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Verse Chorus Verse: Jeff’s Capsule Reviews from 6/8

Jeff Lester

Does it bode ill for my reviews when I can’t think of a clever thing to say while convincing you to follow me behind the jump for capsule reviews?  It probably is, isn’t it?  Ah, well.  I just finished watching the screen adaptation of The Black Dahlia.  I mean, I’d heard that movie would be bad, but there were wrong casting decisions, terrible direction, and some bad mistakes in adapting Ellroy’s skeezy epic to the screen. As a quasi-fan of Brian DePalma, it’s a painful, painful movie to watch.  And I blame it for my inability to bring you a witty intro: the movie is a like a form of slow-acting toxin to the higher brain functions.

Anyway, after the jump:  lower brain function reviews of Empowered: Ten Questions for the Maidman, Invincible Iron Man #504, Witch Doctor #0, and more.

EMPOWERED: TEN QUESTIONS FOR THE MAIDMAN:  Maidman — the cross-dressing vigilante of Adam Warren’s Empowered universe — gets his own one-shot with alternating black and white sections by Adam Warren and color sections by Emily Warren. It was a book I wanted to deeply like, but really only admired. You can read this one-shot as a deconstruction of Batman (Maidman is one of the few non-powered superheroes in the Emp universe and easily the most feared), a deconstruction of Batman analogs (in some ways, this is the funniest issue of Midnighter never published), or maybe even a spoof of the cape industry’s current trend in Mary-Sueisms.  Alternately, you could also take it as a face value, with Warren using the same gimmicks to get the reader to like Maidman that Johns or Bendis or a host of others use these days — (a) introduce character; (b) have everyone talk admiringly of character; (c) show character doing something impossibly awesome; (d) profit.  Empowered: Ten Questions… shows Warren as being as skilled a practitioner of the current bag of comics writing magic tricks as anyone currently working.  I’m glad he at least has his own little universe to toy about with, but I wish I could get more worked up about a more-or-less OK one-shot…in no small part because I worry about him getting it yanked out from under him if the sales aren’t there.  Vexingly OK.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #504:  Really interesting to read a book where the regular writer is caught off-balance by the obligatory line-wide event when the same guy is writing that event, too.  I mean, that two page scene with Tony and Pepper is really quite good for what it is.  But the meat of the issue, where Tony goes to Paris because one of the hammers of the Worthy has landed there, is underwhelming. Fraction clearly built the issue to that last page climax but it feels like that’s the only thing he’s trying to  accomplish.  So when you get to that last page, it definitely has some punch to it but it also eaves you feeling super-empty and annoyed immediately after.

Also, that last page what feels like part of an ongoing tug-of-war between Fraction and Larrocca. Instead of focusing on rendering that kinda-important pile of stones Tony is on top of, Larroca focuses on the building beside it.  It doesn’t feel quite like a “fuck you” from one collaborator to another, but it does suggest painfully opposing goals\.  $3.99 price-tag + ineffective storytelling + forced event crossover=AWFULness.

POWER-MAN & IRON FIST #5: Similarly, last issue of this miniseries turned out very meh in the end despite my modest expectations.  Wellinton Alves’ work ended up rushed and ugly, and Van Lente’s script tried to do wayyyy too much in too short a time.  Not only do both heroes have romantic relationships resolved in this issue, but a mystery is solved, fight scenes are had, and the creepy Comedia Del’Morte are…well, frankly, I have no idea what happened to them.  It’s a shame because I was won over by so much less with that back-up story from Amazing Spider-Man. (On the plus side,with very little rejiggering, Van Lente and Alves could re-tool this as an arc of the post-Morrison Batman & Robin and it’d fit right in.)  I’m tempted to get all Rex Reedy on you and say this puts the EH back in “meh,” but I won’t…in part because it was AWFUL.

SECRET AVENGERS #13: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! No. CRAP.

WALKING DEAD #85/WITCH DOCTOR #0:  Although I like the swerve Kirkman made with this storyline a few issues back, I don’t know if there’s really much more going on than that.  I suspect as we come ’round issue #100, Kirkman’s biggest flaw –his ability to dramatize character development is rudimentary at best, and so he has to have scenes where his characters explain their motivations to one another for us to get it —  is getting more and more apparent. While I’m at it, Charlie Adlard’s biggest strength — drawing a large cast of characters to keep them easily identifiable without resorting to any flashy tricks — may also be hindering this book:  the dramatic scenes either run to the inert or the occasionally overheated.  Energy, ambition and craft have gotten these guys farther and higher than anyone would’ve suspected and I in no way mean to diminish their achievement.  But I think if this book is going to make another 85 issues, they’re going to need to shake up their skillsets for a change, not their storyline. OK stuff.

As for WITCH DOCTOR #0, despite having very little interest based on the material I’d seen online, I ended up enjoying the hell out of it.  Everyone [by which I mean at least me] has always wanted to write a biologic explanation for vampires, a la Matheson’s treatment in I am Legend, but writer Brandon Seifert really goes to town here. Lines like “his saliva’s got the usual bloodfeeder chemistry set– vasodilator, anticoagulant and an anesthetic–plus some interesting mystical secretions.  I think one’s a anterograde amnesiac–” make my heart go pitter-pat, and Seifert has a lot of them.  I can easily see how it might feel dry to some, but to me it showed a commitment to research and world-building I think you really need to make a series about a doctor (even a mystical one) work.  As for Lukas Ketner’s art, it’s enjoyably quirky, especially when it chooses to go detailed and when it decides to loosen up: panels of this remind me of Wrightson, others of William Stout, and still others of Jack Davis, and I could never figure out when the next swerve was going to happen.  VERY GOOD stuff and I’m definitely on-board for the first few issues of the regular title now.

WOLVERINE #9:  Not the most recent issue I know, but so much more satisfying than issue #10, I figured you’d forgive me for writing about it instead.  I mean, to begin with:  God damn, this is some gorgeous looking work.  Daniel Acuna (who I guess is doing both the art and the colors) really sold me on this story about a mysterious assassin (Lord Deathstrike) and Wolverine both trying to hunt down Mystique on the streets of San Francisco. But I should point out that there’s three full pages of wordless action that feel perfectly placed in the script and I think writer Jason Aaron should really be commended for having the confidence to let the art do its stuff.  And there’s also a hilariously over-the-top assassination scene at the beginning that I loved.  I suspect this book is going to have diminishing sales in no small part because Aaron just can’t keep away from writing Wolverine’s adventures with a strong dash of the absurdly extreme, and a larger audience for this character really want this stuff served straight-up.  I can understand that desire (especially when you get issues like #10 where it’s Logan vs. the Man with the Jai-Alai Feet) but when you get such an artist who can sell you on both the sweet & sour sauce of Aaron’s mix of awesome and absurd? It’s really pretty satisfying.  This was one hell of a  VERY GOOD issue.

UNCANNY X-FORCE #11:  I guess this is what you can do with okay art and good characterization–you can make me care somewhat about stuff I wouldn’t ordinarily care about. I missed out on the original Age of Apocalypse stuff powering the plot here and yet, thanks to a forty-issue Exiles habit, I’m pretty familiar with what’s going on.  In fact, arguably I’m too familiar as I felt like I was at least a beat or two ahead of the plot at all times.  But at least some of the time I was surprised by what the characters said or how they said it.   I still quietly pine for the awesomeness of the first five issues, but this was on the high end of OK for me.

SECRET AVENGERS #13: Seriously, though.  Do you need to know why I thought this was terrible?  Well, let’s just say when your plot about a Washington invasion hinges on the fierce determination of a congressman who also happens to be a magical negro mutant, and that leads to Lincoln from the Lincoln Monument and all the dinosaurs from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History rising up to hold the line, then I think it’s safe to say things have gone wrong.  Weirdly, I could’ve bought it in a DC book — for whatever reason, I expect the surreal and the schmaltzy to intermingle more freely there — but here it seems like a big ol’ misfire.  Again, to sum up:  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! No. CRAP.

And that’s my week in pamphlets.  As for my TRADE PICK….

BAKUMAN, VOL. 5:  Oh man, how I love this series.  It’s not an easy sell, I know, and I’ll be the first to admit that first volume is more than a little forced.  And in fact, here in volume 5, there is still a surprising number of misfires:  for example, there’s a chapter here about an artist who is so committed to proving his worth to his writer that he draws pages outside her window in the middle of a blizzard and it’s really treacly and ineffective. And there are more than a few hilariously cynical moves by the writer and artist to pander to their publishers:  in more than a few places, the editors and publishers of Shonen Jump are treated with a degree of reverence that borders on the fanatical.

On the other hand, Bakuman has changed my understanding of how manga is created so much I’ve since read other titles with new eyes –I doubt I would’ve enjoyed my thirteen volume romp through One-Piece nearly as much without it. And even more than that, I’m totally a sucker for the way Ohba and Obata have introduced so many different young manga creators and then blurred the lines between enemies and allies so much you realize none really exist.  As a book about the comics industry properly should, Bakuman is very much about who you have to decide to trust and the possible long-term implications of those choices.  But it’s also a book where competition doesn’t preclude comradeship and that totally hits a sweet spot of insecurities and needs I didn’t really know I had.  Really, the series is so very far from perfect it’s kinda painful…and yet the last four volumes now have been some of my favorite reading of the last year.  VERY, VERY GOOD for me, but you really not might feel at all the same.

9 Responses to “ Verse Chorus Verse: Jeff’s Capsule Reviews from 6/8 ”

  1. I HATED HATED HATED Secret Avengers #13, and that’s speaking as a proud lefty, who in Australia votes for the Green party.

    And I really like the first Morning Glories trade, too….

  2. “VERY, VERY GOOD for me, but you really not might feel at all the same.”

    I don’t.
    I’d have gone with Excellent!
    (I have no objectivity!)
    My only problem with this series is that by this point, I read it straight through in one sitting just after getting them, then spend the next two months slowly sliding into depression as withdrawals kick in.
    I preferred the earlier volumes, only because I was catching up then, not having to wait between reads.

    The artist in the snow chapter was weird – I figured they need a fill-in issue of sorts, just to buy some time with planning more of it.
    On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if it was to get them out a hole they’d written themselves into by having the female writer announce she would work with the rock star.
    I wouldn’t have considered that twist a plot hole – odd, but not a hole – except that the book changed tone for the next chapter, to give us the guy in the snow, and then totally wrote the rock star element out as if it never existed. It would be interesting if they were writing themselves out of missteps that quickly.

    The other odd bit with the artist in the snow chapter, is the bullies who accost him.
    I think these are the only people in the series so far, for whom Manga doesn’t play a big part in their lives.
    All the school kids seem well versed in it, and even the parents we’ve seen all consider Manga a big deal.
    It actually caught me off guard that the bullies had no respect for his work, and took me a moment to adjust. They just didn’t seem to belong in this world where Manga and Anime is the be all and end all for every character.

    With the depiction of the editors and such with Shonen Jump, I actually assumed this might be realistic.
    From what I understand, which is limited at best, Shonen Jump is the biggest thing in Manga, and has been awhile – it’s the mag that can make and break you.
    And if Bakuman is telling us the truth about how Shonen is put together – the survey meetings and such – it wouldn’t surprise me if over the years, editors did begin to expect to be treated like that, and so creators began to treat them like that, until that was all anyone in the system knew.

  3. Two thoughts on Secret Avengers and your reaction to it:

    1. I honestly had no idea how to react to it. My mind kind of shut down. Well, as much as it’s every really working. You and Graeme returning to capsules has made me seriously wonder why I’m reading/enjoying to some degree so many of these comics that are hitting the low end of the scales for you. I mean, I already had a sneaking suspicion that my brain had atrophied after turning it off to have fun one too many times.

    But yeah, I am at the point where I’ve become so enamored with over the top that I honestly can’t tell whether kaiju Abe Lincoln fighting Nazis is something I enjoy or not.

    2.Is “Ha Ha Ha Ha! No.” the “cool story bro” of the ’90s? I remember that being a popular way to dismiss lame things when I was a teenager.

  4. Brad: Sorry to hear our reviews are making you question how much you liked these same books. I think Secret Avengers is a really tough call because you make a great point about kaiju Lincoln versus the mecha-Nazis? That does sound really fun, doesn’t it?

    I think there were two strong strikes going against it for me, though: as I mentioned, I feel like that stuff is a lot easier for me to accept as happening right in the middle of the DCU, where goofiness and schmaltz frequently move right to the center of things and happily cavort there. But alot of the goofiness in the Marvel books I grew up reading was usually presented as deadly serious–even a Nazi made of bees was treated as the most dangerous threat ever when he first appeared.

    This is really exacerbated by the second factor, Fear Itself, which the main event has presented as deadly serious what with all the FEAR! and “this is the worst thing that has ever happened to the world ever” business. The mecha-nazis attacking Washington are supposed to be one more big deal in a chain of big-deal happenings.

    And while I don’t buy that they are, I did think the tone of Secret Avengers is supposed to be in line with that: that last page of the mutant congressman weeping while the Capitol is in flames? That’s not supposed to be a ROFL moment, is it? Or the recitation of the Gettysburg address?

    Whereas some of the dumbass stuff that happens in Flashpoint — First Mate Clayface, Captain He-Man and his Thundercat, Barry Allen, human french fry — makes me feel someone could probably get away with way goofier stuff in a Flashpoint tie-in than even what we see here and I think I’d be okay with it.

    I don’t know, maybe if I had just looked at the book in the right way — Kaiju Lincoln! — instead of the way I did — “wow, I guess Night at the Museum was playing on cable around the time Nick Spencer was spitballing his plot” — I might be more on your side of things. But everything about it screamed “trying to do a little bit of everything in too short a span, and really mucking it up.”

  5. I really, really wanted to like THE BLACK DAHLIA but, yeah, that was some bad DePalma alrighty roo. I enjoyed looking at it more than I enjoyed watching it as it was so lush and lovely. My thanks to Vilmos ZSigmond and Dante Ferreti, I guess.

    Although I try to avoid doing dumb Fan things I did feel pretty bad on The Demon Dog’s behalf what with THE BLACK DAHLIA being his signature work and all. Until I read this recently:

    “THE BLACK DAHLIA bombed. Theaters to cut-rate DVDs at light speed. I didn’t care – it sold boocoo books.”
    Ellroy, J. THE HILLIKER CURSE. William Heinemann: London (2010). p.166.

    Oh, James! Don’t be so precious! WOOF! WOOF! That’s strictly on the Q.T. and very, very Hush-Hush mind you.

  6. “I feel like that stuff is a lot easier for me to accept as happening right in the middle of the DCU, where goofiness and schmaltz frequently move right to the center of things and happily cavort there. But alot of the goofiness in the Marvel books I grew up reading was usually presented as deadly serious–even a Nazi made of bees was treated as the most dangerous threat ever when he first appeared.”

    Marvel and DC used to have distinctly different tones and sensibilities in their super-hero books, then CRISIS came along and DC was Marvelized to a significant extent. In the last 10 years or so, Marvel has moved toward a pre-CRISIS DC aesthetic. From the “It’s magic, bitches!” wipeout of the Spider-Marriage to the Avengers becoming the JLA to the Sentry to Abe Lincoln Kaiju, the sci-fi “this stuff has to make some sort of sense” Marvel style of storytelling has shifted noticeably toward the fantasy “we can do whatever we want to make the story work” classic DC aproach.


  7. Mike: I wondered about exactly these your points as I was writing my reply but realized I just wasn’t as well-versed in current Marvel stuff to say if that was more of a linewide aesthetic or not. I think it’ll have to be something for me to consider–maybe I don’t like that approach when it’s applied to Marvel, even though I prefer that approach generally? I dunno.

    John K(UK): Pretty much a stone-cold perfect bit of Ellroy-isms at the end. Even without knowing that quote, I wasn’t pitying Ellroy, if only because L.A. Confidential was sooo much better than anyone would have any right to expect. But Black Dahlia is almost like the Watchmen of crime novels–all of the best stuff about it are the bits you just can’t pull off in a cinematic format under ten hours…

    Ben L: In many ways, I meant to get back to you first, if only because it’s always nice to see someone who’s got the Bakuman jones as badly as I do. I think you’re absolutely right about the treatment of editors and it being totally realistic. I just found myself the scene where Executive Director Torishima toasts Mashiro’s crazy ambition to alternately flatter both Torishima and Mashiro unnecessarily. But the rest of that party sequence I kinda adored, especially as Eiji Nizuma and the manic Hiramaru end up bonding.

  8. “Sorry to hear our reviews are making you question how much you liked these same books.”

    I hope it didn’t sound like I was blaming you for ruining them for me or anything. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that you and Graeme have made me think about this stuff, and I really hope it didn’t come across as me acting persecuted by the bad men who made me question my taste.

    And some of my liking the books you guys hate is a matter of degree. Like, I like Fear Itself a lot more than Graeme, but that’s not saying a lot, is it? I said in the thread for Graeme’s take down of FI #3 that maybe I’m giving some favorite creators (mainly Fraction) too much slack when they’re doing mediocre stuff. I’ve liked parts of Fraction’s Thor, but it has been slow.

    And really, I have still not decided if that issue of Secret Avengers was something I thought was awesome or was laughably bad. I seriously wonder if I can tell the difference anymore. Which is somehow your fault, but still.

  9. Jeff, it was you talking it up on the podcast that got me to try out Bakuman – so in the darkest moments of waiting for the next volume, it’s you I blame!
    The Torishima scene didn’t throw me as much, because it was sandwiched between two of the oddest scenes of the series (for me) – first, it came after the revelation that Shonen Jump has a bingo game for all the creators every year at it’s new years party.
    Then after the toast came the news that Shonen Jump’s smaller sister publication, Jump SQ, is apparently so looked down upon by the main publication, that it’s ok for the book to have a scene where SQ’s head editor is portrayed as desperate and looked down upon by everyone from Jump, and that he’s willing to give a book to the slacker rock star who wants to do manga.
    That this was first published in an issue of Shonen Jump blows my mind.

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