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Thursday, April 16, 2009

RECENT COMICS ROUNDUP

I've been a bit behind in making my way through my ever-growing pile of current comics thanks to being on a heroin addict-like TERRY AND THE PIRATES jag, but now that I've made it through the sixth and final volume of that series I'm getting back on track and am here with reviews of the stuff that stood out, for better or worse. But first thing's first:

THE COMPLETE TERRY AND THE PIRATES VOL. 6

And so ends my first all-the-way-through experience with Milton Caniff's landmark run on the series that redefined what could be done with comics as a narrative medium, and frankly I'm exhausted. I recommend the entire series to any and all who love comics and may have an interest in studying how to maximize your own visual storytelling chops; TERRY AND THE PIRATES, especially after its first year, is a master class in how to do comics right and belongs on the shelf of every serious enthusiast. This final volume, done just prior to Caniff leaving to launch the creator-owned STEVE CANYON in 1947, sees the now pretty much grown Terry Lee figuring out what to due with himself in the post-WWII military, aided and abetted by his diminutive Bostonian pal Hotshot Charlie (a character I initially dreaded but came to love in no time), and before Caniff makes his exit he manages to give most of the series' regulars a memorable curtain call, although one-time co-star Pat Ryan was more or less relegated to the sidelines during the WWII stories so Caniff could concentrate on the maturation of the title character. It's good stuff that ends not with a bang, but with a melancholy coda that brought Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" to mind as Terry set off into the hands of Caniff's successor, George Wunder. TERRY AND THE PIRATES is the best comics series I've ever read — though not my favorite — and easily earns my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION. I'll get around to doing a complete series assessment as soon as time permits.

SEAGUY: THE SLAVES OF MICKEY EYE #1 (of 3)

The cover features a blurb reading "The Long-Awaited Return!" What I want to know is this: exactly who awaited the return of this nonsensical-as-usual (though well drawn by Cameron Stewart) Grant Morrison series? I've enjoyed some of Grant's work in the past — most notably ZENITH, ANIMAL MAN and DOOM PATROL — but the original SEAGUY made me scratch my head in confusion when I first read the proposal for it during my Vertigo days and the finished 2004 first mini-series proved equally perplexing. From what I've read the sales on the first mini were not all that, so why does SEAGUY: THE SLAVES OF MICKEY EYE even exist? I'm at a loss to answer that question, and even moreso after reading the first issue. What did it mean? I haven't got the slightest fucking clue so commenting on the particulars of the chapter is a task rendered pretty much moot, and I doubt I'll be any more enlightened by the end of issue three. Even more mind-boggling is that Grant purportedly has SEAGUY planned out as a trilogy!

ORACLE: THE CURE #1 (of 3)

I nearly wept when BIRDS OF PREY was canceled after its long run, but at least I get kept up to date with the goings on of former Batgirl Barbara Gordon with this first of three issues. People think I'm crazy when I say I think the best thing ever to happen for Barbara was her getting shot through the spine by the Joker in the landmark BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE (1988) and being rendered a paraplegic, but I stand by that opinion since the once Olympic-level superheroine must now rely solely on her top-tier brains and computer-hacking skills as Oracle, the DCU's number one information broker and up until recently the wrangler of the women recruited into the Birds of Prey mission teams. Now it's post FINAL CRAPFEST, er, CRISIS, the BOP are defunct and Babs has wheeled her ginger ass back to Gotham in the wake of the Batman's death/disappearance in an effort to start over and redefine herself. In no time she crosses paths with the Calculator, a character who has come from out of nowhere to be a very intriguing villain over the past couple of years and an ideal nemesis for Oracle, and this new encounter results in the extremely gruesome death of one of Barbara's many operatives within the vast internet, the unfortunate "Cheese-Fiend." This character-driven first issue is quite good, especially if you're a Barbara Gordon booster, and I'm eager to see where it goes from here and in what venue Babs will next be a regular/headliner. And bring back Gail Simone to the write her, gawdammit!

MADAME XANADU #9

This excellent vertigo series continues apace in providing this former cipher of a character with a compelling backstory, bringing the immortal seer's narrative up to just before the start of WWII and the advent of the Golden Age DC heroes. In this issue Madame Xanadu's vendetta against the Phantom Stranger escalates while it is revealed that the sorcerer hero Zatara (father of backwards-spellcasting, fishnetted DCU mainstay and Justice Leaguer Zatanna) was once one of her lovers. As the mystical soap opera percolates, detective Jim Corrigan harasses the minions of mobster with the oh-so-period sobriquet of "Gat," a course of action that students of classic DC characters know will lead to a fatal turn of events resulting in Corrigan's rebirth as one of the imprint's most powerful characters... This book rocks, and while I'm not really a fan of the style of art Amy Reeder Hadley darws in, I do like what she does with it, leaving similar artists like Jim Calafiore miles behind and eating her dust. Her illustrations have a clear charm that works in perfect concert with Matt Wagner's well-written scripts, so the finished product is a lot of fun and adds up to Vertigo's best book in ages.

JONAH HEX #42

The nihilistic adventures of everyone's favorite facially-scarred Western bounty hunter continue, and while always a good read scriptwise, this series has more often than not suffered from some seriously uneven art. That's not the case this issue, however, thanks to another of Jordi Bernet's exceptional but all-too-infrequent guest turns in the illustrator's chair, adding just the right visuals to complement the Justin Gray/Jimmy Palmiotti story that gives us another glimpse into the formative events in Hex's fucking miserable life. In fact, let me take this opportunity to suggest that DC collect all of Jordi's stories into one book. Come on, do it!

GREEN LANTERN #39

We're now in "Blackest Night," this year's inevitable GL multi-part crossover, and as if the past few months haven't already given us a shitload more color-based ring-slinging factions, this issue we get Larfreeze, the apparently insane wielder of the Orange Light. We also get more info on how Hal Jordan's will is pivotal to how the powers of the Blue Lantern Corp work and... Look, this shit is kinda complicated and confusing if you aren't well-versed in Green Lantern lore, and sometimes it's confusing and convoluted even if you are, so I wouldn't recommend choosing this point to join the emerald-tinted party. I'd say grab the first collected edition of the justly-acclaimed Geoff Johns run and work your way up from there. While the current arc is a bit bloated, what leads up to it is a hell of a lot of fun, and I have hope that the current run will turn out fine whenever "Blackest Night" reaches its conclusion.

FABLES #82

Another long-running series with lengthy story arcs, FABLES finished up the epic tale that started in its first issue a few months back and what followed didn't hold my interest all that much. But now I'm glad to say that as of last month's issue things have picked up considerably and now I'm no longer considering dropping the series. This issue deals with the aftermath of the previous issue's death of a major character, so I can't really say anything more without giving away the details, but I will say it's a good read that's slightly marred by guest artist David Hahn's uninvolving and somewhat-cartoonish visuals. It's rendered in what I've come to think of as one of the "stock" Vertigo styles as seen in the work of Giuseppe Camuncoli and suchlike, and with the exception of what Amy Reeder Hadley is doing in MADAME XANADU, it's a stylistic flavor that just doesn't appeal to me. Fortunately, writer Bill Willingham is on form.

DESTROYER #1

A virtually-forgotten Golden Age Marvel hero with an origin quite similar to that of Captain America, the Destroyer resurfaces in the Two-Thousands, this time written by Robert Kirkman of THE WALKING DEAD renown. Appealingly drawn by Cory Walker, the story opens with the assumption that the original Destroyer, Keene Marlow, remained active after WWII and is now a senior citizen. The aging hero lethally and gorily kicks ass for the government, but during a checkup following his latest mission, Marlow is informed that he has an incurable heart condition and could fall over dead at any moment. It could happen in a day or it could happen in a month, but either way he will not survive for much longer, so he suits up once more, this time to permanently eliminate anyone or anything that could be a danger to his friends, his family or the world at large. Starting with his incarcerated Hulk-esque supervillain of a brother, the Destroyer embarks on his mission of death with implacable resolve, and I can tell you for certain that I'll be there for every step of it. RECOMMENDED.

UNKNOWN SOLDIER #6

Well-crafted and garnering critical acclaim, UNKNOWN SOLDIER is simply too grim and depressing a read for me and as of this issue I'm out. Plus, as previously stated, I'm no fan of some of the Vertigo "house" art styles, and Alberto Ponticelli's work falls into that category, so there's little to appeal to me here. I give Joshua Dysart all the credit in the world for his intelligent and well-researched scripting, but I read comics to be entertained and not dragged kicking and screaming into a pit of outright misery, so I've just gotta bail on this series.

HAUNTED TANK #5 (of 5)

I enjoyed the first four issues of this Vertigo-ized revamp very much, but this final issue left me cold. Rather than come to a solid conclusion, the story just abruptly stops, leaving our heroes and their spectral companion in the middle of the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and while I know mini-series like this are often designed to test the waters for ongoing monthly viability, the ending here just comes as a slap in the face. The only story point of note is the explanation of Civil War ghost Jeb's Stuart's curse, one that anyone who knows anything about American history saw coming a mile away thanks to the snippets of flashbacks seen in the previous issues. Giving away nothing you probably hadn't figured out, Stuart was a serial rapist of his slaves who sired many offspring during his unwanted visits to the slave quarters, and is now doomed by a voodoo curse to forever fight in battles involving his descendants, never gaining eternal rest. But what the giver of the curse didn't foresee was that Stuart loves combat more than anything, so what was intended as a justly-cruel bit of unending revenge instead ended up being as a reward. So there you have it. That's the "twist," so now you don't have to read this mini-series and feel as betrayed as I did. If HAUNTED TANK somehow makes it to monthly status, I hope it makes up for this screeching and disappointing halt of a non-conclusion. Oh, and anyone who doesn't think artist Henry Flint owes a huge stylistic debt to Frank Quitely is a blind moron.

THE WARLORD #1

A favorite of mine since I was ten, the Burroughs-meets-Howard-esque adventures of the Warlord are always welcome in my comics stack, even when drawn by far lesser talents than series creator Mike Grell. This return to Skartaris wisely ignores the attempted reboot from a few years ago and gives us the Travis Morgan we know and love, with his cast of memorable supporting characters in tow. Tara? Check! Shakira? Check! Maciste and Mariah aren't in this issue, but Maciste is mentioned so it's only a matter of time... Whatever the case, THE WARLORD is back and I'm once more ready to follow him down the path of dysfunctional barbarian adventure! Hey, DC: stop wasting trees on this week's Grant Morrison fish-wrapping and bring on reprints of this stuff's earlier years! I know you guys tossed us a bone with a long-out-of-print volume over ten years ago, but come on already.

WONDER WOMAN #30

After meandering for the past several issues, Wonder Woman roars back to life as the Amazon Princess stops her whinging and remembers that she's the toughest chick in the DCU. Accepting that she must put down the living holocaust that is Genocide — a truly nasty piece of work who handed Diana the beatdown of her life as well as stealing her magic lasso — Wonder Woman follows her prey's trail and brooks not one iota of bullshit in the process, knowing full well that Etta Candy's life is in the most grave of danger. As Diana weaves a trail of kicked asses and concussed heads, the Cheetah lives (presumably) to realize just how badly she's pissed off WW, Diana restores her Amazon sisters to a full-on fighting force and the Secret Society is handed its collective ass when a very angry Diana comes calling in a scene that will make longtime Wonder Woman boosters exclaim in unison, "It's about fuckin' time, lady!!!" This issue ends with a cliffhanger and allows the thus-far-tepid "new Olympus" plotline to continue, but I cannot wait to see what happens next.

4 comments:

Satyrblade said...

re. The Destroyer - I can't help wondering what the legal team for Warren Murphey and the late William Sapir (creators of Remo Williams, the Destroyer) have to say about this. Remo is still "destroying" under an imprint of Tor Books.

Bunche said...

I doubt they have much of anything to say. The Destroyer has been around since WWII, debuting thirty years before Remo Williams.

Satyrblade said...

But as I understand copyright law, the name/title would have to either be active and/or defended throughout that time to remain in force.

If I read your summation correctly, the original Destroyer was in limbo for decades and has only reently been brought back to "life." The Sapir/ Murphey Destroyer has been in constant use and circulation since the early 1970s.

We had a similar situation with the game I used to work on, Mage. I had questioned whether or not there would be a beef with Matt Wanger over the title; apparently, however, the original Mage had been out of print for five years or more by the time White Wolf's game came out. Wagner had chosen not to defend the title copyright, so it was free for use. Later, when he decided to start doing Mage: The Hero Restored, we shared a "gentlemen's agreement" with Wagner about the title copyright. I wonder if there was a similar agreement involving The Destroyer.

Bunche said...

"Virtually forgotten" does not mean the Destroyer has not been seen in the Marvel Universe since the 1940's. He's admittedly obscure, but he has turned up in stories set during that era, most recently in a WWII flashback in THE TWELVE, so presumably the copyright still stands.