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An Almost Perfect Storm: Jeff’s Reviews of the 6/21 Books…

Jeff Lester

Seems like a seriously huge week for comics, huh? I mean, you’ve seen that shipping list–all we needed was a new issue of Ultimate Hulk Vs. Wolverine to go with Astonishing and Ultimates and it would’ve put an end to about 95% of the “when is _______ coming out” questions I get every week from Marvel fans–so you’d assume that yesterday would’ve been a “tall dollars” day, right?

Right. But, weirdly, it seemed the vast bulk of it was from out-of-towners, first-timers, gift shoppers and people shopping for the classics: I sold a copy of Maus yesterday, for example. A copy of Jimmy Corrigan. (One guy took five steps into the store, looked to his two o’clock, snagged the copy of Watchmen he saw there, paid and left. Total time from entrance to exit: approximately 45 seconds.) I don’t doubt this week’s new books will continue to move off the shelves (although I couldn’t tell you if it’ll happen this weekend or the next, when people get paid) but it really suprised me.

And as to that deluge:

52 WEEK #7: So Superman of Earth 2 was so annoyed by the events of Zero Hour he started punching stuff? Nice to know I wasn’t alone on that one. The whole issue felt ham-handed but in a more-or-less fun kind of way. (I really liked Ralph’s renunciation of Booster on TV: “This man is no hero! He’s using his knowledge of the future to further his own selfish interests! When he should’ve been using his knowledge of the future to further *my own* selfish interests!”) OK, but eye-rollingly so.

(Also, did anyone think maybe some dialogue or caption boxes dropped out of the last two pages of the main story? I asked Hibbs, and he was like, “What is there to say? Starfire flies around, finds a big space shovel and sees a Sentinel reaching for it. Kinda self-evident, right?” And yet, I wonder…)

ALL STAR SUPERMAN #4: My only problem with this was that it was too short–it had to wrap up just as it was picking up steam. That’s probably because it took too long to get the situation properly set up, but everything was so delightful and wonky nothing felt draggy. I dug it. Very Good.

ANNIHILATION NOVA #3: Way too many scenes of Quasar asking for help and Nova equivocating, but Annhilus actually looked cool and menacing rather than his typical “grasshopper-with-bad-fashion-sense” self. Barely OK, but I could retroactively yank that higher if Nova gets something more to do in the last issue than whinge and be made fun of.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #15: I’ll be honest: there were tons of problems with this. But having Wolverine talk like Little Nemo? Priceless. I say Good, but understand if you think otherwise. I admit it’s still a long way from that great first arc.

BIRDS OF PREY #95: First copy of this I’ve read since the initial OYL issue. (For the first time in several months, there were copies of Robin and BoP still on the shelves, which means that either Hibbs has started skewing his orders upwards or some buyers are skewing their purchases downwards, maybe?) It was highly OK, maybe even Good but I feel like this is the seventh or eighth “we’re incredibly outclassed but if we push ourselves to the limit, maybe we can beat [name of villain] to a standstill and live to fight another day” type of issue. Yeah, it’s dramatic the first couple of times, but a little played out by now.

BITE CLUB VAMPIRE CRIME UNIT #3: You know, if you’d told me that there could be a comic with a vampire female prison shower fight in it and it would still be boring, I would’ve called you a liar. And then you would’ve shown me this comic book, and I would’ve tearfully admitted you were right. Sweet jesus, how you were right. Awful stuff.

CASANOVA #1: Matt Fraction is dangerously close to being the Quentin Tarantino of comics–a witty raconteur with a love for genre trash, a streak of formalist playfulness and a canny ear for dialogue. I thought this first issue was head-spinningly fun and jammed with oddball twists, setpieces and classic pop references and influences (If Grant Morrison was ever to cheat on his wife with a comic book, it’d be this one.) Kind of a drag it came out the same week as every other title under god’s green earth, but I was still able to handsell some copies. The closest thing I have to a complaint is I can’t really imagine where it’ll go with issue #2, but I guess I’ll just have to see, won’t I? Very Good stuff and worth your time and coin.

CLAW THE UNCONQUERED #1: A lot of shit to make fun of in this “senses-shattering first issue” (which, you know, “senses?” Did the scratch-and-sniff card fall out or something?) including a really absurd page of a severed demon claw killing a deer and lines like “You do not grasp the nature of the claw.” (Ummmm, for grasping, maybe?) But, embarrassingly, I liked it anyway. It’s got just enough interesting elements to be more than a base Conan rip-off, and yet it’s basically a base Conan rip-off so it’s got everything you’d want in such a book. And Chuck Dixon almost always does good work with this genre stuff. Or maybe common sense was one of the senses shattered by this first issue. Either way, highly OK.

CONAN #29: Mignola does a great job putting his Mignola-ish obsessions on what the editors say is little more than a fragment from REH–not that Conan has punched out any Nazis yet, but it’s only the first issue of three. Good with the potential to get better. Fingers are crossed.

ETERNALS #1: I’m a Kirby fan and a John Romita, Jr. fan and any page with the Celestials on it rendered me insensible with drooling, so you’d have to crap up this book something awful for me to dislike it. And I didn’t dislike it, far from it, but it was surprisingly klutzy for guys as accomplished at Gaiman and Romita, Jr: all of the dialogue sounded stilted and forced, like Gaiman was trying too hard to be light and breezy, and the encounters between Ike and Mark started and stopped too abruptly with too little reaction from Mark. But maybe with a different artist it would’ve felt more, I dunno, dream-like and deliberately delicate and unreal–Romita, Jr.’s square-shouldered characters seem about as delicate and unreal as a slab of steak cooked rare–instead of unbelievable and flat. (Also? If you saw that cover and could think of anything besides “Someone needs to clean that Miracleman fish tank,” you’re a far better person than I.) OK, but at $3.99, only barely.

EX MACHINA #21: Haven’t seen subber Mark Shveima in a while and I hope he’ll forgive me for saying this (and/or for mangling the spelling of his last name) but maybe Tony Harris should…move on to another title or something. I really enjoyed that Chris Sprouse two-shot and maybe BKV’s work loses a little something when the artist has some minor depth perception issues and gives the characters “First word? No, first syllable! Sounds like…scratch? Itch?” body language. Or maybe Mr. Vaughan’s work on this title really waxes and wanes. I honestly can’t tell. Either way, I was eager to pick this issue up and was very Eh when I put it back down.

FLASH THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE #1: Wow. This stunk. Confusing storytelling (I had to read that opening action scene three times to figure out what was going on), unlikeable characters (“So, Allen…hot daterape last night?”), bullshit that just came out of nowhere(“The Speed Force is gone…but what if it’s not? What if it’s turned E-vill?”)–nobody involved had any fucking idea what they were doing, did they? Makes me wish DC Editorial had just held off on a relaunch until they were absolutely sure how they were gonna move on this, because unless next issue is fucking ambrosia on toast, this book will be dead in a year and a half. No joke. Craptacular.

GOLGO 13 VOL 3 TPB: I’m getting the impression the editors of the line are choosing the more Tom Clancyish storylines (which are impressive with their knowledge of real world situations and hot spots) rather than the more absurd “Golgo 13 gets two nuns to give it up for him in less than a page, then he snipes a satellite using DirectTV dish and an M-16” stories. Me, I’d prefer the latter, to be honest, but this issue has its kooky charms: in one issue, Golgo slits some throats and snipes some copters while having reminiscences with his good pal Nelson Mandela. In the other story… well, I can’t top Jog’s description so lemme just steal it outright:

It’s kind of like Syriana crossed with a Carl Barks duck short, one that focuses on how rich Uncle Scrooge really is, only it’s 78 pages long and features a man knocking a helicopter into the ocean with one shot. 

So it’s still pretty awesome, is what I’m saying. Good, but, yeah, more over-the-top crazy sex-crammed kill sprees, please.

JUSTICE #6: Gorgeous, but there’s a weird melancholic tone to the whole project that occasionally results in an arresting scene–those few pages where Green Lantern encodes himself in his ring and then walks sadly around an empty green city really kicked my ass–but generally feels depressed and lethargic and unhealthy. Good stuff, I guess, but disquieting.

MANHUNTER #23: Hibbs had some really compelling issues why he didn’t like this issue that sadly I can’t remember (a shame, because I’m half-convinced the creative team worked in Sweeney Todd as a villain just to court Hibbs’ approval). Me, I thought it on the high side of OK although the scenes between Kate and her Grandma, Phantom Lady, seemed like a desperate attempt to make Kate “matter” to the DCU. I can’t really say I blame ’em, but has that trick ever worked? Like I said, OK.

MARVEL ADVENTURES AVENGERS #2: Somebody suggested I not write this book off on the basis of one issue, so I came back for a second helping and they were right: this was less an all-ages issue of Avengers than it was an all-ages issue of Marvel Team-Up and that suited it fine. Jeff Parker had some fun ideas about The Leader (unsurprisingly for someone with such a big head, The Leader is a bit of an egotist) and the unholy trinity of The Hulk, The Leader and The Abomination, Spider-Man gets some good lines in, and there’s a quick little bit about the friendship between Hulk and Spidey I probably wouldn’t have bought in the regular Marvel U that made me go “Awwwww….” here. I’ve got a few problems here and there with it, but a marked improvement over the first issue and a Good read overall. I’ll be back next issue, certainly.

NAOKI URASAWAS MONSTER VOL 3 TPB: Ouch, pegged that one. My mind cued up The Lonely Man Theme from the Incredible Hulk TV show no less than three times this issue as Doc Tenma saves a blood-stained terrorist, an abused child, and a frustrated love between a country doctor and a dying woman, all while trying to hunt down fearsome super-monster Johan. Interestingly, the last story–where Inspector Lunge develops the theory that Johan is Tenma’s murderous split-personality while solving cases and alienating everyone–is more the road I initially thought this series would go down. It’s OK–to be honest, I could probably read manga about doctors and cooks ’til the cows come home–and maybe it’ll return to the fascinatingly complex mix of murder mystery and hospital drama (because, I mean, come on, where’s a better place to set a tale about split-personality serial killers than post-unification Germany?) but my enthusiasm is now officially dimmed.

NEW AVENGERS #20: Ever gotten a handjob from someone so passionate but inexperienced they nearly yanked away your entire epidermal layer and tossed you into the next room to boot? This arc of New Avengers is pretty much just like that: I can see how Bendis really was trying to craft a cool widescreen epic that would rock my fanboy world, but I just feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and contused by how unsubtle, poorly paced and misprioritized it all is. (When, in your team book of roughly a half-dozen superheroes, the only character who has any sort of dramatic arc and does anything at all surprising is an agent of SHIELD, and when the only character who can save everyone’s bacon with their crucial superpower is the other agent of SHIELD, you’ve done something very, very wrong.) I should take the time to pick apart all the Xorn related problems but I’m too mortified and really just want to pretend the whole thing didn’t happen. Thanks for the wonderful time, Brian. I’ll…call you. Awful.

ROBIN #151: As mentioned in my BOP review, this is the first issue of Robin since the first OYL issue and, uh, I’m kinda pissed. The creative team here does everything with a lot of energy and flair but making Cassandra Cain into an angry murdering antihero really sucks. Not only is it contrary to the character’s overall conception and character arc, but, on the heels of Spoiler’s death, Leslie Tompkin’s betrayal and the distancing of Birds of Prey, it more or less completes the Boy’s Clubification of the Batman Family. Yeah, I can see how it opens up a bunch of storylines but I still think it sucks. OK for the execution, Awful for the conception–let’s call it a peevish Eh.

SUPERMAN BATMAN #27: Huh? What was the point of all that, other than to make the reader wonder if the pageturn was going to bring the world’s most disquieting lesbian sex scene? I totally agree with Chris Butcher–Jeph Loeb had already salted the earth on this title, but DC coulda tried at least a little. Awful.

TESTAMENT #7: Okay, so God rejected Cain’s sacrifice because it came from nature, but accepted Abel’s sacrifice because…why? Cows come from a wafflemaker or something? Just one of many “wait, wha?” moments in this issue, plus Vertigo was apparently too chickenshit to show genitalia on Adam and Eve. Considering this series has breasts-a-plenty and this issue has Cain and Abel arguing over who gets to marry their mother once Adam is dead, that bit of modesty may be the biggest “wait, wha?” of all. An Awful waste.

ULTIMATES 2 #11: Yeah, compare and contrast this with New Avengers–it’s really not until you breathlessly finish reading this issue that you realize that more or less nothing happens (Hulk and probably Thor are put back on the board and the stage is set for Iron Man to come back as a 300 foot high transformer satellite/giant robot firing ICBMs out of his enormous iron nipples or something). There’s a lot of running and yelling and misdirection, sure, but very little of actual importance really happens. But it’s done with a tremendous amount of skill, which is part of what separates the Good from the Awful. If it can pull off the widescreen over-the-top ass-kickery next issue, it might even be great.

UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #1: Hmm. You can neatly split this issue in two–one half concerns Ororo’s semi-conscious musings on her love life and her feelings for the Black Panther, and the other concerns the X-Men trapped in a Black Hawk Down style showdown with militia soldiers. And like Black Hawk Down, the X-Men showdown side is arguably racist (I know there was another phrase the X-Men used regarding the attacking soldiers besides “third world thugs” but I’m blocking on it. “Third world thugs” was probably bad enough, though.) and the Ororo side is arguably imperialist. (It’s okay for Storm to marry the Panther because she’s also from a line of royalty. Huzzah!) Not really a great day for Marvel Comics, if you ask me. Also? Pretty dull. Eh.

PICK OF THE WEEK: All-Star Superman #4? Casanova #1? If you live in a state with no sales tax, you can get ’em both for just a buck more than the first issue of Eternals.

PICK OF THE WEAK: Flash The Fastest Man Alive #1. You, my friend, were horrible.

TRADE PICK: I feel like a dick because I really, honestly do love Ellen Forney’s work but $18.95 for 112 pages? (And I think I already have a third?) I just can’t recommend I LOVE LED ZEPPLIN SC as much as I dig her stuff.

No, I’m gonna have to go with the greatness-by-the-pound of SHOWCASE PRESENTS SUPERMAN VOL 2 TPB where nearly any page is kinda hilarious and mind-bending. (I opened it up just now to a panel where Superman grabs Lois, thinking “Some unknown force is urging me to kiss Lois…so I will!” (If I wasn’t such a lazy bastard, I’d just take photos of choice panels and post ’em.) If they ever release one of these where it’s all Lois Lane stories illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger, the delight might well kill me.

MANGA PICK: It’s a shame ADV Manga is more or less down for the count because the first three volumes of Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma are great. I thought it’d be typical “loveable kid teaches everyone valuable life lessons” crap but it’s really more like “witty people amuse themselves and each other as a loveable kid threatens to drive them all nuts” which is much, much better. If you like the deadpan joshing and teasing Scott Pilgrim and his friends engage in, you’ll really like Yotsuba&!. If you can find ’em, you should get ’em.

Okay, so that was a lot of words, but a lot of books. Next week: less words, less books, and hopefully a review of that Bollywood superhero flick, Krrish.

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