Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/18/2018 – 02/24/2018

I’m utterly lacking in anything resembling a clever (or even a relevant) bit of preamble for this week, so let’s just dispense with the formalities and talk about some comics I read that you may — or may not, I won’t hold it against you — find of interest —

Vertigo founding editor Karen Berger seems to be in “full-steam ahead” mode with her Berger Books line at Dark Horse, with Emma Beeby, Ariela Kristantina, and Pat Masioni’s Mata Hari #1 marking the imprint’s third debut in, if memory serves me correctly, as many weeks (they might have taken a week off, I guess, it’s all a bit foggy at this point), and while this fairly nuts-and-bolts historical re-telling of the trial of the infamous spy/femme fatale presents a more sympathetic view of its subject than you’re likely to find from books authored by any of us goddamn men, it’s far from a pure piece of revisionism — which probably would have made for a more interesting read had Beeby opted to go that route. Not that her script is dull or dry by any stretch, but most of Mata Hari’s not-inconsiderable mystique is left to the artist to convey — which the highly-gifted Kristantina certainly manages to do with a fair amount of aplomb. Her linework is fluid, evocative, even downright alluring when it needs to be, and Masioni’s color palette is absolutely gorgeous. $3.99 isn’t bad for a comic that looks this good, but I’m hoping that the writing catches up to the art in the four issues remaining.

Meanwhile, coming our way courtesy of Berger’s former home we have Death Bed #1, and I was genuinely surprised by how much this one knocked my socks off. I figured Riley Rossmo’s art would be terrific, and it is — he’s got a high-energy, “cartoony,” frenetic style that lends itself best to “balls-out,” unhinged narratives — but writer Joshua Williamson is one of those guys who seems to have okay (enough) ideas that end up being hampered by his clunky, gramatically-deficient prose. Fortunately, he appears to have taken a quantum leap forward here, serving up a tale of a struggling female ghost-writer taking a weird gig chronicling the life story of an old-timer who claims to be the greatest adventurer that ever lived (even though nobody’s ever heard of the guy) that really plays to his artist/co-creator’s strengths and sets a highly agreeable tone of batshit insanity from page one. Ivan Plascencia’s ultra-garish colors provide the semi-psychedelic icing on the cake, and you know what? It’s actually very safe to assume that I’ll be sticking with this six-parter all the way through to the end.

Bet you never thought I’d be talking about even one Marvel book in this column, let alone two, but that’s just the kinda week it’s been. I don’t apologize, either, even if I feel like I should, because the sixth and final issue of Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov’s Punisher Max : The Platoon is seriously one of the best comics I’ve read so far this young year. These two have crafted some terrific Vietnam-based Frank Castle stories in the past, but this one seriously might be the best of the bunch. There were a fair number of plotlines running in this series that demanded conclusions that were not just satisfactory, but respectful, and Ennis deftly pulls it all off, while Parlov’s art, aided and abetted by Jordie Bellaire’s smartly un-flashy color choices, sticks you right in the middle of “the shit.” Ennis-scripted war comics are pretty much always good, but this one has been well over and above from start to finish — and speaking of the finish, the last page here might even leave a lump in your throat. Who saw that coming? Best news of all, though, is that Ennis’ love for this character has apparently been re-kindled, and this team is planning on at least a couple of follow-ups in the near future. Bring ’em on.

Last — and, in this case, least — we come to Black Panther Annual #1, a waste of five bucks if ever there was one. Here’s the thing, though : it probably shouldn’t have been. Certainly the comics-reading public would jump all over a really good, stand-alone Black Panther comic right now, and this anthology collection of three stories written by his most celebrated scribes would, on paper, seem to fit the bill — but one way or another, they all come up short.

The allure of a brief follow-up to the legendary “Panther’s Rage” storyline by that epic’s author, Don McGregor, is what drew me in, but his story here is lackluster and exposition-heavy and is frankly only worth spending some time on for Daniel Acuna’s art. Spoiler alert : T’Challa’s former love interest, Monica Lynne, dies in this one, but all the deliriously purple McGregor prose in the world can’t seem to coax an emotional reaction that should, by all rights, be pretty easy to achieve. Meanwhile, Reginald Hudlin just tosses off a dull recap of his years on the book that’s accompanied by equally-uninspired Ken Lashley illustration, and Christopher Priest does his best (which is actually pretty damn good) with his too-short yarn centered on CIA agent Everett K. Ross, but artist Mike Perkins’ low-rent riff on Lee Bermejo really lets the side down. This story should have been given a lot more room to breathe — hell, give it the whole book — and it should have been drawn by someone else.

One thing worthy of note : McGregor at least has the decency to dedicate his and Acuna’s story to original “Panther’s Rage” artists Rich Buckler and Billy Graham — and that’s more recognition than they receive from Marvel in the new Black Panther film, where neither of their names even appear in the long laundry-list of “thanks-you” credits at the end. Let’s hope that this glaring and inexcusable oversight is corrected in time for the home video release.

Okay, that’ll do it for this time around. Next week don’t we have a new Shaky Kane book coming out? I think we do. That alone should make a trip to the comic store worth it. Join me back here in seven days when we take a look at that, as well as whatever else strikes my fancy. Hope to see you then!