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“NNGGGGAAAANNGAAAABBUUUBBBUUUZZZZZZZ…” COMICS! Sometimes They Are Good, Sometimes Not So Much!

John Kane

I hope all our American friends had a smashing Thanksgiving! Managed to sneak another holiday in there before Christmas again, I see. Couldn’t wait a few weeks for some Turkey. America, we are going to have to work on your delayed gratification! Maybe in the New Year, eh? Along with that membership to the gym. No, I have no idea what I’m on about.  Here are some words about comics I managed to dash off before being swallowed by the pre-Christmas maelstrom. Sorry about the lack of images but, y’know, time and all that hot jazz.

Anyway, this…

All Star Western #25
Artist Moritat
Writers Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Colour Mike Atiyeh
Letters Rob Leigh
Cover by Howard Porter
Jonah Hex created by Tony DeZuniga and John Albano
DC Comic, $3.99 (2013)

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I’m not saying the driving conceit of this series is low hanging fruit but its rind is a gnat’s fart from brushing the tips of the grass. It’s Jonah Hex in the DC Now! While it was a fair joke to have Jonah show up and be more inclusive of difference than the modern populace stewing around him it wasn’t a joke that had much legs. A better joke would have been having Jonah show up and be distastefully offensive to everyone. (But that would require having some nuts left in your sack). Every month Jonah could have wandered around displaying levels of racism, homophobia and misogyny toxic to normal people. Hell, he could even have worked in comics. (Oh, too soon?) Anyway, now it’s just Jonah mamboing about and bumping into DC Universe characters. Like a Bob Haney comic but with none of the energy, inventiveness or flair. So, not much like a Bob Haney comic then. More of a Gerry Conway comic. It isn’t well written; something happens; something else happens; then it ends. Despite the fact Jonah is in the 21st Century, meets John Constantine, fights (well that’s gilding the lily, they move about a bit in an aggressive fashion) a demon and then Swamp Thing shows up it is all curiously unengaging. If it were any more pedestrianly written it would come with a free pair of shoes. Which means, as is more often than commonly acknowledged, the art has to carry most of the load. Luckily, Moritat has many strengths, mostly in figure work, architecture, faces and textures. Not so much panel to panel flow or action. There was a bit an issue or two ago where some guy in a car looked to be spoiling a fun run but in fact he was killing people by the shed load.  The impact was somewhat diluted. And the same is true here with Moritat tasked with a battle in the desert which, well, he muffs. Even so Moritat just about carries this comic, but it isn’t really a Jonah Hex comic anymore than Hex was a Jonah Hex comic. All Star Western is EH!

THE WAKE #5 (of 10)
Artist Sean Murphy
Writer Scott Snyder
Colour Matt Hollingsworth
Letters Jared K. Fletcher
The Wake created by Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy
DC Comics, $3.99 (2013)

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Fair warning: turn away now because I don’t think this comic is very good. The urgency of any notionally exciting action is continually being spuffed away by the creaky and derivative narrative joltingly halting while someone delivers a big old furball of exposition. Said text dump consisting of a lightly tweaked wikipedia entry in a laughably unconvincing attempt to lend the ridiculous events occurring some kind of gravitas. In old legends floods are mentioned sometimes so, uh, yeah. And the people hawking this stuff up are just, well, it’s a good job they are all so memorably portrayed by Sean Murphy because otherwise they might as well just have stickers on their heads (Spunky Lady, Sciency Man, Troubled Mom). Murphy gives them all engaging visual presences (it doesn’t hurt that one of them looks like Harlan Ellison and another Ditko and Lee’s elderly Vulture). In fact it’s wholly to Sean Murphy’s credit that I’ve stuck this badly written dross out thus far. With his incredible ability to convey mind swamping discrepancies of scale; to lend the quieter moments as much weight as the flashier bits together with his endearing tendency to draw people with beards as though their face is a mass of scar tissue, Sean Murphy is the only real reason to turn up.

Anyway, at this point the series takes a break and I’ll not be rejoining it. Apparently when it resumes all the good stuff starts. Which seems a bit late really. Since the good stuff seems to consist of the umptyumpteenth iteration of a Drowned! World!, and one where there’s enough technological infrastructure to produce cutting edge swimwear at that, I think I’ll be popping off, thanks. Oh, and let there be no doubt all the failures here are the writer’s (“Oh we’re all doomed! Luckily I have a secret submarine armed with ridiculous weapons I failed to mention before.” Oh, do fuck off. Do! ) This is exemplified by a piss poor text piece at the back which is so repetitive and badly written it’s just depressing. So, I’ll see you on something else Sean Murphy. As for Scott Snyder, well, everyone meet the new Steve Niles, same as the old Steve Niles. The Wake is EH!

Batman ’66 #5
Art by Ruben Procopio, Colleen Coover
Written by Jeff Parker
Colours by Matthew Wilson, Colleen Coover
Lettered by Wes Abbott
Cover by Michael & Laura Allred
Batman created by Bob Kane
DC Comics, $3.99 (2013)

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While DC’s bold new creative direction of frantic barrel scraping is largely of little interest to me…everyone has a chink in their armour and my chink is shaped like the ‘60s Batman TV series. Personally, I believe the only reason God has still not scoured his finest creation of the plague of humanity is His/Her/It’s remembrance that the ‘60s Batman TV show existed. I like it is what I’m saying there. And I have always liked it. Even during those tedious decades when acknowledgement of the frivolous magic that was the ‘60s Batman TV Show provoked spittle flecked aneurysms in fandom. Finally I have been vindicated by DC’s creative bankruptcy! Batman is Bat-back! It’s like that time your family realised Uncle Larry was a lot wealthier than everyone thought and suddenly became oh-so-accepting of the fact he was a man who preferred the company of men and started inviting him to Thanksgiving again. While the art on every story here is wonderful and captures the ungainly physicality of the cast in action beautifully what most impressed was the writing. Writing wise it’s all about catching the voices; the lovely honey roasted burnish of those hammy, oh so hammy, voices. Although mine ears may be festooned with the hairs of age it sounds to me, well, it sounds to me like Jeff Parker couldn’t have done a better job if the voices were running around in straightjackets and he was armed with a butterfly net. Jeff Parker’s come along way from selling chickens by the roadside. Good on you, Jeff Parker. But this is a joint success with every hand working towards the creation of ridiculous, hilarious, entertaining and wonderful comics. Batman ’66 is VERY GOOD! Sure now and so it is, Boy Wonder!

Zero #3
Illustrated by Matteus Santolouco
Written by Ales Kot
Coloured by Jordi Bellaire
lettered by Clayton Cowles
Designed by Tom Muller
Zero created by Ales Kot
Image Comics, $2.99 (2013)

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It didn’t look good. The comic starts off with that terrible style of dialogue that seeks to be arch, smart, worldy and profane but just comes off like how kids think grown-ups might talk if grown-ups were, like, not totes super-lame all the time but, you know, somehow got it together sometimes to be all, whoa, cool and shit, maybe, uh, nice tats, my man, ha, no, your mom, ha ha ha ha, no, really, your mom. As a reluctant eldster I can assure you that never, not once, on the very many occasions on which it has occurred have I failed to punch someone who greeted me with “Hey, cock-stippler, see ya still got a face like a racist’s taint!”, or, you know, whatever. I mean. It’s not really conducive to productive communication, is what I’m saying there. So, the dialogue here’s great if you like that Ellis-y “I know you are, but what am I?” playground mode of chat. Hell, don’t get me wrong, it’s still okay even if you don’t. After all, this is comics where a guy (not this guy, another guy) whose dialogue is nothing more than the literary equivalent of water-injected meat can be compared to a Pulitzer winning playwright. No, my point is it set my teeth on edge and the likelihood of enjoying the following comic was low.

And yet enjoy it I did. And very much so.

(Which is supposed to indicate how good the comic was, how it won me over after my knee-jerk initial negative reaction. A reaction which was wholly on me and not on anyone involved on the comic. Just making that clear.)

Because after the writer has had his c-word and eaten it the dialogue calms down. Then we’re off to the races as the creative team throw a fizzy confection of ideas and helter skelter paced events into your face like, er, a glass of innovation laced with a soupcon of emotional impact. Or birds, a handful of garish birds singing a swetly sad song thrown in your face. Or something else, pick something. Everybody on these pages pulls their weight and the success of the resultant package is a group success. A success resting on Bellaire’s palette shifts from warm party colours which threaten to push into the red spectrum of violence to the icy blues which foreshadow the chill of the denouement; Santolouco’s clarity of staging, elegance of scene setting and crisply sudden violence; even Cowle’s letters which get to hold centre stage unadorned for a whole page and leave the reader feeling not in the slightest shortchanged. All these are brought together to serve the writer’s fun, fast and slightly experimental ideas. I stress this; Zero is not one of those Shit’n’Glitter comics that seek to distract you with pointlessly ostentatious storytelling devices from the hollowness within them. No, Zero is a collaborative success. Zero is good comics. Zero is VERY GOOD!


Shaolin Cowboy
#2
Story and Art Geoff Darrow
Colours Dave Stewart
Letters, back cover, design Pete Doherty
Shaolin Cowboy created by Geoff Darrow
Dark Horse Comics, $3.99 (2013)

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COMICS!!!! And unrepentantly so. EXCELLENT!

 

18 Responses to “ “NNGGGGAAAANNGAAAABBUUUBBBUUUZZZZZZZ…” COMICS! Sometimes They Are Good, Sometimes Not So Much! ”

  1. “More of a Gerry Conway comic.”

    Yeah, yeah, I get the whole “look at how hip I am to crap on this creator” thing. The fact that Conway not only wrote a lot of pretty damn fine books but was also good enough to make it out of the comics ghetto and succeed in the much more demanding world of TV, however, kind of ruins the self-flattering effect you’re going for.

    Mike

  2. At one point Grant Morrison spoke about how he loved the Batman TV show because he didn’t know it was supposed to be camp. Until I read that, I hadn’t know either! I just thought that was what the sixties were like!

  3. Also, I failed the captcha 3 times before literally closing and restarting my browser. Then I realized that it is 8 times 3 that makes 24, not 8 times 6.

    I pray none of you are currently relying on my security software, because I now realize I may have mucked it.

  4. I make few comments on the circle of comics sites that I frequent, but MBunge comments often on them. Mr. M, we have opposite standards for quality! Every writer that churned out endless material for Marvel and DC in the Bronze Age had some good stories. Conway did some very enjoyable Spidey-work in my estimation. But he HACKED Daredevil’s book to death and generally sucked on every other thing I’ve read of his! O’Neil, Wolfman, Wein and Levitz are the Bronze Age names that come to mind as fairly capable (it was Wolfman who revived the DD book), but I would gladly take a time machine ride back to 1970 to assassinate Conway, Thomas, Pasko, Maggin, and all the others who made 70s comics LAME. I don’t know which phrase struck me as more ludicrous: “Conway not only wrote a lot of pretty damn fine books” or “the much more demanding world of TV”!
    I’ve read enough of your comments to think that you and I have entirely different opinions of what constitutes good, so I’m really just saying “my thoughts are smart and yours are stupid!” here. But you galled me sir!

  5. Oh, and Shaolin Cowboy 2 was a crime against trees and my wallet. I was super-excited more Shaolin Cowboy. Now, not so much… Damn!

  6. John Kane, I’d imagine you’d think this the least contestable statement in these reviews, but it’s the one I’ve been lightly considering since I read the comic, so I’ll go there: Is Shaolin Cowboy #2 really COMICS?

    For maximum controversy, I’ll pull a phrase from McCloud’s definition: “in a deliberate sequence.”

    Here’s a simple thought experiment (or actual experiment, if you have all the required equipment): take a copy of Shaolin Cowboy #2, flip past the first story page, which doesn’t fit the format of the rest, place the first double-page spread on a full-size copy machine and copy, then repeat with each spread till the end of the book. Cut out the two panels from each copy. Shuffle them into any new order. Read the new “story.” Reshuffle them again. Repeat. Does the reading experience change in the slightest?

    This is a tedious way of saying that while there are certainly many panels in Shaolin Cowboy #2 that individually depict action, there doesn’t appear* to be any progression from panel to panel. They instead appear to be very minor variations on the theme of the Cowboy cutting through zombies with his chainsaws, but in a manner that does not acknowledge the passing of time. And really, there’s no way to imagine this scene happening without some development, some progression. For instance, the mound of dismembered zombie parts should be piling up to quite a height by the end of the issue, yet is nowhere to be seen. Is the Cowboy meant to be moving through the horde? If so, I’d say Darrow failed to convey that.

    Beyond the first few pages, any one panel of this comic conveys as much story as they all do together. The only certain progression is in the sense of irreality and tedium–perhaps also humor, outrage/disappointment at not having just flipped through the book at the store, and various other individual reactions. But if this is any kind of comic at all, it is not a narrative one in the standard representational style. The action is timeless, without interest in consequence of any sort. The only story I can find in it–and this is pure imagination on my part–is of the artist Geof Darrow’s compulsively drawing again and again the same scene of the Shaolin Cowboy swinging his chainsaws through a horde of zombies, and publishing each marginally inadequate attempt in a sequence, rather than simply pasting in the final version of that one panel before moving on to the next action in the story. In other words, we have to go meta to find a story here: this chapter is at best the story behind the story.

    Unless it is revealed that the battle occurred above a portal that was soaking in the zombie parts. Clever foreshadowing!

    *I must stress that I gave up on “reading” this comic around halfway through. After that, I just flipped and scanned to confirm that, yes, it was like that all the way to the end, and no, it did not end so much as stop. Perhaps more patient readers will have found amidst the copious details in each panel the evidence of “deliberate sequence” I missed.

    And yes, of course, McCloud’s definition is not definitive. It’s just seems relevant to consider in this context.

  7. @Chad P: Ya but what about that gas meter though?

  8. Woah I haven’t checked the Savage Critics in an aeon so… are you the officially designated Abhay replacement?

  9. @MBunge: Gerry Conway is okay, he’s solid, he’s fine. It’s more that I don’t think his should be the name which springs to mind when I read a $3.99 comic in 2013. I hope Gerry Conway found health, wealth and happiness. Particularly if he went into the snake pit of Television.

    @mateor: So, that’s both maths and history. I sure hope your woodwork is strong! (I’m shocking at those sums myself. Shhhhh.)

    @Seth Hollander: You have stronger opinions than I do about Gerry Conway, fer sure! I’m sorry you didn’t like SC #2. I’m not sure why this issue has so divided its audience. SC was always just Geoff Darrow arsing about to visually spectacular effect.

    @Chad P: I appreciate the thought you’ve put in here, yes I do! But I think you’ll find, if I may be so bold, that each panel does follow on, this being your missing progression, from the previous one. You can follow, say, one of the chainsaws from its position in one panel to its position in another and it totally flows.

    This works even better if you use the Shaolin Cowboy figure because you can see how his limbs move and his torso rotates etc. Thus is the passing of time acknowledged. The whole issue is nothing but a splendidly(or not!)obsessive pictorial representation of what is essentially a few scant seconds of action. Also, the dwindling gas meter adds an element of tension.

    You are right that there should be piles of corpses obstructing our view but even this is very comics in its sleight of hand(i.e. it never ocurred to me, so cheers.)

    I’m not sure why SC#2 is such a shock to the system (not just for you, sir). Wasn’t at least one issue of the previous run a whole entire issue (maybe more?) panoramically showing the people gathered around SC about to attack? Shaolin Cowboy has never been about story it’s always been about watching Geof Darrow do what he wants. It’s complete self indulgence, the comics equivalent of eating chocolates until you are sick.

    @Brendan: Ayup, nice touch wasn’t it?

    @Andy: You can’t replace perfection. Hmm, I’ll keep an eye on myself I don’t want to be unconsciously imitative. Or even consciously.

    Thanks to all and the very best to each and evry one of youse. Even if you didn’t like Shaolin Cowboy 2!

  10. I don’t know — I’m pretty jealous of “As for Scott Snyder, well, everyone meet the new Steve Niles, same as the old Steve Niles,” for whatever’s that worth.

  11. ….and Abhay for the win!

    PS: I’m Corey (Paris) for this week, so if anybody needs some BD francaise please let me know!

  12. @ Abhay+John Kane: Yeah… Scott Snyder. There’s actually a lot to be discussed as his body of comics work has grown to considerable size and stature. However, I’ll leave the lengthy criticism to the aptly named Savage Critics and basque in the schadenfreude should it happen.

    I’ll just say this. I wish I could say Snyder was an average or below average writer, but that might suggest I’d quantified the talent of a large sample of comics writers and divided or some other math stuff and found Snyder’s number close to the middle. I have a feeling he would come out stunningly above average, given all the truly bad writing that gets published.

    It can definitely be said that anyone’s work is nicely paired with Capullo, Albuquerque, Jock, Francavilla and Murphy.

  13. “As for Scott Snyder, well, everyone meet the new Steve Niles, same as the old Steve Niles,” I think this is unfair to Steve Niles. I think his comics are unpretentious and quite readable even without the assistance of really talented storytellers. Only after Snyder checks this two boxes will he be on par with Niles. (Or, fulfill that pretension)

  14. “Scott Snyder. There’s actually a lot to be discussed as his body of comics work has grown to considerable size and stature.”

    Yeah, much like that pile of manure in the cow field.

  15. Ah, so you did read Shaolin Cowboy #2.

    Glad you dug Zero, cuz that’s been consistently my favorite book of the week every time it comes out. Ales Kot clearly watched and read the same Grant Morrison comics and Point Blank movies that I did growing up, and I’m totally on his wavelength.

  16. and I gave up on the Wake around #3 I think. Main character lady went into another Snyder wikipedia spiel about the whatever who gives a fuck. I swear I want to like his books, because hes got some great artists, but he is like nails on a chalkboard, everything comes to a grinding halt for another “old man once told me this boring thing that’s thematically linked to whats happening in that panel”

  17. @Abhay: More than diamonds!

    @Corey(Basingstoke): Ooh la la! Guess you got that promotion! If I could speak/read French (yes! I am lazy!) I’d get you to fill your luggage with Moebius Blueberry albums and Metabarons (I still don’t know how that ends). Hope you had a good time in the land of the croissant!

    @Brendan: Yeah, I guess Snyder is just okay at worst (but that text piece in the back is pretty awful) it just chaps my lips that he’s elevated so high when the real talent has been that of the artists.

    Geeze, all these fellows who seem to mistake themselves for warrior-poets; all casually dropping the names of Dickens or Shakespeare because all writing is the same and so all (all!) writers are akin to Dickens or Shakespeare – natch! Why, to suggest otherwise would be, ungh, elitism! Oh aye, we know why writers are elevated (it’s hella quicker to write 20 pages than it is to draw 20 pages) but it’s getting a bit out of hand now. Getting a bit silly for a primarily visual medium.

    @Alin: That’s a fair assessment of Steve Niles. Being compared to Steve Niles wasn’t meant as a harsh indictment, just a bit of perspective.

    @DocK: But beautiful flowers may yet bloom from that poop!

    @Michael: Not only did I read Shaolin Cowboy #2 I was totally right about it! Yes, I was! Oh, Zero was very good, I concur! It’s a good job you gave up on The Wake because the issues you amusingly pinpoint as so irritating continue unabated, and even escalate. There’s a laughable bit about Sad Mom’s tears. Unnh, that bit. No.

    Thanks to all and may all your Christmases be really nice.

  18. @ John Kane and Michael. Yep all very good points. I didn’t mean to stir the shitpot in defense of Snyder. He does deserve the criticism he has inexplicably avoided.

    I think you both illustrated the point that Snyder needs to get out of his own way (and in doing so, get out of the artists way) with all those boring, and I do mean BORING, words (truly sorry you had to look at a Snyder text piece unaccompanied by amazing pictures, John).

    John, I’m guessing you read my college thesis and dissertation. “Serialized fiction then and now: Dickens and Snyder” and “Fiction in visual media then and now: Shakespeare and Snyder”.

    A really easy comparison is Snyder to Stephen King, who did Snyder a huge favor by literally writing the backstory for him in American Vampire. What did Snyder do? Wrote his own backstory in monologue boxes. I didn’t know what was worse, King yet again using the narrative device of an in-story writer, or Snyder. I do know that having both was terrible.

    @DocK: Much like Snyder, that manure’s familiar stench reminds folks of home and one lane roads with grass up the middle and makes them comfortable. And the flowers. So’s not all bad.

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