Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/10/2019 – 11/16/2019

After a week off to attend the superb Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle, the Round-Up is back, and we’ve got four first issues to take a look at because, hey, every week at your LCS there are at least four “number ones,” if not more, are there not? It sure as hell seems like it —

First off, Joe Hill’s horror comics imprint at DC, Hill House, gives us The Dollhouse Family #1 by the veteran pairing of Mike Carey (here writing, for reasons unknown, under the pretentious moniker of “M.R. Carey”) and Peter Gross, joined this time out by the criminally under-utilized Vince Locke, who for my money has always been — and remains — one of the most distinctive artists working in the comics mainstream. Gross is credited with “layouts,” Locke with “finishes,” which means this looks to be about 75% Locke, at least, and that’s a good thing because his creepy, expressive, and highly atmospheric style is just plain perfect for the always-reliable Carey’s immediately-engrossing script about a fracturing family with a unique heirloom that may be at the source of all their troubles. In an unpredictable world, it’s good to have something you can always count on, and any book by these three exceptionally solid pros is at the very least going to get the job done, plus interest, and there are any number of brash “up-and-comers” who would do well to pay attention to what these guys are doing here, because this is a veritable clinic on how to grab readers right away with a new horror concept — and it’s a safe bet that subsequent issues will be every bit as good as this one was.

And while we’re on the subject of DC sub-labels, Gerard Way’s Young Animal this week serves up a highly-publicized debut of their own with Far Sector #1, the story of a Green Lantern in the far future called in to solve a murder on a planet with no crime to speak of, by the superstar pairing of best-selling genre novelist N.K. Jemison and Naomi co-creator Jamal Campbell. Jemison shows why she’s one of the more popular authors in the sci-fi game at the moment with this well-crafted script that’s rich with well-thought-through “world building” while Campbell, who does both line art and color, ups his game to match the material by turning out one eye-catching, sleek as hell page after another. This is a great-looking book with a fundamentally sound story and I’m more than happy to consider myself “all in” for the entire 12-issue run.

And just to keep the sub-imprint theme going, Marvel’s largely-moribund Max Comics line pops its head back above water for Punisher : Soviet #1, which marks Garth Ennis’ welcome return to the character he does better than anyone else, this time joined by Providence artist Jacen Burrows, who is fast turning into the contemporary master of “clean-line” comic book art. Frank Castle vs. the Russian Mafia is a natural, of course, but when there’s somebody else out there who’s doing an even better job of being Frank Castle than he is himself — well, that adds an intriguing wrinkle into the mix. This is bad-ass stuff that may just be the most fun read of the week, and Burrows is an inspired choice for a Punisher yarn. I am so down for this.

And to finish off back where we started, at least in a thematic sense, we go from Stephen King’s kid to a pretty damn respectable Stephen King impersonation performed by Jeff Lemire in Image’s Family Tree #1. Lemire checks all the usual boxes pretty well by setting his story in a small Maine town, giving us a good flavor of the place, introducing us in short-hand form to all the principal players (in this case an over-burdened single mom and her kids), and then tossing in elements of the supernatural, in this case a mysterious local outbreak turning folks into — errrmmm — tree-people. But the answer to the problem may be hidden in the — errrmmm again — titular family tree of the protagonist clan themselves, as the last-second appearance of grandpa would indicate. This is fairly by-the-numbers stuff, which does sorta seem to be the Lemire specialty these days, but it hit all the right notes for me, and the art by Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur — who have collaborated on a few projects together in the past — suits the mood and atmosphere quite nicely. Nothing overly spectacular, but a plenty solid read.

And there you have it, all that’s left at this point being to remind you folks that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon site, where I regale you with three new and exclusive posts per week on all things comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a buck a month. Please help support my ongoing work by subscribing at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


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!

This Week’s Reading Round-Up : 10/1/2017 – 10/7/2017

Okay, look, who are we kidding? Fantagraphics’ Now #1 is the “big story” in comics this week, as well it should be, but I’m still cobbling my various and sundry thoughts on that one together for a comprehensive review that I should have ready in the next few days. Until then, though, let’s take a quick look at a handful of other items new on shelves and/or in my mailbox that grabbed my attention, for good or ill, this week —

Portrait is a self-published collection of strips by Simon Hanselmann that ran as part of his “Truth Zone” (or TZ, if you prefer) webcomics series. The initial printing sold out pretty quickly and I missed out on it, but I ordered one up pronto when word got out that he was headed back to press (or, more likely, Kinko’s) with it. Megg. Mogg, and Owl take aim at the so-called “alternative comix scene” in these pages, and while it’s all reasonably entertaining, especially if you have — uhhhmmm — “concerns” with the targets of  Hanselmann’s sharp but (mostly?) quasi-friendly jabs, it’s also true to say that a fair amount of the “backstory” you need to make head or tail of some of this shit took place on various social media platforms, most notably twitter, some time ago, so after awhile it starts to feel not only vaguely incestuous, but also a bit arcane. I laughed out loud a few times, and that’s worth something I suppose, but if you’re expecting anything with a passing semblance of actual critique to it, you’re bound to feel more than a bit disappointed, as this is mostly just petty “industry” gossip with punchlines at the end. Kinda fun, but somebody from the small press “community” pointing out how ridiculous everybody else involved with it is really isn’t enough to sustain interest for even the short length of this publication, and while Kim O’Connor spent a lot of time in her (well-written as always) review of this comic wondering whether or not it counts as “art,” it’s safe to say that Hanselmann himself clearly believes he’s raised “snark” to an art from, regardless of what any of the rest of us think.  Extra points for bravado there, I suppose, but after a couple of strips were read I actively began failing to see the point. Probably of interest to Hanselmann completists only.

The Third Remedy is a new mini-comic by Chester Brown offered as a premium to his Patreon subscribers (side note, Brown offers great value for your monthly contributions to his continued survival) that provides a pretty solid case study in the “art” of detournement or, as Bob Levin at TCJ would have it, “recontextualization,” given that it takes a pre-existing Carl Barks “Duck” story from Walt Disney’s Comics And Stories  issue number 101 (published in 1949) and swaps out Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie with “Golden Age” iterations of Batman and Robin and Daisy with Batgirl,  while leaving  the one-off character of Mrs. Gobblechin as is. It’s interesting, to be sure, and superbly-drawn as you’d expect, but doesn’t aspire to, much less achieve, anything beyond being a fun little curiosity. There’s no harm in that by any means, and the insertion of the “Bat-family” into the proceedings has the probably-intended effect of pointing out not just their strained sexlessness but perhaps even Batman’s fear of both sex and feminization, but some of the brilliance of Barks’ original story is — more by dint of necessity than anything else — lost in translation, and so I have to wonder if people who are reasonably “fluent” in the world of comics really aren’t and/or shouldn’t be the “target audience” for this self-published little “floppy,” especially since Brown doesn’t credit himself anywhere in it. I liked it, I appreciated receiving it, I read it a couple of times, and that’s all fine and dandy — but to be honest, this might have more of an “impact” if you just found it randomly on a bus-stop bench or something and didn’t know what the hell to make of it.  In the aforementioned TCJ piece, in fact,  Brown remarks that he “like(s) the idea of people encountering it and wondering what it is.” He also says that he’s considered printing some more off and leaving them in various locations around town, and that sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Slots #1 marks the start of a new series (or mini-series, truthfully I don’t know which) from Image (specifically Robert Kirman’s Skybound imprint, so it’s not a creator-owned work — booooo!) by writer/artist Dan Panosian that looked, at least at first glance, like the kind of thing I probably wouldn’t bother with, but I caught a few preview pages at the back of some comic or other (hey, I guess that does actually work!) and found myself sufficiently charmed/impressed to give it a go, and whaddya know? This was actually a whole hell of a lot of fun. Panosian’s story about a washed-up former prizefighter turned small-time scam artist who returns to Vegas to help a former flame and settle some old scores is, admittedly, the kind of thing we’ve seen a thousand times before in the movies, but it’s got one of those “likable scumbag” protagonists, the dialogue ranges from spot-on to sparkling, the broad-stroke characterization hits the mark, and Panosian’s
“scratchy,” free-flowing art is a lot of fun to look at. The Kurtzman-esque lettering he uses for his chapter headers is another nice little plus and rounds out a package that I have no hesitation in calling the most pleasant out-of-left-field surprise in the last few months.

Finally, in the spirit of not ignoring “The Big Two” entirely, we come to Punisher Max : The Platoon #1, which marks the return of both the Max Comics imprint from Marvel (we’ll see how long that lasts) and Garth Ennis to the character that he’s arguably most closely associated with (this is the point at which hard-core Jesse Custer and John Constantine fans put out a contract on my head, I’m sure — relax, I did say “arguably”). Honestly, though, I could give a shit who’s writing Punisher comics, but I’ll take a chance on pretty much any Garth Ennis combat yarn, and given that this is all about Frank Castle’s Vietnam days (is it true he’s been “retconned” into an Iraq or Afghanistan vet now?), I was sold on it going in. Smart move, as it turns out, since this one looks like another winner. Ennis pulls no punches in terms of showing both how hopelessly fucked the situation was over there and how openly most G.I.’s admitted it, and to say that Castle has wandered into a situation where the command structure has “broken down” would be an understatement — it’s downright blown off entirely by the grunts doing the killing and the dying. So, yeah, he’s got his work cut out for him. Meanwhile, in the present day, a reporter tracking down the titular platoon’s surviving members promises a bit of mystery in that it’s nowhere near certain where said journo is getting their information from. Goran Parlov’s art is solidly competent if far from memorable, and some nicely subtle visual cues to the late, great Steve Dillon come off as both entirely unforced and respectful. He probably would have loved to have drawn this comic, and I damn sure enjoyed reading it.

Okay, I think that’ll about do it for this week’s wrap-up, thanks for the kind words everyone offered both here, via email, and most especially on social media last week — I’m no Joe McCulloch by any stretch of the imagination, but with the entirely understandable demise of his column, some kind of semi-omniscient look at what’s new in the world of comics every week with at least a vague hint of a “consumer-centric” approach to it is sadly missing in the nominally “indie”  murky backwater of the funnybook world , don’cha think? And given that it doesn’t get much more murky or much more backwater-y than this little-trafficked blog, I figure I’ll keep doing my part to tell you what might be worth spending your money on until folks either tell me to find something better to do with my time or start finding something better to do with theirs.