Second Round: Jeff Tackles the 12/12 Books (Part 2 of 2, as it turns out...)

Okay, let's finish this puppy up... HATE ANNUAL #7: I'm probably being too meta about this, but I thought it was funny that the Buddy Bradley story is all about he and Jay running dueling junkyards and battling over potentially valuable scrap metal, and this issue seems, like the last few Hate Annuals, like a collection of Bagge's odd & ends from which he's trying to get a little more cash. (Scrap, in other words.) I felt weirdly nostalgic flipping through this issue overall, with pieces like Bagge's comparison of Seattle to New York being the kind of short, funny pieces all indy cartoonists used to do, and now it seems like only Bagge (and Crumb, I guess) is still putting out there. It's really not fair to Bagge because I haven't followed his career closely at all and maybe he's got some awesome advertising or reporting gigs lined up, but he feels like he's fallen between the cracks as the indy scene has moved into its more literary phase and that's a damned shame. If nothing else, that back page shows Bagge could do one helluva Dick Cheney graphic novel bio. I'd give this a high EH--if I could've gotten into the Bat Boy strips this time around, I probably could ignore the price point and go higher--but I do sort of worry Bagge isn't living up to his potential and/or that his time has passed.

LOVELESS #21: I picked this up, along with the other Vertigo titles this week, to see if I could make some snappy generalizations about where this line was at and maybe why sales have been moribund. Since I don't follow the online news boards and no longer read Previews, I thought I might work as a relatively good replica of a casual reader, the kind that apparently aren't picking up Vertigo singles currently.

So. Like DMZ, I haven't followed this book in quite a while; unlike DMZ, I don't think I ever made it past issue #3 of this title. And I can't really critique this issue, which is clearly the last part of a storyline, any more than I could critique a movie after walking in on its last 20 minutes. But it's worth noting I finished this and assumed it was the final issue of the book altogether.

I know Hibbs has put forward a pretty good argument about Vertigo training readers to wait for the trade, but I think maybe each title might benefit as well from a little bit of marketing TLC in its own pages. If I was a new reader and picked up this issue of Loveless and concluded it was the final issue, you'd think chances are good I would be less likely to pick up the next issue since I wouldn't be looking for it. Alternately, maybe if I picked up this issue cold and was intrigued by it to pick up the trade, it might be a good idea to let me know when it's coming out, or what trades are already out. Here, despite every internal ad (except for the half pager for the Full Sail School of Animation) page in this issue being for either Zuda or a Vertigo title, there's not one scrap of information about Loveless other than the last page of the story that says "Conclusion" at the bottom in big letters.

This, then, is my humble proposal: each Vertigo title should have its own bulletin page, which would tell you which trades are currently available (so the reader knows where to start), an ad for the new trade if you're picking up the last issue of a storyline, a next issue blurb, and maybe a quick marketing blurb for the series or the storyline.

I doubt Vertigo will actually do this, mind you, and if pressed, would probably say something like, "B-b-but, The Internet!" Or, "B-b-but the reader can just walk up to the counter guy of the comic store at which they're flipping through the issue, and ask them which trades are in stock." And maybe they're right, but I think a publishing line--particularly one like Vertigo where the majority of its monthly issues are chapters in larger storylines--should make it as easy as possible for readers to know where they stand with any title they're picking up.

Okay, end of rant. NO RATING, but based on the explosions and the imagery (who doesn't love a bride with a gun in her bouquet?) seemed like it could be at least OK.

NEW AVENGERS #37: Man, Leinil Yu seems over-extended and burnt out this issue, precisely at the time Bendis decides it's time to razzle-dazzle everyone with a full-issue fight scene between fourteen-plus characters (plus illusions, plus bystanders): if it wasn't for the colorist, I don't think the middle pages would've had any sense of movement or order to them at all. And Bendis obviously tried to give the fights a sense of ebb and flow with some pages reading nothing more than "Agh!" "Ha!" "Oof!" and some pages deliberately jammed with everyone talking at once, which also helped give things a sense of momentum. I wasn't razzle-dazzled but I was entertained, and the opening and closing sections with The Wrecker helped this issue seem like more than just all middle, so I'm gonna with GOOD, even though really the art and some of those "Ha!" "Oof!" "What?" "Yes." pages really make an OK rating the more sensible decision. But I enjoyed it, so there ya go.

NIGHTWING #139: I'm amazed I forgave Fabian Nicieza the inept use of the tired Mastercard meme on page three ("Following Tim Drake and Batman's son Damian from Gotham City to Ra's al Ghul hideout in Tibet: easy. Realizing that maybe Tim has been seduced by Ra's into joing the dark(er) side: costly. Having to fight the brother I came to rescue: priceless." Honestly, Fabian, what the fuck?), but I did. It's obvious everyone involved is making the best of a bad situation that entails Robin and Nightwing fighting because that's what it says on the editorial whiteboard. So the characters spend half the time half-heartedly laying the groundwork for why they should be fighting (even though it doesn't make any sense with unbelievable amounts of horseshit like, "You can't bring back one if you're not willing to bring back everyone." (Huh?) "And you can't bring back everyone so... don't start with one." (Wha?) "But in that case--since you know you can't stop all crime...then why bother stopping any at all?" (???)) and half the time half-heartedly fighting, and none of it is really relevant to the main thrust of the crossover whatsoever. Knowing that at least the creative team is trying bumps this up to AWFUL for me, but it's a shame how frequently these Bat-Family crossover events seem to suggest "Hey, we don't give a shit about this title except how it affects Batman and neither should you." Feh.

NOVA #9: Didn't read last issue, so it's probably not surprising this issue felt off-balance to me but a dicey writing decision (the issue's big bad is a cosmic entity sealed in a massive space coffin) made worse by a worse art decision (said coffin isn't even shown completely, so Nova's big dramatic struggle is essentially him walking over to what looks like an electrified wall and touching it) makes me think even people following the title might be incredibly underwhelmed. There's a mix of fun and big ideas (who couldn't love a telepathic Russian dog who's security chief for a research station built into a severed Celestial head?), as well as popular sci-fi tropes (Nova's larger battle is with what I guess are Borg analogues which seems really dull to me but probably pushes somebody's fanboy buttons), but the execution for this issue at least knocked it down to a very low OK for me. I'm curious if this issue is an anomaly in that regard or not.

PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #14: I don't know. It's got one good hook (Kraven has decided to start hunting and caging the Marvel Universe's almost infinite number of animal based characters) but in getting it, we have characters written at odds with their earlier appearances (there goes all that heavy duty Mary Sue-ing Ron Zimmerman did on Kraven's son; and I know I'm one of the last people to take the Mandrill seriously but it's a shame he talks like your average "bros before hos" frat boy now), characters/concepts that have been around the Marvel Universe for close to forty years destroyed on a whim (so long, Aragorn!) and a title character that appears for less than half the book (10 out of 22 pages). Writer Matt Fraction has done work I've really enjoyed elsewhere, but here he's just Frank Tieri with a better sense of humor and a deeper back issue collection. I know I've got my fanboy dander up, but I thought this was seriously sub-EH.

SCALPED #12: Luckily for me, a great jumping on issue as it's both (kind of) a done-in-one and a deliberate introduction to the characters, plot and themes of the series. What's weird is I'm normally a big fan of ultra-bleak noir stories (and this series is ultra-bleak) but this one is strangely off-putting and I don't know why. Maybe my liberal white guilt makes it really hard for me to enjoy nihilistic hijinks at the expense of a devastated culture? Although I've enjoyed other works--the movie Deep Cover comes to mind--where, as here, the undercover agent angle is used as a metaphor for the conflict of assimilation in people of color.

I don't know. This is clearly GOOD material--the writing, the art, the hook--but I honestly didn't enjoy it and am unlikely to pick up the next issue. So for me, personally, it's an EH. Considering this stuff is right up my alley normally, I'm not sure what the problem is, but if you like a good, gritty crime thriller, you should assume you won't have the same problem and check it out.

SPIDER-MAN FAMILY #6: The cover--Frog Thor on top of Spidey's head next to the phrase "What would you do if you only had One More Frog!?"--couldn't make it clearer we're in for wacky hijinks this issue but, unfortunately, I found them deeply sub-wack. Chris Eliopoulos' title story is a very sweet mash note to Simonson's "Thor as frog story" (with a much-appreciated intro page that explains the story and even tells you in which trade you can find it). However, stripped of Eliopoulos' usual light mockery, the story has no real laughs, some bad story shortcuts, and seemed a lot more fun to create than it was to read. Following that, there's a story by Tom "Belland" where Spidey catsits Zabu that seems more than a little forced (not only that Spider-Man has to catsit Zabu, but that Spidey is able to work out Zabu's emotional problems(?) and solve them by taking Zabu to a museum to see his stuffed ancestors(!)), two badly reproduced reprints, and a Spider-Man J story that leads me to further suspect Marvel is bullshitting everyone about the material being genuine material originally published in Japan. Overall, a sadly underwhelming issue, which not even Johnny Storm being dressed as a gay rodeo clown (in the Marvel Team-Up reprint) can save. Sub-EH.

STREETS OF GLORY #3: Mike Wolfer's art usually comes off as cluttered and chaotic to me, and his faces almost always seem unevoactive and off, like mannequin faces. But even if John Severin had been on art chores here, Ennis' all-middle of an issue would've left me pretty cold--most of this issue is people telling each other about the past, with a brief flash-forward to point out the entire story is something somebody is telling someone else, with a bit of manufactured conflict and a flash of blood and violence at the end. Still, the art knocks it down to sub-EH for me, and I can't imagine I'll bother looking for next issue. Maybe Ennis is better bringing what interests him about Westerns into his work rather than just doing Westerns? I dunno.

STORMWATCH ARMAGEDDON #1: I've heard good things about the previous Stormwatch series (from Johanna, I think?) so I thought I'd give it a try, but this issue was far from what you'd call a "jumping-on" issue. Operative John Doran is brought into the future by Wildcats character Void to discover what the cause of a coming cataclysm. Doran then goes on to discover one panel of information about what caused the cataclysm, and fifteen pages about what happened to him and the rest of his teammates. It's kind of like "Days of Future Past" if Kitty had ended up in the future and then proceeded to do nothing but go, "But what about Cyclops? What happened to him? Uh-huh. And what happened to Professor X again? Huh. And Beast?" I think even if I was a regular reader of the title, I'd find this underwhelming in every way. AWFUL.

SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #10: Good news, everybody! DC's got an inventory issue it has got to get out of its vault and it wants you to pay $2.99 for it! I assume it's an inventory story, anyway, since it has The Forever People, Darkseid, Mantis, Infinity-Man and Jimmy Olsen but doesn't even try to pretend to reference Countdown, and doesn't serve any purpose whatsoever except to throw a bunch of characters into combat for eighteen pages without explaining who they are and what relation they have to each other. And Superman seems weirdly out of character as well, saying stuff like "What I said to the others goes double for you. Get out of Metropolis." and "That your best shot?" Considering this is by the guys who wrote the much-better Nova this week, I'm assuming something went seriously wrong here, and you know, God bless. Just don't ask me (or you) to pay for it. CRAP.

TALES OF THE SINESTRO CORPS ION #1: After enjoying Green Lantern #25 as much as I did, I found this tremendously unsatisfying. I mean, it does explain what's going on to the first-time reader and I do give it credit for that, but when each sequence (Kyle with the Guardians, Kyle and Sodam Yat, Nero and Kyle) each requires at least a full page of exposition, maybe there's something to be said for putting the pedal to the metal and dazzling us all with crazy shit. Also, the artist and/or colorist kinda blew the point of the big fight sequence--it took me a second read to figure out that Ion had taken Nero's creatures and converted them into his own. (And I only bothered because Marz, in true "explain everything in case the artist fucks it up" craftsman, explained it after I missed it.) Finally, the title makes me think this entire issue was just a solicitation fake-out so that people trying to glean the fallout of the Sinestro War from future solicits were going to be outfoxed. If so, is that the future of the direct market? A cold war between the Big Two and retailers & readers? Jeezis, I hope not. AWFUL.

UN-MEN #5: First issue I've read of this and the conclusion, I guess, of the introductory arc. It didn't do much for me, seeming both past its prime (are people still trying to get cash from the nouveau-freakshow movement?) and extraordinarily tepid (just about every third link on Warren Ellis' website is more outlandish than the stuff portrayed here) with only Tomer Hanuka's cover providing any kind of garish zing whatsoever. I guess it's great editor Jonathan Vankin could get his writing partner a steady gig, but I can't imagine this sub-EH material is gonna be the next Y: The Last Man.

WALKING DEAD #45: I like that everyone including the bad guy is running around in a panic with only the most half-assed of plans to see them through, but that's precisely when, according to zombie movie law, brains should start getting eaten. Maybe I'm being premature here, but even as the last few issues have heightened the conflict between the two groups of humans, the zombie factor has been shunted to the side. I hope that's because Kirkman wants us to forget about them and have 'em cause holy hell in the next issue or two, but it feels a bit like he's got his hands full with all the characters and their motivations at play. A highly GOOD issue, though, and I'm looking forward to the next.

WOLVERINE #60: That weird and gross Arthur Suydam cover--where Wolverine looks as surprised to be shown driving his claws through some dude's head as I am to be seeing it--doesn't really convey the warmed-over material herein. (I know I don't follow the character that closely, but does Wolverine ever end up in Japan and it doesn't end up entailing his former fiance and/or her family? And ninjas?) Oh sure, Wolverine fights ninjas in a Japanese toy store, and if Geoff Darrow had been drawing that, it would've been aces, but Chaykin's well past the point of showing off and uses the minimum amount of detail (and a shitload of diagonal composition) to pull us through. I can't really blame the guy--Chaykin, like Bagge, is a guy who seems to have fallen between the cracks for reasons I can't even fathom--but it doesn't make the book any less EH.

WONDER WOMAN #15: Very charming, I thought. I've always liked Wonder Woman as a warrior strong enough to be compassionate (remember when she used to take her enemies off to be rehabilitated through some light spanking and B&D?), and the mix of both multiple pantheons and gaudy pulp stuff here (nazis, talking gorillas) move the character away a bit from the Greek mythos I've found so stifling since WW's reinvention by Perez. The intro piece may be a bit clunky, and I was bit disappointed that out of an entire menagerie of imaginary animals, the nazis get attacked by what's either Kang or Kodos, but yeah, pretty GOOD stuff. I'd like to see more.

CRAWL SPACE XXXOMBIES #2: Finally, thanks to my poor alphabetization skills, we've got this little number which is rich in high concept (Boogie Nights of the Living Dead, basically), has all the sick, gaudy thrills Un-Men wishes it had, and has neither a sympathetic character nor a remote resemblance to reality anywhere to be found. It's OK, but, being as I'm one of those guys who preferred Death Proof to Planet Terror, not really my thing.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Gotta go with GREEN LANTERN #25--a really remarkable piece of heady, straight-up, continuity-rich, superhero whoop-ass.

PICK OF THE WEAK: COUNTDOWN ARENA #2, I guess, although the "comic book as toxic waste dump" approach of SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #10 wasn't any great shakes, either.

TRADE PICK: I forgot to do this last week, which is a shame since there were a ton of contenders. (I would've gone with BECK VOL. 10, the crazy-ass BATMAN SUPERMAN SAGA OF THE SUPER SONS TPB, and the second POPEYE hardcover). This week, though, I'd go with Brubaker and Phillips' exceptional second trade from Criminal, LAWLESS. As with the previous arc, the art was luscious and the story satisfying, but I found the narrative tone and structure particularly exceptional. I hope it goes on to sell a bajillion copies.

NEXT WEEK: Maybe the whole "brevity is the soul of wit" thing will sink in!