Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/13/2019 – 10/19/2019

We have three first issues and one last issue to go over this week and so, in the spirit of taking last things first —

A mercy killing that arrives three issues too late, Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.’s Superman : Year One #3 exits the world the same way it came in — with no clear idea of its reason for being and no coherent plan to at least fool us into thinking it has one. Miller’s script changes narrators frequently but tone never, Romita’s art is up and down and seriously down when it’s down (a splash near the end of this one features arguably the worst Wonder Woman illustration I’ve ever seen in my life), and precisely why this non-canonical revisionist take on Superman’s origin even exists is, at this point, anyone’s guess. It doesn’t count for anything, it only plays around with surface-level details of the story as already known, and just before it ends it shoehorns in a Cliffs Notes version of Zack Snyder’s Batman V. Superman and some creepy narration about Lex Luthor wanting to tame and break Wonder Woman, and Wonder Woman wanting Superman to tame and break her. It also doesn’t “end” so much as simply stop, with Supes headed off to take on Brainiac — which means we’re probably, and depressingly, looking at the strong possibility of a sequel to this mess somewhere down the line. Remember when DC was marketing this new Black Label line as some sort of “prestige” imprint? News flash : that was a lie. And so is the title of this comic, because it covers roughly the first 20+ years of Superman’s life. Who at DC editorial thought that any of this sounded like a good idea?

Maybe it was Dan DiDio, because revisionism for no reason seems to be his stock in trade, as evidenced by Metal Men #1, the first of a 12-part series that would probably, and justifiably, have been laughed out the room when it was “pitched” if the “pitcher” weren’t, ya know, the boss. Yeah, okay, I’ll grant you that Shane Davis’ art is the most lifeless and generic New 52-era holdover stuff imaginable, but the script is the real villain when it comes to offending your sensibilities here : Will Magnus is a fraud, his Metal Men have all been killed dozens of times and he’s got a bunch of spares handy, they’re not actually sentient and are rather derived from templates based on his own personality — and we get a double-cringe out of that already-cringeworthy premise because, hey, Magnus is romantically involved with Platinum, the “female” member of the group. Go fuck yourself, indeed.

Shifting gears over to Marvel, this week saw the release of the highly-anticipated X-Men #1, following on from the revolutionary (no exaggeration) events of House Of X and Powers Of X, the highly-regarded interconnected miniseries that propelled Charles Xavier’s team back to the top of the sales charts for the first time in a couple of decades. My big question coming out of those comics was : with all mutants now on the same side and living in a paradise of their own making, who were the villains gonna be? But fear not, mastermind author Johnathan Hickman begins to answer that question here while continuing to flesh out the society of Krakoa, which he’s obviously thought through right down the smallest detail. There’s a lot of talk about “world-building” in comics these days, and Hickman’s putting on a veritable fucking clinic on how to do it here, while Leinil Francis Yu provides more distinctive and eye-catching art than we got in either of the lead-in titles to this. About the only thing that could kill the X-momentum at this point would be for Marvel to overplay their hand — and so, in customary fashion, that’s exactly what they’re doing, cranking out something like six or seven interconnected books every month, each most likely bearing a $4.99 cover price for their first issues. I’m really digging what Hickman and co. are doing, but can I even afford to stick around to follow it all?

Last but not least (because we started with the last and the least right outta the gate), we’ve got Charles Forsman’s Revenger Halloween Special #1 from Floating World Comics. This comic is in no way necessary in the larger scheme of all things Revenger-related, but it is a fun, brutal little one-shot that sees our heroine start off by rescuing a kid and end up by killing off a vampire, so if what you thought this de facto franchise had been missing up until now was a dose of the supernatural, this book should make you really happy. For my own part, I had a good time with it even if it’s obviously disposable stuff, but I think I enjoyed Matt Harrison’s snappy little backup strip even more. Forsman gets a lot more credit for being an innovator than he deserves, but when he’s just cutting loose and having fun following established genre tropes, the results can be pretty damn entertaining, as they are here.

And that’ll do it, apart from reminding you all that this column is “brought to you” every week by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Do a jobbing freelancer a solid and check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 04/15/2018 – 04/21/2018

One book understandably sucked all the oxygen out of the room this week, and we’ll dive right into it first, but fear not, there are a few others worth talking about, as well —

So, look, let’s just call it like it is : Action Comics  #1000 is an eight-dollar victory lap. A “double milestone” book celebrating both the fact that it’s the first American comic to hit the four-digit-issue-number mark, as well as the 80th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance, you go in figuring you’re in for plenty of self-congratulation here, and yeah, it’s essentially 80 pages of DC’s top creators, past and present, paying tribute to the company’s number one character (sorry, Bat-fans). Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster get the “80-Page Giant” dedicated to them, as well they should, but don’t come in for much mention anywhere else within its pages, which feels like a bit of a slight — although not nearly as big a one as when they were swindled out of any claim of ownership to their creation in exchange for the princely sum of $130. And yeah, as DC’s defenders are always quick to point out, the company did attempt to “make good” with the two guys from Cleveland in their dotage , but they were certainly owed a lot more than they ever got. Hell, their heirs are probably still owed a lot more than they ever got. But we’re not here to focus on that issue too specifically, we’re here talk about what we got in this comic —

“What Superman Means To Us All” is the connective tissue holding all the short-form strips in here together, and some address the subject more successfully than others — there’s a veritable “murder’s row” of talent on hand, with Dan Jurgens, Peter J. Tomasi, Paul Levitz, Marv Wolfman, Tom King, Brad Meltzer, Paul Dini, Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Scott Snyder, Louise Simonson, and Brian Michael Bendis on script duties and Jurgens, Patrick Gleason, Neal Adams, Curt Swan, Butch Guice, Jim Lee, Clay Mann, Rafael Albuquerque, John Cassaday, Olivier Coipel, John Romita Jr., Jerry Ordway, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez on art, and while it’s nice to see that Jurgens, Tomasi, and Gleason were all allowed to say good-bye to the character before Bendis’ much-ballyhooed arrival next month (the Tomasi/Gleason story being a particularly effective “Superman Through The Years” yarn told entirely in single-panel “splash” pages), it’s really the “guest” creators who do the best job here, particularly Tom King and Clay Mann, who capture the essence of all that is special about the Man of Steel in just a handful of gorgeously-drawn, sparsely-worded pages.

Of the other offerings, I had a lot of fun with the “retro”-style Supes/Luthor confrontation by Levitz and Adams (available only in the digital preview copy I got and not the print edition, fair warning), and the Johns/Donner/Coipel “Golden Age” story is a blast, as well, but really the overall quality of everything is pretty consistent, barring one curious misfire, that being the Wolfman/Swan/Guice strip that takes a previously-extant story originally written by Cindy Goff and simply swaps out her original dialogue and captions for new stuff. Not sure what the point of that was, other than to make sure the greatest Superman artist of all time was represented in the book.

As for covers — there were nine to choose from, one for each decade Action Comics has been around in addition to the “main” one,  and I opted for the Dave Gibbons/Angus McKie 1950s variant, so that’s what’s atop the column here. All in all I felt like I got my money’s worth and then some out of this book, and while the intro to the new Bendis “era” that wraps things up was nowhere near interesting enough to convince me to give his forthcoming Man Of Steel mini-series a try (much less to continue on into the two monthly titles after that’s done), I’m glad to have bought this comic and recommend that anyone with even a passing interest in Superman —whether as a character, as a cultural icon, or both — do the same.

Sticking with DC, this week saw the release of the sixth and I-thought-final issue of Neal Adams’ Deadman mini-series, and if you thought things were incoherent before — you ain’t seen nothing yet. I swear that Adams is just making this shit up as he goes along and that no one’s really bothering to edit what he turns in — and that’s what makes his latter-period work so jaw-droppingly, singularly bizarre and interesting. Batman is on the cover here but isn’t in the book — the multitude of supernatural guest stars who are in the book aren’t on the cover — and everyone is shouting all the damn time, even when there’s no reason to. I’m certainly game for more of this kind of utterly alien type of storytelling, where the normal rules of what’s “good” and “bad,” what “works” and what “doesn’t,” simply do not apply — and whaddya know, as this issue comes to an end the story doesn’t, and it looks like a second six-part “arc” is in the offing for later this year. Yeah, at four bucks a pop buying all twelve is going to get pricey, but I have no complaints. Adams’ work may be an acquired taste at this point —but once you have acquired it, there’s nothing else remotely like it.

I was a little rough on Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson’s Come Into Me #1 a few weeks back (although I gave well-deserved “props” to artist Piotr Kowalsi), but I’m still down to give any of their creator-owned stuff a try, and the first issue of their new Aftershock series Her Infernal Descent is all the proof I need that sticking with these guys was the right call. An elderly woman who’s lost her family in an apparent (though, as yet, undefined) tragedy is escorted through Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell — by William Blake? This is the sort of brash, ballsy mash-up that’s either going to really work or really miss the mark, and so far it’s really working.

I’ll grant you that some of Blake’s rhyming iambic pentameter dialogue seems both forced and far less intelligent than anything you’d expect him to actually say, but the overwhelming majority of it is highly successful, the sheer bravado of the imagination on display here is a sight to behold — and speaking of sights to behold, Kyle Charles’ rich, sumptuous, evocative artwork is worth the $3.99 price of admission on its own, and his page layouts are astonishingly imaginative. I think this one is slated to run six issues, although I could be wrong about that — one thing I’m not wrong about, though, is that you need to jump on this book now.

One more debut issue to wrap things up, even if it’s not a real debut issue, so to speak : Black Hammer : Age Of Doom #1 kicks off the second “arc” of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s revisionist super-hero series, and shows that my concerns about this “universe” being spread kinda thin through franchising and whatnot (see Sherlock Frankenstein And The Legion Of Evil and Doctor Star And The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows — with, apparently, more on the way) were ill-founded indeed. I know, I know — Dark Horse has always milked Hellboy for everything it’s worth and then some, and they seem to think they have a big enough hit on their hands to do the same here, but who can argue with results? I’ve enjoyed both spin-off series to date, and Lemire and Ormston haven’t missed a beat during the brief hiatus on the “main” title, either — this issue sees the new Black Hammer promise to reveal all, only to be whisked away to another kind of limbo that causes her to re-think all that she thought she had figured out, while the rest of our cast finally manage to get all their ships sailing in the same direction, and that direction is right the hell out of their own private Idaho and back to the “real” world. Somehow. Lemire’s script is fast-paced and bursting at the seams with energy and ideas, Ormston’s art is atmospheric, emotive, and creepy when it needs to be — and no less than the goddamn fucking Ramones themselves put in a guest appearance. What’s not to love? You need this comic more than you need four dollars.

Okay, that’s good enough for another column. I don’t see a whole lot in next week’s solicits that turns my crank, but I’m really looking forward to Michelle Perez and Remy Boydell’s The Pervert, so we’ll have that to talk about, plus whatever else strikes my fancy, when next we meet here in seven days.