Sunday, January 16, 2011

Return of the Verbose Bastard: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

So now it’s time to start running my mouth again. As I mentioned somewhere a few posts back, my day job’s been keeping me off the nerd farm the last couple of weeks, but now I‘ve finally had a day off and feel much more like sitting in front of a keyboard writing about the funnybooks. I hope you enjoyed the “Why Kirby Was King” feature in the interim; I certainly enjoyed posting up all that gorgeous pop-comics genius. There’s plenty more good reasons why Kirby was the King of Comics out there, too, so I‘m sure you‘ll see it again someday.

But for now... I’ve got a nice little pile of comics I haven’t talked about yet, and I need to plow through them. Later, I’ll do some long-form reviews of select titles. But for today, it’s bulk reviewing, fast and dirty. Because, as I’ve said before… Everybody loves a Quickie.

Uncanny X-Men #531
by Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen, and Greg Land

I dropped Fraction’s X-Men book a while back, tired of the actual storylines being delayed and diverted by all the crossovers and such. I was reading it for Fraction, quite frankly, and could give a rat’s ass about the larger X-Universe. But I decided to try an issue on a whim, just to see how Kieron Gillen’s co-writing gig was going, and was shocked and delighted to find a story dealing with… the very plotlines I was enjoying back when I decided to stop reading the title! I didn’t even feel like I’d missed very much, to be honest. Kitty Pryde’s back, and I still don’t care, but otherwise…? All the important stuff’s right where I left it.

The plot, other than the on-going “mutant flu” storyline, deals with Lobe (love that name!), a hyper-intelligent villain who’s selling designer drugs that give the user mutant powers for the duration of the high. Awesome. There’s also some nice stuff about Emma Frost trying to deal with the captured Sebastian Shaw that I liked quite a bit. I like Fraction’s take on Emma as a not-very-good person trying to be better and not always succeeding. Some of her dialogue here feels a bit too “nobody really talks like that,” but I like the character work nonetheless.

Will I keep buying after this? Probably not. This was a fun diversion, but not fun enough to pay four bucks a pop for it. I didn’t miss the book when I wasn’t reading it, and probably won’t miss it in the future, either. I might pick up a trade or something, if I can find one that‘s not rendered incomprehensible by crossover crap. But if not… ah well.

Grade: B-

Invincible Iron Man #33
by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, and Jamie McKelvie

“Stark Resilient” wraps up this issue in a not-altogether-satisfactory manner. Fraction tries to play off the very obvious nature of Detroit Steel’s attack on Stark as such a visually-confusing mess that the media are willing to buy it when Steel claims to have shown up to help save Stark from a supposed “terrorist attack.” But I ain’t buyin’ it. There’s a clear technological trail linking Steel to the attack drones, and then Steel actually threatens to kill Stark in a conversation that we know Tony has the capacity to record. The fact that he apparently doesn’t, and also doesn’t capitalize publicly on what he knows about the drones, just makes Stark look dumb.

I can nearly forgive that, however, in the face of the big reveal at the end of the issue: [SPOILER] Justine and Sasha Hammer pull strings to secure the release of Ezekial Stane, and then we find out that Sasha’s father is the Mandarin. Nicely-played! I’ve always thought that Sasha looked vaguely Asian, but had put it down to a weird quirk in Larroca’s art. But, no! It’s a rather brilliant bit of long-term plotting, and now Fraction’s got all of the run’s main bad guys working together as a team! [/SPOILER]

And the back-up strip by Fraction and the always-brilliant Jamie McKelvie does even more to wipe away my displeasure with the Detroit Steel plot hole. It’s a silent Tony Stark “day in the life” story, narrated only with text messages. It’s very sharp stuff, and I wish they’d devoted an entire issue to it.

Grade: B

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #4 (of 5)
by Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrews

This issue’s Frazetta homage cover is pretty funny, but not the series’ best. Likewise, the story actually becomes a tiny bit dull once the fighting starts, which isn’t unusual with Ellis. Still, it’s smart and fun kicksplode-style funnybooks with stylishly beautiful artwork, and that ain’t a bad thing.

Grade: B+

Hellblazer #274
by Peter Milligan, Simon Bisley, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Stefano Landini

This issue is along the same lines as the rest of the Milligan Hellblazer run: good-but-not-great stuff that’s elevated when it gets some inspired artwork. Which it luckily does for a few pages this issue, as Simon Bisley once again knocks it out of the park. The rest is from the Camuncoli/Landini team, and it’s not bad work by far. It’s just not great, and it takes the book as a whole down a notch. Still, I love the series enough that even pretty good Hellblazer is worth my time.

Grade: B

Incognito: Bad Influences #2
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

More pulp-noir goodness from Brubaker and Phillips. Zack Overkill inserts himself back into the criminal underworld this issue, and is immediately tempted by that world’s excesses. It’ll be interesting to see how he reacts as he runs further down the rabbit-hole, and if he can go back to the light afterwards.

Grade: A-

Secret Warriors #23
by Jonathan Hickman and Alessandro Vitti

This issue, we see what’s been happening with Sebastian Druid in the months since Fury removed him from the team: essentially, he was sent out to super hero fat farm. Six months of training by John Garrett teach him discipline and control, and catch him up to the team in the aftermath of their attack on Gehenna. I like how Hickman’s been playing with time on this book of late. It’s that sort of narrative play that keeps my interest when the action becomes a little more formula than I normally like.

Grade: B+

Ultimate Thor #3
by Jonathan Hickman and Carlos Pacheco

I am really, seriously, enjoying this book. Hickman’s reckless creativity, which doesn’t work for me on his Fantastic Four, seems imminently suitable for the Ultimate universe. He picks up the appealing mysteries Mark Millar left surrounding Thor in the Ultimates and runs with them, and the result is some of the most energetic Thor comics I’ve ever read. I’m a bit disappointed with his casting of Volstagg as a rather serious “Old Lion” sort of character, but otherwise… Good stuff.

Grade: B+

by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver

It’s that Hickman guy again, continuing his insane tear through Marvel history. I’ve seen this comic bad-mouthed as overly-serious and complicated, with some rather unflattering comparisons made to The DaVinci Code. But I say that any Marvel adventure series starring Leonardo DaVinci, Sir Isaac Newton, Nostrodamus, and Nikola Tesla is so bat-shit crazy at its base that I have to love it. And this issue also features the fathers of Reed Richards and Tony Stark roaming through what seems to be a pre-historic jungle, only to stumble across the ruins of a massive city devoted to the rule of Immortus! This isn’t the funnybook DaVinci Code. It’s the spiritual heir to Jack Kirby’s comics of the 1970s, where just about anything could happen, and often did. And if Dustin Weaver’s artwork lacks the sheer muscularity of Kirby’s, it has instead a sort of intricate grace, and is interesting to look at  in its own right.

Grade: A-

 Osborn #2 (of 5)
by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

I had almost decided to trade-wait on this mini, daunted a bit by the four-dollar price tag. But then I flipped through the second issue, and Emma Rios’ inventive layouts convinced me that it was worth the money. Specifically, I was impressed with how she handled a three-page sequence where a sadistic prison guard is locked down in the holding area with the collection of demons and sociopaths introduced last issue. The situation turns to chaos as the lights go red and warning claxons sound (Osborn’s escape is being executed elsewhere in the facility), and Rios’ panels slide sideways, running diagonally across the page, one image flowing into the next as the guard loses his shit and the inmates make their move. As impressive as her work is overall on this issue (and it’s a noticeable improvement over last issue, which was quite good all on its own), those three pages have convinced me that Rios is a name to watch.

This is not to slight Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing, understand. She handles Osborn himself with flair, and I find the mystery surrounding this apparent cult that’s sprung up around the Green Goblin quite tantalizing. All in all, this second issue convinced me to stick with the book. It’s the goods.

Grade: A-

 Deadpool MAX #3
by David Lapham and Kyle Baker

Holy crap this was good. Lapham recasts Baron Zemo as a modern American white supremacist, and the insanity only ratchets itself up from there. Before it’s done, we’ve got a human skin lampshade factory, Deadpool doing a Fiddler on the Roof routine, and the obligatory Nazi dominatrix sporting a swastika tramp stamp. But my favorite gag is this: [SPOILER] Convinced that the Jews have put radium in the water supply, Zemo’s compound only drinks bottled water. The brand? WhiteWater, of course! [/SPOILER]

And this wouldn’t be a review of Deadpool MAX without a paragraph heaping praise upon Kyle Baker. I’ve been a Baker fan since I first saw his work on DC’s late-80s Shadow series, and it‘s really a delight getting monthly work from him. Because of that pace, it’s perhaps not his career-best. But it’s still some of the finest cartooning on the racks today, and puts this book over the top for my increasingly-rarified standards when it comes to four-dollar comics.

Deadpool MAX is grand guignol farce, beautifully-illustrated pitch-black satire that goes out of its way to offend the easily-offended. And I love it for that. I’m sure that I’ll eventually tire of the endless abuse heaped upon Hydra Bob, but otherwise I think I’m with this book til the bitter end.

Grade: A

Who is Jake Ellis? #1 (of 5)
by Nathan Edmondson and Tonci Zonjic

I picked up this crime comic on a whim. It was a short week for me, and my eye was drawn to the cartoon stylings of artist Tonci Zonjic. There’s a heavy Alex Toth influence on his work. Toth and Mazzucchelli and probably a dozen European comics artists whose names I don’t know. He’s got room to grow just yet; some pages are better than others. But he draws with an economy of line that I like, and uses shadow pretty brilliantly.

Which is a plus on a book like this, a stylish and fast-paced international crime / adventure story with a really neat twist: Our Hero, Jon Moore, is assisted by the mysterious Jake Ellis, a grey man in a black suit that only he can see. Jake operates as a kind of sixth sense for Jon, warning him of impending danger and guiding him toward successful strategies. It’s a fun premise, well-executed, nicely-drawn, and possessed of just the right amount of mystery to keep me coming back for more.

Grade: B+

Next Men #2
by John Byrne

This issue, Byrne tosses his time-lost cast into stereotypical worst-case scenarios throughout history. So Tony faces the most hysterically knee-jerk racist Southerners in the history of Civil War fiction, while Nathan winds up in World War II and is of course taken to a Nazi concentration camp. It’s all faintly ridiculous, but it’s so nice to see Byrne really trying again that I can forgive a lot.

Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe he really was trying on stuff like Lab Rats, and it just wasn’t to my taste. But this feels more like the Byrne work I used to read and enjoy than anything I’ve seen from him in the last decade, and I’m happy for that.

Grade: B

Sweet Tooth #17
by Jeff Lemire

“Animal Armies” concludes, bloody and brutal, this issue, and sends our cast off in search of the answers to Gus’ true parentage, and the origins of the plague. Lemire backs off the fancy layouts and surreal imagery this issue, taking a sort of meat and potatoes storytelling approach to allow the action and drama to take center stage. It’s a smart move, as all the various character conflicts blow up (sometimes quite literally) and the story itself is more than enough to keep us turning the pages.

Grade: A-


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