Monday, November 8, 2010

The Funnybooks of October, Part Two

So our marathon of Halloweenie goodness put us behind on everything but, well… Halloweenie goodness. We still got hours of new Fall TeeVee to watch, an embarrassin’ number of movies layin’ around, and a Lucha Libre pay-per-view! I never even finished that book I grabbed when my house caught on fire! Oh, and of course… a crap-ton of funnybooks to review. Tonight, it’s a cavalcade of corporate spandex, starting with my favorite cover of the month...

Strange Tales II #1 & 2
by Various



Marvel’s second indy-comics anthology mini-series is off and running, and it’s just as much a mixed bag as the first. Some of the stories are a lot of fun, while others just kinda fall flat. I suspect which stories are which will depend on your taste in the avante-garde edge of the funnybook business. For my money, the second issue is much stronger than the first, featuring both Hernandez brothers (!) and Tony Millionaire, and featuring a completely insane heavy metal Ghost Rider story by Sheldon Vella. The first issue can’t be counted out, though, as it features Jeff Lemire, Jhonen Vazquez, and my personal favorite story to come out of the Strange Tales project to date…

Rafael Grampa’s “Dear Logan.” This is a story about a future time when Wolverine founds and competes in a pro rasslin’ style super-bloodsport federation in which every competitor has a healing factor, and thus can be eviscerated and/or dismembered in the ring for the enjoyment of the fans. But it’s not just a super-cool paean to manly violence, oh no. It’s also about pain, and (as the title probably implies) how Logan’s addiction to it has driven yet another woman away from him. It’s hot stuff, drawn in Grampa’s signature sleazy-baroque cartoon style, and well-worth the cover price all by itself. And speaking of covers, Grampa provided that, too, as you can see above. Love his Wolvie there, but that Thor also kicks ass pretty hard. At any rate. I could read Grampa Wolverine stories forever, I think, but for now we’ve only got this one. Something I’d love for Marvel to fix as soon as possible…

Grade: A+ for “Dear Logan.”
             B for Strange Tales as a whole.

Iron Man #31
by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca

Fraction’s Iron Man continues to deal with his favorite themes of making amends, albeit from a bit farther along the line than we see in Luxuria. Stark’s doing it one day at a time as he builds his new company, making right with people he’s wronged along the way, one of whom he wronged, we discover this issue, because he thought the guy was getting too close to Pepper. Which adds another fucked-up layer to that already-complicated relationship.

Anyway, this is another issue of good corporate super hero intrigue as well. The Hammer girls continue to scheme, though their plans are getting increasingly desperate now that Tony’s goaded Sasha into attacking him with her bio-modification implants (which sounds far dirtier than it is). There’s still an austerity to the action, a holding-back on the full-throttle fun the book could represent, that keeps me from giving it the A grade. That may be due to Larocca’s sometimes-stiff artwork. I’m really not sure. But I’d follow it for the character writing alone, so it still rates…

Grade: B+

Thor #616
by Matt Fraction and Pascual Ferry

The second issue of Fraction’s Thor run finds him doing more really nice character work, expanding on the marvelously multi-layered personality he’s developing for the god of thunder. In the past, Thor’s been presented as being terribly noble, but very little else. Which is fine, and appropriate, but… That’s not a character. It’s a personality trait. Fraction seems to be drawing on the mythological Thor more in his portrayal, presenting us with a hero who’s noble, yes, but also a bit pig-headed and impetuous. He’s not the drunken lout of some myths, of course; that would be too much of a departure for the Marvel Thor. But I like that he’s finally being given some genuine flaws. I also like Fraction’s take on Thor’s Viking values. He admires bravery and forthrightness, even when it’s in service to other traits he might not find so pleasing.

Of course, those preferences, combined with the afore-mentioned pig-headedness (and, to be fair, grief over the state of Odin’s funeral chamber), lead him to dismiss the warnings of the physicist who’s figured out that Asgard needs to be moved back atop the World Tree, pronto. Which is no good at all, since Thoth and his race of evil other-dimensional bad-ass gods are moving in. Speaking of whom…

Pascual Ferry is really bringing the goodness on his depiction of those guys. The whole issue is gorgeous, understand, but the way he’s managed to channel Kirby while still maintaining his own distinct style, and the impressive vistas he’s opening up in his all-two-page-spread layouts, are nothing short of amazing.

This is shaping up to be a historic run, one of only two or three this series can claim. Can’t wait for more.

Grade: A-

Thor: the Mighty Avenger #5
by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee

What this “all-ages” take on the character lacks in the portentousness (is that really a word? Hrm.) of the main Thor series, it makes up for in pure fun. Not that Langridge’s Thor characterization is any less compelling that Fraction’s. He’s just dealing with a younger, stupider Thor, one with a lot less baggage and years of funnybook continuity that makes him nobler and wiser. But anyway. About this issue in specific…

Langridge also does a bang-up job this issue writing Marvel’s other big noble hot-head, Namor. This Namor is very similar to Thor, I think, though several years beyond him on the learning curve. I also continue to be pleased with his handling of Jane Foster. Though he never violates Jane’s character as a very normal person, he also doesn’t relegate her to a damsel in distress role. She’s resourceful, and extremely handy back-up for Thor and Namor at a key point in this issue’s super-crisis. Nicely-done.

This series is also blessed with some absolutely knock-out cartooning from Chris Samnee. I’ve praised him before, and I’ll no doubt praise him again, in more detail. I have to be moving on now, though. Time’s a’wastin’!

Grade: A-

Ultimate Thor #1
by Jonathan Hickman and Carlos Pacheco

What the--?! A THIRD Thor comic in the same month?! Damn. You’d think there was a movie coming out or something…

Written in Hickman’s typically complicated narrative style, Ultimate Thor jumps not only back and forth in time, but across dimensions as well, with sections taking place in ancient Asgard, WWII-era Nazi Germany, and the present-day, where Hickman picks up on one of the more interesting plot threads left over from Ultimates before that book became unreadable in volume three: is Ultimate Thor the Norse god of thunder, or an insane product of the European super-soldier program? It’s good stuff, drawn in classic funnybook style by Carlos Pacheco.

Grade: B

Secret Warriors #20 & 21
by Jonathan Hickman, Mirko Colak, and Alessandro Vitti

The intrigue and violence go off the scales as the series enters a dark period in a storyline called “Night.” I wasn’t under the impression that this book was in any danger of being cancelled, but plotlines are converging in ways that make me wonder. Situations are being upset, characters are dying, and secrets seem on the verge of being revealed all over. I can only assume we’re heading into a new status quo after this, but in the meantime… Wow. This is some really exciting super-spy action comics.

Grade: B

SHIELD #4
by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver

This most Hickman-like of Jonathan Hickman’s Marvel comics continues, with more flashback, more revelation, and more pseudo-historical weirdness. Leonardo da Vinci flies into space, and finds a Celestial growing in the sun! The eternal torments of Nostradamus are brought to an end! The villainy of Sir Isaac Newton lies revealed!

I… feel like I’m going slightly insane when I read this book. I’m not sure if it makes any sense at all, to be honest. I should probably go back and read the whole thing in one big sitting, frankly, and then decide if it’s worth continuing with. But it’s real pretty, and I do enjoy the ride in-between moments of clarity, so… Damn the torpedoes!

Grade: B? Plus?

Deadpool MAX #1
by David Lapham and Kyle Baker

So Marvel finally did it. They put out a Deadpool comic I could not resist reading. How’d they do that, you ask? Well… Putting two of my favorite indie comic creators on it was a good start. Kyle Baker’s artwork alone guaranteed that I was going to at least pick this book up and look at it. And making Hammerhead the villain wasn’t bad, either. But then I saw somebody making a key out of poo, and realized that there were nekkid men running around all over the place, and… Well, I had to know why they made a comic so guaranteed NOT to appeal to the standard Deadpool fan base.

I mean, sure. There’s a couple of chicks in French Maid bikinis, too. And plenty of blood. Hammerhead (the primary villain here) actually head-butts a guy’s face apart at one point! But, wow. WOW. The book’s narrator (an undercover CIA guy who’s Deadpool’s primary contact) spends the entire issue naked, serving as both bitch and punching bag to Hammerhead’s violently conflicted gay second-in-command. Unpleasant! And funny as hell. But in a way that makes you feel kinda bad for laughing…

Grade: Uhm…?

Superboy #1
by Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo

Gave the new Superboy series a look only because it’s written by Jeff Lemire. And it’s really very okay. Lemire excels at writing small town life, and his super hero writing has a comfortable old-school feel. Pier Gallo’s artwork has a nice, smooth “Frank Quitely meets Carlos Pacheco” sort of look to it, as well. The book‘s not really to my taste, but fans of old-school super-heroics could do a lot worse.

Grade: B

Generation Hope #1
by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Espin

Like Superboy, I only bought this book because it was written by Phonogram‘s Kieron Gillen. Also, like Superboy, it’s a pretty decent little mainstream super hero comic, and not entirely to my taste. This books more in the “X-Men” mode than the old-school super hero thing Lemire’s got going on, though. It’s a team book about the first mutants to manifest after M-Day, all of whom are raw recruits and very much unsure about their place in things. Like I said, your standard angsty X-book. Guess they didn’t wanna call it New Mutants this time…

One thing I do like about the book is that Gillen seems really interested in exploring the idea of super powers. One of the kids has super speed, but his body visibly ages every time he uses it. Which could be developed into a nice dilemma if handled right. And Gillen does something with this team’s “animal” mutant that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone deal with on one of these characters before: having an animal intellect doesn’t just mean you’re prone to deadly violence when attacked. It also means that you respond to primitive sex urges that you have only limited control over. In the animal kingdom, that’s called “mating.” In human society, however, that’s called “rape.” Not that the guy rapes anybody here. But the “mate” thought crosses his mind every time he comes in close contact with a woman. Which… That can‘t lead anywhere good.

One thing I’m not so sure about: the back half of the book, which involves finding the fifth new mutant manifestation, is either an homage to or a rip-off of Akira. And I can’t decide which. But, again, if you like the standard X-Men team book format, you could do one hell of a lot worse.

Grade: B

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