Short Reviews from a Long Weekend: Jeff's Reviews of 8/31 Books

Aghhhhh…so…much…to…do… AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #523: Reminded me of those ol’ Tales of Suspense stories that Stan and crew used to crank out, twelve pagers (ten pagers?) that managed to barely get the hero from one cliffhanger to the next—Marie Severin should’ve drawn this, really. But what’s (kinda) charming in ten pages for twelve cents becomes (more than a little) annoying at twenty-two pages for $2.50, a feeling only amplified by that cover of Toy Biz’s next big action figure, Second Trimester Spider-Man. Eh.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #12: Okay, okay! So it wasn’t as good as the previous arc; so it barely made a lick of sense with established continuity; so the idea that Xavier would enslave a newly sentient life form because he couldn’t come up with another way to throw enormous beer kegs and flaming spitwads at his team is more than a little absurd. As long as Cassaday is drawing Professor X with those feathered-out eyebrows, I don’t care. Eh compared to the rest of the run, but Good compared to any other x-book on the market, I think. Let’s hope the quality ramps back up a bit during the hiatus.

ASTRO CITY THE DARK AGE #3: I guess an important part of criticism is understanding what the work is trying to do, and criticizing it on its own terms. And in that regard, this is a Very Good Astro City story—it works as both a melodrama of two conflicted brothers set against the backdrop of a superhero-riddled ‘70s, and a vivid simulacrum of superhero books in the ‘70s. But it’s good enough to make me wish it did more, particularly after recently finishing Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude. Lethem’s book is also about brothers (of a sort) against the vivid backdrop of ‘70s New York and uses superhero flavored magical realism for some of its resonance, and I felt something approximating that here, where the recounted stories of the superheroes (a ghostly hero afflicted by a vengeance spirit, the First Family conquering a magical demon but torn apart by governmental restrictions) reflect on the conflict between the brothers. But whereas Lethem painstakingly crafts complex main characters, the two brothers here are cut straight from melodrama’s cloth, a bit more nuanced than Ditko’s Hawk & Dove, maybe, but not by much. And that’s all well and good if that’s what you want—as a piece of nostalgia capable of recreating, and maybe even trumping, your original experience of reading a superhero comic, it’s, as I said, Very Good. But it’s good enough to make me want more, and frustrated that I’m unlikely to get it.

BATMAN GOTHAM KNIGHTS #68: Huh? I haven’t been following this title very closely so I couldn’t really make heads or tails out of what happened this issue. If I’m right, at least part of it shows Hush discovering a shape-changing MacGuffin that may have been used to undo the whole “Hush is Bruce Wayne’s boyhood friend” revelation or maybe the “Hush is not Bruce Wayne’s boyhood friend” revelation, or maybe the recent “Alfred iced that guy” storyline, or even maybe the whole “Batman is a big ol’ asshat” storyline that’s been going on for several years now. And maybe the MacGuffin also is the bad guy from Brubaker’s first Catwoman arc as well… But really, the only thing I took from this book is a very strong desire for McDonald’s to make and market a product called the McGuffin—something with cheese on it, definitely, and maybe sausage. Why hasn’t this happened already? The book, to the extent that I could follow it? Eh. The idea of an egg and cheese McGuffin? Good or Very Good, depending.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #9: God bless Paul O’Brien, by the way. I thought changing things up over at The X-Axis was a very smart way to address reviewing superhero books in our for-the-trade era. Because more and more, books like this make your average "this is what you paid for, this is what you get" review very difficult. As part of a larger storyline, Brubaker and team are painstakingly moving all the pieces into place, maximizing the tension and laying the groundwork for future dramatic reversals and advancement. As an issue on its own that I paid almost $3.00 for, it feels a trifle draggy—the carefully woven time structure almost conceals a copious amount of chatting, and a superficially similar set-up in structure to previous issues. It's Good work, for sure, but it's also the closest I've come to deciding to wait for a trade on a book that I like. Tough call.

EX MACHINA #14: I very much like the "A Story/B Story" approach being taken here, but Vaughan's still got kinks to work out—the A story with Mitchell and the hostage situation had a lot of drama but felt contrived, the resonance of the B story with the old friends and the comic book guy felt forced because it didn't have enough room to develop. Like Cap, a Good issue but there's still the feeling something's missing.

FLASH #225: Geoff Johns' final issue of The Flash shows all the strengths of his run on the title—an affection for the characters, an eye for structure, a willingness to up the ante, emotionally and visually—and two of its most frequent weaknesses: overambition, and artist Howard Porter. This regular-sized issue has a battle between two Flashes, two Reverse-Flashes, the Rogues and the resolution of two subplots. Maybe a savvier artist might be up for the job, but Porter's art looks like he couldn't be bothered: the Flashes don't really run as much as bound, and everyone seems hunched into skimpy underdeveloped panels. The storytelling is okay as far as how the eye follows the page and like I said, maybe nobody could pull off as much frenzied free-for-all as the script calls for. But check out that splash page where the Barry Allen Flash looks like a cookie jar with delusions of grandeur. Bleah. A high OK because it really does tear along and Johns' strengths are formidable, but I almost wish they'd double-sized it and done the "gallery of Flash's greatest artists" trick.

FRESHMEN #2: If you want to read D.P. 7 by somebody who hasn't mastered the verbal-visual blend of comics, this is for you. For what's essentially a comedy superhero book, there's a boggling amount of exposition (yes, I know that's part of the talking beaver's shtick) and I'm just not engaged with the characters particularly. So, pretty much an Eh through and through.

GREEN LANTERN #4: Oh, Comics Code Authority, whatever has become of you? You're right there on the cover, and yet we've got an impressively gruesome (and gratuitous) final page. Van Sciver's art kicks the book out of its doldrums all right, but the book went from boring to icky without addressing any of the title's larger troubles. For all the "look at how awesome Hal is!" scenes, he's kind of like the superhero equivalent of Fonzie—he just stands around looking cool until somebody comes to him with a problem. (Hey, maybe he can jump over Tiger Shark next issue!) OK because it wasn't dull, but it's still not frying my burger.

JLA CLASSIFIED #11: Liked it more than last issue, although it's very oddly paced—a part of Paradise Island blows up on page 1, and by page 22, Wonder Woman's hasn't done anything other than fly around, while the people shown tumbling about in the conflagration have conveniently disappeared. The Batman panel was nice, and the Superman scenes were very well-done, but I can't tell whether this is dragging because Ellis is inexperienced with superheroes, or because he wants to savvily fill out the story arc—it's either OK or Eh depending on how cynically you want to approach it.

NEW AVENGERS #9: I liked this because I'm a real sucker for playful metacommentary and Bendis pushed it more than I expected. (Emma Frost asking why the Kirby origin panels looked the way they did, did a number on me in a good way.) And McNiven's art was very cool in some spots—I loved how different the scene with Mastermind seemed. I still don't really care about The Sentry, but I thought this was the first Good issue of the title. Go figure.

POWERS #12: Read a little fast and loose, mainly because they took the time to set up the story-within-story format to justify two different styles and then Bendis had to bail on his end of the art. But they keep tightening the screws on the characters, bit by bit, and it's a lot of fun. For all the extra content at only a dollar extra, I'd consider this is a Very Good value (even though the celebrity guest star letters column felt cruel and plodding rather than actually funny).

SEVEN SOLDIERS SHINING KNIGHT #4: Gorgeous looking, but I thought it was, at best, a big ol' freakin' mess, like Morrison took his outline for a six issue mini and haphazardly jammed it into four. It also was more than sufficiently creepy, but it had nothing uplifting as counterpoint—like watching the ugly stretches of the movie Excalibur over and over. I shouldn't give it Awful because the art was really, really nice, but I didn't like the mini much at all and I'm trying to be consistent.

SUPREME POWER #18: I would have liked a little more surprise to this—for one thing, it's kind of a standard comic book trope that once people find out a superhero is an "other," they shy in fear, but would you really? I mean, if I was in New Orleans, say, and stuck and dehydrated and starving and surrounded by dead bodies and human waste, would I really flip out if I was rescued by a guy who was an alien from outer space? Or would I suddenly become much more forgiving of cattle mutilating maybe even pro-abduction and anal probing? That, and JMS' stately pace made me feel like I'd read the entire comic before I was even two pages in, and I guess that bumps it down to a high OK.

WHA HUH: There's some really funny stuff here, and if it had come out in that same fifth week, it would have felt hilariously slapdash. But, legal issues aside, after a seven month delay it read as if nobody but Jim Mahfood gave a crap about crafting it. And as much as I like Mahfood and feel he should be given lots of money, variety on the part of the artists would have mitigated that feeling. Eh at best.

YOUNG AVENGERS #6: Time travel stuff made no sense, but I really enjoyed the characters and their interplay. I didn't think this would turn out to be one my favorite Marvel books but at this point, it is. Hope the second arc is as strong as the first. Very Good.

PICK OF THE WEEK: In fact, let's make Young Avengers #6 my pick of the week although keep in mind there's a shitload of books I didn't read. Good ol' Usagi Yojimbo might have blown it out of the water and I wouldn't know.

PICK OF THE WEAK: Seven Soldiers Shining Knight #4 because I expect more from Morrison and it's a darn shame to have so much good art used for such a clusterfuck of a story.

TRADE PICK OF THE WEEK: Maybe it's because of the impending nuptials, or because I'm a big ol' girl generally, but I loved Minoru Toyoda's Love Roma Vol. 1. Although Del Rey's opening notes on honorifics was pretty basic, it helped position Toyoda's story exactly right—this is a romantic comedy that gets its laughs from the guy’s obliviousness to social conventions. It’s got a more open, looser feel than some of the other manga I’ve read, but mainly I just like how goddam sweet it is. Charming as hell. If you’re looking for the other end of the spectrum, check out the new printing of Clowes’ Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron TPB which was supposed to be out this week (I didn’t see a copy at the shop but it may well have sold out by Friday). Although Clowes has gone on to really develop his chops since, Velvet Glove should still have enough nightmarish kick to knock you through a couple of doors. Good stuff.