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Lotsa Books Plus No Time Equals: Jeff’s Reviews of 10/04 Books

Jeff Lester

This is the second week in a row where I walked out of the comic store shaking my head in shame. Just tons and tons of books I didn’t get a chance to read at all. Of course, part of that may be that there are more and more substantial book releases all the time as well–I spent a good chunk of this last Friday making my way through BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2006–but, me being me, I’m perfectly happy to blame the complete and utter breakdown of my reading faculties (or is that facilities?) as 40 bears down on my unprepared ass.

And on that merry note, will Steve D, Adam Stephanides and Sean, all of whom provided invaluable answers to my fat, slobby bad-ass survey of a few weeks ago drop me a line at pigDOTlatinATgmailDOTcom? Your valuable prizes have arrived!

And now, on with the four-color feeding frenzy:

52 WEEK #22: As Bri pointed out, this book is far better than a weekly comic really has any right to be. The scene with Will Magnus muttering “I don’t want to be crazy, I don’t want to be crazy” while his world falls apart around him was great, but I admit Super-Chief sort of kertwangs some deep liberal knee-jerk response in me–finally, a superhero for Native Americans who want to kill their mouthy grandfathers! Very OK, but when Bat-Hombre debuts by kicking out his mom’s uterus to use as a magic bolo, don’t say you weren’t warned.

ALL NEW ATOM #4: Apart from the comment about Byrne’s dynamism in dialogue scenes, I pretty much agree with Hibbs’ review here, too. And did I imagine it or did the Atom’s arch-nemesis lick his knife on the last page of this issue? Licking a knife is what today’s kids do instead of twirling one’s mustache, if you ask me. It’s kinda played out as an “ooo, he’s so eeeevil!” form of shorthand. More-or-less OK issue overall, though.

AMERICAN SPLENDOR #2: The good news: Chris Weston draws Harvey Pekar (at a comic book convention!) The bad news: he only does so for two pages. Still, a terrific line-up of artistic talent made this a Good issue if you go in for the Harvey Pekar kind of thing.

BEYOND #4: Four issues in and it’s still playing its big, cosmic concept very small. While I think that’s generally a plus–I was sure we’d have gotten a power cosmic Gravity wrist-wrestling The Beyonder for control of the cosmos by now–it feels like the story isn’t going to ramp up as much as putter about and then tidily close up shop. I know I’m a contrarian, but now that McDuffie and Kolins have my interest, I’d like to see something bigger.

BOYS #3: Nothing particularly deep or snarky to say about the issue, but I thought it was interesting how Robertson can give his work an almost-Dave Gibbons-ish feel when he wants to–like that cover, for example. (I thought Cameron Stewart’s work in Other Side looked a bit like Robertson’s work too, as long as I’m saying whatever’s coming to mind as I write this.) An OK issue, but if there aren’t some serious fireworks in store by the end of the first arc, I wonder if enough readers are gonna stick around–which is kinda like saying I wonder if I’m gonna stick around, but kinda not. I can read this for free while working the counter, you know.

CRIMINAL #1: You picked this up, right? If not, you should. There’s a lot to praise here, but the two things that struck me most were Phillips’ way with a setting (and Val Staples’ fantastic coloring), making a half-dozen different neighborhoods still feel like part of the same city, and the way Brubaker has compressed his already-taut storytelling–the bit about the newspaper strip was the only thing that I could’ve seen cutting (and I’m sure it has a payoff later down the line). Very Good stuff, in the way that, say, a ’70s Don Siegel film is very good stuff–you’re watching a genre work done by someone at the top of their craft who knows that genre front to back. A rare treat for comics, and worth picking up.

DETECTIVE COMICS #824: It’s hard to believe that a competent done-in-one Batman comic is all I really want these days, but it’s true. So the fact that this doesn’t quite satisfy is unsettling. I think it’s because I’ve been trained to expect the run to end in six issues, or for a huge crossover story to come in and wipe out the tone of the run, or maybe because it seems likely to me Dini’s renovations of the Rogue’s Gallery will be forgotten two issues after he leaves. Highly OK, but I guess the Bat-franchise has left me gun-shy.

DOCTOR STRANGE OATH #1: As mentioned in Bri’s comment thread, the art in this was amazingly lovely–as with any good Ditko creation, Dr. Strange is actually receptive to stylization–and Vaughan’s thoughtful way of connecting bits and pieces (Strange reciting the Hippocratic oath almost as if it was one of his spells) made for a Good read. Like Detective above, I can’t really get too fired up about it because there’ll be likely be an entirely different take on Dr. Strange coming down the pike in about a year. But that’s my problem (or the marketplace’s) and not anything having to do with the book per se, I… think.

FANTASTIC FOUR #540: Suffers a bit too much from “have the cake and eat it, too” as far as Reed’s behavior is concerned–JMS has him as both the frightened tool of the government and the Lehrer-quoting critic. If you can get around that, though (and it seems like reading most of the Civil War stuff means willing to suspend disbelief as far as character behavior is concerned), I’d say this was pretty OK.

FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #13: I thought the art was blucky, and apparently Peter David wants “Friendly Neighborhood” Spider-Man to mean “time-traveling demonic enemy fighting” Spider-Man, so I think I’m pretty much through. Bummer. Eh.

GIANT SIZE WOLVERINE #1: Actually reminded of most of the Giant-Size books I used to buy in the ’70s–lovely art, disposable story, eye-meltingly bad back-ups. OK but mainly because David Aja’s work was really impressive here–a melange of great ’70s artists like Wrightson, Ploog, Steranko, while somehow having its own flavor. Really not bad at all.

IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN #1: You could teach a class off of Phil Hester’s masterful handling of the overabundant text–it all went down more or less smoothly. Sadly, all that yakkity-yak didn’t really have much of a payoff in this issue as the big reveal (the guy in the Ant-Man suit isn’t Gallant, it’s Goofus) is spelled out in the title of the book. There were a few other problems as well, but let’s just call it a lowish OK and hope the book hits its stride next issue.

TO DANCE: A BALLERINA’S STORY: You may or may not know this about me but I’m a medium-sized ballet nerd. Friends got me hooked on the S.F. Ballet back in the early ’90s when I was a huge HK film fan and it was a surprisingly smooth transition from watching John Woo and Jackie Chan films to watching pieces choreographed by Mark Morris and George Balanchine. This puts me in an odd place with regards to Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel’s book, TO DANCE–not being a twelve year old girl, I’m far from the perfect audience for this, but I do think I know enough about the subject material to be frustrated by the work. While the illustrations are superb–Marc Siegel captures that perfect balance between weight and weightlessness in a ballerina’s dance–the story as written seems to be one missed opportunity after the other: there’s a million interesting things about in the story of a young girl attending ballet school while her family falls apart, and Siena Cherson Siegel knows enough to nod at them as they pass by in the narrative, but little more. It all slides by too quickly, too much anecdote and too little incident, and the protagonist manages to become entranced with ballet, have her family break up, lose her career at an early age due to an injury, and find a new life with husband and child, all without the reader really connecting once. And then there’s the whole frustration for the ballet nerd of reading a graphic novel set at the NYCB during Balanchine’s last days, with Barishnykov and Suzanne Farrell running around–apart from a brief, evocative recreation of Farrell’s farewell dance to Balanchine after he died, it could just as well be the story of any gal growing up at any ballet school anywhere. And that’s a damn shame.

I’m sure TO DANCE will kill with its intended audience–it’s not too hard to imagine it flying off the shelves of savvy ballet shops during Nutcracker season–but rather than an EH children’s book, it could have been an inspiring graphic novel, and it’s a damn shame that it’s not. At least according to this ballet nerd.

PICK OF THE WEEK: CRIMINAL #1, no doubt. Although OTHER SIDE #1, which I was too lazy to review, is also really worth your time and coin.

PICK OF THE WEAK: Obviously, I was more disappointed with TO DANCE than any other book I read, but that’s just because of all the squandered potential. I’m gonna give it to FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #13 because I’m a complainy bee-yotch.

TRADE OF THE WEEK: THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2006–it has a piece or two that didn’t work for me, but apart from stuff I read and loved previously (like those killer McSweeney‘s pieces by Ware, Dietch and Heatley), the stuff I missed the first time around that was great–I think Justin Hall’s “La Rubia Loca” makes this book worth the price of admission alone, but I’d probably think that about Rebecca Dart’s “Rabbithead” is I hadn’t already seen it. It’s almost 300 pages of top-notch comics for 22 bucks, and the book itself is a lovely looking thing. If you’ve got the coin to spend, it’s worth it.

COMING UP: Bug pictures to post! Probably in the next day or two. And hopefully I can get these fucking things written and posted a little sooner….

What’d you think of last week?

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