Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Funnybooks of October, Part One

So I’ve put this off long enough. The stack of comics I haven’t reviewed due to my October Halloween marathon has gotten out of hand. I’ve got two issues of some books piled up in there now, and I need to get it cleaned out. So without further ado… for reals this time… FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

Shoot
by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez, and Various

This is sort of an historic publication. Warren Ellis was just getting off to a good start on the Hellblazer series when one of his stories ran up against content concerns from DC Comics publisher Paul Levitz. It was a story dealing with school shootings, and something in it caused Levitz to pull it from publication at the 12th hour. So its publication now, in the wake of Levitz stepping down as publisher, has to be seen as a message to Ellis and anyone else that ran afoul of censorship issues in the Levitz era that DC’s current management is more open to extreme content.

I must admit, though, I spent most of the story wondering what the big deal was. It follows a government researcher trying to figure out what’s causing the rash of school shootings that were sweeping America at the time. It’s sad, sure, but unless Levitz was afraid of discussing the issue at all, I wasn’t seeing why it might have been killed. But then… [SPOILER] Ellis has been obliquely drawing comparisons to the Jonestown massacre throughout the story, but then Constantine shows up at the end, talking about his own investigations and how what he’s seeing are kids so numbed by their dead-end futures that they don’t even run when confronted with a gun. And it slowly dawns on me that Ellis isn’t even going for some kind of symbolic supernatural explanation here. He’s flat-out saying that the victims of these shootings, while not suicidal in the classic sense, were just waiting for someone to pull the trigger. [/SPOILER]

Well, okay then. I can see where that might have caused some concern.

I’m not saying that the story shouldn’t have been printed, because I think that maybe it should have been. But I can see why someone at the head of a major corporate-owned publishing company, whose job was most likely seen by his superiors as primarily a caretaker of their very lucrative copyrights, might think twice about the controversy this story might have raised. Especially at the time, when Columbine was still fresh in people’s minds and it seemed more school shootings were happening every day. So this issue was interesting both as a story, and as a missing piece of the comics history puzzle. I’m glad I got to read it.

“Shoot” is backed up in this over-sized Vertigo Halloween special by a very nice selection of short stories culled from various anthology mini-series Vertigo has done over the years. Some impressive names present here, turning in some impressive little stories: Brian Bolland, Garth Ennis and Jim Lee, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, Peter Milligan and Eduardo Risso, Brian Azzarello and Essad Ribic, Steven Seagle and Tim Sale, Bruce Jones and Bernie Wrightson, and Bill Willingham (turning in a now-rare job as both writer and artist). I’d read many of these before, but it was nice getting them all together like this. Lotsa fun. And, really, something I should have reviewed during the Halloween Countdown. Ah well. Can’t have everything.

Grade: A

Hrm. Went on entirely too long about that one. Gotta keep these shorter if I’m gonna get through that stack…

The Boys #47
Highland Laddie #3
by Garth Ennis, Russ Braun, and John McCrea

Ow.

Owowowowow.

No, really.

Ouch.

I knew the inevitable revelation of Annie’s secrets to Hughie would be some painful shit. But, oh my fucking god. As if the whole super hero thing wasn’t bad enough a couple of issues back, now Butcher’s shown him the surveilance tape of what she did to get into the Seven, and…

Did I say “ouch?”

And here’s the thing. You can’t have been reading this book for forty-seven issues and not known we were heading to this exact scene. I’ve been bracing for impact for months now. We even got the first half of it a couple of issues ago. And it was still so much worse than I thought it was going to be. Gah. I tip my hat to Mr. Ennis on this one. To make me care so much about these characters that I cringe for them, even when I know it's coming? That’s some fine writing right there. The bastard.

Oh, and when [SPOILER] Annie shows up at Hughie’s parents’ house in the third issue of Highland Laddie? [/SPOILER] That, I didn’t see coming at all. Can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Grade: A

Superior #1
by Mark Millar and Leinil Yu

Mark Millar’s take on Captain Marvel, updated for the 21st Century: an adolescent boy, crippled by disease, gains the power to turn into Superior, the world’s mightiest man! I really enjoyed this first issue; it’s one of the better pure fun comics I’ve read in a while, and (much as I hate to say it) is probably better than Jeff Smith’s actual, licensed Captain Marvel update from a few years ago. Millar always does a nice job writing adolescents, plus… Space Monkey! Hard to top a good space monkey…

Leinil Yu turns in nice work here, as well. I’m not always a fan, but his design for Superior is pretty classic. Basic red and black, with a fantastic giant-ass rasslin’ belt to boot! Hard to beat a good rasslin’ belt, too…

Grade: A-

Kick-Ass 2 #1
by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr

At last, the sequel! While Kick-Ass wasn’t the best comic of the last few years, or even the best Mark Millar comic, it was good fun. A smart “real-world” super hero comic that never forgets to include appropriate levels of blood and swearing. This second series follows in the same style, with a story that, it seems, will be dealing with the super hero / super villain escalation hinted at in the first series’ narration. This first issue’s mostly set-up, but it looks like it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

Grade: A-

Casanova: Luxuria #3 & 4
by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba

The color reprints of the first Casanova series wrap up in these two issues, and the series is just as good a read the second time around. One of the things I’ve been marveling at with this reading is how much in control of his plot Fraction is. It feels like it threatened to spin out of his control at times, and there’s a little bit of scrambling as he races to the conclusion, but on the whole I think he pulls it off. He manages to give the first volume a satisfying ending, at least as far as Cas understands things. He’s started making up for his checkered past, and chosen not to go back to the life he knew before Newman Xeno hijacked him across dimensions. Of course, if you paid more attention than Cas did to Xeno’s lecture on that dimensional hop, you realize that staying was maybe the most selfish and wrong thing Cas has done yet. But that’s for Gula to deal with, coming in January.

And there’s so much more to talk about here, but I just don’t have the time today. I may have to do a piece on Luxuria as a whole soon, though…

Grade: A

Incognito: Bad Influences #1
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

More excellent pulp-noir stylings from Brubaker and Phillips. I won’t say these guys can do no wrong, but hot damn this is good stuff.

Grade: A-

Fables #99
by Bill Willingham and Inaki Miranda

A conversation between the North Wind and Mr. Dark sets up the big 100th anniversary issue, which will see the end of Mr. Dark’s reign of terror. Typically-good Fables, with some very nice fill-in art from Inaki Miranda.

Grade: B+

Sweet Tooth #14 & 15
by Jeff Lemire

A massive confrontation is coming in this book. A confrontation that was apparently forseen by Gus’ dad and written down in his hand-written Bible of the apocalypse. Things get ever-stranger, and more compelling, as this book goes on.

Grade: B+

iZombie #6
by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred

This issue, we learn about Scott the Were-Terrier’s childhood being raised by his grandfather, and see the spirit of the recently-deceased Gramps inhabit the body of a monkey (he was the voice of cartoon icon Mr. Chimps, you see, and… Ah, never mind…). This book continues to tap-dance all around the three-way crossroads of cool, whacky, and cute. Honestly, it strays into Buffy territory a little more often than I really care for, and if it weren’t for the career-best artwork Mike Allred was turning in, I’d probably have already stopped reading. As it is, though…

Grade: B

Strange Science Fantasy #4
by Scott Morse

Morse delivers a tribute to monster comics this time out, and a definite step up from the previous issue. Another weird, beautiful, and gloriously stupid comic. And you can never have too many of those, right?

Grade: A

Hellblazer #272
by Peter Milligan, Simon Bisley, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Stefano Landini

A split issue, with Simon Bisley illustrating Epiphany Greaves’ adventures in 1979, and the regular team covering Constantine’s troubles while trying to get her back. Epiphany meets young Constantine, who’s an even bigger asshole than old Constantine. And Constantine tries and fails to ward off an assault on his happiness by the succubus Gloria. One thing I noted with some disappointment was that several pages here were used, with slightly different dialogue, in that House of Mystery Annual, making that even less worth my money than it already was. Bisley’s still turning in nice work, though, so that takes the sting out somewhat…

Grade: B

Bulletproof Coffin #5 (of 6)
by David Hine and Shaky Kane

Another disturbingly entertaining issue. More Hateful Dead, more nearly-nekkid Ramona, the mummy-tastic origin of the Red Wraith, and my favorite bit: the Shadowmen look like they’re 2-D! Which, all things considered... They probably are.

Grade: A

Weird World of Jack Staff #5
by Paul Grist

Lots of stuff comes together as we near the conclusion of Weird World’s complicated inaugural story arc. The secret of calendar girl Lynda Jones is revealed, Jack and Becky’s fates become more intertwined, and we learn why and how Jack’s memory got twisted up… just in time for it to doom the world to destruction! Another fun, anything-can-happen installment of Jack Staff.

Grade: B+

And… that’s all for tonight. I’ve written all I can, and I’m sure all you’re willing to read in one sitting. But tomorrow, look for part two of The Funnybooks of October, an interlocking stack of work-for-hire super hero reviews, including Strange Tales, three different Thor books, and (shock of shocks) the only Deadpool comic I’ve ever actually enjoyed!

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