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Crab & Crab Again: Jeff’s Reviews of 05/10 Books…

Brian Hibbs

Yeah, sorry, I just don’t know what it is, but I haven’t been too crazy with the comic book love lately and I don’t know why that it is.

Part of it is probably “kid in the candy store” syndrome. By the time Hibbs came in yesterday (around 2:00), I’d already read all the new books I’d wanted, and even thought there was some pretty decent stuff, yet when he asked me about the week’s books, I was all…. “Meh.”

Two things that aren’t meh: Guitar Hero, which generous reader and snark king Mojo was kind enough to lend to me, and Wheeler’s awesome list of Marvel’s 50 Best Characters (link cribbed from Spurge). The former is a game for the PS2 which lets a rhythm-impaired ninny like myself slink around the living room mangling “Smoke on the Water” and “Ziggy Stardust” on a guitar-sized controller (to the almost-exquisite looks of horror from my wife). The latter is a palliative to my mid-season blahs about superhero books, caputuring the grandeur and the goofiness in exactly the right doses, e.g.:

46. Swarm, Fritz von Meyer
Created by Bill Mantlo and John Byrne.
Swarm has appeared in comics only a scant handful of times, yet he has massive cult appeal. To understand why, there’s just one thing you need to know about Swarm: He’s a Nazi made of radioactive bees. Shakespeare only wishes he’d come up with stuff this good.

Ahhh, that hits the spot, doesn’t it? (His entries on Beta Ray Bill, The Sub-Mariner and Doctor Stranger are even better.)

As for the books:

52 WEEK #1: After the face-plant of Infinite Crisis #7, I lost some enthusiasm for it. Contrary to what any marketing plan on Earth would tell you, I just kinda wanted a month or something before the next mega-event, but the DCU has reached Ultra-Theme-Park mode, where there’s no lines because all the rides run together, and if you need to barf, just lean wayyy out of the car to avoid splashing your fellow riders and pray you don’t get your skull stove in.

But I picked this book up with at least a little optimism and regretted putting it down with slightly less. For one thing, two of the main characters seem very, very different from how I remember them–last time I saw Ralph at the end of Identity Crisis, he had patched up his life (in admittedly a potentially psychopathic way) by continuing his good-natured chatty relationship with his dead wife, and the last time I saw Booster Gold (somewhere in IC) he’d gotten serious when his best friend died and managed to use his information of the future to help win some crucial battles. Here in issue #1 of 52, Ralph’s a suicidal wreck (because he also lost his house?) and Booster’s back to the role of happy-go-lucky shill, having to be reminded to shed a tear for everyone’s losses even though, again, he lost his closest friend at the start of all the craziness.

I mean, on the one hand, I don’t really care–I thought the ending with Ralph in Identity Crisis was, like the ending of The Killing Joke, so off-note as to be geniunely disturbing, and selfish boob Booster is more interesting and provides a stronger narrrative thrust to this issue than newly serious Booster would have–but on the other hand, isn’t the point of daisy-chaining all these events together to make you feel like the same set of people are undergoing a continuing set of events and changes?

There were things I liked, mind you–the Montoya and Black Adam scenes, while really nothing new, were okay, and then there’s the Question who I’m always glad to see (even though I should probably know better by now)–and I honestly do appreciate the amibition of the whole idea, but if this is as good as it’s going to get (assuming the writers and artists had the most lead time on the first issue than they will on the subsequent ones) I can’t imagine I’m going to be sitting here a year from now feeling like I really got my hundred-plus bucks worth.

But I could be wrong. I really, really hope so. Eh.

ANNIHILATION SUPER SKRULL #2: Seems less like a comic book and more like a folded and stapled antibody squirted out of an internal organ of Marvel Comics somewhere: designed to attack anyone looking for decent art, writing, and/or a title character/concept that makes even a little bit of sense, this book will help innoculate our industry from those pesky civilians with it insular Awfulness.

CABLE DEADPOOL #28: Because he did so much work for Marvel in the early ’90s, I associate Fabian Nicieza’s work with mindless dreck, but it’s been clear for a while my bias is pretty much utterly wrong–this issue has some actual insights about the nature of governments and revolutions that, while far from revelatory, make it stand out from the majority of the superhero work out there and reminds me of the stuff Marvel used to turn out at its best: material with some actual thoughts about the world going on between the fight scenes and the punchlines. Good.

EX MACHINA #20: BKV has crafted a perfect niche for himself by telling stories that excel at really keen little touches–like a bit of historical research, or clever dialogue, or this issue’s bit about the slave/master relationship between a radio bomb and the transmitter–to the point where the reader doesn’t sweat the small stuff like plot or the occasionally huge gap between intention and effect. (Did any reader anywhere have any attachment whatsoever to Journal? And if so, how?) Good, but in that way that really charming people can be, in that they don’t really need to do much to win you over.

FATE OF THE ARTIST SC: Really should be reviewed in the trade section, but since First Second launched all six titles on the same weekend (and then nothing for another six months! Just like a real comic book company! Woot!) and Graeme’s review said everything I would’ve said (and, of course, said it better) I might as well hit it here so I can review another First Second book in the Trade section.

Fate Of The Artist is not only far and away the release of the week but at this point in time, it’s the release of the year, and, I think, the best book Campbell’s released in about a decade. When I first read the review copy a few months back, the book struck me as ineffably sad (although streaked through with rueful humor) as the artist prepares himself for his inevitable fate by ruminating on artists dead and forgotten, or remembered but not for their work, all while recounting his family’s exasperated recollections of his absent-minded, pointlessly specific, self-amused artistic ways. I thought the book full of regrets that were twisted about, like ballon animals, in an effort to amuse.

But rereading the book yesterday, what caught me was how deeply funny it was, starting with the hilariously bold conceit of composing a self-elegy–Lycidas as written by…Lycidas!–and moving on through all the funny anecdotes, pastiche comic strips, that damn dog Monty, etc. Through all of it, there’s an appreciation of how funny life can be, even at its most frustrated and unfulfilled, and that appreciation is infectious, giving the work not only the most difficult of emotional victories, a love of life that feels genuine yet unsentimental, but also something unique–a comforting sense of dread. Finishing The Fate of The Artist, I realized that if I was lucky, I would get to deal with sorrows, regrets, fears, fights and alienation, and if I was smart, I’d look forward to all of it.

As I said, it’s the release of the week and quite possibly the year. Excellent work, and highly recommended.

FIRESTORM THE NUCLEAR MAN #25: I was 98% Marvel fanboy until sometime in the very early ’80s, so I’ve never really given two poops about Firestorm (just as, I would bet someone who was 98% DC fanboy during that time could barely give half a poop about Nova). So I found this issue OK, albeit scientifically wonky. But the scene where Jason is able to briefly communicate with Dr. Stein makes me think this book is being sold to fans of the charcter with the rather depressing carrot of “Just keep reading and we promise we’ll give you the character you want to read about! Someday! Maybe!”

MARVEL ADVENTURES FANTASTIC FOUR #12: I was reading this book when Hibbs came in and he said, “You know, looking at that cover, I knew you’d beeline right for it.” And it’s true: The Human Torch chasing a flying hot rod driven by Dr. Doom? How could I pass it up? But also, after heaping praise of Jeff Parker’s work in the Marvel Romance Redux books, I was acting like a stupid snobby fanboy bonehead for not checking out his all-ages work.

And while not as great as the cover (mainly because it’s a Doombot piloting the flying hot rod, not Dr. Doom himself), “Doom, Where’s My Car?” is funnier and more enjoyable than all of the JMS issues of FF I’ve read so far. And it’s got the Thing punching things out with a giant golden gorilla, which is an in-joke, the terminally old-school readers like myself can enjoy. Good and I’m interested in checking future issues of this out (and maybe even a digest if Parker has stories in those, too).

NIGHTWING #120: It’s the hat trick of Crap: every issue, against all odds, is even worse than the last. This issue has Nightwing losing his shit and fighting with Jason Todd on the catwalk (a phrase which one can’t even type without hearing that awful Right Said Fred song in one’s brain–perhaps a deliberate bit of meme warfare on Jones’ part to avoid bad reviews being written) which the entire fashion industry of New York City loves and blah, blah, blah. A comic so bad I think I actually blacked out before I finished reading it–or else it was so dull I can’t remember. Anyway, impressively hideous work here, the type of stuff that makes you never want to look at a title again, no matter who’s working on it. Ick.

SUPERMAN #652: A little pat–Lois’s speech when she learns Clark’s regained his powers was so flat and rote it made me think of the stuff you read on the back on cough medicine bottles–but the fight scene had a nice sense of tension and forethought to it. It’s not great but it is Good, and I hope it can keep some zing to it now that things are getting back to “normal.”

X-MEN DEADLY GENESIS #6: What can I tell ya? I liked it–it managed to push my old X-Men fanboy buttons solidly enough that I’m looking forward to the team taking on Uncanny–even though it had at least one pointless death too many for my tastes (apart from removing an annoying stereotype, why was it necessary for Vulcan to kill Banshee, exactly?). Still, Good.

WOLFSKIN #1: Didn’t really pickle my pig’s feet. It looks like Ellis walked into it with the question, “What would happen if you crafted a typical barbarian fantasy but turned the genre’s inherent xenophobia on its head?” and walked out with the answer, “FOR IMMEDIATE DEPOSIT.” The Ryp art looks lovely, as usual, although kinda strange, as if the colorist tried to keep the art from flattening out by wiping out some of the penlines. Eh.

PICK OF THE WEEK: See, why am I so demoralized? A lot of Good ratings this week and everything. I’ll go with X-MEN DEADLY GENESIS #6 because I was expecting lameness from the mini and I was pleasantly wrong.

PICK OF THE WEAK: NIGHTWING #120, as Bruce Jones continues his campaign of making me regret I ever liked his work.

TRADE PICK: Well, duh, FATE OF THE ARTIST. But I also read Joann Sfar’s VAMPIRE LOVES and thought it was really funny and sweet look at the lovelifes (lovelives?) of callow phatasmagorical youth–imagine Charles Addams drawing a Geoffrey Brown book and you’re halfway there–and a great purchase that’s also worth your time and coin.

MANGA FIX: Monster, Vol. 2 does a truly impressive job of letting the air out of the premises’s tires as nearly everything I liked about the first volume–the hospital politics, the creepy cause and effect between Doc Tenma’s goodness and the gruesome murders, the ambiguity of the killer’s identity–gets tossed aside in favor of what I’m dreading is a Fugitive-Meets-The-Silence-of-the-Lambs approach as Doc Tenma takes it on the lam to chase the serial killer he feels responsible for. Will the next fifteen volumes merely be Tenma running into emotionally damaged people and helping them learn how to love life again while chased at every turn by Inspector Lunge and chasing Johan? Christ, I sure hope not: growing up in the ’70s all but burned that formula into my forebrain!

That said? Possibly because I enjoy looking at Urasawa’s drawings of jowly old men almost as much as Urasawa enjoys drawing them, I still liked this. But I can only hope that Urasawa throws something into Volume 3 that’ll make up for all the squandered potential.

Speaking of squandered potential, I thought Iron Wok Jan had become ultra-formulaic but the latest volume (#18) really spices things up with Jan and the gang dealing with a Chinese cooking tong and its ultra-mysterious leader. The art seems to have lost a lot of its nuance (certainly the reproduction has) but, weirdly, I think it lends makes the storytelling weirdly compelling. (In some places, it almost looks like Don Simpson is ghosting the art, and there’s some really crude zipatone effects that are really eye-catching. And I think at one point somebody’s breasts have motion blur, which was pretty funny.) Plus, I learned that eel is never served as sashimi because its blood is poisonous. In short, Iron Wok Jan #18 is still ultra-formulaic, but it’s one step closer to being ultra-fun again and I, in my crabby, crabby way, couldn’t be happier.

And you?

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