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Yes, Why Not? Jeff Does Some Capsule Work As Well….

Jeff Lester

I admit it–I’d kinda thought I would post a round of capsule reviews for the anniversary, then I thought, eh, maybe I should hold off for my actual anniversary of appearing on the site?  (which is something crazy like May, 2002–which doesn’t sound right to me at all…)  And I was/am a little burnt, what with podcast editing and this other SC-related thing I worked on today.

However, since Graeme was kind enough to post…let’s see what I can come up with after the jump, shall we?

UNCANNY X-FORCE #9: Ugh, that stunk up the joint, didn’t it?  I actually didn’t mind Tan’s first issue–the inker did some kind of crazy magic to make it feel not unlike the amazing four or five issues or so–but this was genuinely terrible.  To be fair, though, I’ve seen elephant vaginas tighter than the scripting in this story so I don’t know if any artist could’ve made this work.  (David Aja? Jim Steranko? Bernie Krigstein?)  It could’ve been a kinda okay eight pager, but for whatever reason, Remender thought he’d blow it out to twenty-two fucking pages.  Good will can be earned and good will can be spent–it says something to how much I enjoyed the first half-dozen issues of this title that I can consider this issue a big old pile of CRAP and yet still be kinda looking forward to next issue.  Please don’t break my heart, gentlemen.

FF #2 and #3:  Speaking of squandering good will, did you catch those two pages in FF#2 where Valeria mentions Doom needing a back-up of his brain and then waiting for Doom to catch on?  That same panel, ten times, spread across two pages, with only minor changes to Doom’s and Reed’s heads on two panels. Easily the most convincing case made yet for bumping comics back to 20 pages.  (By the way, what is it with Marvel writers and their obsessions with brain back-ups?  (I’m thinking of here, Fraction’s Iron Man, and I’m sure there’s another bit I’m forgetting.)  I’m secretly convinced there’s some kind of weird anxiety about identity going on with the writers in that place if they keep coming back to personality as something you can plug and play at will. (Oh, and the future is a big scary place–all of it seems predicated on the idea that there are big scary things coming down the pike and the only thing that will save us is being able to whip out a USB stick with a better version of ourselves on it.  Is this what it means to be a freelancer with a mortgage during the peak oil/global warming era?)

As for FF #3, it finally answered some questions and I thought did so in a relatively clever way.  Should that cancel out the fact I found it pretty obvious and everything still seems predicated on an exasperating passivity on the part of the FF? I’m gonna give #2 an AWFUL and #3 an OK.  The Internet would probablygrade these a little higher, I admit.

AXE COP BAD GUY EARTH #3:  You know that old screenwriting dictum, “show, don’t tell?”  I’m wondering to what extent superhero comics used to function as a weird, unholy mix of showing and telling–the narrator in superhero books from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s was pretty much omnipresent and it allowed the story to zip from scene to scene, from event to event, with the writer telling you stuff and the artist showing you stuff. It led to some inelegant storytelling (as, say, in the panels here where Bear Cop buys a cup of zombie blood, drinks it, and becomes Zombie Bear Cop, then eats the President and becomes President Zombie Bear Cop) but, on the other hand, it allowed for some motherfucking economy.

As a result, this issue has Shabaccus, a monster that can fly and shoot lava out of his feet and has machine gun ears, an evil fat lady who bounces around and smashes dogs with her huge bottom “and fire farts on them,” the bad guy axe cop team, the death of axe cop’s team, yo-you man, a squish machine, a battle in the Age of Swords with two psychic brothers armed (unfairly) with machine gun jetpacks, Rat Cop, Axe Cop Lava Bull, and the President of All Presidents.  THIS IS ALL IN ONE ISSUE. (AND I LEFT STUFF OUT!)  Fear Itself and Flashpoint are currently running a distant third to me  behind Axe Cop Bad Guy Earth.  And while that sounds kinda dumb, I feel like “Hey, remember when everyone was all excited about the return of Big, Dumb Ideas? They don’t come much bigger or dumber than this.”  I enjoyed this miniseries from start to finish and really gotta rank it in the upper end of the VERY GOOD spectrum.

BATMAN INC. #5 and #6:  And this is where things gets tricky–because if I rate Batman Inc. by the same standards I rank Axe Cop Bad Guy Earth, then it should also be in the VERY GOOD spectrum, right?  I mean, you’ve got a guy in a wheelchair and a Mexican wrestler’s mask being punched, a member of “Her Majesty’s Super Secret Service,” a chick named in a modified helmet, swimsuit and laser scorpion tail called Scorpiana, Dr. Dedalus, Leviathan…and that’s all just issue #5.

But, I dunno.  You ever have a friend fuck with the balance on your stereo while a song is playing?  You know, bounce the sound from one set of speakers to the next and back in time to the music?  I almost feel like Morrison is doing something like that with Batman, Inc. where he pushes what the artist shows, and then entirely drops the sound out of what he as writer tells, and then will crank the shit out of the tell side of things while barely giving you enough show to hang your hat on.  There are probably lots of good reasons why he’s doing it–to keep us off-balance, to break up the rhythm of his own storytelling patterns–but it just kind of leaves me headachy and cross and waiting for David Uzumeri to tell me why I should give a shit.  Is it that my expectations are higher for a Batman comic than for Axe Cop?  (And if so, why?)  Or just that I’m an old, old man incapable of zipping up my pants without catching the hairs of my gray, waist-long old man beard? I wish I could say.  But either way, I feel squirrelly giving these issues anything more than just an OK.

16 Responses to “ Yes, Why Not? Jeff Does Some Capsule Work As Well…. ”

  1. I dunno. 5 and 6 were the first issues that made me sorry that I ever doubted BATMAN INC in the first place, having gotten off to a rocky start. I wish that Morrison did more actual storytelling instead of leaving it to the folks coming up with commentary to do the heavy lifting. It’s almost as if everything of his since say NEW X-MEN has been an exercise in increasing story minimalism, to see how little he can actually write and still have it come out readable. It’s not always even in terms of quality, but sometimes it clicks and #6, particularly, clicked for me.

    Still, it could be twice as long and probably still work.

  2. More reviews! Eeeeee!

    I caught those 2 pages and was pissed off. Padding is awful on tv but even worse in comics because it’s a waste of already far too limited space. If you look at how comics used to be paced, you have to wonder if current day writers know what they’re doing at all. But Epting’s art sure is pretty though (although, and this happens more and more often with me, I liked his much older art, back when he was on Harras’s Jacket-Avengers, a lot more. It’s like all my favorites are getting over the hill or something)

    I looked at Batman Inc but didn’t read and noticed how this Burnham guy is like a tighter Quitely. Good find on their part. I like Morrison and think it’d be great if he did a Doctor Who episode just like Neil Gaiman did, but I’m no longer seeking out his work because there’s a lot of repetition in there. I prefer rereading his Doom Patrol then, and look forward to Flex Mentallo eventually being reprinted.

    I’m gonna have to find that Axe Cop thingie, it sounds like a blast, quite literally :)

    Thank you, too, for the capsules, but it’s like, we’re getting the anniversary presents, whereas the congratulations are to you and Brian and Graeme and the gang!

  3. Cheers for the posts and a big fat happy anniversary thing to all (although hopefully I’ll get chance to irritate each and every anniversary poster individually.)

    Ah, Jazzy Jeff Lester, the man with the waffles in his eyes! The Incredible Sighing Man! Ladies Love Cool Jeff (Oh yes, I’m all about timely reference!) There he is! There he IS! Veering wildly from pornographic obscenity to gentle truths with his usual twinklingly avuncular manner which belies his colossal rage when goaded.

    First up I think we should all club to together and pay R Sikoryak to produce issues of ####y comics like UNCANNY X-FORCE #9 in the style of The Masters. Nice one, Jeff Lester.

    You know how you get double page spreads like the one in FF? You get those when writers are using those dismal books with inspiring titles like How To Gut The Life Right Out Of Your Writing And Get It Bought By TV (Maybe Hollywood Too!) and forgetting that comics might be a unique art form in themselves;that they might require an approach more suited to the art form they actually are rather than the art form you’d rather be practicing. Sure, those books have their uses and it would be foolish to suggest otherwise, but I reckon while you can teach craft you can’t teach art. I bet the writer of AXE COP doesn’t use those books!

    And, yeah, I know, the battle is lost and bland has been legitimised as the new awesome but you know what reading comics taught me? When Humanity evolves we’ll have really big craniums. Oh, and never to give up. That too.

    Oh, and thanks, Jeff Lester. Thanks for just…being YOU! (Jeff Lester rears back from the screen as though before and angry cobra). Ha!

  4. RE: Brain Backups

    The Vision is the one that springs to mind, but it kind of makes sense for him. Isn’t the new Vision a back up of the original vision? Hmm… Wikipedia says his personality is based on Iron Lad’s brainwaves or something? Depends on the writer? OK.

    HAHA, my “research” also turned up this one, which I had read but totally forgot, and it seems to be having a laugh at the whole idea of brain backups too:

  5. Matt: I almost agree, as there were parts of issue #6 I liked very much and if it had been issue #1, I would’ve loved it. I’ve offered similar theories for Morrison’s minimalism on the podcast, but these last two issues left me especially impatient with the approach overall. Glad you dug ’em, though.

    Peter: Agree with you about Burnham (though I don’t know if I would call him a “tighter Quitely” as much as a “fussier Quitely.” I like his work a lot, but it seems to me he doesn’t have Quitely’s sense of what to leave out. I’m also tempted to say that Quitely’s understanding of time and motion (both the rhythm of the panels on the page *and* the unfolding of time within them) almost borders of the profound. But…yeah. Burnham is a stellar find!

    Also, if you dig up Axe Cop, lemme know what you think.

    John K(UK): I’m a little alarmed what apparently close reading of my reviews and close listening to our podcasts can reveal. It’s like my medical care provider has forwarded you the x-rays to my soul. Thanks for the kind words, and I may well use “The Man With The Waffles in His Eyes” as the title of my first psychedelic low-fi album. Gracias, amigo.

  6. Nice research there, Mike. I agree the Vision should get a pass on this (though it’s kinda interesting how different the idea of his “brain waves based on Wonder Man” origin is from the current trend. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve got enough strands to knit an essayistic sweater about the nature of personality in superhero comics).

    Also, that entire Wikipedia entry reads like a parody of Wikipedia entries–gotta love Doop!

  7. Batman Inc #5 doesn’t rate higher than an “Awful” on my scale. To exhaust your stereo analogy, Morrison cranks up the “tell” high enough in this issue to blow a speaker. Characters relate information they never obtained in the text – e.g. how does the Hood know Batwoman has a military contact when he’s never heard of her before? when have we ever seen the “missing gymnast” who fought Batwoman in Kathy Kane’s old costume?

    Also, in one of the biggest WTF moments in recent memory, the bad guy reveals the big threat of the arc, a meta-bomb made from the magic hammer of a fallen hero. “Nothing can stop it” the bad guy avers. Except that one page later, ordinary missiles from Bruce’s warplane (introduced this issue) cause a small explosion which terminates the threat. I mean, does this even count as telling a story anymore?

    Some critics have defended Morrison’s recent work as a literary “pointillism,” where small, seemingly unrelated episodes can be seen in composite to form a satisfying narrative. I believe that’s a good way of phrasing it when Morrison is on. But when he’s off, as often he is with Batman, his stuff more resembles “connect the dots” than pointillism.

    I’ve gotten into a rhythm reading his Batman. First, I spot the cryptic reference that Morrison believes is a plot thread, make a mental note to wait for the offhand “resolution,” usually in exposition, several issues down the pike, rinse and repeat for 22 pages.

    I know I’m getting shrill, but I feel frustrated as a fan of Morrison. I feel like nothing is at stake here; everything seems weightless, and the fact that he’s telling the reader it’s the most important thing in the world makes the weightlessness rankle all the more. It also doesn’t help that Morrison has grown preoccupied with themes that hold no interest for me. Batman’s power as myth? Yawn.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to hijack your thread. Seeing capsule reviews again is a pleasant change of pace, not that I don’t love Wait What?! I hope we’ll be seeing more written criticism from you and Graeme in the near future.

  8. “You know that old screenwriting dictum, ‘show, don’t tell?’ ”

    That dictum is *so* over-rated! Especially for comics. Comics should always *always* be show AND tell. I like the wordy stuff. I like reading the descriptions and the captions. Just as much as I like reading the word balloons and thought bubbles.

  9. I gotta say that Cass nails a lot of my problems with Morrison’s Batman. It – to carry on mangling the metaphor – sounds like when all your mates are in the car with you and they all disagree over whatever their fave U2 or Radiohead song is and all decide to play theirs at the exact same time on their mobile phones. Yeah…

    Also totally gotta agree that he’s no longer even that focused on the actual A-B-C plotting of an issue, when he can spend more time planning out the meta-elements, coming up with a dozen new characters and seeding in conspiracies that will pay off 25 issues down the road if you read a comic backwards. SEAGUY was the first series I really noticed this on, as it was just pure gibberish on an actual plot level and could only be “read” as subtext. Even JOE THE BARBARIAN descended into this.

    The whole of his Batman run – since that first issue with Kubert – has basically been him unevenly wobbling from one stool to the other. Only there are, like, two dozen stools and some of them aren’t even stools. I really quite enjoyed the last issue of BATMAN INC (Haha, I just typed BATMAN INCH by accident. “If you give him an inch, HE’LL TAKE A MILE!”) but it was really very obvious that Morrison felt he had to get back to just doing generic Batman shit. The fact that the alleged threat conquering the world that Batman saw in time has seemed to be a complete non-threat after seven issues is not good.

    I’m guessing the realisation that Paquette wouldn’t be able to keep up a regular schedule can’t have helped (QUELLE SURPRISE).

  10. First, let me add my hearty “hail and well met” to Mr Jeff Lester, my constant iPod transit mate in the mornings. And the man who both (a) has me wondering about whether anything here on EArth Prime can ever compete with Michael Fleisher’s Ghost Rider, and (b) has me walking around the office going “…Interesting….”

    And re: “Wait, What 39” (or so) I love Ross Andru’s ASM and I’m born Sep 69. How does that fit into your six month window?

    So: Nice to have you back, Jeff.

    Second, I wish to chime in on Cass and John’s points. I too wonder about Morrison. As I continue to read review about how loved he is for being non-linear (and now pointilliste! Sacre couer!), or how reviewers and fans alike love his work ‘because they just don’t get it’…I guess I don’t get THAT. I loved Doom Patrol and Animal Man. Hell, I read ZENITH. And St Swithin’s Day, and PHOBIAS. I have original art from KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND hanging before me, and pretty damn near the all the original pages from the Thanagarain issue of Animal Man.

    And yet — and yet — I guess I’m just not equipped to read comics in the “post-plot era”, where allegory and allusion to other arcs, metaphors or relgions actually substitutes for the words on the page. The words matter to me. More in fact, than what the story ‘was trying to get at’ or ‘how cool it cold have been if..’, or even a reference to a book I might have read twenty years ago.

    So yeah. Maybe I am just a Bronze Age baby, looking back whistfully, but, there you have it. Drawing the line at wasting my time.

    Good to have you back, Jeff. Not nearly enough Bronze Age fans left anymore.

  11. I completely agree with Corey, Cass and John. I’ve no idea what the scottish loon is doing writing comic books – it seems as if he’s just snorting crack and butting his head into the page till it bleeds instead of writing. Bring back Winnick!

  12. K. You sold me on AXE COP. (actually the webcomic i just sampled did)

  13. And:

    Leave SEAGUY alone!

  14. Cass, John, & Batfan456: Thanks for the insight and metaphor tinkering. I think John’s version is my favorite, if only because I expect it to turn up when the Wayne’s World film franchise gets rebooted ten years from now. Though that first Seaguy series worked fine for me.

    Corey (Ottawa): I gotta say, hearing the love for Ross Andru’s Spidey has been incredibly gratifying. As one Bronze Ager to another–um…I don’t know what the tag line should be here…Make Mine Nostalgia? Thanks for the kind words.

    And mckracken: Glad to hear it about Axe Cop. Lemme know what you think!

  15. Totally right about that X-FORCE issue. It was so bad it makes ME look bad for recommending the book (that’s been great until then). It was the most inventoriest inventory issue I’ve ever read.

  16. Could the other Marvel character you’re thinking about be Taskmaster? I didn’t read his recent mini but I thought it was about resetting his brain after it filled up with too much information.

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