So I’ve got a great big stack of funnybooks sitting here waiting for my attention. Which I suppose means that… CAPSULE REVIEWS ARE GO!!
Fantastic Four #1 Preview Spotlight Give-Away Thingie
by Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli
The new Fantastic Four comic is launching next week, and I’m glad to hear that the book’s coming back. FF is, as I’ve said more than a few times, my favorite super hero comic, so I’m psyched that it’s getting a relaunch. That said, though… This preview isn’t getting my hopes up that I’ll actually enjoy the book when it gets here. Why? Because of this:
Ooouuurrrgghhhh… Dear god, I may need an insulin shot. At the very least, I’m gonna have to go chug some hot sauce, just to get the sickly-sweet taste out of my mouth…
You get ZERO STARS, single page of a preview for a comic I really really really want to like! ZERO! I don’t even have a graphic for how low a score I’m giving you!
Ahem. But moving on to more pleasant subjects…
Mage: The Hero Denied 10
by Matt Wagner
I continue to like this book more because of what it is than because of how good it is. I really like the world that Matt Wagner has created in Mage, and I like the themes he’s exploring across the three books that make up the series. I just don’t particularly enjoy the story he’s telling this time around. And, continuing on our “family” theme, I think I’m less enamored of it because of the kids. Kevin Matchstick has two children now, and the story as a whole has taken on sort of a “cute” vibe because of them. And, as long-time readers know… I can’t abide cute.
But I think I’ve said this before. The long and the short of it is, I will see this thing through to the end, because I really want to know how Wagner wraps up his larger themes. But I’m not enjoying the journey as much this time around.
Hmm. That wasn’t really that much more pleasant, was it? Let’s try that again…
Marvel Two In One 8
by Chip Zdarsky and Ramon Perez
While the FF’s been gone, we’ve had this book to take up the slack. And it’s done a pretty good job. The stories have been fun, if not genius, and writer Chip Zdarsky’s handled the “family” aspect of the team a hell of a lot better than Dan Slott’s doing with that “greatest adventure of all” crap. He’s handled the Thing especially well; the whole premise of the series has been that Ben knows (or thinks he knows) that Reed and Sue are dead, but he’s lied to Johnny about that because it’s the only way he can think of to snap his buddy out of the suicidal depression he was spiraling into after their disappearance. Which was stupid and wrong, but his intentions were good. Which sounds an awful lot like Ben Grimm to me.
(Of course, as the FF #1 preview up above might clue you in on… Reed and Sue really are alive. But Ben doesn’t know that.)
All those chickens come home to roost in this issue, however, as Johnny finds out that Ben’s been lying, and all hell breaks loose. Which makes this a slightly harrowing issue. It’s far from a perfect comic, understand. But it feels right. It shows an understanding of the relationship between Our Heroes, and that’s the key to making the FF work.
Now I wish Zdarsky was writing that relaunch…
Royal City 13
by Jeff Lemire
And now, on the other end of the “touching family moments” spectrum from that FF preview, we have this book, which really does it right. So right that I actually choked up a little. We’re too deep into the story to try to explain it, but this issue it was like a dam broke, and everybody opened up, exorcising Tommy’s ghost one by one and starting to move on with life. It’s beautiful, without being schmaltzy. It could all still end in tears, of course, because Richie’s still a major fuck-up. But right here, right now… It’s beautiful.
X-Men: Grand Design: Second Genesis 1
by Ed Piskor
The first X-Men comic I’ve enjoyed without reservation since the Grant Morrison run has returned! With even more colons in its title!
The premise here, if you’re not familiar, is that Ed Piskor is re-telling the first 30 years of X-Men comics as if it was all one coherent story that makes some kind of sense. The first volume covered the original X-Men comics, up to its cancellation in 1968. This new volume picks up with the introduction of the New X-Men (which is the point at which the series went from being a marginal third-string funnybook to, eventually, an industry sales leader).
So here we’re introduced to Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus. Thunderbird dies. Jean Grey becomes Phoenix, then Dark Phoenix, and (spoiler!) commits suicide to save the universe from herself. This is the period when I started reading X-Men, so it’s interesting to see what stories become… unimportant… when you pull out to view the big picture. My two favorite early New X-Men stories fall into that category, for instance: the new team’s first encounter with Magneto, and the story of Proteus (aka Mutant X), only take up about a page apiece, and seem like little more than momentary distractions from the main plot, which is mostly concerned with the Shi’ar and the Hellfire Club.
And that’s exactly right. Those are sub-plots in the original comics, stories that flare up from time to time, but mostly run in the background. But when you’re looking at the story being told over time, the sub-plots are the real plot. The rest really is just distraction.
That’s a fun insight, and it’s one that’s likely to only get more intense in future issues. Because this book got sub-plot CRAZY after awhile, and increasingly self-reflexive over time. Can’t wait to see what Piskor does with it all.
by Eric Powell
So somehow, over the course of these first 12 issues, Eric Powell’s been telling a larger story. A story that comes to a head with this issue, drawing together such disparate elements as the legend of the Iron Child, Tailypo, Rondel the Hillbilly’s origin story, and, well… Everything, really. I was shocked as I read, and realized how so many things were dovetailing. I mean, it’s a fun epic adventure romp, too, of course. Appalachian fantasy on a grand scale, with a joke or two thrown in for good measure. And all beautifully illustrated, as you would expect. But, man. That’s a great stealth epic Eric Powell’s been perpetrating here, and I dig it.
Action Comics 1001
by Brian Michael Bendis and Patrick Gleason
So THIS is what a Bendis Superman comic looks like when Rogol Zaar’s not around to stink the place up. It’s… not bad. Not bad at all. I could have done without the “thug throwing his gun at Superman” gag in the opening…
…because, yes. Very funny. I’ve been hearing that joke for 30 years. And I bet, if I was older, it would be more like 50 or 60. I’m not a fan of that kind of self-referencing “Inside Comics” meta-humor in general, but holy crap. If you’re gonna do that stuff, at least use fresh material.
But the rest of the issue! The rest of the issue was fun. There’s dastardly criminal types in Metropolis who are using Big-Brother Eye-in-the-Sky surveillance tech to find out when Supes leaves town, and pulling pre-planned criminal activities while he’s gone! They keep things low-key enough that what they did doesn’t attract his attention when he gets back, but they still make enough bank to make it worth their while. It’s… kind of ingenious, honestly, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Supes busts their operation up. Because it’s also the kind of frustratingly thorough heel activity that just makes you mad.
And that is good funnybooks. This issue might rank four stars if it didn’t have that gun-throwing nonsense in it, but as it is…
Gideon Falls 5
by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino
It only just struck me how weird this book’s premise sounds when you spell it out baldly: It’s a horror comic about a demonic black barn that haunts a small midwestern town.
Seriously, what the hell? That doesn’t even sound like a good idea. A barn?! Haunting a town?! How does that even work? But it does work. It’s got great imagery, and a grounded sensibility that makes the supernatural stuff that much more terrifying. The first half of the issue, for instance, unfolds like the previous ones have, like a procedural with flashes of madness. But then, Angie the psychiatrist hypnotizes Norton (the guy with maybe the closest connection to the barn), and then…
Things get crazy. Andrea Sorrentino is one of those artists who can pull off a very realistic style, but who can also open things up to the surreal when called upon to do so. And here, he opens it up brilliantly. But it’s not just empty flash. The surreal imagery serves to make things that much more intense, and by the time I got to the last page, with the barn door opening up and things getting REALLY crazy… I was genuinely scared. Which is kind of the point.
Immortal Hulk 3
by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Leonardo Romero, Paul Hornschemeier, Marguerite Sauvage, and Garry Brown
One of the major problems with modern corporate comics is the lack of artistic continuity. Rather than letting a creative team gel over the long term, it’s becoming increasingly common for artists to come and go, sometimes in mid-story. It hurts the books, making them feel less like a creative effort and more like a product. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that the kind of art modern corporate funnybook fans demand isn’t generally something that can be easily cranked out on a monthly basis. It’s a lot of work, and artists burn out pretty quickly. So I understand it, even if it makes me not want to read the comics that come out of that system.
Anyway. I don’t know if that’s what happened with this issue, but if it is… This is the best way possible to deal with the problem. Because this issue is a Rashomon, a story told from several different, contradictory points of view, each one illustrated by a different artist. This storytelling device has become pretty familiar to most audiences. Sitcoms, in particular, love it, and usually wrap it up by revealing the truth at the end. But when it’s done right (as it is here), none of the stories actually represent reality. Each contains a bit of the truth, but it’s up to the reader to piece together what they think really happened.
Al Ewing and his artistic collaborators pull that off really well here, with different parts of the story reading like parodies of 1970s Hulk comics, 1990s Vertigo books, grungy auto-bio comics, and (my personal favorite) Marguerite Sauvage’s take on ridiculously frilly romance comics.
In the end, the story’s just as horrific as the previous two issues, but I had a lot of fun with it nonetheless. If it was hitting these heights of creativity every month, it might be my favorite corporate spandex book. But it hasn’t been, and I don’t think it will. Still, though. This time around, I liked it an awful lot.
Cave Carson Has an Interstellar Eye 5
by Jon Rivera and Michael Avon Oeming
The cover really kind of says it all, here. This book is insane pop comics nonsense. It’s psychedelic craziness with tons of heart and few restraints, and I love it for that. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, mind you. But I love it.
Your mileage may vary.
The Magic Order 2
by Mark Millar and Olivier Coipel
This book continues to be a great deal of stylish fun. Structurally, it’s of a type with a lot of other stuff Mark Millar’s written over the years, so I kind of feel like I know where it’s going, even if I couldn’t begin to guess at the specifics. But he and Olivier Coipel are clearly having fun with the magical world they’re creating, and that’s infectious. It’s a neat fictional reality, and I’m enjoying the time I’m spending in it. And sometimes, that’s all I really need.
by Tom King and Lee Weeks
I decided to check back in with Tom King’s Batman for two reasons: One, if he can piss off that many people with an anniversary issue, he must be doing something right. And two (and this is the bigger reason, to be honest), this issue was drawn by Lee Weeks. And Lee Weeks draws real purty. I mean, just look at this cover:
But, anyway. The story involves Bruce Wayne getting called for jury duty, and being asked to sit on a trial that involves his own activities as Batman. Now, the likelihood of that actually happening, considering that Bruce Wayne very publicly financed the international “Batman Incorporated” venture a while back, is slim. But it’s a neat idea, so I’ll let King slide on that one. I particularly like the way this experience is forcing Batman to confront the problematic nature of his own vigilante activities. Will it lead to him changing his tactics in the future? This being a Tom King book, I would guess that the answer is yes. And that’s something that may very well get me to start picking this book up again. Time, as always, will tell.
East of West 38
by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
I’m starting to feel like this book has maybe gone on too long. I’m still enjoying it, mind you. It’s still good apocalypse adventure fiction, well-written and well-drawn. It’s just that it’s got such a large cast, and so many moving parts, that I’m starting to lose track of the drama.
Or… Sometimes I wonder if some of these characters, who are all such interesting ideas, maybe don’t have enough meat on their bones to support a story this lengthy.
Or… Maybe I’m just getting tired of it. Because I must admit, flipping back through this issue to figure out what I wanted to say in this review, the story looked good to me. Dramatic. Well-paced. With characters put in just the right place in just the right way to give the ending the punch it needs to have the most dramatic impact. It’s a really slick bit of genre writing, I think. So maybe I’m just burning out on the series as a whole.
Or… Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I read it.
That’s possible, too.
Regardless, it’s better than my initial impression lead me to think. But maybe not as good as I thought it was back a couple of years ago. Hmm…
Ether: The Copper Golems 3
by Matt Kindt and David Rubin
I feel like I’m becoming a broken record here, but this book continues to be a lot of fun. Magical fantasy adventure that’s really a metaphor for its own hero’s inner struggle. While I no longer think that the whole thing might be the elaborate fantasy of a tragic madman, I’m starting to wonder if Boone Diaz isn’t subconsciously shaping events in the magical fairy realm he visits, his mind somehow creating crises to give himself the excuse he needs to leave his painful real world behind.
I think a re-read may be in order…
by Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren
A new storyline starts here, introducing Bartlett’s old flame July Bell. I find myself without a whole lot to say about this one. The story of Bartlett and July is (as you’d expect from this book) tragic, but otherwise this issue’s mostly about moving the plot along. Necessary, but not particularly thrilling. I’ll be back next time, though, to see where it goes. Because it’s got a hum-dinger of an ending.
Aaaanndd… That’s it. Whew!