Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Last Week's Comics Today!

Scarlet #3 by Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev

So sometimes I feel like a tool when I review the latest issue of a book I like and essentially say, “Another triumph!” But, man… Scarlet #3 really is another triumph for the Bendis/Maleev team. Scarlet continues her manipulation of the audience, which is still my favorite aspect of the book. I don’t know how I feel about all the things Scarlet’s up to, and she only confuses the matter, implicating me in her actions by virtue of the entertainment I gain reading about them. She also puts those same skills to use for the first time in-story, on her dead boyfriend Gabriel’s best friend, who she recruits to film the first public step in the revolution: [SPOILER] taking a sniper rifle and putting a bullet through the head of the Chief of Police. This isn’t a random killing, mind you. The Chief is the uncle of the cop who killed Gabriel, and the man responsible for putting that cop back on the street in spite of his drug habit. [/SPOILER]

She’s slowly expanding the ring of responsibility for Gabriel’s death. The question, then, is how far out can she expand that ring before she goes too far? I can’t answer that question just yet, but I’m really looking forward to seeing where I wind up drawing the line.

Grade: A

The Boys #48
by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun

As the action of Hughie and Annie’s oh-so-painful split moves over to the pages of Hughie’s spin-off mini Highland Laddie, The Boys series proper moves on to the new story arc “Proper Preparation and Planning.” We’re heading into the third and final act of the series now, and this arc seems to be about Butcher and the Homelander getting their pieces in place for whatever ultimate play each of them is going to make. And as worrisome as Homelander’s increasingly sociopathic behaviour is, it’s Butcher that’s really got me worried.

We’ve always known that he was more than a little bit of a shit-heel, but now we’re starting to see him manipulate his own team. I still get the sense that he thinks his actions are for the greater good, and you know… Maybe they are. But the level of deceit he’s shown both to Hughie and (worse in my eyes) to MM in recent issues bugs me. It bugs me an awful lot. His “I’m putting the band back together” actions at the beginning of the series were an entertaining way to introduce us to the world of The Boys, but now the question has to arise: Why’d they split up in the first place, exactly? And was it for good reason? This arc promises to give us some answers on that front, and I for one can’t wait.

Oh, and before I forget: Russ Braun continues to impress on this book, as the only guest artist yet who’s managed to even halfway fill Darick Robertson’s shoes. And the cover parody of Dark Knight Returns is pretty awesome, too:

Grade: A

Strange Science Fantasy #5
by Scott Morse

Another nice issue of this BIG-concept, BIG-art, BIG-fun funnybook. This time out, it’s The Foolish Fling! A down-on-his-luck boxer undergoes experimental surgery to repair his broken body, and winds up with a malleable form that makes him a monster! It’s sort of like Morse doing O Henry by way of Plastic Man by way of 1950s B-Movie fare. Entertaining stuff, though it doesn’t soar to the heights of the Shogunaut.

Morse does turn in an interesting artistic performance, though. Our Hero’s rubbery, putty-like form inspires him to a weight and a… fleshiness you don’t always see from his angular line. I think I prefer the thick, heavy, messy lines of the earlier issues, but this is nice, too, and fits the story better.

Grade: A-

Hellblazer: City of Demons #2 & 3 (of 5)
by Si Spencer and Sean Murphy

I fell a little behind on this book, and its bi-weekly publishing schedule caught me with my pants down. It continues to be the best Hellblazer book of recent memory, though, with some splendid grand guignol thrills and suitably-smarmy upper crust villains (isn‘t it always about class in this book, after all?). Sean Murphy also continues to turn in some absolutely gorgeous pages, and to deliver the coolest-looking Constantine since the 80s.

A couple of cracks have shown in the story in these issues, though. Primarily, I’m a little incredulous that Constantine would figure out what the surgeon bad guys are up to quite so easily. Granted, I have to give Spencer credit for realizing that there’s no paper trail for him to follow from Constantine’s (involuntary) blood donation to the recipients of his demon-tainted blood. But John leaps to conclusions awfully fast in issue three, and I’m not convinced. Still, it’s such a rip-snorter of a Hellblazer comic otherwise that I’m willing to overlook that.

Grade: B+

THUNDER Agents #1
by Nick Spencer, Cafu, and Bit

Nick Spencer is one of the hottest new writers in indie comics right now, and this is his first Big Two work-for-hire stuff. Some people have compared him to the mid-90s Brian Bendis, and I can’t disagree entirely. He’s got room to grow, and I don’t like everything he does. Like the early Bendis, he has a tendency to get too cute from time to time. But when he brings the goods, he really brings the goods. And he’s bringing them pretty well on this new relaunch of the most-beloved failed comics franchise of all time: Wally Wood’s THUNDER Agents.

I won’t go into the history of this series here tonight; that’s kind of outside the scope of this quick review, and besides… I’ve gotta sleep sometime. Suffice it to say that this is only the latest in a long, long line of attempts to resurrect this book. I thought these characters were in the public domain, in fact, so I’m surprised DC’s willing to do anything with them at all. So either I’m wrong, or their lawyers have found some slimy lawyer loophole. Either way, I’m talking about this far too much. Gotta. Sleep. Sometime.

Spencer’s version is actually a sequel to the original series, the premise of which is that the heroes’ super powers will eventually kill them. So Spencer gets into the story from the perspective of a couple of slick salesman types who are brought in to sell a new round of THUNDER Agent candidates on the idea. Which gives the whole thing that sort of slick type-A corporate success-driven feel Spencer’s so good at, kind of like a funnybook Bret Easton Ellis. Which I like when it’s done well, even though I usually want to kill the major characters.

This book is slick and entertaining, and I dug it. I didn’t dig it enough to pay four bucks per issue, however, so this is as far as I’ll be going with it until the trade hits. But if you’re willing to shell out the dough… you could do a lot worse.

Grade: B

Thor # 617
by Matt Fraction and Pascual Ferry

This is shaping up to be Matt Fraction’s best work for Marvel yet. This issue, Thor’s massive Viking loneliness spurs him to bring Loki back from his recent death. But unlike the other Asgardian resurrections Thor’s performed since the most recent Ragnarok, Loki comes back as a child. Which is how Thor’s been remembering him. Which brings up an interesting question about exactly what it is that Thor’s doing when he brings his fellow gods back from the dead. Is he really resurrecting them, or recreating them from his own memories of them? Either way, Loki’s back, and seemingly has a chance not to grow up so damned evil this time around. Viking gods being so fatalistic and doomed, however, I do wonder how well that’s going to work out…

Pascual Ferry also continues to impress here, with some really beautiful funnybook art. He particularly shines on the numerous double-page spreads he’s doing on this book, a format they enter every time they show action taking place in the realm of the gods.

At any rate. This series is just good stuff all the way around. At turns funny, poignant, and horrifying, mainstream corporate spandex doesn’t get much better. I’m even willing to pay four bucks for it, so it MUST be good!

Grade: A-

Ultimate Thor #2
by Jonathan Hickman and Carlos Pacheco

The second of three really good on-going Thor comics right now. Hickman continues weaving his story across three timelines: present-day Thor trying to prove that he’s not insane, an ancient Asgardian war with the Frost Giants that’s really the story of how and why Loki turned bad, and a WWII sequence about a Nazi invasion of Asgard. Hickman seems more sure of himself as a writer on this book. The disparate elements all seem to be working toward the same goal, and there’s none of the muddiness that’s marred his other Marvel work. So far, at least, this is a clear and cogent take on the Thor franchise, one that’s drawing on the themes of the original Norse myths for tone and inspiration. I like it a lot. It’s as good as Fraction’s take on the character, though quite different in storytelling approach, and it’s another book I’m willing to shell out the four dollars to read. Which, these days, is perhaps the highest praise I can give a corporate spandex book.

Grade: A-

Glamourpuss #16
by Dave Sim

This issue features the only-slightly-amusing “So You Want to Bag Yourself a Super-Model” quiz, but that’s accompanied by Glamourpuss’ really-quite-hysterical attempt to subliminally hypnotize her audience into feeling sympathy for Lindsay Lohan. HEH.

The comics historian portion of the issue continues with Sim’s never-ending look at the final meeting of Alex Raymond and Stan Drake. While his discussion of their differing philosophies on comics art, shaped not only by preference but generation, is fascinating, his increasing suppositions about what the two men might have been thinking in this final meeting are starting to grate a little. His caricatures of both men are marvelous to look at, though. And the two-page spread of Sim’s recreation of what looks to be over a dozen Stan Drake daily comic strips is so impressive that I’m willing to forgive this over-long discussion.

Grade: B+

iZombie #7
by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred

A new storyline (“uVampire“) starts this issue, and things get back on-track a bit. With a longer plot in place, Roberson’s writing feels more focused and less jokey. Though I can’t shake the Buffy feel, and that’s probably going to sink this book for me in the long run, I did enjoy this issue. Of course, Mike Allred’s absolutely gorgeous visuals help a lot, too. Hrm. I’m really going to have to make a judgment call on this one soon…

Grade: B


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