that there’s some part of “The Man” who realizes, with no small cynicism, that his characters are more commodities than anything else these days. How else do you explain him explaining to Spider-Man that he can’t quit not because of the “great responsibility” he once wrote about but because of the merchandising he has, or his recasting Dr. Strange as someone who has to sell t-shirts and tours around his house in order to make his rent each month? Yes, both stories are funny, but there’s something really sad about them as well, as if Stan’s acknowledging of the importance of business overpowering everything else represents something along the lines of an old man watching his life’s work being used for evil or something. Or maybe that’s just me.

The worst thing in either issue – where the Stan-written stories are backed up with short humor strips, reprints of other Stan work and longer stories by current fan-favorite Marvel creators – is the Brian Michael Bendis-written story in the Dr. Strange book, which is a bizarre passive-aggressive fuck you to fans who’ve complained about the current direction of Marvel: The Impossible Man comes to Earth, learns about Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Gwen Stacy fucking the Green Goblin, and Civil War, gets upset about his childhood being raped – and yes, he actually says “You’re raping my youth” to emphasize that he’s meant to represent the generic message board complainer, no subtlety here, true believer – only to meet Stan Lee who tells him that Marvel always was about change and people complained about Hawkeye joining the Avengers way back when, so shut up. It sticks out appallingly in the books so far, because it’s not a story about Stan Lee, but a story about Brian Bendis and his friends and their generic (and, to be honest, kind of weak) defense against criticism of their work, where Stan Lee is used as a figurehead instead of anything else. There are funny things in the story (Gwen Stacy’s one panel cameo kind of emphasizes what was so dumb about the whole “Sins Past” storyline), but overall it left a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s not enough to have books that sell so well, but you’ve got to get back at the few (but vocal) people who complain about your work? Isn’t that kind of petty?

(Joss Whedon writes the back-up for the Spider-Man book, a shaggy dog story with an end you can see coming a mile off, but the execution is amusing enough, and any story which ends with Stan Lee heading to PornWorld has to be given some kind of credit.)

Both books are Good in a really strange way, and both are almost worth it for the art alone; Olivier Coipel’s Spider-Man will make you want to see him on a regular Spider-book sooner rather than later.

TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #1: Ignoring the cover, which I liked a lot – not just for the Mike Mignola cover, but also the logos. Yes, I’m a geek – and the first thing that hits you with this book is that it really has the wrong artist. Eric Battle, who does the Dave Lapham-written Spectre serial, just can’t do the understated atmosphere that the writing calls for, for the most part. He’s too much of a superhero artist, wanting to make everything too dynamic but without the ability to play things cool when it’s necessary for contrast (I could make a cheap comment about his anatomy, as well, but it’s probably enough to say that the hand on page 2 apparently is symmetrical, with a thumb on either side). It’s a problem that’s made all the more apparent by Cliff Chiang’s artwork on the second story in the book, Brian Azzarello’s Dr. 13, which is by far the superior of the two. Compare and contrast: The Spectre gets curious about a tenement full of people with secrets, and The World’s Greatest Skeptic investigates the paranormal alongside his teenage daughter, about whom he has the kind of dreams that parents shouldn’t have about their children. Really, which one would you rather spend your time with? Overall, the book is pretty Eh, but the Dr. 13 strip is Good, and hopefully going to be collected on its own when the series is over and done.

ULTIMATE POWER #1: You know it’s not good when the thing I remember most about a comic is that Greg Land needs to spend more time with real people because of the proportions he gave a character in the first page of this issue (For those with the book, or who’ve seen the page online: Look how thin Black Mamba is! What’s going on there?). Yes, it’s another big event book from Marvel, and it’s all very competently done, but at no point does it make me care about anything that’s happening or make me want to come back for the second issue. Even the climactic reveal feels underplayed, because the arrival of the Squadron Supreme is done without dialogue; it’s just two pages of random people flying around (and posing, because it is a Greg Land book). If you haven’t seen the advance hype for the book and know who these people were, I’m not sure what you’d take from the ending here: “Oh. People are flying. Is that bad?” There’s just a lack of excitement in the whole enterprise, no tension in the story anywhere. Even the McGuffin feels stale (Reed tries to cure Ben, makes mistake, adventure ensues). Eh and then some, sadly. At least Civil War elicits some kind of response for the most part.

PICK OF THE WEEKS would have to be Criminal, although Dork should technically get it considering it, you know, actually came out this week. PICK OF THE WEAK is easily Bomb Queen, a book that you kind of feel that creator Jimmie Robinson probably read Tank Girl and took all the wrong lessons away from it about why women found it empowering. I have no idea what trades even came out this week, to be my TRADE OF THE WEEK; I’m still upset that apparently Absolute New Frontier hasn’t been released, because that was going to be my birthday present to myself in a strange way of my justifying the price tag in my head, and can’t focus because of that. Absolute Sandman really looked pretty, though.

So before I get hate mail about being so mean to Bomb Queen, what did the rest of you read this week?