12.13.06 Reviews - Part 1

The Escapists #6 (Dark Horse): The duality of the story threads (both the "real" story and the "made up, comic" story) are stronger than ever in terms of solo superficial entertainment, as well as their ability to riff off of eachother thematically. There's the usual embedded commentary about the industry which is both a sad commentary on the business side of the industry prevailing against the artistic side, as well as a strong statement for creator owned properties vs. the traditional work-for-hire arrangement. Vaughan basically tells us to remember our past, but transcend our past, which is a message that feels just right. "You think you know somebody, and all of a sudden they start acting like they're being written by a completely different person." Sad to see this series end, looking forward to the trade which has an editorial commitment of fall 2007. Grade A+.

Tales of the Unexpected #3 (DC): You can sort of hear Dave (Stray Bullets) Lapham's voice in here somewhere, with the interesting slice-of-life degenerate characters that harbor dark secrets. But they basically get lost in the DC shuffle by having to shoehorn in and focus on Crispus Allen/The Spectre. Toss in some awful art, with mis-shapen cars, bad use of perspective, and skewed anatomy, and the lead story is basically a mess. I've decided to grade The Spectre and Dr. 13 stories separately because there's such a divergence in quality. The Spectre is sooo bad, while Azzarello and Chiang's Dr. 13 is sooo good! Chiang's pencils are clean and fresh (I *love* the way Dr. 13's daughter Traci is portrayed). And Azz's script has it all. There are pirates, vampires, airships, yetis, Nazi gorillas, a hidden jungle in the Alps, the ghost of Jeb Stuart, and it all feels perfectly plausible and fun. I thoroughly enjoy the layered meaning and mastery of scripting that Azz displays. You can't beat Dr. 13 shaking a phallic banana at his daughter and talking about everything in the story being a "metaphor." I know that there are pseudo-incestuous overtones with all of this, but so long as it's played the way it is, it's not offensive and has just the right balance of... dare I say it, humor and weirdness that doesn't border on actions that would be sick if handled by a lesser craftsman. Please, oh please, let them collect Dr. 13 separately in a trade! The Spectre: Grade D. Dr. 13: Grade A+.

X-Factor #14 (Marvel): This issue is exactly why I like this series and Peter David's writing in general. We take some interesting X-Men characters, add some intelligent humor, witty dialogue, irreverent attitude (check out the "Previously in X-Factor" blurb, where David tells the history of the Universe, the dawn of Man, Stan & Jack creating the X-Men at Marvel, and the resurgence of the current incarnation of X-Factor in just one paragraph...), and strong characterization that's embedded in several interesting plot threads. We have Rictor as bisexual, which is handled in a completely organic way, not all "special issue," after-school-specialized, the return of Val Cooper, Jamie and his dupes, Jamie and Siryn, Jamie and Monet, Siryn and Monet, Jamie and SHIELD, Jamie and Doc Samson, Jamie and Rahne, Rahne and Guido, Guido and his guilt, Rictor and Quicksilver, Layla and everyone... it's just so dense with story goodness, I hope Peter David can keep this going for years. And Pablo Raimondi's art is good, will he be the regular artist now? Grade A.

Stormwatch: PHD #2 (DC/Wildstorm): Christos Gage's script crackles and pops with unexpected intelligence and smart narration about "walking ghosts" suffering from radiation sickness, Fahrenheit's powers, the analysis of bad guy's powers in order to take them down, and an undercover operation. The approach here reminds me very much of what Joe Casey and Sean Phillips did with their relaunch of Wildcats. Gage and Mahnke are taking seemingly used up C-list characters from the remnants of the Wildstorm U, and winding them up for a run in this worn out world, infusing them with charm and intellect, using where they came from as a mere reflection, a backdrop, for a new direction with a lot of potential momentum and attitude. "My loyalty's to one person in this world, Dino. And you're staring at her ass." A surprisingly strong Grade A.

Ex Machina #25 (DC/Wildstorm): We're treated to some really entertaining and illuminating flashbacks regarding the origins of Hundred and Bradbury. Oddly enough, I don't really have anything beyond that to say, except this book is fucking great! Why aren't you buying it? You should be buying it. Everyone should be buying it. It should be a TV show. It has all the staccato dialogue, political intrigue, and pseudo-hero trappings of Sorkin, Mamet, Bendis, The West Wing, and Heroes. This book should be in every home, selling millions of copies, effectively raising the level of public debate on social issues in this country. Grade A.

Fear Agent #9 (Image): What happened to the affable ease that made this book pop with a brisk, fun pace? It now seems to be trying a little too hard, those dire rhythms that came so naturally and organically now feel forced with Clemens quotes and an assemblage of nameless, faceless villains. The result is a flat feeling throughout, with a hint of hopefulness on the last page reveal. Jerome Opena's art is still awesome to behold, with his lean detailed figures. I'm all kinds of confused about the future of the book. The lettercol indicates that issue 11 is the last issue from Image, then it will move to Dark Horse. Fine. But, we're going to start over with a new #1. Ok, I guess. However, the overall sequential number in series will still be visible. Why? The next origin story will be a 4 issue arc. When does that start? Does that mean the arc will be broken up between 2 publishers? Whaaa? Grade B.

Justice League of America #4 (DC): There are little details here that tickle all my fanboy buttons just fine. Starro as "Star-Ro." Like a Kryptonian? Innnterrresssting. And there are still some enjoyable group dynamics that offer fun insight... like Hal's ruminations on Roy being on the team, which culminates in a nice visual display of 3 red arrows amid a stream of Green Lantern energy ring mojo. But those fun details aside, there are still some troubling larger issues. Meltzer's use of the Jeph Loeb-style narration boxes is proving unwieldy and difficult to discern. How many times do I have to ask "Hrmm, purple box, ok, is that Black Lightning or Batman, ok, who's talking to who here?" And some of the dialogue is extremely disjointed from a script standpoint. Black Lightning says "Hawkgirl," acknowledging her presence. She says "Kendra... and you are...?" And he never answers! Bats just continues the conversation! That just feels awkward, real people don't converse in that manner with dangling questions. Meltzer is good at weaving in past continuity references and adding treats like Geo-Force, but it's such a SLOW process overall. We're 5 issues in (counting the #0 issue) and the team still hasn't been formed, and there's been an endless string of red herring villains introduced. This is beyond decompressed, it just feels lazy and unfocused. Grade B-.

52: Week Thirty-Two (DC): Doesn't seem fair that the Titans would exclude Osiris because of things Black Adam did, how is holding him accountable fair? I hope that DC has an event like the Marvel Decimation one and kills off all of these stupid Luthor "Everyman" heroes. Pat Olliffe's art didn't suck! Served the story just fine. Actually amused by the banter between Animal Man and Adam Strange. "So let me get this straight... it's us against a genocidal alien war machine. We have a bounty on our heads and we have Lobo and the Emerald Head of Ekron on our side... May fortune favor the crazy." Sounds like something out of Whedon's Firefly/Serenity. "Yeo Fei, Accomplished Perfect Physician, a super-functionary of the Great Ten of the Chinese People's Republic?" Interesting. Cryptic clues about the Ambassador Hotel... interesting. I was thinking that it's really an art to be able to capture a person's origin story in barely two pages. DC should publish a 104 page (2 pages x 52 issues, right?) oversized hardcover collecting all of these origins. That would be infinitely more cool than the lead 52 "story" collages. Grade C.


At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just discovered your blog via CBR. Really enjoying it so far. You must read AMERICAN BORN CHINESE. Along with THE ESCAPISTS, the best comics I read in 2006.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Hi Felix, definitely two strong choices. The Escapists is one of my favorite mini-series of all time. I just wish that Dark Horse would hurry up with the collected edition already, would love to have that in a special format with tons of extras!

American Born Chinese was great also. I actually did read that and passed out a few copies to my friends. My buddy Grant Lee (whose book Li-Jun: Martial Arts Epic, I did a brief write up on here) even went to meet the author at a signing in San Francisco. I also saw him win the Eisner at the San Diego Con this year, pretty cool!


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