Whew! Hibbs already reviewed Wonder Woman #219 and OMAC Project #4 (in the entry just below this). It makes my life a little easier because I couldn't start my reviews without a brief discussion of them, anyway. I started my day at CE reading both of them, then made my way through the rest of the titles in a more-or-less depressed funk. As Hibbs points out, there was a lot of stuff to like about WW but I dunno: I don’t mind superheroes brutally smashing each other to bits but if you’ve got to plot hammer so relentlessly to get to it, then I’m even more aware it’s just violent spectacle for violent spectacle’s sake. Which begs the question: Aren’t superhero books just violent spectacle for spectacle’s sake? I think I spent most of the day reading the books with that unhappy possibility in the back of my head. So if my reviews of the following books seems generally crabby and mirthless, that may be why.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #522: That scene between Jarvis and Aunt May skeeved me out, and not just because I don’t really want to think about Jarvis having sex or Aunt May having sex (although, does anyone?) But would any butler worth his salt ever mack on a lady of the house, ever? My recent reading of Remains of the Day leads me to suspect not. Throw in the fact that Aunt May is a bossy top (“Did I tell you could remove your hand?”) and it’s exactly like Wonder Woman #219 except with Aunt May and Jarvis instead of Diana, and Clark, and with sex instead of violence. Comic book armageddon, you can’t get here quickly enough. Awful.
ASTRO CITY THE DARK AGE #2: And yet I think something like The Blue Knight, the spectre of death in the form of a cop, is great: it perfectly captures the mood in funny books back in the ‘70s with characters like Ghost Rider, The Son of Satan, and the like. Also, such a figure and its idea of justice is the lynchpin of this issue in a very elegant way—-two brothers end up on opposite sides of the law and, rather than use that for stark melodrama, Busiek uses their positions to examine law and justice (and costumed heroes) as abstracts conflicting against a more complex backdrop of human interaction. Pretty damn Good and worth picking up, even if you haven’t read issue #1 (which I still haven’t).
BATMAN DARK DETECTIVE #6: I thought those wonderful “tck!” sound balloons that gradually grew larger and larger would have more of a payoff, but it didn’t really matter: I still enjoyed the baroque pulpishness of this whole thing, sawed-off limbs and all. The mini should have been three issues instead of six since it ends in an absurdly abrupt fashion anyway. I wouldn't mind seeing Englehart and Rogers get another go-round at this: maybe old dogs can’t learn new tricks, but I thought these old tricks worked pretty well overall. Good.
BELLE STARR QUEEN OF BANDITS #1: I felt my interest waxing and waning throughout this book: most of the individual scenes were just fine, but it didn’t really mesh, in part because it felt just too rushed. As the story initially plays on the difference between how the writer and the Wild West magazines see Belle Starr, and the truth (and later, as we see, between the truth and what Belle presents as the truth) it’s pretty important to give the reader a base impression to work off of, so there’s a sense of development and surprise. Instead, I got the sense the writer’s either got too much material to jam into too short a format, or not a strong enough sense of how to pace such a story. I may pick up issue #2 to see if it gets better because there is potential here. OK.
BLACK PANTHER #6: And so ends Marvel’s most left-handed compliment to Christopher Priest ever: “Priest, we like your stories just fine, we’d just be happier if Reginald Hudlin was writing them, is all.” The Romita, Jr. art was damn tasty, but is it worth the whole pointless retcon? Since we didn’t even get a trade reprint of “Panther’s Rage” out of the deal, I’d say no. Eh.
CATWOMAN #45: Ooo la, la: that art! That final panel of the East End was yummy, wasn’t it? But the not-Clayface from the first story arc plus Hush equals Double-Plus Don’t Care. OK, because of the purty pitchers and maybe now the team can do something interesting.
DAREDEVIL VS PUNISHER #2: Uhh, dude… Isn’t the Jackal dead? I don’t know for sure because I never got to read the conclusion of Bill Mantlo’s Carrion arc way back when, but uhhh…isn’t the Jackal dead? Amazing Spider-Man #150? God, I’m going to dread writing reviews when I’m in my seventies (and comprising approximately 2% of the superhero reading comics market on my own): my memory of everything I read after the age of twelve will be even worse. Plot-element-that-flies-in-the-face-of-continuity-as-I-remember-it aside, I thought this was mighty dull. It’s ballsy of Lapham to create a story that clearly is meant to evoke Miller & Janson’s Daredevil work while sticking to Lapham’s tighter eight panel grid, but it doesn’t work. In Stray Bullets, that grid underscores the inexorable certainty of fate and the smallness of the characters—in DvP it saps the larger moments of much of their impact and the title characters of their iconic heft. Eh.
DOOM PATROL #14: That actually would have been a lovely way to end the series, I thought—a very touching and even subtle (for Byrne) riposte to everyone who bitched about this book’s retconning. But, of course, we’ve got another four issues or so to go, dammit. OK.
FANTASTIC FOUR #529: I would very much like to buy something from J. Michael Straczynski off Ebay because I assume he ships the way he writes; by taking something important and burying it under mounds and mounds of padding. As I see it, when you write a page or two of Mr. Fantastic being chased in a jeep before he turns into a bouncing ball and escapes, Marvel should either (a) force you to pay back the money they paid you for those two pages, and/or (b) reduce the cost of the comic book by two pages so as to prevent the customer from feeling robbed even further. Interesting idea at the end there, though. Eh.
FLASH #224: I feel very proud of myself for figuring out the last page in advance (as opposed to last issue, when I didn’t understand the last two pages even as I was reading them) and the idea for this issue is pretty damn cool, but the execution left something to be desired. Putting aside that I have no idea how two people can stand still on a treadmill while one person runs on it (even if it’s a, you know, cosmic treadmill), I think making Wally relive one painful moment over and over as opposed to, I dunno, forcing him to watch while Professor Zoom methodically stops by with a drum baton to systematically murder everyone he’s ever loved at what should be the happiest moment in their lives, seemed a bit lame. Relievedly lame, admittedly, because I was still annoyed and appalled by the grimtastic Wonder Woman #219, but lame nonetheless. A very decent set-up to #225, though, which I’m actually looking forward to, so OK.
GODLAND #1: As a faux Kirby comic, this was pretty damn Good. Maybe a little too pleased with itself in some places, but the psychedelic astronaut sequences in particular were great. I am not without some reservations, but I liked it overall and am looking forward to next issue. Worth your time.
HEE: Ivan Brunetti’s companion piece to Haw falls short for two reasons, one more interesting than the other: First and foremost, it’s $2.50 for something roughly the size of two postage stamps placed side-by-side. Secondly, Brunetti significantly ups the abstractionism of his cartooning, rendering it much less shocking than Haw. By being more traditionally cartooned and therefore more accessible, Haw manages to be so horrifying you can actually feel your soul slipping closer to Hell every time you laugh at something. Hee just makes you wonder who’s going to pay $2.50 for something roughly the size of two postage stamps placed side-by-side. The abstraction/traditional cartooning schism is a direct contradiction to Scott McCloud’s theory in Understanding Comics about such things, which makes me wonder if there’s some inverse equivalent to The Uncanny Valley where too much abstraction similarly alienates an audience. It also makes me wonder who’s going to pay $2.50 for something roughly the size of two postage stamps placed side-by-side. Awful, on a purely wretched capitalist standard.
HELLBOY THE ISLAND #2: I can’t say I understood it, except in the vaguest sense possible, but I can definitely say I loved it. Mignola’s art pretty much pardons all sins, but I also get a feeling there’s something going on here even if I can’t understand it. It’s not just prettiness for prettiness’s sake. Very Good.
HULK DESTRUCTION #1: Could be used as a primer for bad posture—everyone is hunched over in this book, and when they confront each other, they hunch over even more so that they can glare face to face like genetically modified Yosemite Sams. The script probably deserves better—I appreciated an attempt to finally put The Abomination in some kind of definitive context—but it didn’t really knock me out either. Barely tips the scales at Eh.
JLA CLASSIFIED #10: I wanted to like this, really, I did. But I thought the pacing was draggy and the characters, although witty, seemed very recognizable as Ellis characters and not so recognizable as themselves. (Lois’s banter sounded fine, but all of Clark’s counter-banter sounded like Elijah Snow). And Butch Guice’s work here is a conundrum to me: how can it be both bland and overwrought at the same time? And yet it is. Not so promising, as starts go. Eh.
LEGION OF SUPER HEROES #8: Ultimate LSH proceeds along nicely—-there are enough clever twists to make it enjoyable even if you’re not a vested Legion fan, I think. Suffers a bit from Kitson not doing the art, but not horribly. Good.
NIGHTCRAWLER #8: Again with the fanboy criticisms: I’m pretty sure Kurt couldn’t teleport anyone else until after he’d joined Xavier’s and learned how to train his powers. But, again, with the Alzheimer’s: I couldn’t tell you how much of this cheaply melodramatic “gypsy mutant loves gypsy stepsister despite the burning jealousy of gypsy stepbrother” was already in place and how much of it is Aguirre-Sacasa’s invention. What I can tell you, however, is that it’s pretty stinky. Apart from some nice illo work from Darick Robertson (I’m embarrassed to say I found that chick in the Nightcrawler outfit to be pretty hot, god help me), this just didn’t work for me at all and I’m just tired of the idea at the core of all these separate X-Men series: didn’t any of these motherfuckers have something like a normal life before joining The X-Men? Why should people freak out that you’re a mutant when you’re already part of a magical traveling gypsy circus group of incipient ghost sorcerers? Jeezis! Eh.
OMAC PROJECT #4: Okay, so: Spoilers, but why is it that Diana, who sees with the wisdom of Athena, couldn’t see that Max Lord might have had a back-up plan in place when I, with the wisdom of, uhhhh, Max Smart, did? I mean, it’s not like she pays a surcharge the longer she keeps someone tied up with her golden lasso, right? It’s not like she’s new to the superhero game or anything. The sound of the plot hammers are so loud, I can’t pay attention to anything else! Eh.
PULSE #10: I was interested in the Kat Farrell storyline, far less so when the Hawkeye blabbity-blab kicked in. At this point, I’m kinda hoping Bendis will get so annoyed with the Net readership’s reaction to Hawkeye’s return that he offs him again at the end of House of M. In fact, I’m sure if Bendis works at it, he can get in another three or four Hawkeye deaths by the end of the calendar year. That’d be perverse enough to be interesting, at least. Eh.
SILENT DRAGON #1: I liked the opening of this quite a bit, with a very high-powered “begin-at-the-end” approach, but I thought the rest of the first issue kinda spoiled that a bit by giving the reader too many pieces of the puzzle. But lovely to look at, and worth checking out next issue. OK.
SUPERMAN BATMAN #21: Of course, having Jeph Loeb satirize the worst instincts in superhero comics is doomed to backfire because Loeb’s writing embodies the worst instincts in superhero comics. And yet, you’ve got Batzarro and Bizarro appearing in an arc critiquing imperfect superhero analogs, so I have some sort of—-I wouldn’t call it hope, maybe it’s more like quasi-voluntary optimism—-that there may be some sort of bite thrown in with all the barking. Or at least some entertainingly apeshit comics, at least. OK.
WONDER WOMAN #219: No real need to review this, since most of my heavy duty whining is in the OMAC review above. I just can’t clear the plot-hammer hurtle, mainly, and so the whole thing feels like a very creepy superhero version of “Plato’s Stepchildren.” Eh.
X-MEN #173: I have the horrible feeling someone in editorial is a big fan of Jerry Springer—it’s the only way I can imagine this story, and most of the subplots, being concocted. Please make this stop. Awful.
PICK OF THE WEEK: Hellboy The Island #2, partially by default and partially because it’s great.
PICK OF THE WEAK: So many of the usual suspects, but X-Men #173 because when I read stuff like this and think back to some of the other work Peter Milligan’s produced, it’s way more depressing than a flotilla of Wonder Woman #219 issues.
TRADE PICK OF THE WEEK: I was sure it would be the long-awaited Cute Manifesto TPB by James Kochalka, and as far as price and heft and all that, it’s pretty keen. But, being a collection of J.K.’s poetic essays, it got surprisingly tiresome after a while—-Sunburn managed to stand out by virtue of its elliptical nature, but the rest of it felt strident (very gently strident, but strident nonetheless). Weirdly, Cute Manifesto could’ve used more cute. So it’s a split “haven’t really sat down with ‘em” vote between Promethea Book 5 HC, which appeared to do a great job (at a glance) reproducing that final issue (with miniature versions of the posters at the end), and Kinetic TPB which was one of my favorite overlooked titles of last year and which I imagine will read very well in trade format. It’s really great stuff worth your time.