Lifestyles of the Sick and Craptacular: Jeff's Takes on 7/12/06 Books....

Finally, I am sick. Months after Hibbs and the GMc became deathly ill and recovered, I was struck--on my last four days of vacation--with an ultra-phlegmatic cold that makes me incapable of concentrating on anything but recently rented video games (which, now that I think of it, I was supposed to return last night. Crap.) as opposed to comic books and movies and a writing deadline for the next newsletter. Yes, pity me, boo hoo and all that. It does suck, though, when you return to work and a coworker cheerfully asks you, "Hey, welcome back! How was your time off?" But, before you can answer, you all but yank the tendons out of your neck turning away so you can release a wrenching set of coughs followed by a wheeze that sounds like half-death rattle, half-squeak toy. Good times, my friend. Good times. But enough about me. What about the remarkably healthy comic book industry?

52 WEEK #10: It gives me pause that this has one of the best scenes in the series so far--Clark Kent getting that scoop, old-school style--and it's about a character who's more or less not a character in the book. 52, it seems, suffers from a surfeit of ambition, in more or less the same way that a four-year old does when given two or three too many glasses of Kool-Aid: there's a lot of pointing and shouting and jumping, and one certainly gets the feeling something pretty damn cool is trying to be conveyed, but it's too diffuse to really care about. Rather than convincing me the DCU is one big place, 52 has convinced me of almost the opposite: the DCU is actually a very small place, where whatever Booster Gold is whining about this week is far more important than how people in devastated cities are trying to rebuild their lives...and that's kind of sad. OK, I guess, but I'm a little worried by how many storylines are up in the air 20% of the way through.

AMERICAN VIRGIN #5: This book is notoriously good at making me hate it just as I'm beginning to like it, and vice-versa. At the core of it is, I think, Seagle's essential, um, "fratboyishness" when it comes to sex and religion--respectful to the subjects' faces, but essentially mocking and disdainful at the core of things: how else are we to regard a scene where the hero, overcome in a confusion of religious and sexual longing, tries to fuck a closed casket? Is it anything other than the creator's acknowledgment that he can't take the protagonist's plight too seriously? (Twin Peaks fans, by the way, may remember a similar casket scene, which ended up casting a rather chilling insight on the grieving character when later facts came out.) If American Virgin was written by someone truly mesmerized by sex and religion--and say what you will about Alejandro Jodorowsky but Santa Sangre conveys more in any given 45 seconds about those subjects than American Virgin has in five issues--then I'd be down with it. Similarly, someone with a healthy skepticism, if not blatant disgust, at religious and sexual longings (like, I dunno, Philip Roth?), I'd be down with that, too. But American Virgin can't really decide on the tone it wants and so settles for a very Eddie Haskellish, "Why, yes, Mrs. Cleaver. The desire to know God is a truly wonderful thing. I've frequently said the same thing to Anthony myself." As the notorious comic book critic Revelations 3 put it, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth." Sub-Eh.

ANNIHILATION SILVER SURFER #4: Seemed like a whole lot of work for the end result (Silver Surfer's walking the streets again for Galactus the Pimp? Makes for a pleasing arc for the character, I think) but at least it wasn't the big-ol' suckout of Annihilation Super Skrull. OK, but you should keep in mind I can't remember any details from issue #3 at all, so it might be either better or worse than that.

ANNIHILATION SUPER SKRULL #4: Like I said, big ol' suckout. I know the creative team was trying to be clever with their "Aha! You thought the supporting cast you didn't care about would die so that the title character you don't care about would live, didn't you?" maneuver but it's six of one, half-dozen of the other. So the supporting characters we don't care about are never seen again, and the title character we don't care about will show up in eighteen months, probably without any acknowledgment this mini ever happened. Big whoop. Awful.

CIVIL WAR DIRECTORS CUT #1: Flipped through this just to see the big ol' DD spoiler everyone's been talking about, but I ended up being caught by a chunk of Millar's earlier draft where the inciting incident to the event is the death of Happy Hogan. In Millar's script, Hogan's next to last line in this lifetime is:

[Witty banter]

to which Pepper Potts responds something like:

[Laughter, probably something about Tony Stark]

This has both amused me, and unsettled me, for close to a week now. Do you know how many conversations in the Marvel universe run right along the lines of: [Witty banter] [laughter, probably something about [name-drop important Marvel character here]]? Fucking all of them, that's how many. I can't tell what creeps me out more, that Millar is so obviously aware of it, or that he's so obviously aware of it and still can't be bothered to put it in his early drafts because that's how unimportant it is to his "this is my face when I'm fucking Marvel continuity in the ass" mega-event. Sorry, Speedball; better you than Happy. OK for the painful insight.

CIVIL WAR FRONT LINE #3: I admit it: I read this just to see what piece of verse or concept of national pride Jenkins will screw up in his back-up strip. (Between these and Jurgen's History of the DCU over in 52, we're kind of in a Golden Age of amazingly shitty back-up strips, aren't we?) It was something about some guy who fought in the (first? real?) Civil War and whose last thought before dying was Captain America holding his shield high in the air where it's not protecting anything except Captain America's big ol' forearm. I can't wait for the other seven issues to see how American history gets hilariously trivialized, I really can't. Awful.

ESCAPISTS #1: Liked this when I was paying too much for those damn Escapist anthologies, and I like it here for a buck. Like Jog, I loved Chris Ware's "I Guess," but unlike Jog, I very much enjoyed that story's narrative trick being briefly revisited here. Jog, in fact, condemns this issue as being too cute by half but let's face it, Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is also too cute by half (or more, depending on how you feel about The Escapist saving Salvador Dali from drowning at a cocktail party) so I think it's quite a good pairing. As long as we don't have to wait another eight months for the next issue, I'm hopeful. Very Good, even if I had to pay regular comic book prices but for a dollar? Go get it, is what I'm saying.

GHOST RIDER #1: I didn't like the preceding mini, so it's not particularly surprising I wouldn't like this, right? But I didn't like the Ennis mini because he obviously thought GR was a crap character: here, it's the inept execution. The Ghost Rider has to stay in Hell because he wasn't honest with a shady character he just met? If nothing else, Hell must be filled with women who go to bars and people who answer telemarketer calls at dinner time. Pretty art, though. Eh.

GREEN ARROW #64: I'll be honest, I was gonna cap on this. It has this two page intro to a character we never see again--a dude who owns a movie theater who's been showing the same movie for six months to packed houses but is trying to smuggle the popcorn and oil back into this cordoned off neighborhood when he stumbles across the fight--that's obviously meant as no more than your averrage "average bystander/local color" hook straight out of a '70s Marvel comic, but which I found tremendously interesting, moreso than anything that Green Arrow and his buddy Grout were going to do for the rest of the book. So this review was gonna point that out, that writers should either avoid making their local color more interesting than the main plot of the book, or else realize what that says about their main plot--but thinking back on it, I seem to recall Scott McDaniel did a great job giving the "heroes surrounded by junkie zombies" scenario an intense claustrophobic feel--like something from classic John Carpenter. So the capping is called off. McDaniel's work, which I normally find scratchy and rushed, saves the day, and this was actually pretty OK.

GREEN LANTERN #12: Such is the rough magic of Geoff Johns: he can actually take three concepts I pretty much loathe--that annoying Cyborg guy, the manhunters, and Hal Jordan, as written by Geoff Johns--and draw connections between the three of them that actually intrigue me. That the Cyborg, also in his way a test pilot like Hal Jordan, ends up being the new head of the Manhunters (who are similarly a dark mirror to the Green Lantern Corps) is one of those nifty ways of playing with continuity that's one of the true joys for an old-school comic nerd like me. I'll go Good, even though if someone other than Van Sciver was drawing those Manhunter Transformer robot thingies, I'd realize it was only just okay.

MAN CALLED KEV #1: I skipped the last Kev story (or maybe two) because although I liked the character, he didn't work well with The Authority. So, although I've seen critics I trust suggesting the Kev stories have already been played out, I wouldn't know, frankly, and so quite enjoyed this: it was the first bit of Ennis in a while that really reminded me of his lovely work on Hitman, where you're laughing at lowbrow humor on one page and actually touched when a character dies on the next. So if you're semi-clueless like me: Good.

MS MARVEL #5: Wow. This isn't cancelled yet? So dull Frank Springer should be drawing it. Awful.

NEXT #1: DC really specializes at the pretty-looking crash-and-burn, for which this can serve as Exhibit A. Tad Williams, from what I can tell, has written fifty-two kajillion fantasy books (the titles of at least two of which, The Dragonbone Chair and Tailchaser's Song made me laugh like Beavis and/or Butthead for five minutes), at least two of which are trilogies, and seems to assume, like any good fantasy writer, that a truly interesting set-up is worth explaining, and over-explaining, until the reader finally understands how truly interesing this set-up is. Also, like any good fantasy writer, Williams has a sense of humor a little too high on the whimsy side of things for my taste so the captions read as if written by someone over-exposed to the lethal radioactive elements Douglas Adamsium and Monty Pythonite-230. What I'm saying? Is that I thought this was pretty Eh but I realize it's not written for me, it's written for the two dudes in the Firefly dusters I'm gonna be stuck behind for 45 minutes at Worldcon two years from now while waiting in line to see the Wonder Woman trailer, and one of those dudes is gonna say that Tad William's Next was underappreciated, and the other dude is gonna emphatically agree and then they'll both talk about how awesome The Dragonbone Chair was. And who am I to disagree?

PINK SNIPER GN: We got this in and I was bummed it wasn't some insane "Spice Girls Meets Golgo 13" Killer Princesses type title, but regular creepy ol' pr0n? According to the solicit info, "Med school student Niibia is abducted by the sexiest and horniest goddess of the school, Haruana! Pink Sniper is filled with half-animal people, flying sci-fi vehicles, loose women, and Haruana’s giant breasts!" Which begs at least two questions: (1) how many goddesses does any given med school have? and (2) Does any of that sound cooler than a "Hello Kitty" sniper rifle?

ROKKIN #1: A terrible book but an awesome title. A barbarian called Rokkin? My only hope is that he teams up with the thief, Poppin, a mage, Free-Sty-Lin, and together they can successfully loot the mysterious treasure of Beeattt Street. Seriously, though, this suffers from some very lame approach to the narrative and a real deficit of imagination, but the art is occasionally striking and odd--if you can imagine someone trying to make the Ralph Bashki film Wizards look more like the work of J. Scott Campbell, you'll kind of get an idea of the influences--but given a choice in generic barbarian hijinks, I'll take the uglier but more accomplished Claw. Awful, I'm afraid.

SHAOLIN COWBOY #6: The art wasn't at its usual "Sweet Jesus!" level, because everything seemed a little too dark. (The printing process maybe?) But the book had at least two mind-blowing moments--the Cowboy fleeing a pack of attacking sharks by leaping from body to body, and that amazing cross-section panel of the shark (and the head inside the shark's mouth)--and a genuine laugh or two. Not up to its usual standards of making my hair stand on end, but Very Good nonetheless.

SUPERMAN #654: How long until well-done Superman stories get dull? Hey, I'm just glad we've got the chance to worry about it! (We've had far too long to ponder the answer to the "how long until poorly done Superman stories get dull" question.) Like Graeme, I really liked this. Unlike Graeme, I don't have many compelling reasons as to why--if forced, I'd say that by putting the tension on how Clark's gonna keep his job rather than how Superman's gonna save the day is a very, very smart choice and very well handled. Very Good.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #31: You know, when Millar's not trying to fuck somebody or other in the ass, he can actually tell a neat little story. I liked the turns in this one, even if they were told with a remarkable lack of nuance. ("Reed... why was Doom...crying?") Land's art tends to sucks the action from a scene, however, and when he's in a rush, as here, you don't get any of that lovely "wow, it's like the most awesome van art ever!" feeling from it. It's just ugly and inert. Let's call the whole thing OK.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #97: Bagley's art (or maybe the finishing inks) also seemed rushed here--I assume he's trying to get through drawing his entire run on USM before he drops dead from exhaustion--but don't take my word for it: I didn't even notice this was the part one of the "Ultimate Clone" saga until I finished the book. (Yeah, that'll instill some confidence in my reviews....) Kind of a bummer because I thought Ultimate Scorpion was actually pretty cool before the reveal. Only three issues until the bug-eating? That's coming up quick. Good.

WALKING DEAD #29: Kinda surprised Kirkman chose to milk the misery for another issue, as I thought the big bloody finish to this arc would've started by now, but whatevs. What I found interesting were the number of people in the store who objected to the rape scene as being "too much" despite the fact that it was entirely off-panel. I thought it did an excellent job of being repellent without exploitative, and would only object to it if it turns out to have been done for little more than padding out the issue's page count. Good.

WASTELAND #1: I think the artist dropped the ball here if you ask me--I know it's a challenge to draw dozens of people dressed in rags in a desert near a shantytown and make it visually compelling--but the answer to such a challenge is not a bunch of cheap shortcuts. If nothing else, the reader really could have felt the loss of that tiny little town at the end of the story if more work had been put into it. And don't even get me started on the fights, most of which looked two folded pairs of curtains blowing about in a wind. By contrast, the scripting was very competent and did a good job putting all the pieces and hooks in place, but it seemed dutiful, rather than inspired--more like ultra-competent work-for-hire than the long-brewing personal project Johnston says it is on the text page. The page-to-price ratio is incredibly generous, so let's say call the book OK, but it's gonna take more than this--a lot more--for the book to catch on. I hope it finds what it needs.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Reprint or not, Escapists #1 is a Very Good comic at a great price. Too-dark printing or not, Shaolin Cowboy #6 continues to make a compelling argument that Geoff Darrow be crowned King Crazypants of Comic Book Town and soon.

PICK OF THE WEAK: Almost too many choices, huh? I'll go with Rokkin just so you can imagine me yelling that in a stoner voice while playing air guitar: Rokkin!

TRADE PICK: Dunno--I'd say Buddha Vol. 2 SC but that's just guesswork on my part. But that second Showcase of silver-age Superman stories has been blowing my mind for several weeks. If you haven't checked that out yet...

MANGA FIX: I don't know how many copies of the first volume of Dragon Head Hibbs sold, but it apparently it wasn't enough for him to bother with Volume 2. Lemme get back to you on this one.

NEXT WEEK: San Diego! I'm not going! Are you?