The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 5 (August 2016)

DKTMR-Cv5-ds-aa40bAs the millennials like to say, I just can’t. Go on reading The Master Race any longer, that is. Maybe Miller and Azzarrello have something amazing planned for the conclusion, but anyone following this series bimonthly instead of waiting for the trade is throwing their money away. Half the issues so far have been mediocre, but this is the first to be a total waste of time. With the exception of a nice underwater Aquaman double splash page, and some cool panels of the Kandorians finally getting some of the wind knocked out of their sails, all of the imagery is recycled – not only from previous issues of the series; Miller actually swipes from himself by putting us in the cockpit of the Bat-Tank once again, and putting him back in his power suit. The only twist is that he’s now joined, in a lame pseudo-big moment cliffhanger, by Superman in his own powersuit – Superman, whose apparent death in a previous issue has now been revealed to have only been so much pointless padding for the already anemic storyline.

The mini-comic is a real stunner of a disappointment as well. There are almost no backgrounds whatsoever; Superman’s daughter and a Kandorian are flying around trading vacuous quips atop fluorescent gradients. Nothing remotely interesting happens.

The only reason I didn’t ask for my money back is that comic book shops are dying and need all the help they can get, but crap like this is exactly why they’re dying. Monthly comics probably shouldn’t be a thing any longer, unless publishers want to make a real effort towards content that justifies the price tag. Maybe they should focus on publishing “graphic novels” and transitioning the shops into full-on bookstores, while putting more effort into promoting work like Paul Dini’s Dark Night: A True Batman Story which could appeal to both casual and longtime Batman fans. Last month’s double-issue-length Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade was surprisingly entertaining – clearly Miller and Azzarello are capable of doing decent, serviceable Batman stories, which only makes a comic like this one so insulting. If the whole trifle were published all at once in one volume, it might be an overall enjoyable read. But at present, this series is a scam.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book Three; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert; inks, Klaus Janson; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Death-Ray (June 2004)

The Death-Ray

Here’s the thing about The Death-Ray–well, more specifically, here’s the thing about Daniel Clowes. He knows what he’s got. At some point during the comic, it becomes clear his ambition and his confidence are almost equal. The comic just gets better and better and it covers a lot of years and a lot of panels. Not so much pages, but panels. Clowes packs Death-Ray with panels. Never too big, but sometimes even tiny. There’s so much content. Clowes homages the experience of reading a sixties Marvel comic, but integrates everything. There’s no letters page because he knows how to get the reading experience of a letters page–at least any memorable parts–into his narrative. Sometimes through tiny panels. He’s excited and it feels extremely communal. Clowes is showing off something he’s figured out you can do with the comic book medium. He’s exuberant.

Clowes forces the reader to evaluate each narrator and balance their perspectives.
Clowes forces the reader to evaluate each narrator and balance their perspectives.

What’s so striking about the comic is how much Clowes is able to get in. He casts two comic nerds as the leads. There’s no real mention of comic books in the comic itself, but they come up with the idea for a superhero. Maybe there is some reference, the point is they’re standard characters. Only they aren’t. The protagonist, Andy, has a really messed up life. His sidekick, Louie, has a similarly messed up life, but far less tragic in the details. Even though the comic opens with Andy narrating as a mid-aged guy–and Clowes continues using him in the flashback–somehow it’s Louie who gets to have the story for a good while. Clowes wants the reader to examine Andy not from the perspective of first person narrator, but from Louie’s perspective. It’s how Clowes is able to encourage a lot of questioning. There’s a lot of text in The Death-Ray, a lot of first person, a lot of exposition–and shockingly little dialogue, Clowes just wants to hint at it, the interior mind is what’s important here–Clowes needs the reader to pay attention. Otherwise they won’t get it and he wants to see if he can pull it off.

Look at all these panels; Clowes goes even smaller to fit it all in.
Look at all these panels; Clowes goes even smaller to fit it all in.

Clowes’s style is gorgeous. He’s got a simple comic strip–detailed, but relatively simple as far as his panel compositions–for the majority of the story. It’s far from hostile. When he goes off on a comic book medium tangent, he’s got a little bit different of a style. The flashback is already in color–the present day varies between color for “reality” and monochrome for Old Man Andy’s interior monologue–but these formal tangents are somehow more vivid. Clowes wants to do an ad, he wants to do a recap, he doesn’t want to hide the entertainment from the reader. He wants you to enjoy The Death-Ray.

The romance comic homage.
The romance comic homage.

Because an entertained reader is one who pays attention and Clowes does look at a number of serious things. Louie’s misogyny, for example, and misogyny in general. A little with race. A lot with class. The Death-Ray is unpredictable. Clowes initially promises a riff on the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Amazing Spider-Man with annoying indie comic sidekick. He excels on his fulfillment of that promise and then he moves on. He takes the reader through various stages of expectation–whether it’s Andy imagining everything, Andy being some kind of superhero, Andy being some kind of monster. Old Man Andy is narrating and The Death-Ray is all about readers having no idea who is in their head. And Clowes navigates it beautifully. He guides the reader, occasionally a little hard but always with respect. He never gets impatient. There are no false starts in The Death-Ray’s plotting. Clowes paces it deliberately, sublimely.

Clowes does regular high school comic strip too.
Clowes does regular high school comic strip too.

When the comic ends, Clowes gives the reader a multiple choice question. He directly asks readers to reflect back on the comic they have just read. There is a test. You had to be paying attention to the details in those really tiny panels.

The Death-Ray is a great comic. It’s also a singular use of first person, with the consequences of the narrative distance being something the narrator himself gets to exploit. It’s really good.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Daniel Clowes; publisher, Drawn & Quarterly.

The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade (June 2016)

lastcrusadeIn their 2016 campaign to Make Batman Great Again, Miller and Azzarello have temporarily abandoned all pretense of progress – as indicated by the retro DC logo on the cover – and gone straight back to the source with this one-shot prequel to The Dark Knight Returns. Batman nerds know Miller predicted the death of Jason Todd in the first issue of that series, before DC made it official with the Death in the Family storyline. You know, the one where fans could dial a 1-800 number and cast their vote to not to let Jason survive The Joker’s beating. Thus does The Last Crusade have a weird circuitous purpose: retelling a story whose conclusion is foregone, as the prequel to a story which predicted the event…as a hypothetical aside. Retcon-Elseworlds-Rehashing at its most truly incestuous.

The pleasant surprise is that Miller and Azzarello actually outdo their recent efforts. The Last Crusade is a more enjoyable read than The Master Race has been so far, and a better value at $6.99 for 57 pages compared to Master Race’s $5.99 for 35. Unlike the shallow bombast of Batman and Superman saving the world from Kandorians, this story aims low and deep and hits its target. From the start, there’s a nicely quiet sense of dread on a personal, non-apocalyptic level, building suspense as The Joker orchestrates his escape from Arkham while the division between Jason and an aged Batman grows deeper. The thrust of the action is utterly perfunctory as they investigate the most routine of Poison Ivy schemes, with a little special guest muscle by Killer Croc. Joker is separate from all this to the point of practically being in another book, his portentous importance is telegraphed by the cover. Even for the Batman comics reader unfamiliar with Jason Todd’s death at Joker’s hands, their fatal crossing of paths carries the aura of grim inevitability although the final pages don’t make the actual fatality particularly apparent.

I didn’t grow up in the Jason Todd years of the comics but if his gimmick was being a “Dick” instead of a “Dick Grayson”, it does read slightly weird for the Batman of Frank Miller’s sovereign Dark Knight Universe to reprimand this Robin for being too sadistic or reckless, when he’s been far and away the most inglorious bastard Batman of all time. Under questioning, Miller and Azzarello would probably argue that since this is the near-retirement stage of that Batman, he’s a little more mature and less psychotic than he was in the All-Star Batman and Robin days. Everything about superhero continuity lore has become so cyclical since the 80s, yet Miller and Azzarello still kind of justify this rehash by returning to the idea of Batman as a prize fighter whom everyone knows is past his prime – exploring his shame, the fact he knows he’s slowing down, that his friends and enemies are noticing too. This focus on aging, and on flesh not keeping up with a willing spirit, creates a thematic through-line with Dark Knight Returns and inadvertently kind of points up the absurdity of the sequels, where Bruce never seems to get tired anymore although he’s older than ever. Batman’s internal monologues and narration aren’t as memorable as those of Dark Knight Returns but they absolutely flow from the same vein. Prequel or sequel, this slim volume is so much closer to the kind of follow-up fans wanted than The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Better late than never?

John Romita Jr.’s art provides the work a needed prequel continuity as well. His draftsmanship’s sketchy grittiness is much closer to Miller’s style than Andy Kubert, as is Peter Steigerwald’s pale and muted coloring. The script doesn’t make the insulting choices seen in The Master Race, of padding a thin plotline across pointlessly large action panels. Here the terse writing is thoughtfully staged at a steady pace without filler. As a comic the action feels alive, rather than looking like conceptual art for a film or storyboards for a cartoon.

A few words about The Joker: first of all, he sells comics. That’s why he’s on the cover. But as someone who’s thoroughly tired of the character’s overexposure and hype, I’d forgotten how much I like Frank Miller’s Joker and it’s kind of nice to spend time with him again. Given Frank’s politics, I’m shocked he’s not re-teamed with the Ayatollah Khomeini. Miller’s Joker was conceived pre-Killing Joke and was arguably (unfortunately) more the basis for the modern mainstream conception of Joker, the version who’s supposed to be scary and edgy and never actually funny. This take made the most sense when envisioning an older version of the character to fight an older version of Batman – sort of what the real life Bill Murray became; not so much a sad clown as a clown grown jaded and smug. Miller just writes him so well as a wistful queen, and unlike Heath Ledger Miller’s Joker is genuinely enigmatic and creepy because Miller is kind of crazy himself.

If you haven’t bothered picking up The Master Race yet, you should definitely wait for the trade. But if you’d like a swig of Frank Miller that actually tastes like The Dark Knight Returns, The Last Crusade is a satisfying little one-shot.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, John Romita Jr; inks and colors, Peter Steigerwald; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

Pretty Deadly 10 (June 2016)

Pretty Deadly #10

Pretty Deadly wraps up its second arc with the series’s standard mix of action and humanism. Standard isn’t a pejorative; creators DeConnick and Rios have always taken a singular approach to genre with the comic. They refuse to firmly foot in any–this arc is a WWI story and the story of a black family in 1918(?) America–they also refuse to rely on any genre tropes, yet there’s always a familiarity with them. Pretty Deadly is an intentionally tough comic to digest. The digestion process is where DeConnick and Rios are able to affect the reader the most.

About half this issue is resolution to the arc, which suggests a single sitting read of the arc might be in order, and the other half is mostly action. Except it’s Rios’s mystical, yet very physical, action. There’s a fluidity to the movement in the mystical action–the reader has to find their own entry point and then follow the movement across the page. Lots of full page spreads here–again, it’s the last issue in the arc, so there need to be money shots. Rios fills them with glorious dread.

While DeConnick wraps up for the arc’s new characters, she does make a few hints to Deadly’s future. But as Pretty Deadly moves across time periods–it started as a Western–DeConnick opens it up more. The implications of the mystical world of the Reapers aren’t just how it relates to the present action of the arc. DeConnick and Rios are gradually introducing a much bigger world.

Pretty Deadly is simultaneously loud and quiet, thrilling and reserved. It’s an excellent comic.

CREDITS

Writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick; artist, Emma Rios; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Sigrid Ellis; publisher, Image Comics.

Scooby Apocalypse 2 (August 2016)

Scooby Apocalypse #2

It’s Aliens. Giffen and DeMatteis are doing “Serious Scooby-Doo Meets Aliens.” And it’s pretty good.

This issue has the gang trapped in an underground bunker where they have to crawl through the ceilings but avoid the monsters crawling through the ceilings. There’s a lot of emphasis on the humanity of the situation, but then there’s Porter’s art doing these exaggerated hero poses for the characters. What’s so strange is how little it has to do with Scooby-Doo. Giffen and DeMatteis have almost no interest in the dog (or his interactions with Shaggy). It’s not pop culture fulfillment, it’s a brand relaunch.

Hence the lack of Doo in the title?

It’s strongly plotted, great dialogue, excellent visual style. Scooby Apocalypse is great corporate product. It’s not sublime, but it’s great at what it’s trying to do. I just wonder how long Jim Lee, who’s credited with the concept, worked at it and whether or not he had help (or was filling a request from corporate).

CREDITS

Apocalypse Right Now!; writers, Keith Griffen and J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Howard Porter; colorist, Hi-Fi; letterer, Nick J. Napolitano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Spire 8 (June 2016)

The Spire #8

There are many impressive things about this final issue of The Spire, but I think the most impressive has to be how Spurrier and Stokely pace the whole thing. It’s got a quick reveal to solve a mystery, but then spins into this third act for the entire series. Not to mention a simultaneously tragic and awesome moment for one of its most endearing characters.

Hero fartslam indeed.

While Shå solves The Spire’s mystery internally, there’s also the external (to the Spire) battle raging. Or preparing to rage. Spurrier and Stokely toggle quickly between the plot threads, agitating the reader and the characters. Everything is urgent, everything is important.

There are lots of revelations this issue. Probably half a dozen, maybe a few more, but Spurrier has the reader (and the characters) ready to digest them while in motion. There are no pause points; he never has to go overtly expository. The Spire is sci-fi fantasy noir, using the best narrative devices of each genre.

It’s also the best kind of depressing–symmetrical in its tragedy. Spurrier and Stokely make it move so fast, it haunts the reader without ever having to shock the reader.

The Spire is outstanding. Spurrier and Stokely. Hero fartslam.

CREDITS

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

Detective Comics 934 (August 2016)

Detective Comics #934

What a nice pilot for a new Detective Comics. Batman and Batwoman are partners–their mission is to train the vigilantes of Gotham to fight some new threat. This threat follows them around with little bat-drones, but Batman can’t figure out they’re still being followed. It’s a team book, but with familiar Bat-family members and a decidedly modern approach. Heavy on the one-liners, heavy on implied action, light on actual content.

Is the problem the art or the story? Well, Eddy Barrows’s art isn’t there but it might be with a better inker. Eber Ferreira doesn’t have a feel for the art. He rounds it, reduces it, instead of emboldening it. Would better art make a significant difference? No. Would great art make a significant difference? Sure. But it’s a monthly superhero book and Barrows delivers it.

So is it the writing? Yeah, sure? Sorry to be so noncommittal but Detective Comics feels pretty noncommittal. Writer James Tynion IV mostly gives everyone sound bites instead of dialogue. Spoiler and Robin have a conversation, Batman and Batwoman, Batman and Clayface, but these are quippy, fast conversations. It’s meant to entertain not tell a story, because Tynion doesn’t have a story to tell.

I suppose Detective Comics is better than I was expecting (though nowhere near what I was hoping for). But it’s just a mediocre superhero book (in desperate need of better editing).

CREDITS

Rise of the Batmen, Part One: The Young and the Brave; writer, James Tynion IV; penciller, Eddy Barrows; inker, Eber Ferreira; colorist, Adriano Honorato Lucas; letterer, Marilyn Patrizio; editors, Dave Wielgosz and Chris Conroy; publisher, DC Comics.

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 4 (June 2016)

STK699760Once again Miller and Azzarello punish me for getting my hopes up with this series. Once again, too, I notice myself praising Miller alone for every good chapter and the two of them for every bad one. As the series lurches onward, the finality of The Dark Knight Returns and its pitch perfect “good enough” grace note of a conclusion to Batman’s adventures are only further diluted. The Master Race is in an alternating holding pattern, as I recall issue #2 was similarly lethargic. The plot progresses predictably with zero surprises to the reader. The spoilers are two sentences long. $5.99 for two sentences worth of plot development, stretched out by endless splash panels and another mini-comic of wonky Frank Miller art, which is sadly the only memorable part of the experience. For DC, not Detective Comics but the asset of Time Warner’s media empire, to charge $5.99 for this while an indy outfit like Avatar Press charges a buck less per new installment of Providence is utterly pitiful. On the plus side Miller does retain a consistently pessimistic, contemporary point of view – Obama and Trump are again invoked and this time disparaged as equally cowardly appeasers to the eponymous Master Race. He and Azzarello do know how to plot out their simple, cynical story. The insult to the reader, which ruins these positives, is how blatantly he’s elongating a four issue story across eight issues for what can only be a contractual obligation. Per Miller’s worst habits, they haven’t even been published in a timely manner.

Being a member of that tiny hipster elite who can find some value in The Dark Knight Strikes Back, it saddens me to realize every time I reach Miller’s mini-comic midway through a new Master Race that his late-period derangement, which Big Two fanboys consider his weakness, isn’t even present here. His art is still big and crazy, he just didn’t care about this project enough to contribute more than a few pages every couple months, leaving Andy Kubert to carry that load with competence that feels reliably adequate to the point of blandness. The new series has been dishearteningly lacking in any big or crazy ideas; the storyline is neither as jarringly off-kilter as Dark Knight 2 nor as fresh and original as Dark Knight 1. This is a book that goes out of its way not to take chances. Dark Knight 3 simply exists, as Dark Knight 4 could someday exist and make all thast came before just a little less special. Something like All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder was at least a beautiful disaster; a joyously irreverent prank. Master Race reads as though Azzarello came up with the uninspired story purely as a mechanical continuation of what is now a franchise (there’s a prequel coming) and Miller peppered in his stylized dialogue afterward.

Has anything really innovative actually been done with Bats or Supes since 1986 when Miller and Moore wrote their imaginary final adventures? Every other week DC relaunches their “universe” hoping someone will figure out how to make them relevant again, and it seems increasingly apparent that The Dark Knight Returns and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow really were the ultimate showstoppers. If Batman is doomed like all superheroes of the current era to be merely an amorphous multimedia IP rather than a comics character, the best entertainment anyone can hope for are occasionally some good cartoons. Maybe when The Lego Batman Movie is the highest profiting Batman movie of all time DC will finally give up on self-serious, pointless cash grab comics for nostalgic manboy fanboys and grow a new comics readership where the real money is: actual children.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book Four; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert; inks, Klaus Janson; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Baker Street Peculiars 4 (June 2016)

The Baker Street Peculiars #4

As it turns out, I was silly to worry about Baker Street. Langridge has a wonderful conclusion for the series–a little more aimed towards the trade read, but wonderful nonetheless.

Langridge resolves the immediate story in the first third of the comic (or something approximating between third and half) and it’s mostly an opportunity for Hirsch’s art. It’s all action, with a concise visual pacing. The kids have to take down the army of Golems in a fantastic sequence.

But then the comic changes gears as it heads for the finale. Langridge isn’t as interested in the resolution of the Golem invasion as he is in his characters (specifically Molly). Hirsch and Langridge pack the panels with information–foreground and background–as the whole thing turns into an actual argument over responsibility and gender stereotypes.

Once the danger is resolved, Langridge isn’t done. Sure, Hirsch doesn’t get a lot to do in the denouement, but he’s got enough to do and Baker Street is too busy having fantastic dialogue. Langridge has a phenomenal knack for pacing out an argument, which he shows twice this issue.

I’ll have to read Baker Street Peculiars again someday, in a single sitting. But it’s already a significant success in the floppies.

Oh, yeah, there’s a whole Sherlock Holmes deconstruction thing going on too.

CREDITS

The Case of the Cockney Golem, Chapter Four: The Battle of Brick Lane; writer, Roger Langridge; artist and letterer, Andy Hirsch; colorist, Fred Stressing; editors, Cameron Chittock and Sierra Hahn; publisher, KaBOOM!

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 3 (February 2016)

dk3After Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Dark Knight III: The Master Race suddenly seems a lot better. The film wasn’t as bad as everyone histrionically made it out to be – Zach Snyder at least understands how to use these characters to compose compelling imagery, unlike Christopher Nolan. What the film reconfirmed to me is how irrevocably superheroes are tied to the comics page. This is their medium, and ironically only the relentless march of superhero movies can make me appreciate the value of a superhero comic. Frank Miller and Zach Snyder do have several things in common: an unpopular public image, a uncomfortable fixation on rape as a dramatic device, and an ambivalence bordering on contempt for Superman. As many reviews have pointed out, Ben Affleck’s Batman is essentially Frank Miller’s Dark Knight brought to life; an older and surlier abstraction of grimly righteous vigilantism who, yes, will pull the trigger of a gun if it means saving a life because that’s a decision a so-called “realistic” superhero would have to make, you liberal fanboy wimps. It’s really too bad Snyder didn’t do The Dark Knight Returns instead of Watchmen or BvS, not that BvS didn’t just swipe DKR sequences left and right throughout. Miller is a simpleton but Snyder does a simpleton’s adaptation of a simpleton. All the hammering on about gods and man and superman feels like it has a bit more of a point in Miller’s hands.

Issue 3 finally brings Bruce Wayne and Batman out of the shadows and as I’d hoped, Frank Miller still writes those cranky internal monologues better than anyone. If anything he’s writing them better than ever, now that he’s aged within five years of his old-man-Batman. He also incorporates topical problems better than any Marvel superhero screenwriters, who tend to namecheck “the issues” while studiously avoiding alienating any potential section of their audience, or David S. Goyer’s various Batman scripts from the past decade which use a ponderous tone to mask their dull lack of imagination. Miller’s deftly sardonic usage of text message balloons and Tweets are as relevant and witty as his usage of cable news in the previous two volumes of the Dark Knight saga, and even pay off in a funny scene when various Gotham-ites are too busy with their phones to pay attention to the super-apocalypse. Miller actually puts some pretty harsh anti-consumerist stuff in the mouths of his characters, reminding that though the medium has been generally dumbed down by the death of print, it’s still beneath the mainstream radar enough to function as a gutter platform against sacred technophilia.

The story is dumb as can be, but the writing has a lot of wicked satirical flourishes besides making fun of these kids today and their social media addiction. There’s a Trump cameo that probably wasn’t originally planned when the series started back in November 2015, so it’s nice to know the series is alive and malleable. Thematically Miller seems to be developing a redemption of Superman – something Snyder insincerely made overtures towards. Having been a government stooge until now, Supes is at last poised to fight in the right alongside Carrie Kelly and Bats. All it took was betrayal of the titular Master Race to which he belongs, and to which the Earth’s governments have collectively surrendered. Unbound by Hollywood squeamishness, Miller is allowed the full effects of his cynicism towards both the genre and modern society: his superheroes obliterate millions of people and millions more respond with media-saturated apathy. The unfairly maligned The Dark Knight Strikes Again felt like a true reflection of recent post-9/11 discord compared to the moment-of-silence-now-back-to-tights-and-fights business acumen from the rest of DC and Marvel. Dark Knight III‘s story reads like Frank Miller screaming in your ear that things have only gotten worse, as the slicker Andy Kubert art suggests a world painted over with a shinier gloss of distraction in the interim.

Kubert’s art is growing on me though, aping Miller’s staging and character designs at the right moments, and well complimented by Klaus Janson’s inks. Brad Anderson’s coloring continues to impress, especially his use of muted colors in the Antarctic and underground locales. Miller indulges in a splash page or reveal practically every two pages, but Kubert’s art justifies them and his command of visual language is solid. Unfortunately it’s used as a crutch throughout the otherwise forgettable Miller-drawn mini-comic of this issue starring Green Lantern. Apparently DC has been printing some of these issues with the mini-comic scaled to full size at the issue’s end, which is a mistake because having a comic-within-a-comic is an artistic choice unique only to comics, and comics need the boosterism.

Against better taste, Miller’s misanthropic idiosyncrasies continue to intrigue as to what he’ll do in the DC toybox. The serial installments may not be worth the cover price but as a whole, the whole experience is improbably shaping into something worthwhile.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book Three; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert; inks, Klaus Janson; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

Scooby Apocalypse 1 (July 2016)

Scooby: Apocalypse #1

I wouldn’t call Scooby: Apocalypse so much good as successful. It’s Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis doing a “grown-up” version of Scooby Doo, which isn’t something I would’ve thought there’d be an audience for but now I’m not so sure. All of Giffen and DeMatteis’s instincts when it comes to the characters are spot on. They’re “grown-up” and modernized but still annoying in the same ways.

And Howard Porter’s art is an interesting choice. Velma and Scooby are the most successful, with Daphne and Fred being somewhere in the more obvious realm and Shaggy being a riff on eighties Mike Grell Green Arrow for whatever reason. In look, not characterization. As far as characterization, it remains to be seen if Giffen and DeMatteis have arcs for the characters or just a lot of solid banter.

The story’s fine–it’s the team’s origin story, Scooby is a failed Army super-dog experiment, Daphne and Fred are lame TV journalists, Shaggy is Scooby’s hopefully stoned handler. I didn’t notice any bud though. If Giffen and DeMatteis can get away making Shaggy and Scooby actual stoners… well, it’d be funny.

Even though Porter’s visualizations of characters are sometimes weird, his art’s totally competent. He puts work into it and he does get how to pace out the script’s jokes.

It’s not a great comic, but it’s not a bad one at all.

CREDITS

Waiting for the End of the World; writers, Keith Griffen and J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Howard Porter; colorist, Hi-Fi; letterer, Nick J. Napolitano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Letter 44 25 (May 2016)

Letter 44 #25

I think I just read my last issue of Letter 44, at least as a monthly. I’m not one hundred percent, but I’m a lot closer than I’ve been. Because this issue is where Soule shows just how good he is at dragging it all out. He’s really good at the pacing, bringing in just about everyone for this issue. There’s scene after scene with the Builders, the astronauts, the President, the reporter from a few issues ago. Then there’s this really manipulative cliffhanger and I just don’t care.

There needs to be a point to all the manipulation and there’s not. At least if Soule stuck with the Christian allegory stuff, he’d be doing something. Instead, he’s treading water. Lots of scenes, lots of exposition, a couple big pointless scenes (like the first one in the comic). If he can’t even work up enthusiasm for the story, why read it?

Letter 44 has always had one big disconnect–Soule’s a much better writer than Alburquerque is an artist. The book is all Soule. It’s a Soule-ful book, one might say.

Wokka wokka.

It’s not like Alburquerque swoops in and ups the art game to save it. The book’s wandered around too much, the characters are all jerks, who cares if the world blows up; at least they’d stop being jerks.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 5 (April 2016)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #5

Squirrel Girl. Squirrel Girl vs. Dr. Doom, which feels like the longest absurd battle of all time. It just seemed like it was going to go on forever. This issue makes it all worth it, this issue has North bringing all the elements together–and there are a lot of them and he creates more problems to solve here–and presenting them to the reader. There’s so much time travel stuff. North is thoughtful about it but not overly serious about it. It’s a great time travel storyline. In Squirrel Girl. Involving Dr. Doom.

Henderson has a lot of different stuff to draw, but she’s got to keep up an insane pace. North is hurrying the reader. He’s not in a hurry, he’s intentionally hurrying the reader to control expectation. It requires Henderson to convey a lot of information without taking up room, both on the page and in the reader’s imagination.

I really like this comic. It started pretty strong and North and Henderson just work to make it better and better. Even with a silly villain like Dr. Doom, they’re able to turn in some excellent mainstream work.

CREDITS

Writer, Ryan North; artist, Erica Henderson; colorist, Rico Renzi; letterer, Travis Lanham; editors, Chris Robinson and Wil Moss; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Kennel Block Blues 4 (May 2016)

Kennel Block Blues #4

Ferrier tries really hard to get this issue to the finish. It doesn’t really happen. Oh, he and Bayliss get there, but there’s nowhere for them to be. The characters never resonate; definitely not the protagonists, who have almost no chemistry. Ferrier takes it out on an even bigger downer note.

This issue has a musical number and a prison riot. Now, Kennel Block Blues has never shown the human “guards” past some demonic hands. Only they’re people. There is some semblance of functioning reality to the book, as much as Ferrier tries to avoid it, he does need it. Because if there’s not a functioning reality, who cares if these dogs get loose.

Maybe the first half of the issue is solid. Bayliss’s art is good throughout, but Ferrier’s only got story for the first half. Once there’s the prison break, he loses track.

It’s a bumpy book, with great art and not bad zeitgeist gimmickry; Ferrier can’t bring it together for the finale.

CREDITS

Writer, Ryan Ferrier; artist, Daniel Bayliss; colorist, Adam Metcalfe; letterer, Colin Bell; editors, Mary Gumport and Eric Harburn; publisher, Image Comics.

The Baker Street Peculiars 3 (May 2016)

The Baker Street Peculiars #3

It’s more a cute issue than anything else, which is kind of strange. But it’s Langridge reinforcing the relationship between the kids when he ought to be doing more with them and the plot. Instead, he locks them up for most of the issue until they argue out all their problems. It’s not a talking heads book, but all the tension is their relationship dynamics not their actual danger. It’s weird.

And it’s fine. Langridge does a fine job with it. It’s weird, yes, it feels like meandering, but it’s still well written. He does make the characters more likable, make their relationships stronger. He just doesn’t get anything done while he’s doing it. Peculiars loses a layer.

Good art from Hirsch. He gets to imply a lot more than he gets to actually render for most of the issue. When he does finally cut loose, there’s some glorious golem-ized statues terrorizing London.

Peculiars is a fine comic. It just doesn’t seem to be living up to my expectations of its potential.

CREDITS

The Case of the Cockney Golem, Chapter Three: The Old, Hard Cell; writer, Roger Langridge; artist and letterer, Andy Hirsch; colorist, Fred Stressing; editors, Cameron Chittock and Sierra Hahn; publisher, KaBOOM!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 4 (March 2016)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4

I’m only going to complain a little but I am going to complain. North really can’t handle this arc; I mean, this issue isn’t a bridging issue, it isn’t an anything issue. It’s too much a part of the story arc–Squirrel Girl back in time trying to stop Dr. Doom from taking over the future–so nothing else really builds. There’s also not much to do build in the past. Or at least North isn’t going that route.

Instead, he’s got a lot of talking heads. Lots of planning, lots of Doom ranting. Just lots of talking. There’s some good art–Henderson can keep up with the talking, but she also gets to do a bit of variety–future Doom-world, 1960s New York. Henderson is really pushing things here, which is good. The book needs energy from somewhere.

Some of the issue might just be Dr. Doom saturation. He’s such a “fun” villain, but he’s got limited character possibilities. While North gets to a good cliffhanger with Doom this issue, he takes forever to get there.

CREDITS

Writer, Ryan North; artist, Erica Henderson; colorist, Rico Renzi; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editors, Chris Robinson and Wil Moss; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Hot Damn 2 (May 2016)

Hot Damn #2

I’m still undecided on Hot Damn, which I wasn’t expecting. I was expecting to jump off with this issue–something about Ferrier’s writing style for this comic, he’s trying too hard to be flashy. He knows Ramon can really do up the Heaven and Hell scenery and Ferrier pushes it. There is actual nuance to some of the characters, Ferrier just doesn’t want to get caught up.

He wants to be sensational. He wants to do something blasphemous. He fails. Even with Ramon’s art, Hot Damn is just desperate for attention. I’m not even sure what zeitgeist it’s chasing, because Ferrier has original material and then he has tropes he goes through. Maybe it’s something with IDW editorial. Hot Damn is creator-owned but does have an editor.

So I guess I’m on for another issue. There’s some good stuff in the issue, some amusing moments, some very amusing sight gags from Ramon. There’s also a lot of lame stuff in the issue, lame moments, lame sight gags from Ramon. I’m far more curious to see if Ferrier gets anywhere, even somewhere tepid, with Hot Damn than I am to see how the narrative goes. While narrative’s barely passable, the execution’s bewildering.

CREDITS

Writer, Ryan Ferrier; artist, Valentin Ramon; editor, David Hedgecock; publisher, IDW Publishing.

HOT DDDDDDD

Hot Damn 1 (April 2016)

Hot Damn #1

Didn’t I just read a Hell series lately? Or was it a Heaven series? One or the other. Or it’s both. Hot Damn is sort of both. Ryan Ferrier writes, Valentin Ramon illustrates. It’s the story of some guy who ODes on coke and dies. He goes to Hell. Hell has thousand year twelve step programs (regular sinners promoted to demons), it has gross junk food, it has crappy apartments, it’s generally icky. With lots of fluids.

Ramon does a fine job with all the Hell stuff. He does a fine job with all the Heaven stuff (angels getting stoned, mostly). It’s detailed and never too icky. There’s far more implied grossness than actual.

But is Hot Damn any good? Eh.

It’s okay. It’s not the worst “slacker goes to Hell” story in the world. It’s not the best. Ferrier’s a problematic writer, but he actually doesn’t do much here. The jokes are all pretty standard, there’s nothing of particular note about the characters. I thought the Devil was going to be interesting, but no. He’s just a boring office guy so far. Sure, Hitler, Stalin and Mao are all in his office being tormented but it’s Hell. Stalin, Mao and Hitler in Hell are all tropes.

Maybe something interesting will happen next issue. But, sadly, I sort of doubt it.

CREDITS

Writer, Ryan Ferrier; artist, Valentin Ramon; editor, David Hedgecock; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Punisher 1 (July 2016)

The Punisher #1

What a lousy comic. I mean, I didn’t even care about Steve Dillon’s artwork. His lines get thick during action sequences and lose all fluidity. Dillon’s precise line work always implies movement, entropy, never static. He looks like he’s doing pin-ups this issue. Punisher pin-ups. Is it 1993 or something?

I can’t figure out who Marvel is targeting with this Punisher variation. Let’s go through all the pieces of the pie. First, Steve Dillon’s back. He hasn’t been on the book for a while, right? And he was on the book during multiple good new (or post-Angelic) Punisher titles. So Dillon alone might be a sale. Except now you need a writer–Marvel should’ve just gotten Dillon a ghostwriter for the book, it couldn’t have been any worse and probably would’ve been better–but it’s 2016 and Marvel has a diversity problem. So get Becky Cloonan to write the book. Name female creator. It’s almost an event comic.

Only bad Punisher comics aren’t events, they’re the standard. Cloonan and Dillon turn in a lame issue. Cloonan writes Frank with less personality than a slasher movie villain, only Dillon draws him very superhero, very compensation Frank. Cloonan’s got these moron DEA agents who would have been lousy cop characters in the early eighties, much less now. Her dialogue’s thoughtfully written but it meanders in exposition land. Or she just has terrible editors.

Finally, this Punisher is the first series since regular people started caring about the Punisher, thanks to the “Daredevil” TV show. Shock of shocks, a “Punisher” show got announced just a few days before this issue came out. It’s buzzy. It’s Disney (and if Disney just means nostalgia-based brand synergy, so be it). Anyway, buzzy says it needs to be accessible as well as notable. Cloonan’s there for her buzz cred, not because she has some great Punisher story to tell.

Or maybe she does and it really is just another Lethal Weapon riff with war buddies selling dope and one of them having to stop it. But I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt.

Marvel apparently thinks they need it to have mass appeal, which is admirable but impossible. **The Punisher** is pulp, it’s exploitation. For it to succeed, it’s got to have an edge–it can’t be bland. And this book couldn’t be blander.

CREDITS

TITLE; writer, Becky Cloonan; artist, Steve Dillon; colorist, Frank Martin; letterer, Cory Petit; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Jake Thomas; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Spire 7 (March 2016)

The Spire #7

The Spire is racing. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it was always headed to this place, where Spurrier rushes everything. Every subplot, every character, the cliffhanger resolution, the mid-issue reveals, everything is rushed. When it gets the final panel and Shå says “it all ends tonight,” Spurrier and Stokely are out of breath. It’s an exhausting read.

Stokely does better than Spurrier. There’s some rather good art moments, visual moments, while Spurrier’s got almost nothing going in the script. When he does have the opportunity to really write a scene, he goes the other way and lets Stokely figure it out visually. The Spire is a good comic, no doubt about it, it’s well-executed, it’s inventive. It’s just too much this issue. Spurrier wants it to do too much.

There’s enough story here for two issues. With the pacing, with the reveals, Spurrier could do two issues. There’s a whole Pug subplot Spurrier races through. It’s penultimate issue, wrap-up stuff.

I’m assuming (and hoping) Spurrier’s got a stronger narrative next issue. I want The Spire to end well. Stokely–and Spurrier–have done some excellent work on this book.

CREDITS

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

Velvet 14 (April 2016)

Velvet #14

Brubaker just did the Brubaker thing where his narrating protagonist finds something out but the reader can’t know about it so instead the protagonist just talks about how this piece of information is earth-shattering. It might not even be the first time Brubaker’s used this device in Velvet. It just sticks out because it involves the kidnapping of Richard Milhouse Nixon, who’s a vaguely likable dope here. Certainly far more likable than Ford, who also shows up for a second to get blackmailed.

The Nixon appearance, the Ford appearance, the guy at the end who is either the Sean Connery from The Rock stand-in or maybe he’s just supposed to be Sean Connery James Bond, it’s all a bunch of nonsense. I mean, it’s pretty nonsense to be sure. Even though Epting doesn’t have much to draw here, he draws it all very well. The kidnapping of the President is real boring. Brubaker sort of rushes through it. He hurries, let’s say he hurries. It doesn’t give Epting anything to do with it, except occasional (and awesome) Nixon reaction shots.

But the comic ends with the guy who’s after Velvet tracking down Velvet. Sure, she knows more than she did before, sure, James Bond might now be involved, but who cares. It’s a bridging issue. The red herrings are just there to distract from how little is going on.

Like I said, it’s Brubaker doing a Brubaker standard. I wasn’t surprised or even disappointed. Just a little tired. If only Epting had something great to visualize, the issue might’ve worked out a lot better.

CREDITS

The Man Who Stole the World, Part Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos; editors; Sebastian Girner and Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.

The Baker Street Peculiars 2 (April 2016)

The Baker Street Peculiars #2

I’m not sure what Langridge is shooting for as far as minimum age requirement for Baker Street. It’s a fine issue, with great art from Hirsch and some wonderful scenes from Langridge, but it gets rough. And one of the Peculiars seems to be ten or eleven and, I don’t know… it just seems scary. I found it disturbing, I mean. Langridge ostensibly kills off a couple characters on page.

Ostensibly because maybe they could recover from their deaths in a later issue. There’s magic involved, very inventive magic. Langridge does Baker Street with thirties enthusiasm, Sherlock Holmes enthusiasm and magic enthusiasm. Very specific magic enthusiasm, which he’s excited to share. The comic doesn’t feel didactic but it feels quite smart.

The first half of the issue, bringing all the Peculiars back together, sending them to get their mission–it’s real strong. Langridge and Hirsch don’t have anything but good moments. There’s a charm in the writing, a charm in the art. They’re similar but different enough for Baker Street to have just the right level of enthusiasm. Even though everything in the second half is good, it’s never as seamless as the first. Langridge gets a little lost in all the exposition, then the severe danger.

But it’s a dang good comic regardless.

CREDITS

The Case of the Cockney Golem, Chapter Two: The Lion, the Lord, & the Landlady; writer, Roger Langridge; artist and letterer, Andy Hirsch; colorist, Fred Stressing; editors, Cameron Chittock and Sierra Hahn; publisher, KaBOOM!

Ganges 5 (February 2016)

Ganges #5

Huizenga. Ganges. It’s been ages. I don’t even think I’ve read the previous issue.

An issue of Ganges operates on many levels. There’s what Huizenga is doing as a cartoonist, what he’s doing with the art. But then there’s why he’s doing it. This issue has a history lesson and a science lesson. Huizenga should probably just do a bunch of science books. They would catch on. He’s great at presenting these complex ideas in welcoming, understanding artwork.

Still, it’s not just information for the reader, it’s information for the protagonist, Glenn (Ganges). Glenn is reading some of this history book to his girlfriend, he’s also just reading some of it to himself. Huizenga takes those distinctions seriously. The story whirls the reader around, even during the longer sequences. Glenn has a busy mind (the premise is he can’t sleep because he can’t stop thinking) so the comic itself has to be busy. It also has to be methodical and reasonable because Glenn’s mind is reasonable to itself. Presumably.

It’s a wonderful comic. Huizenga always delivers. Whether it’s the history lesson, the science lesson, the physics lesson, Glenn and his girlfriend almost fighting, a funeral, whatever–Huizenga delivers magnificent scenes and sequences. Ganges. Huizenga. Phenomenal.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Kevin Huizenga; publisher, Fantagraphics.

Pretty Deadly 9 (April 2016)

Pretty Deadly #9

Pretty Deadly is such a strange book. Rios’s art is perfect. She’s got a fable to do, the World War I battlefield, the mystical stuff. It’s all perfect. She’s controlled in showing the horrific nature of combat, very precise. The comic is visually unsettling, which is an ideal match for DeConnick’s approach to the script. It’s meticulous while still being confusing.

With Deadly, I always wonder if reading it three times an issue, then again in the trade, would be the best way to get all of it. DeConnick has so much going on–and toggles between things (you’ve got to love how she basically is doing traditional, juxtaposed comic book action), plus there’s the fable to figure in.

It’s serious work. I think I love that aspect of Pretty Deadly the most. It’s very, very serious. Rios and DeConnick aren’t messing around. If there’s a smile in the issue (and I don’t think there is one this issue), it’s because DeConnick is letting the reader have it. Mystical embodiments of war and death aren’t funny. The First World War isn’t funny. It’s not a gag. It’s a backdrop for DeConnick and Rios’s explorations.

I’ll read all again someday, once it’s finished. I want that experience.

CREDITS

Writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick; artist, Emma Rios; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Sigrid Ellis; publisher, Image Comics.

Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special (April 2016)

Criminal: 10th Anniversary Special

Wow.

On its own, Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special is objectively excellent. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips do the touching story of a boy and his jerk criminal dad. Set in 1978. And there’s a juxtaposing of an old Marvel-esque kung fu comic. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s sad. It’s a great story.

But there’s so much texture to it all, as the special ties into the old Criminal books. It’s not a haphazard anniversary issue by a couple excellent creators; it’s an excellent anniversary issue, its creators taking it all very seriously. Brubaker and Phillips aren’t congratulating themselves with this Special, they’re awarding the reader with it. It’s this perfectly paced, perfectly conceived gem of a book. It’s got beautiful art from Phillips. He has this way of protecting the son whenever his father is around, implying it through the composition and the panel layouts. It’s such a smart comic.

It’s also fun. The kid meets a girl. She’s precocious. Brubaker hinges the whole comic on her–it’s a pre-teen romance of sorts–and he does a great job on her character. He presents the readers two views into the story, one through the kid’s, one through the girl’s. He does it with this wonderfully prompt pacing–Brubaker and Phillips and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser (who’s become an essential part of the team) take advantage of every page, every panel. It’s flawlessly executed.

The Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special is a class act and a great comic.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Kennel Block Blues 3 (April 2016)

Kennel Block Blues #3

I had to reread parts of this issue of Kennel Block Blues because it really does fit my theorized pattern to Ferrier’s four issue limited series. Great open, weak second issue, then strong for the last two. The guy needs to just go with three issue limited series, he really does.

This issue has the hero–Oliver (not Elliot, I think I called him Elliot last time)–in solitary. He’s got to confront the truth about himself in order to become the superhero. It’s not deep because it’s kind of absurd. Ferrier’s trying to do it from the dog’s perspective, but not the anthropomorphized dog, the actual adorable puppy.

Bayliss does a wonderful job with all the art. He’s got three very different tones to bring together and he does–real world, “human” world, hallucination world. Blues becomes a Disney movie for a second, then goes back to being a Miramax movie.

It’s a strange book and not entirely successful. The characters are good, but thin. Ferrier’s relying on the gimmick. Albeit a sturdy gimmick.

Good comic.

CREDITS

Writer, Ryan Ferrier; artist, Daniel Bayliss; colorist, Adam Metcalfe; letterer, Colin Bell; editors, Mary Gumport and Eric Harburn; publisher, Image Comics.

Letter 44 24 (April 2016)

Letter 44 #24

Reading Letter 44, I always wonder, with this issue be my last. Will Soule or Alburquerque do something I just can’t get onboard with. Usually, it’s never anything seismic so I get over it (Alburquerque’s Roman centurion garb for future soldiers) but Soule is tripling down with the religious “message” here. Message gets quotation marks because who cares if the whole thing is just God’s messengers saving some of humanity.

I mean, if I wanted to read some sci-fi along those lines, there’s always the Arthur C. Clarke Rama series of books. Soule doesn’t bring anything to the genre (Christian sci-fi). Even though he does get back to his “West Wing” knock-off a little bit, but it’s been too long. Letter 44 doesn’t get by on charm or ingenuity anymore. I read it because I’m a Letter 44 reader.

And this issue will not be my last. But the next one might be. It’s just too much. Soule’s drained all the humanity from the comic. It’s a bunch of scenes with people you sort of remember caring about at one point.

Oddly, the most startling thing about the issue isn’t the crucifixion imagery or the Jesus imagery… it’s Tupac cameoing in a flashback set in January 2004. Tupac, of course, died in September 1996. Maybe there’s a sci-fi God in the Letter 44 universe, which is fine, but if you’re going to bring in Tupac for a terribly edited cameo, make him surviving part of the comic.

Otherwise, teach the editor of the book how to use Wikipedia. Or Google. Or even Bing. Ask Siri. I don’t know. Something. Edit this book. It’s too late to fix it, but editing would still help a lot.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

The Spire 6 (January 2016)

The Spire #6

This issue of The Spire is a weird read. It takes place outside the city, with Shå in disguise and acting as a bodyguard. A forbidden, unknown bodyguard, but bodyguard nonetheless. There’s a lot about the religious fanatics, setting them up as villains–with the awkward shortcut of comparing them to Christian fundamentalist bigots. But while Spurrier’s setting all that stuff up in the wasteland, he’s also keeping some wheels of intrigue running in the city.

With the setting, with the wasteland, Spurrier and Stokely have this foreign but very familiar comic book sci-fi setting. It’s just the right mix of everything, so beautifully brought together with Stokely’s organic artwork. He’s got the right level of detail, though he does go deeper with it on the wasteland half of the issue. It’s a voyage of discovery not just for the reader, but the characters as well. The reader has finally become a Spire city dweller.

But since Shå is in disguise the whole issue, the comic sort of doesn’t look like The Spire. Shå, as a character, changes. Her actions read differently with a different face. I’m curious if Spurrier’s going to do anything with it or I was just surprised to see the viciousness in an altered context.

Great finale with Shå interrogating an evil priest guy. Very unexpected finish.

CREDITS

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

Kennel Block Blues 2 (March 2016)

Kennel Block Blues #2

Kennel Block Blues has that predictable Ferrier drop in quality the second issue. I’m fine with it. What’s weird–and I was expecting Ferrier to have a drop because he’s stretched three issues worth of story to four issues before–is how well Blues contains the explosion. The story this issue–involving a terribly planned prison break (I mean, one really has to question the intelligence of this dogs)–rearranges the characters. It doesn’t develop them, it moves them to different places in the narrative. Actually, it’s weirder than I thought….

Well, in rearranging the characters’ conflicts, it acts more as a postscript to the first issue than it’s own part of a whole. It’s a treading water issue, only really, really fast treading. Ferrier has a lot to get through. He and Bayliss don’t just have the prison break to stretch out, they also have the way they introduce the plan. It’s awesome visual pacing from Bayliss. It’s not particularly effective because there’s no content, but the art’s great.

So, even though it’s not a great comic, it’s a well-produced mediocre one. Ferrier hasn’t found the right editor. Or I’ll be wrong and the next issue of Blues won’t recover; I think it will though.

CREDITS

Writer, Ryan Ferrier; artist, Daniel Bayliss; colorist, Adam Metcalfe; letterer, Colin Bell; editors, Mary Gumport and Eric Harburn; publisher, Image Comics.

The Baker Street Peculiars 1 (March 2016)

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The Baker Street Peculiars is pure delight. Of course it is. Baker Street is Roger Langridge finding a wonderful collaborator in artist Andy Hirsch. Both creators have separate enthusiasms for the comic, in addition to where their enthusiasms coincide. The setting, for example, is a place where Langridge and Hirsch both find ways to get excited about their respective contributions. Langridge has all sorts of narrative and dialogue flourishes, while Hirsch has them on the art. The book has a fantastic energy.

Langridge opens in the middle of a chase sequence, bringing the three leads together. They’re an ideally mismatched bunch–shop-keeper’s granddaughter, rich kid, Bengali street urchin–who are each adventurers, but almost in a non-fantastical “kid’s adventure” sort of way. Their team-up leads them into a truly great adventure. Though, as Langridge and Hirsch have fun showing, any adventuring in 1930s London is going to be pretty awesome.

Of course, I’m not talking about everything with the book because I’m not sure where it’s going to go next issue. If the big twist–which is beautifully handled–is resolved next issue, I’ll spoil. Otherwise, I’m waiting until the finish. Needless to say, Langridge does wonders with the expectations he and Hirsch build throughout the comic to deal with the twist. It’s expertly done.

CREDITS

The Case of the Cockney Golem, Chapter One: A Beast in Baker Street; writer, Roger Langridge; artist and letterer, Andy Hirsch; colorist, Fred Stressing; editors, Cameron Chittock and Sierra Hahn; publisher, KaBOOM!

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