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Put Me In, Coach: Reviews for 4/20 (Duuuuude!) Comics

Brian Hibbs

Man, I needed a week off from comics. I don’t know if it was just having to get the newsletter done or that we’d been so busy that Friday but I barely read any comics at all. And it felt kinda nice, frankly. But this week I was all fired up, ready to get back in the game, things were pretty quiet at the store, Hibbs damned everybody’s eyes, I’m dying to post…and Hibbs hasn’t gotten around to posting anything else. So, at the risk of throwing off his not inconsiderable game, here’s my super-extendo blabbity-blab about:

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #519: Hibbs summed this up better than I could have, although do they send out memos at Marvel on what properties get played up every year? I mean, this is at least the third fucking “Hydra is really, really scary” attempt in the last twelve months. And you know what? Still not scary. Eh.

AQUAMAN #29: Pretty much gets my “Uhhhh…what?” award of the week: Aquaman is upset over his genes being sold to a big megacorp, so he goes to the JLA Satellite for advice where Superman mouths off, so Aquaman knocks him on his ass but it turns out to be Martian Manhunter instead of Superman and they both learn a valuable lesson about sharing. Uhhh…what? Shame too, because the art’s pretty decent. Awful.

BATMAN JEKYLL AND HYDE #1: Sadly, I already awarded my “Uhhhh…what?” award, but this is a strong runner-up. Yeah, the art’s pretty but so much about this seemed sloppy and cynical. There’s a lot to pick apart here but the one that really irked me, and points out that Paul Jenkins wasn’t sweating the craft, is the second person caption narration from Batman. It’s the third scene with either Bruce or Batman in it, and it comes in eighteen pages into the book and really threw me out of the narrative (and I needed all the help I could get trying to stay in it). On the up side, it’s clear Batman editors are not paying any attention to anything at all anymore, so maybe artists can just start drawing Batman pantsless. Come on! Pantsless Batman! It’d be fun. Eh.

BILLY THE KID’S OLD TIME ODDITIES #1: Although Eric Powell and Kyle Hotz have a similar taste in cartoonish grotesquerie, I think Powell’s cleaner line lends his worldview a more platonic conception that reinforces the Aristotelian nature of the comedy. Or in non-garble speak: Billy being an asshole wouldn’t have bothered me half as much if Powell had been drawing it, because it wouldn’t have seemed as painful somehow. Hotz’s work has just enough grit that it feels like watching a Three Stooges short where characters spurt blood with every punch. Not as much fun as I would like, in other words, but hopefully all this blabbity-blab explains why that might be more a matter of personal preference than anything. OK.

CABLE DEADPOOL #14: I would call this “a guilty pleasure” but that overstates the case by far. It’s a good, dumb comic, and I had a good, dumb time reading it. Nicieza knows how to keep his characters surprising yet consistent and that’s starting to seem like a god-damned lost art or something. Good.

EX MACHINA #10: That seemed decidedly anti-climactic, the sort of thing where the writer crafts an unexpected twist that, while admittedly unexpected, saps the story of its emotional connection. Tony versus the other guy whose life got totally changed by the alien incident and September 11? Emotionally resonant. Tony versus the guy’s wife? Not so much. Throw in a baseball bat attack and, uh, I dunno, it just didn’t wow me like I thought the climax of a storyline might. But it still gets a Good because I quite enjoyed the West Wing-lite of the closing scenes.

FANTASTIC FOUR #525: Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett (uh, right? I don’t have the copy with me) step in for an arc so stylistically similar to Waid and Wieringo’s it’s impressive. Unfortunately, that seems that most of the stuff I didn’t like in the W&W stuff is more or less here too. Additionally, it seems understandably rushed to fit into just a few issues. I gotta go with a low OK.

HATE ANNUAL #5: Maybe it’s because the book only comes out once a year, but Buddy seemed almost out of character to me—manic and active, rather than laconic and reactive. And although I can see how that might just be how Bagge sees the character evolving—I know a lot of guys who, once they’ve got a wife and/or kid in their corner, finally come out of their shells in middle age—the book’s not really around regularly enough to gauge. As a result, the Buddy story seems surprisingly forced, but I ended up really liking the Batboy strips. They never did anything for me singularly, but clumped together on the page they’ve got an adrenal, anything goes charm with every obvious target being knocked about in the least subtle way possible. I’ll give this a highly reserved Good because I don’t think the Batboy strips are for everyone (that odd subset of fandom that thought L’il Abner would have been funnier if Peter Bagge had drawn it, maybe) and if you don’t like them, I don’t know if you’ll like any of the book at all. But I did, so there you go.

HAWKMAN #39: So Hawkman’s villains have perfected a drug that lets you see your romantic interest as a deadly villain but the security guard trying to stop you as just a security guard. That’s one mighty specific drug, all right. Eh.

HERCULES #1: Seemed like there was a kernel of a good idea in there, but Frank Tieri decided he couldn’t be assed with it and would write a bunch of shtick instead. (Or as I uncharitably put it in the store Friday, he suddenly went, “Hey, wait a minute. I’m Frank Tieri!”) I wanted to like this, and maybe they had to put filler in the first issue to get a four issue mini closer to the prerequisite six so I’ll give it a very, very low Eh.

IRON GHOST #1: It almost seems like Dixon came up with the whole story then realized in the course of doing research that the time period he’d picked couldn’t really work, but it was already too late or something. Because the scenes of the Ghost’s victims partying it up in a beerhall when it’s already pointed out that Berlin’s being bombed night and day and nobody has any food and everyone realizes they’re all pretty much fucked, just didn’t ring true for me. Again, I want to like this because doing V For Vendetta with actual Nazis seems like some an okay way to get some pulp serial style thrills, but the material seems to undercut itself. OK.

JENNY FINN DOOM #1: Ross Richie is a mensch. I met him when he was in town for Wondercon and he was just a great, down-to-earth guy in love with comics. He’s also, I’m assuming, why I got a complimentary copy of this tossed in my bin this week. It was great to revisit Jenny Finn (since I could remember little more than enjoying the original issues) particularly with the promise of an actual conclusion. It’s an enjoyably nightmarish work—kind of like if Melville and Lovecraft had collaborated on the script of Scorsese’s After Hours—about a good man with good intentions stumbling into a creepy and unsettling world. I would have appreciated a few more details on the inside front cover or elsewhere to let the casual reader know there’s more coming (fingers crossed), and I admit Nixey’s art isn’t for everybody (a lot of his characters have the faces of homely children) but I thought this was very strong Good work.

JLA #113: I think if I was following it any closer, the whole “Hey, it’s not Martian Manhunter, it’s Batman dressed up as Martian Manhunter” thing would have really annoyed me. I can’t see any reason for it other than (a) it’s such a classic JLA trope; (b) there’s only one designated dick in the JLA, and it’s Batman; and (c) it makes the reader grab their head and squirt blood out their nose in disbelief. In other words, I can’t see any reason that would make sense in the story itself. But again, I’m not following it closely so maybe there is one. Awful.

LITTLE STAR #2: Well, I don’t want to jinx it but this may well end up being the best thing Andi Watson’s ever done. The story is taking a little too long to gel up but it’s extraordinarily good on a scene-by-scene basis: the father’s discontent, the daughter’s selfishness, and the couple’s inability to seemingly function together makes each scene both incredibly charming and incredibly disquieting in its candor. If I could get a stronger sense that things are moving somewhere, I’d be even happier but it’s still too early to say one way or the other. So let’s go with Very Good just for the power of Watson’s storytelling and honesty.

LIVEWIRES #3: Uh-oh. This isn’t going anywhere. This seems as barely different from issue #2 as issue #2 did from issue #1. If there had been a bigger emotional heft from the end of this storyline (a stronger sense of the urgency of “The White Whale” intel and how it’s going to drive and/or change these characters), I maybe might have forgiven Warren but I just can’t. It’s better than page after page of barroom shtick, but it’s still wheel-spinning. Barely an Eh, dammit.

NEW INVADERS #9: And so another bungled opportunity comes to a close. I really feel like this could have found a place in the direct market (seeing as it’s filled with middle-aged fanboys like me who loved the first series in even with all that sweaty rubbery Frank Robbins art) but they bungled every bit of it, top to bottom. Awful.

OMAC PROJECT #1: So…I guess this is editorial’s official take on Batman: World’s Greatest Detective; World’s Worst Multitasker. How else to explain the third “Batman comes up with a super-crafty plan that then gets used by the bad guys because he’s not paying attention?” Maybe the Infinite Crisis will reveal that Batman just isn’t getting enough sleep. I read an article online about the effects of sleep deprivation (crankiness, absent mindedness, paranoia) and, you know, they pretty much fit the current incarnation of Batman to a T. What a shame, eh?
That said, this needed editorial notes something fierce because Christ help you if you didn’t read and remember Rucka’s Detective Comics run from four or five years ago: I think the whole thing with Sasha would have had no resonance whatsoever otherwise. And, finally, I’m not a continuity freak and I’m sure everyone pointed this out earlier, but isn’t Wonder Woman, like, blind? So Countdown takes place before she gets blinded? After she gets healed? And isn’t Rucka writing that book too so he would, like, know and shit? Yeah, Editorial notes. Or a text page. Or something, goddammit.
I was gonna give this an OK but after writing all this down, I realize I have no idea why I should. So I guess I’m going with Eh.

RUNAWAYS #3: Hmmm. So Victor’s dad is a villain… and we see his mom clutching a cross, a cross in her bedroom…and she’s talking to the father while he’s in an opulent ornate office. If the nature of deadlines didn’t mean this was written a while back, I’d swear Vaughan was suggesting that Victor’s dad is Pope Benedict XVI. Of course, I would be more likely to think that since I’m in hippy-dippy San Francisco and am infuriated by one of the first things Benedict’s Vatican has done: they’ve condemned the gay marriage bill in Spain, to the point of telling Roman Catholics there they should lose their jobs if those jobs are linked to implementing gay marriages. Way to go, Pope!
Pointless soapboxing aside, I wasn’t really knocked for a loop or anything by this issue, but it was Good.

SEVEN SOLDIERS KLARION THE WITCH BOY #1: The first half didn’t do as much for me as the second half, but wow, what a first half! Leave it to Morrison to come up with a clever explanation for Klarion’s very odd appearance involving Croatoan and puritan culture, and throw in a creepy possible Solomon Grundy origin on the side. And he’s able to do all this while keeping it married to actual drama. Pretty goddamned keen. That said, I felt like the second half of the issue kind of dragged with everyone saying the same thing to Klarion all over again just so so the action happens at the cliffhanger, but that wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. Very Good.

SIMPSONS COMICS #105: Not the best Boothby I’ve read, but still heads and above anyone else doing Simpsons stuff. Just for 28 Hey-Heys Later, I had to give this a Good. Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t yet.

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #27: It looked great—the art was good, and man, what an amazing fucking coloring job—and I think Jenkins should be lauded for writing about poignancy and vulnerability and, in particular, childhood in a field that, frankly, is terrified of acknowledging childhood. But I still thought there was something blatantly dishonest about the material: somewhere around seeing the snowmen built into an actual car, I started to think, “Hey, wait a minute.…” Sentimentality (using the traditional definition of “unearned emotion”) is a bitch to criticize because you’re basically criticizing something for working for the wrong reasons which makes criticism an even more precarious enterprise than when it’s evaluating at a simple “did work/ didn’t work” level. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that, by switching out one unrealistic trope (superhero action stuff) for another (Calvin & Hobbes-ish whimsy and nostalgia), Jenkins and crew are trying to make you feel like you’re gaining genuine insight without giving you any genuine insight. Reminded me of a lot of Spielberg’s work in the ‘80s, which was similarly brilliantly executed and essentially empty. OK.

SUPERMAN #215: I already gave out that “Uh…what?” award, didn’t I? Shit. Even assuming the whole OMAC thread was part of “Superstorm,” and would’ve led into an Azzarello OMAC miniseries had this whole thing not tanked—even assuming that—this was a big pile of junk given all the tender loving care that only Jim Lee and seven inkers could bring. Of course, like a sucker, I bought each and every issue…I think I’d feel less ashamed having severed limbs in my longboxes than this arc. Oh, well. At least we can look forward to Superman eating human hearts and sacrificing little kids to Quetzalcoatl in his swank new Fortress of Solitude so…that’ll be cool, right? Awful.

TEEN TITANS #23: So people all of a sudden are punching Dr. Light and he’s flying through buildings and he’s getting right back up because…why? I beseech Johns to flip his action-to-drama switch, because the last four pages where the Titans are sharing their secrets is great reading, and the entire issue that takes place before it was a big old incoherent mess. Awful.

THE GRIMOIRE #2: Couldn’t tell you what happened in issue #1—must’ve been a helluva first issue to properly set up the chick, the raccoon, the book, the guy on the dragon or whatever it was, and the superteam—but I liked this. Well-paced and interesting, I’d like to see next issue. Good.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #76: What really worries me is that Bendis is so far ahead on this book, this is the messed-up shit he was writing around time of Avengers Dissembled/Secret War, and fifteen issues from now when we get to the stuff he’s writing while also doing House of M, it’s really gonna stink. What a god-damned shame. A low Eh.

UNCANNY X-MEN #458: I dunno. Gimme Alan Davis art and a race that evolved from dinosaurs and you can throw all sorts of illogical stuff my way and I’ll still dig it. A ultra-highly qualified Good.

WALKING DEAD #18: Kind of an aftermath episode so nothing really fried my burger one way or another, but it was still Good.

WOLVERINE #27: Obviously, asking this to have a little nuance is like asking a sledge hammer to be a tad more discreet, but I do wish there had been a bit more thought to it than twenty pages of Wolverine jumping out of nowhere and stabbing two guys in the chest over and over. Millar and Romita, Jr. really couldn’t be bothered to mix it up a little which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the arc. OK, because ludicrousness without ingenuity gets a little dull, doesn’t it?

X-MEN #169: Whew. That stank about as much as I thought it would. What the fuck is with Peter Milligan? Does he flip a two-headed coin and if it lands scarred side-up he terrorizes us with a shitty comic? I really don’t get it. Awful.

YOUNG AVENGERS #3: I almost slapped my head when The Patriot unmasked himself. Pretty clever stuff. And yet, I don’t know, I’m very bored with the whole Kang thing because, of course, time travel makes no sense. Why doesn’t Kang just appear two minutes before Iron Lad arrived and stop him from forming the team? Why doesn’t Kang just emerge two minutes before Iron Lad starts to flee and stop his ass? The Wookie Defense. Makes. No. Sense. I’ll give the rest of it a Good, though.

And there you have it. Without breaking out the eye-damning, what’d you think?

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