Detective Comics #855 (DC): With a writer as capable as Greg Rucka, this arc of ‘Tec certainly has its intrigue. But, it’s no surprise that the reason to poke your head into this door is the art of JH Williams III. And then some. It’s phenomenal. Every single panel is rendered with so much nuanced detail, color variation, and layered depth that they all function as little mini-masterpieces. The kinetic layouts pull your eye joyously across the page. It’s just beautiful. There are flirty poses, without being gratuitous, when she’s disarming High Madame. And who the hell does a POV shot from inside the villain’s uber-creepy mouth?! On a macro level, it’s a fun tumble as Batwoman goes down her own virtual rabbit hole and into a drug-induced wonderland. On the micro level, check out the red boxes which cleverly zoom your eye and draw attention to impact points or other bits of interest. There really is nobody else doing stuff like this; this is going to be one of Those Runs that everyone still talks about in a few years. The Question back up story is full of humorless quips and clunky art. I could really do without it. For the $3.99 price tag, I’d rather just have more Batwoman. Another option would be to yank The Question story out and back the price off to $2.99. I know it’s supposed to be a “bonus” story, but it’s really dragging down what would otherwise be a near-perfect “+” grade package. There’s also a preview of Adventure Comics #1 from Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul. Oh, is Superboy coming back already? As is, Grade A.
Northlanders #19 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood and Danijel Zezelj’s second and final installment of The Shield Maidens feels like it was informed by Sun Tzu. It is part forward thinking primer on guerrilla warfare tactics, part examination of Christian religious attitudes toward the fairer sex. All the while, fate, karma, belief, and mercy swirl around and propel the story forward. Wood has been practicing his humor chops too; “Come on up here, let me sit on your face…” is an irreverent shocker that breathes realistic life into his characters. Zezelj’s thick inky lines are right at home, dovetailing perfectly into the somber, dismal mood of three women resigned to their principled fate. There’s also a Filthy Rich preview, which makes me think noir is the new pirates/zombies/insert your own fad here, which I’m growing tired of. Grade A.
The Lone Ranger #17 (Dynamite Entertainment): It’s amazing how much is relayed in this issue without dialogue, feeling like a deliberate and conscious recognition that words would only cheapen the beauty of the pictures telling an action filled story. Our heroes pull off some Robin Hood-y (steal from the evil, give to the poor) deeds as the dust settles from the last string of adventures and they gear up for the next big storm on the horizon, which is the looming threat of Cavendish. This title is still probably the best reimaging of an aged property within the last five years. Grade B+.
Wednesday Comics #4 (DC): AzzBats opens with some nice shadow work, ends with a sexy cliffhanger, and has a lyrical quality to the dialogue with lilting prose like “Then, though it’s against my nature, so shall I.” This strip is a lot like that uber-hot girl you saw at that party that one time. I don’t think she’s ever going to sleep with you, but you’ll certainly enjoy standing there watching her dance. SooKamandi is like going to a garage sale and finding some wondrous old 1950’s pulpy sci-fi book that nobody else but you has ever had the joy of discovering. ProzacMan manages to make Superman and his cast both smarmy and depressing. The story also moves slow as molasses. DeadStrip comes with a bit of intrigue visually – I liked that half the page is one single panel, but I have no recollection of what’s going on or why. This feels like an ’86 Chevy truck stuck in the mud, just spinning its wheels. Green Busiek picks up right where it left off, capturing the spirit of the strip paradigm. Hal still looks a bit too cartoony for my taste, but otherwise this is spot on. Metamorpho is harmlessly straightforward, but you’d certainly expect some more “pop” considering the creative team. Unfortunately this issue feels like a simple Honda Accord, and you’d really hope that Gaiman and Allred would offer a tricked out vintage Triumph TR7 for us to ogle. ‘Tween Titans feels like an actual teenager wrote it. It flits around from character to character, but without a POV character to view events through or anything invested in these characters, it’s hard to care about what’s going on. Galloway’s art is settling down, but it’s not quite manga and not quite a more typical Western style – neither fish nor fowl. Pulp Hope Adventures keeps up Pope’s commitment to “elegant and brutal comics” with stripped lines like “her defiant gaze” and flyers that reminded me of Dr. Seuss contraptions. If a candied apple held the secrets of the universe – sticky, sweet, messy, and powerfully insightful – Paul Pope could draw it like this. FunGirl reminds me of seeing Amanda Conner on the Wednesday Comics Panel at the con; she said that once she learned of the talent that would be involved in the project she panicked. How to distinguish herself and her strip from this lot? She decided to make Supergirl “vomitously adorable.” She succeeded. What-The-DiDio? Men has surprisingly affable writing and wildly fun art courtesy of Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan. Blunder Woman opens with 10 panels of pure exposition, in which the titular character talks to absolutely no one. If your 14 year old daughter started popping quaaludes and expousing her future career of riding around in a miniature thimble at night, it might be like this. I managed to read the first third of the strip this time, which means it’s either getting better or it’s wearing me down. If DC wanted a cutesy lighthearted fairy tale-esque throwback, they should have enlisted Mike Kunkel instead. An ambitious concept poorly executed. Sgt. Gitmo has now delivered four issues of torture and interrogation, but it certainly is beautiful to look at. Flash Comics could teach something to Wonder Woman; this is how you effectively capture the period feel of something, homage to 1950’s romance and 1960’s superhero aesthetic all in one. Daimon Hellstrom & Black Panther is just all contrivance. Really, pick a random character with an animal in the name. Catwoman? Ok. Pick a random occult character. Demon? Ok. Now come up with a story that involves both of them somehow. I haven’t been 100% steeped in DC lore in the last couple years thanks to Final Infinite Crisis Legion Night 52 Years Later, but did these characters ever have an association before this? Kyle Baker’s Hawkman is distinctly his own, awesome JLA and Batman cameos, along with an Aquaman jab. This strip is what Dynamite Entertainment’s Buck Rogers wishes it was. On the surface, Wednesday Comics appears to be smart, funny, and attractive (the Holy Trinity for women in my life), but looking deeper reveals the adage that beauty can only be skin deep. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m a visual learner. If you were to stack these strips from best to worst, it might look something like this;
Sgt. Rock & Easy Co.
Demon & Catwoman
What this reveals is that the quality is thin at the top, fat in the middle, and weighted toward the bottom. 20% of the strips are in the top tier, 54% are middling, and 26% are on the bottom. Maybe that’s all just a fancy way of saying that the good strips are good, the bad ones are awful, and there’s a ton in the middle. Many members of the blogosphere feel that the price tag is hefty for newsprint, but I still maintain this is a good deal. It feels like 15 books in one, and the experimental format still curries favor. That leads us right back to where we were last week, form gaining massive points over function in most cases - a generous Grade B.