Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chronic Mini Reviews!

I just got a MONSTER box from DCB Service and read a whole mess of comics over the past couple of days.  The blog has been leaning way heavy on market stuff and awful light on comic story stuff, so here goes a slew of tiny reviews in no particular order!

Supergirl # 65
Kelly Sue DeConnick/Chriscross

One of my most anticipated comics, because I've been begging anybody to give DeConnick a crack at a mainstream superhero book for awhile now.  The results are mixed, though.

The hook here is that a number of young people are disappearing, and Lois Lane thinks she can get to the bottom of things by sending in Supergirl undercover as a coed at the last victim's school.  So you've got your larger mystery centered on who's pulling the strings and why, and in the interim you've got Linda Lang trying to fit in with regular kids so that hijinx may ensue.  It's not a bad plan.

DeConnick's greatest asset on Osborn was her studied and skillful attention to character detail.  There are no "bit" players when DeConnick is running on all cylinders, everybody has a vibrant life of their own.  Part of the "problem" I might be having getting invested is that Supergirl really has no character details, or at least none that are interesting and have stuck for more than three issues at a time.  So there are no "gotcha!" moments for me where I admire where DeConnick really nails the character.

The interplay between Kara and Lois didn't really grab me, I don't really care about the "A" plot, and it's also hard to to care about this a great deal when I know that September will almost certainly re-invent everything.  Again.  But I did enjoy the over-the-top Henry Octavious Flyte, and the energy in this book is certainly greater than that of your average bear.

Frankenstein & the Creatures of the Unknown # 1
Jeff Lemire/Ibraim Roberson

Really exceptional art on this one.  I think half of that is the pencils, and half is the coloring by Pete Pantazis.  But as we've established many times, I'm a caveman and not qualified to critique art.  Just my lay opinion.  Gorgeous.

I'm not sure that I really understood everything that went on in this comic, but what I did get was quite good.  Frankenstein and a group of other monsters are fighting Nazis, and then they all get royally F'd in the A.  Like, big time.  Some of these monsters had been made promises about being returned to normal and such.  No dice, baby!  Instead they all get put into deep freeze and come back to consciousness in the Flashpoint "present", whatever that might be.

Frankenstein is interesting character in the hands of Lemire, and there's plenty to like about the character's motivations.  If you're into that X-Men vibe of "we're outsiders trying to save a world that thinks we suck", you should be all over this book, because it pulls that schtick off with a lot more authenticity than a bunch of supermodels whinging about how nobody likes them.

Teen Titans # 96

I buy this book entirely because I love Nicola Scott's artwork.  She's one of maybe three artists that I follow without question.  If Duane Swierczynski wrote a comic book and Nicola Scott was the penciller, I think I'd still buy that comic.  That's how much I love her artwork.

Unfortunately, that's the only reason I'm getting the comic at this point.  The Krul/Scott opener had me optimistic about the future of the series, but I'm actually glad this thing is winding down in August so that I don't feel compelled to purchase.

To be fair, there's nothing particularly broken about Teen Titans, but neither is there anything compelling for me, either.  I think if you're a Beast Boy fan, TT # 96 is going to be a milestone ass kicker for you.  But ever since the team went into Mythology Land, I've been mostly tuned out, and I really could not care less about Solstice if you paid me $30 to do so.  Some of the good old teen melodrama elements are still kicking around this book, but at this point if you're not completely in love with Nicola Scott I think it's a pass.

Who Is Jake Ellis # 4
Nathan Edmonson/Tonci Zonjic

I'm not sure if I'm being fair about this, but it feels particularly decompressed.  I think I could read this comic in about four minutes if you wanted to race me.

I think the main character is still a little weak, but the ethereal Jake is always interesting, (he's developing emotions now, and motivations) and the book is developing the relationship between these two minds in a fairly organic way, and with some extra depth with each issue.

The big draw in this issue is that Jon discovers Jake's file in a Marrakech compound.  So if you just have to know the answer to the question, we'll all find out just who Jake Ellis is next issue.  Which makes sense, since originally issue five was supposed to conclude the mini-series.

I like this book but I'm not in love with it.  It's unique, I'll give it that.  It's part spy thriller, part ghost story, and it's not silly about any of it, which I think was the right move. 

The Boys # 55
Garth Ennis/John McCrea

The "Barbary Coast" arc has been almost complete exposition, which works for me, because I'm still with the series and keenly interested in the history of Butcher, and Vought, and all that stuff.  If you were a first time reader and picked up issue # 55, you'd set it down half way through and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Which isn't necessarily a critique, but a fact.  Lots of series are now "written for the trade", and don't pace out very well as single issues.  The Boys is basically written for the volume.  Ennis has the Big Picture in mind, and the fact that we're getting this in 20-some page chunks is just a happenstance that he doesn't really give a shit about.  And like I said, as a reader of the volume, it's working fine for me.  But there you go.

We learn that Butcher might actually be bent, and not just putting on a show.  We knew that already, but it does make one pause to get it from another source, in this case Colonel Mallory.  More importantly, our little Wee Hughie is finally becoming a man, and the payoff in this issue is a really stunning conversation he has with Annie.  The end game is coming, everybody can feel it, and this is going to be BIG at the end, because it's already starting to feel BIG now.

I do highly recommend the series, but you're going to need to start at the beginning.  Did you really need me to tell you that?

Hellblazer # 280
Peter Milligan/Gael Bertrand

I adore this book and the crappy paper its printed on.  Give me more horseshit newsprint, stat!  Some of you think I'm being a dick right now.  I'm not.  I legitimately do have fond feelings for old school substandard paper, because I'm an old man.

John's got his thumb back on, and now its time to settle once for all this thing where Gemma thinks John raped her at his wedding.  Oh, and she made out with his wife.  That's hot. These are the kinds of problems that only happen in Hellblazer, which is why it has lasted as long as it has.  Incidentally, John most certainly did not rape his niece Gemma.  He's a bastard for sure, but not that kind of bastard.

It's all a little misunderstanding, but since Gemma does have a little Constantine in her, this particular little misunderstanding involves a fairly large sized demon.  Look for this to end in tears as it usually does, and don't sleep on Hellblazer.  Still a damn good book.

Undying Love # 3
Tomm Coker/Daniel Freedman

This is an unabashed ass kicker.  If I had a criticism, it's that it feels more like a screenplay audition than a comic book, but that could just be me.  The art has to be photo-referenced in some way, but not in the completely distracting Greg Land kind of way.  There's a splash page toward the end of the book where a blood soaked Mei exclaims "I lost control".  You sure did, sweetie.  That page is sublime.

Undying Love is the story of a guy who falls for the wrong vampire dame and has to kill his way to the top in order have a life with her.  I'm not sure what else to say about it other than that.  There's no pretense of high literature, no underlying theme its trying to get to, and it makes no apologies for anything.  Nor should it.  If you want to read about a guy falling for the wrong vampire dame and killing his way to the top, then this is the book for you.

Morning Glories # 10
Nick Spencer/Joe Eisma

I love this comic.  Love it, love it, love it.  Still can't make heads or tails of a damn thing that's going on, but there's two saving graces for that predicament.  One, I know that Nick Spencer started with the ending, and so the story is not wandering but just proceeding unconventionally.  I'm fine with unconventional.  Two, I think even if I believed the story was wandering a little bit, the things these characters say and do have such a unique energy about them, that I think I could tolerate the scenes even recognizing that the pastiche makes no real sense even if you step back and look at the whole thing.

If you were a new reader, though, and just picked up Morning Glories # 10?  My guess is that you'd throw it in the trash can in disgust.

This issue focuses mainly on Jade, who's a bit annoyingly emo, but also refreshingly innocent.  Innocence is hard to come by in Morning Glories. You've basically got Jade and Hunter for that.  But I digress.

You can get mad at Morning Glories if you want.  Did Jade really hang herself?  Did she dream that?  Was she talking to her older self at that table, or was that also a dream?  Jun has a doppelganger, does Jade then as well?  Do they all have some kind of twin?  What's with the dream flowers?  NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY DAMN SENSE!

You can take that approach if you like, but I think you're missing all the good stuff worrying about fluff like "narrative thread" if you do that.  Concentrate on how well Spencer just NAILED the dream logic in the opening sequence.  Focus on how sharp that scene works, where Casey takes up for Jade and sets Ike in his place.  Think about how perfectly horrible you feel for Hunter when Casey tries to set him down gently.

And finally, try to remember that Nick Spencer is not an idiot, but the divine spawn of Jesus and Athena.  He knows where this is going.  Yes, you are going to have to suffer through the occasional horrifyingly self indulgent double splash page of a white background with a purple flower in the corner.  But in the end, all the answers are coming.  They are. Trust me.

In the meantime, just enjoy Morning Glories, one of the two best comics currently being published.

I'm gripping something....
50 Girls 50 # 1
Doug Murray/Frank Cho/Axel Medellin

50 Girls 50 is about exactly as cheesecakey as you expect a Frank Cho creation to be.  You've got a ship full of nubile, hot astronaut women stuck in space, because the wormhole isn't working quite like they hoped.  That came out wrong, but you know what I mean, right?

The girls are not sure if they can get home, there's a whole slew of deadly bugs on the planet they investigate, and wouldn't you know it but the atmosphere also melts plastic, which means their space suits just kinda....melt off.....leaving nothing but a thong and a whole bunch of supple curvaceous skin behind.  Yup, it's a Frank Cho book.

The package is a little silly, and a little on the nose, but it's also action packed and more fun than most comics even try to be any more.  I don't think the market is in a spot to really support something like this now, which is a shame.  It's not really my cup of Earl Grey, but it deserves to live.

Crossed:  Psychopath # 3
David Lapham/Raulo Caceres

Of all the books I just received, this one affected me the most.  Lapham is just on another level right now depicting authentic evil.  The premise revolves around a small group of survivors who unfortunately take on a complete piece of shit named Harold Lorre.  He's worse than The Crossed.  He's just a regular old, uninfected, human psychopath.

This series emphatically demonstrates why a psychopath is worse than a Crossed, in fact.  You can spot a Crossed fuck three miles away.  He'll be the one with a rash on his face and a necklace of dicks around his neck.  That guy sucks, but you know what he's about before gets there. Harold will do all the same things that a Crossed infected bastard will, but he also has the ability to mimic human behavior.  It's worse.  It's WAY worse.

Crossed: Psychopath (probably more accurately labeled sociopath, but whatever) is a character study in pure evil.  The whole book is devoted to granting interior access to the mind of depravity, and Lapham makes it so authentic that it's hard to read.  I don't know if that verisimilitude is a result of extensive research, or if David Lapham is a walking Amber Alert.  All I know is, fuck Henry: Portrait of a Killer in the face.  David Lapham is setting the bar where I don't think anybody can touch him.

I don't really want to give any specifics away, because I want you to not enjoy them on your own.  I don't know if I'm seeing things that aren't there, but Raulo Caceres' pencils are reminiscent of those old EC horror comics, which is just pitch perfect.  You know how sometimes they stop somebody on the Canadian border and arrest them for having pornographic and disturbing material?  This is the stuff they're looking for.  Crossed: Psychopath is the best of the series to this point, and a tour de force of horror.

X-Factor # 220
Peter David/Paul Davidson

Ladies and gentlemen....Peter David.
There's nothing wrong with the plot of X-Factor, but it's actually irrelevant to me.  The plot in X-Factor is just an excuse to get to where it really lives - in the characters.  To reiterate, the plot is humming along nicely.  Rahne has the "chosen one" in her belly, and all kinds of the worst sort of folks are interested in that baby.  Guido just got his ass kicked, there's potential romantic drama between he and Monet.  Layla is now demonstrating that she "knows stuff" about mysticism and alchemy, I'm guessing from her old pal Dr. Doom, and there's always something happening at X-Factor investigations.

All of that happening stuff is just an excuse to do Rahne/rain puns, and have Shatterstar sing showtunes, and mention that Rictor refuses to indulge so that he doesn't become a stereotype.  It's genius.  All of that stuff that happens so that Shatterstar can discover he finds the naked pregnant body beautiful.  Rahne opens her raincoat for him.  I laughed for ten solid minutes.

And all of that stuff is there so that Peter David can stealth bomb you about the dangers of religion.  There's a creature in this issue that morphs itself to appear as a young Rahne Sinclair.  It walks into a church, absorbs all the sins of the congregation, then slaughters them instantly, presumably sending them to heaven, since they died without a blemish.

It's horrifying.  The creature maintains it was an act of salvation.  Which, if you're focused on the big picture, is entirely accurate.  Whatever happens on Earth for a human lifetime, how can that compare with an eternity in heaven?  The scale is just slanted way toward the afterlife.  Killing those people, ultimately, was a "good" thing.  Isn't it?

This is one of the problems with religion, of course.  Focus on the heavenly riches, and you can make all kinds of deplorable earthly actions justified.  The Crusades, a jihad, stoning an adulteress, whatever.  If it's for God, and the prize is heaven, isn't slitting everyone's throat in that church a good thing?   Religion is dangerous shit, man.

Peter David just demonstrated that fact in the most visceral and least polemical way possible.  That scene is completely subversive, yet it fits comfortably inside the narrative flow and the apocalyptic themes it's been addressing since Rahne's baby has entered the picture.

That's X-Factor, and that's Peter David.  The old man has still got it.  And I guess he's still a name brand, but he doesn't seem to work in comics as much as he used to, and if Wizard were still doing Top 10 lists, I don't think he'd crack it.  Which is absolute bollocks, of course.  Peter David is still The Man.  He's still making us laugh, and he's still teaching us things about life with his characters, and most of you are missing the boat.  Stop missing the boat, y'all.

- Ryan

No comments: