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Adventures in Underachievement: Jeff’s Reviews of 07/06/05 Books…

Brian Hibbs

Seemed like kind of an underwhelming week for comix, but maybe I’m the underwhelming one because I didn’t read very many of them at all: some of them sold out before I hit the store on Friday (Hello, Iron Man: House of M!), some of them I didn’t have much interest in reading (Hello, Iron Man: House of M! But also The Return of Donna Troy), and some of them are books I normally love that are in mid-arc and I’m waiting for the trade (Howdy, Finder #37!) because I’m too damn lazy to dig through all the longboxes and put together all the issues.

Hmmm, yes, on second thought, I appear to be the underachieving one in this equation. Nonetheless, here’s what I think about:

AQUAMAN #32: The art on this stays remarkably crisp, issue in and issue out, but the stories, well…only the really demented stuff stuck this time: a subplot about Black Manta recruited as a leader of dispossessed aquatic African-Americans? Assuming it’ll join with Aquaman’s son’s “I love you because you’re colored like me, Aquagirl!” subplot, we’ve got the makings for Do The Right Thing, except underwater and with Aquaman and Black Manta. (Best pun I could come up with was Mo’ Wetter Blues but it didn’t quite work.) Yeah, can’t wait. Eh.

BATMAN DARK DETECTIVE #5 (OF 6): Much more time spent with The Joker this issue, and all the Scarecrow stuff now feels even more like filler. While the scenes with The Joker are far from perfect—his thoughts on his relationship with Batman don’t strike me as crazy so much as sloppy—it’s much closer to the kind of Joker story I want to read, and the art had some beautiful bits (that eyelid lowering in glee, then snapping open with rage). If you’re a Batman/Joker nut, it’ll probably be in the high OK range for you, too.

BATMAN LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #193: The art moves comfortably between the ridiculous (I loved that panel where Batman is literally shown lurking in a bush, business card extended) and the sublime (the striking amounts of detail spent on the backgrounds, particularly that cut-away splash page) which threatens to undercut a reasonably straightforward story about Batman’s early attempt to recruit a band of operatives, Shadow style. However, with all the time spent on the origin of Mr. Freeze and the hows of the agents’ arrangement, none of the operatives have any real personality yet: without that art, things might seem a lot more uninteresting than they are. If the writers can give us a real sense of the operatives (since chances are good things will go poorly for them), it’ll go a long way to keeping me engaged with this. Good.

BLOOD OF THE DEMON #5: I’m hardly surprised when Byrne churns out formulaic superhero stuff, but I am surprised when it’s this inept: Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman battle Etrigan and Morgana LeFay (don’t have the book with me, so I apologize if that’s not the right spelling there) and yet Morgana conveniently disappears for seven or eight pages while everyone tussles with The Demon. I liked the panel where Batman, looking up at a ton of falling debris about to crush him, says only “Hmm…” (apparently this is my week for liking panels with Batman in them) but the rest of this seemed pretty dashed-off and Awful.

DAREDEVIL VS PUNISHER #1: I liked how apeshit and deranged Lapham’s Punisher is, and the art was really quite nice—like a lost issue from the Miller/Janson run on Daredevil—but the “exact double of long-dead lost love” thing made me cringe. I know asking for nuance in a Punisher story is like asking for a cold glass of milk at a vegan street fair, but still…Good, more or less.

EXILES #66: Nothing particularly substantial here but it’s all the little touches (Curt Connors and team wearing those science patrol outfits from Ultraman and fighting kaiju) I like. And the possibility that the team, in trying to save fallen comrades, will end up setting off a chain of multiverse SNAFUs they’ll then have to fix, works as a good “same-but-different” idea for me. Could end up not working as the arc progresses, but the issues itself is between OK and Good, depending on how you feel about the book generally.

GOTHAM CENTRAL #33: A very solid issue with some disturbingly interesting thinking about Robin (“What if he’s got whole camps of Robins?”), some great tough guy dialogue (loved that crack about concrete poisoning) and the art was extra keen, with Batman looking right out of Year One. My favorite issue in a while. Very Good.

HOUSE OF M #3: Would have made a terrific first issue—Wolverine wakes up leading a completely different life from the one he barely remembers, he doesn’t know how or why everything’s changed, he can’t find Professor X. It’d be really riveting stuff if we, the readers, didn’t feel like we already knew the score, but with two issues of set-up under our belt, how can we not? Media fuckin’ res, Marvel. There’s a reason it’s been around for thousands of years as a storytelling device, dammit! OK, I guess, but it could have very easily been much better.

INCREDIBLE HULK #83: I shouldn’t have been affected by the relationship between Banner and the tribe leader since there wasn’t much presented—but I was affected, and felt much more involved in the story as a result. In fact, I may have liked this the most of any of the “House of M” stuff so far (including the mini itself), if only because David’s references to both the Holocaust and the Australian government’s aboriginal relocation program makes the story feel like it’s about something. My biggest bitch about the House of M so far is that it has yet to say anything interesting about cultures in conflict—the whole thematic underpinning of Marvel’s mutant stories—and only functions as one big What If? where people get to play “Where are they now?” with their favorite characters. So to see a bit more thought put into the idea here was refreshing. On the down side, I found the “Hulk smash” stuff dull, but I still would call this a Good read.

JANES WORLD #20: Pleasantly and engagingly cartooned, yet still overpriced and this is the second issue where Braddock opens with an explanation of stuff that happened the previous issue because readers weren’t clear on something. There’s a world and a worldview I want to read about here, but Braddock either has a long way to come or she has already fallen into a lot of leisurely habits that may keep her work from ever feeling truly satisfying. Frustratingly Eh.

JSA #75: The character stuff was strong, but the fight scenes were all incredibly baffling to me: at the core of it, I guess I still don’t understand why The Spectre and Eclipso had to attack Black Adam’s country in the first place. Because Black Adam is magical? Because the people in his country practice magic? And why would The Spectre then give that crusade up if Al let himself be judged? For that matter, The Spectre has always meted out punishment with a sense of poetic justice: where’s the poetic justice in a country being physically trampled by a giant albino in a big green diaper? OK for the character stuff and a few other touches, but still troubling.

MATADOR #3: Stuff happening? Good. Stuff not making any sense? Bad. Lovely looking Eh.

OCEAN #6: Impossible to review fairly: imagine getting out of your seat four-fifths of the way through, I dunno, Peter Hyam’s Outland, and returning to the last fifteen minutes six months later—any payoff, emotional or otherwise, is undercut by your mind laboring to recall what everyone was doing when you stopped watching last. To Ellis’s great credit, I remembered all of the characters, and their relationships to each other, quite clearly, but those little jujubee bullet thingies? The gravity control stuff? The establishment of the guns as recoil-free to allow Kane to do kick-ass gun stuff in zero g? Even if I assume all of that was well-established (and there was some reason why the crew couldn’t just toggle the gravity back and forth repeatedly until the attackers were battered unconscious) previously, I think I still would have felt a little underwhelmed. Sure, gun fights and super-splodey—fine. But to spend so many issues with an alien race of living guns being built up in your mind and then just seeing a flash of them as shit explodes—well, that really never did the trick for me in the movies, either. Like Orbiter, I kinda felt like this ended just when I wanted it to really start, and I can’t really work up more than an OK as a result. Perhaps the trade will show I’m once again muttering through my butt cleft…

SHANNA THE SHE DEVIL #6 (OF 7): Boy, I hope Hibbs reviews this. Super-low Eh.

SON OF VULCAN #2 (OF 6): I don’t know if it’s the coloring or the layouts or what, but I tried two or three times to get past the first four pages. When I finally did so, as with the first issue, I liked what I read—I very much like the milieu, as Vulcan’s superhero trappings feel both specific and iconic. But I hope I’m the only person having trouble with those first four pages, because I don’t think customers at a comics rack will give a new title that many passes. Good.

SUPERMAN #219: I hate issue-long dream/delusion sequences where the main character acts wildly out of character and you can’t really say shit about it because anyone who did like it would go, “But it’s a dream!” Suffice it to say a Superman that breaks open Brainiac’s ship without making sure there’s anyone else on board (you know, with all those super-senses Lois goes on and on about in the first few pages of the issue) is a Superasshat. Also, I don’t know who they had Superman injure/kill but, based on the previous issue of The Omac Project, if it’s not Batman I kinda don’t see the point. Check, please! Awful.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #79: I’m enough of a Marvel nerd that I can appreciate a Marvel Team-Up trope when I’m given one, and I liked the replay of last issue’s scene from Peter’s point of view. Pretty far up the OK scale.

UNCANNY X-MEN #462: God, that Alan Davis can draw! I really loved the mix and match designs that spun out of chaosverse (particularly after Hibbs pointed out that brilliant Deathlok/Captain America character) but even just scenes of Rachel and Psylocke against the blankness of the White Hot Room were lovely. Too bad it was all heart-stoppingly dumb, though. A very high OK for the art alone.

VILLAINS UNITED #3: I liked most of it but Catman’s getaway was less than inspired—I just didn’t buy it, frankly. And you get a character like the Crime Doctor and all he does is shock people with a car battery? They could’ve just gotten the Crime Tow Truck Driver to do that! Let’s see some sewn together eyelids and disturbing organ removals, people! A waning Eh.

Y THE LAST MAN #35: Hmmm. I remember liking it fine, but I can barely recall a thing about it a day later. Chalk it up to my underachieving soul and call it OK at least.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Guess it’s Gotham Central #33, although the competition was pretty damn anemic.

PICK OF THE WEAK: Was going to be Blood of the Demon #5 but now, even though I flipped through it twice at the store, I’m worried I missed some crucial sequence that explains away all my problems. So let’s go with Superman #219.

TRADE PICK: Dead Boy Detectives Digest came home with me but I haven’t cracked it open yet. I’ll let you know. Also, I was a big fan of Boneyard in black and white so I can’t imagine it’s any worse in color, and the new printing of Grant Morrison and Jae Lee’s Fantastic Four 1234 is totally worth reading/owning if you don’t have it already.

I was also able to read the review copy Fanta sent to Hibbs of The Night Fisher (and Volume 4 of The Complete Peanuts, of which I only read Jonathan Franzen’s opening essay) and am thinking I may try for a mid-week essay covering The Night Fisher, The Push Man, maybe Vol. 4 of Complete Peanuts, and Walt & Skeezix. We’ll see if that comes together, or just opt for the underachieving thing again.

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