Short, Cranky and Mildly Panderous: Jeff's Reviews of 08/03/05 Books.

First, let’s be clear on one thing: I freakin’ hate cling wrap and I hope the sonuvabitch who invented it is burning in a sizeable fiery pit right now. The only thing cling wrap is good for is sticking to cling wrap, and it’s only good for that when you don’t want it to do so (when you first tear it off the roll, for example). Otherwise, you can crease it against another piece of wrap all you want and have nothing to show for it except heightened blood pressure and a newly found compulsion to throw oneself out a window. I’m having a garage sale on Saturday the 13th, and I’m trying to make sets for it—like the sets Hibbs packages and sells at the store—and I thought I could save some time by just wrapping the books in cling wrap and tape. Sure, they’d look a little cheaper but it’d be much faster, right? In fact, they look horrible and I think it might actually take an undexterous idiot like me even longer because, damn it, I’m using cling wrap.

And, yes, this is my awkward way of advertising my garage sale, and I’ll continue to do so throughout the week, complete with address and everything: since nuptials are impending, I thought it’d be a good idea to try and clear out the stuff sitting around in storage, comix, graphic novels, sets (including a complete run of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol), PS2 games, DVDs (I know, those don’t take up much storage but a man’s got to have his loss leaders), and some lovely mint-on-card action figures from the days when I was also a psychotic toy hoarder. If you’re in the San Francisco area this Saturday the 13th and you wanted to buy some good stuff at very cheap prices, I hope you’d consider dropping by. A portion of the proceeds go to the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center Senior Services Program, to boot.

Second, I didn’t read shit this weekend so reviews will be slight. It was just too busy on Friday, and I was a big ol’ boozed up shmoozer as a ton of people dropped by to hang out, and, as has been the case the last couple of weeks, the superhero mainstream just hasn’t interested me very much. Honestly, the first thing I sat down and read, in the morning while it was still quiet? Aaron McGruder’s new Boondocks collection, Public Enemy #2 (which, unsurprisingly, was awesome). And I kept telling myself that it was the clever cutting humor of Aaron McGruder that was keeping me from tackling all the week’s releases and I’d dig in a little later in the afternoon, but…the anecdotal evidence suggests I am on the opposite end of the spectrum with regard to DC and Marvel’s current output. Lots of people are happy with the product, and a lot of it seems to be flying off the shelves and yeah, okay, that’s a good thing. But will I bother to keep reading books (even for free on Fridays) if I don’t really care? Should I even post reviews here if that continues to be the case? Believe it or not, I don’t write these reviews merely to keep my snark finely honed.

So, in brief:

DETECTIVE COMICS #809: Oh, for fuck’s sake. One of the problems, I think, between die-hard fans and creators who work on mainstream superheroes is the dreaded “out of character” problem. If the fans see one of the main characters do something that doesn’t strike them as consistent, they’ll say “so-and-so is acting out of character.” The creators, should they choose to respond, might say something like, “Oh, no, no, no. This is entirely consistent with how I’ve portrayed the character for blank number of issues and is the center of the arc I’ve constructed for the character overall, and I even checked with the book’s editor who assured me it was fine, and, really, it’s the company’s character so if they approve it, it automatically is in character, right?” And then there’s either a flamewar or the die-hard fans go off to was their hands three hundred times and comb their hair for forty minutes, and the creators go off to eat their dinner of Cup of Noodles and hope the landlord doesn’t come ‘round trying to collect the rent again.

But I think we can all agree that Batman altering a crime scene to shift the blame from himself is out of character. And why? Because, if for no other reason, it wouldn’t work. Taking batarangs out of wounds and inserting knives instead? Changing the blood or paint smears so it doesn’t read ‘snitch’? Changing the chord the person was killed or hanged with? A crime scene technician is going to be able to tell the difference in a second. I can’t even believe anyone, in this day and age of CSI: Bandcamp, would think a general public could suspend disbelief for that.

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think Batman would do it anyway, nor would he suddenly start blasting at bad guys with a shotgun—but at the very, most basic level, it’s just wrong and dumb, and that itself is out of character. I mean, really. Awful.

GOTHAM CENTRAL #34: This, by contrast, ended up reading like the freakin’ Aeneid. I love Kano’s take on Batman, the writing is smart and clever, and I didn’t have to clutch my head in pain at all. A high Good.

HIP FLASK MYSTERY CITY: God damn, I love Ladronn’s art: if there’s anyone who can get you to take a hippopotamus private eye seriously, it’s him. So this issue looks gorgeous, but does it go anywhere? In fact, it tries to go everywhere at once, which gives it the feeling of going nowhere. If it was being published with anything like regularity, and if I thought I’d be reading the next issue, say, a month from now instead of somewhere in 2006, that “everywhere at once” quality might work in its favor (something about its incoherence reminded me a little bit of Chandler). But as it stands now, it’s like a pricey stapled art portfolio with diaphanous word balloons. OK because, man, Ladronn’s art, man.

JSA #76: You know, for a page or two there, I thought we were gonna get something different than “OMAC flies off and disappears.” Nope. These OMACs have gotta be the greatest invention for superhero comic writers since the heydays of the bank robbers/muggers on page two. Actually, OMACs are even better since you don’t have to give them any personality whatsoever. To be fair, this was the most interesting OMAC fight I’ve seen yet, but that isn’t the glowing commendation I wish it was. OK.

JUSTICE #1: May be worth it just for the panel of Green Arrow standing defeated as the building he’s shot his cable arrow into collapses. “Hell.” “I love you, Green Arrow.” That was both hilarious and poignant in a way the rest of this wasn’t. It looks great, sure, but when half the issue is a dream sequence and half the issue is frickin’ Aquaman, it better, you know? It’s a great way to eyeball some Alex Ross art on the cheap, but I was kind of hoping he and Kreuger would also work some of the same magic they brought to Earth X. Oh, well. OK.

NEW AVENGERS #8: For some reason, this kind of reminded me of an M. Night Shyamalan movie: lovely looking, languorously paced. I’ve got some axes to grind but, compared to previous issues, they’re very, very small axes. I’ll say OK.

PVP #0: One the one hand, you can’t really complain about a fifty cent comic. But I do think Scott didn’t do himself any favors here—the strip selection seemed particularly haphazard, bits and pieces from continued storylines where the punchlines worked much better in context. There’s also a new piece, Skull’s origin story, that works much better but, again, only if you know the characters. A nice perk for established fans, I guess, but as an intro to new readers? Eh, at best.

SUPERMAN #220: So Superman can see people’s souls, eh? He has super-soulvision, does he? That is so stupid and wrong-headed I don’t know where to begin. I mean, how does he know that they are souls? What if what he’s seeing is the terrifying absence of a soul, a miasmatic aura that shows how human beings are separated from the unified soulfulness of an animistic universe? It’s one thing for a mystical hero like Raven to see Superboy’s soul. It’s another for Superman to have super-soulvision—it’s just unnecessary and dumb, like “check-balancing breath” and all those other useless powers strewn around in the Golden and Silver Ages. The rest of the issue was nothing to write home about, but super-soulvision? Oy. Awful.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #81: Not quite as strong as last issue, but a decent read nonetheless. I have to admit my memories of the issue are pretty dim, though: why were Ultimate Shang-Chi and Ultimate Iron Fist in the issue again? Good.

UNCANNY X-MEN #463: Unfortunately, no matter how drastically reality changes, characters written by Chris Claremont still read like characters written by Chris Claremont. Ugh. But Alan Davis art’s involved, so OK.

WILDSIDERZ #1 (OF 5): It’s great that J. Scott Campbell draws his influences from more than just superhero comics—unfortunately, those influences are toy commercials and Saved By The Bell episodes. Kinda sad because I can see how he might have ended up the next great Mad Magazine artist, but I’m sure the toy commercial/Saved by the Bell IP thing has a better chance of paying off big for him. Eh.

TRADE PICK: Lot of very nice stuff this week—I’m having a blast with DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories, and I also plunked down the coin for the John Romita Sr. Visionaries HC which, for me, is worth it just for that beautifully recolored “Spider-Man No More!” page. And I already mentioned how much I liked Aaron McGruder’s new Boondocks collection, right?

But really, it’s all about Top Ten: The Forty-Niners OGN, which is a great read and well worth the pricey coin: it looks beautiful, it reads great, it has all sorts of bits and pieces that resonate with the first Top Ten miniseries, but it also stands on its own as a tour through a world of wonder and a journey of awakening. There’s a super-cynical part of me that wonders if DC/Wildstorm made this an OGN because the subject material made them uncomfortable and the higher price point would act as its own censor (this was clearly written as a four issue miniseries), but even if so, that’s the only real fault I can find with it. A really wonderful read, and resting at the top of the Very Good rating.

PICK OF THE WEEK: If you haven’t the money to spare, Gotham Central #34 or Ultimate Spider-Man #81. Otherwise, head straight to Top Ten: The Forty Niners OGN: how perfectly goddamn delightful it all is, to be sure. (Yes, I’m sure I’m going to hell for not using that phrase sarcastically…)

PICK OF THE WEAK: Hmm, super-soulvision or crime tampering? Crime tampering or super-soulvision? Tough call, tough call indeed. I’ll go with both Detective Comics #809 and Superman #220 because, dammit, these heroes are supposed to be the icons, you know?