Man, where to start? Hibbs is really, impressively ill--it's the closest I've seen anyone in real life looking like a zombie from a Romero movie--so I worked nearly all of yesterday at the store by myself. This means I didn't plow as deeply into the week's comics as I would have liked, nor did I get as far into my backlog of stuff as I would have liked. But here's my two cents about:
AQUAMAN SWORD OF ATLANTIS #40: My first "One Year Later" book reviewed (although not the first one read) and I think "Aquaman meets Conan" is a very smart approach to the title, since the undersea oceans are as distant and strange as any fantasy realm. I wasn't exactly down with the presentation, however, because it took a while to get to the barbarian hijinks and when they did show up, Guice's art made it look a little murky and unclear. I also think the whole "Is this really Aquaman card?" got played a little too soon. The new Aquaman is a bit of a cipher and, frankly, the old Aquaman was a bit of a cipher. I'd have rather been eased into who this new guy is (by how he acts) and hear from other characters who Aquaman is supposed to be rather than getting thrown into full-page montages in the middle of the first issue. But that's all quibblage, by and large. A very high OK, and worth checking out.
BATMAN ANNUAL #25: So Jason Todd came back to life because Superboy punched stuff? If Judd wanted an explanation that nobody could have guessed, well, mission accomplished, I guess. But by any other measuring stick, it's weird, crappy and dumb, and the issue never really recovers. The whole damn thing just ends up being dull and a waste of cash and really frustrating--pretty much everything you'd want in a Crap comic. Fuck.
DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON #2: Read this right after Nextwave #2, and it made me think the creative team here is going for a similarly "plastic fun" approach where the absurdity of the genre is used as a joke without being the butt of that joke. It's far from profound, and I'll be god-damned if I can remember anything after the first seven pages, but I thought it was OK.
DETECTIVE COMICS #817: This was the first "One Year Later" book I read, and it still seems like the best of the bunch: Robinson is able to seed the work with both hints and pay-offs, and the art is really lovely. But, of course, you know, it's Batman. Batman has sixty years of accreted history to pull from so it's pretty easy to change things around (hey, it's Bullock! And Gordon!) in a way that has immediate resonance whether or not there's an immediate payoff. Is, I dunno, Manhunter going to have the opportunity to do anything remotely similar with the One Year Later hook?
I think I see part of the thinking behind OYL (apart from the money grab)--after all, very few of us start reading comic series at the beginning, and half the hook, part of the reasons why the characters loom so large in our memory, is that when you start reading comics there are all these references to stories that have happened that you haven't read, and that's part of what really lights the fires of your imagination. So OYL seems conceived, in part, to make these characters mysterous and evocative again, even if only for a year, and to fire our imaginations about who they are and what they've gone through.
But can you fire an audience's imagination simply through corporate mandate? I'd be a little surprised, frankly: even this issue, as good as it was, will feel like cheap padding if this mix of shilling and obfuscation contnues, say, three or four issues down the road.
All that said? This was pretty Good, and was much more of a success than I thought it would be.
EX MACHINA #18: This book needs less scenes of Mayor Hundred and his inner circle tossing around theories, and more scenes of political enemies of the Mayor blaming the Mayor for stuff: there would be more urgency to prove or disprove the idea an old supervillain was responsible for the ricin gassing, and it'd just give things a little more dramatic snap. But what do I know? I can't even remember how the issue ended, try as I might. OK... I think.
FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #5: Not as, uh, "friendly" as I thought it would be, now that "The Other" is finally out of the way, but it's a done-in-one and Weiringo is one hell of a Spider-Man artist so I'm not too worked up. If this is the tone David's going to set for the rest of his run, though, maybe SLIGHTLY BITTER NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN would be a more suitable title. OK.
GODLAND #8: Finally gave me that sense of cosmic tingles the book's been promising, due in no small part to Sciolli really stepping up to the plate for those ultra-large "unknown universe" sequences (and if he did the coloring as well, all the more so--the coloring really gave it that extra bump up). I think the narrative is extraordinarly unfocussed in a way neither Kirby nor any of the '70s cosmic greats (except maybe Gerber) would have gotten away with, but I was entertained the entire time I was reading it, and that counts for Good in my book.
HELLBOY MAKOMA #2: These days, Mignola's approach to Hellboy reminds me--and not necessarily in a bad way--of Chris Carter's latter days with The X-Files (or, hell, even later seasons of David Chase's Sopranos). These creators were very aware of what their audience wanted, but were ambivalent about providing it, and so put forward very offbeat, unexpected material with promises to tie it into the larger storyline. It's a way for the artist to remain true to their instincts without taking the financial gamble of striking out in a new direction, but it risks alienating the audience in the long run. I expect I'm not the only person, for example, who finished this issue thinking, essentially, "Yeah, so?" and wondering why Mignola couldn't have teamed up with Corben to do this amazing interpretation of African myth as its own thing, and not as part of the Hellboy mythos. And while that "Yeah, so?" is almost entirely drowned out by the quality of the material, of Corben's amazing art, and Mignola's dry humor and deft storytlelling, it's still there. A very high Good, to be sure, but that little nagging question keeps me from pushing that rating higher, because I can't help but wonder, at least a little, where or when we'll get the full payoff, if ever.
INFINITE CRISIS #5: Fumbled the ball, I thought, and kind of spectacularly--unlike previous issues, I felt like some very crucial pieces of information weren't being communicated. Like, why does Earth 2 only have eight people on it? And why would the Superman of Earth 2 think that Lois would be restored to health just by being put back on Earth 2? Wouldn't it ever occur to him that she is, like, old and stuff? And about a dozen other bits where it just seems like the plot has been lost and things are powering forward strictly on the writer's say-so. And yet, this issue's failure really underscored for me how successful the previous issues of this have been. It's taken some serious skill and craft to keep the whole thing from reading this badly. So, I'm going with Eh, even though a very good case can be made for it being less than that. Hopefully, it'll pick up next issue.
JSA #83: Yeah, I tried to crack this fucker three times, and never got farther than page eight. Johns' JSA did a great job of passing the subplot baton from issue to issue, so I kept reading it well after I would have otherwise stopped. But now that it's "One Year Later," I just couldn't get interested. I'll try again next issue, maybe. No rating.
MARVEL TEAM-UP #18: Kirkman has an interesting way of giving his stories in this title a twist, in that he consistently chooses the least interesting way to wrap things up. Here, our time-jumping heroes handily defeat the bad guy and realize they've only saved another timeline, not their own, and so have little choice but to stay where they are in their comfortable little niche future. Sure, it avoids the cliche "Days of Future Past" style ending I was expecting, but it also underlines the story's dramatically inert structure--it doesn't really matter what happens as long as Kirkman gets another story written and another paycheck cashed. But maybe I would've felt differently if this had been, say, a jam-packed annual rather than three ultra-leisurely go-nowhere issues. Awful.
MARVEL ZOMBIES #4: Conversely, Kirkman's leisurely pace works much better here, as it really allows the story's dark humor to blossom fully: since it's particularly hard to care about any of the characters here (except maybe the Black Panther), the plot isn't isn't half as interesting as the scenes where the Marvel Zombies realize they can keep pulling the food out of their stomachs and re-eating it to stave off hunger pains. There are probably too much threads to wrap up satisfyingly by next issue, but I've found this work surprisingly Good so far. Go figure.
NEXT WAVE #2: Not quite as funny as the first issue, but still funny enough. (The short scene with X-51's predecessor is what made this issue for me.) The next issue, I think, will be crucial--if we're in for diminishing returns on the laffs, we'll probably know by then. I've got my fingers crossed. Good.
OUTSIDERS #34: Hmmm, yeah. Didn't care. Part of that may have been the writing, which laid out the plot in a style that tried for terse and settled for leaden, and part of it may be that The Outsiders is a team that's rebooted itself every eight issues anyway, so who cares really? Even if my suspicions about One Year Later Nightwing pan out, I think my original investment in this title, limited though it was, has been spent. Eh.
PUNISHER #31: Goran Parlov's art on this was great, I thought--it reminded me of early Gibbons or something. Very clean, very strong but with a surprisingly convincing grit to it. The story wasn't bad, either, but wow, that art. If I was a Vertigo editor, I'd poach this guy pronto. Good stuff for that alone.
THUNDERBOLT JAXON #2: Reminds me of the stuff you'd read in Warrior Magazine way back when--grim, but very efficient, offbeat adventure. The brutal, undying vikings turned East End gangsters may be almost too brutal--I don't see how the kids stand a chance against them, even with possible magical superpowers--but it's got me eager to see next issue. Good stuff.
ULTIMATES 2 #10: Little more than three scenes where the heroes turn things around--of the three, I thought the Tony Stark one was well-done, the Hawkeye scene was silly but almost effective, and the Wasp/Cap one was cliched and nonsensical. Sadly, I think those percentages will be applicable to the Millar/Hitch run overall. A really awesome two issues of asskicking could change my mind, but for now, OK.
UNTOLD TALES OF THE NEW UNIVERSE STAR BRAND: I've really got to give it up for Jeff Parker--despite what my recent reviews of Exiles might make you think, I don't really have that much affection for Marvel's New Universe. So the fact that I really enjoyed this is quite the accomplishment. It helps that Javier Pulido's art manages to evoke the early John Romita Jr. work without recreating that art's tediousness, but it's really Parker's clever script that really does the job: it introduces all the tropes of the Star Brand title, analyzes them, turns them inside out and then tosses around a dozen different possible ideas and directions before changing things up for the finale. Even better, I found myself genuinely feeling for dumb ol' Ken as he gets just a taste of identity and direction before the status quo comes along to turn him back into the same old tool. If you get a chance, pick this sucker up. It's, I shit you not, Very Good. For the first time ever, I find myself hoping Marvel editors read this blog, just so they might get Parker to pitch to them for some heftier titles. The guy's got loads of potential.
Y THE LAST MAN #43: A very witty (and very true) conversation about how mutual objects of disdain make for a better relationship bond than mutual objects of appreciation doesn't really cover up the fact that Yorick and 355 have almost no "chemistry" together. I don't know if it's the way their body language is depicted, or what we know about the characters, but I just don't believe these two characters might genuinely be attracted to each other and that may or may not be a huge stumbling block to where Vaughan wants to take these characters in the future. But witty dialogue goes a long way in my book, so double-plus OK.
PICK OF THE WEEK: UNTOLD TALES OF THE NEW UNIVERSE STAR BRAND. Strange, but true. If you're looking for more conventional kicks, Brubaker and Lark's first issue of Daredevil (which came out, uh, last week?) was shit-hot.
PICK OF THE WEAK: BATMAN ANNUAL #25, because it sucked. A lot.
TRADE PICK: Two of 'em, at least. I wasn't here when GOLGO 13: SUPERGUN (finally!) made it to our store, but that shouldn't stop me from haranguing you to go out and buy it. Golgo 13 is kind of the alpha-omega of tight-lipped antiheroes, and his over-the-top awesomeness (not only is Golgo 13 going to lay the female agent assigned to brief him, he's going to do in under four pages and he's not even going to bother removing his disguise to do it) that I find simultaneously hilarious and satisfying. The two stories here also have a terseness in tone meshed with an attention to detail and research that's satisfying on its own. (This week's issue of Outsiders? This is the tone it was trying for.) It's not for everyone, I admit, but those of us who dig snipers capable of outgunning quarter-mile supercannons will find this stuff to be like catnip.
Second, the third volume of BECK just broke my heart, mainly because I have to wait until June for the fourth volume--I want to read the whole damn thing now, dammit. (I was also horrified to read in Chris Butcher's blog that BECK is selling "okay but not great." (It's in the February 27 entry--unfortunately the direct link to the archived entry isn't working at the moment.)) While this volume gets a bit predictable once it starts off on its "Karate Kid"-ish turn of events, the best part (apart from the expressive, almost sensual, art) is that poor Yukio, after an entire volume of practicing his little heart out, has only come far enough to realize how much farther he has to go and has to practice, practice, practice even more. Despite all its goofy charm, BECK is quite serious about the amount of work required for any artist to even think about success--which makes the promise of coming achievements seem all the sweeter. C'mon, Tokyopop--I'm sure these will start selling like hotcakes once you get to the volumes with the payoff. Can't ya speed it up just a little? Like the next fifteen volumes out by this time next year?
I also have Iron Wok Jan, Vol. 16 right in front of me. Life is good.
So, to sum up: I have become a big ol' manga whore. Also, if you've ever liked any of Ellis's tough guy stuff, get GOLGO 13: SUPERGUN. If you've ever liked Scott Pilgrim, Akira, or pretty women, get BECK VOL. 3. Your aesthetic sense will thank you.