No clever opening for me, I'm afraid. I didn't see the preview of Batman Begins, probably because my luck with movies have been so bad lately: this week I finally got around to seeing Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (dull, cliched, frustratingly inept), Butterfly Effect (hey, I liked Final Destination 2 so I thought it was worth a shot. Boy was I wrong) and Electra Glide in Blue (starts off as an exemplar of everything great about '70s Hollywood before becoming everything terrible about '70s Hollywood). Thank God, I guess, for HBO on video: just finished watching Season Two of The Wire and loved it: different from Season One, but still great. Oh, and thank god for comix, too. Because this was a pretty decent week:
ACTION COMICS #828: Okay, that Villains United tie-in is pretty gratuitous if not nearly nonsensical. (Rather than wait for Dr. Polaris to get carted off to jail, you're going to grab him right from Superman's hands and tip him off to the formation of your super-gang? That seems…dumb, to say the least.) But this really hit all the right beats for a Superman comic, with a convincingly romantic ending. I hope Gail avoids the urge to grit this up, and Byrne's content to turn out this art, because this is the most I've enjoyed a Super title in too long. Good.
ACTION PHILOSOPHERS ALL SEX SPECIAL: Previously, Action Philosophers was more of a book I felt I should like than a book I actually liked, but this issue was flat-out great: Dunlavey and Van Lente's work reminds me of Larry Gonick here, able to tackle complex issues with a light touch that doesn't undermine the subjects. Covering St. Augustine, Jefferson and Ayn Rand in one issue also was a great touch, as one can track how the philosophical breakthroughs of one allowed for the very different philosophical developments of the other. It's far from perfect (Van Lente's work is expressive and cleaner than I remember it, but it's a shame that he couldn't nail that Kirby Manichaeism sequence as much as evoke it) but it's a full 32 pgs. of fun and fascinating reading for $2.95; how can I not give it a Very Good?
BATMAN DARK DETECTIVE #3: For better or for worse, times have changed. Back in the '70s, one probably could get some genuine pathos out of the idea of Two-Face gaining and losing a second chance at life via a Harvey Dent clone, but now it just seems embarrassingly quaint. Throw in a heavy dose of emotional speechifying and I'd be hard-pressed to give this an OK for more than sentimental reasons, if it wasn't for some beautifully evocative Marshall Rogers art—I'd probably give this a high OK for that alone.
BATMAN LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #192: The Chase team of Williams and Johnson turn in a rock-solid script, but it's Seth Fisher's art that really gives this some oomph: it's filled with little details to an almost Geoff Darrowish degree. We'll see where this story ends up going, but for now, a really Good issue.
BETE NOIRE #1: The $9.95 price tag puts this very much in a half-empty/half-full conundrum: compared to Kramer's Ergot, this is a chance to sample similarly outré cartoonists for a much cheaper price. However, compared to Hoax #2, this is an anthology that's three times the price and of varying or equivalent value (I ended up much preferring Hoax, frankly). Apart from a few of the Japanese cartoonists (lumped together toward the front, oddly), I wasn't much struck by much of the material here and at least pricey anthologies like Kramer's or Non (or, of course, the progenitor, Raw) have appeal in and of themselves as attractive objects—this, by contrast, feels distressingly like an overpriced comic book. Please keep in mind all my many biases (I almost always preferred the narrative to non-narrative pieces in Raw, for example) when I tell you this ranked squarely on the Eh side of things for me.
GOTHAM CENTRAL #32: On the one hand, a very nice done-in-one about crooked cops in the GCPD. On the other hand, I'd gladly read about these guys in every issue and the ending makes that seem a bit unlikely. Still, Very Good.
GRAVITY #1: Cute, and my blessed ignorance of mid-'90s Marvel characters (Hibbs reassured me Rage really is a character and really was both an Avenger and a New Warrior) actually made this even more amusing and McKeever's script hit all the right beats. In fact, although it's probably soon to say this, there weren't any real surprises—the first issue read just like I imagined it might. And although the art is clean, I wish it could have captured more of a sense of New York--the simultaneity of its grit and its splendor, to say nothing of the sheer crush of its population (that double-page splash is the only time we see more than eight people in the background). But I'm willing to go up to a low Good for this first issue because it's a promising start and I'm still relieved to pick up a book from either Marvel or DC that isn't trying to eyerape me with its gritty ultra-importance.
HOAX #2: As I said above, I preferred this to Bete Noire, although that's due largely to both price and a preference for narrative--Nate Neal's contributions are solidly told and entertaining, if a little heavy on the authorial sneer, and I thought Lydia Gregg's "Law of Bone Healing," which mixes Gonick style educational comix with a piece of war abuse propaganda, was an effective and promising piece of work. Only "Reflex" struck me as not worth the pagecount, but overall this issue conjured some of the enjoyment I had reading issues of Weirdo the first time around (minus the patented Crumb genius, of course): the sense that cartoonists are struggling to develop a style and engage with the world, and that the struggle is not just worth having, but worth reading. Good.
HOLMES PERIPHERY FLIP BOOK: A very clever idea (Holmes being a dope-addled fiend; Watson his Dr. Feelgood) that never gets off the ground--and by "ground," I mean "inside cover" where the idea is pitched outright. While that certainly makes the book very inviting to new readers, I found it troubling it more or less had to spelled out at the beginning. There's just not enough to the story, which starts as a Holmes pastiche and quickly ends up an outtake from a Victorian Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. For me, the enjoyment would come from seeing the story work as both simultaneously, but instead all of the elements are just haphazardly thrown into the pot in the hopes it'll end up as a really good soup. That it didn't is quite a bummer. Going with the Eh here.
ICE HAVEN GN: The great thing about working in a comic store like CE on a slowish Friday morning is being able to sit down with a book like this and compare it page to page with the original issue of Eightball. The slicing of each page into two pages worked much better than I thought it would, and the new material (what would have accounted for, at most , three pages in the original Eightball) did a brilliant job of bringing the reader's focus more explicitly on the book's themes and a plot point or two (the ending in particular underscores an important part of the plot that had previously zipped right over my head). Very Good work (in fact, if this had been the original issue of Eightball with the additional material I think it'd be Excellent), but it's three times the price for very much the same material and I kinda can't get away from that fact. I'm sure of far greater interest (and relevance to the book's success) will be reviews from people coming to the material completely fresh, but if, like me, you've already got the original issue, I say inveigle your local library into getting a copy and check it out then.
JLA #115: Liked this because the focus was more on the Injustice Gang and the JLA deciding to tell Batman, than any sort of Bat-histrionics as promised on the cover (although I'm sure that'll come later). Also, a lot more character scenes and a lot less of the relentless crash and bash than Johns' scripts have had lately. So I'll go with a high Good and hope it goes to some interesting places from here.
LITTLE STAR #3: Latest issue didn't knock me on my ass quite as much as last issue because the dramatic change-up felt both a little too subtle and too sudden-- a few too many pages about the partnership between parents that felt a bit redundant in the face of previous issues, maybe--but still near the top of my Very Good rating. I'm really enjoying this book.
MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN #15: Why I read this, I can't really say although, thanks to the Mark Buckingham flashback pages, I liked it a lot more than the previous two issues. But particularly on the face of the recent JMS story, having another of Peter Parker's unpopular ex-classmates seemed very, very groanworthy. Throw in a very gratuitous Punisher sequence and I'm still gonna go with Awful.
NEW WARRIORS #1: Skottie Young's art is dynamic, fluid and colorful, but bleeds so fully into the cute edge of the spectrum (it seems almost more Disney-influenced than manga or anime), I can't imagine your typical Marvel fan--or whatever remaining New Warrior fans might still survive--enjoying this. Nonetheless, I liked this fine, and hope Frank Tieri, doing a very similar concept in Hercules, looks to this as primer on how to get a miniseries up and running quickly and smoothly. Will win no awards but a very high OK, nonetheless.
NIGHTWING #109: No need for that Villains United crossover blurb on the cover, if you ask me. And I'm still incredulous from previous revelations (mainly that all the mooks know that Dick Grayson is Dick Grayson) so this really can't get better than OK although I liked it fine.
PULSE #9: Would make me want to read Secret War, if the issues I'd already read of that hadn't felt like a waste of time and money. Also, having your bimonthly book tie in so closely to your quarterly (at best) miniseries is not the savviest use of marketing synergy. Will I remember any resultant desire by the time Secret War hits the stands? Maybe in Bendis's dayplanner, but not here in the real world, I'm afraid. A high OK.
PUNISHER #22: The art seemed a little flat this issue, or maybe the coloring washed it out (although I got the impression the colorist was actually trying to do the opposite) but this still continues to be the best arc since the reboot. I wasn't sold that Frank is so out of control he can't help but knowingly put his ass into that trap but maybe I might've if this had been paced a bit differently. OK.
RANN THANAGAR WAR #2: I made it to page three before a crippling case of the don't-cares set in. The art did make me want to dig up my old copy of Superman Versus Muhammad Ali, I'll give it that. A very low Eh.
STARDUST KID #1: Mike Ploog's still got fearsome chops, but I've never been a mighty big fan of DeMatteis in winsome mode—he practically makes Ray Bradbury read like Ernest Hemingway by comparison—so I can't really say this deep fried my twinkie. But it sure did look mighty great, and maybe it'll work better for its intended audience than it did for me. OK, at the very least.
STRANGE GIRL #1: Some luminous coloring initially obscured some real shortcomings in the storytelling and art, I think, and I was also more engaged with the first half when the Rapture comes than the second half where the demons have sway over all and our heroine is all grown up—I would have much rather continued reading about that young girl and how she manages to survive than jumping forward in the narrative so the artist can now feel comfortable centering the panels around her ass. I'll give it an OK because I really was drawn into the first part, but if it goes downhill from here I won't be a bit surprised.
STRAY BULLETS #38: That psycho Huss is a perfect foil for Virginia (who's not particularly well-adjusted either) and Lapham still excels at putting his characters in uncomfortable situations and making the reader feel they're right there with them. On the upper edge of Good, but my dissatisfaction Lapham's use of flat and rounded characters (too much of the former, not enough of the latter) keeps me from going higher.
ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #19: Back before Galactus, Stan and Jack's FF stories seemed centered around the team running down trap-laden hallways, so this was a really great update by Mike Carey and Jae Lee of a very old trope. If you're a seriously old school FF fan, you might also find this Very Good.
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #78: Hey, an issue of USM where Brian Bendis actually seems to know what he's doing! Remember when we used to get that every issue? Although I can't tell if there was more than one case of misdirected captions, and can't tell if everything's gonna go right back to frustrating, Good is Good.
X-MEN #171: Unsubtle soap opera with blatantly sexual themes that seem to assume the worst about human nature—are we sure Chuck Austen's not back on the book? I think this was big pile of Awful.
PICK OF THE WEEK: As I said, a lot of good stuff this week, I thought, but ACTION PHILOSOPHERS ALL SEX SPECIAL was an enjoyable, educational and thought-provoking read. UFF #19 was also a nice cheap shot of good fun.
PICK OF THE WEAK: MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN #15 didn't work for me, to put it lightly.
TRADE PICK: Get Ice Haven into your public library, and get Age of Bronze Vol. 2 TPB into your own. Eric Shanower's retelling of the Trojan War is top-notch comix.