Recent Dorkiness

Back in the Saddle: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

lapham-racecars

So here we are again, reviewing funnybooks. Been awhile. Longer than I’d intended, honestly. But I need to recharge my batteries on these things every so often, and I guess the last month or two has been my time to do that. So let’s see if we can’t hit the ground running now that we’re back…

Jessica Jones 3
by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos

mack-jessica-jones-4

I’ve been kind of holding my breath on this book, waiting to see which Bendis was gonna show up: the Professional Writer of Corporate Properties, or the Writer of Compelling Character Studies with Occasional Outbursts of Violence. Because you never really know which you’re going to get with him anymore, and too often in recent years, the former (the one I don’t like) takes up so much of his time that the stuff he does as the latter (the one I do like) winds up feeling rushed and kinda half-assed. I don’t blame him for that or anything. I’m sure the Professional Writer of Corporate Properties gig pays a lot more, and I know he’s got mouths to feed. An increasing number of them, last I heard, thanks to his and his wife’s kindness and generosity in adopting orphaned children. Something that’s a lot more important than providing my sorry ass with Bendis books I care about reading.

But, anyway.

On Jessica Jones, we seem to be getting some strange amalgam of the two Bendises. It’s thus far been a compelling character study that’s also tied up in the inner workings of Marvel Comics’ corporate super hero universe. Which is what the previous Jessica Jones series (Alias) was supposed to be, but was never quite allowed to be because of its “Mature Readers” label.

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We seem to have gotten past that now, however, since in this issue (SPOILER!) the mystery of why Jessica’s made herself a pariah from the super hero set gets answered: she’s working undercover for Carol Danvers.

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I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s frankly a little jarring to have Captain Marvel sitting around, in costume, in the middle of what has thus far been a fairly well-grounded detective comic.

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Well, alright. We do have The Spot running around punching people in his full duo-tone polka-dotted pajamas. But he’s played at least partially for laughs. And Jessica threatens to rip his junk off, so… Look, it just works better, okay?

It’s not that the Captain Marvel scene is bad or anything. And I do like how artist Michael Gaydos has given Carol cheekbones to die for. But she just doesn’t fit with the look and feel of the rest of the book. Maybe that’s on purpose. Maybe Gaydos and colorist Matt Hollingsworth went with the full flat primary colors to visually separate Carol from the world of shit Jessica’s crawling through for her. But in the end, she just winds up looking… kinda silly.

But I’m getting sidetracked again.

What’s really bugging me about this revelation, I think, is that it takes us out of the realm of compelling character study, and into the realm of plain old plot-driven storytelling. I really wish Bendis had kept us guessing longer, so we could have the fun of figuring out what Jessica was up to, and why. I mean, we waited two years to find out why she was so messed up in the original series. A mere four issues to find out that she’s not that messed up again is disappointingly quick.

I’m also not sure I buy Jessica keeping Luke Cage out of the loop on this thing, and effectively stealing their baby. I mean, Carol does stress the need for absolute secrecy. Nobody could know that Jessica’s undercover, or else this new anti-super hero hate group wouldn’t have tried to recruit her. But surely Luke could be trusted to keep that secret. Or at least to take care of their daughter in the meantime. And if they didn’t tell him because they wanted his reaction to be genuine…

(Which it was.)

(Which it was.)

…that’s a pretty shitty thing to do to your husband. I was more willing to believe that Jessica had really screwed something up, and was shutting him out to fix the problem on her own.

Also… THIS was their big plan? Put Jessica in prison on fake charges, then just WAIT for this hate group to contact her? So basically, she threw her whole life in the garbage, just on the off-chance that these people would try to recruit her. Couldn’t she at least, I dunno… do some stuff to get their attention? Make it known that she’s holding a grudge? Go out and rough up Hellcat or somebody?

(Sorry. Just an example.)

(Sorry. Just an example.)

That’s sloppy plotting. The sort of thing I have unfortunately come to expect from Bendis when he’s in a rush. Which, it seems, is increasingly always.

But somehow, in spite of all that, I still enjoyed reading this issue. Benidis’ trademark natural dialogue always flows better when his characters can curse in the way that people actually do. And even though I’m disappointed that the mystery of what’s actually going on with Jessica Jones has been solved so quickly, there’s still something satisfying in having that cleared up. It’s good to know, at least, that Bendis hasn’t rolled back more than a decade of development with this character just to better-match the TV adaptation. I also like the wider mass-media coverage Our Heroes’ lives are getting. It makes the book feel like it’s taking place in a real world. That was sort of the point of Alias, and it’s good to have it back here. Even with that primary-color intrusion from Captain Marvel.

Grade 3 Star

Shipwreck 3
by Warren Ellis and Phil Hester

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Much like Jessica Jones, this book has revealed a major piece of its central mystery: the nature of the experiments that left Our Hero Dr. Shipwright in the wasteland world he wanders through. Unlike Jessica Jones, however, that revelation doesn’t change the essential nature of the story. It’s still mysterious and dreamlike, driven by allegory as much as plot. And though I’m now pretty sure we’re looking at an alternate Earth, I still don’t know what happened to leave it in such bad shape. Which is all to the good. Such intrigues are, after all, why we read.

Grade 4 Star

CAGE! 4
by Genndy Tartakovsky

Genndy Tartakovsky’s tribute to 1970s Marvel ended in much the same way it began: funny and entertaining, with some great cartooning…

tartakovsky-cage-4

…and a story that barely makes any sense at all. I can forgive that lack of sense, though, because it’s been so very much fun that I don’t really care. It’s the kind of book where you just have to go along for the ride.

Grade 4 Star

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye 3
by Jon Rivera, Gerard Way, Michael Avon Oeming, and Tom Scioli

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This is by far my favorite of all the releases from DC Comics’ “Young Animal” imprint. Sort of the “new Vertigo” by most people’s reckoning, Young Animal is being curated (and, in part, written) by My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way. Way’s own Doom Patrol isn’t quite firing on all cylinders, Mother Panic has promise but suffers from disjointed storytelling, and Shade the Changing Girl is… I dunno. It’s not bad. But I just don’t personally care for it. Too “high school” for my taste, I think. But I’m a middle-aged white man, so what do I know?

Well, actually… I know that Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye is a lot of fun. And not because the hero is also a middle-aged white guy. Though he is. It’s not any personal identification with Cave that draws me to the book, though. I honestly don’t care a whole lot about his mid-life crisis / father-daughter relationship issues. I mean, I’m not a monster. I feel for the guy and all. But that’s not why I’m enjoying it so much.

No, I’m enjoying it because of its enthusiastic embrace of the Cave Carson oeuvre. Underground kingdoms, giant worms, completely fictional radioactive elements that cause giant worms… This book puts it all right out there and says, “Yep.”

oeming-cave-carson-3-giant-worm

“All those things are real, and all those bizarre things happened, and you know what? That’s just part of the tapestry of this guy’s life. Deal with it.” Then it gets on with the important business of wallowing in just how cool it all is, complete with op-art Ben-Day Dots courtesy of artist Mike Oeming. I mean, c’mon! There’s a Mole Machine!

oeming-cave-carson-3-mole-machine

MOLE. MACHINE.

And that is awesome.

Also pretty awesome is that, for no reason at all, this book also features Wild Dog!

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WILD. DOG.

Why Rivera and Way would choose to include DC’s failed-and-forgotten attempt at an ultra-realistic street-level vigilante in a book about Mole Machines and giant worms is beyond me. But there he is! And it works! It works far better than it has any right to. In fact, I think Wild Dog may be one of the reasons it works as well as it does. Not that he’s a breakaway character, or anything. But he is a forgotten, scoffed-at character in much the same way Cave Carson is. A piece of weird funnybook flotsam that’s drifted up where you least expect it. So he fits. More importantly, though, his very grounded, very realistic treatment (hockey mask and some guns) reminds you that, yes, all this is happening in a world you can mostly believe in. Plus, there are giant worms and Mole Machines.

Then there’s Tom Scioli. The man who brought us last year’s magnificent Transformers vs GI Joe is providing a backup strip under the title of “Super Powers,” and it is pure molten insanity. One part Super Friends, one part Jack Kirby fever dream, this issue’s entry alone features the Wonder Twins, a Superman Build-a-Friend straight out of Kirby’s OMAC…

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…and a new secret origin for Green Arrow that somehow includes Starro the Conqueror and an other-dimensional mentor named Xeen.

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Seriously… What the fuck?

It’s only three or four pages a month, but holy shit! Even if the lead feature was only so-so, I might pay out my four bucks just to get this.

Fortunately, however, I don’t have to face that particular heart of darkness. Because Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye is the goods cover-to-cover. It occurs to me that maybe the illustrations I chose above don’t entirely convey the weird beauty of this book. So here’s my favorite page from issue three: a dream sequence/memory as Cave bathes in an underground waterfall:

oeming-cave-carson-3-dream

Gorgeous. Mike Oeming outdoes himself on this book at least once every issue. And if you know how much I’ve rhapsodized over his Powers pages in the past, you know that’s high praise. So while this isn’t the greatest comic on Earth, it’s still one that I look forward to reading every time I see a new one on the rack.

(EDIT: Just as I was preparing to post this, I suddenly realized that, somehow, I managed to review a month-old issue of Cave Carson. Apologies. I bought a copy of it over the weekend, to get that kick-ass montage cover seen above, and didn’t realize I’d missed it back in December. Which means that the other copy I bought last Wednesday must actually be issue four. So, cool! More Cave Carson for me!)

Grade 4 Star

And now we come to what were probably my two favorite comics from the last couple of weeks. Books that I would normally lead the column off with, in fact. But I decided to shine the spotlight on some other stuff for a change, and leave the best for last…

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses 20
by David Lapham

lapham-sunshine-and-roses-20

One of Stray Bullets’ more beloved running gags is Amy Racecar. Juvenile, over-the-top, and horrifically – if comedically – violent, the Amy Racecar stories are the wish-fulfillment fantasies of young Ginny Applejack (one of the series’ two primary leads), with Amy standing in as a grown-up, more bad ass version of Ginny. But since Ginny’s not in Sunshine and Roses, the Amy Racecar stories here have instead focused on the character of Li’l B, a pint-sized version of Beth (the series’ other lead), who hero-worships Amy (who is of course a famous criminal mastermind and spree killer).

Got all that? Good.

At this point, I’m not sure who’s supposed to be writing the Li’l B stories. I’m assuming it’s still Ginny, but I dunno. Ginny certainly knows Beth, and kind of idolizes her. So the role reversal is rather clever. But Sunshine and Roses takes place before Beth and Ginny meet, and the Li’l B stories include details of Beth’s life that I’m not sure Ginny knows (like the almost-pathetic devotion the psychotic hitman Monster feels toward her).

Of course, that’s not to say that the two of them won’t meet again somewhere down the line, and that Ginny won’t learn more about Beth and incorporate it into her writing. The role reversal stuff, in fact, might suggest some interesting times ahead for these two. If nothing else, it suggests that Ginny comes to see Beth as an ungrateful bitch who uses everyone around her (and she wouldn’t be entirely wrong if she did).

If I went back and looked, Lapham may have planted hints as to when and why all the various Amy / Li’l B stories were written. He does things like that sometimes. But without that context, the Li’l B stories seem… adrift, somehow. Impossible fiction from the future, inserted in-between stories set in the past. Which is a notion, I suddenly realize, that I like quite a bit.

Anyway. That’s an awful lot of complicated thinking to do about a story featuring a cosmic princess and a guy being killed with a severed head.

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But that tension between the sublime and the ridiculous is part of what makes Stray Bullets such a very good comic in the first place. I know I’ve said this before, but… If you ain’t readin’ it, WHAT THE HELL’S WRONG WITH YA?!

Grade 4 Star

Kill or Be Killed 5
by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser

This series begins its second arc with an escalation. Not necessarily an escalation in the level of violence; the one killing that takes place in this issue is almost… antiseptic… by the book’s previous standards. So the escalation one of attitude. Cut loose from the moorings of his ill-advised love affair with his best friend, Our Hero stops agonizing over the morality of his vigilante actions. He sees someone he thinks deserves death, and goes about the business of killing him with a sort of cold-blooded efficiency. Of course, he’s still not as good at this as he thinks, so things don’t exactly go according to plan.

phillips-kill-or-be-killed-5-cop

But, still. He’s moved on in his thinking. The demon who inspired him to do all this (whether real or imagined) barely appears at all anymore, except out of the corner of his eye. And when he does, he’s filled with a mixture of approval and contempt.

phillips-kill-or-be-killed-5-demon

I like the way Brubaker’s handling this slow slide into atrocity. Like most horrible things, killing gets easier the more you do it. The guilt slips through your fingers, and then it’s gone. I’m not sure what that leaves you with in the aftermath, but considering that Brubaker’s said this may be the longest strip he and Sean Phillips have ever done, I think we’ll eventually find out. And in the meantime, it’s a fascinating ride.

Grade 4 Star

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About Mark Brett (432 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/.

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