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I am Retsel Ffej: Graeme reviews last week’s books.

Graeme McMillan

Well, the weather outside? Frightful. And that fire? So delightful. And since there’s no place to go, and baby, it’s cold outside, your lips sure do look delicious… No, wait, I’m getting my songs mixed up. But, as I said in my comments to Jeff’s reviews, he and I are at yuletide opposites this week. Let’s call him the Grinch and me Good King Wenceslas, okay?

52 WEEK THIRTY-TWO: There are issues of this where I enjoy it more than usual, and I’m not entirely sure why; this may be the most enjoyable week of the series for me since week nineteen, perhaps because it feels like the biggest “reveal” since that issue. Except I’m not entirely sure what’s been revealed; Is Ralph dead, having killed himself way back in week one, and everything that’s happened to him since then has been some kind of near-death thing? Has he been shown that there’s no such thing as death? And is there no such thing as death, seeing as we’re told twice that death is just a trick of time, and this series is all about time being broken? The reason, maybe, that this issue has the same effect on me as the (spoiler!) Skeets is evil issue is because both of them don’t offer plot resolution as much as advancement that just opens up more questions. Because, yeah sure, it’s fun to watch Black Adam fly about and be grumpy for awhile, but the glimpses at a bigger point to the whole series are what keeps me involved in the book. Good.

ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #17: I’m completely conflicted on Chris Ware. On the one hand, I find him to be an amazing graphic designer and his techniques precise and breathtaking – the exhibition of his artwork that was here a couple of years (?maybe?) ago was stunning, especially the roughs and the pencils to his pages – but more than not, his end-result always feels too clinical to me, for some reason – The same preciseness and cleanliness that I appreciate as a designer acting as an anaesthetic to the story that he’s trying to tell, bringing in a distance to whatever emotional core that the writing is trying to reach. It leaves the end result feeling very artificial and studied, to me (Yes, even on Jimmy Corrigan, which blew my little mind on first reading, but didn’t work for me on subsequent attempts). It’s the same thing here – the writing on Rusty Brown is layered and very Altman-esque (or perhaps more Paul Thomas Anderson-esque, come to think of it), but visually it doesn’t work with the imagery that Ware uses in anything other than the scenes with Rusty and Chalky; the simplicity and iconography that’s used there fits, but as soon as we move to the sister or the teacher (and the teacher being a Chris Ware is something that is cute, but I can’t work out if it’s in a good way or a horrible way, yet), I wanted something… more. Or different. Or both. Technically, the book is beautifully designed and the writing is interesting, even on the shorter gag strips. But it didn’t work for me; I didn’t get it, and so it ended up just being Okay.

I’m going to alt-comics hell now.

DCU INFINITE HOLIDAY SPECIAL: It may not be the best holiday-related release this week, but that’s purely because of the weaker stories in here (That would be the Green Lantern and Shazam ones, in particular, although I didn’t really get that much from the first solo Batwoman story, either). But the stories that did work are very enjoyable indeed; Ian Boothby’s Flash and Joe Kelly’s Supergirl are firmly in the sentimental schmaltz category, despite the selfconsciously grumpy stars (Although Kelly’s take on Supergirl finally works here, helped enormously by Ale Garza’s art – Hey, DC? This is the guy you should have on the regular Supergirl book; he has the “big eyes” thing from Michael Turner, but it works because his style in general is more cartoony. Also, he does a good grumpy Girl of Steel. Seriously; he’d be a much better fit than Ian Chuchill – and the fact that the story, for once, doesn’t revolve around Kara “trying to find her place” in the DC Universe) and hit those points well and good, but the stars of this particular show are Bill Willingham and Kelley Puckett, for the Shadowpact and Superman stories, both of which have a sense of humor and ridiculousness that nonetheless end up as some of the most heartwarming things DC have published all year. Both of those stories have great art, as well; the Shadowpact one is illustrated by Invincible’s Cory Walker, and Pete Woods shows yet again that he should be a massive superstar artist with his Silver Age tale on the characters in the Superman short. Those last two stories are Excellent, and half of the book is a high Good, but the whole package is let down by the not-so-good stories and, really, is just Okay.

THE ESCAPISTS #6: Hey, how did this have a last issue that got Very Good after the – to me, at least – mediocre middle issues? Perhaps because it felt as if the story was about the characters again instead of the plot; the resolution of the plots that were set in motion over the last couple of issues even happen off-panel and are explained to us in expositionary narration here, allowing Brian Vaughan to get back to the more important themes of escaping/embracing family bonds that the earlier issues were about, and I couldn’t be happier. Perhaps it’s just my reading of the issue, but the move away from literal plot dynamics to a more abstract focus gives this issue my favorite scene of the entire series, where Case realizes that working at a New York Graphic Design House isn’t for her. There’s a comment in the lettercol at the end of the issue where editor Diana Schultz makes some comment about wishing this series was an ongoing, but I’m glad it isn’t; the story ends perfectly with the last page here. I’d love to see Vaughan do more about creation, but these characters? They’re finished. They’ve escaped.

GEN 13 #3: Gail introduces a really strange religious tone to the series with this issue – Not only is one of the mysterious voyeurs revealed to be a minister who preaches against sins like, oh, logging onto the internet to watch snuff porn, shall we say, but the first supervillains the team have are called “The Heavenly Choir” and have a Christian theme to their powers and look. Is this something from the original series, or an unexpected new flavor particular to this version…? Either way, it’s a swerve I didn’t see coming, and end up feeling confused by; what is the morality of this book? Are we being preached to about buying books that are often more about violence than anything else? What’s with the religious iconography…? Is it shock tactics, or is there something more going on behind the surface…? Right now, it feels too early to tell, but I’m also left, three issues into the series, still unsure about what book I’m reading from issue to issue… A cautious Good, but I wonder where everything’s going here.

GHOST RIDER #6: You know, Daniel Way gets a lot of shit online for decompressing his stories, but I actually kind of enjoyed the first half of this two-parter (with art by Richard Corben, which is why Hibbs pushed it on me in the first place – It’s the best I’ve seen Corben’s stuff look in awhile, as well); it moves along at a nice enough pace for you to understand what’s happening in both timeframes. I mean, it’s still not my cup of tea and all, but it’s well enough done, you know? Good.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #4: This really should be more exciting, shouldn’t it? But it all feels like overkill, for some reason. Eh.

THE SPIRIT #1: The most enjoyable book out this week, and almost moreso because of its deliberately light and throwaway nature. It’s pulp, and has no pretentions to be anything more than pulp… But Darwyn Cooke’s pulp still manages to be better than most other creators’ attempts to create something profound and lasting (Spider-Man: Reign comes to mind), which either says something about him, or about almost everyone else working in the medium these days. It’s the details that stick around from here, more than the plot, as much as Jeff didn’t dig most of them – The ridiculous name of the TV anchor (Ginger Coffee) or the scrolls along the bottom of the TV screen (“two headed killer puppy captures jurors’ hearts”), or the Spirit hiding inside the car, or Ebony getting a hard time because of his name – because the only way that stories like this work is because of the execution, not the idea… Cooke’s art is, as ever, beautiful, and all the better for avoiding an Eisner pastiche. Because I’m a pessimist, I’m convinced that this book won’t last two years in this market – It doesn’t tie in with any Universe, it doesn’t follow the storytelling conventions or tone of the popular books, and it has a sly humor that doesn’t go for the obvious Wizard-esque cheap jokes – but for now, I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts. Excellent.

WOLVERINE #49: And this turns out, surprisingly, to be the Holiday book of the week. It’s a fill-in issue and steals the plot from Die Hard, but Goddammit if there’s not enough enjoyment in seeing Wolverine standing atop a pile of (potentially dead) evil dwarves dressed as Santa’s elves saying “Feels weird fightin’ people smaller than me. I think I like it.” Or his continued assertions that the bombs in the building aren’t real until they start going off. Only the end of the issue – a rushed climax that’s visually confused and out of tone with the rest of the book – disappoints, but up until that point, the whole thing is a successful (culture?) clash played for laughs as much as action thrills and spills. Based on this issue, I’m tempted to look at whatever writer Rob Williams gets up to next. Very Good, and who would’ve thought I would’ve said that about a Wolverine book?

WONDER MAN: MY FAIR SUPERHERO #1: Am I the only person who is bored of the stories that start in dystopian futures and then flash back to the main story? The start of this book really annoyed me because of that, and I’m not entirely sure why. It felt unnecessary, an attempt to try and make this story more “important” and give it more weight, and kind of working against the tone of the rest of the story, which is closer to Peter David’s usual lighthearted schtick with injokes and puns. Although it may be that the main story feels more light than it’s meant to, thanks to Andrew Currie’s pencils, which are very unusual for a Marvel book – imagine John McCrea, but moreso, and you’re kind of close. I think the inking makes the art look worse than it actually is, but that may just be me. Overall, though, it’s an Eh book that doesn’t quite gel together yet.

PICK OF THE WEEK would be The Spirit, because, dude. It was great. PICK OF THE WEAK would be Justice League, because I’m still waiting to find out how the Red Tornado can manage to possess a corpse and give it superpowers, even as we see bad guys steal his robot body because that’s supposed to be the thing that made him so powerful. TRADE OF THE WEEK is an old one – Essential Luke Cage, volume 2. What better time of year to read about a man who likes to yell “Sweet Christmas”?

Coming up this week, if I have time: That trades only post I keep promising to do. But don’t hold your breath.

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