Weekly Reading Round-Up : 04/08/2018 – 04/14/2018

Three first issues and a seven hundredth? Yeah, this oughtta be an interesting column —

Crude #1 kicks off a new Skybound/Image six-parter from the creative team of Steve Orlando and Garry Brown revolving around a mix of family drama and Russian oil business shady dealings, with some sort of vague-at-this-point mystery thrown into the mix to — sorry — muddy the waters. Orlando has always been an up-and-down writer in my estimation, but he seems to be more “up” here, serving us a script that’s heavy on the characterization and stage-setting. This may just turn out to be yet another revenge yarn, but those are fun if they kick enough ass, and all indications are that this one’ll do just that — and Brown’s murky, expressionistic art is more than well-suited to the proceedings. At $3.99 a pop for singles this might be one to “trade-wait,” but since I’m already in, what the hell — I’ll stay in. I really dig the intrigue emanating from this comic.

Also from Image this week we have The Dead Hand #1, a modern-day spy thriller with its roots in the Cold War and — hey, is this a theme? — the Soviet Union. Kyle Higgins has cooked up an immediately-absorbing yarn here with a ton of backstory to explore in the months to come, while Stephen Mooney’s art is stylish, sleek, and reminiscent of the best pulp covers, and superstar colorist Jordie Bellaire finishes things off with a polished set of hues that give the pages a very fluid, cinematic look and feel. This one impressed me a lot and felt like four bucks wisely spent — I heartily recommend getting in on the ground floor.

I was pretty underwhelmed by Unholy Grail by the time all was said and done, it has to be said (it started off okay yet ended up just being a kind of “Cliff’s Notes Camelot” with pretty pictures) —  but apparently not so underwhelmed that I was unwilling to give The Brothers Dracul #1 , from the same creative team of writer Cullen Bunn and artist Mirko Colak, a shot. Like their previous series, this one is a mildly revisionist take on ancient legend, is published by Aftershock, and has a lush, atmospheric, “Eurocomics” look to it. Fortunately, the story seems a bit more ambitious here, with an emphasis not only on the future Count Dracula himself but also, as the title plainly states, his less-heralded (and therefore less-notorious) brother. I know, I know, I was a little worried that we would simply be getting another Dracula Untold here, too, but so far that doesn’t seem  to be the case. Things could go south in a hurry with this book — they did before — so I’m keeping it on a short leash, but what the hell? I felt like I got a damn solid read for my $3.99 with this first issue.

Finally, then, we come to Captain America #700, an extra-sized (and extra-priced, at $5.99) anniversary issue that also sees the conclusion to Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s truncated “Lost in Time” pseudo-epic. I liked where this was headed — and, as always, loved the art — until the very end, when Waid takes the dull and predictable step of “retconning” the previous few issues out of existence. Cap’s back in our time like nothing ever happened — because, essentially, nothing did. And that’s kind of a shame, because what did happen (until, of course, it didn’t) was actually pretty interesting and borderline-relevant. Alas, it’s all water under the bridge now, Samnee is off to greener pastures, and I’m all out of cliches. Real quick though — the less said about the backup strip, the better. The art’s great — they dug out an old, unused Jack Kirby inventory story — but the script (and again, this is all on Waid) doesn’t match up convincingly with the visuals at all, and the modern computer coloring just bastardizes The King’s work. For a supposed “milestone” comic, this one should have been a lot better.

Okay, that’s me keeping it short and sweet for this installment, something I should probably try to do more often. I dunno what all we’ll have to talk about next week, but something tells me Action Comics #1000 will at least merit a brief examination, don’t you think? Catch you back here in seven short days!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/29/2017 – 11/04/2017

What captured my attention this week — for good, ill, or somewhere in-between —

One day before the great Steve Ditko turned 90 years old (and here’s to 90 more!), I received my copy of #26, the latest in the now-decade-long “32-Page Series” published by Ditko and Robin Snyder (and bearing, curiously, a 2018 copyright date, making this the first comic I’ve ever received from the future) and funded via yet another successful Kickstarter campaign. As always it’s a thoroughly intriguing, and at times near-impenetrable, affair that highlights the fascinating creative tension that’s arisen between intention and execution in latter-period Ditko works, to wit —

It seems that Ditko has made a conscious effort to boil everything down to the most pure and distilled iteration of his Objectivist philosophy possible, adopting a decidedly minimalist approach to both scripting and illustration, and yet the end result is a series of strips featuring Ditko’s idiosyncratic characters — Miss Eerie, The Hero, The Outline, etc. — so oblique as to be downright confusing. Every word, every action, every line in every drawing, is pared down to its most bare and essential purpose, a precise exercise in sheer utility that perhaps only the artist himself fully understands — all of which means, of course, that these stories are both absolutely pure and unhindered transmissions from Ditko’s mind, through his hand, onto paper, but that they’re not necessarily easy for anyone else to grasp in their entirety given that, hey, we’re not Ditko.

Final verdict, then? #26 is as hard not to admire as it is sometimes to figure out. There are any number of “hip” young cartoonists out there who would give up half the fingers on their drawing hand to achieve what Ditko does here as a matter of course, and while I’m sure he’d balk at such labels, in my own humble estimation this is as pristine an example of “avant-garde” and/or “outsider” art as you’re likely to find in any medium. A hermetically-sealed vision completely unhindered by any outside artistic influences whatsoever, playing only by rules that it has set for itself. Utterly brilliant, utterly singular, and yeah, utterly perplexing.

Captain America #695 is Marvel’s latest re-launch of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s archetypal patriotic super-hero, and who knows? Maybe this time they got it right. After absolutely bastardizing the character for the past year-plus by turning him into a Hydra/Nazi “sleeper” agent (and, to make matters worse, at the very least implying that’s what he “really” was all along), a “back to basics” approach is probably  about the only thing that can save the entire concept, and the fan-favorite Mark Waid/Chris Samnee creative team is probably the best pair in the Marvel “stable” for the task. Waid’s script — a fairly simple series of statements of intent couched around some fisticuffs — captures Cap’s essence in a naturalistic, unforced manner, and Samnee’s “throwback”-style art is crisp, fluid, and elegant in its deceptive “simplicity.” If this keeps up, chances are I’ll be sticking with this series for the foreseeable future.

Don’t look now, but we’re smack-dab in the middle of yet another Elseworlds-style “alternate universe” Batman boom. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Dark Nights : Metal cross-over “event” seems to be leading the charge, with something like a half-dozen “evil” versions of the Dark Knight from “shadow” universes that don’t exist (even though they do — go figure that one out), but Sean Murphy has also gotten in on the act with his so-far-disappointing, and frankly nauseatingly elitist, Batman : White Knight, and now we’ve got book one of Batman : The Dark Prince Charming, a two-part “graphic novel” from Italian writer/artist Enrico Marini that gives Gotham City the Eurocomics treatment, and that I’m sure DC thinks (or at least hopes) will be viewed as something of a “prestigious” project. I suppose it could be interesting, right?

Except it’s not. Marini’s art is lush, cinematic, and highly literate, but the story hinges on one frankly lame “gotcha”-style twist, the dialogue is stiff and wooden, and honestly nothing much happens here except Batman kicks a bunch of ass along the way to trying to pull off a rescue mission that he suddenly finds he has a highly personal stake in. Characterization is both broad-stroked and ill-defined, plotting is contrived and simplistic, and while Marini’s redesigned Bat-costume looks pretty cool, his version of Joker essentially looks like Sid Vicious in clown makeup.  It’s a quality hardback presentation on heavy, high-gloss paper, sure, but $12.99 is too much to pay for this gorgeous, but hollow, runaround.

Deadly Class artist Wes Craig moves behind the keyboard as writer on The Gravediggers Union, a new ongoing from Image illustrated by Toby Cypress (apart from the 2001-style wordless opening sequence, which is drawn by Craig) that pretty well knocked my socks off with its inventive premise, smart characterization, fun action sequences, and gallows humor. Unionized monster-hunters as the world’s only defense against zombie plagues, vampire infestations, golems made of garbage, and “ghost storms”? I’m down for that.

Admittedly, genre stuff is enough to put off most of the (largely self-appointed) “sophisticated” crowd, but that’s their loss — this is brisk, eye-catching, smart stuff that’s worth taking seriously, even if it doesn’t take itself overly seriously. Image’s policy of giving creators eight or ten extra pages for their first issues ensures good value for your $3.99 here, and while the complete absence of any female characters seems a curious choice to say the least, apparently next month we’re gonna get some witches added to the story, so we’ll see what that’s all about. This one’s well worth following  from the start — and since the start is now, what are you waiting for?

Okay, that should about do it for this week. I got a couple of packages in the mail yesterday that look to contain some interesting items, I’m methodically making my way through The Collected Neil The Horse, and I’ve just discovered the gleefully blasphemous work of cartoonist Aaron Lange, so there’ll be plenty to talk about here in the coming days — and of course, I’ll be back in seven for another “consumer-centric” round of mini-reviews. Hope to see you then!