So I haven’t done a decent round of funnybook reviews in a while. Let’s take care of that now…
Batman: White Knight 2
by Sean Murphy
I liked the second issue of this book quite a bit. That may have just been because Sean Murphy took a potshot at the more modern versions of Harley Quinn in favor of the classic…
…which is an opinion I can wholeheartedly get behind. “Cheerleader with a bigger rack” does a pretty good job of explaining why I’m not a fan of Nu-Harley. Though I might also toss in “half-naked roller derby goth-slut,” just to cover every variation of horny teenage character design she’s been subjected to by ostensibly grown-ass humans.
But at any rate…
I think what really makes this issue so compelling for me is that, once Murphy gets the joke/commentary out of the way, he spends most of his time examining the relationship between Harley and the Joker. It’s good character work, but it also establishes an MO for this version of the Joker in a way that the first issue didn’t quite manage. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to believe his claims that he never killed anyone, but it’s clear that this is more the “thieving madman” take on the character than it is the “manic serial killer” version that’s become more popular in modern times.
And I’m good with that. If we’re really supposed to buy into the role reversal at the book’s heart, this Joker needs to be a bit more Caesar Romero than Alan Moore.
Overall, this is a nice character-based issue that goes a long way toward making this alternate take on Batman’s world gel. Murphy’s cherry-picking classic elements and using them to create something new, something more complicated and grown up than we’re used to. It still has a touch of the farcical about it, mind you. And it’s not the greatest Batman story ever told. But it’s compelling. It’s a good read, and that’s a nice thing to have. Because it lets me enjoy a Batman comic., and sometimes I miss the big lug.
Mister Miracle 4
by Tom King and Mitch Gerads
My thoughts on this book remain much the same as last issue: either it’s about Scott Free trying to break free of the Life Trap of Darkseid…
(in which case I love it)
…or it’s about the after-effects of Darkseid attaining the Anti-Life Equation.
(In which case I fear that it’s a terrible, terrible storytelling error that will scuttle everything I like about the New Gods as Jack Kirby conceived of them.)
I’m leaning toward the “Life Trap” idea, though. Some things in the book just don’t add up unless this is all happening in Scott’s head. For instance… In this issue, Scott freaks out and bloodies Orion’s nose, after which this happens:
Okay, so… Funny, and all that. But why would Orion say “Jesus” as a expression of shock? Answer: He wouldn’t. He’s a god from outer space. He barely knows who Jesus is, and definitely never spent enough time on Earth to pick up colloquialisms like that. You know who has, though? Scott Free. So that’s either a clue that this is all happening in Scott’s head, or an example of Tom King writing Orion very poorly. Which is possible, but… He’s usually more careful than that.
Also, there have been other hints that this isn’t real. The change in Barda’s eye color. The way characters like Lightray are acting less like they normally act, and more like how Scott might think they act. The static that makes certain scenes look like a glitch in the Matrix. And etc.
But mostly, I’m going with the “Life Trap” idea because it makes me like the book a lot more. And I’d prefer to enjoy it until proven wrong…
The Ruff and Reddy Show 1 & 2
by Howard Chaykin and Mac Rey
I’m enjoying this book a lot more than I ever thought I would. It’s one of the Hanna Barbera “re-imaginings” they’ve been doing recently, comics that take classic cartoons and “update” them to be more “modern” and “realistic.” If the air quotes don’t tell you all by themselves, I’m not a big fan of the idea. I’ve heard that the Flintstones book is kind of clever, but Scooby Doo Apocalypse and that execrable “Wacky Racers meet Mad Max” thing they did put me off these books pretty much completely.
Then Howard Chaykin had to go and write one.
And the result is a book that’s nicely-conceived and beautifully drawn, one of the best surprises of my funnybook year. The premise here is simple: Ruff and Reddy were once the stars of popular TV adventure show, but their fame is long past, and now they’re just a couple of has-been actors looking to regain past glories. It’s set in a world where cartoon characters are real, a race of anthropomorphic animals called “celimates,” living alongside humans.
Which is much like the premise for Roger Rabbit, of course. But this being Howard Chaykin, writing about America in the 1950s, he’s taking the idea to slightly different places.
The racial stuff is just a backdrop, though. Mostly, this book is a Hollywood story. It’s about the nature of fame, and what two people who hate each other will do to get it back. That’s not a kind of story I always enjoy, and as it concentrates more on that and less on the world-building in issue two, I like the book less. But hot damn, that world-building is pretty sweet.
And Mac Rey’s art doesn’t hurt, either. I’m not familiar with any previous work he’s done, but this is flat-out gorgeous. He’s turning in cel-style artwork here, with rich color and pitch-perfect design. My eyes lust after the beauty of it, even when the story bogs down into standard celebrity stuff. And that goes a long way toward smoothing over the rough spots.
Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses 29
by David Lapham
This issue delivers one of the things David Lapham does best: an ugly story, told through a broken lens. Without spoiling too much, it’s the tale of a young drug addict trying to get clean, his hopelessly-addicted girlfriend, the nice girl he meets in the meantime, and how it all goes horribly wrong. Beth’s mom plays a supporting role (always bad news), and that means (even worse!) Kretchmeyer’s not far behind. But there’s also a flash-forward to the “Killers” storyline, and a future encounter with Virginia Applejack, which… That might be new territory for this book: a character having a vision of his own future, and never quite realizing that he’s freaking hosed.
Which gets me to the point I wanted to make about this issue: Lapham’s really playing around with narrative lately. It’s something he did a lot of in his late lamented Vertigo series Young Liars, but notsomuch in Stray Bullets. There’s always been touches of it, with the way Lapham jumps around in time to tell the larger story of the series. But he’s not usually this experimental with individual issues, and I dig it.
We saw it in last issue’s tale of Orson going on a multi-day bender, and we get it again here, even moreso. The story jumps ahead by fits and starts all the way through, chronicling a situation that develops over months, and keeping the reader slightly off-balance as to when things are happening. He doesn’t cheat or go out of order, you understand. You just have to pay attention to the dates. But then he makes one last time jump, letting one scene bleed into another dream-sequence style, and it’s not immediately clear what he’s done. So (much like Our Hero) you don’t realize where it’s gone until it’s too late.
All of which is rather vague, I know. But like I said, I don’t want to spoil it. In this issue, as always, Stray Bullets is a pleasure best-enjoyed in the experience. And I’d hate to ruin that for anyone.
Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil 2
by Jeff Lemire and David Rubin
In the month since the first issue of this book came out, I’ve gone back and read Black Hammer (the book this spins out of) in its entirety. I didn’t have to do that to understand it; Sherlock Frankenstein stands well enough on its own. But having that background does give this book more… I dunno… gravitas? At the very least, it’s neat to see the villains we’ve mostly gotten glimpses of in the main book, and it means a little more to see how the world moved on after its heroes disappeared.
But as I said, it doesn’t need that. Because this is the story of Cthu-Lou! One half Elder God, one half plumber! Being as big a Lovecraft fan as I am, that joke alone is worth the price of admission for me. But it’s an entertaining little tale regardless. Lou is simultaneously grotesque and sympathetic, just an average schmo who runs afoul of something weird in the sewers and does his best to deal with the hand he’s been dealt. It’s great character study, if nothing else, and the spiffy visuals don’t hurt, either.
by Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren
If I thought this book had slipped a bit last time (which I kind of did), that impression was wiped clean by this issue. One the one hand, it’s got the heaviest “Vampire Fiction” quotient of any issue to date, delving into the vampire “rules” in a straightforward expositiony way that Cates has avoided before. But then it ups and has all that genre trope stuff turn around and bite you on the ass.
To say more would spoil it, but this is good stuff.
The Wicked + The Divine 33
by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
So the “Imperial Phase” arc ends with this issue, and…
Well, holy shit.
I didn’t see THAT coming.
Or that, either.
Or, to be perfectly honest, that other thing.
And on that last one, I should have. I really should have. But it’s just that, the way Woden talks, I never would have suspected. Which, in retrospect, is exactly why he talks that way, I suppose. Hrm. Devilish, that one.
So, yeah. Man. Lots of big doings. Lots of big-ass surprises. None of which would make a damn lick of sense to anyone who’s not reading the book, and would spoil it utterly for anyone who is, but hasn’t gotten around to this one yet.
Which… seriously… if you haven’t read it yet… Holyshitgoreaditnowrightnowrightnow! It’s awesome. And it totally pays off the faith I both have and haven’t had in Kieron Gillen as the series has progressed. He suggests, in his editorial this issue, that now would be a good time to go back and re-read the whole run. And I might. I just might. God help me, I think he’s probably earned it.