Monday, April 11, 2011

The Big Round-Up: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

So we just can’t seem to keep the funnybooks cleared out here on the Dork Forty. Every time we make some headway into the storehouse, somethin’ comes along and keeps us from reviewin’ everything the way we oughtta. Well, that ends now. We’re drawin’ a line in the freakin’ sand, and today I’m gettin’ this mess cleared out one way or another. Which, of course, means that it’s time for a whole mess of quickies…

Osborn #4 (of 5)
by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

A few pacing problems surface this issue. As the story nears its conclusion, there’s still a good number of plot points to cover, and DeConnick is dutifully cramming them in. Unfortunately, there’s so much ground to cover that a major character reveal toward the end of the issue isn’t afforded the visual space needed to give it the proper impact. But Emma Rios continues to knock it out of the park on the art front, with the dynamic storytelling and convincing character acting that have distinguished her in my mind as an artist to watch.

Grade: B

The Sixth Gun #9 & 10
by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt

I missed a couple of issues of this book between the first trade and the monthly, but the handy-dandy inside-cover plot synopsis has gotten me up to date: Our Heroes are laying low in New Orleans, and have (of course) attracted the attention of the local supernatural community, as well as that of foreign powers who know more about the guns than they do. So it’s voodoo and swamp ghosts and a posse of gun slinging Italian priests for the weird western this time around. Bunn’s started fleshing out Becky Montcrief a bit, as well; she’s still the innocent in all of this, but she’s not so innocent that she won’t take a lover and keep it from her jealous partner. This book still isn’t great, but the pulpy mix of voodoo, Vatican hit squads, and compromised morality are enough to keep me happy for now.

Grade: B

Sweet Tooth #19 & 20
by Jeff Lemire, Nate Powell, Emi Lenox, and Matt Kindt

The “Endangered Species” arc begins with these two issues, as Our Heroes head to Alaska and the source of the plague that’s wiping out humanity. Issue 19 tells the back-stories of the ladies in our cast, and features a Sweet Tooth first: guest art! Though Lemire’s rough stylings still define this world the best, the guests do a nice job. We’re also introduced to another survivor: Walter Fish, a mild-mannered man with crippled legs who lives inside a disused dam. Which, you know, might just be a post-apocalypse scenario I’ve never seen before…

Grade: B

Secret Warriors #25
by Jonathan Hickman and Alessandro Vitti

Secret Warriors finally crosses paths with Hickman’s SHIELD series, as we learn Nick Fury’s connection to the historical SHIELD, more about his never-ending conflict with Baron Strucker, and the source of the tech that‘s turned the Leviathan group into monsters. All of which is fine with me; as I’ve said before, the further this book gets from super heroes, and the closer it gets to weird pulp adventure stuff, the happier I am.

Grade: B+

Fables #103
by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha

As the “Super-Team” arc continues, my feelings toward the book grow mixed. The more Willingham draws on the meta-fictional aspects of the Fables set-up, the less I like it. So all the talk we’ve gotten in recent issues about putting together the proper archetypes to draw on the power of the super-team fictional construction leaves me cold. As do the “try-outs” we get in this issue, which stray too far into the other aspect of the series I’m not a big fan of: cute comedy. Oy. On the other hand, though, Gepetto’s scheming continues to entertain, as does the North Wind’s dilemma of having to kill one of his grandchildren. So there’s that. On the whole, though, this issue only rates a…

Grade: B-

Hellblazer #275-277
by Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini, and Simon Bisley

So John Constantine actually got married. I mean… Holy crap. They actually went through with it. It’s kind of a refreshing change from the never-ending rain of horrible shit that normally falls on the poor bastard’s head, but still. Wow. Hasn’t made the book any more domestic or anything; issue 276 is a great old-school Hellblazer story about John making life hell for a banal urban developer via ancient druidic magic (the best of issue of the three, by the way, drawn by the incomparable Simon Bisley). But now John’s at least got somebody other than Chas to drive him home when he gets in over his head…

Grade: B

Thor #621
by Matt Fraction and Pascual Ferry

The World Eaters arc comes to a suitably epic end, with Odin engaged literally tooth and nail in battle, and Thor wounding the World Tree itself to unleash its power and get rid of the villains. So lots of big doings, and lots of big pictures from departing series artist Pascual Ferry. I still can’t help but feel that this story was a bit rushed, though. The World Eaters themselves weren’t established quite well enough as characters for their defeat to have the impact it needed, and there wasn’t enough back and forth in the plot for the epic tone to really feel warranted. I should feel exhausted by an ending like this one, and I’m just not.

I’ll continue reading into the new Thor series (where Olivier Coipel is going to have to work his ass off to make up for the loss of Ferry). I like Fraction’s long-term writing here too much to stop now. But in spite of the quality of that character writing, and the artwork, and in spite of some great moments of Viking bad-assery along the way, I’ve got to say that the World Eaters storyline fails in the end, even as the overall course of Thor as a series succeeds.

Grade: B+

Incognito: Bad Influences #5 (of 5)
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

So, uhm… I keep thinking I’ve gotten my head wrapped around this final issue of Bad Influences, then I realize that I’m wrong, so I go back in for another dip, and… Am I nuts, or did Ed Brubaker just bring HP freaking Lovecraft into this thing? Allow me to explain myself, if only once I’ve retreated to the peace and safety of a new dark age… of SPOILER text…

[SPOILER] This issue, Simon Slaughter says a lot of stuff that doesn’t make much sense to Zack Overkill, and that didn’t make much sense to me, either, on the first go-round. But as I kept going back to the well trying to figure out how a guy we clearly saw Zack fight last issue has now turned up as a week-old corpse, his every utterance has taken on so much more meaning. For one thing, I’m now positive that he put Lazarus through his “time machine that can’t transport anything without killing it” and then stuffed the resultant week-old corpse in the trunk of a car for the SOS to find.

But also… He talks a lot about seeing beyond “this layer of reality” and there being “something out there” that might have sent the artifact that made super powers possible… and “it’s watching us.” Then he talks a lot about the protective lies Professor Zeppelin concocted to shelter society from larger, harsher truths, and how the bad guys think they’re superior for seeing through those lies, and how he stands in the middle somehow. And then he mentions that “they like explosions,” and…

“Well, shit,” I thought. “Either Brubaker’s going meta on us, or he’s talking about Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, and the Great Old Ones.” Considering this book’s embrace of all things pulp, bringing Lovecraft into the mix kind of only makes sense. [SPOILER]

Or maybe Simon Slaughter’s just a crazy bastard, and I’m reading WAY too much into his ravings. If he’s not, though, I’m seriously stoked to see where this series goes next.

Grade: A

Butcher Baker #1
by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston

Heh. A-heh-heh. Casey and Huddleston’s paean to mustachioed masculinity and super heroes is… Well, here. Just check out the cover:


Yep.

Like manly men with manly needs? Like nekkid wimmens? Like big-rig trucks painted like American flags? Like cigar-chompin’ super heroes who kill the shit outta bad guys? Hate Jay Leno and Dick Cheney? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you will probably love the complete holy hell out of Butcher Baker. Here’s a hero who, though he doesn’t wear the dick sling depicted on the cover anywhere in the issue, is secure enough in his masculinity that he wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen in it. (Though, honestly, I think he’d just go commando instead, as he does in more than one scene in the actual comic.)

The book is a comedy, I should point out. And I would be completely remiss in my job as a reviewer if I didn’t mention the artwork of Mike Huddleston. Swinging fluidly between editorial caricature and Sienkiewicz-esque excess, between ridiculously pneumatic NC-17 sex and Looney-Tunes-meets-Smokey-and-the-Bandit car chases, between zip-a-toned black and white and (?!) full painted color, Huddleston makes this book a mixed-media visual feast of a type you don’t often see. Anywhere.

And the book as a whole is so much fun that I’ll even overlook Joe Casey’s ten millionth rant about how super hero comics should be fun. And that takes a whole lotta doing, believe you me…

Grade: A

Oh, shit. Those last two weren’t really quickies at all. And I’ve got a quota to meet. Ah well. Back to brevity we go!

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

In this issue of Kick-Ass, a dog in a mask bites a guy in the crotch! Which, really, pretty neatly captures everything there is to love about this book. ‘Nuff said!

Grade: B+

Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #1
by Eric Powell, Tracy Marsh, Phil Hester, and Bruce McCorkindale

Eric Powell! Godzilla! No-brainer? Hurm. Not so much. This book is an update of the original Godzilla film, a lightly whacky and moderately over the top re-make set in the present-day. Which is not what I expected of it, but I can dig it. Or I could dig it, if it weren’t so… middle of the road. Without the somber tone of the original film, the story lacks weight. And without going completely batshit crazy with things, or otherwise offering much of a “wow” factor beyond the one automatically built in by it being Godzilla… It’s just not very interesting. Things aren’t helped by what I can only call an indifferent art job from Phil Hester. This is a book that calls for BIG images, which he delivers on, but his storytelling suffers so badly in the wake of them that I can barely tell what’s happening on some pages. So… Not an awful book by any stretch of the imagination, but a disappointing launch, and definitely not worth the four bucks I paid.

Grade: C

Captain America #616
by A Cast of Thousands

Cap’s giant 70th anniversary spectacular! Like all such big celebratory issues, it’s a mixed bag of current storylines backed up by numerous shorts from various periods in the character’s history. I picked it up for the Howard Chaykin and Paul Grist stories, myself, and those delivered pretty much what I expected. Chaykin builds his story of love in wartime around period music, and Grist’s fun and knowingly-simplistic Invaders story involves Cap turning into a vampire at the hands of Baron Blood (a cheeky nod to the opening story arc of Grist’s Jack Staff comic).

But the rest was pretty good, too. Jason LaTour turns in some really nice work on Cullen Bunn’s story of AIM in the American heartland, and Frank Tieri delivers a story about a Hitler clone living as an artist in New York. It doesn’t quite live up to the hysterical premise, unfortunately, but I literally laughed out loud when Cap drew a mustache on a picture of the guy to illustrate to Sharon Carter what was going on. And of course Ed Brubaker contributes the opening stories, one about Bucky as he faces internment in a Russian prison, and the other about Steve Rogers taking the shield back up in the wake of his replacement’s afore-mentioned imprisonment. They’re both ultra-mega OK, in the style of the regular series. Oh! And there’s also a one-page origin summation by Brubaker and Travis Charest, done in the style of Grant Morrison’s opening to All-Star Superman, but not quite as poetic. Ah well.

Grade: B+

And, hey! Now we’re up to this week’s comics! Hoo-hah! Let’s keep ‘em going, then, and end this bitch!

Orc Stain #6
by James Stokoe

Zombified Orcs! Mind control birdie! Poison throwing action! The brain-and-belly of the beast! Poxa-Gronka battle! And, lest we forget… BEARD FIGHT!!!!!

The phrase “made of awesome” must have been coined specifically to describe this book.

Grade: A

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #2 (of 3)
by Malachai and Ethan Nicolle

Unless, of course, it was coined to describe this one. Vikings vs. Baseball Players! Dinosaurs vs. Aliens! Brain-Eating Chicken Brain Robots! Pirates! Monsters! Ghost Knights! Wrestlers! And, finally, the first appearance of… BAD GUY EARTH! (Which is like Regular Earth, but glowing red and with devil horns on it.)

Grade: Made. Of. Awesome.

The Boys #53
by Garth Ennis and John McCrea

Mallory continues the story of the first supes put into action in World War II. It’s the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, and… It ain’t pretty. Sneaky of Ennis to slip a war comic into his super hero adventure-parody, but I’m down. A good issue of one of my favorite on-going series. I will be sad when it’s gone.

Grade: A

Weird World of Jack Staff #6
by Paul Grist

A story so big, so format-exploding, that it stretches from the front cover to the back! The time-twisting launch story for this incarnation of the Jack Staff series ends this issue, with more than one twist and portent for the future. Fun as always, but not nearly as delightfully confusing. Still, I suppose you have to expect that in a concluding chapter, and Grist’s layouts just keep getting more and more experimental, and better and better at the same time. And that’s worth the price of admission all by itself.

Grade: B+

Who is Jake Ellis? #3 (of 5)
by Nathan Edmondson and Tonci Zonic

We’ve reached the middle chapter of this intriguing and ridiculously stylish international crime-adventure series, and doing a quickie review of it is difficult. It’s a turning point in the story, but nothing happens in it that I can yell about. It’s all in the small moments, and the artistic flourishes Zonic uses to enhance Edmondson‘s script. The tension when Jon walks into the shady French pawn shop. The strobing light and color effects in the nightclub. The way the red pops so hard against the surrounding greys and browns in the train station. And the choking scene. Dear god, the choking scene. Understated brilliance from a writer/artist team to keep an eye on.

Grade: A-

Nonplayer #1
by Nate Simpson

Tim Callahan’s already called this the best-looking comic of the year to date, and I’m not gonna argue with him. Simpson’s work has a delicate beauty to it, and a stunning attention to detail. It has that stillness you often see in European comics art, but also a Japanese sensibility in the delicacy of everything. Or, you know, maybe it’s just what might have happened if Geoff Darrow had grown up on the Dinotopia books. Here’s the cover, just to give you the feel:


And the story? Well, it’s of a sub-genre I normally loathe: gamers who find themselves in a fantasy world that’s real. But because Simpson approaches that premise from the game world side first, it’s more palatable. His fantasy world characters feel grounded and real, if ever-so-slightly clichéd. They’re living lives of substance and importance, with relationships and concerns of their own, and in a neat reversal of how this usually goes, it’s the gamers that are superficial and shallow. Of course, they think it’s just a game…

Final verdict: Nonplayer is an unusually well-done entry into this genre. And though it’s not perfect, Simpson is playing it 100% straight, and finding just the right tone to make it work. With some of the prettiest pictures of the year to date on top of that, it’s definitely worth the money, and worth another look next month.

Grade: B+

Fear Itself #1
by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen

I picked this up solely because of Fraction’s name in the credit box. I like the man’s work, and was really curious about how he’d handle a big splashy crossover book. Thus far, the answer is “pretty well,” I think. This issue was well-paced, with some slick action sequences and an already-growing sense of menace. I also loved Thor and Odin airing their dirty laundry in front of the Avengers. It’s the sort of violently dysfunctional stuff that’s Marvel’s super hero stock in trade, and I’m always just a little bit giddy to see it done so well.

On the other hand, it’s still a corporate spandex crossover series, and so far it’s not showing signs of the transgressional, transcendent nature of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis, so there are limits…

Grade: B+

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