It's that time again, so here we go with a look at some of the recent stuff stocking the shelves at your local comics shop!
RAWHIDE KID: THE SENSATIONAL SEVEN #1 (of 4)
Marvel brings back the gay interpretation of the Rawhide Kid and this time they get it right. While displaying some of the usual stereotypical tropes exhibited by homosexual characters as handled in the mainstream, this gay caballero is both a top-level gunfighter and a serious badass whose toughness is countered by his lavender ways. This first issue has Rawhide (nee Johnny Bart) begin gathering a posse of renowned good guy gunslingers to aid him in taking on an army of owlhoots who intend to hang the captive Earp Brothers, and his first recruit is none other than Annie Oakley. Fun from start to finish and illustrated with his usual visual panache by Howard Chaykin, this gets a big "Hell, yeah!"
RAWHIDE KID: THE SENSATIONAL SEVEN #2 (of 4)
Rawhide's recruitment campaign continues amidst much humor and badassery, and among those joining his crew are Marvel western mainstays Kid Colt, the Two-Gun Kid, and Red Wolf (who's studying for a Harvard law degree and is psyched to be included because he gets to kill pale faces), along with real-life badass Doc Holliday. There's even a throwaway bit in which Rawhide "outs" a certain lawman and his faithful Indian sidekick that's sure to render my pal Big Black Paul irate, if you ask me it seems like Rawhide's talking shit based on supposition rather than concrete knowledge, but then again what do I know?
BIRDS OF PREY #3
The fun keeps on coming as scripter Gail Simone continues to rock like the badass she is. I won't tell you what it's about, but I will urge you pick this up if you aren't already reading it. I also recommend any and all of the collected editions of the earlier run of BIRDS OF PREY, especially Gail's stuff. Best female-centric superhero book out there and it always goes straight to the top of my "must-read" stack.
The first story arc wraps in a very satisfying manner and both art and script work in perfect concert with one another. Though not as heady as Doctor Strange's downright hallucinogenic exploits, Zatanna's magical adventures are a hell of a lot of fun and if the series maintains the level of quality found in the initial three issues, I'll be along for the duration.
THE FLASH #4
I am thoroughly enjoying what Geoff Johns is doing with the (unnecessary) return of the Barry Allen Flash, and this latest chapter just moves along like a well-oiled machine when bringing the fun. Definitely worth reading and seeking out the previous installments.
THE WALKING DEAD #75
The bleakest ongoing book in American comics continues apace, as series protagonist Rick seriously loses his shit. I enjoyed this issue until its last seven pages, a section that features one of the hoariest "twist" gimmicks in comics, and it's something I've felt has been played out to the Nth degree for decades... Hopefully the next chapter won't be an issue's-worth of (SPOILER DELETED).
FANTASTIC FOUR #581
Yaaaaaaawn...Yet more time travel mishegoss. Once more dredging up one of my least favorite minor FF characters, namely Reed's dad, Nathaniel Richards, this installment sees Nathaniel traveling back to Reed and ben's college days to recruit them and Victor von Doom for a mission that will save...the...Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...Whoa! Sorry, I was dozing. It may be time to once more give my favorite Marvel superteam a miss...
FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #32
Better than FF#581, mostly by virtue of the gorgeous Bryan Hitch artwork, this annual is a nod to FANTASTIC VOYAGE in which our heroes get small and venture into the body of Johnny's recent date, who has turned up pregnant. Not all is as it seems and what transpires is definitely not uninteresting — I love the idea of the Human Torch finally finding himself in the position of possibly being a father after one of his countless conquests — but the reveal of the piece's villain is majorly anti-climactic and actually derails what could have been something other than a standard slugfest. Worth a read, but inevitably mediocre storywise.
THE BOYS #45
In part two of "Believe," the shit hits the fan as Annie informs Hughie of the fact that not only is she a superhero, she's also a member of the Seven, the vile pack of super-assholes that Hughie and the Boys are striving to eventually take down. There's other stuff going on here but the romance between Hughie and Annie has charmed me since this series' early days, and now the bloom is definitely off the rose...
AVENGERS PRIME #2 (of 5)
It's all about Alan Davis' art as Thor, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark find themselves in all manner of deep shit while separated and lost in the realms of Norse mythology. The story's decent, but it definitely takes a backseat to the eye candy.
WONDER WOMAN #601
After all the hooplah over J.M. Straczinski taking over both Wonder Woman and Superman in hope that he could breathe new creative life into them, I was surprised to find that I did not hate his take on the Amazing Amazon, even though he basically erased all of her previous history and Greek mythology-based origin story (more or less). I'm a Wonder Woman booster and would like nothing more than to see her in the hands of a writer who gives her some personality, rather than having her just being the visually iconic prototype for the comic book super-female. Superb BIRDS OF PREY and SECRET SIX scribe Gail Simone gave it a valiant shot during her tenure on the series, but I'm willing to bet that her run didn't catch creative fire due to the Powers That Be at DC not letting her have any fun with their most marketable female character and shake things up, so Straczinski's run doesn't even try to deal with Wonder Woman's established and somewhat moribund status quo. Instead, he wipes the slate clean with a literal deus ex machina and gives us a Diana who was sent, Moses/Superman-like to be raised among mortals. In this current Straczinski-dictated reality, Diana is still figuring out some of her abilities while trying to track down Amazon diaspora while they are being hunted to extinction by some as yet unexplained genocidal bad guys. She's certainly tough and badassed but, as this issue was filled mostly with exposition, there was no room to see how Straczinski handles Diana as a character. What will he bring to the plate in terms of giving her a personality? I hope to find out next issue.
So J.M. Straczinski's way to reboot Superman is to have him walk across America in an attempt to re-connect with the common man...Um, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the Green Lantern and Green Arrow do pretty much the same thing forty years ago? This initial chapter of "Grounded" (following a prologue in the previous issue) features Superman walking around Philadelphia and, other than talking a woman out of killing herself, pretty much does fuck all. The attempt at Capra-esque sentiment and homespun charm rings as false and also makes no sense, coming as it does after Superman (and consequently Clark Kent) being away from his job, his wife and the planet for a year (in a truly worthless story arc), and it's a total waste of the character. A major portion of the character's appeal is him doing "super" things. Shit, his fucking name is goddamned Superman, for fuck's sake! And what does Straczinski have him do? Use his x-ray vision to tell some Joe Sixpack that his car's fuel line is clogged. No, seriously. Yeah, there's a bit where Superman uses his heat vision to burn up some drug labs, but it's a big yawner. If this is how DC plans to save the Man of Steel and keep him current, you can count me out.
GREEN ARROW #2
Other than an entertaining sequence in which Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen hand out ass-kickings to a small army of heavily-armed assailants, there's nothing going on here. Seriously, why is this even being published? The adventures of the Green Arrow have pretty much been a creative black hole for years, so why perpetuate the misery by allowing him to headline an ongoing book? Is it a tax write-off or something? I like Ollie quite a lot, but his being a strong enough character to headline his own book has been open to debate for a long time and it's obvious that there is still much to debate. I say use him judiciously in guest appearances until someone has a story about him that's really worth telling.
GREEN LANTERN #56
More twisted fun as things with the Orange Lantern, Larfleeze, get interesting with an assist from Hector Hammond. Good stuff, but unless you you've been reading this run of GREEN LANTERN since issue #1, you'll likely be lost. Backtracking to the early collected editions is advised.
CODENAME KNOCKOUT: THE DEVIL YOU SAY (trade paperback)
Proving once again that Vertigo is scraping the barrel for stuff to collect and reprint (while still neglecting the excellent FINALS for no good reason), here comes the CODENAME: KNOCKOUT book that absolutely no one clamored for. In case you missed it the first time around (2001-2003), it was written by Robert Rodi and is his comedic take on the Modesty Blaise/Willie Garvin thing, only in this case the Willie character, Go-Go Fiasco, is flamboyantly gay and the Modesty stand-in, Angela Devlin, is black. They're globe-trotting secret agents and there's sex & violence and panel after panel of what amounts to pinup art galore, but it was clear early on that this series was a one-joke pony and that only a minor miracle could prevent it from repeating itself after around five or six issues. That miracle never happened and despite the efforts of a revolving door of artists (including my old pal Amanda Conner), CODENAME: KNOCKOUT soon vanished into obscurity. Now it's back, in case you feel like throwing away 19.99 on seven issues of mostly stiff art that betrays its photo referenced roots. I would advise picking up any actual Modesty Blaise collection instead, even the stuff drawn by Enrique Romero.