Does it bode ill for my reviews when I can't think of a clever thing to say while convincing you to follow me behind the jump for capsule reviews? It probably is, isn't it? Ah, well. I just finished watching the screen adaptation of The Black Dahlia. I mean, I'd heard that movie would be bad, but there were wrong casting decisions, terrible direction, and some bad mistakes in adapting Ellroy's skeezy epic to the screen. As a quasi-fan of Brian DePalma, it's a painful, painful movie to watch. And I blame it for my inability to bring you a witty intro: the movie is a like a form of slow-acting toxin to the higher brain functions. Anyway, after the jump: lower brain function reviews of Empowered: Ten Questions for the Maidman, Invincible Iron Man #504, Witch Doctor #0, and more.
EMPOWERED: TEN QUESTIONS FOR THE MAIDMAN: Maidman -- the cross-dressing vigilante of Adam Warren's Empowered universe -- gets his own one-shot with alternating black and white sections by Adam Warren and color sections by Emily Warren. It was a book I wanted to deeply like, but really only admired. You can read this one-shot as a deconstruction of Batman (Maidman is one of the few non-powered superheroes in the Emp universe and easily the most feared), a deconstruction of Batman analogs (in some ways, this is the funniest issue of Midnighter never published), or maybe even a spoof of the cape industry's current trend in Mary-Sueisms. Alternately, you could also take it as a face value, with Warren using the same gimmicks to get the reader to like Maidman that Johns or Bendis or a host of others use these days -- (a) introduce character; (b) have everyone talk admiringly of character; (c) show character doing something impossibly awesome; (d) profit. Empowered: Ten Questions... shows Warren as being as skilled a practitioner of the current bag of comics writing magic tricks as anyone currently working. I'm glad he at least has his own little universe to toy about with, but I wish I could get more worked up about a more-or-less OK one-shot...in no small part because I worry about him getting it yanked out from under him if the sales aren't there. Vexingly OK.
INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #504: Really interesting to read a book where the regular writer is caught off-balance by the obligatory line-wide event when the same guy is writing that event, too. I mean, that two page scene with Tony and Pepper is really quite good for what it is. But the meat of the issue, where Tony goes to Paris because one of the hammers of the Worthy has landed there, is underwhelming. Fraction clearly built the issue to that last page climax but it feels like that's the only thing he's trying to accomplish. So when you get to that last page, it definitely has some punch to it but it also eaves you feeling super-empty and annoyed immediately after.
Also, that last page what feels like part of an ongoing tug-of-war between Fraction and Larrocca. Instead of focusing on rendering that kinda-important pile of stones Tony is on top of, Larroca focuses on the building beside it. It doesn't feel quite like a "fuck you" from one collaborator to another, but it does suggest painfully opposing goals\. $3.99 price-tag + ineffective storytelling + forced event crossover=AWFULness.
POWER-MAN & IRON FIST #5: Similarly, last issue of this miniseries turned out very meh in the end despite my modest expectations. Wellinton Alves' work ended up rushed and ugly, and Van Lente's script tried to do wayyyy too much in too short a time. Not only do both heroes have romantic relationships resolved in this issue, but a mystery is solved, fight scenes are had, and the creepy Comedia Del'Morte are...well, frankly, I have no idea what happened to them. It's a shame because I was won over by so much less with that back-up story from Amazing Spider-Man. (On the plus side,with very little rejiggering, Van Lente and Alves could re-tool this as an arc of the post-Morrison Batman & Robin and it'd fit right in.) I'm tempted to get all Rex Reedy on you and say this puts the EH back in "meh," but I won't...in part because it was AWFUL.
SECRET AVENGERS #13: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! No. CRAP.
WALKING DEAD #85/WITCH DOCTOR #0: Although I like the swerve Kirkman made with this storyline a few issues back, I don't know if there's really much more going on than that. I suspect as we come 'round issue #100, Kirkman's biggest flaw --his ability to dramatize character development is rudimentary at best, and so he has to have scenes where his characters explain their motivations to one another for us to get it -- is getting more and more apparent. While I'm at it, Charlie Adlard's biggest strength -- drawing a large cast of characters to keep them easily identifiable without resorting to any flashy tricks -- may also be hindering this book: the dramatic scenes either run to the inert or the occasionally overheated. Energy, ambition and craft have gotten these guys farther and higher than anyone would've suspected and I in no way mean to diminish their achievement. But I think if this book is going to make another 85 issues, they're going to need to shake up their skillsets for a change, not their storyline. OK stuff.
As for WITCH DOCTOR #0, despite having very little interest based on the material I'd seen online, I ended up enjoying the hell out of it. Everyone [by which I mean at least me] has always wanted to write a biologic explanation for vampires, a la Matheson's treatment in I am Legend, but writer Brandon Seifert really goes to town here. Lines like "his saliva's got the usual bloodfeeder chemistry set-- vasodilator, anticoagulant and an anesthetic--plus some interesting mystical secretions. I think one's a anterograde amnesiac--" make my heart go pitter-pat, and Seifert has a lot of them. I can easily see how it might feel dry to some, but to me it showed a commitment to research and world-building I think you really need to make a series about a doctor (even a mystical one) work. As for Lukas Ketner's art, it's enjoyably quirky, especially when it chooses to go detailed and when it decides to loosen up: panels of this remind me of Wrightson, others of William Stout, and still others of Jack Davis, and I could never figure out when the next swerve was going to happen. VERY GOOD stuff and I'm definitely on-board for the first few issues of the regular title now.
WOLVERINE #9: Not the most recent issue I know, but so much more satisfying than issue #10, I figured you'd forgive me for writing about it instead. I mean, to begin with: God damn, this is some gorgeous looking work. Daniel Acuna (who I guess is doing both the art and the colors) really sold me on this story about a mysterious assassin (Lord Deathstrike) and Wolverine both trying to hunt down Mystique on the streets of San Francisco. But I should point out that there's three full pages of wordless action that feel perfectly placed in the script and I think writer Jason Aaron should really be commended for having the confidence to let the art do its stuff. And there's also a hilariously over-the-top assassination scene at the beginning that I loved. I suspect this book is going to have diminishing sales in no small part because Aaron just can't keep away from writing Wolverine's adventures with a strong dash of the absurdly extreme, and a larger audience for this character really want this stuff served straight-up. I can understand that desire (especially when you get issues like #10 where it's Logan vs. the Man with the Jai-Alai Feet) but when you get such an artist who can sell you on both the sweet & sour sauce of Aaron's mix of awesome and absurd? It's really pretty satisfying. This was one hell of a VERY GOOD issue.
UNCANNY X-FORCE #11: I guess this is what you can do with okay art and good characterization--you can make me care somewhat about stuff I wouldn't ordinarily care about. I missed out on the original Age of Apocalypse stuff powering the plot here and yet, thanks to a forty-issue Exiles habit, I'm pretty familiar with what's going on. In fact, arguably I'm too familiar as I felt like I was at least a beat or two ahead of the plot at all times. But at least some of the time I was surprised by what the characters said or how they said it. I still quietly pine for the awesomeness of the first five issues, but this was on the high end of OK for me.
SECRET AVENGERS #13: Seriously, though. Do you need to know why I thought this was terrible? Well, let's just say when your plot about a Washington invasion hinges on the fierce determination of a congressman who also happens to be a
magical negro mutant, and that leads to Lincoln from the Lincoln Monument and all the dinosaurs from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History rising up to hold the line, then I think it's safe to say things have gone wrong. Weirdly, I could've bought it in a DC book -- for whatever reason, I expect the surreal and the schmaltzy to intermingle more freely there -- but here it seems like a big ol' misfire. Again, to sum up: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! No. CRAP.
And that's my week in pamphlets. As for my TRADE PICK....
BAKUMAN, VOL. 5: Oh man, how I love this series. It's not an easy sell, I know, and I'll be the first to admit that first volume is more than a little forced. And in fact, here in volume 5, there is still a surprising number of misfires: for example, there's a chapter here about an artist who is so committed to proving his worth to his writer that he draws pages outside her window in the middle of a blizzard and it's really treacly and ineffective. And there are more than a few hilariously cynical moves by the writer and artist to pander to their publishers: in more than a few places, the editors and publishers of Shonen Jump are treated with a degree of reverence that borders on the fanatical.
On the other hand, Bakuman has changed my understanding of how manga is created so much I've since read other titles with new eyes --I doubt I would've enjoyed my thirteen volume romp through One-Piece nearly as much without it. And even more than that, I'm totally a sucker for the way Ohba and Obata have introduced so many different young manga creators and then blurred the lines between enemies and allies so much you realize none really exist. As a book about the comics industry properly should, Bakuman is very much about who you have to decide to trust and the possible long-term implications of those choices. But it's also a book where competition doesn't preclude comradeship and that totally hits a sweet spot of insecurities and needs I didn't really know I had. Really, the series is so very far from perfect it's kinda painful...and yet the last four volumes now have been some of my favorite reading of the last year. VERY, VERY GOOD for me, but you really not might feel at all the same.