Reviews and Whatnot: Jeff's Reviews of the 6/1 Books...

First, I just want to thank everyone who posted on my last two entries. Normally, I try to respond to everyone who posts feedback or comments but I was just too lazy during my last few days of vacation to work up any sort of moxie. Nevertheless, whether it was Clint gloating over his Rom: Spaceknight purchases, Donnie's Wimbledon Green observation or Treacher bringing the Treacher, they were all really appreciated. Second, X-Men: The Last Stand. I'll scrupulously avoid spoilers but I will say I didn't like it much. At all. Part of that was the cynicism: I honestly think the filmmakers were trying to give the comic geek audience such a nerdgasm in the first ten minutes (right before the awful title credits and right after) nobody would notice the messy plot, the awful dialogue, and just what an uninspired hash was made of most of the staging, setting and action scenes.

But also part of the problem (which some script review of AICN pointed out months and months ago) is that someone in the chain of higher-ups thinks Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman are the X-Men and that's just a HUGE mistake. Not only is Berry terrible here (and I have to give her credit, she's been awful three times in a row and in entirely different ways each time), but Jackman is the unconvincing poseur prettyboy I feared he'd be back before I saw X-Men: I didn't mind that Wolverine's the gruff guy with the heart of gold in this movie (after all, Claremont turned Logan into that long ago), but it's sad that Jackman has fallen into the Tom Cruise trap of making acting less of a physical act and more of a physical achievement. And there's nothing more unlike Wolverine than the idea of control and discipline that such achievement embodies. At best, Wolverine comes off like Hugh Jackman dressed up and acting like Wolverine for Halloween or something, and that's a huge comedown from the first two films.

Also (and this is kind of a spoiler so I apologize), on film, the Fastball Special looks like one of the dumbest fuckin' things ever. Did anyone involved with the movie bother to look at the comic books, or did they just go off a description provided by Avi Arad's reader? "So Colossus just, uh, throws Wolverine, huh? I guess we can do that... Just grab him by the pants and spin him around or something?"

Yeah. Didn't like it. Not cringingly awful, but far from a pleasure to watch.


52 WEEK #4: I kinda blew off Hibbs when he talked about how competent the first issue of 52 was, but I certainly saw his point after reading this issue: if the first had been as bad as this, I'd have stopped reading by now. The biggest sticking point was The Question cracking wise like he was Spider-Man (The Question making old-school Gauntlet jokes? Um, could we drop the Poochie factor by about 15%, please?) but the storytelling overall was just kludgy and awkward and not good. Hopefully just a hiccup, and probably sub-Eh (since that's what I gave issue #1) but I'll stick at Eh, anyway.

ACTION COMICS #839: I really liked the hook of having Superman feel his non-physical powers kick up to potentially Silver-Age levels, and Busiek & Johns appear to be playing with some of the ideas from Superman Returns (if the latest trailer I saw is any indication). I'm digging it. Good stuff.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #532: It's a clever cliffhanger in that you know Peter's not going to end up unmasking himself, but JMS does a great job of presenting why the people closest to him think he should, and why he'd listen to them. I'm not saying it justifies the year-plus of plot hammering to put him in this situation, but it was a Good issue.

APOCALYPSE NERD #3: First issue where I actually liked the main story, but it looked like they printed the issue straight from a fax machine or something. OK, I guess.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA #0: At a quarter, definitely worth the money, but pretty much a mook's game, overall. The continuity in the first two seasons of BSG is just so taut (as my brother once put it, "they can't have somebody fart without everyone smelling it for the next three episodes"), the creators of the licensed material can't doing anything that will really matter (I think the tie-in novels are gonna be screwed for that reason, too, FWIW). There's also some other stuff to bitch about, but not for a quarter. OK but doomed, doomed, doomed.

CRISIS AFTERMATH THE SPECTRE #1: Nifty art but the Spectre with a goatee? No. Thought the whole thing was more or less good (a comic where the Spectre quotes Voltaire is a step in the right direction) until I realized it was the first of a three issue mini--then it seemed disasarously slow. OK, coulda been better.

DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON #5: Khari Evans' art seems to have lost a little of the storytelling zing (or bling, perhaps) that gave the previous issues some spark, and Palmiotti and Gray's smart-ass bullshitting (The Daughters of The Dragon know the Punisher! And the Mole Man!) has gotten a little tired. Probably would've been much better as a four issue mini, but I haven't entirely lost hope yet. OK.

HERO SQUARED ONGOING #1: Anyone else end up with four silent pages at the end of their issue? Considering the absurdly high word count in the previous eighteen, I'm assuming it's a technical glitch and not, I dunno, Captain Valor going deaf. I really like the central conceit of this book (a romantic quadrangle between a superhero, a supervillain, and their unpowered parallel universe equivalents) but I'd be lying if I didn't admit it feels more like comfort food (Giffen and DeMatteis's hyperbreathless talky comedy) and less like a genuine meal. Good, but has the potential to be better.

INCREDIBLE HULK #95: Really sad how the editor mentions on the letter page the serendipity of finding a previous storyline with The Hulk and The Silver Surfer that has resonance with the current one, and talks about that like it's the most amazing discovery ever. (It's called "continuity," Mr. Editor-Guy. You should look into it. ) As for the story, I wish the art was good enough so I could've had my "yeah, I know I shouldn't suspend my disbelief, but there's the Silver Surfer using his surfboard as a gladiatorial shield and that's kinda rad" moment. Eh.

MY INNER BIMBO #1: Sometimes--for me, anyway--the story (the one the storyteller tells) isn't nearly as interesting as the metastory (the one the reader tells themself about why the writer is telling this particular story). Here, for example, the story--ostensibly about a sixty-year old man, his seventy-seven year old wife and a manifestation of the man's childlike inner bimbo--is too exposition-heavy and suffers from false starts, unbelievable dialogue and Evel-Knievel-over-Snake-Canyon leaps of logic, making it easy to put down and kinda head-hurty overall. But the metastory of this--trying to figure out just what the hell Kieth is trying to work out with this stuff, how much of it is emotionally autobigraphical, what reaction he's expecting--is fucking riveting. If it can come together, and the story can surpass the metastory, My Inner Bimbo could be a startling and devastating piece of work. As it is, this first issue is Eh (unless you like reading stuff that you just don't get a chance to see very often and/or don't mind entertaining yourself with all sorts of strange and potentially libelous ideas about a creator's personal life, in which case it's Good). It's certainly exceptionally bold work, either way.

PUNISHER THE TYGER: Wow. I don't really know what I was expecting, but that certainly wasn't it. Garth Ennis and John Severin have crafted a quiet little story that can be read as a rosetta stone for Frank Castle's obsessions (by and large, the story takes place when Castle is ten years old and learning about the sex, violence and crime lurking under everyday urban life) and also as its opposite: the story suggests we can't understand what makes Frank Castle the way he is any more than we can understand the creator of the tiger of Blake's poem. Severin does lovely period art, and his way with faces and expressions is perfect for such a strongly character-driven story, but it's Ennis's writing--particularly Castle's narration--that really knocked me out. It's writing that comes off as tough by not trying to be tough, and richly understated. This may be the best work Ennis has done for Marvel: Very Good stuff, and worth checking out.

THING #7: Slott's pretty good with the metacommentary. So does that mean this issue, where Ben fails at everything he tries to achieve by taking Alicia back in time, is a commentary on Slott's attempt to bring a more retro classic take on comic book storytelling? OK, because I thought the laughs were kind of cheap and the plot was really second-guessable, which usually isn't the case. But it was cute.

ULTIMATE EXTINCTION #5: Weird. You know what the action scenes of nine million bald women and fifteen million gun shots and twenty-one million blood spatters reminded me of? Those loading screens on Capcom fighting games: weirdly hyperkinetic and static at the same time. Maybe that's appropriate for this story, which took fifteen issues and three miniseries whipping itself up into a frenzy and then felt at the end... I dunno. Not perfunctory, exactly, and not flat but....done? Like a Michael Bay movie makes you feel: like you got your money's worth (and then some) but, given your druthers, the whole thing would've been over about twenty minutes sooner. OK.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #30: I like Millar's work the most when it (or he, via his best friend the Internet) isn't trying to grab you by the nads and telling you about how, by Christ, don't you understand, this is the most amazingly cock-shittingiest book you'll read this year. So I liked this issue, which seems no more absurd or hyperbolic or bowel-shakingly melodramatic than a regular superhero comic book should. Highly OK, in short.

WARREN ELLIS BLACK GAS WRAPAROUND #3: Underwhelming, despite a very good job by Ellis putting genuine tension in the couple's banter. (Are they on their way to becoming Tourette's-talking zombies? Or are they just under a shitload of stress?) But it's at best dutiful, and far from thrilling. Like Moore, Ellis enjoys taking genres apart and like Moore, Ellis's endings can feel like afterthoughts. However, apart from some of his work with Image, Moore's work never feels as emotionally stingy as some of Ellis's dabblings do. If pressed, I'd assume Ellis is going for terse and emotionally understated. But there are places where emotional understatement isn't particularly satisfying, and a zombie massacre story might be one of those places. Eh, unfortunately.

PICK OF THE WEEK: PUNISHER THE TYGER. As you can tell, I was really impressed with this.

PICK OF THE WEAK: I got nothing. I didn't read anything truly awful this week or if I did, I couldn't work up enough bile to care. (TAROT WITCH OF THE BLACK ROSE #38, you're off the hook.)

TRADE OF THE WEEK & MANGA FIX: Jim Kosmicki asked for a more in-depth review of BECK because he'd read the first two volumes and just didn't see the appeal. So I was kind of hoping this week's release of BECK MONGOLIAN CHOP SQUAD VOL4 would allow me to really turn out a laudatory review that could show him what he was missing. Unfortunately, after reading vol. 4 of BECK, I think I'm not going to be able to do so.

For one thing, like Vol. 3 of Scott Piigrim, this volume of BECK has its flaws--I found the transitions in the early part of the volume to be particularly jarring, for example, but a lot of the scenes in the middle just piddle out, there to show little more than how miserable parts of Koyuki's life are. Vol. 4 of BECK is not a laudatory, life-changing volume of manga if you've read the previous volumes and didn't much care. In fact, it'll probably just reinforce any already existing indifference.

But, if like me, you really loved the first three volumes of BECK--my god, is it satisfying! Sakuishi is able to capture all of the psychological freneticism of other manga without relying on the tranformation of characters into super-deformed versions, or the art into stick-figure diagramming to mirror the awkward embarrassment of situations: Sakuishi front-loads all of that into his style and his design of his lead, gangly, big-eyed Yukio, so even the broadest comedy feels almost deadpan. Additionally, we don't have to spend too much time in Yukio's head--we may get the occasional panel where he tries to cheer himself up or remind himself of what's important--but the creator doesn't have to sell the reader on it because it's all right there on the character's face.

But the real appeal of Vol. 4 is watching a character you feel for start to come into his own after three volumes of working his ass off and struggling to get by, and I found that tremendously satisfying. Some of that, I'm sure, comes from my own history as spindly kid outsider, but some of it comes from the pleasure of watching characters you care about become the people that they want to be and the price they have to pay for that. I don't know how anyone can't find the appeal in that.

Despite any criticisms I may have (and, oh yeah, that free Beck download is a sucky remix of a song I didn't like in the first place), BECK MONGOLIAN CHOP SQUAD VOL4 is absolutely my pick of the week. Recommended, oh my yes.

Howzabout you?