It's All Frank Miller's Fault: Reviews of December 7th books

I still haven’t read any holiday books, I shamefully admit. I almost did, but then I got an attack of the Grinches and figured that I should wait until closer to December 25th before I start reading about Robin and Starfire kissing under the mistletoe (Not that that’s stopped me from watching White Christmas and Holiday Inn this weekend, on a Bing Crosby-athon). Luckily, I managed to stay topical and read the first book below on the little-celebrated holiday Frank Miller Loves Patterned Underwear and Making Fanboys Horny Day. ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER SPECIAL EDITION #1: God, that’s a long title for what’s just a reprint of the first issue of the late-running and internet-breaking-in-half Ultimate Batman book without the inks and with Frank Miller’s script. It’s the script that makes this picking up, to be honest – Jim Lee’s pencils are a thing of wonder, true, and more impressive without Scott Williams’s overly slick inking and Alex Sinclair’s coloring, but Miller’s script is worth the entire cost of the book purely for his panel descriptions of the Vicki Vale in underwear pages. “Make them drool, Jim,” he writes, and you know that Frank knows just who his target audience is and how cynically he’s out to get them. For ghoulish peeking at the man behind the curtain value, the script pages make this Very Good. If I’m being more realistic, though, it’s a pointless cash-in on a pretty overhyped book, and really just Eh.

If they do an All Star Superman one, I’m still going to buy it, though.

BEAR #10: Am I the only person who thinks this is what you’d get if Warren Ellis had to write some random kid’s book? For those of us who remember Deadline, this is the kind of strange, funny, wrong thing that used to appear in there. Good, if given to Milk and Cheese syndrome (as in, you only really need to read one issue ever in your life because the central joke is always going to be the same).

GOTHAM CENTRAL #38: The third DC title that Greg Rucka is going to be responsible for the death of (Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman being the other two) starts the slow slide into non-existance with a stronger issue than it’s seen for awhile, just to remind me of what how good the book was for the first year or two. Ignoring the unsubtle Spectre logo on the cover – Yeah, yeah, you’re dealing with the Jim Corrigan storyline, we get it – Rucka finally gets back to characters leading the plot, instead of the other way around, trying to bring some sense of closure to the long storyarc he’s been writing for Montoya for… well, years, now. Relatively new art team Kano and Stephano Gaudiano reach back to bring the same spacious visuals that Michael Lark gave the book back when it started, as well, almost making me forget how pointless the series has felt for the last few months. A late return to Good form, then.

HARD TIME: SEASON TWO #1: I hadn’t read the first series – sorry, season - of this series, but had heard enough good things about it to make me curious enough to pick up this first issue of the relaunch, figuring that there’d be some kind of “This is what you missed” along the way. Little did I know that the whole issue would be flashbacked set-up, telling a story of tormented geek revenge gone wrong. Only thing is, I still don’t feel like I know what the series is all about. The main character – the tormented geek in question – has some kind of superpower of nature and origin that was never explained, and if there’s any theme beyond “prison is a microcosm of society, just like high school”, I’m not sure what it is. I don’t even know why a schoolkid is in jail with adults – Shouldn’t he be in “juvie” or something? Maybe the last series explained all of this, hell, maybe this issue explained it, but my eyes had already glossed over with the cliched plot and dialogue and missed it. Steve Gerber normally does better than this, so here’s hoping that this was just a bad start and things’ll get better next issue. Right now, though, it was kind of Crap.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #15: You know what made me pick this up? The fact that Arana and X-23, two of Marvel’s most-recent hype objects, are starring in a story-arc called called “League of Losers”, which makes me think that Robert Kirkman understands (Well, that and the fact that I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the last issue). Anyway, it turns out that this is a story that you know the end to just by how it starts, purely because there’s no way that the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four are going to still be dead by the time this all finishes because of that thing called “Marvel’s love of money, from both licensing and publishing.” Knowing that, the only thing that it could have going for it is the execution, which is… Okay. Kirkman’s script is functional with the occasional nice line – again, normally at the expense of Marvel’s big guns – and Paco Medina’s art has taken on a nice Ed McGuinness meets Terry Dodson quality since I last saw him on a Superman book years ago, but everything moves at a snail’s pace past the first few pages, and only three of the eight characters on the cover actually appear in the book. So, y’know, feh.

My favorite thing in the book ends up being the work of neither Mr. Robert Kirkman nor Mr. Paco Medina, however; instead, it is the creative genius of various Mr. Marvel Licensors, who have chosen to advertise their wares within the pages of this issue. Because, really, who could resist such items as Marvel Heroes Shoes – “Experience the evolution in shoes […] The only shoes in the US that light up and talk to you,” saying things like “Hulk smash!” and “It’s clobbering time!”, apparently – or the Hulk Valentine’s Day Candy, that says “I Could Really use a HUG!”? Some people might think make some kind of comment along the lines of “God, Marvel really will license out their characters to anyone these days, won’t they?” but me, I’m thinking that any world where the Hulk is used as a romantic analogy for a frustrated lover on February 14th is a world in which I want to live.

NAT TURNER #2: Someone should give Kyle Baker some kind of “Role Model for comic creators” award. At the same time that he’s making fun of everything that DC Comics stands for in a comic published by DC, he’s also self-publishing the family sit-com of The Bakers and this, his mostly silent biography of Nat Turner, all of which are illustrated in different art styles and aimed at different audiences. And to top it all off, all of them are pretty good. Turner is probably the best of the books, with more of a focus and less of a tendency to overwork a scene than either Plastic Man or The Bakers. On the last page of the book, Baker jokingly describes this series as “his greatest epic ever” and “the most important comic book of all time,” but his beautiful artwork and understated (but unafraid to be graphic when necessary) adaptation of Turner’s autobiography easily fulfills the first of those claims and your mileage may vary, but it may potentially have a claim to the second, as well. Depending on where you stand in your love for nonfiction comics and historical epics, your enjoyment of the book may vary, but I think it’s Excellent.

SEVEN SOLDIERS: MISTER MIRACLE #2: Well, we all knew that there’d be a dog in the Seven Soldiers bunch, but who would’ve expected it to be this one? I’ve always thought that Grant Morrison was today’s Jack Kirby, and his JLA Rock of Ages sure made it seem like he got that whole New Gods thing. But this just doesn’t work, for some reason. Maybe it’s because of the shifting art teams, from last issue’s wonderful Pascul Ferry to this issue’s slightly less wonderful Billy Dallas Patton (as well as the more promising Freddie Williams III), or maybe it’s the somewhat unnecessary recasting of the Fourth World characters in “urban” disguise. For every idea that works – Mother Box’s reinvention, the creepy psychiatrist who may or may not be DeSaad, Granny Goodness as Missy Elliot as pimp last issue – everything in the book still feels unfinished and unconvincing, not to mention entirely unconnected to the rest of the Seven Soldiers mythology. Kind of depressingly Eh, especially considering that Manhattan Guardian had such a strong Kirbyesque feeling to it.

PICK OF THE WEEK, dear holiday elves, is Nat Turner. PICK OF THE WEAK is Hard Time. TRADE OF THE WEEK is a killer this week, because there are three excellent trades deserving of your cash and/or credit card donations this week. Grant Morrison’s Vimanarama (which I may have spelled incorrectly, as I did it from memory and normally I just call the book The Philip Bond One) gets a collected edition for people to read and marvel at Philip Bond’s art and Grant’s Bollywood-influenced choreography and teen love melodrama, Showcase Presents Justice League of America Volume 1 appears as if the world needed a perfect Christmas present for superhero fans who find stories where Wonder Woman has to clean the JLA secret headquarters because she’s the girl in the group, but my heart belongs to Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s Demo. Demo was where Wood ditched the self-consciousness of things like Channel Zero and The Couriers and started writing about more personal (and for me, more interesting) things that don’t have names, all of it illustrated by Cloonan, bouncing stylistically from issue to issue but keeping all the good parts consistant. The collection is a nice object, somewhere between “digest” size and the size of the original issues, and the decision to collect the stories and only the stories – none of the background material or even the covers from the series – lets them flow into and play against each other in ways that the original presentation didn’t allow. Me, I think the whole thing gets more optimistic as it goes on, but then, I’m weird like that. But, yeah, it’s twelve short stories for less than twenty bucks, and highly recommended for both the superhero set and those who want stories about more than people in tights punching each other. “Result,” as someone would surely say.

Next week: Infinite Crisis misses its ship date, and throws the entire DC Universe into continuity confusion. Well, even more continuity confusion. Will Superman of Earth-2 complain about why the current DC Earth suffers from deadline problems in the next issue?