Black Magick 1 (October 2015)

Black Magick #1

I desperately want Black Magick to be good. I don’t have any investment in liking it–I’m not much of a Greg Rucka fan in general (though in specific) and I don’t think I’ve ever read a Nicola Scott comic before. Saw her on a panel a few years ago, but never seen her art until Black Magick.

But I want the comic to be good because I trolled Lazarus through its first arc and it’s gone on to become one of my favorite series right now. So I want to be very careful with Black Magick.

And I’m going to have to be, because it isn’t good. Is it bad? Not really. Scott’s art is hurried in the “mainstream artist doing an indie book for the first time” kind of way. There’s no chemistry between Rucka’s writing and Scott’s art. I’m surprised to see them co-owners on the copyright.

What’s wrong with Black Magick? There’s a non-concept pretending to be a concept worth having a whole comic book about. The protagonist is a cop with a secret. She’s a witch. What kind of witch? The kind who meets in the woods all very Crucible-style only it’s modern day with cell phones. She’s got a good looking dude partner who doesn’t know she’s a witch. Her captain worries too much about her. And her two worlds–hero cop and secret witch? They’re about to collide.

Yawn.

It would be fine if the protagonist were amazing, but she’s not. She’s a tough female cop. Maybe Sandra Bullock could play her in the movie or if it just goes to TV, there are plenty of people. Black Magick feels constrained by its potential for a Hollywood option.

Anyway… my hopes for the comic are pretty much dashed. I probably won’t be back until someone tells me I need to get back.

CREDITS

Awakening; writer, Greg Rucka; artist, Nicola Scott; colorists, Scott and Chiara Arena; letterer, Jodi Wynne; editor, Jeanine Schaefer; publisher, Image Comics.

Manifest Destiny 18 (October 2015)

Manifest Destiny #18

Dingess takes Manifest Destiny somewhere new and unpleasant. Even though he’s dealt with the unpleasantness of the characters before, this issue–the last in the second “volume” of Destiny–forces the reader’s complicity in that unpleasantness. It’s well-done and should’ve been predictable (Roberts butchers the final page with an exclamation point) but isn’t really. The beginning of the issue’s distractingly strong.

One almost forgotten element of Destiny has been the imaginative wildlife Lewis and Clark find on their voyage. This issue reimagines the traditional vampire as some kind of decapitating, head-stealing flying monster. It’s a neat concept, not too gory in Roberts’s art but still striking. And it makes for a great action sequence.

The subsequent scenes in Destiny remind of Return of the Jedi as Lewis and Clark and company return to the bird people village; it’s why Dingess is able to get away with a big twist. He’s letting the reader enjoy the comic. It starts with a great action sequence, why not celebrate. It’s a trick and a good one.

But Dingess has raised a lot of questions in the comic (just not in this issue) and he doesn’t get any of them answered. They’re starting to get annoying. Otherwise though, it’s just about the best issue of Manifest Destiny yet.

CREDITS

Writer, Chris Dingess; penciller, Matthew Roberts; inkers, Stefano Gaudiano and Tony Akins; colorist, Owen Gieni; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editors, Arielle Basich and Sean Mackiewicz; publisher, Image Comics.

The Spire 4 (October 2015)

The Spire #4

It’s a bridging issue. It’s a decent bridging issue because Stokely’s art is awesome, but it’s still a bridging issue. What does Spurrier do besides humanize the protagonist a bit? He hints at more dread down the line. So what?

There’s a great fight scene and then Stokely gets to do a lot of narrative design stuff through composition, but it’s a light issue. It relies so heavily on the art, it would probably read better with almost no text. Especially the scenes between the protagonist and her royal love interest, just because Spurrier wants to hint at a secret and a problem but doesn’t want to have to deal with them here.

Why not?

Because it’s a bridging issue. And nothing gets done in bridging issues; Spurrier introduces some okay things to deal with later. But it’s light stuff.

I’m still excited about The Spire but it definitely feels like BOOM! shouldn’t have given Spurrier eight issues. Four might not have been enough (as this issue’s the fourth) but eight is way too many.

CREDITS

Writer, Simon Spurrier; artist, Jeff Stokely; colorist, André May; letterer, Steve Wands; editors, Cameron Chittock and Eric Harburn; publisher, Boom! Studios.

Catwoman 4 (April 2002)

Catwoman #4

How does noir work when the villain is a Clayface rip-off. I say rip-off because Catwoman is a Batman spin-off and Clayface is a Batman villain. Brubaker knew the similarity. It also gives Cooke something fantastic to draw. Selina in this gross pink muck–the leftover transformative flesh of the villain? Great stuff. Lots of movement in the art.

The villain does have something of a noir origin though. G.I. injured, army docs turn him into a monster, it’s like a film noir with shades of fifties sci-fi. It’s really cool.

But Brubaker relies on it almost too much. The script tries to showcase the art, which is fine and dandy and marvelous. Only it makes for some rushed scenes. One less page of the fight and one more page with Selina and Leslie would have been awesome.

The issue starts fast and rushes. The last few pages seem so short because of the action sequence pacing. Those last few pages are exceptional. Brubaker and Cooke figure out how to give noir a superhero. It’s great comic book storytelling.

Even if the fight goes long.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Conclusion; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editors, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

Howard the Human (October 2015)

Howard the Human (2015) 001-000This one-shot, like so many, is a thought experiment. Howard’s creator Steve Gerber already did the titular gimmick back in Howard 19 of making him human for an entire issue, demonstrating it’s not the vessel, but the person inside who matters. He also turned Howard into a mouse during his 2001 Marvel Max mini-series official return to the character, just to prove this point after his own creation had been wrested away and humiliated by the likes of George Lucas and Disney. Given Chip Zdarsky’s utterly lackadaisical Howard reboot that Marvel squeezed out earlier this year, could another, better writer restore him to some kind of Steve Gerber-esque integrity?

Well, no. In Howard the Human, Marvel’s new “Howard” is stripped of the superficial resemblance to his avian self (and by corollary, stupid duck-related puns) and becomes solely what the company ultimately regards him as: a cipher for the Marvel Universe all-star parade of cameos by characters who’ve proven profitable in live-action. Skottie Young’s story isn’t even poorly constructed; he’s apparently a good writer as evinced by I Hate Fairyland, of which surely no coincidence is another stranger-in-a-strange land tale. The issue opens with some corporate diarrhea about this particular story’s connection to the new “Secret Wars” / “Battleworld” “event” which presumably explains why Howard is still a private detective but now a human being in a city full of talking animals (“New Quack City” – is Marvel’s target audience supposed to get a blaxploitation movie reference from 1991?) This world also hosts talking animal versions of the Black Cat, Daredevil and the Kingpin, and Howard is entangled in a blackmail/murder frame-up between them. Because what are you going to do, make a Howard story about Howard? If Zdarsky didn’t, why should Young?

I hadn’t even realized until reading this comic that Howard’s recent reboot doesn’t allow him to smoke his beloved cigars anymore. Because CHILDREN might be reading these things, and it would jeopardize all of Marvel’s anti-tobacco advertising dollars. Yet in the opening scene he’s pounding down shots in a bar. Zap! Pow! Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!

Jim Mahfood, who presumably emerged out of the same cryogenic stasis capsule from the 90s that released Jhonen Vasquez, does his Jim Mahfood-y thing on the art and does it well. Justin Stewart’s coloring compliments him perfectly. They’re actually really good choices for the funky 70s vibe the story is aiming towards.

Still, waaagh.

CREDITS

Howard the Human; writer, Skottie Young; artist, Jim Mahfood; colorist, Justin Stewart; letterer, Travis Lanham; editor, Jon Moisan; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Fade Out 10 (October 2015)

The Fade Out #10

Brubaker’s winding up. This issue of The Fade Out is the part of the detective novel where the detective–in this case Charlie, who’s not particularly good at it–is collecting all the final details to have his breakthrough. In fact, the narration hints Charlie’s confident in his conclusions, which means Brubaker’s got next issue to stir it up more and then the last issue to let it all settle. Not a bad structure, but it does mean there isn’t much to this issue.

There’s exposition and some revelation, but there’s no character development. Brubaker sets the issue during the wrap party for the movie, which should be a big thing. It’s not. It’s a logical narrative progression–Charlie using the party for cover on his investigating–as the story wraps up.

The last few issues of The Fade Out have been breathtaking. This issue’s good, narratively important, but it’s not breathtaking. It’s a necessity and it coasts on existing momentum. Fingers crossed Brubaker is able to stir up some speed in the next issue.

Phillips’s art, of course, is breathtaking. One never has to worry about him.

CREDITS

Where Angels Fear to Tread; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Catwoman 3 (March 2002)

Catwoman #3

It’s a strange issue. It’s a good issue–though it’s certainly the least ambitious so far–but it’s also a strange issue. Selina doesn’t have as much narration as she had before and now she’s doing much different things. She’s the star of a Bronze Age Batman comic, where Batman dresses up as Matches Malone and investigates on the wharf.

It’s a successful issue. Cooke’s in on the Bronze Age vibe of the issue and the art feels very seventies. The content Cooke’s illustrating, anyway. There’s even a sixties thing with a used car dealer. A lot of thought went into the visual presentation of the book. I just wish Brubaker hadn’t been so quiet.

So far, this series has been about Selina evolving into a do-gooder. This issue continues that evolution, but with the exception of the narration in the first few pages, Selina’s experience is absent from the comic. Even when Brubaker brings back the narration later, it’s to establish that Matches Malone sequence.

Like I said, strange. Expertly, enthusiastically done, but with too much confidence in the narrative effect of the comic to worry about the narrative itself. It’s showy.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Part Three of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editors, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

War Stories 13 (September 2015)

War Stories #13

Garth Ennis is on it for War Stories this arc. It’s Ennis doing American soldiers in World War II; if there’s a war movie genre standard, it’s the World War II setting, from the American perspective. At least as far as English language World War II movies go.

But I don’t think Ennis has ever done one of these stories. At least not one about American fliers–it’s almost like Ennis is doing populist. He’s doing accessible. There might even be a reference to Pearl Harbor assuming the reader is familiar with it due to the movie. Strange coming from Ennis, strange on War Stories.

It’s really good. Ennis does accessible really well. Ennis trying to invite new readers instead of put them off? He doesn’t do it often, frankly. So seeing him be so welcoming is strange. But excellent. Ennis might not have the enthusiasm for the subject–that searching exploration he sometimes does with War Stories–but he does have enthusiasm for his skills and his narrative authority. He likes being able to tell a good war story. As he should.

As for the art. Tomas Aira gets away with a bit because the setting–fliers doing attack runs from Iwo Jima to Tokyo–is so striking. He doesn’t do well with the faces, which just shows the skillfulness of Ennis’s dialogue, because the talking heads scenes in the issue are phenomenal.

It’s so good. Even though War Stories has its missteps, Ennis needs to have this outlet as a creator. The comic book medium needs him to have this outlet.

CREDITS

Tokyo Club, Part One: Yardbirds; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

I Hate Fairyland 1 (October 2015)

I Hate Fairyland #1

I love I Hate Fairyland. I love it. Skottie Young loves it too, which is good, since he’s writing and illustrating it. If he didn’t love it, I don’t think I’d love it.

Young’s got a particular style–accessible to children but with a lot of detail, not much attention to anatomy. Expressive anatomical representations. But not in the Liefeldian sense. Very tall people, very short people. He could use this style on gritty fairy tales, but instead he still fills Fairyland with wonderment and magic.

And a protagonist who hates Fairyland. And she’s wonderful. She’s one of the only humans (so far) and she got trapped in Fairyland as a kid. Twenty years later, she’s still a kid on the outside, but on the inside, she’s robbing casinos and eating mushroom people. Because, why not? Fairyland sucks after all (and she can’t get home).

There’s no way to tell what kind of story Young has in mind for the comic–one could argue, at the beginning, it’s about the lost girl (Gert) getting home, but not once Young skips ahead twenty years. Then it’s just about her getting into trouble and making trouble of her own.

Beautiful art, hilarious riffs on generic fairy tale standards. Young’s going for the humor in the writing and the magic in the art–though, really, Gert falling into Fairyland and breaking her face on the landing–she’s fine, promise–sets the mood for the rest of the comic.

It’s excellent.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Scottie Young; colorist, Jean-Francois Bealieu; letterer, Nate Piekos; publisher, Image Comics.

A Train Called Love 1 (October 2015)

A Train Called Love #1

What is A Train Called Love? It’s Garth Ennis’s most original, least ambitious (in terms of setting), comedic nonsense in ages. It’s Garth having a piss (as I think the saying goes) and doing a big, multi-character story. If it weren’t Ennis, it’d seem like someone desperately chasing nineties Quentin Tarantino only it isn’t because it’s Ennis.

When Ennis does comedy–and pop culture references–he’s always very careful. Train is no different. There’s a somewhat involved Terminator 1 reference and he and artist Marc Dos Santos make it rewarding to those readers familiar enough with the material to appreciate it and, for those not familiar enough, they keep it accessible. All of Train is accessible, in no small part thanks to Dos Santos’s art.

Dos Santos does it in a cartoon-ish style (good grief, Train would make an amazing cartoon) and it draws attention to the reality in the characters’ situations. Ennis usually has some humor but Train is the first one where, thanks to the art style, it feels like he’s trying out an actual comedy.

It’s really good. Even if the cliffhanger is way too opaque.

CREDITS

Did You Wanna Be Bonnie and Clyde?; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Marc Dos Santos; colorist, Andrew Elder; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Rachel Pinnelas; publisher, Dynamite Entertainment.

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham 3 (December 2015)

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham #3

Well, it’s easily the best Miracleman from Gaiman so far. Still no Miracleman, but the comic is pretty solid. It’s pretending to be high concept but isn’t (it’s actually the template for lots of the standard, and acceptable, Vertigo series of the early nineties). Gaiman tells the story of Hades in Miracleman’s Golden Age… it’s where the aliens bring back famous dead people.

The lead is the sixth Andy Warhol android. Gaiman avoids the “mystical” skillfully, maybe more skillfully than anything else he does in the comic. A big character reveal in the last few panels changes the comic a little. For the better.

Unfortunately, Gaiman’s Warhol is a weak narrator. The story of an Emil Gargunza android hanging out with Warhol–and Gaiman doing some really obvious looks at how “celebrity” functions–is actually something. Gaiman’s choices are interesting, because Buckingham is more than willing to indulge–and Warhol’s so technically predictable (as an artist), it works for a comic. It’s all on the nose, but it’s a good nose.

Gaiman’s writing of the characters in scene–not that narration–is good. His reserved approach forces involvement and investment from the reader.

It’s a good issue. Even if a solid quarter of Buckingham’s full page spreads are technically wonderful but narrative eye-rolls.

CREDITS

Book Four: The Golden Age; writer, Neil Gaiman; artist, Mark Buckingham; colorist, D’Israeli; letterer, Todd Klein; editor, Cory Sedlmeier; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Crossed + One Hundred 9 (September 2015)

Crossed One Hundred 9Like Alan Moore, Spurrier respects the value of a single issue. There’s a substantial amount of plot development in this one, with reading time expanded by the process of deciphering future-speak, at which Spurrier is gradually getting better and more clever. Fernando Heinz’s art still occasionally does the characters a disservice with distractingly cartoonish facial expressions during tough, emotional scenes, but his panel compositions are rock solid, as are his crowd scenes and backgrounds. There’s a flashy two-page splash reveal near the beginning, which is really nice to pause on and explore. Spurrier is also working in conjunction with Heinz in more creative ways; using flashbacks, panel breaks within static angles, internal thought balloon counterpoints and other cool tricks.

What Spurrier and Moore achieve with Crossed+One Hundred number 9 is that like the previous issue’s unsettling new angle on the strategies of the Salt-Crossed, this one raises unpleasant questions about the limitations of religious leadership in the post-apocalypse. Moore’s introduction of the ‘Slims as the last surviving faith after The Surprise in his original arc was one of the more brilliant details, and now this second arc is addressing the implications. The casual homosexuality and female leadership have already been touched upon as plusses for a formerly repressive religion made pluralistic by necessity, but now Future is hitting the glass ceiling when she needs Murfreesboro’s help the most: her hair’s in a scarf, not a full hijab. They’re only going to listen to and respect someone so much who isn’t a member of the faith, ditto Cautious. There’s an arrogant trust in God’s benevolence that everything will work out, keeping them from heeding their warnings. Meanwhile, that other faith-based organization of the post-Surprise world – who have no qualms about reproducing images of their prophet – are employing Dark Ages tactics of proselytization, Taqiyya and Jizya with expert efficacy.

The thought-provoking satirical details of this theocratic in-fighting are unfortunately at a slight cost to the logic of the story: Future finally has evidence, VIDEO evidence of the Salt-Crossed working their unholy plans, and she still can’t rally everyone together yet? It was already a stretch to accept that Murfreesboro wouldn’t listen to her about what REALLY happened to Chooga, and write it off as some freak incident of unpreparedness against a breakout from within, or attack from outside, by run-of-the-mill churchface illbillies. Chooga wasn’t just some two-bit settle, you’d think they’d afford Future and Cautious some credit as the only surviving witnesses. But they’re women – and infidel women at that – so perhaps that’s the point.

It’s totally forgivable for the overall quality of the package, including a disturbing new revelation about the Salt-Crossed’s social castes, which leads into a great cliffhanger.

Crossed + 100 continues to impress.

CREDITS

Writer, Simon Spurrier; Series Outline, Alan Moore; artist, Fernando Heinz; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 28

I’m stunned to discover Vernon and I managed to get TWO episodes out in one month. We certainly thought we were behind, which got us to hunker down and talk about some rather good comics.

These are the books we talk about.

  • Providence 5
  • Over The Graden Wall 1,2
  • Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham 1,2
  • Harrow County 4
  • The Spire 3
  • Dave2 1
  • The Fiction 4
  • We Stand on Guard 3
  • Kaijumax 6
  • Injection 5
  • Fade Out 9
  • Tokyo Ghost 1
  • 8house 3 Kiem
  • Dark Corridor 2
  • Invisible Republic 6
  • Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl 2
  • Manifest Destiny 17
  • Hip Hop Family Tree 2
  • From Under Mountains 1
  • Beauty 2
  • The Island 3
  • Jughead 1
  • Copperhead 10
  • Fall of the House of West
  • Empowered vol 9
  • Lady Killer
  • Hellbound
  • The New Deal
  • The Legacy of Luther Strode
  • Catwoman by Brubaker & Cooke

you can also subscribe on iTunes…

8house 4 (October 2015)

8house #4: Yorris part one

Yorris is tiring. I wish it wasn’t. I also wish it wasn’t a published comic with an “it’s” error. But it’s both of those things–it’s tiring and it’s got an “it’s” error. And Yorris isn’t unimaginative or exhausting, let me be clear–tiring is far better than exhausting. But it is definitely tiring.

Because even though Fil Barlow’s art is careful, detailed, intricate and sometimes wonderful, the story is the kitchen sink approach to originality. Throw in so many tropes–dream creatures, an unappreciated princess (which seems to be a theme for the Brandon Graham “edited” books at Image), and taking the concept of clans to a truly obnoxious extent (working of the term “clan” into nouns)–and there’s nothing to connect with in Yorris. Barlow and co-writer Helen Maier are trying to hard to be accessible, the story doesn’t do anything else.

The back matter explains–in great detail–how Barlow and Maier used to work in animation, which might explain why the dialogue in the book is so bad. Because they’re used to having someone speak it and bring personality to it. Without a vocal performance, however, the narration is mind-boggling. The comic sets up an unbelievable proposition–this princess’s ability to see the astral plain is ignored because she’s a girl, even though she’s the only one in the clan with the gift. And there’s the implication others know of it. Or she’s just schizophrenia, which would be so much better.

I don’t want to be able to read 8house every month. I don’t want to look forward to it. I want to need to read it. I want it to be necessary. And Yorris just shows… it’s not.

CREDITS

Yorris, Part One; writers, Fil Barlow and Helen Maier; artist, Barlow; publisher, Image Comics.

Nailbiter 16 (October 2015)

Nailbiter #16

To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season… oh, sorry. It’s just Williamson has hit the end of this season of Nailbiter. He ends on an expository note, though there is at least the nod at a subplot about some kids going to the Nailbiter’s house on Halloween.

But everything else? The sheriff, the FBI guy, the serial killers? It all gets wrapped up in talking head scenes. The sheriff’s hospital room is a meeting spot for people looking to get their storylines finished. It’s not so much rushed as drawn out. Williamson could’ve structured it with one of the protagonists–like, maybe the FBI guy since it was originally his comic–but instead, he’s in a rush.

I think I’m done with Nailbiter. Williamson has never really gotten anywhere on the book and Henderson’s art hasn’t either. It’s a competent comic book, but they chased Hollywood to the point they lost anything special.

CREDITS

Writer, Joshua Williamson; artist, Mike Henderson; colorist, Adam Guzowski; letterer, John J. Hill; editor, Rob Levin; publisher, Image Comics.

Catwoman 2 (February 2002)

Catwoman #2

Cooke mixes a lot of styles in this issue. Selina lives her non-costumed life in a more angular city, one with more art deco designs than when she’s got the costume on at night. But Cooke also finds this mixed style for Selina herself. She’s got the modern look, but he also goes for Silver Ago influences to make her more sympathetic.

And then there’s what Brubaker’s narration does for her character. This series of Catwoman integrates whatever history the character had since Batman: Year One, so the Jim Balent stuff and whatever else, with a continuation of the character from Year One. Or at least something closer to that characterization. Including the history of prostitution.

The prostitution angle–with Holly, Selina’s sidekick from her Year One days–figures into the story, with Gotham’s dirty cops ignoring a serial killer preying on girls on the street. Selina ends up investigating it. There’s no humor in the comic. Not a moment. Not even when Cooke and Brubaker take the time and care to show Selina’s pure joy in running around the rooftops. It’s serious stuff; Brubaker’s very deliberate in how he works through Selina’s thoughts in the narration too.

Again, it’s noir. It’s a noir comic masquerading as a superhero comic (masquerading as a noir comic). Brubaker juggles the mainstream and more artistically ambitious beautifully. What Cooke does is just as important, but it only works because of how well Brubaker does his bit.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Part Two of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editor, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

Copperhead 10 (October 2015)

Copperhead #10

Faerber plays loose with the pacing in this issue of Copperhead. He’s going for reader pleasure, not being tied to the characters. The sheriff is out to rescue Deputy Boo from some outlaws; Faerber shows her determination, but it isn’t the story. He’s all about the storytelling mechanics and how they relate to the reader’s experience.

It doesn’t hurt Godlewski gets in a bunch of background detail. Even though there’s nary a subplot seen in this issue–until the end, setting up the cliffhanger–and the supporting cast really doesn’t do much but tag along, Godlewski gives them visual weight. There’s a lot of visual repetition too; Godlewski doesn’t want anyone getting lost.

This issue is also one of the most “Western.” Besides the aliens and laser guns, it’s just a Western. Faerber uses Copperhead’s revisionism (the female sheriff, the context of bigotry against alien species) to provide a large stage for a small story. It’s incredibly assured, incredibly controlled and an entirely awesome read.

CREDITS

Writer, Jay Faerber; artist, Scott Godlewski; colorist, Ron Riley; letterer, Thomas Mauer; publisher, Image Comics.

Minimum Wage: So Many Bad Decisions 6 (October 2015)

Minimum Wage: So Many Bad Decisions #6

What an issue. I mean. Damn. Fingerman takes all the readers’ built-up affection for Rob, all their built-up hope for him and puts them through the ringer. By the time Fingerman gets the reader cleaned off–and this issue of So Many Bad Decisions is easily the least funny, it’s downright depressing and bare–Rob might be in a terrible place.

Only, logistically, the seriousness of Rob’s situation is only there because how of Fingerman put the readers through the ringer. It’s beautifully constructed. In a lot of ways, it’s Fingerman’s best issue, just for how he’s able to control the readers’ attention through the comic. It’s precise, but never constrained. He’s always encouraging readers to look for more and not pay as much attention to what’s actually going on with Rob’s life. It’s fantastic misdirection.

The issue’s intense. Fingerman fills every page with finality and doom. Seriously, there’s really almost nothing funny about the issue. The one notable time Fingerman goes for laugh relief, he uses it to introduce a new character and then a realization for Rob.

So Many Bad Decisions ends wonderfully. Fingerman shows off, flexes, schmaltzes; it works out.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Bob Fingerman; publisher, Image Comics.

Catwoman 1 (January 2002)

Catwoman #1

In his ★★ review of Batman Returns, Roger Ebert said, “no matter how hard you try, superheroes and film noir don’t go together; the very essence of noir is that there are no more heroes.” I disagree about the film, but not all of the quote. I agree with the first part, not so much the second. Because it’s a closed vision of heroes.

It oddly doesn’t seem to occur to Ebert how the “junkies and masochists and hookers and those who have squandered everything… [can be] the ring of brightest angels around heaven.” Because a review of a single comic book from 2002 needs this long of a preamble. One with the only time I’ll agree with Ebert this year and a great Rick Moody quote.

But Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman requires a significant preamble. Because Brubaker and Cooke crack Ebert’s problem. How do film noir and superheroes go together? Well, the superhero can’t be the hero. Batman shows up in this first issue of Catwoman for two reasons.

First, regardless of how progressive DC was being with a non-objectified characterization of Catwoman, they weren’t being so progressive they didn’t want to sell the comic. There’s an exceptionally tasteful, but sexy, suiting up sequence. Cooke can do that kind of thing, thanks to Brubaker selling Selina’s excitement. It’s believable.

That scene is so well-executed, one might just skip over it as a commercialist detail. But Batman is all commercial. You launch a spin-off of a Batman comic, Batman better guest star, especially in the early aughts, especially going from Chuck Dixon and Jim Balent to Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke. You need Batman. And this issue delivers. A full-on Batman action sequence–it’s hard to remember when Brubaker’s mainstream writing was a DC staple, not how he brought the same thing to Marvel to better sales–then Batman shows up for character stuff.

And that character stuff is the second reason Batman shows up. He’s essential to Brubaker’s characterization of Selina. Selina has an informed but seemingly simplistic view of Batman; he’s her dark blue boy scout. It gives Selina better possession over the shared setting, she belongs.

Brubaker and Cooke visualize that setting as a noir. They start with the already noir-ish David Mazzuchelli Year One visuals then develop it, creating a Technicolor film noir. Brubaker’s script follows Selina–the comic’s narrator as well as protagonist–through her last few days of sabbatical. She doesn’t know it, but she’s going to get suited up again.

There’s a lot of noir framing in the flashbacks and so on. The narrative construction is special stuff. It’s meticulous. Meticulously written, then meticulously illustrated.

By the time the most noir element comes into the comic–in its last pages–Brubaker and Cooke have already delivered an awesome read. The way the last two pages and the soft cliffhanger? It’s the chocolate sprinkles on the frosting.

CREDITS

Anodyne, Part One of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editor, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

Providence 5 (September 2015)

Providence #5

This issue of Providence has the creepiest experience for protagonist Robert Black yet–and he still isn’t getting his precarious situations. Moore brings in some other Lovecraftian elements I recognize–a toxic meteor and a peculiar fellow working in a university’s medical department–and I imagine the big twist for Robert Black, dream sequence or not, is out of a Lovecraft story.

At five issues, however, Moore and Burrows have successfully reached a point where the homage is tertiary. Black’s story, how Moore is positioning the comic as both a comic and a literary work–I think the back matter this issue takes longer to read than the front matter–those elements are what makes Providence such significant work. The Lovecraft stuff is the questionably necessary MacGuffin.

Providence is a mystery, but one where the protagonist is blissfully unaware (even after this issue) of the dangerous situations his ignorance lands him in. It gives Moore the chance to be funny while still preparing the reader to be terrified.

The contrast between the scenes as realized by Burrows and how Moore presents them in the protagonist’s diary is, as always, wonderful and disquieting. The scariest part this issue comes in the prose back matter. I’m not sure if Moore and Burrows are lulling me or not, but the idea of first person fear over third person is an engaging one.

CREDITS

In the Walls; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Jacen Burrows; colorist, Juan Rodriguez; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Kaijumax 6 (October 2015)

Kaijumax #6

Strange thing about this issue of Kaijumax… Cannon coasts. It’s a good issue and he even reveals an unpleasant reality for Electrogor (in addition to some setup for the Minya stand-in), but it coasts. Cannon’s set up a strong enough comic, he doesn’t always have to excel. In fact, he’s even able to coast past a few things here.

For instance, there’s a big plot development and it’s got a truly bad visualization. One panel from an odd angle to move the plot, then Cannon goes into a–quite good–rap from one of Electrogor’s new buddies. He sets the rap against Electrogor’s flashback, which is problematic, but he gets through it. Even if the flashback is a little rote.

The rap sort of sums up Kaijumax and its self-aware kaiju and their place in the world. Electrogor’s stoner buddy reflects on it in a rather good sequence, the rap coming in and solidifying the idea. Considering this issue is the last of the “season”–the series returning in six months or so–it’s Cannon telling the reader what to expect and declaring his intentions for the comic, maybe for the first time. Before, you had to grok it on your own. Now, Cannon’s telling you his expectations for his readership.

There’s some really good art, in both big and human-sized settings. It’s a good comic. But it’s not an ambitious one. If Cannon really wanted to be ambitious and not pick up pace towards the season finale, he’d have split this issue into two. There’s more than enough story for it.

CREDITS

Into These Forcefields; writer, artist and letterer, Zander Cannon; editor, Charlie Chu; publisher, Oni Press.

From Under Mountains 1 (September 2015)

From Under Mountains #1

I like Sloane Leong’s art. I really do. She’s got a great way of doing movement, whether characters or environmental. And her expressions are fantastic.

But I’m not sure about From Under Mountains. It’s fantasy, or at least full of fantasy gobbledygook names–the comic comes to life when it’s actual fantasy, something about a maleficent spirit (gorgeous movement from Leong on those parts)–but the rest of it is boring.

The protagonist is a princess who has no rights, no power. Her brother gets to do all these exciting things, she just has to get married off. Her dad’s a jerk. Her brother’s sympathetic but he’s deceiving the father too for something else so he doesn’t get involved. And besides the spirit, there are enemies attacking their palace.

The “story” is okay. It’s Claire Gibson’s script. It’s way too obvious, all of the time. Leong’s art helps Mountains get through, but there’s just nothing there. It’s too slight.

CREDITS

Writers, Marian Churchland and Claire Gibson; artist, Sloane Leong; letterer, Ariana Maher; publisher, Image Comics.

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