Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/23/2020 – 02/29/2020

We might get an extra day this year, and it might even be today, but there were still only seven days this week — don’t ask me how that works. In any case, there was a hell of a lot that hit LCS shelves this week, and I’ve chosen four brand-spanking-new debuts to give the once-over, so here they are, arranged in descending order of quality —

Tomorrow #1 comes our way courtesy of editor Karen Berger and her Berger Books imprint at Dark Hose, and teams veteran scribe Peter Milligan with artist Jesus Hervas, continuing this line’s interesting pattern of pairing the old with the new. Milligan, for his part, used to be one of the most interesting and radical writers in the business — Enigma still ranks among my top ten comics of all time —but he’s been a pretty serious hit-or-miss proposition in recent years, with certain projects (Kid Lobotomy) having some of that same punk/surreal flair, while others (The Discipline) are just relentlessly awful. We’re getting “Good Milligan” here, fortunately, and if things continue as strongly as they started, who knows? Maybe we’ll even end up getting “Great Milligan” again for the first time in, like, forever. The premise here is that of a computer virus jumping the techno-barrier and infecting the real world, leaving all adults dead and a new generation suddenly in charge of the world, which sorta plays on contemporary coronavirus fears (although it was obviously written well before that outbreak hit), albeit with a clever sci-fi twist. Our protagonist is a cello-playing prodigy who goes in search of his sister, and the dystopian world we’re introduced to is at once interesting and well-fleshed-out, even if our ostensible “hero” really, well, isn’t so much yet. But I’m willing to let that slide for the time being, figuring that we’ve got four more installments to get around to all that, and Hervas’ art is workmanlike in the best possible way, communicative and polished without too much by way of stylistic bells and whistles. I’m really curious to see how this all plays out, so I’ll be sticking around for the five-issue duration.

Falcon & Winter Soldier #1 is Marvel’s latest attempt to do something with these two former Captain Americas (or is that Captains America?), this time as co-stars in the same book, and I like that writer Derek Landy is picking up on some threads left over from Secret Empire and trying to re-introduce Hydra as a force to be reckoned with — unfortunately, the “kid assassin” villain they dispatch to wipe out Sam and Bucky is an annoying as hell villain, and the cliffhanger at issue’s end is both forced and entirely non-sensical. On the plus side, the first 2/3 of the book was fun and absorbing, and artist Federico Vicentini turns in some really nice works that’s halfway between the Eurocomics-influenced stylings of Matteo Scalera and the personality-heavy-but-pleasingly-basic genre work of Scott Godlewski. I wasn’t blown away by anything in this book by any means, but I’m more than happy to give it a few more months to either win me over for certain or lose me for good.

Finger Guns #1 kicks off a well-publicized new series from Vault Comics, but unfortunately it doesn’t earn the promotional muscle spent on its behalf, as writer Justin Richards’ story about a couple of outcast teens who find they can make magical shit happen by pointing their titular “finger guns” at typical passers-by is a pretty lame slog. The two kids we’re asked to identify with are dull ciphers with blandly-generalized home lives (one’s perpetually neglected, the other has an abusive dad) and no real clue what to do with their ill-defined powers. Luckily, artist Val Halvorson has a nice handle on the more vaguely “cartoony” style that’s popular in these types of “YA” comics — but competent, if unremarkable, illustration alone isn’t enough to keep me around. The rest of the comics internet seems to like this book hell of a lore more than I do, and you know what? Let ’em have it. I can’t find any compelling reason to keep reading this one at all.

Hidden Society #1 brings us back to Dark Horse, and to the worst fucking comic I read all week. Writer Rafael Scavone and superstar artist Rafael Albuquerque collaborated on the solid graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s A Study In Emerald from the same publisher a couple of years ago, but they both turn in work that seems rushed and unimaginative here, with Scavone’s script reading like a watered-down, unfocused rehash of Mark Millar and Olivier Coipel’s The Magic Order (and if you’re half-assing things even more than Millar, that’s saying a lot), and the art looking exponentially more plain, and less inspired, than anything I think I’ve ever seen from Albuquerque. Not that there’s much interesting for him to draw here, anyway — the backstories of all these characters, and their 1979 environs, aren’t really fleshed out in any appreciable way, and we don’t even get a hint that there’s gonna be a villain in the offing, although the “next issue” blurb assures us that one’s on the way. This entire project seems like an attempted pitch for a Netflix series, but if they don’t improve things, and quickly, it’s kinda doubtful that this is gonna end up being the hot Hollywood IP they want it to be. Really, a pretty goddamn awful comic.

So, yeah, lots of ups and down this week — with more “down” than “up,” I’m afraid. Hopefully next week offers us a better batting average, but until then, it’s my job to remind you that this column is “brought to you” 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. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to 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.