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Comics for 2/16/05? Sure, What the Hey….

Brian Hibbs

Like Hibbs, I also thought Wondercon was a pretty great show. Normally, I find myself getting antsy and worrying I’m missing some panel or some personage signing, and find myself dashing around until I get exhausted and cranky and miserable. (In short, I’m a con newbie.) This year, I just stuck to wandering around the floor, taking the time to take in the sites and dig through dealers’ stock. I was worried for a long time that I couldn’t find anything I considered enough of a deal to plunk down money on, and then found a guy selling all of his stock at a dollar a book, and found some old Kamandis, Fantastic Fours and Brave and The Bolds (Batman and Ice Cream Soldier team up to beat up an anemic German schoolgirl, courtesy of Bob Haney and Jim Aparo!) Also, I’ve really got to give it up to Drunken Master–not only were they really nice and really knowledgeable about Asian cinema, they’re 100% bootleg free and reasonably priced. Not only did I pick up two or three Seijun Suzuki films I had no idea had gotten statewide release, I went home and found I didn’t pay insane convention prices for them. Really great.

Anyway, I’m leaving lots of the juicy titles alone in case Hibbs wants ’em. But here’s what I thought about:

AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS #2: My biggest problem here is Dan Hipp’s art–like the opening pages where, for example, a TV showing Mr. Ed looks like a picture of Mr. Ed on the wall, and the guys watching it aren’t even shown facing it, or the results of a rochambeau match aren’t immediately clear because the artist didn’t work the tell-tale spiked wrist bracelet prominently enough into the early pages to provide the pay off–and yet at the end, when everything’s going to hell, and people are getting lost and disoriented running through a dark collapsing cave, the art works perfectly. It’s a problem of scope, I think–the artist just can’t figure out what details to put in and which to leave out in things like establishing shots and big splash pages (that island splash page seemed both under- and over-detailed which is a n accomplishment). Weirdly, Mark Smith has the opposite problem–he’s good at cramming the script with a lot of action and twists, but hasn’t come up with any reason for me to care about the characters: the only reason I cared about that kiss between geek guy and geek girl was because Hipp made it lovely. If they can figure out how to cover better for each other’s weaknesses, this could really work well but at the moment, it’s barely OK. A shame because this is the kind of book I very much want to like.

APOCALYPSE NERD #1: Ha…ha? Bagge’s tale of a Microsoft nerd and his low-life pal possibly tossed into a post-apocalyptic setting is supposed to read as a comedy, but I actually found the whole thing horrible and unsettling–maybe my love of dark humor doesn’t run as deep as I thought. I also had a problem with the small details–I’ve travelled with tech geeks and they’ve got pagers, cell phones and wi-fi PDAs they check every so often to see if they’re still connected–so the idea that the duo could never really find out what actually happened seemed unbelievable to me: the tech guy would check his pre-loaded list of possible wi-fi spots to surf the web and check out what had happened on BoingBoing and that would be that. I kinda wish the whole book had been Founding Father Funnies because those worked great for me. Eh, but Bagge’s work just hasn’t been doing it for me for a while so you may feel very differently.

CONSTANTINE: Yeah, I went and saw it this weekend. I apparently am a soft touch with comic book movies (liked Daredevil, thought LXG was okay) because even though this probably ties the Cathy Lee Crosby Wonder Woman TV movie for fealty to the source material, I still thought it was more or less OK. The visuals are great, I thought the script did a pretty good job introducing all of the various “rules” of its magic and keeping them mostly consistent, and some of the performances were effective (Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton, and Peter Stormare’s hammy but utterly menacing Lucifer). But everything you think would be wrong because it was a big Hollywood movie was wrong–Constantine’s final gambit can’t be a con, so there’s none of the great “Rake at the Gates of Hell” feel to it, and if that wasn’t bad enough, we had to get a final two minutes clearly dictated by test screenings to wipe out any ambiguity the character might possess. If anyone ever needed an example of how much freedom there is in comics as opposed to “big” media, there’s no better example than comparing Constantine to any issue of Hellblazer. But it was some damn pretty eye-candy and I enjoyed it while it was on. Go figure.

EX MACHINA #8: Vaughan’s talented enough to make that gay marriage scene amusing–“I don’t want this to sound judgmental, but how long have you been with the G.O.P., Mr. Dunst?”–but it also seemed preachy, somehow (maybe it was having the characters exchange information that they all seemed aware of). Like this week’s Astounding, perfectly fine but not nearly as strong as previous issues. Good.

HAWKMAN #37: Nothing’s worse than “Sam & Diane” syndrome: it’s disappointing when the couple doesn’t get together, and it’s more disappointing when they finally do get together. Here, Hawkman and Hawkgirl finally get together and it feels like too much, too soon. On the other hand, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who got tired of the relationship going nowhere, so I feel for the creative team here. And there’s a sexy devil chick with short hair quoting Pat Benatar so I didn’t hate this, but the relationship change and the weird behavior of characters just to get to the last page reveal made me feel very coolish and Eh about this.

HUMAN TARGET #19: Probably my favorite issue of the run–not just because it brings back Chance’s fucked-up protege, but because of the suggestions for a few pages that he might just be a creation of Chance’s even-more-fucked-up psyche. The last page suggests something a little more mundane, but we’ll see and it’s still Very Good work. I’m gonna miss this title.

LIVEWIRES #1: I’m a pretty big Adam Warren fan, so I’m stoked to finally see this first issue. As always, Warren works his ass off–the script is a nonstop action scene, an introduction to all the characters and themes, and a viewpoint character–but it almost worked a little too hard: I can’t figure out if the nonstop action and the nonstop casual conversation kind of cancel each other out, or if, like a Michael Bay movie, the continuous acceleration just grows monotonous. And the same use of self-awareness for story shorthand (some of the characters describe each other with lines that sound straight out of the initial pitch session, i.e., “Ben Grimm in black babydoll lace”) that bugged me on Peter David’s recent issue of The Hulk is a little too evident here. Despite all of the above, I did like this–definitely Good–I’m just kind of bummed I didn’t love it.

OCEAN #4: Lots of good stuff here–strong snappy dialogue and a great scene explaining the motivation of the villain–but this issue didn’t feel as strong as the first three: to get to the great scene with the manager we have to believe that Kane is going to try one more time to settle things peacefully, and I just didn’t buy it. A lot of screenplays suffer at exactly this same point for what I’d assume is the same reason–the lag as the transition from Act II to Act III gets set up–but some of the pacing problems in Ellis’s Ultimate work has me a little wary. It’s either a very weak Good or a very strong OK, I guess.

PROMETHEA #32: I’ve read several issues of Promethea that made me feel like I was on drugs. This final issue was, I’d have to say, the bad shake issue of Promethea: I felt a little trippy and dizzy at its completion, but I also had a headache and was cranky and a bit nauseated. Even as I appreciated the construction–I loved turning the pages and becoming lost repeatedly–I found myself really challenging some of the statements being put forward here, even the ones I think I agree with. Now, I haven’t read this all seventeen different ways and my impressions may change drastically once I get the poster doo-dah (I’m assuming it’s going to have, at the least, a personalized kaballah like the wonderful opening of Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man) but this felt like a rehash of some of the amazing formalistic achievements in this series but nowhere near a trumping of them; more a lovely whimper than a beautiful bang. OK.

RUNAWAYS #1: Filled with wit and intelligence on every page, and just as lovely to look at as the first time around, so I hope I’m alone in liking it less now that it’s set so squarely in Marvel Universe. All of the Marvel touches are fun and clever–who wouldn’t like “Excelsior,” the group of recovering teen superheroes?–but rather than being an American manga book with superpowers, it’s now an extremely quirky Marvel title. And even if readers could find this title (and/or the money for it) in the wild bramble of all those Spider-Man, X-Men and FF Titles, I think most of Marvel’s readers don’t want quirky, they want really strong traditional work–and so I think all this will do is shoot a hole in the supposedly strong sales being seen in the traditional bookstores. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a Good book–maybe even Very Good–but I don’t think this reboot is gonna pull it off. I hope I’m wrong.

SHE HULK #12: Slott uses some very clever metacommentary to critique hypercritical fanboys while advancing his story and also riffing on Avengers: Disassembled. I still miss Bobillo’s art, but this was quite a Good comic and I hope it comes back strong.

SIMPSONS COMICS #103: After being off for a couple issues, Boothby gives us another top-notch issue that would have worked just fine as an episode of the series. I could’ve lived without the Mary Tyler Moore sequence but even that, with its complex Marge/Rhoda/Brenda throw-away in-joke, is the sort of thing the series would try. Very Good.

There. That leaves at least four juicy books (Astonishing, GL: Rebirth, Andi Watson’s Little Star and Wolverine) for Pa Hibbs to riff on. I may pop up again to talk about some of the week’s trades.

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