So I thought we’d try something a little unusual this week. Normally, I drone on and on about the funnybooks I like the best. But I read tons of stuff, and sometimes I skip over the stuff I like, but don’t love. Which means it’s high time I talked about some of that stuff…
Joe Casey and Ian Macewan’s MCMLXXV (that’s 1975 for those of you who’ve forgotten your Roman Numerals) ended its three-issue run recently, and I really enjoyed the ride. It’s the story of a bad-ass lady cabbie who fights monsters on the mean streets of New York in the title year, and it’s been a fun and stylish bit of pulp all the way through. Imagine Foxy Brown crossed with The Warriors crossed with Taxi Driver crossed with Mage crossed with Spawn, and peppered with references to Moebius, David Bowie, classic soul, and a dozen other 1970s cultural touchstones.
It ain’t deep, and the final issue loses some of the style of the first two. The whole thing wraps up faster than I’d have liked, too. But you could do a lot worse in the realm of adventure funnybooks.
I’ve wanted Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Denied to be a staple of my “favorite comics” pile, but this third and final volume of Wagner’s mytho-biographic life’s work has really only been… okay. It’s meandered a lot, and I think that’s kind of the point. It’s been a story about questing itself, I think, in parallel to the Grail Quest, the most arduous part of the Arthurian mythos that is Wagner’s primary inspiration. But that hasn’t translated into a very interesting story for me so far. That’s changing a bit now, though, as the series heads toward its finale and things actually start happening. I’m glad for the uptick, too. Mage has been a favorite of mine for 30 years, and I didn’t want it to go out with a whimper.
Ta-Nehisi Coates and Leinil Francis Yu’s Captain America run recently continued with issue five, and I’m kind of in the middle on it. I like the premise of confronting Cap with an existential threat in an America where truth itself is in question. It’s not the first time, certainly, but that’s still a smart and appropriate approach for the times. The execution of that idea, though, is leaving me a bit cold. The writing is top-notch from a technical perspective, but the stories themselves are a bit dreary. The existential threat is vague and frustrating, just like in real life, but there’s no heat here. No urgency. So I keep reading, and hope the story gets a little more pep as it continues.
In contrast, we’re four issues in on Howard Chaykin’s Hey Kids! Comics! and it’s little else BUT heat. Chaykin’s fictionalized history of the comics industry is bitter, mean-spirited, and ugly. It’s also all-too-true and funny as hell. The most recent issue takes aim at Stan Lee and his appropriation of all the credit at Marvel, and it landed unfortunately close to Lee’s death. But that doesn’t make it any less true, of course, and Lee’s far from the only target. Will Eisner and Bob Kane get skewered, too, for much the same reasons (but with a lot less money at stake). Truth be told, this book doesn’t really fit the format for this week. I do look forward to each new issue, and enjoy them with few reservations. But, man. This is a book I have to read when I’m in a good mood. Anything less, and it leaves me grouchy and depressed.
Meanwhile, Cemetery Beach, from Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, is three issues deep now, and remains a book I want to like a lot more than I do. It’s an all-out action romp, rolling from one fight to another, and ultimately feels pretty shallow. It takes place in an intriguing enough sci-fi world, I suppose. But if Warren Ellis wasn’t writing it, I doubt I’d have gone this far with it. And I may not go any further, even with Ellis at the wheel. It’s not a bad comic, by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s not great, either.
I picked up Bitter Root #1 mainly because it was pretty.
But also because the creative team of David Walker and Sanford Greene had a run on Power Man & Iron Fist a year or so back, too, and that was another book I wanted to like more than I did. They’re joined by Chuck Brown here, about whom I know nothing at all, but this book still looked pretty cool, so I decided to give it a shot. And it’s exactly what I thought it would be: a good pulpy ride, dealing with voodoo monster fighting during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.
As that setting and premise might suggest, this is also a book about race. Part of its core concept is an evil that gets into white people, turning them into monsters that the black heroes of the book trap and transform back into people. The KKK are treated less kindly…
…but Klansmen, like Nazis, are villains I have a hard time feeling much sympathy for.
Also in the “This is Pretty, So I’ll Give It a Shot” category is Sukeban Turbo, by Sylvain Runberg and Victor Santos.
I like Santos’ art on this book quite a bit. There are improvements that could be made in both storytelling and figure drawing, but overall his stuff is quite nice. Puts me in mind of both Mike Oeming and Darwyn Cooke, which is high praise coming from me. The story, on the other hand, is just okay. It centers on a group of middle class teenage girls who form a tough-ass gang at their school, inspired by a Japanese movie their leader stole from the video store when she was younger. There’s also a boy band whose manager hires adult women to pose as groupies because their real fan-base is all underage girls, and he doesn’t want to soil their image. I’m assuming the two will, inevitably, collide at some point, since the Sukeban Tribe leader is a secret fan. So there are some good building blocks here, but something about the execution is a bit flat. Like I said, it’s not bad. It’s just… not great.
On the other end of the spectrum here is Ales Kot and Tradd Moore’s The New World, which recently wrapped up with issue five. While I did feel like this book was lacking something, I’m not quite sure what that was. It was an awful lot of fun to read, regardless. It’s a sci-fi love story, set in a dystopian near-future America where celebrity super-cops with cybernetic enhancements broadcast their jobs live on TV to their adoring public. It’s got oppressive governments, bread and circuses, free-spirited rebels, and all the heart in the world. It’s also got some beautiful artwork from Tradd Moore, whose cartooning reaches near-abstract levels on this book.
But like I said, I kept feeling like there was something missing in the book. Or maybe that there was more to be seen than what we got. I kept waiting for the curtain to be pulled back, but that never happened, except in shorthand. So I guess I just wanted more. Which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be, but not an entirely satisfying place, either.
Meanwhile, in the sixth and seventh issues of Black Hammer: Age of Doom, the curtain gets pulled back further than I wanted. The story follows Colonel Weird into what is, essentially, Comic Book Limbo, an ever-shifting hellscape where characters from unfinished or never-realized funnybook stories go once they’ve been abandoned. We’ve seen this sort of thing before (Grant Morrison’s Animal Man run being the example this version of it most reminds me of), and I sometimes really like that kind of formal meta-fictional play. Something about it struck a sour note with me here, though. It feels artificial. Gimmicky. Jeff Lemire didn’t make me care about what’s happening, and that sense of engagement is what makes Black Hammer worth reading. Without that, it’s just another super hero pastiche, and I’ve read enough of those to last a lifetime.
Something that works better in the realm of reinterpreting kids’ characters is Tom Scioli’s Go-Bots, which debuted last week. Now, I don’t give a rat’s ass about the Go-Bots. Never played with the toys, never watched the cartoon (there WAS a cartoon, wasn’t there?)… I have absolutely zero interest. But I love Scioli, so I gave it a shot. And I wasn’t disappointed. It’s his usual 21-Century-Kirby-in-Tiny-Panels kind of thing…
…interpreting the characters he’s given to work with in his own way, tossing out ten million ideas that range from the awesome to the ridiculous and back again. This time out, we’re given a future where the self-driving car has evolved into a full-blown machine helper with artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence that’s developed far enough for some Go-Bots to rise in bloody rebellion. I have no idea if that’s anything like the original idea for these characters, but that’s what Scioli’s giving us here, with his usual weird approach.
And speaking of weird approaches, we come to Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins’ Black Badge, which released its fourth issue last week. I can’t remember if I’ve reviewed this series before, but if not… The premise here is, essentially, “Black Ops Boy Scouts.” Which is a great idea, but I’ve been luke-warm on it so far, because the execution’s been a little… distant? I don’t feel like I’ve got a good grasp of things, anyway, and I don’t think that’s entirely intentional. I mean, Kindt is definitely letting the audience learn about the world of the book as it goes, which is an approach I like. But something’s just not clicking for me here. It may be that the idea is inherently ridiculous, and can’t carry the weight Kindt’s putting on it. Or it may just be that the story and art are a little weak. I’m really not sure. Either way, we’re four issues in, and I’ve debated buying every issue since the first. I like it, but I may not like it enough to keep paying for it. I guess we’ll see.
Also in the “wait and see” category is our final book, and my least-favorite of the Brian Bendis Jinxworld relaunch titles, Cover. In this case, I’m finding that I just can’t get into the concept:
So, yeah. This is about a comic book artist who’s also a spy. I haven’t been big on the concept from the get-go, and very little in the execution of it has changed my mind. It’s basically Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, except not as engaging. This is Bendis in flippant mode, turning out the sort of light, jokey stuff I’ve never enjoyed from him all that much. It does have its moments, though, most of them coming from artist David Mack, who’s turning in some beautiful pages here. He’s working in multiple different styles, some of which I like more than others, but the ones I like, I really like. And, hell. The recent third issue featured a three-page sequence with Bill Sienkiewicz doing his best Walt Simonson impersonation:
In-story, that’s a spread from Essad, the Turkish comics artist who’s also a spy. We get pages from Our Hero’s comics, as well, done by Mack in a minimalist ink brush style that I love a lot:
So it’s a really interesting, and even ambitious, book in a lot of ways. And that’s what keeps me reading even though I don’t really like most of the actual writing very much. Again, we’ll see if the experimentation can keep me interested through all six issues. At least, I HOPE this is only six issues…
And there we have it! A slightly more negative column than I generally like to write, but all of these books have something to recommend them, and I thought it was high time I said something about them. Your mileage, after all, may vary.