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No New News: Jeff’s Reviews of 1/25/06 Books…

Brian Hibbs

I started writing these reviews in Word before remembering what a big ol’ pain in the ass smart quotes end up being when you pull ’em into Blogger. Man, that drives me nuts. And despite trying to get these finished before Graeme, he still has his reviews up first. They’re right below mine and you don’t want to miss ’em.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #648: Wow, someone really needs to recalibrate the Ruckatron 3000: This was simultaneously a crossover issue and a fill-in issue, filled with cut-and-paste flibberdigibbet about the inspiration Superman provides by punching walking septic tanks. Admittedly, I only spent four minutes reading it, but I think that was only half the time it took Rucka to write it. Awful.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #528: Yes, yes, but does he now have double, bilaterally symmetrical genitalia? Isn’t that a more disturbing discovery than being able to see in the dark? Eh.

BATMAN #649: Stumbles pretty badly for at least a couple of reasons: the art was a letdown from the usual Mahnke finery; The Joker ends up being handled horribly (but that’s pretty much par for the course for the last, I dunno, fifteen years or so); and The Red Hood seems less like an archvillain and more like a Mary Sue every issue: Ooo, he made The Joker stop laughing! Also, the cliffhanger ending has no tension if you read Adventures of Superman #648, out this very week. If the book gets back on track for #650, I won’t mind too much, but this is, at best, a very disappointed bottom-barrel Eh from me.

CATWOMAN #51: It’s a shame that DC’s whole “OMFG, MINDWIPE!” is so tiresome by now, because Selina’s search for her real identity is a nice way to give this book some narrative direction. The art is good, the scenes are well-written, and one can lose hours of one’s life wondering how long the cover artist spent to get Catwoman’s cleavage to glow like that. And yet I still don’t care too much, which is a drag. OK.

DAREDEVIL #81: TV shows and movies have really killed my appreciation for the delirious “this can’t be happening!” sequence that turns out, yup, to not actually be happening. But it was used to beautiful effect here: that Murdock ends up being jailed as a flight risk, after we’ve seen him work out exactly why he won’t flee, gives his imprisonment a real punch. I thought the last two years of Bendis and Maleev’s run weren’t nearly as satisfying as the first few, but this was a great end to the run. Very Good stuff.

EXILES #76: What I like about this book is that it’s about as much as I probably want to read about the 2099 books–two issues can jam all the concepts together to make it seem like a dense complex place, whereas doing a fifth week, five title event would reveal it to be the vacant, tumbleweed-adorned plain that it is. OK.

GANGES #1: So I read Or Else #1 by Kevin Huizenga way back when and it didn’t do much for me. I just figured it wasn’t my bag. But when Graeme referred to Or Else #2 a few months ago, as one of the best comics he’d ever read in his entire life, I figured I’d give KH another try. (I’m still waiting for us to get copies of #2 and #3 back in the store.) And I was looking forward to reading this book because maybe it would, you know, be good and stuff.

Well, one “holy fucking shit!” later…

Unlike last week’s review of Schizo, you’ll hear no bitching about size, page count, cost or anything, because this book blew my tiny mind. It kind of reminds me of Scott Pilgrim both in how much it boggled me, and also in how I can see all kinds of things and influences in Huizenga’s work that I like generally turned into one irresistable force of awesomeness: if you’d always hoped that Eddie Campbell and Chris Ware would have sex and give birth to Dylan Horrocks, Huizenga’s your man! In this book, a series of short, interconnected episodes connect up to deliver a powerful psychological wallop (about, among other things, the power of life, when sliced into short interconnected episodes, to provide exactly such a wallop). And yet it’s done so in such a charming, low-key, masterful way, the artist supersedes and transcends every influence I think I can see, and becomes instantly and immediately his own man.

If you’re a fan of resonant, sweet and thoughtful comics, you must pick up this book. Admittedly, we’ve still got ten months left, but I can’t see how this won’t end up being one of the books of the year. Excellent. Wow.

METAL GEAR SOLID SONS OF LIBERTY #3: I was replaying MGS: Substance this week and finally figured out part of why this title sticks in my craw. Every MGS game comes with an absolutely absurd number of characters (and, also, honestly, a number of absolutely absurd characters) about whom one could cook up all sorts of prequel adventures based on the backstories mentioned in the games–you know, at least as cool back up stories or something. But instead we have a smoothed out retelling of the games one’s actually played with Ashley Wood speed-Sienkiewiczing the art. (It’s a crime, by the way, that there isn’t an Olympic sport called “speed-Sienkiewiczing.” It just sounds cool.) I feel like this title could be a lot more than it is. Although apparently licensor and licensee are perfectly happy with it–didya see the MGS digital comics trailer on the Kojima Productions site? I don’t know if they’re actually converting this series into that kind of crazed format for the PSP or something, but it’s kinda amazing. Would that I could feel half as excited about this book without tricked-out multimedia action. Awful.

NEW AVENGERS #15: The idea of Ms. Marvel having a blog was fun (in a dumb kind of way) but really, really flopped big–Bendis knows blog entries are short, but breaking them down to generally one per page made, for example, that fight scene read very oddly. I mean, it’s not like she stopped the fight every time she put in an entry, right? To say nothing of the fact that she’s going to list her powers in her FAQ (wouldn’t you not want your enemies to know exactly what your powers are? Isn’t that where you would mention that you have, I dunno, the power to alter time and prevent the births of anyone who fucks with you, or something?) I did love that every entry had 0 comments, though. Probably because she had to delete all the comments from LOVEMUSCLE73 saying “Sh0w us Ur tits LOL.”

Yeah. Flopped big. Eh.

NEXT WAVE #1: I remember occasional bits and pieces here and there, but I think this is really the first whole comic Ellis has done that recreates those hilarious, playful BAD SIGNALs he sends off in the dead of night every so often. I had no less than three people come up in the store and declare the Fin Fang Foom! page one of their favorite comic pages of the year and I wholeheartedly agree. By mixing actual Marvel characters like FFF! and Aaron Stack in with characters like The Captain and the Nick Fury analogue (Dirk Anger), Ellis creates a book that’s far funnier than if it were just analogues yet doesn’t seem mean-spirited–it’s just funny and fun. And, of course, that feeling is helped considerably by Stuart Immonen’s art (and dave mccaig’s colors–lots of oranges and yellows that manage to avoid guadiness). Like a can of soda, it’s hard to imagine it’ll have the same fizz over time, but Next Wave is a jolt of effervescence I enjoyed quite a bit. Very Good.

PLASTIC MAN #20: With one issue left, Baker really cuts loose, putting things on a much tighter six panel grid to take care of business and yet allow himself the freedom to do some awesome full-page spreads. (When Graeme came in to the store, it was all I could do not to open the book right to that great page of Plas as Kirbyized robot facing off the League of Assassins. Five minutes later, he held it up and showed it to me.) And he got in some good shots at the post-Identity Crisis DCU, as well. I wish the book could have always felt this vital, but I’m glad Baker really took the time and energy to give it a great send-off. Very Good.

SPIDER-MAN BLACK CAT EVIL THAT MEN DO #6: Three issues of web-spinning hijinks and dry-humpery, two and a half issues of weird “Afterschool Special” earnestness about sexual assault, and half an issue of the tragically mismotivated punch-em-up ending in the rebirth of a third-rate also-ran villain. And it only took eighteen months to publish. Yeah, I’d call that a wildly uneven wash-up, wouldn’t you? Awful.

TAROT WITCH OF THE BLACK ROSE #36: Oh, I just can’t wait to see what Graeme’s review is going to be. Can. Not. Wait. (Oh. There it is right underneath this entry. Shit.) Becuase I’ve been reading this book for a while and even I have no idea what to make of this issue, where Hell is filled with, literally, flaming boobies, and a character manages to deal with her troublesome past by rolling around naked while an sentient fountain squirts on her genitals. It’s the superhero stroke book as Outsider Art, and it’s getting to be weirder than anything Marston did in Wonder Woman. If this ends up being one of the few comics anyone ends up remembering thirty years from now because some nouveau-dadaist appropriates it for an infamous art show, I’ll be disappointed but I probably won’t be that surprised. Awful, but wow is it incredibly readably Awful. Woo.

THING #3: Slott’s not making with the clever metacommentary here–I think he’s just trying to tell a good ol’ Marvel comic circa, I dunno, 1978 or so: I mean, he’s got the original Nighthawk and The Constrictor here and he takes ’em seriously. I don’t know if anyone can really do anything new with The Thing, but it feels like it’s been such a long time since anyone’s done a comic like this well (I guess Busiek and Perez’s run on Avengers comes to mind), I really don’t mind either way. A high Good.

WARREN ELLIS BLACK GAS #1: I can’t really add anything to this that Jog didn’t say first (or better), but I did want to add that Ellis’ script for this issue seems particularly strong–the two main characters are reminiscent of standard Ellis types, but they get more speaking time, get to set up all the bits and pieces of their relationship to each other and their surroundings, so one feels more emotionally invested in them and their situation. Hibbs suggested it was a more cinematic approach, and I think that’s right. Whatever it is, I’m certainly hooked for next issue. A high Good.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Strong week but not even close–get Ganges.

PICK OF THE WEAK: I’m gonna go with the Ruckatron 3000’s books: Adventures of Superman #648 and Wonder Woman #225 (which I didn’t bother to review). Because you’d think one of the architects of this whole Infinite crossover jazz could do more than a dispirited phoning-in of hs work, wouldn’t you?

TRADE PICK: This is a really tough call because I took home a ton of stuff. The Serenity TPB was a great adaptation of the show but feels like just that–an episode of the show. I’m sure I would have loved it if I’d seen it before the movie Sexy Chix is off to a strong start but I’ve barely made a dent in it The Comics Journal The Writers Vol. 1 looks lovely, but is very resistant to the “open it up and start reading” approach it would be best suited for (would it have been so hard to put the names of the writer being interviewed somewhere on the page?) So I guess it goes to the lovely Disease of Language, which collects Eddie Campbell’s terrific adaptations of Alan Moore’s magick shows, and throws in the very long Egomania interview between the two, to boot. If you’re burned out on Alan Moore’s approach to magic by now, I can’t blame you. But this is still some terrific material in a great package.

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