So normally I’d preface this with a pithy introductory paragraph. But this time, I think the title says it all…
Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses 16
by David Lapham
Holy shit what a great comic! I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a Stray Bullets more in quite some time. It furthers the on-going story of Beth and Orson’s master plan to free Nina and run off with a whole bunch of money, but it also delivers on a great set-piece, a spiffy done-in-one that starts off tense and explodes into craziness. Plus, it’s got this guy:
That’s Freddie Heyber. He’s the hapless night clerk at the motel Our Heroes stop at, hoping to get some sleep and lick their wounds for a few hours. Tensions, however, are running high.
Kretchmeyer’s convinced that Beth planned to betray him (which she kind of did), and he’s holding the rest of the crew at gunpoint until they get things straight. Also, they find that one of the suitcases full of money they thought they stole was actually full of cocaine. Which leads coke-addict Nina to grab a brick and lock herself in the bathroom, while Kretch and Orson use a bit of it themselves to deaden the pain of their injuries.
And Beth, meanwhile, is… Beth. So it’s not long before everybody’s screaming at each other, attracting Freddie’s terrified attention. Which is unfortunate, because Kretchmeyer has locked Joey in the trunk of their car, and his thumping on the lid pulls Freddie away from their window and onto their car…
…where he suddenly becomes convinced that Our Heroes are there to rape the poor kid. The clerk suffered abuse as a child himself (though it’s implied in a series of painfully funny phone calls to the cops…
…that he may have made that up), and Joey’s presumed fate drives him off the deep end. Before it’s all over, violence has erupted, blood has been shed, and I have not stopped laughing for many, many pages. So–
Oh, I’m a sick bastard, am I?
Well, you can take your opinion and–
Nah, okay. I’ll cop to that.
But this is still the Funnybook of the Week.
East of West 27
by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
Much like in Stray Bullets, and for not dissimilar reasons (lies, betrayal, insanity), the shit hits the fan in this issue of East of West. The Chosen finally meet, and that goes about as well as you’d think it would.
So after months of plotting, and pages of shouting, it all comes down to violence. I suppose it was always going to. This is a book about the apocalypse, after all. Wanton bloodshed was always inevitable.
And now for the book promised on the label…
by Tom King and David Finch
Damn, but there’ve been a lot of Batman comics coming out lately. I mean, I suppose there are always a lot of Batman comics coming out. It’s Batman, after all, and never let it be said that an American funnybook publisher didn’t milk a cash cow til it dropped dead of exhaustion. The difference, I suppose, is that here lately there’ve been a lot of Batman comics coming out that I actually want to read. I mean, this makes three in as many weeks, and I don’t know that I’ve bought that much Batman in that short a period of time, ever. But that’s what happens when a book goes bi-weekly, I guess. If a special or two comes out (as they have the uncanny way of doing, when you’re talking Batman), you find yourself reading it every damn week. It’s exhausting.
But, anyway. Frequency of publication notwithstanding… Is this particular Batman comic any good?
Yeah. Yeah, it’s not bad. I still have some problems with it, but it’s better than King’s first issue, at least, and that gives me hope for where he’ll be going next. One thing I particularly like here is that he follows kind of a classic Batman story structure. He starts with a crime…
…introduces a mystery in connection to that crime…
…has Commissioner Gordon outline the case to Our Heroes…
…and wraps the issue up with a surprise reveal at the end.
It’s a formula, sure. But King handles it well, riffing on the melody here and there, adroitly continuing his on-going subplots in connection to the story at hand, and bringing Gordon into the narrative naturally. Plus, in case you didn’t catch it before…
It’s got Solomon Grundy in it! And that earns the book a star all by itself.
Grundy’s a personal favorite of mine, a weird monster from the Golden Age of comics, his body formed out of rotting vegetable matter in a place called SLAUGHTER SWAMP, animated by the vengeful spirit of a spiteful old man. He used to fight Green Lantern, back when he was the secondary hero of Gotham City behind Our Man the Bat. Always thought it was a shame they didn’t use him more in Batman. He seems like a natural addition to the rogues’ gallery. So it’s good to see him here.
I will say that Batman defeats him far too easily. A judo toss and a boot to the throat really doesn’t make for a convincing take-down of a giant magic swamp-zombie, even if he has just spent a few pages duking it out with Gotham City’s answer to Superman. This calls back to the problem I had with King’s first issue: he has Batman doing stuff that stretches credulity, while at the same time taking a detailed, realistic approach to his operations that underlines the character’s vulnerability. A few panels later, for instance, King has Batman counting microseconds, which doesn’t sit quite right for me. Being Batman is more an art than a science in my mind, so that kind of conscious precision doesn’t jibe.
But I was talking about Solomon Grundy, wasn’t I? Grundy makes a splash, but he’s really only in the book for a few pages. He seems to be here primarily as foreshadowing for another threat.
The Monster Men, if you’re not in the know, are also Golden Age bad guys, dating back as they do to Batman #1. The first Batman #1, that is. Not the Batman #1 that came out two weeks ago. No, not the Batman #1 that came out as part of the New 52 relaunch, either. You know. The REAL Batman #1. The one from the 1940s. The one that– Oh, hell. Here, just look at this:
So that, apparently, is what’s coming: super-strong giants dressed in trench coats and slouch hats, like Solomon Grundy’s more stylish cousins. Or… something like that. Considering that Batman doesn’t recognize the term “Monster Men” when Gordon asks about it, I’m guessing that this will be a reboot of some kind. Unless… Oh, lord. I guess it’s possible that the Monster Men are one of those things Our Hero’s supposed to have forgotten about because of Rebirth. Which…
Actually, you know what? I don’t care. That shouldn’t matter to my ability to enjoy a freaking Batman comic, so I’m just going to let it go. And if the story does wind up shoving Rebirth business in my face somewhere down the line… Well, that might be the last issue of Tom King’s Batman I’ll be reading.
And that would be a shame. While this book’s still only in the “Okay, Not Great” category for me, King’s stuff tends to build slowly, and I’m kind of looking forward to seeing where the book will be in six or eight issues. So hopefully, it’s a reboot. Or something tied to the speciality of that SPOILERY fellow revealed on the last page…
Cinema Purgatorio 3
by Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill, and a Host of Others
So at this point, I’m mainly buying this book for the title feature. That strip, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s Cinema Purgatorio, is developing nicely. The first couple of strips were interesting, but it was obvious they were still feeling their way into it. This month’s “Flame of Remorse” strip feels more sure-footed, and works on a better conceit: How do movie serial heroes escape the certain death they face at the end of every cliffhanger episode? Obviously, they must have the ability to move around in time, mysteriously rewriting history to correct even their most fatal mistakes. The only sane response to facing such an unrelenting, implacable foe… would be despair.
They also flesh out the setting of the dilapidated old theater. The strip is set up as a recurring dream (or at least, what the narrator takes as a recurring dream, though the title suggests something a bit more sinister). And as happens in recurring dreams, details are getting filled in. I’m particularly taken with the manager, a knowingly creepy little man with a Hitler mustache:
Anyway. I’m enjoying that strip, and I’m starting to see it heading in interesting directions. The rest of the book, however, ranges from mildly amusing to downright unreadable. Garth Ennis’ Code Pru is still the stand-out, I think, with its tales of everyday monsters. Though the Pru mini-series that preceded these short stories struck me as pointlessly grotesque, I find the strips here to be strangely charming. If you can say that a story about a killer alien demon worm that hypnotizes with a glance and bleeds LSD is “charming.” Which, apparently, I can.
Kieron Gillen’s Modded is also a charmer, though a bit less satisfying. Pru tells a complete one-and-done every issue, while Modded doles out chunks of a longer story that feels less substantial and gets more bogged down in exposition at the same time. I like its “Pokemon with Demons” premise, but it’s already spinning its wheels after only three issues, and I’m not sure the premise by itself is enough to keep me interested.
The rest of the book fares even less well with me. I still skim Christos Gage’s The Vast every issue, just because I like giant monsters, I guess. But that skim’s becoming faster and less enthusiastic with each passing issue. It’s not a bad strip, really. It’s just not my thing. Max Brooks’ A More Perfect Union, on the other hand, is flat-out crummy. The art is barely professional, and the story (an alternate history where it’s the Civil War, but we’re fighting alien bugs instead of each other) leaves me completely cold. I started in on the first page of this third installment, and just gave up. It’s not worth the time or the effort.
So! That’s Cinema Purgatorio. Like all anthologies, it’s a mixed bag. You hang on for the strips you really like, and treat the rest as fits your taste.