Friday, 18 July 2008

Re:Views 18/07/08

Literally nothing for me this week but this isn't a problem as I didn't write anything last week!
Criminal book 3: Dead and the Dying came out. (n.b.the image shown is from what'll be in the next book, lifted from Sean Phillips' blog. Can't scan the inside of Trades) This series is just great. It's different to but fills an open wound I have where Stray Bullets used to be. So far we've got a load of meaty crime stories about grubby, real characters in a grubby, real underworld with occasionally overlapping names and references to characters we hope we'll see later. In fact the only constant character in the book is the bar, 'THE UNDERTOW(n)' which often serves as the catalyst for the unpleasant fates of the principles.
The third volume collects the first three oversized issues of the second series. Three standalone stories which overlap greatly telling one story from three perspectives, also gives us a chunk of the origin of Mr Hyde who rules the modern day Criminal world. A great book. Part of me wants the issues with the great back matter written by all sorts of great writers and directors about crime/thrillers in all mediums. Space is the limitation for me, after years as a comic fiend, but either way, if you're not reading this you're missing good comics; both Brubaker and Phillips at their best.

Welcome back to the monthly Action Comics is great section. Action Comics is great! Tee latest issue gives us great Daily Planet moments, great Clark and Pa moments, and great Superman moments. What I find most impressive in the writing is that we're getting all of this Superman continuity stuff but told in such a way as to be completely accesible to anyone who doesn't know these characters. I've always thoughs Superman had the worst villains gallery in comics but Geoff Johns has already given us a definitive Lex Luthor, Bizarro and is now in the process, along with great designs from Gary Frank, of a definitive Braniac. We're also getting The Bottled City of Kandor for the 'first' time. I've always fancied the idea of The Bottled City of Kandor.
Lastly, a comic I'd been looking forward to for months! One of those great gems that'll dusty and forgotten to all but a few with good memories. Every once in a while both DC and Marvel will publish weekly mini-series or fifth week events to fill in the publishing schedule gaps left by the fact that 52 doesn't divide by 12. There's generally a gem in every bunch. I've yet to see one which has all quality books. Here are some examples of previous winners.
In '97 DC published the Tangent universe. An idea of Dan Jurgens, this was all basically concepts created from scratch based only on existing DC names. It was alright. Forgotten until recently made canon in the current DCU and collected in trades(!?!?!?). Far and away the best of the buch was Green Lantern by James Robinson, JH Williams and Mick Gray. The interpretation of the name is a ghost narrator who carries a chinese green lantern and tells stories of the unjustly dead coming back for closure/revenge. Though reitively early in his comic career, JH Williams already shows off his chamaelionic abilities, giving each of the short tales a different style. ONe looks like JH Williams, one has a Kirby/Kurtzman mix and the third has a weird mix of what looks like Noel Sickles, Alex Raymond and George Evans. Robinson's writing is great, as it generally is.
In '98 DC came up with New Year's Evil. Not too much of a high concept here, just one-off stories about baddies, all with great covers by Jason Pearson.Grant Morrison introduced his anti-Batman, Prometheus, who'd become a running villain for the JLA but the rest of the books only really made an impact if you were reading the related books (Flash, Resurrection Man). There was also a lame Darkseid one and a so-so Gog from Kingdom Come. And the winner was, by a country mile, the Scarecrow by 'Milligan' and Fegredo, with great colours by Bjarne Hansen (Superman: For All Seasons. This story got me good. A great impromptu redesign of the character (which stuck), Fegredo's kinetic art really coming into it's own after comics like Enigma and Face. We see clear influences of Toth via Mignola as well as an obsession foe page design and detail when necessary and empty space when not. The story has Scarecrow getting the run around by a girl that he can't scare and deciding that he's in love. It's screwed up as all tales of Batman villains should be.

Perhaps the most successful overall of these weekly books was Marvel Monsters from...Marvel. All the books had a monster reprint at the back and nice Eric Powell painted covers. We got Monsters on the Prowl by Steve Niles and Fegredo which has Hulk, Thing, Giant Man and (pre blue) Beast from the X-Men. The collector nicks loads of the monsters from Monster Island, which the Mole Man's not too happy about and while trying to get them back, accidently sets them all loose on Manhattan. Who can save the city, with the Fantastic Four out of town, if not the aforementioned Good Monsters? A fun story with great art as well as a Kirby reprint at the back.
FIn Fang Four by Scott Gray and Roger Langridge has a where are they now team up of monsters reduced by Reed Richards and holding down a steady job in society. Fin Fang Foom as a chef in a Chinese restaurant, Elektro as a delivery boy, Googam, Son Of Goom working as valet parking and Gorgilla as his sidekick. It's a great, funny, loving homage to Kirby/Ditko monsters that we'll see more of. Lastly is Devil Dinosaur by Eric Powell which has Hulk zapped back in time to be misled into fighting Devil Dinosaur. Then there's the inevitable team up against their manipulators. Like all the rest of the Marvel Monster books, there's a real affection for the source material (Kirby) and it's difficult not to enjoy it. (Plus the Coming Of The Hulk; but not THAT Hulk).
All of which brings us to DC's current outing into seemingly random weekly one-offs. Joker's Asylum are all stories narrated by the Joker. Now, Penguin is the first I've read, awaiting the Scarecrow but skipping the ones that I've no 'in' to. With Jason Aaron and Jason Aaron, there was no way I was going to pass. We seem to get a comic per year out of Jason Pearson over the last few years. They're always worth waiting for artwise but this is the strongest collaborator he's had in a long time. Aaron writes grim, violent, psychosis/physchotics and a lookback over Pearson's career and his own Body Bags show that he likes drawing them. His style has always evolved including colouring his own work but here he's coloured by Dave McCaig who's never failed me. The story's a great tale of the Penguin's neuroses and violent, defensive, overeaction for being a fat midget with a big nose. The character came to life a bit during Batman: No Man's Land but Ed Brubaker's run set him up as a villain to contend with. Though Burgess Meredith was Cool! Wagh!
That's it!

Thursday, 10 July 2008


Just when I think I'm immune to Mike Mignola's magical powers, getting used to the various covers for the Hellboy Universe that are never less than great, we get a cover like the one above for October's HELLBOY: IN THE CHAPEL OF MOLOCH one off.
Heavens to Betsy that fella can draw.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Reviews June/July

Ahem...This is like the early nineties Image comics of review columns. TO be fair (to me) there were a couple of weeks here with no comics. However I won't bite the bullet and go monthly...I'll make like Travis Charest and his bi-monthly run on Wildcats...optimistic all the way!
Where to Begin?

Let's do random!

'What if THIS was the Fantastic Four'. I loved the original Walt Simonson/Art Adams story from back when American comics come onto my radar but seeing this team supreme gave me more of a feeling of relief at having grown up than it did of nostalgia. THere's something TRULY sad about reading a great artists last comic, let alone the odd pages of Wieringo at the start of this book. Jeff Parker's story's great as it always is in my limited experience and the line up of artists involved is mostly top notch. Given the nature of this tribute book it would seem a little crass to pick faves among the artists though I will say with a lot of talent in there, I'd have happily just seen Skottie Young or Stuart Immonen. That said, there's something for everyone.
Action Comics 866. Don't know what 'Sighting' means, but that's what it says on the banner of another great Action by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank (et al). I saw somewhere that someone thinks it means that it's important to big DCU continuity. I've NO idea what that's upposed to mean. It looks great, the pacings excellent, the 'no spoilers please' splash is seriously dramatic and I'm about a day away from the next one by now! yay!
James Robinson's first Superman was good. I think the artist has gotten worse since I saw his work last but maybe I'm being unkind. To be fair, he tells the story well enough, but he's no Tony Daniel (!). Robinson's distinctive writing style is on here, though I feel I've seen his 'tell us about the troops bit' before, years ago on his first Wildcats two parter. Has promise...
Walden Wong did a good job over Paul Smith on the latest Spirit. It looked a little flatter than if he'd inked it himself (or had the great George Freeman over the top). Evanier and Aragones are still telling fun, perhaps overly light, stories of the Frank Miller creation ("I am the city") but I enjoy it every month even without Darwyn Cooke. This is especially good as PMS gets to draw mummies and make me feel fuzzy about Leave it To Chance : (
I've heard that we'll be getting some Jordi Bernet issues shortly, which can only be good for the Spirit but a loss for Jonah Hex. Maybe Paul Smith can draw some Jonah Hex!!!!

More monsters in the SUPERB Hellboy Crooked Man. The level of collaborator Mignola has at the moment doesn't even have me wishing he'd drawn it anymore. I always wish he'd draw something but I can't argue with Corben. Mignola's particular vision permeates every bit of the crooked man and while one can still tell that he's tailoring it for his artist(s) it's just more Hellboy. Exactly what Weird Tales wasn't. Buy it!
Back to Batman. Same as always. Weird complex, Morrison story with dreadful trainwreck Tony Daniel art that makes me feel more foolish every 3€s. Still happy to see where it's going based on the assumption that Morrison's not let me down recently but I never knew I could miss Andy Kubert so.

Jesus H Christmas, it's Darwyn Cooke with Palmiotti and Gray on fantastic Jonah Hex 33. Ol' Jonah comes off looking a lot worse in this story in the sense that he's really pretty unlikable but he's also seldom looked better as rendered by Cooke and given pish and vinegar by DAVE STEWART. If you're reading this and you've read it before than you've probably read the comic and there's nothing more to say or you've seen the names attached to the book and have already left to go and buy it! Coming up we get a JH Williams issue too! What I'm really looking forward to, though, are the Batman RIP Final Crisis tie-in issues.
Rasl 2 came out. Guest staring the Grinch on the cover and nothing but good comics on the inside. THis story has real tension building and the principal character's a very likeable anti hero. I think this boook succeeds and for me kind of needed to after the Shazam book which I liked but didn't love. Following Bone was never going to be easy and, again, while Shazam was good, I think I just want my Jeff smith in black and white.
Finally Crisis 2 hit with the cliff hanger we all knew we were waiting for. The return of Barry Allen. Have I mentioned that I've never read the original Crisis, or Flash for that matter. None of this mega continuity means anything to me and I'm really enjoying this book so far. It's building, building...J G Jones' art is very good, the colours are loud and the Japanes Super Hero team is just wicked. It reminds me of the Ultramarines storyline in the JLA with Ed McGuiness which is just pure flash but on every rereading shows more and more substance. The inevitable, but unwelcome, new of shared art chores from issue 4-7 is only slightly softened by the fact he'll share the gig with Pacheco. A few years back this would have been great news but he's either changed or is relinquishing more of his art to his inker Merino, and this isn't good. As always, we'll see. It'll all be over by Christmas...

Into the library for the book group and I get four trades I've been looking forward to for a while.
The longest wait is the Conan Born on the Battlefield trade. I'd picked up the first chapter in number 8 a few years ago and when I realised that they were 'ongoing stories' I'd wait for the trade. I'm really not a fan of the genre at all but what Dark Horse have managed to do with Conan is really incredible. Obviously, the talent involved helps. I picked up the first Conan trade on a whim...Kurt Busiek, solid enough looking art, good word of mouth and Dave Stewart colours. I learnt to love Cary Nord and Dave Stewart's collaborration. After Shock Rockets, Untold Tales Of Spider-Man, Superman:Secret Identity, Arrowsmith, Kurt Busiek is obviously the 'coming of age' man, and with such success on every project, it's worth following onto the next(anyone know if the Aquaman trade's worth picking up????). Greg Ruth's art is also something else. Muddy, moody, graceful, brutal, exagerated, realistic and basically perfect for the story of Conan's two births on the Battlefield.
I got shot of my Hellboy Darkness calls issues once I'd read the thing complete awaiting the trade and epilogue(s) it would bring (for a third reading : ). I got my Gosh bookplated edition to make it better still and found new details from the rereading as always with Hellboy. Fegredo's art is as perfect for this story as Corben's is for his and it's really interesting to see the supplemental material, showing Fegredo getting a handle on Mignola's world. There's also the mention that Fegreo was leaning towards a clean line/no solid blacks style prior to the series so viva Hellboy!
Vaya, vaya, vaya. I try not to buy 'comics' anymore. The nominal difference in cost is meaningless in real terms, though from publisher to publisher, my rationale for this decision varies.
With Image, I've always the worry that the series will stop dead in the middle, and I'm left with 1 and 2 of 6. With DC it's that they don't collect books unless they sell and all the books I like get cancelled. Hence the issues. With Marvel, there's a bit of the DC theory about it but also, I'm often excited by a series with all the hype and I don't care by the time the book comes out. It's grass roots money saving. With Dark Horse, the collections are just lovely. What's the Hurry? It looks better in the book.
This brings me to Umbrella Academy. I knew I liked Gabriel Ba. If you've read Casanova, you like him too! 50% Mignola, 50% Risso and 90% Gabriel Ba. Plus ol' Dave Stewart. Plus Factor X...the writer. I don't know his band so I didn't have any opinion or bias going in. The series is eccentric but consistent, an obvious labour of love by all concerned and meshes superhero/sci-fi and family drama seamlessly. Strongly recommended for fans of good fun, Grant Morrison and the new.
Lastly, but no means leastly, Kirby's Omac. A HC collection of the eight issues of stuff I'd read bits and bobs of. I bought this as a sampler for the Fourth World collection which are pricey, gorgeous, but can I justify $200 on Kirby writing. I was really pleasantly surprised that the nutty writing suits the nutty art. The semi prophetic inventions of Kirby are great even without trying to force context on the material in the reading. I not only recommend it but look forward to the Demon coming in a couple of months followed by the Fourth World when the money permits.
That's it. Sooner rather than later people!