Friday, October 7, 2011

Reboot Shmeboot! Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

Alright. Now it's time to start talking about funnybooks we actually like again.

Not that we didn't enjoy our two-month look at the DC Reboot. That's exciting, heady stuff for fans of super hero fiction, and they even managed to make as much as 10% of the line good enough to spend money on. But while we were focused on the shiny new thing, all kinds of amazing-ass funnybooks hit the stands, and it's time to turn our attention back to those. It'll take a few posts to work through it all, so I figured we might as well start with something current. Something really fantastic and not related at all to the Reboot. Something like... oh, shit...

Action Comics #2
by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

Okay, so this book pretty much defines the Reboot as far as I'm concerned. Sue me.

I really will get to other stuff tonight. I'll be talking about my three favorite books of the week, and this is the only one that comes from DC. But it's also the only Grant Morrison we're getting right now, so I really can't help but lead with it. Plus, look at this cover:

 


That kills, man! That fucking kills! Has there EVER been a picture of Superman that bad-ass? If that cover doesn't make you want to read this comic, you hate everything good.

(Remember this over-statement. It'll come back again, and there will be a test.)

TThe story inside actually manages to live up to that cover image, too. It all but starts there, in fact; if Rags Morales had staged his opening panel just a little bit differently, the cover could double as the splash page. Which means that, yes, in this issue, they give Superman the chair!

Superman being Superman, of course, that's just a test of his limitations. But it still hurts like hell, which... How cool is that? Being hooked up to the electric chair actually hurts Superman! While there are ways to write great, fascinating stories about a more powerful, more invulnerable version of the character (as Grant Morrison already proved once in the last decade), this Superman that can be hurt, that can bleed, is a wonderful thing. He's still the indomitable tough guy, but his weaknesses (paltry as they are) bring him down to Earth just enough to make him someone we can relate to as readers.

Morrison has said recently that his exploration of Superman's earliest days will end after the initial six-issue arc, and that, I think, is a damn shame. I very much like this "tough guy" Superman. The more rough-and-tumble attitude suits him, and I really wish this were the new status quo rather than what we've seen elsewhere. The present-day Superman, with his heightened powers and shittily redesigned costume, feels too aloof to me already. And that costume really is a problem. The chest plate, the extended sleeves, the armored boots, the collar... They all serve to make him look like an arrogant prick. Say what you will about the classic underwear-on-the-outside costume, it didn't make him look like a smug asshole who needed a good punching.

And what's up with the DC editorial response on that costume, anyway? A few fanboys whine about not being able to see Wonder Woman's bikini line anymore, and they strip off her pants without blinking an eye. But the widespread (and, frankly, more intelligent) round of criticism of that clusterfuck of a Superman design falls on deaf ears.

(Actually, I'm sure it's a matter of the Wonder Woman changes being easy to make with a little judicious photoshopping, whereas changing that Superman design would require artwork to be redrawn. But gimme a break here! I'm on a roll, and god knows SOMEbody needs to bust DC's balls on that monstrosity!)

Anyway. Action #2. Heap-big good funnybook bullshit.

We get to know Lex Luthor a lot better this issue, and he is indeed a loathsome toad. Arrogant, cowardly, hyper-intelligent, and sadistic, he still feels the need to rationalize his treatment of Superman by calling him "it." Certainly, he's emphasizing it to dehumanize his test subject in the eyes of the more moral military men around him, but it still feels like Luthor needs to justify his actions to himself. Morrison generally draws his major villains with depth, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he develops Luthor over time.

There's also some really cool stuff in here relating to the mystery of Krypton, an effortlessly efficient reveal of Lois Lane's past as a military brat, and a surprise ending that's got me thinking only one thing: [SPOILER] Brainiac [/SPOILER].

That's an awful lot to pack into just 20 pages of story and art. Because, yes, this issue really was four dollars for 20 pages. Sure, there was some interesting backmatter, with Morrison and Morales discussing the creative impulses behind various things in the first two issues, and a similar sneak peek with Gene Ha talking about his upcoming design work for Krypton. I enjoyed reading it. But would I have gotten even more enjoyment out of maybe paying a dollar less if they weren't going to give me any more story than that? Yes. Yes, I would. And would I have gotten even yet still more enjoyment out of waiting to give the creative team time to finish the extra pages DC's promised to deliver for books they're charging four bucks on? That, my friends, would have been even better.

Of course, the 20 pages we got were so good that I can't complain over-much. This is state-of-the-art funnybooks right here, and I'd have paid my big funnybook dollar for it even if I'd known how long the story was going in. Which, yes. That admission does give DC every reason to charge me whatever ridiculous price they like for this book. But I'll trust them not to do that, for now. Because if you can't trust Superman... Well, I don't wanna think about that.

Grade: A

Casanova: Avaritia #1&2
by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba

click to embiggen
If you're not reading Casanova, you hate everything good.

No, no. Wait. Let me rephrase that.

If you don't like Casanova, you hate everything good.

Because, you know, I really shouldn't insult the poor fools out there who've never sampled the best adventure funnybook of the 21st Century. I mean, they're missing... well... the best adventure funnybook of the 21st Century. But they know not what they miss, and are therefore worthy not of my scorn, but only of my pity. You haters out there, though... You guys... hate everything good.

Or did I say that already?

Ah, who cares? CASANOVA IS BACK, MUTHASCRATCHAS!!

I've been waiting for this book for a long time. I mean, the reprints were nice. They had beautiful color work that reinvented the book in my head, and it was good to re-read everything as a prelude to the third series. But, man. New Casanova... Damn. This is the real shit, my friends. Funnybooks that love being funnybooks. Funnybooks that reverse polarities and go to new places. Funnybooks that will inspire the funky-weird kids of today to create the funky-weird funnybooks of tomorrow.

And, man... These first two issues are some depressing shit. After pulling the best twist-ending mindfuck of all at the end of volume two, Casanova Quinn is paying for his sins in spades by committing even greater sins, on a far larger scale. In order to save spacetime from the destructive effects of his own passage between dimensions, Cas is having to go out and erase mutant realities from existence, effectively making him the greatest mass murderer in human history. Needless to say, this does not have a very positive affect on his already-dim self-image.

But, hey! He's screwing Sasa Lisi, the beautiful blue girl from the future! Or... wait. Actually... She's green this season. Green like the first volume of Casanova. The one drawn by Gabriel Ba. Who's returned in rotation with his twin brother. Along with the green. Which... Holy crap! This book is green! How the hell did I miss... that this book was green?!

Oh, now I love it even more.

Am I making sense? I'm not making sense.

Fuck it, I don't care. Stream-of-consciousness reviewing is the wave of the future, bitches! Deal!

So, yeah. Like I was saying. Depressing. Sex. Loads of sex. Well, actually... We don't see any of the sex. Just the nudity surrounding it. But of that, there is a gracious plenty. Nekkid green Sasa! Nekkid hairy Cas! Lotsa nekkid hairy Cas, in particular. If you like cartoon drawings of cock-and-balls, this is the book for you.

Where was I? Ah, yes. Depressing, but with cartoon nudity. And also, lots and lots of crazy over-the-top alternate realities based on everyone's favorite pulp culture tropes. So we get gangster world! Cowboy world! Caveman world! Speed Racer world! Funny animal world! Robin Hood world! James Bond world! Monster world! KISS world! Kung fu world! That the shroud of soul-crushing depression manages to overwhelm the sense of whacky fun is impressive. And probably somewhat due to the fact that Cas, you know, wipes out all the whacky worlds within a panel of their first appearance. But, still. The fact that the series' inherent sense of fun didn't assert itself for me until fairly late in issue two, in spite of being on display the entire time, says an awful lot about how good Fraction really is.

There's also an ass-load of technical, structural, and thematic stuff to talk about, of course. The pop culture riffing is only the candy coating on this book, and it always has been. I'm frankly too far gone into "quip" mode to do that more serious aspect of the book justice right now, unfortunately, and some of that depth won't even become apparent until we're a little bit deeper in. But for the time being, I'll just point out a few favorite things:

An EMPIRE board meeting in issue one discussing the mapped realities that Casanova will be destroying next, during which Cas is so depressed and disconnected that the discussion only registers as big blank word balloons with tails that snake all the way back into each speaker's mouth.

A twin scene in issue two, in which Cas is actually listening, and resents everyone talking about him like he's not even there.

Cornelius Quinn punching Cas so hard that he knocks Our Hero out of his own coloring:

 
Click to embiggen. No, seriously. It looks fantabulous large-scale.
That's one of the nicer visualizations of both impact and motion I've seen. Kudos!

There's an increasing dreamishness to the proceedings that's really starting to make me wonder. In issue one, it feels like a druggy haze, an attempt (and a successful one) to capture Cas' increasing disconnect from the world around him. But in issue two, he and his new primary target actually share dreams. More than once. And that's just freaky.

The brief return of Gula's closing homoeroticism! (Or was I the only one who thought it looked like Cas liked it when Luther kissed him?)

Speaking of which... A frank discussion between Cas and Sasa puts so much of Our Hero's actions from Gula in focus: he doesn't respect anyone who sleeps with him, precisely because they're willing to sleep with someone like him. That little revelation applies to much of the book's supporting cast at this point, especially the members of said cast that he so callously pumped bullets into last time out. And it doesn't apply to his sister, who he loves unconditionally and nonetheless has a huge boner for. Damn. In spite of his best efforts otherwise, Casanova Quinn is a real bastard.

Action dialogue replaced with descriptions of said dialogue: "(Cheap and easy juvenile bullshit) (Pandering)" Not just a swipe at glib action scenes, but at this very book's own action scenes. Jesus, Matt, you're too hard on yourself!

Speaking of which... Funnybook Convention Massacre!!!!

And finally, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the most excellent work of artist Gabriel Ba. He and his brother are so much a part of what makes this book work that it's easy not to think about them separately from the story. But Ba is turning in great work here. Great cartooning, with characters that move and act and express themselves without saying a word. That's not easy, though Ba certainly makes it look like it is.

Grade: A

Whew! That's only two of the three books down, and I'm swiftly running out of quips, energy, and time. But luckily, I don't need to say much here...

The Boys #58&59
by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun

If the final seven pages of The Boys 59 don't chill you to the bone, you...

Actually, I can't make a joke there. Because if those pages don't freak you out at least a little... frankly, I don't want to get on your bad side...

Grade: A

And that's the best three funnybooks of the week! Plus, you know, the issues that came out while I was talking endlessly about that fucking reboot. But that's neither here nor there, because now it's time for...

POP QUIZ!!!!!

Question One: If the cover of Action Comics #2 doesn't make you want to read it, you hate...

a. Me
b. Funnybooks
c. Everything Good
d. All of the Above

Question Two: If you don't like Casanova, you hate...

a. God
b. Cock-and-Balls
c. Everything Good
d. All of the Above

Question Three: If the final seven pages of The Boys 59 don't disturb you in some way...

a. pleasegoddon'thurtme!
b. What are you doing with that knife?!
c. Everything Good
d. All of the Above

Answers:
These were, of course, all trick questions, and the correct answer for all of them was "d."

Scoring (on a scale of one to three):

One: Remedial Nerd Farming For You!
Two: Apprentice Nerd Wrangler
Three: You Might Be Me, In Which Case... GETOUTOFMYHEADYOUFREAK!!!

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