9.23.09 Reviews (Part 1)

The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror #15 (Bongo): I’ve sampled a couple of the Treehouse of Horror issues in the past and they always seemed worth a chuckle, but when I found out that Sammy Harkham would be guest editing this issue containing a bunch of alternative talent like Jordan Crane, Kevin Huizenga, and Jeffrey Brown, it was pretty much an instant buy. Cloud 13 by Tim Hensley presents a quick sort of existential dilemma wherein the characters are stuck eternally in the basic trappings of the show. It's a nice intro piece for the book. The Call of Vegulu by Matthew Thurber and Kevin Huizenga gives us the “Granola Osiris” of Burns and Smithers, touches on economic collapse, going green as de rigeur, and has thin languid lines that are colored beautifully. I enjoyed the irony of blogging your life away, needing to “see a doctologist,” the mash up of health care and reality TV, and the ultimate marketing campaign culminating with “uhhh… code red.” Blurst Agin! by Jordan Crane is an all too fast one pager that left me wanting more. Mo’ Bodies Moe Problems by Ted May and Sammy Harkham was one of the better pieces. Harkham really changed his art style to ape The Simpsons aesthetic; what a versatile guy, it's so much different from his earlier work like Poor Sailor. I laughed out loud at Moe’s schtick and zingers like “What, these? Some tramp probably had a blow-out.” In his quest to diversify the bar's demographic, we get karaoke hilarity and a Frankenstein riff with Nelson. The Gods Must be Lazy! by Will Sweeney is a decent riff on Clash of the Titans, and I especially enjoyed the absurdity of the tribe of pickle people. Contributors of the Damned was an uncredited page by Sammy Harkham that has marvelous little bios that give plugs for creator books, web-sites, and also handily references where they can be found in this book. C.H.U.M. by John Vermilyea does a great job of capturing the voices of Nelson, Milhouse, the Flanders kids, and Ralph. Boo-tleg by Ben Jones starts with lines like “this shampoo smells like real poo” and never really lets up. It's probably the funniest of the lot and contained the best writing. It's one-liner after one-liner on top of plenty visual gags. You can just hear Apu as he plots to take over Springfield with duplicates made in Krwakistan, and it's all capped with Comic Book Guy's blogging dilemma in the denouement. Three Little Kids by John Kerschbaum is a nice take on classic fairy tales, with slick lines like “Smithers! I grow tired of eating lamb! Fetch me some pork! Pronto!” and “For your information, these are not comic books. They are graphic novels!” There's also some clever lettering to distinguish character voices. Bad Milhouse by Jeffrey Brown is a winner, with greater detail than we're used to seeing these characters with, and ever so slightly more realistic features. It's got brilliant coloring and the figures remind me of the original Tracy Ullman Show look and feel, especially the rendition of Homer and the Simpsons family proper. It touches on all the big issues, from fan-fic, feminism, and foreclosure, to copyright infringement. The Slipsons by C.F. is the only real miss for me; I just didn’t get it, which was kind of a sad note to end on, but overall there's a ton of laughs here. The book feels extremely dense, with a plethora of great creators. Even with a $4.99 price tag, it's well worth a look. Grade A.

Wednesday Comics #12 (DC): Batman feels a tad anticlimactic, but I do like how it defies expectations in a self-aware manner. Grade B+. Kamandi pulls at the heartstrings using a beautifully silhouetted panel to emphasize emotional impact. This could almost serve as a prequel/origin story for the Last Boy on Earth. Grade A+. Superman ends so smarmy, smug, and boring. And sorry, but that first panel looks like unfinished art. Grade C. Deadman has far too much supernatural mumbo-jumbo going on, people and places I've been given no reason to care about, it's all terribly inconsequential. Grade C-. Green Lantern comes with a nice friendly epilogue, and I love how Hal’s street clothes aesthetically mirror the GL uniform's color palette. Grade B+. Metamorpho is all about cleavage and entering Miss Blackwell’s “private sector,” which is actually more funny than stupid for a change, but it feels like too little too late in order to get this thing back on the rails. Those lines are funny because the characters play them deadpan to each other fun, whereas Java mugging directly to the audience is still very lame. At the end, it steals a gag that was done better in Dr. 13: Architecture & Mortality with the faux promise of a next issue. Grade C. Teen Titans is finally over, thank God. Grade D. Strange Adventures ends with a self-referential “… days of strange adventure,” lovely females, and like many of his works, Paul Pope embeds a love story amid manic sci-fi spectacle. This is a satisfying conclusion to a wonderful adventure. Grade A+. Supergirl comes with a big exposition dump, but has a nice twisty end and a truly cute final panel. Grade B+. This is totally random, but I picked up the first four issues of Power Girl from a $1 bin by this creative team since it's been generally well reviewed and, you know, I just make it a point to check a series out sometimes like that. Man, was that a disappointment. I didn’t laugh once, it never got as funny as the Supergirl issues of Wednesday Comics featuring Aquaman (but then again, Supergirl wasn't usually that funny either for most of the WedCom duration). It sort of went from "wow, this is totally boring" - so much so that I can’t recall what happens now - to just downright "that's wrong." For example, I guess Power Girl is friend/big sister/mentor to Terra from Teen Titans. Well, I’m wondering why when they go out on a pseudo-date and need to fight bad guys and Terra realizes she doesn’t have her costume on underneath her street clothes that she just decides to… strip down to her panties? Yeah, because when I forget my uniform for my job, I strip down to my underwear too. Awesome. Moving right along... Metal Men is illustrated beautifully, there's a couple of really standout panels here, but the story got boring really fast and the final denouement here is a little tough to swallow. Grade C+. Wonder Woman runs out its wake up gag, and is still pretty to simply take in visually, but I couldn’t get past the first big block of text, so who knows what’s going on. Grade C-. Sgt. Rock ends with a personal touch and that fifth panel is just beautiful. Grade B+. Flash leaves us with an open-ended self-aware sense of glee that's a much needed chance to exhale after so many rousing sequences of late. Grade A-. Demon & Catwoman has iambic pentameter and some flat humor. Yes, that sentence is about as interesting as the strip. Grade D+. Hawkman makes me want Kyle Baker to do a JLA book now. Please? Grade A+. One more time, if we do our visual doodad, it looks something like this;

Strange Adventures
Green Lantern
Sgt. Rock
Wonder Woman
Metal Men
Demon & Catwoman
Teen Titans

I decided to create a fourth category visually just to see what that did, and it didn’t do much. Essentially what we’ve got is the cream of the crop excellent strips, the good ones, the harmlessly mediocre, and the godawful at the bottom. Nothing terribly abnormal here, but it's worth noting that Hawkman overtook Kamandi in the final installment (since I’m such a JLA whore) and Sgt. Rock, while rendered well, sure went the long way around the mountain from a storytelling standpoint and felt flat to me, so it slipped a bit in the rankings down toward the bottom of the second tier, when it had been duking it out with Batman for top spot in the second tier. If I had to pick consistent contenders at each tier, I’d say Strange Adventures was consistenly most excellent, Batman was consistently good-short-of-great, and Teen Titans was clearly the worst for the duration. Looking at the numbers, we get 27% in the top, 27% in the second grouping, 20% in the third slot, and 27% at the bottom. By my rough calculations, if you count the first two tiers as “successful,” and the second two as “failures,” then we still see just a little over half making the grade, a 54% success rate, which on the surface doesn’t seem terribly accomplished, but I suppose it’s all a matter of context.

Taken individually, my biggest problem with Wednesday Comics was that the stories seemed inconsequential, with rare exception they just didn’t do anything substantial or very memorable. I think a lot of the praise that the series got was (deservedly) because of the experimental format. The next logical leap would be to state that this makes this all an exercise in style over substance, but I think that gives the project short shrift. Simply put, Wednesday Comics was a great example of outside-the-box-thinking. While it may have missed (Teen Titans) more often than it succeeded (Strange Adventures), it was certainly a fun experience to try something new and assess why some things did or didn’t work. And there sure was a wide range in quality – just look at the gaping expanse between the one most picked on and the one most praised – again, Teen Titans and Strange Adventures. I mean, could those be any more divergent on every level? How could they even exist in the same space? Those questions are both the bane and the allure of projects like this.

Like Editor Mark Chiarello’s long lamented Solo series, it was an experimental learning process. I think that more and more, especially considering their Warner Brothers and Disney overlords, DC and Marvel should be adopting the business paradigm of R&D lab. In R&D labs, there is permission to fail, and that can be essential to a truly free creative process. If you try enough experiments, you’re going to fail a lot of the time, but the process can yield something breathtaking occasionally. For me, it’s worth slogging through ten things like Teen Titans, that doggedly miss by a mile, and a few ambitious but flawed noble failures like Wonder Woman, if something grand like Strange Adventures or Hawkman comes out of it also.

Anyway, there’s a rumor floating around that Paul Pope created a mysterious 13th strip for some reason and that he’ll be posting it soon on his Pulp Hope site, along with a text piece of some sort, so keep your eyes peeled for that little gem. Overall, the final installment of Wednesday Comics checks in with a raw Grade C, with an adjustment up for format to Grade B. But more importantly, I’d definitely buy a second volume. Mark Chiarello? You go, boy. The project conceptually gets a Grade A.

Uncanny X-Men #515 (Marvel): Apparently, I sure missed a lot by not picking up any of that crossover crap. This is very annoying. Why can’t I just read the core X-Men title and not feel like I’ve been left in the dark, like I’ve missed six months worth of issues? So, let’s see… I guess the X-Men have left San Francisco? Why? Last I saw, they fought the Dark Avengers to a standstill and then Norman’s squad retreated. I guess they raised Magneto’s old base and plopped it down off the coast somewhere? Wow. Ok. Why? Why is Namor with them? Why is he in exile? What’s up with Emma, wasn’t she acting duplicitous before and in cahoots with Osborn to some degree? Did that ever get resolved? And what the hell is that thing on her face? Why is she stuck in diamond form? Who the hell are those characters in the opening sequence? Charles is back?! What? Why? How? I mean, really, I have all of the Fraction issues starting with 500, yep, that one, that one, 512, 513, and there’s 514, yet here’s 515 and I have no idea what’s going on. Greg Land’s art isn’t as bad as usual I guess, but still looks overly posed in spots, and check out the scene with Scott and Mayor Sinclair. Why is he suddenly seated in one panel? Why do the backgrounds mysteriously change? That’s just lazy. Fraction still attempts to play with some fascinating sociological concepts like Danger becoming a virtual prison warden. There are clever lines like “a piece of forgotten science fiction,” a rousing word exchange between Scott and Charles, the death of Dr. Takiguchi, Scott being vulnerable and honest, but the cliffhanger is emotionally empty considering that the last time Fraction had that person show up it wasn’t even really him, and ultimately any good will this issue attempts to garner is completely derailed by dangling crossover residue. Grade C.


At 5:35 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Wows. What a line-up on the Treehouse of horror. I'll mos def be pickin' that up now. Thanks for the coverage.

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Hey Ryan,

This book was really fun, and extremely consistent about it. You know I'm a Paul Pope fan and despite his killer appearances in both Marvel's Strange Tales and DC's Wednesday Comics, I think this book is actually the recent anthology to beat in terms of pure consistency from strip to strip.


At 1:57 PM, Blogger Matt C said...

Really good analysis of Wednesday Comics there Justin. If I'm honest I wanted to like it more than I did in the end, but you can't fault DC for trying something 'new' and putting their weight behind it. Darwyn Cooke for the next volume though. :)

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Darwyn Cooke, huh Matt? Only if he takes on something unexpected like... Mister Miracle! Or a Vertigo property!

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