So many funnybooks!
So little time!
Infinity 1, by Jonathan Hickman, Jim Cheung, and Mark Morales
Not entirely sure why I bought this. I generally find “event” comics to be a cancer on the body of the comics industry, creatively-compromised stories that are very seldom satisfying, and that usually just interrupt the flow of more interesting on-going series that I’m enjoying. I’m not even reading the Avengers series this one flows out of, finding the eight-dollar-a-month price tag too expensive for even a giant Jonathan Hickman epic. So why did I spend five bucks on this thing?
Probably because I’d just gotten the first three issues of Hickman’s Avengers for 99 cents apiece in a digital sale that charged me about what I think those books are worth. At that price, they were an enormously entertaining bit of spandex fluff with the sort of ridiculously weighty cosmic tone of Jack Kirby and Jim Starlin, and I was hungry for more. So congratulations, Marvel Comics marketing! Your brief flirtation with cheap-money comics got me to drop a five-spot on your next big bullshit event!
Will I spend more? Well… Infinity was pretty awesome, so I just might. I mean, I’m still not going to submit to the highway robbery that is the bi-weekly Avengers series. That would be insane. But I don’t need to. Hickman’s handily written this book so that you don’t really need all that expensive backstory. It’s also a big ol’ chunky slab o’ comics. I’m not gonna sit here and count pages, but the book is thick enough that I didn’t really feel like a chump for spending that five bucks. There’s a ton of gigantic, sprawling action taking place all across the universe and starring a cast so huge that it takes a whole page of Hickman-designed thumbnail drawings to identify them all. There’s creepy stealth assassin stuff, huge action set-pieces, ominous warnings, humorous small-scale skirmishes… You name it. There’s no real character development, of course, but that’s okay for a story like this. We already know and care about these characters, so you can coast a bit and rely on action and plot to engage the reader. There’s just enough human drama to keep the proceedings from being soulless, and that’s all you need.
It’s also pretty. Hickman contributes his trademark clean graphic design with chapter headings, flow charts, and a giant two-page spread for the credits. And while Jim Cheung is not what I’d call a master cartoonist, I like his clean lines, and his style is just idiosyncratic enough that I consider him an ideal super hero artist. All of which makes Infinity a stylish and creatively-satisfying piece of big corporate spandex event writing that might very well bring me back for more.
Trillium 1, by Jeff Lemire
Aahh. Good to see Jeff Lemire continuing to work outside the confines of the work-for-hire playground. I’ve been rather harsh in my estimation of his DC Reboot work, but Trillium is another beast entirely, a science fiction tale published in flip-book format. Sure, it’s a gimmick. But it’s a neat gimmick, and one that plays to the story itself. Because Lemire’s telling two stories here: one of a far-future scientist searching alien worlds for a plant that can save the human race from a deadly disease, and the other of a shell-shocked WWI veteran searching for meaning on archeological expeditions in the post-war years. It doesn’t matter which side of the book you start with; Lemire directs the reader to flip back and forth between them enough that you’re sure to get a proper taste of both. It’s an entertaining mix, with the two stories playing off each other thematically, weirdness, mysticism, desperation, and horrible violence all coming into play. The literal connection between the two isn’t obvious until you reach the end (or, rather, the middle), and even then it leaves you with questions. Intriguing mystery to carry you through to the next issue. A next issue I will almost certainly be buying.
Collider 1, by Simon Oliver and Robbi Rodriguez
Collider is blue collar science fiction about near-future civil servants who are called out to fix things when the laws of physics break down. The reason they’re breaking down, and who’s benefiting from it, are the book’s core mysteries, and I’m sure we’ll get to all that down the line. But this first issue is primarily concerned with introducing the characters and the problems, and it does a fine job of that. The writing is strong, grounded without being humorless, and a bit less jokey than the last comic I read from Simon Oliver, The Exterminators. But it’s the art that really puts this book over the top. Robbi Rodriguez draws regular people engagingly, and when the sci-fi action starts, he really shines. So while I won’t say that Collider‘s going to set anyone’s world on fire, it is strong, grounded sci-fi of a type we probably don’t see enough of.
Manhattan Projects 13, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra
This lucky thirteenth issue finds Hickman and Pitarra slowing things down a tad in the wake of Enrico Fermi’s outing as an alien hunter-killer sleeper agent, reassessing their various plotlines, setting their players up for the next act, and–
Okay, wait. Sometimes with this book, it pays to stop talking for a minute and reflect on what you’ve just said. To whit: Enrico Fermi’s outing as an alien hunter-killer sleeper agent. Seriously… Holy crap. This is a comic… an on-going series, mind you… starring Einstein, Oppenheimer, (until recently) Enrico Fermi, and most of the other greatest scientific minds of the 20th Century. The sheer damn oddity of that is so great that it should really earn each and every issue of Manhattan Projects an extra star whenever I review it. Because SCIENCE!
Ahem. So, that in mind… Good issue. Oppenheimer’s going crazier, Feynman still hasn’t figured out he’s dealing with an other-dimensional Einstein doppelganger, the non-geniuses are plotting, Kennedy’s in the White House… Holy crap I love this book.
Prophet 38, by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and Giannis Milogiannis
As bizarrely represented on Jim Rugg’s cover, this issue of Prophet forgoes the grotesque biological excess that’s become the series’ hallmark in favor of the clean weirdness of a being that’s chosen to exist as a group of shimmering lights. That being is Suprema, younger sister of Supreme, Rob Liefeld’s Superman stand-in. Suprema always was something of a prim and proper type (or at least she was once Alan Moore started writing her), so this complete denial of the flesh makes a sort of sad, weird sense.
Fans of the series’ trademark body horror need not worry, though: this issue also sees Newfather John Prophet get a new insectoid arm, and Long John merge with his giant lobster shell-brother to make a space jump and fight weird-ass aliens. So there’s plenty of goopy bio-weirdness, too. The Suprema thing just stands out for its pristine cleanliness. It’s also a hallmark of where the series is going as it continues and develops. As the only survivors of the Extreme Studios relaunch, Brandon Graham and his collaborators are inheriting the whole of the Liefeld-verse to play with, and they’re gleefully taking advantage. Glory and Badrock seem to be on the horizon, and I can’t wait to see what ravages Prophet‘s far-future dystopia have visited upon those two.
Fatale 16, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
The current Fatale storyline sees an amnesiac Josephine finding refuge amongst a bunch of directionless Gen X artistic types in the 1990s. It’s a story that offers Ed Brubaker a chance to write something a bit auto-biographical (having been a directionless Gen X artistic type himself), but it also reveals something interesting about his heroine: she may be as much a victim of her supernatural sexual magnetism as the men she attracts.
Stripped of her memories and the emotional baggage that goes with them, Josephine reverts to a primal state. “She makes love like a force of nature,” one of her young benefactors says, and that’s a good description of her unfettered behavior in general. Freed from all the horrors that drove her into isolation earlier in the series, she spends most of her time half-naked, swaying to music, admiring art, and seeking sex with whoever strikes her fancy at the moment. This is her true nature, I think, what she really is as opposed to what she wants to be. It would be refreshing to see her so uninhibited if it wasn’t something she’s fought so hard not to be. And, of course, if she wasn’t unknowingly weaving a web of attraction and resentment among everyone around her. Her freedom can only end badly, and therein lies the real horror.
Satellite Sam 2, by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin
More stylish intrigue in the world of early television. This issue sees Mike White (our ostensible hero) mostly reeling from his father’s death. He drinks too much, and wanders through his life (including the funeral) clutching the big fishbowl space helmet his dad wore in the title space opera. Around him, the rest of the cast schemes and maneuvers, the network’s survival depending on the show, and Mike’s ability to continue in the lead role.
It’s great stuff, with Fraction leaping athletically from scene to scene, the story taking shape piece by piece as we get to know the large cast, all of them suspects in the murder. Chaykin’s in fine form here, too, illustrating his favorite era and bringing his full artistic toolbox into play. These pages are just caked with zip-a-tone (or its electronic equivalent), giving the whole thing a kind of texture you seldom see in funnybook art. A classy package dealing with events that are anything but.
Buck Rogers 1, by Howard Chaykin
I remember reading an interview with Howard Chaykin, sometime back in the 80s I think, in which he said that everyone who was at all worth admiring in Depression-era America was a communist sympathizer. Now, that was a long time ago, so I might be remembering wrong, but it was nonetheless on my mind as I read this first issue of Chaykin’s take on Buck Rogers. That’s because Chaykin’s Rogers is a communist firebrand, a WWI patriot who soured on the system in favor of the rights of the working man. That’s an unusual take in the long history of the character, but it’s actually pretty faithful to the political subtext of Philip Nowlan’s original Buck Rogers novella, Armageddon 2419, in which rival American gangs (quietly organized along communist lines) fight under the oppressively capitalistic rule of the Han.
Now, don’t get me wrong; this is primarily an adventure story, as it should be. Chaykin might draw on the politics of the original Buck Rogers tales, but he also delivers all the two-fisted airship-jetpack-and-raygun action you could want from a Buck Rogers yarn. It’s kinda dumb in places, and the action is definitely the focus. It’s a fun bit of fluff, not a political screed. But the political angle does give that fluff some weight, and makes things a little more interesting.
East of West 05, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
I’m pleased to see this book breaking some of the action-adventure cliches it initially seemed to be built on. There’s more going on with the Evil Men Who Control the World, for instance, than just maintaining their power base. Death’s unstoppable quest to free his wife doesn’t end with the expected tearful reunion, either. And both of those breaks with expectation revolve around the same thing: the series’ actual plot. Which is to say, the end of the world. Not that we haven’t seen fictional apocalypses before, of course, but I like the cut of this one’s jib.
Resident Alien: The Suicide Blonde 0 (of 3), by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse
Resident Alien was a pleasant surprise last year, a good-natured, low-key small-town murder mystery starring a stranded space alien posing as a human doctor. This sequel looks to be more of the same, picking up the day after the first series concludes, moving forward with its themes, filling in more of the backstory of how the alien became Henry, and of course confronting him with another mysterious death. It’s a fun light read combining two of my favorite genres, and it’s always nice to see Steve Parkhouse art, so I’m happy to see that a book this… quiet… sold well enough to continue in a comics market that doesn’t often reward such things.
Thor, God of Thunder 11, by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic
At last, the conclusion of the God-Butcher saga. It’s been a fun ride, don’t get me wrong. GORR, BUTCHER OF GODS has been a totally Metal Thor villain, and I’ve particularly enjoyed Jason Aaron’s exploration of faith vs atheism, and how easily the latter becomes the former if you’re not careful (Richard Dawkins, take note). But it was time for this story to end. And man, did it ever end BIG.
KRA-KOOOOMM, indeed! This issue’s full of giant splash images like that, images of Thor being Thor, of total cosmic viking bad-assery on a grand scale. It also (in the manner of serial fiction) introduces another threat with a name that’s even more Metal than the last one: ALL-BLACK THE NECROSWORD! The SLICER OF WORLDS!
So fuck yeah I’ll be back for more! I’ll be back for more, even though the gorgeous artwork of Esad Ribic won’t be. Ribic is apparently due to return at a later date, but it looks like we’ve got Ron Garney coming up on the next arc. Which… Garney’s a fine funnybook artist. I like his stuff. But his work doesn’t transcend the way that Ribic’s does, and I fear that the series won’t be worth the four dollar cover price without something special in both story AND art.
But that’s the future. God of Thunder‘s been a great ride for the duration of the God-Butcher storyline, and this was a damn fine conclusion for it.
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys 3, by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon, and Becky Cloonan
I must admit, I’m reading this book primarily because of Becky Cloonan’s art at this point. The story’s fine, and it’s got interesting ideas about the destructive nature of conflict, and how oppressors and freedom fighters become all too similar in the end. But it’s not developing those ideas all that well, and I’m kind of bored with it beyond that. Or… not bored, exactly. More… disconnected from it. I understand the basics of the series’ future world (dehumanizing corporate rule in the cities, mere anarchy in the wild), but it hasn’t been realized richly enough to make me care about it. It’s not actively bad, understand. But it’s not worth four bucks an issue, either. If this weren’t a mini-series with Cloonan art, I’d have dropped it by now.