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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

RECENT COMICS ROUNDUP

I haven't reviewed much by way of comics lately so here are some short notices, some of which include minor spoilers, so proceed at your own risk.

THE WALKING DEAD #48

For the better part of the last year or so I'd begun to lose interest in this generally excellent series because it seemed to be treading water; the events during our heroes' captivity in the clutches of the Governor were indeed horrifying, but the extended bits focusing on the daily grind as the survivors tried to make an abandoned maximum security prison into a viable living space dragged on too long for my liking. But, wouldn't you know it? Just as I was lulled into thinking the series was going nowhere, this latest issue comes out and continues the previous installment's balls-out rampage with a fast-paced chapter that ups the ante of shocks on each page, culminating in a masterpiece of sheer, unadulterated bleakness. This one's going to upset a lot of readers, so take that statement for what you will. As for me, to say more would be criminal. A solid 10 out of 10.

USAGI YOJIMBO #110

Stan Sakai's anthropomophic animal/samurai epic could arguably be called the best ongoing American comics series, and if you have no idea what I'm talking about the vast majority of it is available in nearly a score of collected editions, each and every one well worth your hard-earned cash. Taking a break from its usual multi-issue story approach, the latest issue is a comedy involving Usagi, his mercenary companion Gen, and what happens when they wander along a mountain path known to be within the domain of some Kitsune, Japanese fox spirits known for their ability to shape-shift and the fact that they are easily offended... Not gonna say anything more, other than to urge you give this series a try instead of wasting another cent on tree-wasters such as 52 or the latest X-book. And it's suitable for kids, too!
8 out of 10; USAGI is always good, but it works best in longer arcs.

WORLD WAR HULK AFTERSMASH: DAMAGE CONTROL #1-3

As Marvel is wont to do during and after whatever its latest crossover/event book may be, there were a few spinoffs from WORLD WAR HULK — which started out great, but predictably disappointed at the end — and the only one worth reading was this latest go-round with the Damage Control crew. I remember back in junior high school wondering aloud to fellow comics nut Matt Snow if there were some kind of construction team that dealt with the urban decimation incurred during the dozen or so superhero fights that take place in the Marvel Universe's version of Manhattan every week. A few years later, Marvel provided the answer with the humorous adventures of Damage Control, and I've enjoyed the characters ever since. In this three-part micro-series, the team must rebuild the Big Apple after the events of WORLD WAR HULK and much insanity ensues. Not for all tastes, this is a fun diversion for those who ponder the logistics of of the Marvel Universe's day-to-day municipal services and should be approached with tongue firmly in cheek.
7 out of 10.

THE TWELVE #4

Appalling cover notwithstanding, this J.M. Straczinski-scribed twelve-part tale of time-displaced WWII mystery men is about as compelling as a festival of "talking heads" can be, aided in no small part by Chris (MINISTRY OF SPACE) Weston's skillful rendering of the the mundane. The story of "man out of time" heroes has certainly been done before — Captain America, anyone? — but using this crew of ridiculous D-grade Golden Agers in that role is fun for being able to see what gets done with "who cares?" heroes like the Phantom Reporter, the Fiery Mask (star of Marvel's single most ludicrous Golden Age story, and that's saying something), the Blue Blade, and Rockman.
7 out of 10; not much happens in this chapter, but it sure does look good.

THE BOYS #17

Garth Ennis's latest foray into laddish adventure, mayhem, and gleefully sophomoric bad taste continues apace, taking the romance of Wee Hughie and Annie, two relative innocents in a world of superpowered twistedness, to the next level. Their love story is genuinely sweet and makes me wish that romance comics were still a viable genre so Ennis could let his tender side loose in that arena, but I'll just have to settle for what I can get in his superhero stuff. By now you may have heard about the bit that puts a coda on a beautiful love scene that readers have been waiting for since the sparks between Hughie and Annie began to fly, but I won't spoil it since it is laugh-out-loud funny if you like gross-out humor (as do I), but I will say that such things do happen and sometimes serve to forge or strengthen intimacy between lovers, so keep that in mind rather than being offended.
9 out of 10; the Hughie and Annie love scene is a thing of beauty, bad taste ending or not.

TEEN TITANS: YEAR ONE #3 (of 6)

I guess it's supposed to be symbolic or remind us of their mentors (like we needed that), but I absolutely hate covers that bear no relation to what's between the covers (and what's up with Robin and the extended open palm? Is he respectfully greeting a Yakuza oyabun?) . No, the nascent Titans do not spontaneously grow up (thankfully), but the issue does explain why their adult counterparts were being such assholes for the past two issues, a reveal that absolutely no one reading it will care about. This series is merely adequate, perhaps designed to appeal to fans of the TEEN TITANS cartoon (I'd say the anime-inspired artwork is a dead giveaway regarding that), but it offers little to fans of what has come before and only serves to remind us of just how far these characters have been allowed to sink since the Wolfman/Perez glory days, or even the first year or so of the Titans' current monthly series. If you must read this, borrow it from a friend when it gets collected. 5 out of 10.

ARMY @ LOVE #12

Rick Veitch's twisted bastard son of soap operas and war satire has survived its first year, and, unlike some other Vertigo books I could name, I welcome its continuation and eagerly await each new installment; this is one of the handful of books that I actively seek out each month, and I urge you to start reading it immediately, starting with the first collected volume. War is hell, and all's fair in love and war, two things Veitch seems to understand quite well, and his epic of the fucked-up love affairs of a whacked-out cast of characters hooked me from the very first panel. Possessed of a wicked and decidedly dark (and silly) sense of humor, the narrative sends up our nation's current ill-advised involvement in the Middle East while allowing its characters to wallow in a cornucopia of sex, drugs, and weirdness seldom found outside of an underground comic from back in the stoner era of my formative years (the late 1960's through the late 1970's), and having been weaned on the likes of Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, and Gilbert Shelton, I welcome my monthly dose of lysergic gallows humor with open arms and an occasionally altered mind. This series is tough to describe in much the same way as trying to explain the ins and outs of a soap opera, so just trust me and start with the collection. And considering how Vertigo has been compiling stuff before the ink's barely dry on the monthly issues, I'd bet that the second volume will be in comics shops probably by June at the latest.
9 out of 10; a very satisfying end to the series' first year.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #36

And speaking of soap operas, this is basically the latest part of a placeholder until the inevitable return of Steve Rogers, but that's in no way a condemnation. The continuing machinations of the Red Skull and Dr. Faustus keep on coming, Sharon Carter's unenviable predicament gets stepped up another notch, and Bucky's job as the new Cap isn't going as smoothly as he would have hoped, all of which makes for an entertaining read. But having gotten into Ed Brubaker's Cap run with that awesome CAPTAIN AMERICA OMNIBUS, which contained some thirty issues plus a special and an annual, I think this series is most satisfying when read in large chunks, and I think I may hold off on the monthly issues until the next bloody enormous doorstop edition. We'll see if my Jones for keeping up to date gets the better of me, though...
7 out of 10.

GREEN ARROW AND BLACK CANARY #6

Two of my favorite characters since childhood, especially when paired up, the Arrow and the Canary are fortunate enough to be in the hands of creators who are clearly having a lot of fun with them. Winick's held the pair's scripting reins since Kevin Smith took a hike from them a few years ago and has them one-hundred percent nailed, and Cliff Chiang's art is a treat for the eyes, working a style not spoiled by noodly amounts of detail that instead opts for solid drawing and a well-considered sense of "less is more." In short, the book's one hell of a fun ride, and actually makes up for the fact that DC ass-fucked its readers some months ago by issuing a much-hyped Green Arrow/Black canary wedding special in which the two did not tie the knot. At the moment, the Arrow and the Canary are searching for the bastards who shot Ollie's son, Connor, rendering him brain-dead, and woe unto anyone suicidal enough to get in their way, so f you're looking for old-fashioned, non-superpowered costumed heroics with lashings of a relationship character study, look no further than this series.
8 out of 10.

MODERN MASTERS VOLUME FIFTEEN: MARK SCHULTZ

One of the few comics artists who's so outrageously skilled and talented that he can rightfully claim the title of fine illustrator, Mark Schultz creates art that's simply impossible for a person like me, someone raised on the heroic tales written by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, not to adore and devour. Crafting lush images of science fiction and fantasy overflowing with dinosaurs, barbarians, jungle lords, adventurous, bosomy beauties, and a million other things that make my ninnies hard, Schultz utterly blows me away, and when it comes to depicting this sort of material I consider him second only to Frank Frazetta in his prime, and I can think of no higher compliment for an artist. The MODERN MASTERS series has yielded uneven results in its content, in terms of artists chosen to showcase, examples of their art, and especially when it comes to the interviews — a real pity since these books are essentially full length interviews tarted up with generous helpings of the subject's work, so the artist had damned well better have something to say that's worth reading for a hundred or more pages (give or take) — but this time around all is right. Schultz, best known for his work on XENOZOIC TALES (more commonly known to the layman as CADILLACS & DINOSAURS), has a way of discussing his work that's every bit as fun and interesting as what he commits to paper, and the art accompanying his interview is simply drool-worthy. No bullshit, every panel the guy draws looks as gorgeous as this, (click on it and be amazed!!!)
so even if you have no interest in his subject matter, you have to admit that the guy can draw his ass off. A steal at a mere $14.95, this one's a must-have if you acknowledge your inner Burroughs, or Howard, if you will.
A rock-solid 10 out of 10; art so beautiful, it'll make you give your mother a "Tony Danza."

4 comments:

Jared said...

That issue of Walking Dead kicked ass in a crazy messed up way!

Anonymous said...

Rick Veitch returned to Vertigo? Wow - apparently, even peace in the Middle East must be possible, then!

Lubbert Das said...

Couldn`t agree more in regards to your comments on the latest issue of The Walking Dead. The prison arc went on far too long and I was seriously losing interest in one of the few books that I buy on a monthly basis, so it was great that he finally kicked it up a notch with 48-great stuff!

Dec said...

That issue of Walking Dead upset me so much when i finished it, i closed it, put it down and just had to walk away from it.

The Twelve is also one of the best books out there right now, in my humble opinion.