Capsule Reviews, Week of July 25th

Unrelated topics I’m wondering about today while I write my capsules:

  • How the hell did I go from not reading the Avengers for 20 years to “hm, I have six Avengers books on this pull sheet, and might need to add a seventh?” How in God’s name does that even happen?
  • I need to actually read the first issue of Neonomicon; it’s in the inbox of comics under my coffee table. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be Alan Moore’s version of Charles Stross’s Laundry series, and that concept kind of frightens me.
  • Yes, I have an inbox tray full of comics under my coffee table. I bought it at the Container Store when I noticed that my living room was draped in bright-yellow comic-shop bags, like some sort of giant sequential-art spider had been throwing webs around the place.
  • I got around to Hawkeye and Mockingbird #1 on my iPad. Jim McCann writes them well, and it was nice to see a little Casanova in-joke in there for us Cass diehards. I’m not sure my budget can afford another Avengers book, but I certainly enjoyed the free sample.
  • No shit, Vertigo cancelled Madame Xanadu? Mmmmmmmmrrrrrrrppppppph. Where am I supposed to get my Anglo-Saxon fix now, dammit.

Uncanny X-Men #526 (Fraction, Portacio, Tadeo, Reber)

Uncanny X-Men 526 cover

Back in the X-saddle again. Cover by Terry Dodson.


“The Five Lights, Part One”

The X-Men have finally gotten out of Second Coming and can focus on their own direction for a bit. I think that should’ve happened months ago, but Marvel’s overarching plan for the X-books can be a little inscrutable at times.

Now that the big arc is out of the way, though, this book serves up a lot of old-school X-action. The ensemble-cast onslaught of the last year is nowhere to be found. Hope, Rogue, Cypher, and Dr. Nemesis make up one branch of the team, and Bobby, Warren, Scott, and Emma fill in all the cracks. Their goals are simple– investigate Hope’s family, and render assistance to newly emergent mutant Laurie. Back at the ranch, Emma has dinner with Tony Stark, and the X-Club finally make some time to attend to Kitty’s predicament. Nothing too hand-wringy, nothing too political; Scott doesn’t even have time to make an angsty speech about being the leader of all mutantkind.

Laurie deserves special mention here, as the first “light” on Cerebro’s display since M-Day. Fraction’s taken great pains to make her an appealing character– she’s geeky, she’s a little fixated on her studies, she’s having a standard finals-week breakdown. Sure, her origin is painful and upsetting, but a few minutes spent chatting with Hope and the others and she’s right as rain. I could use more mutants who aren’t totally consumed by their nasty beginnings.

The only downer here for me is that we’re losing Magneto for a while. Allan Heinberg and Olivier Coipel’s backup story, “Rebuilding,” shuffles him away from his campaign for Mutant Class President and into the Avengers’ “Children’s Crusade” miniseries. Heinberg delivers a great setup, but I love any Scott/ Erik tension I can get. I’ll miss the old man while he’s away.

Thor #612 (Gillen, Braithwaite, Rauch, Troy, Sabino)

Thor 612 cover

Tonight, he dines in... yeah, you know.


“The Fine Print, Part Two”

Mephisto has never been better than when Kieron Gillen’s writing him. He struts through every panel appearing to be fully in command of the situation between Asgard and Hell, then admits his weaknesses to the camera when no one else is looking. He’s got a soft spot for the man-eating Disir and an eye to tempting Thor, balanced only by a mortal terror of triggering all-out war between his hordes and the armies of the Aesir. Gillen makes Mephisto seethe with a brutal, sexual need for conquest, the hot-blooded converse of Loki’s cool-headed, disdainful ambiguity.

Doug Braithwaite offers up suitably epic pencils, and the rest of the art team responds in kind; this is an issue of Thor that looks and feels like a high-end RPG supplement about Mephisto and his realm. This is the book that will convince your Thor-dubious pals of his badass status. (Unless they’re fans of everything light-heartedly heroic, that is. In that case, you want Langridge and Samnee’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger, a book that is so fluffy I could die.)

Shit Just Got Real: Hellblazer #267

Everybody loves a holiday weekend, but they have dread consequences in comics: delayed new comics. It’s bad enough that Tuesday feels like Monday, but to have Wednesday shorn of all its meaning is just cruel. Just as I started writing this, Janice related to me that for a moment she didn’t think there were going to be bagels at her job today, because Wednesday is bagel day there. Bagel day starts with bagels and ends with comics, right? So no comics means no bagels. But there were bagels! How could this be?!

How the world entire doesn’t drown in chaos and madness is beyond me.

You know who is good at chaos? John Constantine. He’s currently having a little issue with the madness, though. Hellblazer #267 is mostly setup for Milligan’s big Shade the Changing Man arc, so there wasn’t really any meat there to review, but it very solidly establishes that John is even more severely fucked than usual. It ends in a splash page that might as well be the first panel of the story proper, and, in the most ironic way possible, shit just got very real for Bastard John:

Yeah, that should go well.

I know this week is hard with comics being late and all, but look on the bright side: you’re not John. And hey, new comics on Thursday isn’t so bad; the week’s almost over at that rate. And think about those lucky folks in the UK, they get their new comics on Friday! Instant party and the whole weekend to kill the hangover. Hang in there, gang. We’ll all get through this together.

“I’ll Tell You the Ultimate Secret of Madness…”

Hellblazer was my first love as an adult comics reader, which essentially made Vertigo my first drug dealer when Constantine was shuffled over to the (then) new imprint. I attacked just about every other early Vertigo title with the kind of gusto only a 19-year-old can summon. My next favorite book, after Hellblazer, was Peter Milligan’s reboot of Shade the Changing Man. As you can imagine, Milligan currently writing Hellblazer is really a personal treat for me, and the most recent ‘No Future’ story was pretty brilliant, all things considered. The next arc, however, by this point in the paragraph, should be a no-brainer as to why I’m excited. So, to cut to the chase, I offer the following Hellblazer cover art posted on the Vertigo website today:

Run, rabbit, run.

I believe this is where you young whippersnapper fanboys say “SQUEE” these days. My favorite touch is John’s tie and, as Janice’s ever-sharp eyes caught, his boxers. If there’s anyone in comics who can be said to have the Madness in his trousers, it’s John Constantine. Can’t wait.

Review: Demo #3

“Volume One Love Story”

Story: Brian Wood
Art: Becky Cloonan
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

How we deal can define who we are. Crisis, excitement, disappointment– the way we react shapes both our self-perceptions and the way others perceive us. Most of the time, the line between those two realities is pretty solid. For Marlo, the focus of the newest issue of Demo, however, this line doesn’t exist. All the little things most of us keep inside our own minds are forced into the open for her in the form of post-it notes. She has hundreds of them, each one a comic book thought bubble made real. They leak out of her home, onto the bus she takes every day, her innermost processing stuck to the light posts and newspaper boxes she passes. She holds a pile of them in her lap at her therapy session. They’re a crutch, but they make her happy.

Until, one day, other notes start to appear in her office, on her doorstep, in her house. Notes in another hand altogether. Notes that aren’t hers, whose author appears to know her quite well indeed.

“Volume One Love Story” wears its heart on its sleeve, just like one of Marlo’s notes. It’s straightforward and breezy, and as Brian Wood notes in the issue’s backmatter, on-the-nose is sometimes the only way to fly. Given how dark any given issue of Demo can be, this story’s placement in the middle of the series is both surprising and welcome. It’s a cheerful chaser, a shot of quirky sunshine in the middle of darker stories like issue two’s “Pangs.”

While Wood’s story- his “cutest” ever, according to Becky Cloonan- is certainly at the heart of things here, once again it’s Cloonan’s art that brings it to life. Demo‘s creative team really is a dream collaboration; I would love to see a reprint of this issue colored in the simple, bright style of the cover, just to enhance the bold linework. Becky also lettered every one of the post-its, and while Brian was careful to fill in messages for the plot-specific ones, the rest of the notes were all her own work. The end result, and the way they’re used in both story and art, is rather like a deeply personal set of the Oblique Strategies– Marlo uses them as guides to internal structure and springboards for personal expression, even consulting them during her therapy sessions.

We’re halfway through the series and Demo is holding strong with what might be its strongest entry yet. Wood and Cloonan promise another walk down the dark side of the street in the preview for issue #4, “Waterbreather.” I have a feeling I’ll enjoy the entire collection of tales either way, but I can hope for at least one more lighter note like “Volume One Love Story” before we’re done.

Capsule Reviews: Week of March 8th

Last week was busy with trailers and such. Here’s a little catch-up on last week’s comics!

Daytripper #4 (Vertigo, Moon, Bá, Stewart, Konot)

This is possibly the strongest issue of Daytripper yet, enough to change my thoughts on the book from “awesome” to “Eisner.” While the ideas I put forward in my full review of Daytripper #3 appear to still be true, I have to admit that I expected the events of this issue to happen in issue #9 or #10. This admittedly-subjective “hey, wait, what?” continues to make me happy, as it means I still have no idea where they go from here. I haven’t been so consistently surprised by something I’ve read in a long, long time. It looks like that’s not going to change any time soon.

Criminal: The Sinners #5 (Icon, Brubaker, Phillips, Staples)

I’m a fat sucker for pulp crime comics. I suppose it’s something of a blessing that our plate has been full enough that I haven’t been able to touch on Criminal: The Sinners since we opened our doors. I’m a little sad, now that this arc has finished, that I wasn’t able to give it the full treatment; hopefully that’s something I can fix when the next installment comes around.

Sometimes you need a hook in this sub-genre. Human Target is a good example. So much of Christopher Chance’s character hangs on his mastery of disguise that the subsequent TV adaptation lost all of the comic’s flavor by removing that element. Criminal, however, gets by simply on the strength of its characters. Each issue was a chance to see just how badly screwed up Tracy Lawless’ situation had become. The resolution was both better than I’d anticipated and appropriately dark. Also, the art throughout, both in Sean Phillips’ lines and Val Staples’ colors, is perfect. I love that they’re unafraid to fill the pages with black, just to the edge of pure expressionism. I’m looking forward to the next series (and maybe I can finally dig into that hardcover…).

PunisherMax: Kingpin #5 (MAX, Aaron, Dillon, Hollingsworth, Petit)

The end of this arc brings some surprise deviations from Punisher-standard narrative tropes. Jason Aaron’s having fun with his own sandbox to run Frank around in. Not only does this plotline end up with Frank getting his ass kicked, but said ass-kicking nearly kills him as well- close enough that I actually wondered if that was going to be the point of it all.

I love this version of the Kingpin, though, and I’m glad he’s fully established and apparently ready to keep on as a main player in the series. We find out just how cold he can be in #5, in amazingly restrained Dillon glory. There’s probably a comparison to be made between the events in this issue and the recent Cry For Justice ruckus, but I don’t think Fisk would give a shit, and that’s really all the difference in the world.

Next up appears to be a rather unhinged-looking Bullseye. I don’t have the same depth of affection for Bullseye that I do for the Kingpin, but in Aaron’s capable hands, I’m sure I’ll find something new to love about the character.

Capsule Reviews: Week of February 15th

Joe the Barbarian #2 (Vertigo; Morrison, Murphy, Stewart, Klein)

All hail Chakk.

Hear that? That’s the sound of a possibly awesome book becoming completely awesome. Grant Morrison turns in part two of a story that is rapidly turning into something I wouldn’t have expected from him. While there’s lots of little detail and callbacks to the first issue for the careful reader, those minutia never overwhelm the characters or pacing.

The task of getting those callbacks across often falls to the art, and it fails to disappoint. All those long establishing images of Joe’s house in the first issue that drew semi-critical ire elsewhere suddenly become very important. Sean Murphy’s style and vision settle in a bit and Joe’s world starts to clarify without losing its surrealistic quality. We’re also introduced to another central character, Chakk, the fantasy avatar of Joe’s real-life pet rat Jack. I found Chakk instantly endearing. Claymore-wielding rat-knights? Right up my alley. Vertigo can just go ahead and make a retail statue of him now, I’m good for it.

If you’re not reading this already, start.

———-

Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. #6 (Marvel; Bendis, Maleev, Petit)

Make with the blasty.

I’m guessing Bendis decided our heroine had enough mental trauma for the first five books, as issue six is delightfully uncomplicated: Jessica and the Thunderbolts fight. Atlanta burns. You get the idea.

That doesn’t in any way diminish the ride, however, as it’s a pretty fun fight. Ghost gets his ass kicked, Headsman really gets his ass kicked, Ant-Man is snarky, Yelena is annoyed, and Paladin… doesn’t really do anything, now that I think about it. And Jessica is generally awesome throughout.

I get the feeling, out of context, that we’re waiting for all the Siege stuff to be done with before Bendis really moves on with the character, which is understandable. As long as the fights are good, the dialog is fun, and the art remains especially pretty, I don’t mind killing time with Spider-Woman.

As long as she leaves the serious Ghost beatdown to Tony and Pepper, that is. A man’s got his limits.

———-

Hit-Monkey (Marvel; Way, Talijic, Hollingsworth, Eckleberry)

The Banana Transporter

I’ll admit it right up front: Marvel had my four bucks when I saw the Frank Cho cover preview.

This came out last week, and I thought it deserved at least a few words. I wasn’t prepared, though, for just how straight the concept was played; I sat on it for a week pondering how to approach it. In my defense, the ‘I’ in the logo is replaced with a banana, so I don’t think I can be faulted for expecting something a little more… maybe not wacky, but at least funny. What I got instead was an almost straight-line action/crime comic that just happens to involve a pack of snow monkeys.

There’s nothing outright wrong with it. The script is solid and the art is right in style for the genre. I have to give Way credit for taking the concept so seriously. It works for a one-shot, but if there’s ever to be more Hit-Monkey, I don’t know that the literal take will prove to be sustainable. I’m both glad I got it and not sure what to do with it now that I have it. I won’t be surprised if we never see it again.

Also, in an opinion that truly does not matter, I think I liked the whole concept better when it was called Hitman Monkey. C’est la vie.

Review: Hellblazer: Pandemonium

Hellblazer: Pandemonium

Writer: Jamie Delano
Artist: Jock
Letterer: Clem Robins

Apparently, all DC had to do to ensure a runaway success was put Jamie Delano back on Hellblazer. Our regular shop sold out of Pandemonium by the time we got there last Wednesday night. While out and about yesterday, we wound up calling six different shops, which only netted us one copy, Meltdown’s last. We had them hold it just in case. The effort was well worth it, though. There’s not many combinations of writer, artist, and subject that will make us drop $25 on a thin-ish hardcover sight unseen.

[Editorial note: If you’re looking for a copy in LA, Cat at DJ’s Universal Comics in Studio City assured me that he was talking to his DC rep ASAP and expected to have some in by Thursday or Friday. You might start there. If you’re not in LA, I can always point you to Amazon. –Janice]

I cut my adult comic teeth on Hellblazer. While the first issue someone handed to me with the timeless order of “Read this” was written by Neil Gaiman, it was Jamie Delano that really drew me in to the character and his dysfunctional world. Hellblazer remains the only comic I hunted through back-issue bins for in the days before reliable trade publication, a fact I’m glad about now given the holes in the series’ republication.

While it takes place in the here and now, Hellblazer: Pandemonium feels like it fits perfectly into Delano’s run on the series. This is John as I remember him best: stumbling into trouble, shrugging his shoulders at it, and then meandering out again at his own pace. He certainly tries to do the most good on his way out, but does so with his usual charm- or lack thereof. Only John Constantine could lose himself to the wicked joy of sating his gambling addiction in a game of poker where the chips are human souls and not come out tainted on the other side.

There’s a lot in Pandemonium that reminds me of the James Bond reboot of Casino Royale. It’s not close enough to make me think that it was Delano’s inspiration, though the poker game mentioned above certainly draws some parallels. There’s something about this older John that meshes well with Daniel Craig’s rough-edged take on Bond. There’s an immediacy of character shared there that makes John’s few truly unselfish moments in the story endearing instead of jarring. Delano has made the old boy age well without losing his edge.

On the art, Jock’s hit this one out of the park. He takes the frenetic style of his covers for books like Scalped and translates it to the entire book. The work is reminiscent of Dave McKean’s amazing covers from Delano’s original run on the series without aping it. Some favorite moments, in no particular order: John stepping off the plane in Baghdad in full trenchcoat. One of the best uses of a bottle of gin both in practice and as a visual pun. And by far, Nergal’s amusing little “HAH!” towards the end, one simple little joke of an image that speaks volumes about the demon prince’s actual relationship with Constantine.

I used to worry that Hellblazer would lose relevance over time, that it might become just another dark artifact of comics in the 90’s. Thankfully, its fortunes have improved in the last few years- Denise Mina’s run being especially noteworthy (and now collected in Empathy Is the Enemyand the already out-of-print The Red Right Hand.) Hellblazer: Pandemonium makes me especially pleased, and I’m happy to have hunted up a copy for my bookshelf. You should too.

Review: Daytripper #3

Daytripper #3

“Chapter Three: 28″

By: Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
Coloring: Dave Stewart
Lettering: Sean Konot

I wanted to review Daytripper when the first issue came out, before the blog existed. We set it up and issue two came out, and I still wanted to review it. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, though, and I’m glad I waited. Reviewing this series on the first issue wouldn’t have done it any justice or allowed me to really say anything; as it stands, I’m still hesitant to speak up on the third issue, because it’s going to be a work that’s judged on its whole. In a market where a great book like S.W.O.R.D. gets cancelled by the numbers on its third issue, it’s a pretty bold statement on Vertigo’s part to release something that’s not even going to really start to make sense until issue three. A lot of things started to click for me when I read “28” last night, however, and I feel like it’s time to talk about it.

One of the best discoveries I made in film school was the work of Krzysztof Kieślowski. He had a way of taking normal, everyday moments in life and elevating them to levels of great importance and meaning. This worked to tie the everyday existence of his characters into the arching theme of the film, oftentimes resulting in the medium itself or one of its aspects taking a role as one of the characters. The camera in Red is as much an actor as Irène Jacob; the music in Blue is working as hard as Juliette Binoche. They all, in turn, work towards the common meaning, avoiding hitting the viewer over the head with it but still carrying the message. It’s done with purpose, but not didactically, and the end result is lyrical.

Bá and Moon are in the process of accomplishing the same thing with Daytripper. On the surface, each issue is a slice of Brás de Oliva Domingos’ life; not random, meaningless moments, but the normal points of focus we all encounter. The day we meet someone, the day they leave our lives. A trip somewhere you may never go again, an important milestone for someone close to you. It’s a tribute to the twins’ writing that Brás’ internal dialogue is completely natural while maintaining the poignancy. He’s easy-going and instantly relatable, a character the reader can empathize with in the first few pages of the book.

Each issue has its own theme, at least so far, and this is where the similarity to Kieślowski really comes into focus. Issue one, being our introduction to the characters, is about life and death. (Since it is the intro, I expect the themes in issue one to be revisited in issue ten.) Issue two is all about faith. Issue three is about love. Each of these themes merge with Brás’ life by the end of each issue, punctuated with what other critics are calling the book’s “twist.” I think it’s a little unfair to put what Bá and Moon are doing here in the same category as your average M. Night Shyamalan movie, but I will admit that the quirky nature of the setup was the main thing that made me stop and wonder what they were up to with issue one. By issue two, however, the purpose starts to clear up; the narrative conceit feels less like a gimmick and more like the necessary punctuation to the moment where Brás touches the beating heart of the issue’s theme. His moment of absolute faith, his first awareness of true love– every time, the twist drives home the essential, shared humanity of Brás’s adventures.

I’m glad the series is as long as it is. I have seven more issues to enjoy more as my awareness of what they’re trying to do grows. Part of me hopes I’ve not got it all right, that I’ve missed something that will reveal another layer of the book’s magical realism, though either way I expect I’ll be surprised more than once as things progress. Fábio and Gabriel have really created something special here. Get in on the ground floor if you can.

Review: Demo #1

Demo #1

“The Waking Life of Angels”

Story: Brian Wood
Art: Becky Cloonan
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

The film school experience has given me a love-hate relationship with short films. I certainly love the format, and wonderful things can come out the strange place that makes you focus a story down to twenty pages or less. (They can be longer, of course, but this was the rough limit we were set to back in the day, due to budget constraints and perceived attention span of the festivals they were targeted for. In the page-per-minute paradigm, 15 pages/minutes was considered the sweet spot.) While not all short films are student films, by default the majority of student films are short films. And, let’s be honest, it takes a special kind of aesthetic fortitude to watch student films, and I can be fair enough to include the ones I was involved in as well.

The first few films of a student career span a very energetic time, and everyone involved is coming at it like newborns regardless of actual age. It’s intoxicating to have that much freedom early on, and doubly so if you’re any kind of realist and understand that it might be a while before you have it again. Whether or not the actual content needs it or not, the tendency is to push it as far as you can, to quote Dr. Duke. The end result is often low on nuance and subtlety, and usually hard to watch. But everyone has a good time doing it, and it is, for many people, the closest they’ll ever personally get to the craft.

It’s from this strange place that I read Demo #1, Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s second (and, now, Vertigo-published) foray into the Demo universe. What strikes me the most, the main reason why I shared the above observations, is that this feels almost like the film student’s dream. It been years since your thesis film, you’ve moved on into whatever corner of the industry you managed to worm your way into and then, with all that new experience behind you, you’re suddenly allowed to go back and do it again.

I certainly hope I’m not misreading how much fun Wood and Cloonan appear to be having, because it’s the feeling I came away with. I can’t think of another self-contained, single issue comic that carries itself from start to finish as deftly in art and writing as this one. The closest I can come is Neil Gaiman’s Hellblazer #27, “Hold Me”, but that involves an established character — that almost seems like cheating in comparison to Demo‘s “new character every issue” approach. In a landscape littered with mega-crossovers and reboots, it’s a breath of fresh air.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve never read the original AiT/PlanetLar series. I think we have a copy of the trade, though [Actually, we’ll have to pick it up; I’ve only got Channel Zero and Couscous Express –J.], and after this I’m certainly going to give it a go. Obviously, even though I used the film-school metaphor, I don’t mean to imply that the original issues were amateurish. I honestly don’t know. I can’t argue with their decision to come back to Demo, however, regardless of how it all started.