Been busy times around the nerd farm here lately, and we've gotten behind. Some of these funnybooks have gotten a little stale – in fact, there's already another issue out of the first one – so let's get this thing going before the mold sets in...Miracleman 5, by Alan Moore and Alan Davis This issue features one of my favorite moments from the series, and– Actually, scratch that. It's one of my favorite moments in all of spandex fiction. A little kid runs across Miracleman out in the woods, and he asks Our Hero a question that's stuck with me for a quarter-century: It's one of those perfect moments I've come to expect from Alan Moore's writing, a little comedic scene that cuts right to the heart of the story. And Davis is really bringing it here, too. The kid might look unfortunately Cro-Magnon, but that look on Miracleman's face! Brilliant! Of course, the kid's cockney, so the question isn't quite what it sounds like to Our Hero: Ah. Such a nice use of phonetic spelling to tell us what Miracleman hears, vs what's being said. Sort of a Freudian slip in reverse. Thinking about emperors, are you, lad? Hmm. Can't imagine what that might foreshadow... There's the “pouf” part of it, too, of course. The homoerotic subtext of the super hero (grown man, spandex suit, fabulous hair) is pretty obvious, I suppose, and here it's the source of low comedy. “Pouf” is still a slur, though, so I wonder if it contributed to the on-going editorial concerns this run of reprints has faced. Tired of the debate over changing things in what some readers see as a spandex holy text, Marvel's finally just decided to sell every issue of Miracleman from this one forward sealed in plastic bags. Like pornography. Which is even funnier to me, for reasons that go well beyond the scope of this review. Anyway. That scene sort of sets the tone for the issue as a whole. Which is to say, it's mostly set-up, appropriate considering that it's the start of the series' second arc. We're introduced to Dr. Emil Gargunza (the scientist who turned Mike Moran into Miracleman) via an African hunting expedition, which allows Moore to go off on more of his Don-MacGregor-esque narrative flights of fancy. He's getting better at them, but I can't help but feel like this one's a bit of a step back from the genuinely lyrical tone-poem of Miracleman in flight from last issue. This stuff works best in the short form, I think; using it as a chapter-long conceit the way he does here makes it feel forced. Don't get me wrong; it's still better than the stuff we got in the earlier fight with Johnny Bates. But it does show that it's still early days in the legendary career, and Moore's still feeling things out. More impressive, I think, is the way he handles Liz and Mike Moran, and the strange triangle created by the introduction of Miracleman into their marriage. Liz loves Mike, and worries about the dangers inherent in him being Miracleman. Mike, meanwhile, feels increasingly inadequate in comparison to his other self, and increasingly turns to that other self to solve his problems. And Miracleman? Well, I think he loves Liz, too… …but her response to him is problematic, at best. That mix of love and awe and fear is fine for a god, but for a husband? Little creepy. And I never thought about it this way before this current reading, but... Is Miracleman's solution to the Moran's marital problems really just... having sex with her? “I realize you're terrified of the dangerous people who might want me dead, honey, but... Hey, look! Sparkle Dick!” Seriously, I can't imagine a better demonstration of the character's too-simple way of looking at the world. Or too simple for regular people, anyway. When you're a god, life really is a lot simpler, it seems... All this conflict further drives a wedge between Miracleman and Mike Moran, too, with Mike's self-doubt feeding over into his alter ego. Which is to say... The less Mike thinks of Mike, the less Miracleman thinks of him, too. He's begun referring to his human self as “Moran,” and seems just slightly contemptuous of him. That's a far cry from the relationship they had at first, when the reawakening of Miracleman seemed to give Mike more confidence. It also echoes back on something Mike said to Johnny Bates when he figured out that Bates had stayed in his super-body for so long: Hmm. Kind of sounds like a slippery slope Our Hero's starting down, doesn't it? Something else interesting to note here, in light of that little flashback: Alan Davis has begun to draw Mike Moran as much more of an average working stiff than Garry Leach did earlier in the run. Not sure if that's just down to the change in artist, or if it's supposed to signal Mike's decline in the face of Miracleman's rise. Either way, it's a nice touch. Rounding out this issue is a Young Miracleman “silent” story by Moore and artist John Ridgway. It's a cute little sci-fi thing, but nothing special in and of itself. If I remember correctly, though, it's a story that will echo back down the line, in the Gaiman / Buckingham run. But we shall see. Also rounding out the issue are reprints of two Mick Anglo stories: the first appearance of Dr. Gargunza, and a very odd Kid Marvelman story concerning a Wild Man From Borneo. Like the earlier Anglo reprints, these are not great comics, and really not worth the jacked-up cover price Marvel's asking. But, considering that I don't think there's any more Alan Moore side material left to reprint, I suppose this is what we should get used to from here on out. Much as I'm enjoying the monthly re-read of this book, I'm going to have to very seriously think about whether or not it's worth it. I can still re-read my Eclipse back issues, after all... Grade: A
United States of Murder Incorporated 1, by Bendis and OemingPowers is one of my favorite comics of the last 20 years, so the prospect of a new series from Bendis and Oeming is kind of an exciting one. Does United States of Murder Incorporated live up to the hype? Well... Yes and no. It's an interesting premise, certainly: it's an alternate history in which, instead of falling apart in the 1960s, the Mafia continued to gain wealth and power until it gained control of New York, operating it more or less as a self-contained city-state inside the US. The comic that's grown out of that premise has potential, as well. It's a coming of age story that gives us a look at the ritual of Mob society, and hints at the bigger picture of how it relates to the rest of the country. There's excitement, a bit of action, and a twist I didn't see coming. It's visually interesting, too, the story being told almost entirely in two-page spreads that let Mike Oeming open up and have fun with his layouts. What's the downside, then? Well...
Interesting as it is, as much potential as I see in the book… The actual comic feels a little… shallow. Bendis and Oeming have worked together a long time, and their collaboration has become increasingly free-wheeling. It’s given their work a breezy feel that can be refreshing, but sometimes there’s a lightness to it that makes everything seem a bit slapdash. Little rough spots are spackled over with a gag instead of being dealt with properly, and the plot sometimes feels a little more distant and disjointed than it should.
The best example of this in Murder Inc. is probably the train sequence. It’s just… pointless. There’s a fight with some assholes, Our Hero’s sexy redheaded bodyguard shows up unannounced and shoots a guy for no apparent reason, then she tells Our Hero to touch her boob for what appears to be little more than shock value. The whole scene feels tacked-on, and doesn’t make much sense. It’s a weird, unfortunate interlude eating up the whole middle of the comic, and seems doubly bad because the story on either side of it is actually quite interesting and well-done.
So. Good comic marred by bullshit. I’ll see where it takes me, and hope it doesn’t mean that Powers is done for good…
Southern Bastards 1, by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
I hesitate to call this book “fun,” but… This exercise in redneck noir is kinda fun. The story’s pretty basic: a grizzled tough guy returns to his hometown after 40 years, only to find corruption and trouble. It’s everything bad about the small-town South shoved right up in your face, in all its stubbly, ignorant, deep-fried glory. As someone who grew up in a small southern town, I feel like I can say that. Of course, I can also see the positives of that environment that it’s leaving out. But, hey. It’s noir. It ain’t supposed to be about the positives.
At any rate, I had fun reading this ugly, ugly tale, and look forward to seeing where it goes.
Stray Bullets: Killers 3, by David Lapham
Last time out, I wondered what Ginnie Applejack’s time associating with the Finger might have been like. And now… viola! …I know. As usual with Stray Bullets, it’s both more and less horrifying than I imagined. More mundane, certainly: the story’s all about Ginnie babysitting the Finger’s kids. What he doesn’t mention until it’s too late for her to say no is that he also wants her to locate and steal a satchel full of money his wife’s hidden somewhere in the house. And if she doesn’t find it… she gets the finger treatment.
Which, as the cover may tell you…
…things don’t go as planned. The reason they don’t go as planned really shouldn’t be spoiled, but it has everything to do with why Ginnie is growing into one of my favorite crime protagonists ever. She’s brave, resourceful, and a little bit crazy.
Hmm. Maybe more than just a little bit, actually…
Moon Knight 3, by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey
There’s really not much to this issue’s story of ghost punks loose in the streets. But, hot damn, the new bird-skulled costume Moon Knight puts on to fight them might very well be worth the price of admission all by itself.
Cyclops 1, by Greg Rucka and Russell Dauterman
I really had no intention of picking this book up. I haven’t followed X-Men with any regularity since Grant Morrison wrote it a decade ago. I also haven’t been much interested in this story they’ve got going right now, with the teenaged original X-Men running around in the present. So a comic about Teen Cyclops doesn’t sound like a real winner to me. But Greg Rucka’s been on a bit of a roll lately. And Russell Dauterman’s art is real pretty. Plus, they’ve got Cyclops running around in outer space with his dad and the Starjammers. And… god help me… I love the Starjammers.
So I picked it up. How was it? Not bad, actually. It’s a fun read that reintroduces the cast, establishes voices for everyone, and delivers solid doses of action and romance to boot. It reminds me a bit of the old Claremont X-Men stuff, before that book got mired down in endless grimdark and collapsed under the weight of its own angst. It’s good, solid, young adult spandex space opera of a type that I wish mainstream comics did more of.
That said, I don’t know how much more of it I’ll personally read. It’s well-done, and I enjoyed it, but I’m not a teenager anymore. My tastes are a little more complicated these days. So while this was a fun distraction… I think I might be done with it. If you’re into this sort of stuff, though, it’s dynamite.
Veil 3, by Greg Rucka and Tony Fejzula
But as long as we’re talking about Greg Rucka being on a roll… Veil is fascinating work. It’s an urban horror comic from a guy best-known for detectives and spies. It’s also a light… dare I say breezy… read, another surprise coming from a writer whose comics work has always felt so very novelistic. This book, though, feels like manga. Not in the art, which…
Yeah. Pretty far from a Japanese style there. But still. Veil reads like manga. It’s fast-paced and visual, and has not as yet slowed down for much in the way of explanations. I mean, don’t get me wrong. The story’s pretty clear: a bunch of suits hired a sorcerer to summon them up something, and that something is evidently Our Heroine. But beyond that… I wouldn’t hazard a guess. Not in print, anyway. I have my theories, but they’re all kind of half-baked, and I don’t want to run down that particular critical rabbit hole right now.
Still. Rucka’s given us enough. I understand the story, and the mysteries are tantalizing rather than confusing. Whatever he’s got planned, at this point I think I’m along for the ride.
Aaaanndd… That’s all for now. More reviews next week, including yet another Miracleman, new Velvet, and an East of West comic with a scene that caused a bit of a stir when I read it in a restaurant at lunch yesterday…