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Monday, March 16, 2009


Here's the latest rundown on the comics I've read, specifically the ones that stood out for better or worse in my recent stack:


Every time USAGI YOJIMBO appears on this list you can expect the same summation: it's simply the best ongoing title in American comics and you should be reading it, whether or not you care for samurai sagas. A synopsis of the issue would probably confuse a newcomer, so all I have to say is it's solid and completely entertaining from top to bottom each month and there is no other comic going that can boast such a track record. Stop reading FANTASTIC FOUR and funnel that money into a far more deserving title, damn your eyes!


I've found Superman's books unreadable for years thanks to increasingly mediocre art and so-called stories, so when this first installment of a twelve-issue maxi-series turned up in my stack I almost immediately dumped it onto the stack of discards that I donate to the Hispanic butcher shop/deli/convenience store around the corner from the Vault. What stopped it from joining the likes of assorted issues of MANHUNTER, ROBIN, and the most recent ass-reamings of the Batman was when Chris Weston told me about it some weeks ago and said Superman will be appearing in this rather than his own monthly books. I don't know if that's accurate or not but it sounds like madness to me, so I sat down and read this first issue to see just what it was about. I have severe doubts that, based on the volumes that we know about him as a character, Superman would fuck off from the world that adopted him, leaving behind his wife, his job, his friends and his self-appointed role as the number one defender of the Earth in order to live with a bunch of restored-to-proper-scale Kandorians, and this first issue did nothing whatsoever to sway me from that viewpoint. It's a soulless gimmick story that we know will amount to nothing once its pre-ordained run is over, so why bother at all? It's boring, the art is dull and nothing really happens. Pass.


The most fun of Marvel's monthly books continues to deliver the goods with this double-sized issue. We get the origin of the Herc, a helpful recap of his entire career in the Marvel Universe version of events and a decent backup story featuring Amadeus Cho, so this one's nothing that'll knock you out but it is the equivalent to a junk food meal of buttered popcorn — real butter, not that partially-hydrogenated soy bean oil shit — and pigs-in-a-blanket. Not high-class, but damned sure tasty.


The latest installment of the GL soap opera continues the "Prelude to Blackest Night" and hands us Daxamite Lantern Sodam Yat's expected reaction his mother's plea for him to save their world from Mongul, Kyle Rayner and Soranik Natu breaking the Guardians' new law against members of the Corps having romantic/sexual relationships and one beaut of a brawl between Mongul and Sinestro Corpsman Arkillo that's quite literally a no-holds-barred battle of titans. This savage set-to is brutal as all fuck and the two participants show not a lick of concern for innocent bystanders or buildings or anything else as their fight destroys anything and anyone unlucky enough to be nearby. The outcome will make some readers blanch, but I dug it and it made perfect sense. Good green fun of the kind that doesn't involve a bong.


The overall story arc that sustained this generally enjoyable series came to a logical and satisfying conclusion several issues back and now the series struggles to come up anything as compelling as what came before. It's meandering a bit and trying to set up something worth reading, but the real meat and heart of FABLES has ended and while that's perfectly okay I'm beginning to lose interest. Despite the inclusion of thinly-disguised versions of Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser I'm getting close to bailing on the series, so I hope writer Bill Willingham can kick things back up to the levels of I expect from him. Hopefully sooner than later.


Sooner or later I'll get around to spotlighting this series in the way it deserves, but let it suffice to say it's one of the "must read" books for me every month and has been ever since the characters got together a few years back in the entertaining-as-hell VILLAINS UNITED and continuing in the SECRET SIX mini-series. Basically a team book about some of the most dangerous criminals in the DC Universe working together for a number of reasons, it's a great multi-character study with scripts by Bunche-favorite Gail (BIRDS OF PREY) Simone and anything that can make one of the most feeble bad guys of all time, the idiotic Cat-Man, actually cool and a force to be reckoned with is well worth reading. Plus, the shit's funny! RECOMMENDED.


The second half of a two-parter in which scarred gunman/bounty hunter Jonah Hex goes after a sadistic doctor who has more in common with Jack the Ripper than Hippocrates pays off with some serious nastiness. Let's put it this way: if you were stupid enough to torture Hex — Jonah. Fucking. HEX. — and not haul ass to a whole other continent after he escaped your clutches, would you have any right to expect to live all that much longer? Simple fact of the matter is once he's healed, it's your ass. Period. You might as well grab a shovel and start digging the hole yourself, or maybe smear your body with rancid chopped meat and wait for the buzzards to arrive. The result will be the same no matter how you choose to approach it, especially when the scarred and vengeful Tallulah's along as unwanted backup (no one ever said Hex didn't have a bit of macho pride and DIY ego). A Western is a welcome change of pace from all the spandex stuff I read and one as unflinchingly unpleasant as the ongoing adventures of Hex, a favorite since my childhood, makes me quite happy and is another of my monthly must-reads. The stories usually rank at least an 8 out of 10, but the art on this series varies widely, although we do get occasional issues drawn by my man Jordi Bernet, so it's always worth checking out.


The biggest "downer" book in American comics history continues apace after last issue's awful recounting by hard-case Abraham of the fate of his wife and daugther during the early days of the zombie plague and his subsequent descent into practical survivalism/barbarism. This month we see our heroes continuing their incredibly depressing road trip, a journey fraught with madness, tragedy and a "swarm." I was going to give up on this deeply-affecting epic misery-fest almost a year ago, but I'm glad to say that I have since butched-up considerably and reaped the rewards for having done so. RECOMMENDED.


While Gail Simone achieves minor miracles with SECRET SIX, her run on WONDER WOMAN continues to flounder in recent months after a promising start. I'd say I haven't really enjoyed this book for at least six months and I hope that's due to Simone having something, anything, up her sleeve to make up for it. What appear to be the Greek gods have returned from outer space (?) and established an all-male version of the Amazons and Themiscyra, Wonder Woman is more or less engaged to Nemesis — one of the most uninteresting characters I've ever read and definitely not a worthy match for the Amazon princess — , Diana had her ass seriously kicked a couple of issues ago and can't deal with a major badass like herself suffering such a punishing defeat and, lastly, her golden lasso was stolen by the villain who laid her low. That villain would be "Genocide," a by-the-numbers female knockoff of Doomsday who holds little or no interest other than that she's had the lasso surgically implanted into her body so she can draw from and simultaneously corrupt its powers. I hope all of this pays off in the near future, otherwise it's bye-bye. Again.

SPOILER ALERT!!! Skip this section if you plan on reading this series! Trust me, you'll be glad you did and I recommend each volume wholeheartedly.

There are very few comics that I would rank as just about "perfect" in damned near every way and this one leads the pack. Milton Caniff's landmark newspaper strip was seminal for a legion of reasons and once it hit its stride it was never short of a gripping, thoroughly entertaining read. Political correctness is best ignored when experiencing TERRY AND THE PIRATES from a 21st century perspective and the material must be seen as a product of its era— the mid-1930's through just after WWII — so once you get past interpreter "boy" Connie's "comic relief" mangling of the English language and the Dragon Lady providing the archetype for the scheming Oriental sex-bomb/femme fatale/bitch goddess you're in for an epic and picaresque ride that enthralled the American public for very good reason. Clocking in at a beautifully-reproduced and hefty average of 750 pages each, plus comprehensive historical text pieces and indexes, these volumes from IDW could not be any better if they tried. It's just not physically possible, unless they included framable original art, but that ain't gonna happen.

Volume Two: 1937-1938.

Volume Two comes hot on the heels of Caniff having put the series through what amounted to a "shakedown" period in which he figured out what he wanted to with what began as a kid's adventure strip, but here's where he really starts cooking with gas thanks to the newspaper syndicate's boss telling him to "draw the strip for the man who buys the paper," emphasis on "man." With the approval of his boss, Caniff turned TERRY AND THE PIRATES into the daily comics page's equivalent to a really good adventure pulp, filled with as much grownup intrigue, sex (in the form of Caniff's hot and strong female character. some of whom were prone to be seen in varying degrees of undress) and violence as he could get away with and the strip was all the more engaging for it. In this volume he-man Pat Ryan once more encounters the love of his life, Normandie Drake, but all hope of a romantic reconnection is dashed when he discovers she's married to Sandhurst, a droopy-faced dead ringer for actor Charles Laughton, who proves to simultaneously be both a complete pussy and one of the most frustrating and loathsome villains I've ever read about; I fucking hate the guy and as a result he's earned a special place in my heart for being one of the most unique bad guys ever. Trust me, you'll understand when you read it. Klang the Warlord makes his assholish debut, we meet the "muscle" of our heroes' team, the gigantic and mute Big Stoop (who ranks among my favorite characters), and studly pilot Dude Hennick (an old friend of Pat Ryan's who's based on a real-life close friend of Caniff), while Burma and the Dragon Lady are stuck with other for a story arc, so it's a powder keg of excitement as young Terry Lee also suffers the agonies of puberty in the midst of all the mayhem (which really sucks because he's got both Burma and the Dragon lady hanging around him, but he's at least ten or fifteen years their junior).

Volume Three: 1939-1940.

Wow. Just...WOW. Caniff introduces us to young Southern belle April Kane, a brunette cutie who kinda/sorta becomes Terry's age-appropriate love interest and also catches the sinister eye of Sanjak, a criminal mastermind who also happens to be a lesbian cross-dresser (yes, you read that right, and keep in mind that it was 1939). Also brought onstage are the foxy, mysterious and American-educated Hu Shee and the silver-haired Raven Sherman, a complicated woman who will later feature in one of the strip's most famous sequences... Maybe I should shut up now, but before I do I'd like to name this as probably the most knock-down, drag-out fun volume I've read thus far.

Volume Four: 1941-1942.

As I write this I'm about halfway through this Volume Four and quite shaken by its breakneck pace and the very tragic turn it takes. The characters move from one harrowing, hair-raising sequence to the next with barely any time for the reader to catch their bearing, so while very entertaining this is easily the most exhausting of the lot thus far. Caniff had addressed the real-world Japanese incursion into China and clearly expressed a distaste for them for quite some time, even predicting the Japanese — referred to as "the Invader" — would ally themselves with the Germans and coming up with Kraut asshole Kiel as a villain (and abuser of the lovely Burma) in light of that, a decision that drew protests from some German-American readers. But all that was moot when December 7, 1941 rolled around... Caniff was as shocked and incensed as the rest of the American public by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but the realities of the comics biz had him plotting and drawing well in advance of his publication dates so he couldn't get to having his cast deal with Pearl Harbor and America's entry into WWII until the arc that was running at the time had played out; I'm still in the middle of that and I can't wait to see how the heroes' lives are affected by the war. Caniff was a staunch patriot and I know both Terry and Pat will soon end up enlisted, but I'm curious to see how that will matter to the appearances of Connie, Big Stoop and the Dragon Lady, to say nothing of Burma. Guess I'll find out soon enough. Oh, and just for the hell of it, here's a great Caniff watercolor portrait of Burma dolling herself up, no doubt in preparation for vamping some poor sap out of his cash:

Burma: a bad girl whose baser skills and instincts are put to the test by the positive influence of Pat Ryan and Terry Lee.

1 comment:

John Bligh said...

I get what you mean about the Superman book. While it was competent - OK writing and very good art - it just smacks of the kind of gimmick we see from both majors regularly nowadays. And why are Kryptonians always portrayed as one dimensional, incredibly stupid humans? They're supermen, for godssake!

I have faith in Willingham rising to the occasion with Fables. He just completed one of the greatest 75 issue arcs in funny book history. Give him a chance to recharge the batteries.

I'm glad Tallulah was back in Hex. Thought the end of the Sawbones saga was lacking somewhat, but still a great series overall.

The day something positive happens in the Walking Dead, the series will die.

When Secret 6 is inevitably collected, I'll pick it up based upon your glowing recommendation.