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Jeff’s UnCleverly Titled Reviews of 12/6 Books.

Jeff Lester

Ahhh, the holiday season. Does anyone ever end up with enough time to do what they need to? I was in such a rush my original title for this post pretty much ripped off Graeme’s without even realizing it. Oy.

But enough of that. Here’s this:

52 WEEK #31: On its own, the issue didn’t do too much for me but, combined with the comments thread for Graeme’s post, I found the whole “who is Supernova?” thing kinda interesting, as cases are made there for both the Flash and the Atom. (If the second “key” Ralph refers to is “Keystone City,” then I’m thinking The Flash…) Unfortunately, as writers try to stay one step ahead of the Internet hivemind, they’re also more than happy to cheat like nobody’s business. (“Sugar? A-a-and Spike?! You were Supernova?” “Glpxl!”) In short, I guess the issue is Good for keeping the World Wide Web merrily abuzz, but it honestly didn’t strike me as much more than OK.

BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL #1: Whilce Portacio’s weird artistic tics with all the grimacing and finely detailed clothing folds synch up to Batman surprisingly well, and Diggle does a fine job of taking his cues from Batman Begins, but there’s still an overwhelming waft of “Why?” coming off this title. Will this book really be anything more than Legends of the Dark Knight with a temporary shot in the arm saleswise? OK book, but, wow, do cheap sales ploys leave me cold these days.

BEYOND #6: I’m not much of a spoiler dude normally but…killing off Gravity? Utter cheapness, barely excused by caption blab suggesting Gravity might be coming back…or will he? Kind of a drag since, now that I think about it, the Marvel Universe might’ve been better served by having some–or all–of the other characters axed. I liked most of the art, and most of the story for this, so I’m giving it a Good, but I’m pretty aware the book coasts on the feelings of C-Lister love a certain segment of Marvel fanboys like myself might possess. Although no one really expected much from this, it could’ve been much, much better, frankly.

DESOLATION JONES #8: The exhausted world-weariness, so much a part of Ellis’s work and authorial pose, is taken to new heights as Jones tries to track down an old friend and ruminates about his past in a Los Angeles set, if the skies are any indication, in a universe in the last stages of thermodynamic heatdeath. I’m curious to see where the PKD stuff is going (by which I mean I’m only half-convinced it’s going to work), the art is amazing, and the writing is strong. Even with my reservations, I’d call it Very Good work.

DETECTIVE COMICS #826: Yeah, let’s see this one end up in one of DC’s holiday anthologies–I mean, it is a done-in-one Christmas story, isn’t it? I liked it a lot, being a sucker for a decent Joker story, a good done-in-one, and a nasty little hook of a story idea, although I’ve got some quibbleage (the set-up seemed a bit forced, and, like any fan of the Joker, I’ve got maddeningly specific ideas about how the character should be handled that should have no real weight or bearing in a review that nonetheless affect my reading experience). Let’s call is a super high Good, or a low Very Good, depending on where your own biases might lie.

DOCTOR STRANGE OATH #3: Too bad I didn’t try harder to push that “New Fun” idea down the Internet’s throat, because this book certainly falls under that banner: it’s light and funny and clever with an affection that keeps the book from feeling campy (or else it’s camp of the very highest order, the kind Ms. Sontag might have characterized as laughing the laughter of the inclusive). Good stuff, although I can’t figure out if I would like it more or less if I was an actual Dr. Strange fan.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #1: Somewhere in all the frenzied jibbity-jab and face-meltery of Identity Crisis, I lost faith in Geoff Johns. So, in place of all the potentially cool stuff in this book, all I saw were the faults–why have Mr. America mention at the top of the page that he’d ruin his friend’s career if his identity was exposed, just to have him unmask at the bottom? Why doesn’t his friend know that the murder victims are in Mr. America’s house, since he knows Mr. America’s identity? For that matter, is Mr. America so busy telling us his backstory that he doesn’t realize he’s running into his own home? Huh? Who? What? Consequently, whereas others see a exciting bit of (to use Graeme’s phrase) continuity porn, I feel like I’m reading the first issue of “In Pictopia: The Maxi-Series.” Even the appearance of a charming character like Ma Hunkel’s granddaugher makes me worry about what the poor thing is gonna be put through by the time issue #50 rolls around. It’s probably Good, this issue, but to be honest, I’ve lost nearly all my appetite for this kind of thing and really can’t rouse more than an Eh.

MARVEL ADVENTURES SPIDER-MAN #22: As with the Spidey-suit story last issue, Fred Van Lente takes a fun part of the mythos(the Hobgoblin/Green Goblin schism) and boils away the absurdly byzantine continuity to get a fun workable story. However, I gotta say that reading a Spider-Man book without ongoing soap-operaish subplots is a bit like getting your cat neutered–sure, the place stinks of cat piss a lot less and you don’t get your arm sliced open half as much, but you can tell the experience has grown markedly less catlike at the same time, you know? Highly OK, but if we could get some emotional growth and development in there–just a panel or two per issue!–I’d be much happier.

MARVEL HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Marvel’s got this weird “boutique pricing” thing going, have you noticed? It’s like they take stuff they clearly don’t give a shit about (like that follow-up to Joe Casey’s Avengers miniseries, or this book) and dump it on the market with a higher price tag than their flagship books, as if double-daring the customer to buy it. It’s a drag too, because the stories in the book are actually a lot of fun (that follow up to last year’s Fin Fang Four was awesome, but I thought the AIM holiday party was quite enjoyable, too) but padded with horrific filler (I don’t know who didn’t come through with their eight pages, but the hideous rip-offness of the cover gallery was only topped by those bullshit “ornaments”). You know I’m too much of a cheap bastard to recommend a $3.99 book if I think it’s overpriced, and it’s a shame because a lot of the material is quite Good. The presentation, however, is Crap.

NEW TALES OF OLD PALOMAR #1: Back in the old days, when Fantagraphics was stuck in its loveless marriage with the direct market, they might’ve called this book “Crisis on Infinite Palomars” in a fit of cheeky snark and the title would’ve been kinda appropriate–Beto throws in lots of half-page intro shots that would be meaningless to the new reader but sends all kinds of pangs to people like me who remember reading the first Heartbreak Soup story more than two decades previous. So, in its own way, this book is continuity porn just as much as JSA #1, but, unlike JSA where some superhero beats up a villain and then angrily asks “Now who’s a bitch?!”, most of the extreme material (which Beto normally wallows in)is absent or dialed down to the point of genuine discretion. The story’s charming with an enjoyably disquieting undercurrent, the art is open, relaxed and vibrant, and the price tag is about three dollars more than I’m comfortable with (because I’m Cheapy McChintzalot, remember?) and I’m going with an OK because I think there’s gotta be a real perfect storm as far as the customer profile goes (an old, indy, spendthrift completist, essentially) in order for the book to really resonate.

NEWUNIVERSAL #1: Arguably, Ellis’s recasting the world as a different one from ours (one where China is ascending in importance even more rapidly, for example) obviates the whole point behind the original New Universe, but I can’t really see how he could have stuck to “the world outside your window” without the book reading like Supreme Power or Morrison’s first issue of The Authority or any number of things out there (Heroes, as G. points out). Instead, it seems like Ellis, the midnight ruminator, is looking at The New Universe through the prism of Watchmen, which potentially might be really interesting since, after all, it was through Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, not The New Universe, from which an entire generation of comic book creators took their cues for “realistic” comics.

Sadly, I had more fun typing that paragraph than I did reading this issue. This ground is very well-tilled by now, and there’s not much to the plot or the characters that suggests that we’re going to get anything other than a crop of the same old mung with differently colored leaves and shoots. I’m going with an optimstic OK, mainly because Ellis can take his analysis of genre conventions into interesting areas if he feels like it, so I’ll see what later issues bring.

NIGHTWING #127: Considering how Dan Didio was ready to off Nightwing in IC but didn’t, the meta-conceit of Nightwing clawing his way out of a grave where he’s been buried alive is kinda cute. And while, normally, the old-school genericism of Wolfman and Jurgens would leave me cold, but here it’s almost comforting, like Wolfman’s baloney is the perfect complement to Jurgens’ whitebread and mayo and Nightwing’s good old processed American cheese. If that strikes you as the most left-handed of compliments (or the most damning of culinary analogies), it is: I read this issue and thought it was pretty OK but I also felt kinda blucky about myself. That’s the kind of issue this is.

OUTSIDERS #43: If you’ve ever ridden one of San Francisco’s electric busses, you know what it’s like to read The Outsiders–at the slightest touch of the accelerator, the bus leaps halfway up a hill, and when the driver takes his foot off, the whole thing comes to a shuddering, old-lady-spilling halt. So, while this issue shoulda been awesome, really–it’s actually pretty cool that Winick has had this whole master plan clearly worked out from the very first issue and, finally, three and a half years later, we finally find out what it is–it’s comes as off as just one more spastic jerk contributing to a feeling of superhero motion sickness. It should’ve been better than Eh, but for me, it really wasn’t.

SPIDER-MAN REIGN #1: No, no, Kaare, you’ve got to do it the way Mark Millar does it: with subtlety. I did like how the bow tie made Peter Parker look like the palest disciple of Louis Farrakhan ever, though. Pretty, but Awful.

STAN LEE MEETS SILVER SURFER: Almost worth it for the full-page of Galactus saying to Stan: “Jeezis, would you shut this guy up already?!” But, it’s $3.99 so it’s really not. That reprint didn’t really do Stan any favors, either, since John Buscema apparently didn’t bother to mention on the back of his artwork why Spidey and the Surfer were fighting in the first place. Also, since The Surfer was apparently a breaking point between Lee & Kirby, I wonder if this issue, being the last, was meant by some clever staffer to underscore how Lee’s relevance pretty much dissipated once Kirby left, but that’s neither here nor there. Eh, in any event.

SUPERGIRL #12: Very different from the issue described over at DC, and probably much better since it features the art of the glorious Amanda Conner, which adds immeasurably to its charms. It’s just a fill-in issue, and it’s still slightly skeevy, but it was I thought it was Good.

ULTIMATE VISION #1: Mike Carey writes a competent follow-up to the Ultimate Galactus saga, and Brandon Peterson apparently likes drawing himself some robo-boobs and ass, so I guess it’s OK. I’m sure if I liked robo-boobs and ass, I’d rate it higher.

UNCANNY X-MEN #481: Finally, some X-Men in my X-Men book! And Rachel is going to have a doomed romance with the guy from Final Fantasy VII! Awesome! Or highly OK, maybe. But either way, I’m interested again.

WALKING DEAD #33: Completely botched, if you ask me. Sure, sure, you can break out on the dry erase board and show why this event had to happen, and that event had to happen, and how this is all gonna pay off Walking Dead #50, but just about every choice made in this storyline seemed either obvious and/or inept (all those pages establishing the zombie girl on the chain, and then she just entirely disappears in the fight or torture scene, for example. Huh?) In the back pages, Kirkman talks about how this book is his baby and how he wants to take his time with it, and not milk it and/or exploit it and if that’s really, really true, I gotta say: dude, maybe you should cut back on your other work. Or something. Because I’ve gone from being able to recommend this book with complete confidence to kinda coughing and scuffing my shoes when someone brings it up. Awful, because it’s been–and can be–so much better.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Hmm, I was kinda crabby, I guess. DESOLATION JONES #8, it looks like.

PICK OF THE WEAK: Starting out, I thought it’d be SPIDER-MAN REIGN #1, but I realize now how frustrated I am with WALKING DEAD #33. Go back to being good, damn you!!

TRADE PICK: I’m not very far into it, but if you want to see ambition to burn, check out ESSENTIAL DEFENDERS VOL 2 TPB. The first couple of Len Wein written issues are okay fine Marvel ’70s stuff, but then there’s a three issue storyline from Steve Gerber concerning The Thing, Dr. Strange and a handful of people whose lives are changed by a cosmic harmonica that cannot be beat for audacity and crazy “what the fuck”-ness. (I’m also impressed at how Gerber mentions smells and sounds in his captions to put the reader in the scene–it really convinces you that this is New York as it was, in all its overwhelming glory). Also for those of you who love to ponder the strangeness of alternate worlds so like–and yet unlike!–our own, check out WHAT IF CLASSIC VOL 3 TPB. Not for the stories (which generally suck ass) but for the circulation statement reprinted on one of the letters pages: Marvel was printing something like 270,000 copies of a stinky little book like WHAT IF back in the late ’70s. Take that, Civil War!

Uh, which is to say: And you? What rotated your tires this week?

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