Thwarted by X: Jeff's Reviews of 08/02 Books.

First, an apology and some thanks. I intended to reply to a lot of the super-interesting responses to last week's review, but got thrown off working on Secret Potential Writing Gig X (which, sadly, looks at this point like it'll probably end up being Lost Opportunity X, but we'll see) and so didn't reply to anybody but Fred. But I really appreciated the quality and level of discourse and thank everyone who dropped in with their two cents. Speaking of two cents, you should both mark your calendars and adjust your Crazed Shilling Resistance Shields--I'm having another garage sale, Saturday, August 19th, and plan to begin inundating you with information and details because I have a ton of really cool stuff I can't have hanging around our teeny-tiny apartment any longer. People who attended last year's garage sale really seemed to appreciate the deals they got (one guy openly apologized for, as he put it, "robbing me") and I'm hoping the eight or so long boxes I'm offering this year will have some similarly great stuff. There's also going to be an absurd number of toys, DVDs, video games and ephemera (maybe I'll get lucky and finally find that Reverse-Flash I promised Arune I'd send him a year ago!) and my hope is to make it the best parts of every flea market you've ever been to, in one convenient place. You've been warned.

As for the funny books:

52 WEEK #13: I didn't hate this as much as Graeme did (because, really, who could?) but I was far from fond of it. Part of the problem were some serious storytelling hiccups--four and six panel grids are great when you're breaking down pages in a serious hurry, and they can actual give action scenes a lot of power when they're thoughtfully put together (see almost any issue of Stray Bullets, for example) but I think most modern readers think a four panel grid for a big superhero brawl lacks drama, particularly when it's six heroes against a bunch of cultists in a tightly controlled space: it's like watching a crowd of midgets wrestle in a VW bug. Also, I'm still (still!) annoyed that Ralph's tale picks up from the end of Identity Crisis while consistently and persistently ignoring the end of IC (whether because he'd either gone totally nuts or because he'd become spiritually advanced, Ralph had Sue back at the end of IC). I wasn't crazy about that ending, mind you, but it bugs me that the writers here are just gonna take what they want and ignore the rest, (I also loved Sylv's observation in the comments thread to G's post that Ralph's plot arc would make a great story in an original universe, as opposed to how it plays out here.) Sub-Eh, and particularly disappointing in light of last issue, but it wasn't a deal-breaker for me.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #1: I wanted to love this, mainly because Jeff Parker has done some impressive work for Marvel recently, and, you know, it's really very OK, which is better than most first issues. But I'm not loving it yet, and wonder if I will. Leonard Kirk, whose work I've also really dug elsewhere, does a capable job but maybe somebody with a slightly loopier art style could've underlined how crazy these pulpy characters are. Seen from a stoic superhero book approach, they just seem terribly underwhelming. I'm hoping it gets crazier from here while maintaining its respect and affection for the characters.

ALL NEW ATOM #2: Much better than issue #1, I thought, and you get the sense that everybody on the title is actually having (and here comes the dreaded "f" word) fun. You catch that very cool cast intro page where you see the crazed scientist guy and it's not until a later panel you see he's not wearing pants, done in such a way that the two panels cover a full head-to-toe profile of the guy? I thought that was really, really clever. Both of those threats presented here (a micro-invasion and a serial killer who may have also inherited the Atom's powers) are less than thrilling, but it's an OK book, fun and worth keeping an eye on. It certainly looks to be the best book to emerge out of Brave New World, that's for sure.

CREEPER #1: Wow. Stink on a stick, ringing impressively fake from start to finish. How sad is it that in an age of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, Niles can't begin to imagine what a successful liberal talk show might look like? It just comes across as a broad caricature of a right-wing talk show with the political slant of the commentator and guest reversed. I mean, don't you think "Jack Ryder=Stephen Colbert" (a) makes a lot more sense, and (b) gives readers the idea you've watched television in the last five years? Also, I'm not hip to The Creeper's origin, so have no idea if the whole "He gets injected with scientific mystery stuff, shot and falls in the ocean, so it logically follows his hair is gonna turn green, his color palette is gonna go berserk and he gonna start giggling like a fiend!" origin presented here is basically the original, but if so? Niles comes across disastrously lazy for not updating it and, if not, he's super-disastrously lazy for coming up with what he did. I hate dumping on first issues because I'm learning it takes a few issues for a new book to gel (at which point its standing in the marketplace seems all but set in stone, usually for the worse) but, really, this was Crap.

DETECTIVE COMICS #822: A shame J.H. Williams III (and his fans) weren't around for this issue, because Paul Dini's script for this issue was damn good. You get a mystery, a take on The Riddler that strikes a decent middle ground on the muddle of previous different takes, and a sense of Gotham City as an actual city, not just a conglomeration of urban cliches. Like Graeme, I'm currently preferring this to Morrison's Batman, but we'll see for how long that holds true. Good stuff.

FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #11: Wasn't this going to be a Waid & Weiringo book before Waid dropped out and Peter David stepped in? The reason I ask is, about every other issue of this, I wonder if Waid dropped out because he stared down the barrel of editorial's "we're gonna make Spidey an avenger, then we're gonna kill him, then we're gonna give him a new costume, then we're gonna unmask him!" plan and figured he'd rather take his chances anywhere elsewhere. (In other words, I'm wondering if Mark Waid is one of the savviest guys currently working in comics. I'm kinda thinking he is.) If you like watching guys like Peter David rework their pitch on the fly so a haunted school story can still almost make a lick of sense in a context where Spider-Man outed himself because a bunch of schoolkids died due to their close proximity to superheroes, dig right in. Eh, but a very painful Eh, my friends. Very painful.

JONAH HEX #10: A nasty, little no-nonsense blood-and-guts done-in-one seemingly pulled right from the grindhouse screen (imagine a Western version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with gators instead of chainsaws) and consequently probably the best issue of the title, by far. If the creative team can deliver more of these, I'll forgive all previous "but, Jeff, of course you should have figured out that the little girl in the beginning is the guilty recollection of the girl in the middle! Duh, that's why he does that stuff with the mother at the end! The body language makes it obvious!" Good stuff, and hopefully the beginning of a new trend.

MOON KNIGHT #4: I know, I know, molasses slow. And yet, this issue put me back on the hook: Huston's continual insistence that Moon Knight is seriously fucked up gains a little more traction with this issue, not just in the scenes of Spector's cracking up, but in the "villain's" obervation that what people have called a hero was just a sadist with serious father issues. It's become pretty standard for the marketplace to have "grim and gritty" books with a cynical worldview--it's a relief to see a book where the worldview seems geniunely cynical, authentically grim. I can't say how true that's gonna stay by the time Moon Knight starts adventuring again (in issue #278, at this rate) but for now, I think this is pretty Good material, noir-black and bleak as hell.

NEW AVENGERS #22: All that really clever stuff that Graeme said? Ditto, particularly the "If Bendis ever managed to write a Luke/Jessica ongoing series focusing more on domestic sitcom than superhero slugfest, I’d be there in a second." Overall, Bendis's Civil War issues of New Avengers seem far less clumsy than regular issues of New Avengers, because it means there are lots of scenes of characters arguing, which is what Bendis does best. So, Good, but God help us if he tries to stage any sort of larger skirmish, though.

OMAC #2: Giving a comparatively positive review to a Bruce Jones book is an exercise in Orwellian double-speak--Hey, this was Unawful! Surprisingly Non-Crappy!--because honestly, it's not particularly good. But the glossy art is both pretty and moves well, Bruce Jones' "man-on-the-run" lothario fantasies are less annoying when they're not draped over previously established characters, and all the Infinite Crisis stuff did a fine job of making me forget there was once a charming, surreal and crazed book by the great Jack Kirby with the very same title. In short, we have always been at war with Oceania, Freedom is Slavery, and Omac #2 was super-double-plus Eh.

OUTSIDERS #39: There are times when I like this book, and it seems to be the times when Winick just decides to let his Claremont freak-flag fly--one scene in this book managed to bring back both Uncanny X-Men #98 and #109 simultaneously (don't hold me to those numbers because I pulled them right from the top of my head; it might have been issues #99 and #110). The times I like it least, unfortunately, are those times when I ask it to actually do what a team comic book should--make consistent internal sense, for example. For example, I get the feeling I'm never going to find out why Captain Boomerang's kid joined the team, and I guess I'm gonna have to be OK (conveniently, also my grade for the issue) about that.

PUNISHER #36: Thankfully doesn't botch the job, and provides a breathlessly paced finish to what's been the best Punisher arc on this title in a long, long time. Between this and that great Tyger one-shot, I find myself hopeful that Ennis has caught a (second? third? fifth?) wind and has new places to take the character. The art was goddamn sweet, too. Solidly Good stuff.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #98: Not much to say, other than I really, really liked this issue. (The art still looks a little rushed to me, though.) Accomplishes the goal of a taking a character you care about and making things worse and worse for them with every turn of the page. Now that the end of Bendis's run is in sight, though, I find myself increasingly worried/annoyed/bemused that he will have left having hit every single Spider-Man story touchstone and there'll be absolutely nothing left for whoever follows--they'll get to do six issues of Ultimate Civil War and that'll be it. Very Good, but, as I said, kinda worrying.

UNCANNY X-MEN #477: Not nearly as much fun as the first two issues because it's more or less an interlude where more shit is set up, but it's Good. I'm kinda hoping Vulcan gets a new name and a new look soon because, visually? Dudsville, daddy-o. Imagine an unused member of Atari Force, except his name is "Tribble," and that's pretty much the problem with Vulcan. Highly OK issue, though.

WORMWOOD GENTLEMAN CORPSE #1: Unsurprisingly, a lot of artists have tried their luck at the "whimsy and dread adventure" genre since Mignola and Hellboy invented it, but this little concoction by Ben Templesmith is the only thing I've read that comes closest to any similar sort of charm. Couldn't tell you really why it worked for me but if you can't see the innate charm of a supernatural adventurer who's apparently an ultra-intelligent psychic maggot capable of animating the dead with a biker and stripper as bodyguards, I doubt I could sway you anyway. Good, and I'm curious to see where it goes from here.

PICK OF THE WEEK: For me? Punisher #36. I just put that issue down and went "Fuck, yeah."

PICK OF THE WEAK: Creeper #1. I just put that issue down and went "What the fuck?" Yeah.

TRADE PICK: As you might have heard, I pushed FINDER: FIVE CRAZY WOMEN in Graeme's hands, in part because I wanted to see if a newcomer to the series would find it as delightful as I did. (Apparently so.) I was worried some of the character stuff at the end wouldn't work as well if you hadn't read a lot of the other books but since Graeme seemd to love it, lemme exhort you to go pick up this trade. Carla Speed McNeil's work is so fucking smart and funny and compassionate and talented, I always put down each Finder volume half-in-crazy-love with her. This book was a god-damned delight and my favorite read of the week.

NEXT WEEK: More reviews! I finally read some manga again! And more about an upcoming garage sale than you ever wanted to know!

Et vous?