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Jeff’s Reviews of 11/16 Books….

Brian Hibbs

Huh. I know Brian had a Tilting to do and just got back from the RRP and Graeme’s job is horrifying in the amount of time it devours, but I kinda thought I’d be person no. 3 on this site reviewing All-Star Superman, you know?

Keep in mind I just finished writing close to 8,000 words for the latest CE newsletter so I may well be a tad comix-intolerant by this point. Hopefully, it’ll make my writing only slightly more bloated and gassy than usual.

ALL STAR SUPERMAN #1: You ever have spiked punch when you were a kid? It was sweet but there was an unexpected bite to it, and you had a suspicion (affirmed the more of it you had) that there was a pay-off you weren’t quite capable of appreciating in that very first taste, that very first glass? That’s how I felt reading All-Star Superman #1; although I enjoyed it overall, there was something so structurally hinky about it I can’t help but feel a bit suspicious. And nowhere is that more apparent in the last two pages where Clark reveals himself as Superman to Lois Lane–for people who haven’t been following Superman comics for the last ten-plus years, the surprise is in the action of the characters. For people who have been following Superman comics for the last ten-plus years, the surprise is in the action of the creators, which is the sort of meta-structural gambit I guess I should have expected from Morrison. I think I’m a little bummed out, though: does this mean Morrison’s run on the book is going to be a rip-roaring Superman book for people who don’t read Superman, while the rest of us are mainly going to walk away with an appreciation for some amazing art and a cleverly encoded argument by Morrison about what things are necessary for a good Superman comic, and why? Or am I just rebelling against the slight bitterness of the booze, and by issue four I’ll be just as intoxicated as everyone else? Art, execution and price easily vault this into Very Goodville, but I’ll be curious to see if and how some of the issues raised get played out.

BANANA SUNDAYS #4: About the only fault I can find with this is Root Nibot’s afterword arguing for the need for fun comics, and mainly because it’s so superfluous: the mini itself makes the case far more persuasively. Between that and the pseudonym, I think Nibot’s still got some issues to work out about the pull between fun and serious art, but I’m just glad that struggle didn’t play out in the work itself. I enjoyed myself all the way through, and thought this was a Very Good miniseries. More, please!

BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN #1: Suffers a bit from long project-itis–the Batman warehouse scene, I’m sure, was conceived of long before Batman Begins, precisely because nobody would so blatantly put a scene so similar in their book after that film–but it’s Matt Wagner doing a very well-executed Batman 101, and the more you love Wagner’s art, the better you’ll like it. I thought it was Good; you might like it more.

BIRDS OF PREY #88: I really appreciate Simone’s eagerness to dig into the character’s psyches and see what makes them work, and, if you care, you’ll find probably about the best explanation of the whole Black Canary/Green Arrow relationship ever put forward. But sometimes this book feels like all B-story, while perfectly good A-stories are left as simmering sub-plots that are finally removed from the stove just a little too late. OK, but only that.

BOOKS OF DOOM #1: Jesus, forgive me while I get stridently structuralist twice in one entry. Dr. Doom isn’t cool because he’s the gypsy son of a sorceress who married black arts to science in order to save his tribe–all that other stuff is cool because Dr. Doom is cool. In other words, readers appreciated Doom long before we learned all the stuff about Boris and Valeria, and persecuted gypsies, and etc. Spinning it around and telling the story of Doom in a linear, documentary fashion (even with some smartly crafted storytelling choices) leads to some potentially fatal cart/horse confusion. I expect Brubaker’s going to have a few good twists up his sleeve, but the more psychologically valid Doom becomes as a character, the sillier all the gypsy/Boris/armor/cape/”Richards!” stuff tends to become. Good, but probably fighting a losing battle.

DAREDEVIL VS PUNISHER #6: Lapham actually comes the closest to replicating some of that great “Holy Shit, everything is fucked” tension I’d get from reading Miller & Mazzucchelli’s collaboration. (I guess because Lapham really understands how to up the elements in a regular panel layout to dramatically increase tension? Or something?) But flat characters and an almost criminal ignorance of continuity keep this buried between Eh and OK when it could have been a good deal more.

FANTASTIC FOUR #532: The good thing about this issue is, now that he’s helped create the universe and imbue it with balance, this should be the apex of creative adulation and ass-kissery for Reed Richards, right? The bad thing is, this issue is so weighted down in sentimental slop, it ignores its own darker implications. By thinking such cliched hackney thoughts about the gang, Reed imbues the cosmic rays with the specificity that will give them their powers–which means that not only is Reed really the reason why Ben turns into a monster, but after thirty some odd years or promising Ben he would try to cure him, when put in the position where all he has to do is remember that, he still turns Ben into a monster, and gives himself a super-stretchy size-changing penis to boot. Reed Richards, creator of the universe and asshat. Christ. Awful.

FANTASTIC FOUR IRON MAN BIG IN JAPAN #2: Really wonderful and absurd, and the most fast and loose Marvel’s been with their characters since the early Quesada/Jemas days. Zeb Wells’ written story may have tried to walk a careful tightrope between absurdity and seriousness, but Seth Fisher’s art shoves that walker screaming into the abyss of ridiculousness and it’s quite fun. Makes the build-up to next issue very weak (except in a “how insane if Fisher going to get” kind of way) but that’s about the only problem I had with it. Very Good, if you’d like a change of pace from all the seriousness.

GREEN ARROW #56: I think working on a kids’ show is doing dangerous things to Judd Winick’s libido: this is the second issue of his in as many weeks that made me feel kind of crawly, what with Dr. Light’s whole “yeah, you’re fitting really well into high school, you hot little former teen prostitute.” On the one hand, yes, right, Dr. Light’s background, Mia’s background, okay, fine. On the other hand: ick. Throw in some pretty dumb plot twists and it’s barely Eh.

GREEN LANTERN #5: This issue starts with a lovingly drawn wrist stump on page 1 and just goes from there. It’s a deeply creepy issue, filled with body parts, lovingly drawn carnivorous sharks, fucked-up alien eyeballs, and it’s probably all wrong for the direction the book was previously striving for. On the other hand, it wasn’t dull which is a huge step up, and those were some fucking gorgeous sharks. Good, in a ‘nad-retracting kind of way.

HERO SQUARED #3: If you like Giffen/DeMatteis shtick, you’ll like this. But even better, the superhero/supervillain/boyfriend/girlfriend romantic quadrangle is more than just fun: it’s a clever way to comment on the conflicts between perception and self-perception in a romantic relationship. I hope they can continue to find new ways to use that to their advantage when the series returns in 2006. I”m looking forward to it. Good.

LOCAL #1: Warren Ellis compared this to a perfect pop single; if so, then reading afterward that Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O’Malley did the lettering is like listening to the song and finding out that Richard and Linda Thompson were sitting in on tamborine and zither. Or something. Ryan Kelly’s art is strong and Brian Wood’s script has an enjoyably smart twist and I look forward to the next one. But, dang, how’d they get Larson and O’Malley on the tamborine and zither? Good.

SEA OF RED #6: Some keen art and a sharp plot reversal made this very, very readable. But the twists work better the more you care about the main character, and he’s never been anything but a hastily sketched outline to me. OK, but I wish I could care more.

SIMPSONS COMICS #112: They should have shelved this for a while, I think. All the gumbo ha-ha in the first story fell flat every time I read the word “New Orleans” and involuntary remembered all that destruction. But maybe I’m overly sensitive. Eh.

SUPERGIRL #3: Was there a point to this, other than to give the people writing Nightwing fanfic a new subject to over-explore? Barely eh.

THING #1: Exactly what I was hoping for from Slott: fun with lot of thought put into what makes The Thing work, and how to bring that out in his current circumstances. And the art looks like it’s right out of the heyday of Marvel Two-In-One, and that’s also a good thing. Good and with a lot of promise, so let’s see where it goes.

TOMORROW STORIES SPECIAL #1: As is the problem with this title, there’s some great stuff here but not nearly enough to justify the price. I’ve always loved the Jack B. Quick stories, and the Greyshirt tribute is winning and moving; if it’d been just those two stories and a $2.99 tag I’d probably be all over this. But throw in a Cobweb story and a one part clever/two parts migrainey Splash Brannigan story and a $6.99 price tag and, well, it’s kinda OK, sorta.

PICK OF THE WEEK: If you like all-ages material, Banana Sundays #4; if you gotta have a cape fix, All-Star Superman #1.

PICK OF THE WEAK: FF #532 which wasn’t just shmaltzy and sappy, it was self-contradictory, to boot. Really lame.

TRADE PICK: A lot of good stuff this week–the Death Jr. trade, the collection of the recent Legion issues–but because Ed Cunard mentioned Moxie, My Sweet in one of the comment threads, I checked that out and really dug it. It helps if you look at it as an inexpensive trade (80 pgs. for $6.99) rather than a pricey indie book, but either way I was really charmed by Mark Campos’s writing, and the way the anthology led slowly into its more fantastic tales–particularly that story drawn (if I’m remembering right) by Elijah Brubaker that shifts subtly from from possible slice-of-life to bit of whimsy to full-grown fairy tale. Most of the pieces here are good stuff, and having many artists but a single writer gives the collection a unity frequently mssing. Definitely check it out (and thanks for mentioning it, Ed!)

Speaking of trades, I had a great moment at the store yesterday where a kid in the twelfth grade stopped by and picked up–The Push Man and The Night Fisher. How cool is that? (I kinda had a moment where I worried whether he was old enough for some of the material in The Push Man but figured it was okay–hopefully, his parents will, too.) You can’t throw a rock in the blogosphere without hitting a site that does comic reviews, but if the most influential source for bringing new readers into the field turns out to be The Onion A.V. Club, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Twelve more days, 20,000 more words…Wish me luck!

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