Oh, Sweet Sloth: Jeff's Reviews of 03/24/06 Books.

[Insert clever intro that, as per Hibbs and G-Mc, almost-but-not-really-spoils the end of Battlestar Galactica this season.] [Add ancillary para talking about nerdly pleasure received playing Metal Gear Solid: Subsistence, nerdly frustration in being forced into either piracy or poverty to watch that one god-damned season of the animated Planet of the Apes.]

[Provide clumsy transition from previous paras to reviews of this week's comics. Realize meta-introduction crutch has been utilized twice before. Grimace. Shrug. Begin.]

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #530: In an attempt to break irony-measuring gauges worldwide, JMS, who works with no editorial interference, illustrates exactly why everyone needs an editor, via a terrifyingly unfunny page of asides set as, of course, duelling Editor's Notes. A working man might go on to hypothesize how such a blatant and distracting bit of editorial intrusion is also a perfect working metaphor for Marvel's upcoming Civil War storyline, where characters and continuity will be relentlessly plot-hammered into a hot button issue, but I am not that man. Besides, that ghastly page aside, the rest of this was pretty competent no matter how much I disagree with it. Eh.

ARES #3: I liked the first issue, missed the second, and return to the third to find a story sabotaged by an artist completely out of his depth. If I remember correctly, the first eight pages have two splash pages and two double splash pages, and the rest of the book goes on to tell as much of its story with as many quasi-splash pages as possible unless there's, you know, action and stuff, in which case it gets taken care of in lots of sketchy tight panels. It's funny that Bri just mentioned this book as an example of a book that sells because of the Marvel brand assuring "a level of quality and professionalism of at least such-and-such," because this is a disheartening fall from the quality of the first issue. Way to drop the level of such-and-such, guys! Awful.

BATMAN #651: I also thought the artist on this was overwhelmed, although I'm aware a guy fighting plants isn't easy to make look dramatic. Here, there's some sort of sloppy, quasi-Colanish approach to show Batman, I dunno, cartwheeling through ferns that looked hilariously dumb. But, overall, some nice touches (It's Batman trapped and Robin who saves his hash) and as long as the Batman-after-charm-school approach continues to feel novel, the creative team probably don't have to do too much to keep me interested. I just hope they don't realize that. OK.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #16: It's a shame people can't just spout tons of dialogue while punching people out, Stan Lee style, because it means stories have to slow their pacing so people can talk, exchange exposition, build up motivation, etc. Here, you'd think Cap, trying to discover if Bucky is still alive and/or suicidal and/or completely fucked up thanks to Cap's winning way with a cosmic cube, would be a sweaty, palpating driven man. But instead we've got a Captain America surprisingly happy to work government hours: "You say this entire town is covering something up, and Bucky's involved?! Wow! Hey, howzabout a burger and a quickie?" I can't see a way around it, and Lord knows this book is popular enough so I guess nobody minds, but it just feels...odd. Good.

CATWOMAN #53: One of the better One Year Later books in that the creative team starts with the big twist and then moves on from there almost immediately, seeding the story with little twists related to remaining plotlines. I find this approach works much better than the "spend the last page getting to the big reveal they gave away on the cover" approach of Green Arrow or Supergirl & the Legion. A high OK, because I wasn't grooving too much on the story pre-OYL, but I appreciated the competence.

DAREDEVIL #83: Kinda like Brubaker's run on Captain America, I strongly disagree with some of the stuff going on here. And yet, I'm completely captivated by it and feel it's being done really, really well. So Very Good, although I'm very conflicted about it.

DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON #3: Works a little too hard to make with the funny, but the mad rush of absurd C-list characters and the unique and ambitious art of Khari Evans (notice how the Trapster's nose slowly slides out of his mask during his fight with Whirlwind? What kind of goofy attention to detail is that?) still made it an enjoyable read. Highly OK, but didn't wow me as much as previous issues.

EVERY GIRL IS THE END OF THE WORLD FOR ME GN: Oh, man, I was so totally looking forward to this, and I was so totally wrong to do so. What I thought would be Jeffrey Brown's swan song/afterword to his unhappy love trilogy is just a whimpery shout-out to all the other women he's ever flirted with, presumably so they'll stop pestering him about popping up in one of his books. Kinda makes me spit blood to think about it. Awful.

EXILES #78: Ach, it's terrible. I've read nearly every issue of this title but once I heard Chris Claremont was taking over, I can't even bring myself to crack the cover. (And he's not even on the title yet!) I can only appreciate current-day Claremont in that campy way one can appreciate, say, Showgirls. The idea of him being associated with anything I actually currently like is just too painful. No rating.

FUTURAMA COMICS #24: Not without its charms (Giant Robot Santa versus Giant Robot Easter Bunny) but it felt more slapdash and shrill than genuinely funny. Also, nice/odd to see Mike Kazaleh doing work on the title: I haven't seen that guy's work in a dog's age (a pantsless, sexually neurotic dog's age, I guess). He's not a perfect fit for the characters, but man, if they ever do a crossover with Hanna-Barbera characters, I can't imagine anyone better. Eh.

GUN FU SHOWGIRLS ARE FOREVER #1: Kind of rough to see those Dave Sim emphases without Dave Sim lettering--the work suffered a bit for that, particularly with those charmingly musical spitting noises offered up by the French showgirls. Overall, it was charming, albeit anachronistic, and gave me some hope that we can get some future work from "entertaining Dave" without "wildman prophet Dave" popping out unexpectedly. Definitely OK.

HAWKGIRL #50: Well, fuck. Who would have guessed that Howard Chaykin was going to outsource the artwork to Mike (Shatter) Saenz? Who knew Walt Simonson was going to retool his script for a Nancy Drew comic book ("Oh no! Falling cornice!" "Oh no! No brakes!" And the delightful last page cliffhanger, "Oh no! I'm trapped in the dark!") into a Hawkgirl script? Nobody came out looking particularly good here, including chumps like me who signed up for this one in advance. Crap, and humiliating in that "two of my acting idols are reduced to performing The Odd Couple at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater and they're really, really bad" kind of way. Jeezis.

INCREDIBLE HULK #93: Like Snakes on a Plane, "Hulk as Intergalactic Spartacus" should be too stupidly effective to screw up, and if we had Ladronn doing more than just the covers, you probably wouldn't hear a peep out of me. But the art is slapdash enough that the story's creakiness really stands out. I mean, that whole "I don't trust anyone; that's why I'm going to elliptically mention my alter-ego and that he's tooo weak to survive this planet" comment from Hulk? Ummm...yeah. Eh, alas.

JEREMIAH HARM #2: Kinda bummed I didn't review last week's Annhilation Prologue because I wanted to point out how Giffen's love of sweeping galactic storylines and down-on-their-luck gritty antiheroes inevitably produces an opening scene in an intergalactic prison. Here, in issue #2, we get the other reliable staple of the Giffen sweeping galactic storyline--the mouthy, innocent bystander who gets drawn into the action (just like Drax, which also had the intergalactic prison motif). And that's all fine, albeit a little numbing, as long as you get an artist capable of delivering the cosmic "Wow" side of things to make up for it. I was pretty sure Rael Lyra was going to be that artist until the big fight scene where any sense of basic anatomy suddenly disappeared. Now, I'm a lot more dubious.

Oh, and p.s. to Alan Grant: Thanks to the Internet, phrases like "I tasted his taint" should probably be retired, yes?

To sum up: Eh.

JSA CLASSIFIED #10: At about three a.m. last night, I realized Paul Gulacy draws exactly the way Robert Evans speaks--with the same sort of highly stylized, oily machismo I find simultaneously hilarious and hypnotic. I also realized I think of Stuart Moore's scripts exactly the same way I think of red flannel shirts--serviceable, and obviously appreciated by somebody because you keep seeing them all over the place. I also realized I perhaps need to adjust my Ambien dosage. In any event, add all that together (but take away the Ambien) and you've got this story telling you Vandal Savage has been up to...One Year Later. If you enjoy the charms of Gulacy and Moore, you'll find it OK. If you only kind of do, then Eh, at best. I'm somewhere in the middle.

MANHUNTER #20: This book, One Year Later, but since I haven't read an issue since #2, I guess for me it's Two and a Half Years Later. And it's been a pretty okay two and a half years, it looks like. There's a decent-sized supporting cast and superheroes are cracking wise while socking jaws. It actually does a good job of sprinkling in some OYL references that suggest the book has its place in the larger DCU. So, even though I wasn't particularly interested, I'd still give it a high OK. Maybe I'll even check out next issue, which I think is supposed to be the point of all this, yes? We'll see.

NEW AVENGERS #17: Dumb, to varying degrees--the whole "Avengers on street corners" would've been fine if it hadn't derailed the supposed nail-biting momentum of the previous issue. (One page of that, maybe. Six pages? No.) Teamed with the Ms. Marvel dumbness in the second half, it makes for just a Crap book. It's embarrassing how inept Bendis is at this big-action team book stuff.

NEXTWAVE AGENTS OF HATE #3: Yup. Diminishing returns, I'm afraid. The soda gets flatter every time you come back to it. A few good pages here and there, but those opening six pages of unfunny bad cop hijinks killed the new fun deader than any Dirk Anger joke could resuscitate it. Please prove me wrong, next nine issues. Please?? Eh.

SHE-HULK 2 #6: Never enjoy this book as much when Bobillo's off it, but this was still an OK issue. (As amusing as parts of it were, nothing was quite as funny as Eros looking like a long-lost Baldwin brother on Greg Horn's cover.) Also lacking a certain sense of drama but we'll see where it ends up.

TESTAMENT #4: At first, this seemed really, really cool, in part because I'd missed issue #3. Then I realized it's just a big ol' mess. It comes across like The Matrix as rewritten by Jack T. Chick and Ed Wood but not in a good way, no. Less thanEh, but the art is too lovely to go to Awful.

TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD #16: In the same way the first issue of this grabbed me by the heartstrings and got me fired up by the possibility of true love, this issue really moved me in its conveyence of the daring and the dedication needed to pursue the creative life. I think it might lose some impact to those who don't know anything about the comic celeb cameos at the end, but I couldn't say for sure. Very Good, and very moving.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #28: Sure, that "twist" at the end would've wrecked it anyway, but Greg Horn's art [oops, I mean Greg Land. Thanks for the correction, Peter] really hampered this: Millar's shooting for a Silver Age feeling where everyone's a superhero and all the world's problems are abolished, and the best Horn can give him are three smiling children in jumpsuits--less a "Superman Red/Superman Blue" feeling than a "Minute Maid Orange Juice Now With Extra Vitamin C" feeling. But then that really dumb ending would've tanked it all regardless, so Eh.

ZOMBIE TALES: THE DEAD: I never know what to do with review copies that come early. Hold off 'til release week? Blab about 'em early? Mean to wait, and then forget? In any event, the stories here run the gamut from Good (Rogers and Tadem's "4 out of 5," Giffen and Lim's "Deadest Meat") to OK (Stokes and Martin's "Zoombies") to incomprehensible (Pascoe, Simpson, Moreno's "A Game Called Zombie") with no award given to "I, Zombie" and the special Savage Critic Quibblage award to Nelson & Moder's "The Miracle of Bethany" (if you're gonna have zombies in the Vatican, but you don't have Christ's last supper at the corner of your zombie mythos, you get no love from me). Boom! Studios gets huge props for milking the zombie fad and still keeping things creatively vibrant, but I'm relieved they seem to be moving on to different challenges.

PICK OF THE WEEK: True Story Swear To God #16, because it was heartfelt and moving. Also Daredevil #83, even though I should probably know better.

PICK OF THE WEAK: In March 2007, it'll be One Year Later...and I'll still feel like a tool for buying Hawkgirl #50!

TRADE OF THE WEEK: I walked out with Vol. 5 of Runaways but haven't read it yet (nor have I read vol. 4 for some reason). And I probably don't need to tell you that if you didn't get the hardcover, the softcover of Top 10: The Forty Niners is really, really worth your time and money.

But what I've really been reading and enjoying this last two weeks is Planetes by Makoto Yukimura, which is a surprisingly humanistic hard sci-fi story about garbage men in space. Yukimura has a really great way of creating quirky characters and pushing their concerns to the fore in a way that reminds me of Carla Speed McNeil or Terry Moore (with Warren Ellis serving as technical advisor). It's not flawless--there's been at least one storytelling leap in each volume that's left me in varying degrees of befuddlement--but eminently recommendable. If you like any of the above creators (McNeil, Moore, Ellis), you should check it out. Really good stuff.