Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chronic Reviews: An Assload

I have a whole pile of books I've collected over the past few weeks just itching to get talked about. I can't go in depth with the whole lot, it would take too long. I'm not Ethan Van Sciver here, folks. I can't pull out four whole pages of material in a week. Sorry.

Instead I present you with a veritable assload of teeny tiny reviews which shall serve no purpose other than to give me an excuse to say mean things about people who are simply trying to entertain me. So let's do it....hut! hut! hut!

Cloak & Dagger (one shot)
Marvel Comics
(W)Stuart Moore/(P)Mark Brooks

These characters continue to languish in re-boot hell. They've tried mini-series, multiple ongoings, and there seems to be something that behaves like an engram with these two, because now matter how much the books SUCK, they continue to tantalize.

There is nothing in this one-shot that begs for the story to continue, that's for sure. This is baseline "woe is me, I'm different" nonsense with a trace of "jungle fever" thrown in for good measure.

Here's what needs to happen. These characters are more than 20 years old now - they can grow up a little bit. Give them a province or a mission, and make them viable adults proficient at what they do. Forget the muddied origin story. (which they backtracked on again in this issue) Make them strong people with something interesting to do.

My take? Cloak at his best dips into the darkforce dimension and just knows shit that other people don't. Give them an invasion force that only Cloak can detect, kind of like "They Live". Hickman just brought the Dire Wraiths back in FF # 577, why not them? Now Cloak & Dagger can be fugitive heroes running around whacking important people in the community who are actually wraiths in disguise.

It's perfect! I just made you $300,000 between the kick-ass ongoing series and the hit Cloak & Dagger movie it would spawn. You're welcome, Marvel. All I ask in return is that you only charge me $2.99 per issue, and you get Paul Jenkins to write it. Next!

Blackest Night # 8
DC Comics
(W)Geoff Johns/(P) Ivan Reiss

I've been back and forth on this whole thing way too many times. At first I was very much in love, sometimes I think the whole spectrum thing got too complex and too silly, then we'd get some really nice character moments in the midst of the chaos and I was back in.

A few notes on this issue. Like every "event" book these days, so many of the beats are just boiler-plate, obligatory, and BORING. Did I sort of enjoy the little Hawkman/Shiera moment that you could see coming from Tucson? Yeah, I guess I did.

Did I feel anything for the Martian Manhunter or Aquaman coming back? Nah. Did I feel inspired by the mandatory super splash pages of DCs biggest hitters in white costumes fightin' together for truth, justice, and LIFE ITSELF?? (Dun! Dun! DUUNNNN!) No, not really.

Maybe I'm just jaded at this point. Maybe there's some kid out there who hasn't read every event book since they began with Secret Wars (sorry Contest of Champions, you don't count) and thinks this is the feline's sleepwear. I aint that kid, and this sort of wrap-up with all these neat moments reads dangerously close to fan fiction. When I got done with this, it didn't even feel like the completion of a story. It felt like the launch of 13 new spin-offs and ongoings. I want a story, not a marketing ploy.

I don't want to give you the impression that I hated the book or the series, because I did not. I'm sticking with the regular Green Lantern title, which frankly had better moments than Blackest Night proper. But something felt a little empty inside the kaboom on this finale.

Hack/Slash # 30
Devil's Due Comics (for now)

(W)Tim Seeley/(P) Daniel Leister

One of the things I like about this book now is that it has enough history to reference itself and develop things and add depth. It would be off base to say that Hack/Slash takes itself seriously, because it treats nothing reverently, which is a good thing. What I'm saying is that this is not just a series of one-offs poking fun at the next beloved B-Movie on the list. Seeley has enough plot points in the bank where Cassie and Vlad live in their own created universe, and that's kinda neat, actually.

This is not the greatest issue of the series. I like Samhain, and I like the Black Lamp conspiracy, but this is not super juicy to me. One page made this more than worthwhile for me. The book shines in the quiet moments when Vlad and Cassie get to actually share their friendship. This issue featured Vlad sharing an anthropological experiment he's conducting, and a little window artwork. That was worth the $3.50 right there, and there are always laugh out loud moments in this book.

X-Factor # 203
Marvel Comics
(W)Peter David/(P)Valentine De Landro

Before I get to the story, let me bitch about the art very quickly. I'm not going to complain about Valentine De Landro, I like him just fine, and he's the closest thing we've had to a regular penciller. But that's just it - there never has been a regular penciller on X-Factor, and I don't get it. Does nobody want to work with Peter David? Doesn't sound right. Are people unwilling to draw X-Books? That really doesn't sound right. The closest thing we've had to a "name brand" was Ryan Sook as well. What's up with that? But I digest.

We used to rant and hoot and holler about X-Factor once a week on Chronic, and don't talk about it much any more. Don't be fooled for a moment into thinking the book is any less good, though. Right now I have three ongoings that I eagerly anticipate and can't wait to get home and crack: Hickman's Fantastic Four, Simone's Secret Six, and yes, David's X-Factor.

The results are in and Peter David has "failed". Sales did not double, this is not a top 10 selling title. The fault does not lie at the feet of Mr. David, however. He kicked seven shades of ass and we're so buried in glop that nobody notices quality any more. This is another reason why we need to engage in "winnowing", so that we have less noise to distract from the quality that does abound if you're diligent or lucky enough to stumble upon it. But I digest. Again.

This is sort of a Guido issue, and I'm fine with that, because the guy is hilarious. Always. It also features Monet in a more vulnerable spot than we're used to. Plus, it looks like we may get to see Guido and Monet together in ways that we're not used to. Ways that should be really goddamn entertaining to watch, which is pretty much how X-Factor works. If you're missing this title, you're missing a lot. Truth in advertising? You will need the backstory in order to be in on everything. Go back to the beginning of this iteration and you'll be fine, trust me.

American Vampire # 1
DC/Vertigo Comics

(W)Scott Snyder & Stephen King/(P) Rafael Albuquerque

I was anticipating this one quite a bit, mostly for the original King material. You can hardly go wrong with Vertigo, though, which is a testament to the very much underrated Karen Berger.

This is an anthology series; Snyder gets the first half and focuses on a couple of would-be starlets who are visited by a mysterious stranger and may be biting off more than they can chew with their potential big break. King gets the second half and relates the tale of a dangerous criminal being transported by Pinkertons. Yes, there are vampires involved in both stories; both are interested in making you guess about who might be fangified or not.

These are both cute little vignettes, and in fact the thing that surprised me the most is that I might like Snyder's better. Nothing wrong with either end of the book, but neither am I super inspired to continue with it, either. Certainly not if they continue with the $3.99 price point. Stephen King fans and vampire fans, come on board! Unless you really can't stand period pieces, since both stories take place in the 1920s. (and seem like they might even dovetail together down the line)

Siege # 3
Marvel Comics

(W)Brian Bendis/(P) Olivier Coipel

I've been very public and very vocal about how much I despise Siege, and I was pretty much done with it after the second issue. But then I got to talking with Remy over at Where Monsters Dwell about this third issue, and he basically lost his ever-lovin' mind over the damn thing.

And then when I went to go find it at two of my local comic shops, there were no copies available. Hmmmm. Now I simply HAD to have it. So I ordered it from Lone Star and went for a third dose of Event Cancer.

Look, I'm not going to say I really like Siege. I just don't. It still has all the symptoms of Eventitis, in which it reads not as a story, per se, but as a very transparent marketing ploy that says all the same things we've been hearing in every other event book that has been pounded into us incessantly for the past...what...four years now? Big doings. Never the same. Everything changes here. BOOOOOOOM!

I'll say two nice things about Siege. 1) It isn't just marking time. This is an efficient title. Four issues, not seven or eight. There is a point, and Bendis is getting to it. Bravo.

2) You are definitely getting your fill of "big moments". If for some reason you are stupid enough to actually believe that any of this matters now, or that any of it will have ripples we'll feel even six months from now, than by all means enjoy your Epic Happenings, because they abound in Siege. Norman Osborne is gettin' his. He's wigging out. The Sentry is flexing his 1,000 sun explodey-type muscles. Entire kingdoms are looking like they're headed for the scratch-n-dent clearance bin.

It's all happening. Sort of. It's just, the other crap is too fresh in my mind. Remember Spider-Man: The Other? Yeah. Ever see anything that would lead you to believe that ever happened? Nah, me either. How about Civil War? Ever see folks hunting down fugitive heroes, or training to become certified, or putting people in the Negative Zone? You neither? Huh. That's weird.

Listen, if you're enjoying this, God bless you, ya little buggers. I'm glad you aren't jaded like the former Manatee. None of these explosions mean anything to me. The reader's investment is entirely predicated on their investment in the shared cohesive universe and the ramifications of mucking with that. There will be none. If you're stupid enough to believe there will be, you deserve your fate.

There will be a new "event" when this one dies that will not care one whit about Siege, and when sales on the ongoing books inevitably matriculate down a notch - guess what? It's reboot time!!!! Get ready to forget everything you ever knew about (insert name here) because now it's changing forever! And this time we mean it! Yawn.

Supergod # 3
Avatar Comics

(W)Warren Ellis/(P)Garrie Gastonny

Maybe I just don't have my thumb on the pulse...but my sense is that Warren's star has fallen a little bit. I remember when Mike & I first started recording Chronic in the summer of 2007, it was quite literally "The Summer of Ellis". He was everywhere, scowling, demanding attention. He had a novel come out, he was as big a name as comics had, and he was bigger than comics.

And that seems not to be the case any more. Nobody talks about that novel. Black Summer came and went, and I can't remember the last time we saw an issue of Doktor Sleepless. The Thunderbolts thing had some initial buzz, but that's over with. "Do Anything" is not a must-read column, I don't think.

The thing of it is, Warren is still Warren. Is that maybe the problem? Is his style and voice so distinctive at this point that we've already read all we need to? I sometimes wonder if the last vestige of us die-hard comic fans feel that way.

We're probably wrong about that, by the way, and the proof is in Supergod. Listen folks, Warren is still here, one half wide-eyed wondering child, one half sneering but wicked smart bastard.

Supergod is packed with wild epic ideas about real power, how governments feel about power, and of course there's some theology involved as well. Our narrator gets lectured by fungus god Morrigan Lugus in an absolute must-read bit. Is it soap box pontificating? Of course it is. This is what we pay (way too much) for when we buy a Warren Ellis comic book.

He's thought out the politics, the technology, and the social ramifications of a Supergod arms race. It's fun, it's intriguing, and you just can't get this anywhere else. Yes, our narrator sounds an awful lot like every other Warren Ellis character you've ever read in your life. Fuck that, who cares? It's a really good character, isn't it? The guy has a conversation with a Supergod twenty years in the past! You have to read it like three times to figure out what the hell is going on, because the idea is so fresh (at least it was to me) that you can't process it at first.

I do wish the goddamn thing didn't cost $3.99, but if I'm going to spend it...I'm spending it on stuff like this. "Morrigan Lugus was quite pleased, too. I should have been more worried about that." Are you kidding me? Long live Warren!

Brave & The Bold # 32
DC Comics
(W) JM Straczynski/(P)Jesus Saiz

JMS claims he's going to turn the world upside down and make it a top 10 book later in the year, and until then I'm just going to enjoy this book while it's good. Ideally books like this and Marvel's "What If" should be the height of entertainment. They're not bound particularly by continuity, you can mix-and-match anything you want, the sky is the limit! Of course ordinarily these things are yawners of the highest order, or hit-and-miss at best. JMS seems to be bringing it every month.

This month the pairing is Aquaman and The Demon, very odd to be sure. It fits with the premise though, which is very Lovecraftian and epic. If there's a weakness in the story, it's the constant transparent reminders about what a bad ass Aquaman is. OK, OK, we get it. We don't appreciate the guy enough! Jeez.

Outside of that, this is pretty entertaining. When you get done with this issue, you feel like you've been let in on a secret, something behind-the-scenes, and that's an element that a book like B&B should be using. Hey, go crazy, man!

I'm almost afraid now to get to the end of the year and have this little party ruined by the "bid doings". I'm so tired of that I could spew. Why can't we be satisfied with things that are actually interesting? I guess the answer is that 100,000 people will read whatever nonsense is thrown out there with an event banner on the cover, and only me and 14 other people read this issue.

Is it DCs fault? The retailers? I know DC doesn't really promote the title, even though they have a heavy hitter at the reins. I don't know about you, but I've never been directed to quality books at my LCS, other than little cards with so-and-sos "pick of the week". Of course not knowing how many times so-and-so has been in rehab or dropped as a child, it's difficult to know how much stock to put in such recommendations.

Bottom line, this is a really good title that nobody will ever know about until JMS starts throwing it into heavy continuity and probably ruins it. Awesome!

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