I realized when I sat down to write this that it's April 1st and at first I thought "hey, wouldn't it be hilarious to write these reviews and completely make shit up!?" But you know, the occasional Google Romance aside, I'm not the biggest fan of April Fool's Day stuff, on or off the 'Net. Part of that is my general inclination toward the "bah, humbug" state of mind, and some of it is I just recently had to wipe the egg off my face after gleefully telling my wife about that whole "exploding space tits" story. I think the Internet and British tabloids should be exempt from April Fool's Day shenanigans because for them, every day is April Fool's Day.
So I scrapped the whole phony review idea (or....did I????) and what follows are my genuine reactions to this week's books (or....are they????)
[Note: they are.]
ACTION COMICS #837: Didn't enjoy this as much as the previous issue but it's still fun. I was mildly annoyed with the special guest-stars and the ending this ish because, I dunno, the idea that Superman loses his powers means 90,000 guest stars have to come in and save his powerless hash is kinda played out. Aren't the DC books strong enough that we can have a gripping story without having a superpowered cameo of some kind to fulfill the requisite formula? Apprarently not. Good, but as you can tell, that kind of thing bugs me.
ADULT FRANKENSTEIN: I know Graeme's gonna review this (and I can't wait!) but I had to chip in my two cents since I read it at the store. The author deserves some credit for knowing what he likes (short "stories" in which Frankenstein fights monsters and usually gets a blow job for his troubles) as well as his versatility--we start off with the Monster encountering Dorian Gray and end with him transcending Hell to become one of Lovecraft's Undying Ones--but it's one of the other artists in the book that really made this for me. There was some article in the Kirby Collector about the big influence Buscema's Silver Surfer had on European artists, and by God, one of these guys is here, swiping from The Silver Surfer and occasionally Conan and then throwing in awkwardly drawn choads and sketchily exposed bosoms all over the place. If you ever wanted to see Buscema draw pr0n, or just wanted to someone so obsessed with Buscema's style they even draw pr0n in that style, this is pretty god-dmaned unmissable. Good, in a very wrong and ghastly kind of way.
ALL STAR SUPERMAN #3: I got my email last night from the Internet Critics' Cabal with a guideline of recommended superlatives for this issue, but I forgot to forward it to my work address. I thought this issue was a lot of fun, and funny, and forgive issue #2 for its unwillingness to try and give Lois's paranoia any credence. I see now the art, like the original Silver Age stuff, needs to be constantly well-lit, straight-forward and upbeat because otherwise an issue where Samson and Atlas show up to compete for Super-Lois's affections just wouldn't work. And also as with the Silver Age stuff, I think the art heightens the poignance and/or tragedy lurking as subtext--there's some sort of "sad clown" effect the team is trying for in this work that's really kinda enjoyably odd. For whatever reason, a lot of the books I read this week had sections where the pages stuck together and I'd misread a sequence, and that happened to best effect here where a page ends with Superman telling Lois there's something he's wanted to do since he first met her, and then I ended up on the final page of the story, which made me go, "Well, that's weird but very, very clever." (The way it's actually supposed to read is pretty good, too.) Yup, it's another Very Good issue of this book. Well worth your time & dime.
BLUE BEETLE #1: It's weird the shit that'll hook you on a book--after that scene with the three kids cracking on each other with some actual wit, I was all-in. Giffen and Rogers have crafted a teen protagonist who seems genuinely smart and decent and a teen without going overboard--there is no Poochie effect here--and the art is strong and clean. Where it'll end up is anybody's guess, but this was a Very Good first issue and I hope it holds up. It could end up being the perfect complement to Ultimate Spider-Man and that'd be a great thing to have on the market. Fingers are officially crossed.
CAPTAIN AMERICA 65TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: I would have preferred this without that little epilogue. Because this special works really well as its own little thing, a neat bit of retro thrills with Javier Pulido and Marcos Martin doing a very Darwyn Cooke-ish take on the art, while the story works in bits and pieces that'll pay off in the current arc of the regular title. But that two page epilogue kind of oversells the tie-in angle, and kind of undervalues the retro thrills end of the deal. Don't get me wrong, I'd still give it a Good but I'd think anyone who picks this up would already be on the CA-Brubaker love train and wouldn't need that extra bit of hard sell at the end.
EAST COAST RISING VOL 1 GN: Becky Cloonan kicks out all the jams and damned if it isn't lovely as all hell: the first six pages are a damned delight as she takes the Paul Pope influence and kicks it up to eleven. And elsewhere her storytelling choices are just superb, slicing up panels like a Comics Iron Chef to nail the impact she wants without being overly showy about it. Artistically, this is incredibly capable work and it gave me the same brassy excitement I got from Sharknife.
Story-wise? Meh. It starts late, dawdles in the middle, seems content to coast on one good joke at the expense of New Jersey until it's not funny, has a great mythos but flat characters unable to inspire interest past their basic visual designs. It's meant, like Sharknife, to be a fun story, and I derived a good deal of enjoyment from listening to the duelling pirates squabble like children on a playground before fighting off a sea-monster that looks like it came straight from a biker's bicep. It was, in its own indie-manga way, intensely Bruckheimerian and depending on how much you like spending your money on empty bombast, you might like or even love this. I thought it was OK, at least, but I was hoping I'd see Cloonan's formidable chops on a story I could care about--or that I at least thought was headed for another big action setpiece perpetrated on something other than ciphers. That would be something really worth getting excited about.
FANTASTIC FOUR #536: God, Mike McKone has this awesomely clean line and a really traditional way of drawing Marvel characters--reminds of John Romita, Sr., in some ways--so why have all the action scenes on his run been so underwhelming? Are the scripts too jammed? Because you'd think a fight scene with the FF, the Army and the Legion of Doombots would have a little, I dunno, zing to it. Instead, there's a cramped half-page panel that looks like something out of Scooby-Doo where everyone's piled on top of each other. Also, isn't Dr. Doom in, y'know, Hell? In magical human-skin armor? As indicated by the run of creators just previous to this? If that's dealt with next issue, fine, but don't just plunk him down in the middle of a bunch of Doombots and not expect some confusion is what I'm saying. Sub-Eh, at best.
IRON MAN #6: Man, if those six issues had come out within six months of each other, what a knock out that would have been. But spread out as they've been over a year and a half, there's something underwhelming about it--odd since the delays between stuff like the Kevin Smith/Quesada issues of Daredevil, and the first arc of The Ultimates, arguably helped those books seem better to me (something to do with outlasting both the swell and backlash of public opinion so that each issue wasn't either overhyped or overdrubbed). This is a really amazing revitalization on Ellis's part of Iron Man--recreating the character so that he's the same but different, and with a very clear set of motivations, interests and passions--and I'm sure that trade'll be great, but I really can't see why these six issues took a year and a half. The art looks rushed, the story itself isn't particularly tricky and, in the end result, it's just an Iron Man story. A good one, but never has a better subliminal argument to wait for the trade been put into the marketplace and that's a shame.
MARVEL ROMANCE REDUX GUYS & DOLL: Jeff Parker has an unfair advantage here since he's dialoguing an early '70s romance story laid out by Jim Starlin which I'm guessing would be hilarious reading in its own right. But nonetheless it's either Parker's or Jon Lustig's story for the win as they both had more going for them than making fun of awkward panel transitions. This issue confirms what I've suspected for some time now: Frank Tieri is the Fozzie Bear of Marvel Comics. Desperately unfunny, particularly because he's utterly sure he's hilarious, Tieri's redialoguing of a gorgeous John Romita story is embarrassing in its lack of humor. Since the highs aren't quite as high as last issue, and the lows are much lower, I'll call this OK.
NEW AVENGERS ILLUMINATI SPECIAL: Unsurprisingly, Hibbs, not much of a Marvel fanboy, didn't mind this and I, an old-school Marvel fanboy, did. Because, wow, the idea of this secret community of Iron Man, Reed Richards, Black Bolt, Sub-Mariner, Professor X and Doctor Strange shreds so much post-Kree/Skrull War continuity--essentially any story where any two of the characters listed above appear after that now makes officially no sense--but also because the idea is just so ineptly handled. Do we see this secret society controlling either Jack or Shit during their time together? No, in fact, the three meetings depicted herein may have well been the only time these characters have met, such is the level with which Jack and Shit trammel the Marvel Universe. Throw in a really tacky scene where Iron Man, "Futurist" predicts six pages of the first issue of The Civil War ("...and because I'm a futurist, I can predict with confidence that young hero will have a 'Speed' in his name. Yes. Perhaps 'Speed Racer?' Or maybe Keanu Reeves, the star of 'Speed?' The spirits--er, I mean, the future--is unclear...") and I think we're in for another plot-hammered Marvel event. I can't totally hate any comic in which nay-saying Namor turns out to be the sharpest thinker, and the art does a great job making a series of conversations feel dynamic, but I can come pretty close. Awful stuff.
SENTRY #7: In a way, it's too bad Steven Seagle already wrote It's A Bird, because Paul Jenkins is a million times better writing stories about what superheroes mean to ordinary people than he is writing stories about superheroes. If this story had played with the metafictional conceit more bravely, he could've had it both ways and delivered something very complex. But now it all falls on whatever the special message is The Sentry "must not hear"--the entire eight issues depends on how well Jenkins can pull off that last issue gambit. Based on the first seven, I'm not very hopeful. Eh.
STAR WARS RETURN OF TAG & BINK SPECIAL ED #1: It's a single joke--whenever there are two characters in the original trilogy whose faces are concealed, it's Tag and Bink--but it's one that still amuses me, God help me. (Finally, Boba Fett's lousiness in Return of the Jedi explained!) And yet, the art tries too hard to be wacky, the story is slight, and it's a little over-priced. OK but maybe how big a Star Wars nerd you are may raise or drop that grade a smidge.
SUPERMAN BATMAN #24: When I asked Hibbs about a continuity error in this, he just shrugged and said, "Superboy punched something." Which then became the running joke of the day, explaining continuity problems in other books, shit we couldn't find around the store, and so on. I almost prefer this to the "Joker is god" excuse DC authors pull out when, as here, they realize their story makes no sense whatsoever. It took twenty-four issues and I don't know how many years for this book to go from "enjoyably demented" to "forgettably cheap." I couldn't give a good god-damn how this story ends up and that's a drag. Truly Eh.
THING #5: What, I forgot to read this? Dammit!
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #92: Probably the most effective comic with more than two superheroes in it Bendis has ever written. Good.
X-MEN DEADLY GENESIS #5: A miniseries so well integrated into the events of current X-Men continuity, than feels more like reading an issue of Uncanny X-Men than Uncanny does. And I like it, despite never really giving a shit about the third Summers brother, which is maybe like what I like about it. I'm curious to see where it ends up, and hope there are some decent twists in the final issue. ON the high side of Good.
X-STATIX PRESENTS DEAD GIRL #3: Not everybody loves a G.W. Bush slam (although I do) but c'mon, that's just so damn silly, it's hilarious. And then there's more hilarity on top of that with scenes between Tike and Miss America, or Night Rider and Piano Man, or, or, or... Milligan goes way over the top here and it's eleven kinds of snarky (what does it say about Milligan's opinion of superhero comics when fights between costumed heroes is the only enjoyable activity in Hell?) but Christ, I liked this. Very Good.
WALKING DEAD #27: I forgot to read this too? Double-damn!
PICK OF THE WEEK: It should be All-Star Superman #3, really, but I'm gonna give it to Blue Beetle #1 in the hopes that it goes on to fulfill all of its amazing potential and that people actually read and buy and support it as it does. I may be an April Fool, but I'm a foolishly hopeful Fool as well.
PICK OF THE WEAK: Again, should be New Avengers Illuminati but it's one of the few times in recent history Namor was an interesting character. I'm gonna give it to Superman/Batman #24 because it's not like I expect much from the book and it can't even give me that way. I shudder in despair to think of what's going to happen to The Ultimates...
TRADE PICK: What didn't I pick up this week? The BANANA SUNDAY TPB is great; I picked up the last volume of BATTLE ROYALE (now I'm gonna read the whole thing, all in one go); EAST COAST RISING (see above); ESSENTIAL NOVA VOL 1 TPB; the two volumes of IRON WOK JAN, that second Marvel Masterworks volume of Golden Age Comics; OR ELSE #4; and the TRAILERS HC. I spent so much money this week, it was kinda appalling.
MANGA FIX: Since I've become such a manga junkie over the last year, I decided I'd split this into a separate section although my recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt (I was really relieved to find out Brad Curran ended up enjoying Monster after all). Nonetheless, Hibbs turned me on to Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata's DEATH NOTE from Viz, about a teenager with a demonic notebook that allows him to specify who dies and how. Before picking it up, I was sure this book would go kid-kills-the-high-school-bullies route but instead it takes a weirdly satisfying turn as he decides to kill off all the world's criminals, and from there gets even weirder and more satisfying as it turns into a deadly battle of cat-and-mouse between the teen and the police forces of the world (led by the world's greatest detective). There's eleven million ways this could go wrong and so far (I'm only two volumes in), Ohba & Obata have neatly avoided every one of them. If you're looking for another strange and compelling read, check out the first volume of DEATH NOTE. I'm grooving on it.
And there you have it. Oh, and happy 17th anniversary, CE! Long may you wave and all that...