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Content w/o Contentment: Quick Capsule Reviews from Jeff

Jeff Lester

Oh, it’s all in the timing.  Always.  Earlier today, Graeme and I were podcasting and all I really had read that was all recent were two comic books.  Now, less than twelve hours later, I have five (and a graphic novel I haven’t yet finished).  Join me after the jump, won’t you?  If nothing else, I promise to be brief….

NORTHLANDERS #41:  Marian Churchland is one of those amazingly promising artists I’m really rooting for (and her Conan is in my top five favorite Conans ) so when I heard on Twitter she’d done an issue of Northlander, I had to pick it up.

And it was pretty EH, I’m afraid to say.  I know I’m immune to Brian Wood’s charms and have made it a point to stay clear of his work.  But I was surprised that Churchland’s work didn’t really knock me out here.  At first, I thought it was Dave McCaig’s colors that use a really limited palette with some unoriginal color choices (although the work you’ll see Churchland do in color, say over at her blog are similarly limited in palette she has a sharper eye for color in her own work to keep things from seeming monochromatic) or that Churchland’s is nicely illustrative but very limited in its line weight. (I admit it, there are times where I run hot and cold on uniform line weight and this is one of those times where I’m cold on it.)  But ultimately, I think the problem is that Churchland is generally a very reserved storyteller: a lot of medium shots, a lot of long shots, and the close-ups don’t get very close here at all.

In her debut graphic novel Beast, she proved herself to be an excellent chronicler of facial expressions made by guarded or private people, but here in a story where Birna, a young girl, must find the strength to take charge after her father has been killed, Churchland conveys the basic emotions easily enough but not the stronger emotional conflict–how she’s able to take the steps from fear to resolve, or even the parts in her we see before her father’s death that hint at her ability to make that leap.

While I think Wood skips over the actual drama in his story, I kinda expect that of him (alas).  It was probably an impossible task for Churchland to overcome that.  She’s still got some growing to do, and I look forward to what she does next.  But I expected too much from her, and this was a still a very EH issue.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #619:  Brubaker and crew wrap up Gulag with both a tremendous sense of haste and a motivation for Bucky to escape (his part in training and awaking Sleeper agents in the U.S.) that really makes me think we’ll be seeing Mr. Barnes again much sooner than the end of Fear Itself #3 would make one think.  As with last issue, I dig the almost anthology-like feel of the differing artists, and that dollop of Steranko-derived visuals.  (Though turning Joanna Newsom into the Black Widow for one panel was incredibly distracting.)  About as deep as a dixie cup, but I thought this was a GOOD read and I’ll be a little bit bummed if the Bucky Cap era is truly at an end.

SECRET AVENGERS #14:  I liked this better than last issue, certainly, but this tale of two soldiers fighting mecha-nazis and their plight’s connection to the Valkyrie’s origin was pretty facile and weightless.  Not only is the “fear wave” angle of Fear Itself frustratingly used across the event, it’s not even used in a consistent way here, where the two soldiers are cocky and fear-free in the face of their unbeatable enemy because, hey, if they weren’t, that death scene wouldn’t be surprising, would it? (Also, terrified people don’t banter, I guess.)  And of course, the enemy is unstoppable until it’s time for Valkyrie to stop one with one sword swing.  I guess I should be grateful that an entire shitty summer movie like Battlefield L.A. got reduced down to one quick issue but apparently I’m a cold ungrateful bastadrd.  This was some AWFUL filler.

FEAR ITSELF: FEARSOME FOUR #1:  Oh, man.  Once again, Marvel uses my nostalgia and fondness for older characters to take my money and shank me in the kidneys. Man-Thing, Nighthawk, Howard the Duck, Frankenstein Monster and She-Hulk join up together to make Steve Gerber return from the dead as an avenging ghoul.  It kinda broke my heart to see the first three characters so closely tied to Gerber’s name handled so wretchedly. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I hated the most–was it having Howard look like his movie incarnation?  Was it having him act like a Bruce Willis character? Having an eight-page sequence of Nightwing acting like a pastiche of Frank Miller’s Batman?  Having She-Hulk in the book for no reason (yet) other than have her be the typical female character in a superhero book?  (The typical female character in a superhero book asks questions for the men to answer, and crosses her arms so you know she’s tough.)

I’m fascinated by the idea that this was written by (or for) someone who had a love of old ’70s Marvel comics and either couldn’t replicate what made them work if their life depended on it (or else had to have that worked over into “the modern style” of comics today.)  What an idiot I was for picking this up. Please avoid this CRAP work.

BLACK DYNAMITE #1:  Jun Lofamia does the art for this and if you had a thing for, say, Alex Nino back in the day, I think you’ll really like what’s going on here.  I loved the movie Black Dynamite and so was mighty pleased to see this gorgeous looking book on the stands, but I’m far more ambivalent about the story.  The film is such a spoof of Blacksploitation flicks that is so knowledgeable about how the genre worked that it essentially transcended its parodic elements.  The comic, like Jim Rugg’s Afrodisiac, makes me really uncomfortable about how closely its parodic elements steer toward racist stereotypes.  (Also, did Dynamite really say “Can you dig it?” all the time during the movie?  He says it so much here, he seems more like The Shogun of Harlem from The Last Dragon.) Perhaps the creators of this book are as clued in to the Mandingo film genre as they were Blacksploitation and I’m missing the clever way the conventions are being twisted and re-twisted. But it felt like an uncomfortable misfire to me. (Also, a bit pricey for my blood.)  Gets an OK because of the lovely art, though.

So, you know.  As the man sez:  What did *you* think?

5 Responses to “ Content w/o Contentment: Quick Capsule Reviews from Jeff ”

  1. I thought I was the only one immune to Brian Wood’s charms, deliberately avoiding his work after giving it numerous chances. Nice bunch of reviews, thanks!

  2. What are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think he is? He’s the goddamned Nightwing!

    All kidding aside, truer lines than this have never been written:

    “I’m fascinated by the idea that this was written by (or for) someone who had a love of old ’70s Marvel comics and either couldn’t replicate what made them work if their life depended on it (or else had to have that worked over into “the modern style” of comics today.) What an idiot I was for picking this up. Please avoid this CRAP work.”

    I am also firmly in the Gerber camp, and his Defenders rocked my 1970s brain. So….Why does this exist? And how Kaluta agreed to be involved in this is an utter mystery.

  3. I found Black Dynamite’s comic to be well over-the-top enough to clearly be a parody of stereotypes. You do walk a fine line between satire of something and indulgence in it, but I think this was well into the spoof of racism territory. The one area it may have just been indulging stereotypes and didn’t seem to be trying to mock them was in the whole sexual prowess element with our hero and his multi-day love-making. That was a back-fire. The rest, with the crazy white people who own a slave island that gets taken down by Black Dynamite is clever fun I thought, though, and that made fun of blaxplotation flicks while being a love letter to them, much like the film version of Black Dynamite.

  4. I’ve never dug on Brian Wood either – checked out after a couple issues of DEMO and never looked back. I’m a bit of an anathema to my friends over that, so it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. :)

  5. I loved the Black Dynamite comic, and I loved that they had to go find a 70 year old man to be able to have the comic look the way it was supposed to.

    And I don’t think it was too pricey. 6 bucks for 44 pages worth of story, right? That’s a better deal than DC or Marvel! And it has a spine!

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