11.29.07 Reviews

Dan Dare #1 (Virgin Comics): Finally, the virgin I've been waiting to sink my teeth into! I have no frame of reference for this updating of the British pilot/hero, other than awareness that the property previously existed in some incarnation, but this was excellent! Right from the start, I found Dare's air of detachment intriguing, the way he casually strolls around with a degree of calm amusement. Ennis' script feels rather restrained for him, which is just fine since I can't really stomach his usual over-the-top style. There's a whole crew of interesting characters introduced, none of which feel forced or shoehorned in - in fact, they all manage to paint an interesting picture of this universe with their natural dialogue lacking even a hint of exposition, some interesting analogies to US policy that zing without being overt ("...if they see you ignorin' the law, they've got no reason whatsoever to obey it themselves."), and it feels dense and weighty without being sluggish at all. If you could imagine the dignity, charm, and old-school sense of adventure with a British version of Hal "Highball" Jordan in a post-apocalyptic Independence Day/Battlestar Galactica sort of blender, you're on your way to the new Dan Dare. Gary Erskine's pencils look sharp as ever (check out the fine detail in Digby's white hair) with effective moody coloring from Parasuraman A. This is the most promising first issue debut in quite some time. Grade A.

Casanova #11 (Image): I'm finally starting to warm to Fabio Moon's pencils and not long for the days of brother Gabriel Ba, as Moon seems to find his groove here. Without giving anything away, I dug the champagne sequence and ultimate fourth-wall-breaking reveal. I like the experimental glee that Fraction brings to this book and, I don't know... it's the little things, like the way he uses the word "parse" in the back matter that I just find pretty fucking endearing. It's really saying something that I often catch myself racing through the book in an effort to get to the back matter that much quicker. Grade A.

Fear Agent #17 (Dark Horse): So, from a sequential numbering standpoint, this is still a bit confusing. It was solicited as "Fear Agent: Hatchet Job #1" which would tend to indicate a mini-series, but here it is on the shelf as "Fear Agent #17" and umm, also "Hatchet Job 1 of 5." I mean, I get it and all, but instead of just keeping the sequential numbering (aka: #17) and letting the individual arcs speak for themselves, or go with a "series of mini-series" (aka: Blah Blah Blah #1 of 5), Dark Horse and Remender kinda' blur the line and try to put out a hybrid of both. Like I said, I get it, but it could have been done a lot cleaner. ANYWAY. The story is good. This feels like the Fear Agent I first got hooked on, like we're trending in the right direction here and finally getting back on track after the publisher move, weird numbering schema, and chronologically out of sequence story arcs. I'm once again enjoying the well-played Clemens quotes and atypical insights that peek out from the debaucherous adventures like "altruism born of selfishness," which is just crafty use of the language. Grade A-.


11.21.07 Reviews

The Lone Ranger #10 (Dynamite Entertainment): Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello continue their re-imaging of the titular character with a stoic sensibility that feels perfect. There are glimpses of emotion throughout the long bouts of hard nobility that are made all the sweeter due to their inherent rarity. Cariello seems to be more influenced by Cassaday the more the pair work together, check out the way John's mask hangs realistically on his face for proof. There is a stunning sunset, the colors of which will stop you dead in your tracks to take it all in, thanks to Marcelo Pinto's lush palette. As John struggles with the ultimate decision he must make this time out, one phrase kept repeating in my mind... "let justice be done, though the heavens fall." Grade A.

Conan #46 (Dark Horse): This issue wraps up the wonderful Born on the Battlefield arc that Kurt Busiek and Greg Ruth began long ago. Ruth's line work really captures the chaos and delirium of medieval warfare. On the scripting end, Busiek truly succeeds in explaining Conan's suppressed rage that he's carried inside since his youth. This arc reads with a robust energy that suitably feels like the bittersweet conclusion to a grand epic, full of classic prose like "he wanted to say something to her... he did not know what to say." Grade A.

Ex Machina #32 (DC/Wildstorm): Brian K. Vaughan keeps pushing out complex, but accessible, social issues through a combination of wit and brisk dialogue. Though this really felt like all middle, the collision course that the nefarious (and creepy) plot was on finally seems to be impacting and lines like "Please, that was the Puritans. Those people were crazy," continue to delight. Grade A.

The Umbrella Academy #3 (Dark Horse): Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba have an entirely first class product here that pops and zings from start to finish. There's the James Jean covers, the wonderful design and layout of the book, Ba's beautiful full color art, and Way's quirky and engaging dialogue. I enjoyed the fulcrum that Vanya's character represents, as she's caught between opposing sides. Simply put, this book leaves you wanting to know more, which seems to be a rarity in today's market. Grade A-.

Grendel: Behold The Devil #1 (Dark Horse): This re-introduction of everyone's favorite anti-hero to hold the Grendel mantle, Hunter Rose, plays nicely in black and white with just a few splashes of color. The character is succintly and effectively put back in the spotlight through a series of journal entries and small interesting bits, like the police work centering around a certain cologne that's out of place. The letters are even interesting (as is the ad for The Escapists Hardover - finally!) and the touch of angular, representational Tim Sale pencils that I can see getting into Wagner's art doesn't hurt either. An entertaining package overall. Grade B+.

The Brave & The Bold #8 (DC): The Challengers of the Unknown being used as a framing device with the Book of Destiny feels really shoehorned in and is taking waaaaay too long to resolve itself. True, I've not kept up with all of the Infinite Countdown to Multiple Crises tomfoolery, but when did Wally and Linda have these kids? The horror notes are either ill-timed (suppose this would have played better around Halloween...) or ill-conceived (lightning strikes after an ominous line by Caulder feel so passe...), and the campy comedic aura is actually a little off-putting. As has been the case recently, the real draw for me is Perez's art. His Metamorpho shows a nice nod to the recent redesign by Tan Eng Huat, and his facial expressions are basically unmatched in their variety and intensity. I love the way he uses cross-hatching to achieve the effect of shading with minimal inking required. Overall, I feel that this title is a little off track at the moment. I understand the concept of rotational arcs featuring different characters since you can't really feature one person, but there is a certain focus lacking here. The macro story with Megistus (who? what?), the Haruspex (wasn't that resolved?), and the Book of Destiny (still going...) is really unclear by itself, let alone how it's spanning across all the players who've appeared in the book to date. On a micro level, the in and out nature of different players every issue feels very rushed. The early issues seemed to have it down, with Batman and Green Lantern appearing for a couple issues (or at least overlapping as the next players were introduced), but that last couple seem very siloed in their approach. Again, largely for the clarity of the art (and by intention, *not* the story), Grade B+.

Checkmate #20 (DC): As usual, this issue is full of all sorts of little goodies. We've got Jessica Midnight's reveal, some embedded racial commentary, Waller's ferocious (if reckless) manipulation of the so called "Rule of 2," and the Tommy Jagger/Count Vertigo fight coming across really visceral. There's a bit of an unfair feeling in scripting, as Mister Terrific provides some exposition about OMACs and nanites that the audience was never privy to. No clues were dropped on this along the way, we're simply *told* that's what's happening. In addition to that cheat, it also feels rather abrupt. As usual, Rucka's otherwise intricate and engaging script is hampered by mediocre art. It's loose and inconsistent, with tall foreheads and blocky chins that are just awkward and, well... the term that comes too mind is just that it's all wonged out. Grade B.

Kade: Shiva's Sun #0 (Arcana Studio): Rounding out the bottom of the pack is this 90's Image throwback that employs a huge reliance on narrative captions to navigate stale pin up art. There are some facial features of Liefeld-ian proportions, implausible poses, and skewed anatomy. From a storytelling perspective, we get a little Eastern philosophical mumbo-jumbo and the tired prophecy of "the chosen one" amid your basic sword and sorcery debacle. Thoroughly underwhelming, even for a quarter promo issue. Grade F.

I also picked up;

Queen & Country: Volume 8: Operation Red Panda (Oni Press): Ok, you all know I love Q&C and this is sorta' bittersweet since this is the last arc before the title officially went on hiatus. So, needless to say I'm already a little bummed. To add insult to injury, I'm really confused by the format/release dates and not sure if I need to castigate blame onto Oni (doubtful), the distribution chain (possible), or my retailer (most likely). The (red) hardcover edition of this book was solicited for last week, but my LCS didn't get it. For some bizarre reason, they've been getting some of their Oni books a week late. That's weird factor #1. Weird factor #2, today they get it in, but only the softcover, which was not solicited this week or last week and is not what I want. I buy it anyway since it's the last copy and I have no idea if I'll ever see the elusive harcovers which are limited to the initial print run. Weird factor #3 is that Oni has been putting out the hardcovers and softcovers on the same day so that people can choose their format and price (which is a nice touch), so regardless of shipping last week or this week, shouldn't they both arrive on the same day(?). Weird factor #4 comes when I inquire and am told that my LCS ordered both, but they don't know when they'll get them in, maybe next week, so that's not really any help. Weird factor #5 is that I'm now realizing I'm going to probably end up buying this story three times. I bought the single issues, bought the softcover, and will hopefully pick up the hardcover, whether it's from my unhelpful LCS or direct order from Oni (in which case I'll pay the fucking shipping too). I mean, I like the book and all, but fuck, it really shouldn't be this difficult to buy a book that's not even going to come out anymore anyway. Whatever.

Went to another shop and encountered an odd (in a good way) sale that had batches of quarter comics and dollar stuff. For a quarter, I picked up a few random issues of a Steven Grant mini-series from Avatar and two complete sets of the four issue mini-series My Faith in Frankie by Mike Carey and Sonny Liew, which is FANTASTIC! I had these originally, gave them away thinking I'd pick up the trade, and then was disappointed that the digest size trade was done in black and white. You have to experience this in color. Glad to score this mini again and even pick up a spare copy to give away, that's 8 issues, all for only $2. Then, for a buck each I scored with Altercations by David Yurkovich, Farewell Georgia by Ben "Midnight Sun" Towle, and a whole bunch of Epic Illustrated Magazines. I remember buying the very first issue of Epic Illustrated off the newstand in the early 80's. It ultimately turned me onto Jim Starlin's Dreadstar and was really a great idea that Marvel had to showcase more adult horror, sci-fi, and fantasy work at the time, all in a slick magazine format. It was such a nostalgic feeling to pick these up and thumb through them again, seeing names like Rick Veitch, John Byrne, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Marie Severin, John Bolton, and Dave Sim. The cover price was $2.50, which by today's standard seems like a steal, then I remembered that comics were about .75 cents at the time, and I was making like $4.25 an hour working at the local comic shop. Anyway, looking forward to perusing these for the second time in 20 years or so after Thanksgiving Dinner.


LOEG: Black Dossier

"But, is it any good?"

As everyone dissects this latest installment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, attempting post game analysis of the publishing follies, and analyzation of the myriad literary references, and postulations about the intended Moore meaning behind it all, this is the question reverted back to that I most frequenly hear.

Black Dossier ranges from the sublime (alternate history of all creation and introduction of the Elohim) to the disastrous (really, what was up with that crazy novella with words running into eachother and absolutely no punctuation? that was essentially unreadable...). I enjoyed Orlando with a smirk, as he sort of "Forrest Gumps" his way through every significant event since the dawn of man. The Fanny Hill bits seemed overtly influenced by Moore's recent Lost Girls work, titillating and interesting, yet still somehow superfluous. Unfortunately, the bits I liked the most were those featuring Allan and Mina, the same bits that in my perception (I haven't done an actual page count) seemed to comprise a mere third of the total endeavor.

I understand Moore not wanting to push out a mere sourcebook and wanting to present this information within the context of a narrative, yet I still felt cheated by the lack of content present in the narrative framing device and disappointed by the actual Dossier components. From a high level, Moore effectively creates an alternate history/reality through use of quasi-historical events incorporated to such a degree that they appear seamless to the reader. Along the way we're able to transcend to a level of alternate storytelling because of the thorough revue of literature and popular genre fiction. For a detailed annotation of all the literary reference Easter eggs, check out the Jess Nevin's feature over at CBR.

There is no denying the craft that went into this project. I can't imagine the countless hours of researching and plotting required to put this wildly voluminous set of references together. Of particular note is Kevin O'Neill's superb art. On first pass, his detailed art is very pleasing. Take a closer, slower look, and the depths of his pencils begin to reveal all sorts of phallic, sexual, double layers of meaning, all with a very devious insouciance to those put off by even a smidge of sexuality. O'Neill can, no doubt, be considered a master craftsman as he juggles styles representative of different publishing media and presents them effortlessly here.

The big point I'm building to here is that truly great works must walk a fine balance between excellent execution of craft and pure audience response. I know that I will risk offending the comic book literati out there because this sounds like such a low brow complaint, but how accessible is this book? I consider myself pretty well read outside of our little comic book sect, having devoured everything from Hemingway and Willa Cather, to historical accounts of the Roman Empire, Revolutionary War, Civil War, and WWII campaigns in Europe, to Shakespeare, Kafka, and plays by Henrik Ibsen, to the modern genre homages (yes, sometimes bordering on outright parody) of Sir Rodney William Whitaker (nome de plume: Trevanian), and I even have a copy of Black's Law Dictionary on my desk that I use daily for my "real" job, but umm, how accessible is this if I know I'm only getting like 70% of the literary references?

And without that instant accessibility, it's difficult for me to feel and truly appreciate this work in its entirety, finally acquiescing to a sense of passive acceptance. Success of craft can only get you so far if it lacks any real emotional resonance from the audience. Grade B+.


11.14.07 Reviews

All Star Superman #9 (DC): Watch our Mr. Toad, because Mr. Morrison's wild ride continues, with his influx of big, bold ideas, complete with crystal spires and a cracked moon. The common thread for me this issue seems to be Morrison looking at the Superman mythos momentarily from different perspectives. Jor-El is characterized as "a young and ineffectual dreamer." The safeguarding of Kandor, the city in a bottle, is viewed as oppression of the superior Kryptonian culture. The guise of Clark Kent begets a wide chuckle as Lilo and Bar-El (throw away characters under anyone else's less thought out direction) describe it with: "What kind of self-loathing degenerate disguises his true nature to snort and shuffle amond subhumans? Have you abandoned all dignity?" Quitely's pencils are still gorgeous with their lean elegance and refined detail, topped off with Jaime Grant's superb coloring. Morrison continues to craft a Superman for a new generation; the Superman of the new millennium, truly the Man of Tomorrow. Grade A+.

DMZ #25 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood really scores in the collaboration department here by landing Danijel Zezelj; his symbolic, strong imagery is a perfect companion to the war torn cityscape of Manhattan. As this arc continues to show, there is plenty of room for exploration of hidden corners and bit players of the DMZ. This time out, we get a great tale of one man's opportunistic quest within a power vacuum. Grade A.

Legion (IDW): Salvador Sanz offers up an interesting story about the culmination of artistic events that brings about the apocalypse. The striking cover art featuring an otherwordly host descending upon the Earth is backed up by strong interior art that boasts a rich, European quality, reminiscent of the Humanoids line of books. There are spots in the art where I can see the influence of Carla Speed McNeil in the characters and the organic stylings of H.R. Giger in the background designs. There is a creepy as hell coronation sequence with visuals that really feel alien and desperate; the feeling that "all is lost" is captured very effectively. There's a lyrical premise that is well written as the protagonists transcend one too many boundaries with their art: "Art is a destructive force; the motion of war and annihilation." I want to spend more time with this book, taking in the lush visuals and discerning further meaning from the splendid text. Even with a strangely high price tag of $7.49, Grade A-.

The Circle #1 (Image): Brian Reed & Ian Hosfeld hit the stands with charming swagger and a little attitude, evidenced by lines like "Sorry, but I'm a stickler for correct pronunciation." The story relies a little heavily on narration vs. dialogue, which *could* be dense and slow, but is instead really engaging. The story hums right along in a sort of gleeful way from set to set, revealing the creators' video game backgrounds. The art has great muted colors and for some reason reminded be of the simple emotive lines of the old G.I. Joe cartoons I grew up with. I'll definitely give it a couple of issues. Grade B+.

The New Avengers #36 (Marvel): Leinil Yu's art is as fun as ever, although you do have to accept the fact that Jessica Drew and Natasha Romanov apparently run around Stark/Sentry Tower together in their bras and panties all the time. On the scripting end, hrmm... if the chemical bomb was aerosolized, it wouldn't just attack your body via skin pores (as Luke Cage points out), it would also be capable of being ingested through intestines or lungs, so umm, everyone would have been infected with the Venom Symbiote thing, even Cage with unbreakable skin. Jessica Jones keeps dropping hints about Carol Danvers and Jessica Drew that seem to go nowhere. There are some obvious allegorical relationships (Latveria = Iraq, Chemical Bombs = WMD, and The Mighty Avengers = The United States) that play kind of obvious, an obligatory shower scene between Drew and Logan, and... I don't know. There's a last page reveal with like every New York based hero, even a couple X-Men, and Howard the Duck thrown in. This all may make sense and read well collected, but for now it feels disjointed and like Bendis is throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. Grade B-.

Titans East: Special #1 (DC): Oh, Ian Churchill, with your first page boobs flailing about and your g-string visible 2 inches above the waistline of the jeans... (sigh). But, you did draw a pretty mean Robin. And Bizarro looked just about right. And I confess, I really dug the sexy look of the new Hawk & Dove. I read somewhere online that DC Editorial's new long term plan is to elevate the first line DC heroes (Supes, Bats, Wonder Woman, etc.) into "New God" status, which would then promote the second line (Nightwing, etc.) to take on the mantles of the first line folks. Logically, this would create a vacuum at the third tier (Titans) that would need to be filled. That makes this new incarnation plausible. But then, it seems we're introducing the old Titans, only to replace them with this crew, but then they all get killed off. I'm confused. Decent, but feels unfocused. Let's hope that the follow up to the crazy cliffhanger straightens it all out. Grade B-.

Batman & The Outsiders #1 (DC): I usually like Chuck Dixon's scripting (loved his Nightwing run), but here it seems a little weak. With the exception of Katana, I don't feel that he has a mastery of these characters' voices. There also seems to be a disconnect between script and art. Katana's uniform on the cover doesn't match her uniform on the interior, that's just... weird. Metamorpho comments at one point that something looks like a burrito (which is odd to begin with). But, it really doesn't. It looks like a big metallic claw with a giant red egg with spikey things on top of it. How the hell is that to be confused with a burrito? The Martian Manhunter feint was decent (although it was previously used in Justice League Task Force), but that gets negatively balanced by the telegraphed conversation between Batman and Thunder, with his easily read verbal trap. The art is competent, but not terribly memorable. No reason to come back here, Grade C-.

World War Hulk #5 (Marvel): If you accept this book purely on a superficial level, it can be pretty fun. It's got all the big bang spectacle and tight crisp pencils from John Romita Jr. Unfortunately, there are quite a few unresolved dangly bits because there doesn't seem to be a clear statement that the book wants to make. Here we have a large metropolitan city (which I can only assume and *think* was previously mentioned as New York) completely devastated by a rampaging Hulk, tons of superheroes, and The Sentry's "power of a thousand exploding suns." Hundreds and thousands of occupants would have been killed in this melee (sorry, a throw away line indicating evacuation doesn't cut it, that would take hours, if not days), yet there is no mention. It's a bit hypocritical that children dying in Stamford, Connecticut is the catalyst for Civil War, but thousands of New Yorkers dying doesn't even get a comment. Is Rick Jones dead or alive? That looked like a pretty fatal wound, not sure. Is Robert Reynolds alive? Not sure. Has the Hulk been vanquished? What's to become of his band of fighters from Sakaar? There's all this solemn talk of "making a choice," but it's not clear what choice Sentry or Hulk or anybody is making here. The book is trying desperately hard to attain gravitas, but falls short. Is Hulk a hero because he stopped Sentry or is Sentry the hero because he stopped the Hulk? Is Tony now a hero because he stopped Hulk? Are Reed and Tony forgiven because they didn't actually cause the nuclear devastation on Sakaar? Did the Sentry really have a deathwish? Did the Hulk? Was the true point of this series to comment on warfare in the modern age? Karl Von Klauswitz's theory that in war the only true enemy is war itself? Was this all embedded commentary about mutually assured destruction? These questions are wildly posed, but none are clearly answered. Remember when a mini-series was self-contained and didn't require following a full page of 9 other tie-in books, IncREDible Hulk, and Skaar: Son of Hulk? Romita's art is as pretty as ever, especially in the daunting task of depicting the "thousand exploding suns." But due to the loose scripting, a pretty looking, but muddled Grade C-.

I also picked up;

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier (DC/Wildstorm/ABC): This was originally solicited, what... a year and a half ago? I'm excited to read this, but I'm being very careful to ignore all the publishing controversy and really focus on whether or not the story is any good. Let's hope so!

Ex Machina: Volume 6: Power Down (DC/Wildstorm): Not much to say here. Ex Machina keeps chugging along, with the high and low points of any series, but overall a very strong title that has the potential to raise the level of public debate in this country with its broad spectrum analysis of contemporary social issues. Pick it up!


13 Minutes @ Comic Book Resources

Special thanks to Augie De Blieck Jr. over at CBR. Augie recently put out a call for Comic Review Blogs that were actually regular review sites, not commentary on the industry itself. He then wrote a quick round-up of the sites and included 13 Minutes! Augie writes:

"Thirteen Minutes has lots of reviews, but only shorter one and two paragraph jobbers. They're well done, though, getting straight to the point without fear of being opinionated. I like it."


11.07.07 Reviews

Scalped #11 (DC/Vertigo): The phenomenal flashback sequences set the stage for a surprising conclusion to this arc. Psychologically, it was really fascinating to see how a person's sense of guilt can lead to a delusional memory of past events. "Requiem For A Dog Soldier" proves that Aaron is on a roll with aptly titling the single issues in the Casino Boogie arc. This issue (and the arc itself) has provided a nice backdrop that fills in some of the experiences of the elder generation characters that came before Dash; we see how the world that he now must navigate was shaped and came to be. Scalped remains a unique and disturbing slice of Americana. Grade A.

Astonishing X-Men #23 (Marvel): After a long wait, this issue simply shows that it was worth it. The Breakworld has proven to be a very fascinating construct, complete with infighting and different factions vying for power. Whedon's love for Kitty Pryde is both obvious and welcome, since I totally share it. What we get here is a well played reveal regarding a shocking and brilliant ploy in the script. And visually, Cassaday is able to portray it in a very inventive way by re-telling the same scenes we've already witnessed, but now with the added layer of Emma's telepathic link. Of course, Cyclops is not dead, adrift in space, and he is certainly not without his mutant abilities. I didn't see it coming, but in one fell swoop, Whedon and Cassaday capture his fury, the teamwork and leadership he inspires, and for my money, the torch is officially passed to Scott Summers as leader of the X-Men as he utters Professor X's infamous phrase: "To me, my X-Men." Grade A.

Immortal Iron Fist #10 (Marvel): We're offered an interesting way in to begin appreciating the pathos of Davos and how he came to be a character foil for Danny Rand. The audience is finally granted some empathy toward his perspective. It's evident that Fraction and Brubaker are really having fun with this arc (Fat Cobra!), exploring the kung fu side of the "kung fu billionaire" equation, and you can certainly see what happens when writers say that the characters begin to "write themselves" and go in unintended directions. Grade A-.

Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #3 (Dark Horse): Over in this little corner of the Mignola-verse, we have the perfect little noir thriller, full of airships atop beautiful deco inspired skylines, arcane scientists, mysterious motives, fantastical settings, surprising twists, and likable characters. Grade B+.

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #6 (Dark Horse): The end of this arc is full of big, bold, and wide action sequences. The muted color palette really brings out the solitary red Hellboy figure and allows the art to pop. Yes, Duncan Fegredo's art is right at home here. Unfortunately, on the scripting end, I feel like this is a rather unwieldy cast, the superstory with the Hellboy mythos is growing pretty obtuse, and I'm basically growing weary of references to Hellboy bringing about (or not) the Apocalypse with his army. My perception is that I'm forever waiting to discover his ultimate destiny and it's now causing me to approach the property with a sense of ennui. Blasphemy, perhaps. But it's honestly how I'm feeling. Oh, and by the way, I know it's a small nitpicky detail, but I really expect more from Mignola. Having been there, since my family is from there... the Italian town is actually called Lucca (<- spelled like that), not "Luca" with one "c." For fuck's sake people, there's an annual Comics Festival there that's pretty darn famous in Europe, often mentioned in the same breath as Angeloume, France. Let's get it right. Grade B.

Y: The Last Man #59 (DC/Vertigo): Is #60 the last issue of this series? Didn't I hear that somewhere? Yes, I'm sure I read that somewhere. So, I certainly hope that the final issue is some form of wrap up issue that summarizes what's gone on and how's it's been ultimately resolved. I read the first 4 or 5 trades or so, pop in now and then to see what's up, (admittedly, I mostly picked this up for the Brian Wood Northlanders preview, which looks excellent btw), but I'm kind of lost here. It appears that there's some big important stuff with Beth and babies and Israelis and Agent 355, but I'm not really sure what it all means. Purely ostensibly, it doesn't feel like a very satisfying conclusion; it feels like there's still much going on and much to resolve. A not-entirely-fair-since-I-haven't-read-it-for-months, Grade B.

Omega: The Unknown #2 (Marvel): If Marvel had a Vertigo imprint (no, not the MAX line!), this would be in that line. End random thought factoid. Anyway, Farel Dalrymple's unique and eclectic art style carried me through the scripting confusion of the first issue, but here isn't able to. His art can be ethereal and offbeat, so it really needs a grounded and easy to follow story, like his work on Caper. Even his own Pop Gun War had boughts of otherworldly intrigue, but the story arc was always clear and evident. Here, I'm starting to lose interest because I really have no idea what's going on, or what the story throughline is supposed to be. It *looks* interesting, but I can't seem to find an in to latch onto that lets me explore and understand the rest of this world. There's no clear story presented, no character to identify with, and no everyman to view events through the eyes of in this weird urban fantasy. It's a fine line between mysterious and frustrating. Grade B-.

The Vinyl Underground #2 (DC/Vertigo): Not as strong as the first issue, with no real hook to find interesting. The characters now seem difficult to keep track of and I'm unclear why they're all taking the actions they seem to be. There's unclear motivations, lack of any appealing sexuality, a difficult to follow IM chat session, and art that's stiff in spots and lacking background detail. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt with one more issue, but I'm pessimistic as this seems to quickly fade out with a Grade C.


10.31.07 Reviews

Wasteland #13 (Oni Press): I have a lot of respect for the creative team putting people on paths where they finally feel like they're finding their place in an organic way. It's such a treat to see the divergent paths; Golden Voice sees a place for himself in Newbegin, as a place to model a society of tolerance and admirable acceptance. On the other side of town, Abi and Michael appear to really be off to A-Ree-Yass-I. There are some tough decisions made along the way, proving that the right decision might not be an easy or popular choice, but true leaders will make it anyway. And then, there's the huge last page reveal. I'll just leave that one alone for now. This brilliant storytelling is getting harder and harder to review; I'm running out of ways to explain how great it is. Yes, Mitten's pencils are airtight. Yes, Johnston's running a marathon here, crafting a tale that will be remembered years from now. It's fucking brilliant. Bring on the Eisner Awards already. Grade A+.

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #2 (Archaia Studios Press): I'm actually liking this second arc of Mouse Guard more than the first. The pairing of young Lieam and grisled veteran Celanawe is a terrific match, full of commentary on what it means to be a Guard Mouse and all the various personality types the Guard may be comprised of. It shows that David Petersen really thought about this world, not only the types of things that would inhabit it to help build it, like the introduction of the weasel threat and references to a past war, but also the diversity of personality types that would likely inhabit this universe. Their descent into Darkheather smacks a bit of the journey of the Fellowship into the Mines of Moria, but otherwise this arc is fairly unique. Grade A.

Special Forces #1 (Image): Kyle Baker is one of those names that is pretty much an instant purchase as he guarantees a pretty high level of concept and execution. DC's Army @ Love is getting tons of positive buzz right now, but I hated the first issue and never came back. To me, Special Forces is the book that Army @ Love wishes it could be. It's sexy, full of attitude and satire, and pretty loosely based on real world type events. Lines like "this piece of shit's not bulletproof" are played perfectly, completely deadpan from the character, but full of biting commentary on the plight of American soldiers around the world today, directed squarely at the discerning audience. Baker's lines are crisp and clear, beautifully rendered, with perfect panel composition. Tally-ho, I'm in. Grade A.

Tales of the Fear Agent: Twelve Steps in One (Dark Horse): On the one hand, the publishing strategy of Fear Agent feels all over the map and stretched pretty thin to me. We've gone from one publisher to another, from ongoing book to mini-series, to series of mini-series, to a spin off "Tales Of" book, which I thought would be either ongoing or a mini-series, but now debuts billed as a one-shot. Will other one-shots follow to comprise a mini-series of "Tales Of" stories over time? Who fucking knows! I'm so confused. But... all that aside... the lead story is a decent enough one, highlighted by Eric Nguyen's strong pencils, which fit right in. Stealing the show is the back up story by C.B. Cebulski (whose writing I've honestly never warmed to until now) and Tommy Ohtsuka - and it's freakin' hilarious! The script perfectly captures the debaucherous scoundrel ways of Heath Huston and the slightly cartoony art styles compliments it perfectly. They're perfectly channeling Han Solo with lines like "Listen, sister... last night was nice an' all, but 'nectar of heaven'? I been with some peaches in my day, and let me tell ya', you ain't one... 'specially seein' how ya' didn't even have the common courtesy of shavin' yer fuzz first." My god, how are they getting away with this? It's sexy, crazy, fun, and a nice little side story tangent to entertain the Fear Agent audience with. Grade B.

Action Comics #858 (DC): I purchased this book primarily because it's Gary Frank's first issue on art chores. I really enjoyed his wide-eyed look on Supreme Power and it doesn't disappoint here. There seems to be some Leinil Francis Yu influence here with the sketchy lines, along with moments of Frank Quitely's thinly presented pencils. I enjoyed the quick faux origin retelling intro, and his renditions of most of the familiar characters. Geoff Johns script is an interesting one, touching upon recent events around the DCU. The scene with the bullet wound and ultimate reveal is also played nicely. This issue didn't blow me away by any means, but as a very reluctant Superman fan, the Legion bits felt interesting enough to maybe keep up with this arc. Grade B.

X-Men: Messiah Complex #1 (Marvel): Hoo-boy... well, let's start with the one good point. The core premise here is a good one. The first mutant being born after all of the recent big event tomfoolery is a fine idea. And that's where the goodness comes to a screeching halt. The very first double page spread is laced with stiff, expository dialogue, with characters literally saying "what do you mean?" to eachother so that the next character can talk at the audience and explain the plot device that will occur on the next page. And what the hell happened to Silvestri's art? Ohmygod. There's a shot of Cyclops piloting the Blackbird that is just horrendous. The basic human anatomy is so flawed; his neck muscles appear so bulbous and elongated that they're larger than his pecs and extend to such a degree that his head is sitting a foot on top of of his shoulders. It's just awful. The next page has a panel with Emma Frost that has absolutely no mastery of depth in the art, she looks like she got hit in the face with a shovel and her mug is still completely flat. Beast looks like he has a shiny layer of liquid metal covering his fur, and the inking/coloring mishaps don't stop there. The entire book looks washed out as if it's been left in the scorching sun and bleached for a few days. It's not clear why the X-Men even think that this fire could have been caused by a mutant until so deep in the book that I didn't even care anymore; and that fact was only revealed by an awkward flashback to Professor X and Emma's deus ex machina Vulcan mind-meld with a random survivor. Emma randomly finds information in a hospital that conveniently exists only to advance the plot, and this craptacular crapfest is crapped off by a crappy new villain named Predator X that smacks of a crappy, poor, tired, wannabe 90's concept that was rejected by Image, Valiant, and Shooter's Warriors of Plasm line. Truly awful. Only 'cuz the basic high concept was ok, Grade D-.

I also picked up;

Chiaroscuro: Patchwork: Book 1 (IDW): Troy Little is a name I'd not heard before, but his strong consistent art style looks great. The high praise from Steven Grant and Randy Lander, whose eyes for budding talent I generally trust, convinced me to purchase this.

Hug Time (Little, Brown & Company): Patrick McDonnell's follow up to Just Like Heaven and The Gift of Nothing looks great. I'm a total sucker for their beautiful simplicty and meaningful messages.

Graphic Novel(s) Of The Month

Superspy (Top Shelf): Matt Kindt’s latest work is an interwoven mélange of tales about espionage, loyalty, and romance that intersect in very engaging ways. I enjoyed his work on Pistolwhip, 2 Sisters, and others, but here his pencils seem to have taken a leap forward, looking completely refined, brilliant with the subtle addition of more color, and even more inventive page and panel layouts. This work further fuels the endless fascination with the WWII era. I love it because it’s very rooted in humanity and reality, not the type of uber-competent, bordering on self-parody, espionage that something like Mission Impossible has become. My particular hardcover of Superspy is signed by Matt Kindt and adorned with a sketch he did for me at the San Diego Comic-Con. Having finally finished reading everything I picked up at the Con nearly 3 months ago, I can definitively say that (aside from my Paul Pope original art page) this was the “score” of the Con. This is Kindt’s strongest work to date and is the type of work I would give to someone not familiar with the comic book medium if I was trying to convert them. Grade A+.

Finder: Sin-Eater: Book 1 (Light Speed Press): Carla Speed McNeil’s 10th anniversary edition hardcover is a beautifully designed book. The sturdy design of the exterior is complemented on the interior by the masterful use of shadow and negative space and distinctive lettering. The unique world that McNeil has created feels post-apocalyptic in nature, but also seems plausible and within reach. It is rugged and imaginative, but doesn’t push beyond the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief. I really enjoy the composition of lead character Jaeger, who is both the titular Sin-Eater/"ritual scapegoat" and a Finder/"Aboriginal Detective." The dichotomy between one who is buried in blame and in search of the truth plays in an engaging way that permeates all of his interpersonal relationships. McNeil’s clean, emotive lines are basically like cold water on a hot summer day. They quench your thirst, rejuvenate your being, and have that crisp healthy feeling. The annotations can only be described as icing on the cake, there is so much embedded in the panels that you can miss on first pass, that reading it all in conjunction with the annotations is like experiencing it all again for the first time in a deeper way. I want more editions of this title in this format. There are 8 additional "regular" sized trades in this series, so that should roughly equal 4 additional of this enhanced format. Even with a $30 price tag, I would buy them all on the spot today. Grade A.