So it's been awhile, I notice, since I last discussed my weekly funnybook haulings. Which can only mean that, once again...
Joe the Barbarian #7 (of 8)
by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy
As many have noted in the past, Grant Morrison tends to deal with similar (or, okay, identical) themes across several works, often at the same time. Thus, ten years ago, Invisibles and JLA both wound up being about humanity transcending into a higher state of being. Now, having gotten his millennial jones out of the way, Morrison's dealing with the death of his father. We got a preview of it in All-Star Superman, where humanity had to cope with the imminent demise of everybody's dad, Superman. But now, in both Joe and Morrison's Batman work, we're dealing with the aftermath. Not the mourning so much, but the effort of the sons to honor their fathers while still moving forward in their own way. And in that, they're both stories about finding yourself, discovering your own personal mythology and using it to shape yourself into something better: an adult in your own right.
Just, you know. With a lot of kicking.
Highland Laddie #2 (of ?)
by Garth Ennis and John McCrea
And speaking of coming-of-age tales, the second issue of The Boys spin-off mini-series Highland Laddie finds itself mainly concerned with ruminations on growing up, friendships, and how much greener the grass looks in hindsight (if I can mix metaphors a bit). There's also drug running, of course, and a savage beating played for laughs, and one of the series' trademark ridiculously horrifying acts of violence. In other words, it's your typical Garth Ennis book.
The Bulletproof Coffin #4 (of 6)
by David Hine and Shaky Kane
Another ginchy yet disturbing issue. This time out, we've got child murder ("Done because we are too menny" scrawled on the wall in blood), a more direct juxtaposition between Steve's supa-hot wife and his even-more-supa-hot fantasy girlfriend Ramona Queen of the Stone Age, another fight with The Hateful Dead, and the queasy sensation of having the comic-within-a-comic start to encroach upon the comic it sits in like a parasite. We're entering some serious Mulholland Drive / Lost Highway territory here, albeit wrapped in Kirbyesque spandex courtesy the artistic stylings of Mr. Shaky Kane. Wonderful, and horrible.
by David Hine and Guillem March
And, hey! Speaking of David Hine comics... He's evidently doing more work on DC's Batman line than I realized. This Azrael issue is actually a couple of months old, but I snagged it because it was Hine's first. It's... not awful. Hine manages to paint a portrait of Christian fanaticism that doesn't fall into the usual bitter anti-religious traps you usually see in that sort of thing. And Guillem March's artwork here is just bloody gorgeous; it's got a very European feel, but doesn't lack the sense of heightened drama and action that define American super hero art.
But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself a bit here. I picked this up because it was Hine, then got quite a shock when I realized that this new Azrael series stars Michael Lane. For those of you not as completely obsessed with Grant Morrison's Batman as me, Lane is one of three ex-Gotham-City-cops trained to replace Batman in the event of his death. Twisted and brainwashed by Morrison's primary Batman arch-villain Dr. Hurt, Lane believed he was the son of the Devil himself, sent to destroy Batman and take control of Gotham City in his father's name. The last time I saw him, he was kicking open Hurt's crashed helicopter and helping his boss escape certain death in Gotham Bay. He's also scheduled to make a reappearance in 15 years, still spouting crazy devil-talk.
So, yeah. I was a bit taken aback to find that guy working for God here. He's still crazy, at least, and seems to be under the same kind of brainwashing from the church that he faced as a servant of Hurt. But, still. Releasing Lane from Hurt's service before Bruce Wayne comes back puts a nice dent in one of Morrison's thematic threads, I think, but hey. It's not the first time I've ignored the mainline DC Universe in favor of the one Morrison's building in his DCU writing. So what the hell.
As I said, the comic itself isn't awful. The artwork is damn pretty, and there's some great demented ideas behind this incarnation of Azrael. I particularly like that his armor is haunted. So this already-seriously-fucked-up dude is now hearing the voices of the armor's previous owners in his head all the time. Awesome! I'm less enthused about his weapons: a flaming sword (cool!) and a freezing sword (wtf?). But I can forgive that in the face of the kick-ass bad guy introduced in this issue. The Crusader works for an opposing sect to the one that employs Azrael, and he's a dude with a cross branded into his face so deep that it's burned away his nose! That is a great, creepy, nightmare-fuel kind of image, and is thus one I can wholeheartedly get behind. He's also got a great super power: he can visit the torments of the saints on people, apparently materializing the needed weapons and other horrible things (like snakes!) out of thin air. Great stuff!
So the ideas, I'm down with. The execution, however... eh. There's a very silly sort of adolescent glee in the way this issue tosses endless brutality at the reader. I wasn't offended or anything. I was more... annoyed by it. It's all so utterly ridiculous, and if I got the feeling for a second that any of it was being played for anything other than sheer titilation, I'd join in the Grand Guignol fun. But the story takes itself so damn seriously that there's no room for fun, or even disgust. It's super hero torture porn, and I have little patience for torture porn. So no cookie for Azrael.
by Matt Fraction and Pascual Ferry
Been looking forward to this one. In his first issue, Matt Fraction gives me pretty much everything I want out of a Thor comic: a Viking sensibility that's too often lacking in the character, a sense of mythic sweep, and a grasp of the humor Stan Lee brought to the series back in the 60s. Seriously, there's a lot to like here. Fraction brings both Thor and Donald Blake to life, reasserts Jane Foster's role, and starts a storyline that I hope will end in Asgard retaking its rightful place atop Yggdrasil. Pasqual Ferry delivers the goods, too, working in his trademark style while still channeling Kirby in his designs for the series' new race of bad guys. This was a good, if low-key, start to what I hope will be a run as intricate and as long as what Fraction and Salvador Larocca have done on Iron Man.
by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Dan Green
One of my standard review comments on this book is how it's been so consistently good for so very long. But, looking at that list of creators up there, I'm also pretty impressed with the consistent level of work that all four of those men have been turning in, not just on Fables, but throughout careers that stretch back into at least the 1980s. Too often, the funnybook business burns out its brightest lights. The monthly schedule is a harsh mistress, and it's a rare writer or artist who can keep his work at this high a level for so very long. That four of this rare breed have come together to make this single issue is a wonderful thing. So kudos, gentlemen! Ya done good!
The issue itself is the usual good work I've come to expect from Fables. Plots turn, events accelerate, and damned if I don't think we'll be seeing some sort of conclusion to the Mr. Dark story arc by issue 100!
And there's more, but they'll have to wait for another day. I'm pooped, and Boardwalk Empire's coming on...