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Second Round: Jeff Tackles the 12/12 Books (Part 1 of 3, maybe?)

Jeff Lester

Last week, after reviewing 35 books, I swore I wasn’t going to do that to myself again. So yesterday, I pulled the books off the rack, did a count before handing them to Hibbs, and realized I had 30.

I started flipping through them, having already weeded out stuff of which there were two copies or less on the racks, trying to figure out where I could cut. And after about ten minutes of heavy-duty consideration I got it down to…27. During my final weeks at CE, I was reviewing roughly 18, so maybe I won’t hit that number. We’ll see.

Again, thanks to everyone who was kind enough to pitch in with the comments and compliments. They were tremendously appreciated and helped keep me going during my normally seasonally affective disordered self.

And so it comes ’round again:

ANGELUS PILOT SEASON #1: Leave it to Top Cow to figure out how to bring the super-hero origin into the 21st Century: from what I could tell, Angelus is a superpowered chick who gets even more superpowers, and now uses her new superpowers to fight the people who helped her get her old superpowers. It’s the same sort of “who says less is more when clearly more is more” philosophy the inventors of the fried twinkie gave us, and you have to kind of admire it. (I also admired the savvy business acumen of the people who put together the inside cover ad for Witchblade: The Animated Series: catching the title character in mid-examination of her right breast for pre-cancerous lumps shows that the series has a sensitive side.) The script, however, is cliche-ridden, the painted art frequently awkward, and the comic surprisingly credit-free–is that intentional? Something to do with keeping you from voting online for the creator and not the concept or something?–but I guess if you like comics where super-powered waitresses recover from flashbacks by standing in their underwear and exchanging exposition with their alter egos for five pages, you could do worse…I assume. AWFUL.

BAT LASH #1: I know enough about Bat Lash to realize this is apparently going to be an “Origin of…” miniseries, but don’t really know the character at all. Based on this issue, he seems frankly anachronistic, a figure from those days when Westerns were filled with charming rogues because the Western by and large skimmed over historical underpinnings. Now, where the Western is fraught with the knowledge that the West was won by guys who shot each other only when they got tired of shooting Indians and buffalo, I’m not sure you can pull it off. You certainly can’t pull it off in a book like this, where Bat Lash is asking a Comanche friend how things are, and the Comanche says stuff like, “How I been? Your people take the buffalo away…drive us to reservations…your girl’s rich father is even…put[ting] bounty on Indian scalps!” To which Lash replies, “Yeah, Wilder’s still trying to drive my folks off our land.” (Hey, sucks to be you, Bat Lash! Also, what do you mean by “your” land, exactly?)

I think it’s laudable that the Aragones and Brandvold did their research, and Christ knows John Severin’s work is a genuine treat to look at, but when your next issue blurb is “Sheriffs and Ranchers and BEARS, oh my!” and your last page cliffhanger is a woman’s impending rape, I’d say your project has conflicting goals that make enjoying the book a more difficult task than it probably ought to be. Art bumps it up to EH, but it’s kind of a wreck.

BOOSTER GOLD #5: Kind of sad that the weakest point of Booster Gold’s book is Booster Gold’s creator, Dan Jurgens. Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of the J-Man, what with his tepid layouts, his limited range of facial expressions, and his largely generic character designs–he seems like an artist for people who find Bob Layton too avant-garde–but giving him a time-travel story that intersects with The Killing Joke (some of the most beautiful artwork ever published by a mainstream comic company) really underscored that for me. This is the first issue of the book I’ve read, and while I find Booster to be a very likeable hero here and the time war conceit clever, the execution of things–not just Jurgens’ art, but also the whole “you can change time, except where you can’t! (Unless, of course, you can!)” attempts to keep the drama rolling–is pretty uneven. If I had to guess, I’d say Johns is helping break the story beats and Katz is writing the dialogue, and while (presumably) Katz does a pretty good job, he hasn’t quite mastered the “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” ability Johns has to keep you from noticing a really glaring plot hole. Despite the kvetching, I’d give it an OK, but your appreciation for Jurgens’ art and/or DCU continuity noodling may have you bump that rating higher.

BOYS #13: Don’t know if s Snejbjerg is inking Robertson or also contributing to the art chores, but the art here is looking seriously cartoony. Like, “hey, the big Russian guy looks a lot like Bugs Bunny in that panel” cartoony. While that might be the next natural evolution in Robertson’s style–and probably a good one, frankly–it kinda messes with the tone of the book a little bit. I’m not sure I’m going to make it through an Ennis monthly where it feels like there’s nothing at stake. Anyway, considering what I think these creators are capable of, it’s OK. Compared to most of the other stuff on the market, it’s in the GOOD category. You make the call.

COUNTDOWN ARENA #2: If you’ve always wanted a mentally disabled little brother that would play Mortal Kombat while constantly hollering horrible dialogue he’s made up for all the characters, this is the book for you. CRAPtacular, even without the reconfiguring of Apollo as a Ray-analogue, not a Superman analogue. (Yeah, nice try there, DC Editorial.)

COUNTDOWN SEARCH FOR RAY PALMER RED SON #1: This comic book could be useful to future generations as a primer in how to spot rushed artwork: basic left-to-right storytelling mistakes; lots of blank-faced blobs drawn in long shot to cut down on details; conversations being held by characters with their back to the reader; disappearing backgrounds; absence of movement…The seven panels to a page average suggests that this was a ton of work in the first place, and I expect there were some iron-clad deadlines to meet, but the art tragically failed to meet the challenge. As for the story, although it jams a lot of material, characters, ideas and motivations into one issue, none of it means a god-damned thing unless you read Red Son, like, yesterday…in which case you’d probably be pissed at how this book uses those characters and situations but ignores any of the resolutions. AWFUL, awful, awful.

COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS 20: I’m not going to brat about how the DC Countdown team can’t coordinate between their own titles (the Countdown Arena pages this issue get the dialogue right but completely blow the timing, for example) but rather brat about how the writers of this issue can’t coordinate their own story in the same issue. On one page Jimmy Olsen is suddenly talking about how there’s a little voice in his head telling him what he needs to do, and on the very next page he’s talking about how he knows how to go through a maze he’s never been through and attributing that to either “a run of luck” or “more weirdness.” In fact, Jimmy’s got a caption that goes “(Whew)…and I thought I” and the very next caption “This weird turtle shell I’ve become isn’t helping in that department.” (I’m gonna guess maybe the words ‘smelled bad’ dropped out?) I don’t know what people are getting paid to work on this book, but I’m guessing it’s not nearly enough to cover all the future therapy needed to put their shattered psyches back together.

And, of course, what adds insult to injury is that this is DC’s second weekly annual series, which means that someone ignored nearly every lesson they should’ve learned from 52 and thought they could pull it off by sheer charm and force of will. AWFUL stuff, and tremendously disappointing.

DMZ #26: I don’t know. I admit I haven’t read this book in about a year, but it seems to me this issue couldn’t have been structured worse. I think it’s supposed to be a portrait of a photojournalist in the DMZ that’s just died, constructed from several anecdotes during her time there, but all of the cues are messed up. One early scene starts off captioned “Two days earlier” and then we’re never given a time transition again. So one would think that all of the scenes are more-or-less contiguous from that point on, except there’s a scene where the character takes a picture and the narrator says, “She won an award for that photo. And caught a lot of shit about it, too.” So…non-contiguous? Even if you don’t find yourself frustrated about the time frame for the story, the concluding lines of the story, “We live in a world of fire and death and funerals. But Kelly made us feel alive,” aren’t supported by the earlier incidents of the story. How’d she make “us” feel alive? By being hungover during a firefight and puking? By sitting and drinking in a locked room, refusing to let people in? By abandoning crying children, and ignoring the orders of people protecting her? Maybe a case could be made that the creative team is trying to undercut the narrator’s elegiac tone by showing the opposite of what he’s insisting but there’s not enough evidence to really support that. Realy, I’m not trying to be a dick here, but compare this issue to Lawless, the second Criminal trade, and how the narration there leads us through an unorthodox flashback structure, and I think you’ll see what I mean. This didn’t work, and I gotta give it an EH, at best.

FALLEN ANGEL IDW #22: I usually don’t parse comic book dialogue emphases–you know, those bolded words that typically make everyone sound like they’re out of breath from running, but the kid’s last word balloon “And at least the war was over there…” really needs it since the meaning isn’t ‘the war was in a place that’s not here’ but ‘the war was finished in that place that’s not here.’

I dunno. That’s all I got, I’m afraid. If I hadn’t read the title previously, I wouldn’t have had any idea what was happening or why I should care. Since I have read the title previously, the only stumper was why I should care. EH character, EH art, EH script–I guess I can safely call this an EH book.

FANTASTIC FOUR #552: The Thing hammers future Doom through six intrusive pages of ads (including that annoying double-page spread for the terrifyingly named “Out of Jimmy’s Head,” which sounds like a classic Cronenberg film and looks like the CN’s desperate attempt to capture some of Nick Kids and Disney Channel’s vital “pubescent chicks who dig feather-haired future date rapists” demographic) and then the future FF show up. A little sparse for my $2.99, although maybe it lands at an effective place in the larger storyline I’m not following. It wasn’t bad, but skimpy, and the FF title seems trapped in a “But is Reed a dick?” conundrum the same way the Superman books were stuck in a “But would Superman kill?” trap for a few years–even he’s not, the book is static and dull, if he is, I don’t want to read the character any more–and I’m not sure if Millar and Hitch are going to make matters better or worse. OK, because McDuffie knows the characters, even if he doesn’t know what to do with them.

GREEN ARROW BLACK CANARY #3: I’d be scared to party with Judd Winick. Based on his current storytelling m.o., it’d all be lots of fun and booze and laughs at the start, and then, after he’s had enough to drink, pow! Suddenly there’s a dead stripper on your hands. I mean, this issue was probably the best handling of the stupid “there are no refrigerators on Amazon Island, so naturally every female character in the DCU wants to go there and join them despite the stupid amounts of false jeopardy they must go through to do so” idea making its way through the DCU books, and the Cliff Chiang artwork is clean and light and expressive, and then—pow! Another dead stripper of a cliffhanger. I’ll go with OK because it was an enjoyable read until then and it looked great, but, uh, maybe we should make sure Mr. Winick doesn’t have any access to the hard stuff when he’s plotting.

GREEN LANTERN #25: Holy fucking shit. I’ve read other comic books that clearly wanted to catch the “big summer blockbuster” vibe before, but this issue nailed that so well I was in awe. Johns and crew pack each page with so many ideas, character bits, riffs, and payoffs big and small, I almost wanted to cheer at the end–the same way I do at $200 million movies I won’t remember three weeks later. The concluding “trailer” for “Blackest Night” (coming in 2009) only confirms such a crazy, inspired, deluded aspiration and I’m really and truly knocked out by the open-throttle “dare to be cheesy and awesome” ambition of the whole thing. I haven’t followed the issues leading up to this, so I don’t know if all the “spectrum” lantern thing had been previously teased out but I think it was smart of Johns to ramp right up from the yellow lantern Sinestro Corps to all the other colors so quickly–this may sound weird, but I think this is the first time since “The Anatomy Lesson” I’ve seen a character’s basic concept opened up so dramatically and to impressive effect.

There are problems with the book, I gotta say–the artists had a hard time keeping up with everything, so that over half the book looks like Perez’s discards from Crisis on Infinite Earths, and, despite Johns’ way with the character arc, Hal Jordan still seems like the least interesting character in his own book (to say nothing of the fact that by the time Blackest Night rolls around, everyone in the damned DCU is gonna have a power ring, making the guy even less unique than before). But overall? Holy fuck, did this seem like a concentrated hot shot of mainstream superhero insanity. If that’s the sort of thing that turns your crank (and I’m both surprised and relieved to find out it can still turn mine) I think you’ll also find this astonishingly VERY GOOD. Good grief.

That’ll get us started, I think. More later tonight or tomorrow…

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