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Pinch-Hitting for Comics from 9/22

Brian Hibbs

Okay, so since Hibbs is out of the game for a few weeks, I thought I would try and step in and cover the reviews for a week or two. This first week will be a bit schizo since Hibbs wrote up a bunch of reviews, lost them and spent a chunk of yesterday repeating them to me. At first, it was very much: “So, yeah, if you review that book, you might want to mention I said…” and by the end of the day, it was: “Don’t forget to tell them to get The Life Eaters. It’s great stuff! Remember!” Sigh. So some reviews will start with my paraphrase of what I remember Hibbs saying, and then I’ll move on to what I think. It’s kinda like the way we used to do Savage Critic! (Except for all you know, I killed Hibbs, faked that earlier blog entry by him and am now sitting at a desk where his skin as a pelt. Mmmm….Hibbs pelt….)

Oh! And I know Hibbs doesn’t post a spoilers warning because it’s in our intro, but really, you know: Spoilers. I’m still pissed reading that Brubaker article on Newsarama spoiled this week’s Avengers for me….

ASTONISHING X-MEN #5: What’s particularly nice, I think, is that Whedon has the X-Men fight as a team, and that’s something that a lot of x-writers and artists lose track of in all the characters punching each other out. And that art is shockingly good stuff. I thought this was really Very Good; I’m pretty sure Hibbs did, too; and I think you would as well.

AVENGERS #502: Hibbs sez: Well, at least it wasn’t all talky-talk. And they killed off Hawkeye in such a way that any idiot could bring him back. You notiice that cover says “One of these Avengers will die!” and Hawkeye–from what I could see, anyway–was the only Avenger on the cover in the issue? That narrows the field a bit! I sez: Yeah, but the action was confusing and badly paced, Hawkeye went out like a chump (“No, not like this! Not like this! Like this!”), and the only character who actually read in character to me was, unsurprisingly, Spider-Man. I also thought Nick Fury’s whole “No, you heroes can’t be here! A single radioactive fart could screw up all our careful readings!” was D-U-M-B. Even the coloring (which was lovely but detail-destroying) seemed poorly chosen. I thought it was Awful and if Marvel Editorial brought back Magneto two months later, I kinda hope they’re equally classy and bring back Hawkeye next week–at least, they’d be rectifying a bad choice in this case.

BATGIRL #56: I picked this up because of you, Savage Critic reader: I’ve been avoiding the whole “War Games” thing like it was a British hard candy, and so I hope you feel like you owe me one. Actually, this wasn’t so bad because it was mainly a big old fight scene that felt almost cartooned–loose but evocative, quick but vivid–and it went down pretty easy: Batgirl versus Kung-Fu Pirate Girl? What’s the harm in that? OK.

BLACK WIDOW #1: Hibbs sez: Great to see Bill Sinkiewicz art, and real stuff–not just him inking somebody else. And the rest of it was good I sez: Yeah, but it was pretty slapdash Bill S. work, don’tcha think? There were only a few panels that really popped with any storytelling verve. That said, as an Elektra-story-without-Elektra, I thought it was pretty good with a lot of stuff happening and an overall intelligence to it. Good.

CATWOMAN #35: Hibbs sez (and this is where I’m paraphrasing and dragging in all this week’s War Games comment under one book): Batman’s an asshole. Seriously. That he just did that with Oracle’s network? I really, really hate this Batman. Everyone acts all respectful of this guy, here and in JLA? Why? He’s a jerk and this is at least the second time where the whole thing is all his fault because he’s such an ass. I almost want to never read a Batman book again. I sez: I kinda blame Brubaker–his Batman is always a real asshole, and he wrote that infamous Batman freak-out back in #600 where I was half-sure future issues would show that he’d been drugged or something. I really liked the scene where the villains are so awed by how beautiful Selina fights they just gawk and get dropped. And I’m slowly developing an appreciation for Gulacy’s Battlin’ Boobs & Butts artwork, but I also don’t like where this is going or how it’s getting there. These big bat-crossovers are like chemotherapy: they may turn around sales for all the titles, but they weaken the shit out of everything else. Eh.

COSMIC GUARD #2: Oddly, I enjoyed this much more than issue #1, probably because it almost read like Starlin redoing Omega The Unknown or the Fawcett-style Captain Marvel: the emphasis is on the kid since he doesn’t really know what he can do or how to do it. That may well turn around next issue, but if Starlin stuck to it (and toned down the Dondi-eyes on the kid), I’d be really happy. Good.

EX MACHINA #4: I remember when The West Wing was announced as a TV show, I thought it was a terrible idea: a weekly show about the adventures of the President? How cheap and easy was that going to be? History showed me what a chump I was on that one, but I’m happy to say an old dog can learn new tricks: Vaughan and Harris’s superhero mayor of New York sounded like it could be great because they sounded like they really believed in the material and they could do great work. Well, they’re doing great work, and I think I enjoyed this issue tremendously as the story continues to open wider and wider but in a way that suggests possibility and not chaos. This is Very Good work, and as your large Samoan attorney, I advise you to pick it up.

EXCALIBUR #5: I can never look at this book without The Odd Couple theme playing in my head. But whereas some of my appreciation for The Odd Couple comes from lazily reading it as coded gay text, I don’t think Excalibur makes any sense otherwise: why are Xavier and Magneto hiding out on Genosha if not to play house together? This issue in particular makes it plain that Professor X should be off the island and helping hold the rest of what’s he built together, rather than lounging about on Genosha raising an adopted family of misfit mutants with life-partner Magneto. Sure, sure, call me a weirdo perv, but considering this is a book where half of Claremont’s agenda seems to be pushing a tentacled mutant as sex-positive lust object, how wrong can I be? I give this an OK, but only because it’s a guilty pleasure.

FLASH #214: Hibbs sez: an Identity Crisis tie-in that really tied in. Very classy and understated throughout. I even like that there wasn’t an Identity Crisis blurb on the cover. I sez: I think they needed that blurb because this was almost too much of a tie-in–none of the story makes sense if you haven’t read the first three issues of Identity Crisis. It does stand out as a pretty dramatic contrast to the “red skies” level tie-ins we’ve been getting with Marvel’s “Dissembled” cross-over, though. I liked it fine, although it seemed needlessly padded–Wally has to meet with GA; then Iris; then back to GA? (Hibbs felt that was actually “necessary” padding since it serves the end of having the issue end with “Dear Wally…” but whatever. This, and IC #4 also point out the problem with open universe crossovers: half the DCU (Spectre, Iris, all of the Legion, maybe Impulse) being dead and/or from the future may easily know who the killer of Identity Crisis is but “can’t” say anything. Despite all my bitching, I agree with Hibbs. This is a well-done issue, and if all company crossovers had tie-in issues this classy, the industry would be in much better shape. Good.

HARRY JOHNSON #1: Oh, how Hibbs and I argued about this book on Friday. Hibbs thought it was a clever funny book that made him grin in a few places and that, apart from a dildo joke, was a book you could give a kid and he’d laugh at the goofy stuff while the adult stuff safely went over the kid’s head. I thought this was a waste of good-looking art and format ($2.95 for a color book with strong art and good paper? This made most Marvel books look cheap…) because and less-than-timely gags on Raiders of the Lost Ark, a movie old enough to drink, vote and drive in all 50 states of endless wink-wink, nudge-nudge puns. “Well, come on,” Hibbs said. “It’s called Harry Johnson, what do you expect?” And I guess he has a point. It read to me like Peter David at his shtickiest, but Hibbs liked it and I wouldn’t have been disappointed if I hadn’t thought the art and production had been top-notch. Let’s call it a conflicted OK.

KING-CAT COMICS #65: Apart from the McSweeney’s pack-in, this is the first issue of John Porcellino’s well-regarded King Cat I’ve ever read, and I thought it was great. Porcellino is one of the few people doing poetic comics that nails the elegance and craft of true poetry (although I suspect he might suggest what he’s doing is closer to Zen writing, of which poetry may or may not be a component) and his art style is so simple it actually becomes iconic. If you could get Kolchaka off the booze and sugared cereals, you’d get something a little closer to King-Cat, and this issue is an extra bonus if you live in the Bay Area: Porcellino recently moved to San Francisco and this issue has observations about the area that opened my eyes. I’m looking forward to hunting more of these down now that he’s local, because they’re amazingly great stuff. Excellent.

MANHUNTER #2: What a shame. The cover is so lovely, I know customers are actually picking this up off the rack, but I can’t imagine they’re happy with such a lame, sluggish book. How long was that opening dream sequence? A quarter of the book? And the “Honey, I Shocked the Kids!” style “cliffhanger” didn’t really do it for me, either. Hibbs put it best when he said, “That wasn’t even decompressed storytelling! It was, I dunno, unpressed storytelling. Or something.” Awful.

MARVEL KNIGHTS 4 #10: I normally like Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s way with character, but the characters this time (maybe because of The Psycho-Pirate’s influence) read kinda shrill and off. His stories tend to be dull little things and this issue, even with the threat of a supervillain and a big monster for Ben Grimm to sock, was no exception. You really wish there was a talented editor like Archie Goodwin around who could work with him. Eh.

NIGHTCRAWLER #1: Another Aguirre-Sacasa title, and while readable, it was also deadly dull. Part of that is because Kurt Wagner is a better reactive character than an active character, and part of that is because the plot read like CBS crime show version of Silence of the Lambs meets Scooby-Doo by way of John Farris’s The Fury. With Nightcrawler. Nice art (and a great logo) but one enormous Eh, regardless.

PLASTIC MAN #10: Goofy fun, more classic Looney Tunes than Cole’s Plastic Man but I don’t mind. Weirdly, Hibbs thinks this is too slight for the money but Harry Johnson isn’t, but that’s why Hibbs is a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a big hairy hippie suit. Good.

ROBIN #130: Hibbs also went on and on about this issue because Steph gets gruesomely tortured. We decided that, given a choice between the Marvel Universe and the DC Universe, all female characters would rather be in the Marvel Universe: In the DCU they get tortured and killed, whereas in the Marvel Universe they just got sexually exploited and drawn on the cover by Greg Horn (torture for some, but not all). Come on DC–does your readership have to have a fundraiser to send you to enlightenment workshops? Awful.

SLEEPER SEASON TWO #4: The best of the reboot issues to date: story, characterization and clever plotting are all top-drawer. Wish it hadn’t taken so long to build up steam again, though. Good.

TEEN TITANS #16: The Fatal Five Hundred? Legion Planet? I hope this is the end of the old Legion stuff and not the beginning of the new Legion stuff because it’s just too overpowered. I liked the date more than the cosmic blabbity-blab and that’s says something but whether that’s a glass half-full comment or a glass half-empty comment I’ll leave up to you. OK.

THE DRUNK #1: Tim Vigil draws this story that reads like S. Clay Wilson without the sense of humor–or the coherence, God help us all. Also, what’s the point in being clever and calling your character “The Drunk” if you don’t put, like, a logo on your cover? (Or anything on your cover, for that matter!) CE has more than its share of lushes that would have picked this up if someone had just tried a little harder. A real wasted opportunity on many levels. Awful.

TOM STRONG #28: I really am surprised by the number of good stories written for this title by guys who aren’t Alan Moore: here, Brian Vaughan crafts a very clever little story (maybe more like two very clever even smaller stories jammed together). Having Tom Strong’s crew punch it out with the liberated subjects of famous paintings was great fun. A high Good.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #11: Hmmm, I think my carefully cultivated illusion that this was going to be good may have been dashed into a million itty-bitty pieces. Doom with a bazooka? Doom with organic techno-spikes? Doom with poison breath? Doom spending a whole page rallying stoned anarchist squatters around him? I don’t know how much of this is Ellis and how much of this is from outline notes Millar and Bendis wrote on coke-streaked strip-club napkins but it’s pretty double-plus ungood from where I’m sitting. I’m thinking maybe they should get the guys who write Twisted Toyfare Theater to take over UFF next, because even though they’re not trying to be serious, they write much better Doom and Thing than I’m looking at here, which barely hits the Eh.

Whew! Okay, back in a bit with the Pick of the Week, the Pick of the Weak, and the trade recommendations.

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