Recent Dorkiness

Sexy Blood-Drenched Diversions

So, since these “Modern-Day Kirby” posts are taking longer than expected, and since that means my stack of unreviewed funnybooks ain't gettin' any smaller, and since I'm really getting tired of looking at said stack... Well, I guess that means... FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!! Conan the Barbarian #1-3, by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan The team behind DEMO tackle Conan for an adaptation and expansion of Robert E. Howard's “Queen of the Black Coast.” Wood's turning in an entertaining and intelligent take on the character, true to Howard but with perhaps just a tiny bit more depth. The real show-stealer here, though, is artist Becky Cloonan, and her take on Belit the Pirate Queen. She comes alive under Cloonan's pen, every bit the force of nature Howard describes her as, all wild hair and wilder eyes, her abundant flesh less the sort of stroke-book bullshit you'd get from most funnybook artists and more a form of further intimidation. Sex as a weapon, if you will. Colorist Dave Stewart's also made a nice choice on Belit, taking Howard's description of her “milk-white skin” very literally, making her a phantom, even further removed from normal humanity. Cloonan and Stewart have really done writer Brian Wood a favor with this depiction, too. Conan's obsession with Belit is at the heart of Wood's story, and getting her look right is essential. So we go from Conan's fiery dream-vision of Belit...

click to embiggen

 ...to the even crazier reality:

click to REALLY embiggen

One part Amy Winehouse, two parts bloodthirsty lunatic... What's not to love? Seriously, though... That is one bad-ass illustration. I left it extra-big, in fact, just so all the art-lovers in the audience can really appreciate it. Because if you think she looks like a crazy bitch at this size... Blown up, she's completely terrifying. So many nice touches in this picture: the hair, the tongue, the way the black around her eyes gives just that little extra punch of "crazy" it needs to put her completely over the top. I also love the detail on that chain mail... thing... she's got draped over her boobs. It's got a nice Middle-Eastern feel to it, but then Cloonan's added in the perfect little touch to take it from "sexy" to "go away, crazy lady": that bone dangling on her shoulder. Gah! It feeds the story, as well. Considering Conan's beliefs and proclivities, the art makes it easy to understand the mad love that binds the two of them together into the maelstrom of violence and blood that's coming. And while that may just mean that this incarnation of Conan's funnybook series is standard pulp elevated by cool visuals... I'm okay with that. It's off to a strong start, anyway, and I'll be back for more. But unfortunately, Cloonan will be taking a break for the next three issues, so we'll have to see how the story fares without her (a test our next book has already faced, with poor results). For now, though, it warrants... Grade: A-

Batwoman #6-8, by JH Williams III, W Haden Blackman, and Amy Reeder

These issues, the first with artwork by Amy Reeder rather than JH Williams, were this book’s real litmus test. Could Williams and Blackman’s scripts hold water on their own without one of the greatest comics artists of the decade on visuals? The answer, sadly, is no. But I don’t think that’s Reeder’s fault. She’s an above-average funnybook artist with a fine line that occasionally shows flashes of brilliance. And she’s illustrating the story just fine. The problem is that Williams’ artwork illuminated it, adding a depth and clarity that may not be there in the words alone.

Of course, the story’s lack of focus is also starting to tell on it. There was enough going on with the various interpersonal relationships in the first five issues that I was willing to forgive a bit of meandering on the story of the watery ghost that kidnaps children. But now we’re seven issues in on a six-issue arc, and the case still hasn’t been resolved. In fact, Williams and Blackman are introducing new characters that take us farther away from resolution, and dilute what initially seemed like a pleasingly simple ghost story with thematic ties to Our Heroine’s past. If this expansion felt like a natural progression, or if the transition into the larger story arc had been more entertaining, I’d be okay with it. But that’s not the case.

Bottom line: if I didn’t know that Williams would be back on the art down the line, I’d drop this book like a hot rock. As it is, I may just start buying it digitally until he comes back. And maybe buying it cheap a month late, at that. Lord knows I’m not in any hurry to go running back into this mess right now.

Grade: C

Powers #8&9, by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming

Ahhh. Nice to have this book back. Yes, the Golden Ones murders feel like they’re dragging on a bit (though that may just be down to the massive delays between issues). But you know what? I don’t care. Reading these characters, interacting in this manner, investigating killings this ugly, and with artwork this pretty…

Deena!

…I am one happy fanboy.

Grade: A-

The Boys #63-65, by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun

Holy shit!

No, really. HOLY. SHIT.

This book’s been on fire this year. I mean, of course it has. There’s only one more story arc to go, and things were bound to get ugly. But… I mean…

Holy shit!

I’ve been expecting the book to end with some sort of final confrontation between the Boys and the Seven, but that happens here. Well, sorta kinda, because… like pretty much everything else in this series to date… of COURSE it doesn’t happen that way. Because that wouldn’t make any sense. For one thing, the Seven would rip Our Heroes to shreds (or their Big Guns would, anyway). And also… It would kind of go against one of the series’ core tenants: super heroes are shite at actually resolving problems. And that includes Billy Butcher’s Boys just as much as any of the bastards they’ve killed along the way. So while there are plenty of twists and turns in these issues, and tons of violence, and an ocean of blood…

...not to mention the series' trademark perversion...

…the actual resolution comes from an unexpected vector. Well… Mostly unexpected, anyway. I actually figured out issue 65’s big shock reveal before it happened, and I’ve been suspecting something kind of like it (if not the actual reveal itself) for a long time now. Which was a trifle disappointing, but still worth it, if only because it gave me maybe my favorite line of dialogue in the series: “You turned into a fuckin’ psychopath by mistake.”

Which is about as good a bit of closing punctuation as this series’ on-going critique of the super hero genre could have. Which, in turn, makes me wonder what Ennis is going to do in the final story arc. And virtually guarantees that, as always, I’ll be on-hand to find out.

Grade: A-

Spaceman #3-5, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

The year’s most stylishly dystopian funnybook makes being both stylish and dystopian look easy in these issues. Azzarello’s story is, as usual for the writer, a fun pulp romp. Nothing too deep, but entertaining and well-crafted nonetheless, with a nicely-pointed sense of satire. Of course, in what’s becoming a trend in my reviews tonight…

…it’s Risso’s artwork that really raises the bar and makes the book something special. Seriously, this book is so damn pretty that I really wish I’d liked the same team’s 100 Bullets more than I did. I think Risso’s better now than he was then, though; as good as that series looked, the work he’s doing now beats it hands-down. It’s beautiful stuff, and it keeps me buying a series that I might have given a miss if it had lesser art.

Grade: B+

Fatale #1-4, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

This book’s kind of the opposite of Spaceman. Which is to say that it’s a ripping good bit of pulp that I’d buy even if the artwork was kind of uninspired. Of course, the art on this series is anything but; Sean Phillips is actually pretty freaking awesome, especially on the noir material Ed Brubaker gives him to draw. So… Actually… Just ignore my segue. It’s meaningless. But it sounded good, so… Let’s keep going, shall we?

A new series in the fine tradition of the same team’s Criminal and Incognito, Fatale tackles noir from the perspective of hard-boiled pulp horror fiction. It’s the story of an apparently immortal woman who seduces (and ruins the lives of) two generations of men as she runs from a brutal Satanic cult. It’s great evil escapism, complete with lotsa blood, lotsa sex, and lotsa poor doomed fools caught up in it all. It might be my favorite of Brubaker and Phillips’ collaborations, and that’s saying a lot.

Grade: A-

The Manhattan Projects #1, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

I’m not going to say that Jonathan Hickman’s more personal, independent projects are better than his Marvel work, but…

No, wait. Actually, that’s exactly what I’m going to say. So, again, never mind. I’m just being silly.

Manhattan Projects is Hickman at his most out-there, I think. The story is set in a pulpy, super-charged version of the very real Manhattan Project’s Bomb City, and… well… without giving too much away… Hickman’s done something particularly horrible (aka: awesome) with Robert Oppenheimer, establishing what I can only call a sort of “quantum consciousness” for the father of the Bomb that’s absolutely terrifying. And while I never believed he was a serial killer, the story was so convincing in its particulars that I actually felt compelled to find out whether Oppenheimer really had a twin brother.

Also: samurai robots!

Series artist Nick Pitarra (who previously worked with Hickman on the considerably-less-batshit Red Wing) is really knocking it out of the park with this book. He’s embraced the whackiness wholeheartedly, to an extent that I think it might very well be a more natural environment for him than Red Wing’s more staid take on sci-fi.

Like Fatale, though, the art is only half the attraction here, and I’ll most definitely be back for more.

Grade: A-

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About Mark Brett (414 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

3 Comments on Sexy Blood-Drenched Diversions

  1. Mark—As you know (since you are the one who picks up my funnybooks), I’m only reading two of these you review here. But I have to agree with you about both of them. First…DEENA! In Powers, I’ve never warmed up to Detective Enki Sunrise, even though she has a great name, and the return of Deena Pilgrim will bring back one of my favorite characters to the series. While I often get impatient if there’s too much buildup and setup before the thing gets going, and while in some ways Powers reminds me of a police procedural (yet another reason to like it), I generally find with Powers that I enjoy the ride no matter what, and the only thing about it I don’t like is the delay between issues…

    As for Hickman’s Manhatten Projects, it simply blew me away. Like you, the thing had the feel of truth to it, so that I, too, looked to see if Oppenheimer had a twin. In some ways Oppenheimer is the greatest mass murderer of all time, you know, and that may help drive the feel of the book, but it’s also a creepy, thrilling, icky launch to what promises to be a fun ride!

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  2. Belit was never described as “milk”-coloured: ivory, yes, but not milk. Not sure what Cloonan was thinking making her a vampire. And I’ll have to agree to disagree on Wood’s Conan having any more depth than Howard’s: this incarnation just has some elements that aren’t represented in, say, Thomas’ adaptations. But to each their own, I guess.

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  3. To each their own, indeed. As I used to have on the masthead, anything I say here is just one dork’s opinion. Your mileage may vary. Thanks for reading, though.

    Like

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