Saturday, July 24, 2010


So. Lots of funnybooks to talk about today. Two weeks’ worth of floppies, a couple of trades, and of course…

Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour
by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I’ll write a much longer piece about this later on, but for now I just wanted to say that the final chapter of the Scott Pilgrim saga does not disappoint. O’Malley’s impressive-but-unpretentious approach holds steady, and he brings the story to its conclusion with nary a false note. The action escalates, as do the emotional stakes, and everything comes together as it always had to. And, most importantly, Scott grows, but remains Scott. Which is as fine a short review as I’m likely to produce, so I’ll stop there.

Grade: A+

Invincible Iron Man #28
by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca

Another fine issue of Matt Fraction’s Iron Man. Lots of nice stuff, as the Hammer Girls storyline continues to develop, and Stark puts together his Stark Resilient development team. This issue’s Really Great Character Moment (as much a staple of Fraction’s Iron Man work as the Obligatory Fight Scene you get in the traditional super hero comic) comes between Stark and Maria Hill. Fraction’s done a lot to develop and redeem Hill as a character. I still don’t think she’s taken nearly enough shit for her role in causing Civil War: it was her too-early and over-zealous enforcement of the Registration Act that sent Captain America rogue, after all.

Fraction’s used her well, though, and continues to do so here, as Stark confronts her about why she seems to have put him on her shit list. She’s still pissed over finding out that Stark had sex with both her and Pepper Potts during the period when his brain was destroying itself. But Stark doesn’t remember any of that, and (to be perfectly fair to the notorious playboy man-slut) may not have remembered it when he and Pepper got together, either; his memory and intellect were being unraveled at the time, and it’s hard to say what he did or didn’t know. So there’s this unspoken tension between them, Stark doesn’t know why, and Hill’s not willing to tell him. It’s a great scene, and speaks volumes about Hill. I only hope Fraction’s not letting the plotline go with her seeming agreement that she and Stark are “okay.” Because they’re most definitely not…

Grade: A-

The Bulletproof Coffin #2 (of 6)
by David Hine and Shaky Kane

Another uncannily creepy issue. The world occupied by Our Hero Steve Neuman continues to feel like some bizarre nightmare version of suburban paradise. Neuman can’t remember his life before his present situation of domestic bliss, there’s leaking toxic waste canisters in the garbage dump, strange shadowy men are spying on him… And then there’s this touching bit of insomniac narration: “I can never sleep after Samantha does sex.” (Samantha being Neuman’s hot but strangely soulless wife, and the mother of his two impossibly troglodytic children.) Brr.

We do get a hint at what’s really going on this issue, though, as Neuman is visited by geriatric versions of all the Golden Nugget super heroes whose comics he’s reading each issue. “The costume finds you,” the chain-smoking Red Wraith tells him. Which only makes sense in some kind of meta-textual super hero dream logic, but which should give super hero junkies like myself a sort of dreadful innate understanding of where this story’s going. It‘s the “Legacy Hero“ as parasite, the story of Wally West as told through the lens of Miller and Darrow‘s Hard-Boiled, with maybe a quick stop off at the psychedelic horror of Steranko‘s Captain America.

And if none of that last sentence made sense to you… good. You might enjoy Bulletproof Coffin even more without knowing the inspirations. It’s all creepy wrong fun, this book, a deformed mushroom of a comic, and I love it for that much more than for the pop cultural dung it‘s growing in.

Grade: A

Daytripper #8 (of 10)
by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

With this issue, we find out that Daytripper is indeed a mini-series, and that there‘s only two issues left. Which is a little disappointing, honestly. I was looking forward to many more months of enjoyment. But ah well. I guess it’s the sort of story that needs to end sooner rather than later, and that’s okay.

This issue’s death hit me harder than the others have, and I think that’s because we see more of its aftermath. It’s set a little later in Bras’ life than we‘ve seen before, when he’s on tour promoting his first novel. It’s a stage in his life that’s defined entirely by his absence: he’s away from home, and we follow a day in the life of his wife and son. They miss him throughout, and the pain they feel upon learning of his death seems that much stronger because of it.

For a book so fixated on death, though, Daytripper still comes off as a celebration of life. Bras’ life is neither sad nor morbid. It has all the ups and downs of anyone’s existence, but his story is ultimately that of a man who touched the lives of those around him in a positive way. Each issue is a snapshot of a specific point in his life, and the closing eulogies play a fascinating narrative game, shaping a complex existence into a neat summation, a story that’s defined by what he’d done up to that point in his life, and how he died. This is one of the best comics running today, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Grade: A

The Man With the Getaway Face
by Richard Stark and Darwyn Cooke

Darwyn Cooke’s comics adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels will continue this fall with The Outfit, but jumping straight to that from last year’s The Hunter is problematic. Cooke’s only doing four of these adaptations, and he understandably wants to do his four favorites. But the second Parker novel, The Man With the Getaway Face, contains a major plot element that can’t be ignored in the later work: Parker has plastic surgery to change his appearance. And so we get this: a condensed adaptation of that novel, running 24 pages and released as an over-sized single-issue prelude for a mere two bucks! Cheap!

And hot damn it’s a good warm-up! As presented in this condensed format, Getaway Face is a fun little heist story, complete with double crosses and the kind of cold pragmatism that makes Parker such a fascinating character to read about. And I’m even more impressed with Cooke’s skills at adaptation in this condensed format: the story unfolds at a natural pace, and I never once felt like I was missing anything. Granted, I haven’t read the novel, so lord knows what he cut out to make it fit into 24 pages. But I found the cutting to be seamless, and that’s no mean task.

As with any Cooke production, of course, half the attraction is his artwork, and that doesn’t disappoint either. Cooke’s still a master cartoonist, and his rendering of the late-50s / early 60s era of the Parker novels is quite obviously a labor of love. This book’s done with a tan shading that had me thinking the story was set in the desert rather than its actual setting of Northern Jersey, but that’s a personal brain-fart, and the tone fits the story well.

Getaway Face will be included as a prologue to The Outift when that book hits the stands this October, but I was happy to get this over-sized edition anyway. Cooke’s art looks good at this size, and it was a nice teaser that put me back in the world of Parker, and reminded me how much I enjoyed Cooke’s adaptation techniques. And for two bucks, it’s a steal.

Grade: A

Red Mass for Mars #4 (of 4)
by Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim

It’s been a while since the last issue of this book came out, and I was really starting to think I’d never see it. But I guess Jonathan Hickman finally made enough of the Big Corporate Funnybook Dollar to get it published. I’m really glad it came out; it was the first thing I read out of this week’s funnybook haul. But Red Mass was a complex story about super hero psychology and predestination, and it’s been so long since the last issue that I’m gonna have to re-read the whole thing to give it a fair review. From what I remember of the previous issues, the series was good but not Hickman’s best, and this issue wrapped things up in that same manner. And (as per usual with Hickman) the philosophical underpinnings gave a bit more oomph to all the bog-standard nonsense of the pages where it’s just super heroes flying around in space fighting an alien armada.

Grade: B+?

Hellblazer #269
by Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Stefano Landini

We go deeper into Constantine’s recent madness this issue, and finally get solidly into Vertigo old home week with the guest-starring Shade the Changing Man. Increasingly, it looks like Constantine’s savage beating of Epiphany was caused by outside forces, but now I’m wondering if those outside forces weren’t actually Shade himself. So good on the Milligan for giving me a mystery story with more than one potential perp.

And good on the art team of Camuncoli and Landini for delivering a nice visual tribute to early-90s Chris Bachalo. With Shade’s appearance, that sort of thing is only appropriate of course. But I’m impressed with the way they were able to take on certain aspects of Bachalo’s work while still keeping the artwork very recognizably their own.

Grade: B+

Black Widow #4
by Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuna

My review of the third issue of this series stands for this fourth one: it’s all a bit a silly and over-serious, but there’s enough really cool shit and gorgeous artwork to keep me happy. Actually, in retrospect, there’s not that much cool shit this time. There’s a fun sequence where the Widow pwns Lady Bullseye, but nothing to match last issue’s ballerina assassins or Elektra cutting a bullet in half. We do get some answers to some of the mysteries of the Widow’s past, though, and I’m a sucker for mysteries as well.

Grade: B

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