Many Thanks, and Reviews of 10/19/05 Books

First, I really want to thank everyone who posted to the previous thread--it really helped get a handle on what people's preferences were for the use of color on this site. And if you haven't commented yet, feel free to do so: I'm not ruling anything out, and it's always good to hear from people who read the site. Special thanks go to Steve Pheley for being the first to suggest tweaking the template--whether we stay with color or not, we've got a byline now right after the post title. I wish I had thought of it. I also want to thank our long-lost pal Hayden who amused Edi for hours with his "Way to lock that down" comment, but, really, anyone who took the time to comment, be it on the color or the content, I want to thank you. It's a +10 to our morale, at least.

Finally, before getting to the reviews, I wanted to address what Craig and others asked about on the thread: the dialogue posts, where Brian and I would each post on the same books, and there was a lot more give and take. We would love to do more of those, as they get the most positive feedback by far, but it seems very, very unlikely for the immediate future. It took buttloads of my time back when we did them, and at the time I was single and Hibbs was Benless. We also did it in Word and Dreamweaver in a very time-consuming way (for me), and I'm not sure there's an easy way in Blogger to replicate it.

All that said, I'm kinda sorta looking into this year's hula-hoop, podcasting, as a way for us to try something like that: get a Griffin iTalk (or maybe that Belkin thing) for my Ipod, bring it into the store on a Friday, and get us gabbing. Maybe for 2006, we'll see.

And as for this week at the racks:

AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS VOL 2 #1: I spent a lot of time second-guessing the art choices for Volume I because a lot of it seemed unclear and clumsy. I'm happy to report I found Volume II a vast improvement in this regard: storytelling choices were clean, similar looking characters were given identifiers to make one another stand out, and only a few areas where perspective seemed flattened out. In addition, the transition of the race sequence to diagonal page layouts was playful and smart. Really fun. I was a bit more put off by the writing, in that the opening sequence in particular tries to bite off more than it can chew (and there's a bit of extra 'splaining quickly jammed into an inside front cover) but this what I was hoping the first issue of Volume I would be, way back when, and consequently I'm giving this a very, very high OK. I'll be back for issue #2 and my hope is this title will continue to grow.

AUTHORITY REVOLUTION #12: This had the cruel and clever wit and enjoyably absurd one-upsmanship of impossible situations of classic Authority stories; unfortunately, it comes at the very end of what felt like a far-too-long arc. If this whole thing had been compressed down to between three and six issues, there's a chance I would have really enjoyed it. But as it is, it's a pretty Good ending to a pretty less-than-Eh run.

BANANA SUNDAYS #3: Storywise, this is the issue where the padding happens, as every question important to the reader isn't answered, and no new ones are put on the table. But I didn't care because the mix of witty (if a bit clunky) writing, and clever and assured cartooning, make this a continuing pleasure to read. A high Good.

BATGIRL #69: Since The Comics Shrew is pretty high on Andersen Gabrych's run on this, I gave this book another shot and, ultimately, liked it. While the current staus on the Lazarus Pits, like everything else in DC continuity these days, keep yo-yoing all over the place (The pits are opened, the pits are closed, they only work once, except this one, etc., etc.) I can accept it here since it's used with the end of bringing back Mr. Freeze's wife, something that I don't think *has* been done. (Fire up those correcting emails, DC fans.) I'm giving this issue only an OK because it's still part of an arc that had a hog-headed biker several issues back, but I found this a pleasant surprise and will try to keep an eye out for future issues.

BATMAN #646: I think I mentioned in a previous entry I really got into DC titles through reading Wolfman and Perez's Teen Titans, so I always thought Deathstroke the Terminator was pretty cool. However, Identity Crisis made him this year's Macarena; he's everywhere now, unavoidable, and growing more annoying each time he turns up. Maybe there's some sort of "Where's Waldo" contest going on with him I don't know about. Between his anticlimactic appearance here, and the (hopefully temporary)change in art team, I gotta go with OK.

BATMAN GOTHAM KNIGHTS #70: The Clayface virus was, uh, interesting, I suppose (although a Clayface performing the murder in the form of Alfred would have been more satisfying), but between static art, major plot-hammering, and a bunch of other complaints, I gotta go down to Awful. Too bad because some of the cops' dialogue was nicely Bendisish. I could see someone really loving this stuff, but they'd have to be doing a better job at it than the creative team is at theirs.

DAREDEVIL VS PUNISHER #5: Weird how things work. I think Lapham's art can be satisfying and, if not sophisticated, at least somewhat nuanced in Stray Bullets, but here, maybe it's the coloring or something, it seems stiff and very awkward. Now that I think of it, the final Miller/Janson issues of Daredevil did too, but the stories were compelling enough one could ignore that sort of thing, and this just isn't. Bummer to be giving it an Eh but there you have it.

JUSTICE #2: Jim Kreuger has a very set way of taking a hero or villain's defining characteristics and spinning them (I still remember, for example, his explanation as to why they call Sue "The Invisible Girl") which can be either pleasantly surprising or annoyingly pat--and, because I can't decide which, this issue, with its attribution of The Riddler's M.O. to a bit of childhood abuse, is a bit of toss-up. Also, in case you've forgotten, I live in San Francisco and got my B.A. in P.C., so a scene of natives of a foreign country bowing down and calling The Flash a god and offering him all forms of tribute seemed embarrassingly anachronistic, in tandem with the fact that The Riddler's gang were multicultural but you only saw Batman beating up the African-American henchmen, made me a little uneasy. So, uh, OK, I guess? You'll probably rate it higher if you really like Ross's art and don't come with the same unfortunate kneejerk hardwiring I do.

MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN #19: Pat Lee does better work here than I've seen in some time, which means he only partially causes the story to crap out, rather than trashes it entirely. (The emphasis on Mary Jane makes me wonder if David wrote the script thinking, I dunno, Frank Cho might end up on it.) Although, now that I think about it, the violent stalker fan angle seemed pretty cliched and kinda crappy without any help from Lee, so I dunno... The parts of David's script I liked, I really liked: the stuff I didn't like (and there was more of that here than in FNSM #1), I really, really didn't like. So maybe it could have been a medium OK if it hadn't been for Pat Lee's art (maybe?), but I'll go with a straight Eh.

MARVEL MONSTERS FIN FANG FOUR: Of course, that one wordless page where The Thing watches Elektro ask the FF's robo-receptionist out is pure Roger Langridge, but the rest of this seems to be a very smooth collaboration between Langridge and Scott Gray (who if I read this interview on Spurge's Comics Reporter correctly, had a hand on piecing a lot together on the Marvel continuity end of things). I found it very enjoyable, although the menace seemed kinda silly and unthreatening, which was the only offnote in a piece that blended whimsy and seriousness with a nice balance. I may have enjoyed this even more than Powell's Devil Dinosaur/Hulk issue, because it was longer and gave the characters more of an "arc." Again, my kneejerk P.C.ness would have appreciated an introductory context about the Fin Fang Foom reprint but that's just me. A high Good.

MR. T #2: Goddammit. I bet we only got one copy of this for the racks (maybe two) and it was gone before I made it to the store Friday. Rats.

NICK FURY HOWLING COMMANDOS #1: Oh, man. I was actually pitying the poor sonsabitches who preordered this three months ago and then still had to buy it after reading those awful preludes printed in every Marvel book for the last three weeks and then, of course, at the end of the day, I realized one of those poor sonsabitches was me. This book was an enormous slipshod piece of Crap, with lousy, ugly amateurish art, garish, painful coloring, and dull, stilted writing. The last part really stings since I, like probably everyone else, pre-ordered this on the strength of Keith Giffen's previous work. I mean, don't get me wrong, I think the art really killed this, and made reading it a fucking horrible exercise in eyerape, but looking at the elements of the script separately, I think only a very good artist could have made this a decent read: it starts with a lot of action, but, by the end, only Clay Quartermain (introduced in the second half) is anything other than a cipher. This is the kind of book one's embarrassed to have in their collection. I can't even think about it without wincing. Heinous, heinous Crap.

ROBIN #143: Why did I pick this up? I haven't been following this book at all, but if they're all like this, they should change the title of the book to OTHER PEOPLE (GUEST-STARRING ROBIN!) That alone puts it at Eh, but the rest of it is nothing to write home about, either.

SEVEN SOLDIERS KLARION THE WITCH BOY #4: There's a whole narrative leap there (Klarion merging with his cat) that I didn't follow at all (and maybe also that very abrupt opening) but man, I really enjoyed this issue, and this whole mini overall. I admit Morrison made his villain a little too Millarish (i.e., very "Would you like some RAPE with your RAPE?" in his dialogue), but so far, this was only second to Guardian. Let's go with Very Good.

SHAOLIN COWBOY #4: Motherfuckin' yes. I didn't finish this, but unless the last eight pages featured the Shaolin Cowboy and his mule sitting around knitting (and maybe even if it does) this kicks extraordinary amounts of ass (pun unavoidable). The art is so impressively crafted and drawn, it elevates its innate stupidity into some previously uncharted realm of genius, all the more because Darrow is doing so very deliberately. I can't think of the appropriate metaphor to describe this (it's like if Richard Wagner was resurrected and staged an opera based on Three Stooges shorts? Or if Alejandro Jodorowsky was hired to write new Bugs Bunny cartoons for Warner Brothers?) but don't let my sputtering ineptitude dissuade you. If extravagant absurdity is even remotely your thing, then this is your thing. Very Good, for sure.

SHE-HULK 2 #1: This is also Very Good work, in a very different way from Shaolin Cowboy (just as SC #4 is from Klarion #4 above it). I'm kind of in awe of Slott's scripting here--he squeezes a "don't wait for the trade" argument perfectly into his previously established meta-commentary; he simultaneously critiques and integrates She-Hulk's behavior in Avengers Dissembled into his series; and makes a book about a superpowered lawyer both packed with comic book action and comic book law. Equally good is Bobillo's art, which is delightfully expresive and sympathetic. I hope that, similar to how Runaways picked up readers in its reboot, this book does the same and gets a genuine chance in the direct market. It deserves it. As I said, Very Good.

SUPERMAN #222: Oh, come on now. That's really, really dumb. Even if I buy all the other Infinite Crisis related plot hammering, am I really supposed to believe that Superman, fearing for his lack of control (or whatever), replaced himself with robot and didn't bother to mention it to his wife? I'm kinda stunned that this is the same Mark Verheiden who's been working on Battlestar Galactica this season (although I thought the episode with his name as scripter was easily the worst of the season to date) because that show goes to some pretty great lengths to make the characterization seem natural, and this--well, this really doesn't. Awful.

SUPREME POWER HYPERION #2: I skipped issue #1 of this, and thought issue #2 kinda screwed the pooch: JMS went to such great lengths to introduce superpowers throughout the regular series that introducing (at least) three people with them at the same time, out of nowhere, really kills the atmosphere he was going for. Now it's just a superhero book with swears (swears to leave soon, I guess). Plus, the art, by Dan Jurgens and Klaus Janson, makes this look exactly like an issue of The Defenders from the mid-'70s, and although that's actually a compliment in my book, I know that won't hold true for hardly anyone else. Bottom of the Eh.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #24: The people behind the Ultimateverse seem aware that the Marvel Universe had a disprorportionate amount of orphan superheroes, but I wish someone other than Mark "hatched from an egg" Millar had handled the return of Sue and Johnny's mother: her characterization isn't flat, it's frickin' concave. Maybe it'll all pan out if Ultimate Submariner has some of the innovation of Millar's recharacterization on The Ultimates, but this left me even more underwhelmed than the zombieverse story of last arc. Eh.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #84: By contrast, I thought this came very close to perfectly paced--a big ol' punch-up scene contrasted with a humorous phone conversation and a surprise change 'em up. Bendis and Bagley's Spider-Man is starting to remind me less of the "regular" Spider-Man and more of Bugs Bunny, but that's not such a bad thing, somehow. Hard to believe this book might be back on track, but this pretty Good issue suggests that might be the case.

WALKING DEAD #22: Even though Rick had a pretty good point about everyone being deeply unhinged and about ready to off themselves, he still came off as a sanctimonious asshat. I'll give Kirkman credit that he did so deliberately since Rick himself is also one of the deeply unhinged, but taken on its own terms the scene was pretty flat. The story is at a point where the more sophisticated he can be in detailing everyone's deterioration, the more satisfying it'll be when everything really hits the fan. I'll go with Good, but reservedly so.

X-MEN #176: Didn't read any of the previous issues but this perfectly sums up the strengths and weaknesses of Peter Milligan's characters: the better-known the characters are, the duller and more out-of-character he writes them (The Black Panther--chatty? Ororo--prissy?), whereas the lesser-known the characters are, the more interesting and closer to in-character he writes them. The talking hypno-baboon not being able to count to five, and Red Ghost and his two Super-Apes (where the servile Super-Apes able to see the failures of communism far better than the zealous Ghost) were terrific (credit should go to Larroca's art, which really sells the Apes' scenes). Get these guys off X-Men and put 'em on a Red Ghost and The Super-Apes miniseries. Eh, but worth flipping through.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Hmm, I guess the real standouts for me were all in the esses, but of the three I'll go with Shaolin Cowboy #4 for doing so much with so little.

PICK OF THE WEAK: Nick Fucking Fury and His Fucking Fucking Howling Fucking Commandos #1, fucking fucking fucky fuck.

TRADE PICK: I'm looking forward to sitting down with the Chiaroscuro TPB, one of my very first "wait for the trade" mistakes, but the Black Hole HC is the book I keep picking up, again and again, kind of in awe at its actual presence. And I've also got Plastic Man Archives Vol. 7. Good stuff.

Hmm. Okay, so hopefully we'll get Hibbs' take on some of this stuff on Tuesday; a few of my reviews this week seem suffer a bit from the "this book has too much blue in it so I give it an Eh," maybe. Let's see what he has to say.