Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
It’s Tuesday. Must be some @$$Holes around here somewhere...
Cormorant here, and to celebrate the fact that the TalkBacks have actually shown a semblance of chronological order lately (am I jinxing it here?), we @$$holes are breaking out a new section – "Cheap Shots" – where we'll run capsule reviews an' such to give you guys more stuff to talk about! Yippee-ki-yay, mofos!
Now, in the immortal words of Marvin Gaye, "Let's get it on…"
Written by Steven T. Seagle
Pencils by Scott McDaniel
Inks by Andy Owens
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
Reviewing Superman is a thankless job.
Superman titles, deservedly or not, have developed such a reputation for mediocrity over the past couple of years that no matter how hard you try to convince someone that you’ve come across a good one, there’s not only a reluctance to believe you, it’s difficult to get their attention in the first place. In fact, I’m surprised you’ve made it this far into the review.
Another thankless job is reviewing a comic during the lame-duck period prior to the arrival of a new creative team. It’s not as bad as reviewing a comic that’s already been canceled, but it is tough to try to counteract that lack of momentum, and the subtle sense that time is merely being marked until the new sheriff arrives.
So SUPERMAN #197 gets hit with a double whammy: It’s a Superman comic created by the soon-to-be-departing team of Seagle, McDaniel and Owen. I have my work cut out for me with this review, which is unfortunate because SUPERMAN #197 is actually a very good comic.
First of all, I brought pictures. Check out this cover. Tell me that’s not pretty cool. This has to be one of the best covers I’ve seen all year.
And the story inside is pretty good too. Superman’s powers are mysteriously (and embarrassingly) malfunctioning. While trying to lift a plane on the verge of crashing, he pushes himself right through the fuselage. Later, while Clark Kent, he uses his X-Ray vision – and can’t turn it off! At the same time, Superman’s time displaced daughter, the dark-haired Supergirl, is introduced to the Fortress of Solitude by the “Time Lords,” creepy trans-reality guys who seem to have been pulling strings around the edges of the story for the past year now. Once inside the Fortress, Supergirl and Krypto manage to knock over the wrong thing. Problems ensue. Meanwhile, back in Metropolis, whatever is wrong with Superman goes from bad, to worse, to much worse (see cover illustration). By the ending cliffhanger, he’s in pretty bad shape.
I think one of the reasons why I liked this issue so much is because it reminded me of the Bronze Age Superman stories. Back then, it seemed like something weird was happening to Superman and his powers every week; and despite whatever “God-level” abilities he supposedly had in those days, he’d often find himself in some really serious trouble. SUPERMAN #197 has a lot of that flavor. A little goofy, yes, but fun. Moreover, the stories in those days were unashamedly plot-driven, and that’s where #197 seems to be coming from. Yay plot!
My only real problem with SUPERMAN #197 has to do with the art. Scott McDaniel, God love him, seems to be trying to bring a lot of expressionism and elasticity to his work on Superman. Although not as loosey-goosey as former ACTION artist Duncan Rouleau, the art is still warped enough to lose a bit of attractiveness for me, as with what feels like an abundance of oddly misshapen noses. It’s just not pretty. On the other hand, just look at that cover!
Like I said before, SUPERMAN is slated to turn a corner with #200, marking the last issue before the much ballyhooed arrival of Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee. And also like I said before, it’s easy to see how the issues in the interim might get overlooked. But sometimes, you can find a little gem in these circumstances, even a 2003 Superman title. So let my voice in the wilderness ring clear: I enjoyed SUPERMAN #197 a lot! You might too!
THE COLLECTED PALEO: TALES OF THE LATE CRETACEOUS (TPB)
Writer/Artist: Jim Lawson
Publisher: Zeromayo Studios
Reviewed by Cormorant
"PALEO is an honest-to-god 'dinosaur comic,' and an impeccable one at that…"
So says comic artist and writer Steve Bissette in his introduction to THE COLLECTED PALEO. It's a trade reprinting the six-part PALEO miniseries that slipped past most folks' radars last year, and Bissette, of course, was one of the artists whose pens brought SWAMP THING to new levels of horror during Alan Moore's groundbreaking run. He also wowed me with his own regrettably short-lived dinosaur comic, TYRANT, a fantastic self-published comic that fell victim to the comic market collapse of the early 90's. More to the point, Bissette knows what he's talking about when it comes to dinosaurs, and when he says PALEO is an "honest-to-God dinosaur comic," what he means is that this isn't a Disneyfied tale of talking dinosaurs nor a tale of a lost island of dinosaurs in contemporary times – nope, these dinosaurs are the real deal, utterly animalistic and no more or less sympathetic than any animal profiled on the DISCOVERY CHANNEL.
And man do they look cool!
The writer/artist of PALEO is Jim Lawson, best known to most folks for working several years on the Ninja Turtles comics. I've seen his work on some of those comics and its good, but this…this you can tell he's poured his heart and soul into. It reads something like Art Adams' style, with some of the most detailed hatching and cross-hatching I've seen all year. These dinosaurs are tactile; you can feel every mottled patch of skin, the peaks and valleys of skin stretched over giant bones, and every razor-sharp claw. I look at a superstar artist like Jim Lee, and while he's solid and getting better, his use of cross-hatching seems more a stylistic affectation than the mature use of the process to simulate three-dimensionality in a 2-D image. Lawson's better than Lee. Like a Joe Kubert or a Barry Windsor-Smith, he uses crosshatching to reveal the contours of his characters with lines that seem to wrap around them. He's also got a wonderful command of spotted blacks (the heavily inked areas that lend visual balance to a comic page) and a flair for storytelling that combines cinematic techniques with minimal-panel-count pages that give over lots of space to the visual grandeur that is…big-ass dinosaurs!
I mention the art before the story, a rarity for me, because when the subjects are as visually arresting as dinosaurs, well, how the hell do you ignore it? But that's not to say that Lawson's writing isn't memorable as well. Each of the six stories in PALEO profiles a single dinosaur, and Lawson's omniscient narrator describes their harsh, survival-driven lives with an appropriate economy of words. I'd even say it's reminiscent of Frank Miller's SIN CITY writing style – spare and harsh - though of course, PALEO's got no first-person narrators. No, Lawson doesn't anthropomorphize his subject matter, but he does evoke sympathy for them as he takes you along on their daily journeys, inevitably through some pulse-pounding bout with danger; often into tragedy.
One of my favorite stories is about an aging Albertosaurus (a close relative of the T-Rex). It's getting clumsier in its old age, the narrator informs us, and we see it for ourselves when an awkward attack lands it a grisly leg wound from one of those dinosaurs that looks like a Triceratops, but with spikes all over its neck frill. Where two issues prior, an Albertosaur had been an antagonist, here the narration gives us sympathy for its plight:
"He regards the wound on his leg. It's bad. The Ceratopsid's horns had ripped open several large gashes in his lower leg, right down to his fibula. There is a lot of blood."
The narrator follows with an anecdote typical of Lawson's ability to bring these animals' histories to life:
"He has been hurt before. Once, in a fight with another Albertosaur, he had damaged his jaw so badly he couldn't eat for nearly three weeks."
Are you on its side yet? I know I was. And there's a really wonderful image of the Albertosaur on the next page, waking up on its side, having slept through a night that layered it in snow. We see the old dinosaur lick its mostly coagulated wound clean, before rising on its painfully stiff leg to investigate the strange quiet in the area. You see…there's another Albertosaurus in the area. It's young, and while usually a scavenger at that age, it's not above bringing down one of its own were it weak or injured…
Exactly how that tale plays out, I'll leave to you to discover. I will say, however, that nearly all of the stories in PALEO are unflinchingly dark, and I had to wonder if that reflected something of its author's worldview. Which fascinates me. Not every moment of every dinosaur's life was harsh, I'm sure, but if a creator chooses to focus on those moments that were, well…that's actually pretty interesting. Gives these tales bite! And I'm willing to bet that readers will get caught up in these stories if they give them a chance. There's a primal desperation to survive throughout PALEO that everyone can identify with, and Lawson brings it to the fore with teeth gnashing and bones cracking.
Which isn't to say you shouldn't share this book with the audience who'd perhaps delight in it the most – kids. You will have to remind them of the whole "Circle of Life" thing, possibly on every fifth page, but they will dig the hell out of Lawson's fantastic dinosaurs. That much I guarantee, and hell, the same goes for any adult who still loves the ol' "terrible lizards." PALEO's a clean, straightforward, and beautifully crafted little trade. It won't change your life, but I won't be surprised at all if readers find these tales as surprisingly moving as I did.
EPICURUS THE SAGE (GN)
William Messner-Loebs, Sam Keith
Cliffhanger / DC Comics
reviewed by: Lizzybeth
Argument: After being out of print for years, the two EPICURUS graphic novels have been pulled together into a single trade, plus one rare short story from the FAST FORWARD anthology, with a full-color brand new tale. This romp through the imagination of ancient Greece first appeared almost fifteen years ago and has aged surprisingly well.
Summation: A mixed bag, tending towards the positive, particularly if you were ever forced to pretend to have read Plato’s Republic.
The good: Alexander the Great as a brutish toddler, student to the prim Aristotle. The Sophists, who were really that annoying. A shepherd’s philosophy of the obvious, although in all fairness every era needs a few like that for those who wouldn’t believe the sky was blue unless an authority figure told them so. Messner-Loebs’ witty dialogue and his hilarious portrayals of a host of ancient figures of note. Watching Sam Keith, in the progression of the stories collected here, developing a winning stylistic identity.
The not as good: The first story was the best of the lot, effectively satirizing the sacred cows of Greek philosophy. Less good was when the collection turned to the myths and tragedians, which have been parodied, ripped off, and generally stomped on often enough that it’s actually more refreshing to see them played straight (as the Image series AGE OF BRONZE does). Also, none of the stories really convinced me why Epicurus the hedonist should qualify as the voice of reason in the crowd of Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, even as a comedy. The stories, though entertaining, don’t quite connect up or go anywhere besides the punch line, and if the last two paragraphs have you totally lost, you probably won’t get much out of this volume.
Conclusion: Clever writing, very nice artwork (especially in the newest story, and the truly inspired final sequence). Somewhat pointless on balance, but those with interest in Messner-Loebs, Keith, or ancient Greece will enjoy it.
THE FLASH #202
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Alberto Dose
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
Et tu, Geoff Johns?
I thought he was the holdout, the last bastion against the creeping rot of Nu-Marvel influence on old-school superhero titles – that rot that strips superheroes of their swashbuckler costumes so we can "better relate" to them, that dims the fantasy elements of their worlds lest we accidentally see something we don't in our own daily lives, that only features superpowers during showpiece action scenes, and that drags out stories for the trade, robbing individual issues of their punch.
But it looks like Johns is infected, too. I think it must've happened when Marvel asked him to take a single issue script for the current AVENGERS arc and stretch it into two issues (not gossip – it really happened). Guess he got some Nu-Marvel in an open cut or something. It's why I had to amputate AVENGERS from my weekly purchases. It's why I'm sharpening a scalpel as THE FLASH turns a gangrenous green in the wake of its post-issue-200 new direction.
Let's take a closer look at the symptoms.
Issue #200 wrapped with the Specter erasing from the minds of everyone on Earth the once publicly-known identity of The Flash. It's the kind of sweeping change you can actually get away with when you're writing a superhero comic, which on one level is cool, but on another level, left me annoyed as hell that all the characters and relationships that I'd watch grow in the book over the last few years…were gone. Even Wally West himself is unaware that he was once the Flash, and while destiny seems to be inching him back into the role, I can't help but feel that my patronage of the book has been betrayed. Now, instead of the giving us a fast-paced world of rip-roaring heroes and rogues whose deadliness belied their outrageous visuals, Johns reveals Wally West the car mechanic. Wally West, whose once unique hometown of Keystone City (read: DC's Detroit) now seems to be under a constant pall of darkness as drawn in the 100 BULLETS-esque style of Alberto Dose. Wally West, who's still mourning the shocking death of his twins in issue #200. Wally West, whose discovery of his powers over the course of the last two issues has reminded me of nothing so much as Bruce Jones' "make it an occasion" limits on the Hulk's appearances in his own book.
Are we having fun yet?
I'm not. Johns is writing a workmanlike look at an ordinary man suddenly discovering he has superpowers – think UNBREAKABLE – but "workmanlike" isn't exactly a compliment, is it? Meanwhile, someone's killing cops using Captain Cold's M.O., though it doesn't look like Cold's actually behind it, and the cops have a new supervillain profiler. Oh, and Wally's wife, Linda (who, thankfully, is looking a tad more Asian than she has in some time), has bad memories of The Flash for not saving her kids (a somewhat valid interpretation of the events of issue #200, minus the knowledge that her husband actually was The Flash).
So…what we're getting is hints of an Elseworlds story in that old events we've seen are now reinterpreted to exclude any knowledge of the Flash's identity, a somewhat bland drama as we anticipate Linda's eventually discovery that her significant other used to be The Flash, and too many scenes of Wally the blue collar mechanic. What we're not getting is a compelling mystery, the pleasantly rare working husband-and-wife relationship that characterized Wally and Linda up until recently, or any of the drag-you-by-your-collar insane action sequences that've been among the best in the biz for the last few years. The book's big action sequence – Wally's powers triggering as he's getting his ass kicked by some street punks – isn't so much exhilarating as it is grim (the sudden manifestation of the powers somehow causes an entire building to topple onto all of them). It struck me as a larger scale version of what M. Night Shyamalan did during the grisly "domestic invasion" sequence in UNBREAKABLE, and left me similarly underwhelmed. I can't really fault Johns for trying a new direction. He redlined the book on a loving mixture of classical superheroes and brilliantly edgy action scenes over the last few years, but the book's always been more a critical success than a commercial one. Meanwhile, Nu-Marvel's scored consistent Top Twenty ratings with sluggishly-paced retrofits on DAREDEVIL, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and CAPTAIN AMERICA. It's got to be galling. I know I'd be pissed. Still, when you've got a title about a guy whose only power is that he can run fast, you'll forgive me if I ask that this book be exhilarating.
And so even as DC has stolen Marvel's thunder this Summer by swapping up more exclusive creator contracts than you can shake a stick at, I begin to fear that these creators are bringing with them the infection…the contamination…of Nu-Marvel. I see it in Mark Waid's lackadaisical, Kent-centric retelling of Superman's origin in SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT, in Greg Rucka's politicized, action-lite approach to WONDER WOMAN, and now in the pages of THE FLASH. Call me a hypochondriac, but that's enough of a pattern to have me eyeing the indies amidst this latest Nu-Marvel outbreak.
Is it too early to start calling this strain "Nu-DC"?
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Jim Lee
Inks: Scott Williams
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Batman has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. One of my fondest memories of my childhood was that of 4:00 afternoon TV zone-out fests on my belly in the living room of my grandma’s house. That was when the old Adam West Batman reruns were on TBS. I didn’t know that the show’s campy aspects were miles apart from the way the actual Batman was characterized in the 70’s Denny O’Neil version of the character. I just loved to sit and watch Batman fight a different, darkly-colorful foe every day. I loved to watch my pointy eared hero try to solve mysteries by gathering clues that led to resolutions that no one could figure out, not because the mystery was so tough, but because the TV audience wasn’t privy to the fact that there was an abandoned Gotham Feather Factory or a circus performing on the corner of Laughing Street and Harlequin Avenue. But since Batman and Robin would discuss those details in the cave or Batman would provide a deductive discourse at the end of the episode, I was sure that he had it figured out all along and therefore convinced that he was, in fact, the world’s greatest detective. In that show, I found a hero that I follow to this day.
“Hush” was to be Jeph Loeb’s large scale, modern day Batman tale. He’d written successful, nostalgic Gotham tales in the past, but this was Loeb’s shot at current continuity and he promised a goodie. To make it even more large scale, art titan, Jim Lee, wiped the dust from his pencils and actually drew something for the first time in ages. “Hush” was an event; a highly publicized push to pique the attention of the fickle comic book community who had recently grown weary of the adventures of the Dark Knight Detective.
The story, at its heart, was a mystery. A friend from the past resurfaced in Bruce’s life. A romance blossomed between a detective and a femme fatale. Things were changing in Bruce Wayne’s life. For once, he was forming relationships as Bruce Wayne and moving towards some semblance of normal life. But were these events occurring coincidentally, or was there something more evil at work here? One after another, Gotham’s villains showed up. Their motivations were sketchy and their behavior more erratic than usual. A mysterious, bandaged villain watched Batman from the shadows. He knew Bruce’s secrets and wanted revenge. The who’s and the why’s behind it all were not revealed throughout the year-long mystery. Red herrings were thrown, but the real answers were yet to come. Issue #619 was supposed to have all of these answers.
So what did we get with this issue? Well, BATMAN #619 was your typical, explanation-filled parlor scene issue. It was an extended discourse where all of the clues came together and the mystery was solved. And my feelings are mixed about it all.
Loeb tried to make this story a mystery, but for it to be a true mystery, it had to make sense in the end. This is important. All of the clues have to lead to the solution. The strength of the “ah-ha” factor is what makes it a successful whodunit or not. Loeb does do a good job of tying all of the clues together in the end, but this isn’t because he cleverly laid all of them out for us to understand and pull together. No. Loeb merely left out all of the information. He made the story so vague and filled with fluff that this issue had to be discourse-heavy in order for it all to balance out. There is no “ah-ha” moment because the reader wasn’t given all of the information in the first place.
Loeb lost me along the way in this mystery. He filled every issue with one “villain of the month” parade after another. This was the highlight of the book, not the mystery behind it all. The mystery was pushed aside in favor of the latest villain re-imagining by a former Image artist. Had the mystery been at the forefront in this arc, the payoff in this issue would have been much more effective.
But Loeb really tries to be effective. As I read this issue, I needed a blackboard to map out all of the twists and turns that were explained by various characters. Loeb was intense with the details and pulled all of the appearances together to make some type of sense out of the plot, but this seemed to be done after the fact; as if a bunch of random facts and events were spit-pasted together in some college freshman all-nighter type act. Sure it all makes sense, but the ties between Killer Croc’s metamorphosis, the Huntress’ new threads, and the trip to Ra’s Al Ghul’s palace are thinner than a homeless guy in a soup line with Harry Knowles serving. As a mystery, this story failed. It failed to supply the reader with enough info to keep invested throughout and the info that was provided before and after the mystery was solved was random and nonsensical at best.
So why am I split about my feelings about Loeb and Lee’s BATMAN opus? I mean, I just said it was a parade of “villains of the month” book-ended with a paper thin mystery and a nonsensical, over-discoursed resolution. Well, is this starting to sound familiar? It is to me. And it is the reason I still kind of liked this story. If you said it’s starting to remind you of those old Batman TV shows, then you’d win…well…nothing, but you’d be onto my train of thought. “Hush” was a modern day version of that show, and I have to give Loeb and Lee props for making it work on a pure, nostalgic level. Reading this book made me think of those old days when you didn’t need to pay attention to the mystery. We knew Batman was going to put together the clues, beat up the “villain of the month,” and save the day the right after the commercial break. Or at least you knew that it would be taken care of in the next exciting episode, same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel. And we didn’t question or criticize it, because it was just too damn cool to see Batman do all of these things.
Loeb has a fondness for nostalgia. Just look at his previous successes in DAREDEVIL: YELLOW, SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, and both THE LONG HALLOWEEN and DARK VICTORY. All of these books take the characters back to a time before all of the hype and hoopla that has tarnished today’s incarnations. Loeb does this well and he did it again with “Hush.” The only problem is that, by today’s standards, those old TV shows aren’t your standard models for great comic book writing. As a straight-forward mystery, “Hush” failed to please me, but I can appreciate Loeb’s efforts to modernize the concepts made famous by the TV series.
I’m not going to rip on Jim Lee. I know it is hip to rip on the Image First Year Alum, but I have to admit that I’ve always been a fan. Do I hate his version of Killer Croc? Yup. Do I think his characters look stiff and strangely similar at times? Yup. Do I think he draws weird lookin’ trench coats? Yup again. But the guy has the type of talent I like. He knows how to draw a pretty lass and a muscular dude. He makes them look cool with all of the pocket packs and sketch lines. Sure he’s a pin-up artist, but this is an over-hyped book, so it fits. There are other artists I prefer, but I have to admit that I was excited to whip through the pages every issue to see his take on the new “villain of the month.”
So on a technical level, this book fell short. But that’s the difference between reviewing comics the straightforward way and the @$$hole way. Here at @-hole HQ, we like to talk a lot about how the book made us feel, not just how it was constructed. And on a pure, nostalgic, sittin’ on my grandma’s carpet on a weekday afternoon in front of the TV eatin’ Spaggetti-O’s and Meatballs level, “Hush” was okay by me.
FORLORN FUNNIES #4
Absence of Ink Publishers
reviewed by: Lizzybeth
The first time I heard of this series, and most times afterwards as well, was in comparison to Chris Ware’s ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY. Now, I am not the authority on Chris Ware, so I couldn’t tell you how accurate this comparison actually is. Paul Hornschemeier strikes me as more directly influenced by McSweeny’s magazine than by any one comic in particular, although I suppose there is some similarity in tone to Ware’s work, and both are very well-written. What I can tell you is, while I always found that ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY held me at an emotional distance (probably a good thing considering how depressing the issues I read were), I also find that FORLORN FUNNIES has the intimacy and humanity to draw you in despite the bleak subject matter.
FORLORN FUNNIES, as you have guessed by now, is not exactly a laugh riot. Relentlessly sad is more like it. But I find it gripping in a way that other woe-is-me slice of life comics can’t seem to manage, partly because FORLORN FUNNIES isn’t slice-of-life at all. Instead of setting up a situation and sitting back in a bemused third person to record the action like some second-rate reality TV show, Hornschemeier tells his story in two equally distinct voices: that of a seven-year-old child, and that of the man he grows up to be. Several pages of each issue are presented as little Thomas perceives them at the time, while other pages explain things in more detail from Thomas’s recollections many years down the road. Neither version is correct, and neither is complete without the other. The story that both narrations relate concerns the death of the boy’s mother, and the institutionalization soon after of his father. In Issue #4, Thomas goes to “rescue” his father from the mental hospital, is surprisingly successful, and then loses him again. The child’s rendition of the story should prepare you somewhat for the way the “real” story is going to come out, but I don’t think a giant flashing neon sign on the cover could have prepared me for the awfulness of the ending. It could have been unbearable without the personality and the innocence of Thomas, who makes this series so beautifully sad. I’ve read this issue over and over now, and it loses no power with this repetition. I don’t know why I haven’t heard of Paul Hornschemeier before now, but I expect to hear a great deal about him in the future.
I only wish it came out more often; at the moment FORLORN FUNNIES seems to be released bi-annually. However, it looks like time well spent, as it is a very well-made full color comic, and seems to include more pages in every issue. Each issue stands alone quite well, and a person could easily pick up the new issue without prior knowledge of the series. Still, if you want to catch up, the individual issues can be ordered and sampled at Paul Hornschemeier’s website. Or, you could pick up the collected edition from Dark Horse comics next month. If you’re looking to catch the next indie comics darling while he’s still up-and-coming, this is where to look.
JLA-Z #1 (of 3)
Writer: Mike McAvennie
Artists: Too numerous to list, but the biggies include the likes of Mike Wieringo, Scott Kolins, and Jim Lee
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
Can anyone deny that the 1980's were the golden age of superhero infotainment? Yesiree, I'm talking about THE OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE and DC's WHO's WHO, two maxi-series that collectively featured more superhero history, trivia, minutiae, and cut-away diagrams than you could shake a Wand of Watoomb at! I mean, these things were juicy. Marvel's entry was particularly information-dense – maybe too dense at times – while DC came up with a solid model for superhero biographies that left powers a little more open to interpretation. I liked both formats, and in retrospect, I think both miniseries were works of marketing genius. They were inexpensive, readily available at both comic shops and newsstands, and played up the whole "shared universe" aspect of each company such that reading up on all those characters just made one want to buy more comics!
Clever as hell. So why can't anyone do these superhero encyclopedia things right nowadays?
At Marvel, I figure it's because they don't give a shit about continuity and the shared-universe hook anymore – they want self-contained arcs ripe for film adaptations. This was readily apparent when I reviewed the muddled and heinously overpriced MARVEL ENCYCLOPEDIA hardcover earlier this year. Gentlemen of Marvel, a thirty dollar hardcover is not how you introduce fans to your pantheon of heroes! DC, on the other hand, has stuck with the old WHO'S WHO format, but you only get four or five entries at a time in their SECRET FILES specials, and even the most hardcore DC fan will tell you: every SECRET FILES special ever produced has been awful. No exceptions. You buy them if you're already reading a title and buying everything associated with it, but as new reader enticements, they're spectacularly lame.
Which brings us to DC's latest infotainment miniseries: JLA-Z. I presume it's timed to coincide with the epic JLA/AVENGERS miniseries, and considering that it took twenty years for that book to get produced, you'd think JLA-Z wouldn't feel like a rush job, right? Wrong-o! Basically, this is a pin-up book covering the various members of the League and their foes, each given only a single paragraph(!) to accompany their pin-up. I guess with an approach that's that bare bones, you almost have to assume this is aimed at entry-level readers…except that comics don't even reach entry-level readers anymore, so I say pony up with the goddamn stats, DC! Give me detailed, multi-page histories, gorgeous cut-away diagrams of the Watchtower, Blue Beetle's Bug, and Fire's thong collection, and back up the pin-up shots with the best interior art to ever feature these characters!
And speaking of pin-up shots, I'd be a lot more forgiving of JLA-Z's low-content approach if the pin-ups weren't so "blah." They're not terrible, but they don't represent the best work of any of the artists involved. You just know something's wrong when the coolest pic is of Aquaman. He does look kinda badass, though. He's holding a big anchor and he looks like he could slap ya with it.
So I'm suggesting that you save your hard-earned shekels for when Marvel and/or DC finally produce a superhero encyclopedia worthy of their 80's efforts. I'd like to see a lavishly produced CD-Rom as the format, maybe at a $30 retail price point, upgradeable each year for a $5 online payment. Imagine how they could build it up over the years, adding in more and more art of your favorite superheroes, complete lists of their appearances, and creating bitchin' search engines to track down the obscure heroes whose histories you only remember bits and pieces of!
It'd be geek nirvana, my friends, which is exactly what such a thing should be.
CATWOMAN #23: Catwoman's road trip continues, this time taking her to the eclectic streets of Starman's Opal City. Pervs will enjoy watching Holly and Selina shopping for new outfits, Slam Bradley fans will be amused as Selina meets Slam's kindred spirit in Starman-pal, Bobo Bennetti, and we'll all lament just a bit that she doesn't meet up with Jack Knight. Features the week's best line of dialogue, growled as Bobo clocks the hell out of a ninja: "All right, let's hear some chin music." A worthy chapter in the series' most consistently entertaining arc. -Cormorant
STRANGERS IN PARADISE #60: Remember how I said I was quitting this book? Okay, I'm weak. I keep going back because I keep hoping for an issue like this one to come along. A milestone for the series, and effectively the end of the arc begun with SIP 3.1. Better late than never. -Lizzybeth
FANTASTIC FOUR #504: I'm bracing myself for disappointment if Waid's tale of the FF taking over Latveria becomes an overt critique of U.S. actions in Iraq, but interestingly enough, the FF have found their weapons of mass destruction (and some other nasty surprises as well). The next issue or two will make or break the arc, but so far, I'm still enjoying. Hey, and the FF do one of those "all for one, one for all" bits where they pile hands as a show of unity – gotta love that. -Cormorant
PROMETHEA #27: Can't review. World ending. Hiding under bed. -Lizzybeth
JLA #87: Kelly really put himself in the doghouse with me with the work he's been doing for the past year, so it's been tough to warm up to this latest story arc. But this month, he managed to turn out an interesting and blessedly coherent issue. And, as usual, Mahnke's work is a crowd-pleaser. Kelly is adding some serious baggage onto Martian history here. (i.e., It turns out that Martians are really psychotic monsters genetically re-engineered by the Guardians of the Universe). Is he authorized to do that? -Village Idiot
THE INCREDIBLE HULK #61: 22 pages and not one single panel with the Hulk...again. See last week's
FLASH #202: Strangely, decompressed storytelling has also decompressed my interest. Well, not completely. I guess it's nice to see Wally rebuilt as a character from the ground up. But does it have to be so murky? And slow? Maybe I just miss Scott Kolins. -Village Idiot
FABLES: THE LAST CASTLE: If, like me, you're following FABLES in trades, don't let this one-shot pass you by. It's one of those things that might or might not get reprinted, and you'll be kicking yourself if you miss it. It's a flashback dating back several hundred years, revealing the heroic last stand of the Fables before the Adversary drove them from their lands. While light on the series' trademark irony, it makes up for it with a moving tale of war and loss. -Cormorant
LEGION #24: Legion I almost buy out of habit. I'm rarely all that eager to read it, but when I do, I'm glad I did. This month was a nice little one-shot about a character I barely know, Umbra, getting her powers back. I suppose it helps that she's a barely dressed sexy babe, but the story was nice, if low key. And she's a barely dressed sexy babe. -Village Idiot
CAPTAIN AMERICA #18: I'm starting to get Superman: Red Son flashbacks. In fact, this story seems to be incorporating many of the things I liked about Red Son: cleverness, excitement, shiny pages. And I think the art is even better than Red Son's too. -Village Idiot
LOSERS #4: Vertigo's answer to the Hollywood actioneer continues to amuse, but do ya think it's maybe getting a little too Hollywood when you have a chick slit a guy's throat…and then lick the blade? I do. -Cormorant
TALES FROM THE CREVICE: BOOKS THAT FELL THROUGH THE CRACK
By Vroom Socko
This is going to sound strange, but Sam Kieth draws the sexiest women in comics.
No, seriously. Amy from Zero Girl, Julie from The Maxx, these are women with such wonderfully complex personalities, and they’re just so curvaceous! These are some lovely, lovely ladies. And yet, the one story of his that I’ve read the most is the least sexy of his stories, at least in terms of tone. It’s a story about terror, guilt, and inner strengths and weakness. It’s also, naturally, this week’s Tale: Four Women.
The story starts out as a road trip, with four friends on their way to a wedding. First is Donna, the story’s narrator. Then there’s Bev, a hard-nosed lawyer who’s full of determination. Cindy is a young ball of exuberance that’s actually tougher than she lets on. Finally, there’s Marion, the matron of the group. These ladies spend much of the first chapter doing the standard Lifetime-esque gabbing, complete with a back seat full of junk food. But then the car stalls out on an out of the way road. And a pick-up stops next to them, with two men inside whose intentions are far from noble.
What follows is one part horror story, and two parts character study. As the shadowy forms of the two predators circle the car, the women inside find themselves stripped down mentally and emotionally until they’re riding purely on survival mode. Without spoiling anything, I will say that survival, as well as how best to survive, are seen in different ways by each of the car’s occupants.
While I love just about anything drawn by Sam Kieth, his work here is some of his best. There’s a scene at the halfway point where Marion makes a decision, I’m not saying what. That decision has benefits, but it also has ramifications. When they come, Marion gets this look in her eyes, this sad, accepting look in her eyes. It’s both the literal and emotional center of the book, and one chilling sequence.
But my favorite image from the book, hell my favorite Sam Kieth drawing ever, is the final splash page of the TPB. It’s a simple image of two of the women just holding each other, that’s all. Such a simple thing, yet it conveys so much to the reader. It’s a beautiful image of two beautiful women, in a story that, while quite dark, has a beauty of its own to be found by those of you who go pick it up.
And you know what? That splash page is just a little bit sexy, too.
Question For Discussion
Wait! Wait! Sorry about that. Moriarty’s been borrowing the QFD for his DVD column, and I forgot to reset it. Let’s try that again.
Question For Discussion
Who is you favorite female in comics? This can be a character or a creator.