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Not Gone Yet: A Few Reviews from Jeff of 05/16 Books…

Jeff Lester

As Hibbs pointed out at the store yesterday, despite giving my notice, I’m not outta here yet.

Speaking of yesterday, my thanks to special guest star Ed “The Happy Clown” Brubaker for stopping by. As Hibbs mentioned, it’s great seeing The Brube in a good place–Christ knows he deserves it (and worked his ass off for it)–and taking the time to drop by on my next-to-last Friday and shoot the shit with us was really above and beyond. Thanks, Ed.

Thanks also to Mojo of the mighty Poor Mojo website for stopping by with Red Stripes. Some of you may have noticed that I recently added the Poor Mojo Newswire to the sidebar over there. I was reluctant to add a non-comics site (or rather a non-strictly-comics site) because that way leads to madness and ruin, but the Newswire has grown pretty indispensible to me over the last few months. They cull their news from a bunch of different sources, so while you’ll get a story that hit Boing Boing, or something that Ellis noticed, or a link to a Wired story, you get it without a lot of the self-congratulation and self-promotion, and they also have a loving dash of lefty politics, local stories and excellent webcomics to boot. And they link here every now and again, which is always cool. But, yeah: Poor Mojo Newswire plus Google Reader=nine kinds of awesome.

I’ll spare you further shout-outs (hi, Charlie!) but needless to say, thanks to everyone who dropped by and wished me well. Every once in a while I realize I’m not gonna be behind the counter every Friday seeing great people with regularity and I wonder what the hell I’m thinking.

Speaking of “What the hell were they thinking”:

ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER #5: The first page made me laugh, I admit it, but the rest of it just seemed wildly off and I think it’s the cognitive dissonance caused by Miller’s words and actions being acted out by Jim Lee’s illustrations. As I think I mentioned elsewhere on this site, at some point Miller made the transition from being a comic book artist to being a cartoonist, and there’s stuff that I think would work for me–that whole JLA scene, for example–if it was drawn by Miller: it would read as expressive rather than insipid. It’s a critical problem of tone for me, and ultimately I think this book won’t work out for me in the long run for the same reason I wouldn’t really care to read a Steve Ditko “Mr. A” story illustrated by John Buscema, or a Jules Feiffer script illustrated by Curt Swan, or a Charles Schulz strip illustrated by anybody, really, but Charles Schulz. I mean, sure, if you offered to show me those things I’d leap at the chance to read ’em, but I bet I’d be left pretty cold and non-plussed in the end, just like here. Eh, really, but once you factor in the delays and the cost and the politics, feel free to ratchet that down accordingly.

ARMY @ LOVE #3: This sheer denseness of this issue’s plotting, combined with the military setting and broad farcical satire reminded me of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22–although if you can imagine Joe Simon adapting it for Heavy Metal or something. It needs to expand its cast (which it’s kinda/sorting doing already) and maybe not disappear down the hidey-hole of its own world-making but, other than that, it’s a god-damned weird little book and I’m enjoying it a lot. Good stuff.

BATMAN #665: Morrison is quite audaciously (to use the high-falutin’ literary language taught me by Ghostbusters) “crossing the streams” with his Batman–trying to mix Bane and pre-Silver Age Batman stories and Miller and Adams and Sprang and fuckin’ everything–but I admire the ambition more than the result. I mean, this was the second best issue for me on G-Mo’s run, and yet even still it seemed oddly unresonant–like a series of sketches rather than the completed work.

(Arghh. I just had an idea that I’m proving remarkably inept at conveying so lemme sketch it out to you behind the scenes and lemme know what you think: Morrison does a much better job writing Superman than Batman because Morrison is, like Superman, at heart a loving and dutiful son [as any article where Morrison talks about his Dad will attest] whereas Batman is not. In order for Morrison to “get” Batman, he has to reinvent Batman as the consummate Pop poseur–like Morrison himself–where both Batman and Bruce Wayne are, to some extent, artificially constructed personas created from equal parts utility and self-amusement. Therefore, the Batman Morrison writes in JLA is what I would think of as a more “real” Batman because that Batman is, in effect, “acting” in front of the JLA. Left to his own devices (or book title, I guess), Morrison’s Batman isn’t really that character–or always that character, at least–any more than Grant is really (or always) Mr. “Look At Me! I’m dressed up in drag and I just ate a pound of hashish!”

And yet to me, Batman is not the consummate Pop poseur, so the whole thing never quite works for me. I dunno; does that make sense?)

In any event, more fun to think about than to read. OK.

CABLE DEADPOOL #40: It sure seems like the subtext here is Fabian Nicieza beng annoyed by his plans for Cable being scuttled by editorial’s desire to have Cable go back to being the brooding mutant all-powerful militaristic team leader over in X-Men. Certainly, all of Cable’s narrative caption iterate a very specific kind of frustration for the situation he’s trapped in (and that situation does happen to be a crossover with X-Men). On the other hand, maybe he’s just writing it that way to fool overzealous readers like myself. In which case: well played, Mr. Nicieza, well played. Either OK or Eh, I can’t decide.

COUNTDOWN 50: Hibbs and I were talking about this issue–which I think I liked even less than the first issue, amazingly–and I finally nailed the analogy, although I apologize for how old-school it is: Countdown is like Secret Wars II to 52‘s Secret War. In the same way, the success of Secret Wars changed Jim Shooter into hubristically believing he had the Midas touch and deciding to force a second miniseries on the entire Marvel Universe, Dan Didio seems to have fallen for the belief that it’s his ideas and his knowledge of what makes a successful comic that made Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis and 52 a success.

Hibbs, who immediately got what I was saying before I even finished my sentence and went me one better: “Yeah, and 52 is just like Secret Wars because even though it wasn’t very good, it was the first of its kind and well loved, and Secret Wars II was more of the same, only larger and worse, and everyone went on to pretend it never existed!”

Now, I’m not sure I’d go that far (yet) but I wasn’t heartened by what I saw this week: a weirdly out-of-left-field JLA/JSA/LSH scene; too much set-up with the Rogues and a deeply unbelievable cliff-hanger (among other stuff). It’s pretty dreary stuff, flat, and, in some places, deeply unbelievable. (My theory is that this is actually taking place on Earth “Everyone Knows Everything About Everyone Else.”)

Or, as I call it: Earth-Eh.

EXILES #94: Wow, that was kinda grueling. Glad I’m not around for next issue’s visit to the Planet of the Mary Sue Killers. Sub-Eh.

FLASH THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE #12: Art’s strong, script is strong, coloring is, I think, great (really vibrant and lends some of the art a real power to it): why couldn’t we have gotten this from the first issue? I wasn’t exactly down with some of the plot machinations (seriously, is there a mandate that at least 30% of DC’s production be time-travel related?) but highly OK. Worth looking out for.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #9: I thought the art lacked oomph this issue. I mean, how can you have Timber Wolf having a dinosaur race with gorillas and have it look that uninteresting? Brad Meltzer’s stuff needs all the help it can get (although I admit it, I could read about Speedy flirting with Hawkgirl for days, probably). Wayyyy tooooo slowwwwwwwwwww, and yet still OK, I thought.

MIGHTY AVENGERS #3: The instant I read the Tigra sequence I immediately imagined the late night call Bendis must’ve gotten beforehand: “Yeah, hey, Brian? Frank. Lissen man, I just read the script for issue #2 and this shit’s great, really, but I’m not sure I’m gonna make it through the entire arc just spanking it to Lady Ultron. Could you maybe throw in Tigra or somebody to keep my ‘interest’ up, if you know what I’m talking about? Thanks, bro. Okay, talk to you later, bye.” Good overall, though.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #109: A really smart, engaging read with a darkly ironic reason for Peter to keep being Spider-Man folded in. I liked this a lot. Very Good.

ULTIMATES 2 #13: 8 page gatefold or not, that was one astonishingly slack issue. (Number of pages in which there were 4 words or less per page? Seventeen. And the scenes with more dialogue weren’t particularly good, either. And the panels where Captain America is standing around expressionless like a guy with Asperger’s wearing a flag, or that full-page half-shockwave? What about the Cap/Jan relationship? Is Tony still dying? What about apologizing to Thor? And what’s with that ending? If I was being generous to Millar, I’d say he was making some kind of larger point about the passing of America’s golden age or something as World War II moves it into the day of the Military-Industrial Complex, but I’m not being generous to Millar: it reads like shit he put at the end of his outline five years ago and he can’t remember why he put it there but he doesn’t have time to come up with anything else.

It’ll probably read all right in trades, I guess, but compared to those first six issues? And considering Stan and Jack did, what, the first 64 issues of the Fantastic Four in the same length of time? Underwhelmingly Eh.

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