Weekly Reading Round-Up : 01/26/2020 – 02/01/2020

It’s a total fucking grab-bag this week with a first issue, a last issue, and a couple of regular old middle-ish number issues from a pair of favorite ongoings. And so, having said that —

I’m a sucker for Man-Thing, particularly Steve Gerber’s take on the character, and while the new anti-hero called Man-Slaughter (not that he/it is ever referred to as such in the story) who features in Marvel’s Weapon Plus : World War IV #1 isn’t exactly the same (man-) thing, he’s pretty close — and this eco-horror yarn by Benjamin Percy and Georges Jeanty comes as near to re-capturing that old Gerber mystique as anything I’ve read. I don’t know jack shit about what the “Weapon IV” program is, nor what the “Weapon Plus” referred to in this comic’s title even means, but I know a good comic when I read one — and for “Wednesday Warrior” stuff, this is a damn good comic. A much-racking journalist gets kidnapped by the government and stuck with an injection of Ted Sallis’ corrupted version of the “super-soldier” serum, emerging as a Man-Thing redux who can still think and reason and all that stuff that Sallis himself no longer can. And the latest “rescue” mission Uncle Sam sends him on is gonna pit him against his own “mad scientist” brother? That’s some solid Bronze Age-style pathos right there, and the whole thing’s a vaguely topical morality play that addresses relevant contemporary issues, but does so in a manner that heightens— rather than detracts from — the melodrama. And Jeanty’s art is just superb, leaps and bounds beyond the work he did for WildStorm/Vertigo’s The American Way. It’s creepy, crawly, and yeah,  vaguely reminiscent of both Mike Ploog and Richard Corben, so you know that means it’s great. My one beef with this book — which I assume to be a one-shot — is that the page count was padded (as was the price tag) with the addition of a really lame back-up strip starring something called “Project : Brute Force,” which tries to tell a truncated, capes-and-tights version of We3 in the space of six or eight pages. Tell you what, though — this was still well worth dropping five bucks on, and was my out-of-left-field surprise pick for comic of the week.

Following pretty close on its heels, however, was another Marvel book, The Immortal Hulk #30, which was a welcome action-centric issue from “A-list” creative team Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, and Ruy Jose, who are still sticking with the engrossing corporate-greed-and-intrigue storyline they’ve got going, but are now also giving The Hulk (who’s once again in his “classic” brainless green incarnation) another batch of foes who are pretty nearly his equal in the size and strength department. Bennett’s character designs are off-the-charts amazing  in this installment, and all in all the only “knock” it has going against it is that the cover by Alex Ross “spoils” the last-page cliffhanger. Other than that? Another terrific issue of one of he best series in all of comics.

Moving on over to Image, specifically Robert Kirkman’s Skybound imprint, we’re treated to the start of a new story arc in Redneck #25, and it’s a doozy — Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren have cooked up a wordless issue this time around, and it’s a perfect choice for this Biblical tale focusing on the world’s first vampire and the origins of the secret human-vampire war that’s been raging away below the radar for centuries. Estherren, who is progressing by leaps and bounds as this series goes along,  is called upon to do pretty much all the heavy lifting here, and he more than delivers the goods. The double-page spread at the center of the book, in fact, rises to “ya gotta see it to believe it” level. If you’re passing on this title you’re making a mistake, but if you want to see what you’ve been missing out on, this is the perfect time to do so.

Sticking with Image, we come to the end of the “Cruel Summer” story arc, its protagonist Teeg Lawless, and the series itself with Criminal #12. I’m surprised to see Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips mothball this title once again — although this has (barely) been its longest sustained run, and they’re already promising more at some point down the road. Unfortunately, Brubaker kinda pulls a conclusion out of his ass with this one — and given that we’ve known Teeg’s ultimate fate for years at this point, how and why he arrives at it were really the only questions that lingered, and a weak and random plot twist at the start of the issue and a predictably tragic ending are probably both less than this fan-favorite character deserves, but they’re what he got. Phillips’ art is nice, and it’s great to see him really back in the swing of things after turning in what looked like largely disinterested work (barring the kick-ass demonic stuff) in Kill Or Be Killed, so after this many years of following these guys from one project to another I’m not likely to jump ship now — but it seems to me that they might be pulling the plug on this title at just the right time, even if I had no idea they were planning on doing so. Hell, I could have sworn that Brubaker said they were cranking away at this for at least a couple of years in an earlier letters column. Anyway, they’ve got another OGN coming in May, then their next monthly is launching in the summer, so we’ll see what all that’s about.

All told, then, not too shabby of a week at the LCS, and the timing couldn’t have been better because I feel like the comics mainstream hasn’t been offering much of interest for the past few weeks or so. Consider my batteries fully recharged, then — and you can help charge them further, should you so desire, by signing up for 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 indeed if you’d check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Ongoing Series

With my top ten single issues of 2019 in the rear view mirror, let’s move on to the top ten ongoing series. Any comic that saw two or more issues released in the past calendar year is eligible in this category and so, as you’d no doubt expect, the mainstream is represented much more on this list than it was in the last, given that most of their titles are still, theoretically, on a regular production schedule. There are a couple of elephants in the room that I’ll address at the very end, but let’s worry about that after you’ve read the “countdown,” shall we?

10. Wasted Space By Michael Moreci And Hayden Sherman (Vault Comics) – The first of two ensemble cast sci-fi series where every member of said ensemble is an asshole to make the “best of” cut this year, Moreci’s scripts for this book are heavy on the humor and class-conscious political messaging, while Sherman, who’s one of the busiest artists around these days, seems to bring an extra level inspiration and creativity to this title. Fun and smart in equal measure.

9. Go-Bots By Tom Scioli (IDW) – Perhaps the most surprising entry on the list simply because no one expected that a good comic about some third-rate Transformers knock-offs was even possible, but leave it to the great Scioli to make these robots seem more human than — well, humans, while cramming more ideas and visual “hooks” into any given page than most cartoonists can manage in an entire issue. IDW is onto something with this whole “give an indie guy a crack at a licensed property” idea, as we shall see as things go on.

8. All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape By Josh Bayer, Josh Simmons, Trevor Von Eeden, et. al. (Floating World Comics) – After an up-and-down first “season,” the aesthetic and thematic goals of the brothers Bayer (the other being Samuel)  are coming into pretty sharp focus in this late-Bronze Age homage. Some of that might be down to the addition of  Simmons as co-writer, and some of it is certainly down to the monumentally-underappreciated Von Eeden coming aboard as main artist and proving he certainly hasn’t lost a step, but whatever the case may be, this amalgamation of the over-and undergrounds is firing on all cylinders now.

7. Clue : Candlestick By Dash Shaw (IDW) – I told you we’d be getting back to IDW licensed books, and what a beauty this one was : the endlessly-inventive Shaw littered each of the three issues of this mini with clever puzzles and crafted one of the more compelling characters in comics this year with his iteration of Miss Scarlet. Innovative, engrossing, and consistently surprising, we’re talking about a legit gem here.

6. Outer Darkness By John Layman And Afu Chan (Image/Skybound) – Our second ensemble-cast-of-assholes science fiction series serves up at least one “pinch me, did I really just read that?” moment in each issue, as Layman crafts an epic that’s equal parts William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers, while Chan delivers the visually-arresting goods in a style that demonstrates some strong anime influence yet remains utterly unique. You may not like anyone in this book, but you’ll love the book itself.

5. The Immortal Hulk By Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, et. al. (Marvel) – The first time a Marvel book has made my year-end list, but anyone who doubts my judgment clearly hasn’t been reading this comic. Ewing is doing for the Hulk what Alan Moore did for Swamp Thing, and Bennett blends Bernie Wrightson and Kelly Jones with early-era Image and jaw-dropping character designs, ably abetted by Jose’s faithful, non-flashy inks . The best super-hero book in a decade or more.

4. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest By Alan Moore And Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – Every bit as self-indulgent and self-congratulatory as its detractors claim, this extended “farewell tour” by Moore and O’Neill is nevertheless a heartfelt love letter to the characters and the medium they’re leaving behind as well as (crucially) the creators who came before them, who gave voice to the dreams and imaginings of countless generations — and were, of course, unconscionably ripped off for their troubles. One of the funniest and angriest comics of the year, and prima facie evidence that the comics landscape will be a far poorer place with these two, dare I say it, extraordinary gentlemen no longer part of it.

3. Love And Rockets By Jaime And Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Los Bros. have been reaching new plateaus since switching back to their original magazine format with this, the fourth “volume” of their justly-legendary series, and while I hate to pick favorites, Jamie’s Maggie and Hopey stories are perhaps the best they have ever been right now. Which doesn’t mean Beto isn’t on a real creative “high” right now himself — he surely is. So let’s just admit what we all know : as readers of this tile, we’re not just spoiled — we’re spoiled to an embarrassing degree.

2. This Never Happened By Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Probably the most divisive title on this list, but also the bravest. Anyone who mines the worst period of their life for a creative “battery charge” is entering into combustible territory, and while Graham doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to her portrayal of other folks, her sharpest barbs are aimed at herself and the crucial part she played in her own personal downward spiral. And the only thing bolder than the script is the art, which is Graham’s most emotive and self-assured to date. I won’t kid you, after reading the first issue I was a little worried if the cartoonist was mentally and emotionally okay, but after two installments it really hit me : the work itself is proof that she emerged from her crisis not just relatively intact, but flat-out inspired.

1. From Hell : Master Edition By Alan Moore And Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – Anyone who has a problem with me choosing a reprint series as the year’s best ongoing, have at it — because while you can criticize me all you want, the work in question is pretty well above reproach. I was as skeptical as anyone else that adding color to the proceedings would massively detract from the look and flavor of Moore and Campbell’s grimy (and no doubt accurate) interpretation of the Victorian era, but with the artist himself in charge of the palette, the results have ranged from “unobtrusive” to “amazing,” and the absurd levels of income inequality in today’s world, as well as the return of leaders who seem to believe they come from the “divine right of kings” school of “thought,” make this conspiratorial examination of the Jack The Ripper murders more relevant than ever. Even if it’s all bullshit, it’s still true.

And now for those elephants in the room —

Astute readers may have noticed that two perennial favorites didn’t make the cut this year, those being Jeff Lemire and Dean Haspiel’s Black Hammer and Eric Reynolds’ avant-garde anthology series Now. The reason for that is simple : while Black Hammer : Age Of Doom ended in very satisfactory fashion, the issue leading up to it felt hopelessly padded and derivative, and while Now rebounded nicely with its seventh and most recent issue, volumes five and six didn’t come close to meeting the standard set by the title early on. I’d be shocked if that comic in particular didn’t find its was back onto the list next year, but we don’t deal in speculation around these parts. You wanna make the cut in any given 12-month period, you gotta earn it.

Next — the top ten vintage collections of 2019. See you for that in a couple of days! In the meantime, if you’d like to support my ongoing work, please consider subscribing to 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 favor and check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/20/2019 – 10/26/2019

My reading selection of books released this past Wednesday offers no real thematic connection to stitch together — no preponderance of first issues, no mix of firsts and lasts, nothing like that — so we’re just gonna get totally random with this week’s “capsule review” selections, and the verdicts for each are, likewise, all over the map —

Forcing a “milestone” label onto a book that’s been around for, like, less than two years seems a bit of a reach, but Marvel is no doubt eager to capitalize on the runaway critical and commercial success of The Immortal Hulk, and so #25 has indeed been marketed as some sort of “landmark” issue, and saddled with the extra pages and $5.99 price tag that comes part and parcel with such a purported “occasion.” Fortunately, cash-grabs don’t come much better than this stand-alone “cosmic” story that bears distinct echoes to Alan Moore’s legendary “Swamp Thing in space” arc and features absolutely gorgeous art from German Garcia to accompany Al Ewing’s magnificent, evocative script. Series regulars Joe Bennett and Ruy Jose are back for the last few pages that deliver a kick-ass cliffhanger, and the future for this series looks every bit as bright as the present. If they want another six bucks out of me come #50, guess what? I’m not gonna complain in the least.

Also carrying a steeper-than-usual price tag ($4.99, to be precise) and also from Marvel is Marauders#1, the first of the “X-Books” since the relaunch not to be written by Jonathan Hickman, although stylistically it certainly feels of a piece with his efforts, and the text pages design carries right over from them. The raison d’etre behind this team’s formation feels a bit forced, though, I have to say, and premises in search of a story to support them never actually work out particularly well. In addition, the characters writer Gerry Duggan has found foisted upon him are strictly “C-listers” (at best) all the way, as we’ve got Kitty Pryde leading this makeshift “pirate mutant protectors” outfit with Iceman, Pyro, Storm, and Bishop  in tow, and Emma Frost hanging in the background as financier of the hastily-conceived enterprise. Matteo Lolli’s art is okay, but only that, and overall one gets the distinct impression that this is a book with a 12-issue lifespan if it’s lucky. I won’t be hanging around to find out how accurate that prediction is or not, however.

Then again, who knows? Maybe I should. After all, you never know when a title might pull everything together and make your sticking things out worth the while. Case in point : Tommy Gun Wizards #3 from Dark Horse finally sees Christian Ward breathe some real life and drama into his “occult take on The Untouchables” premise, just in time for the big finale next time around, and the art by Sami Kivela, which in all fairness to this mini-series grabbed me right away and kept me around to this point, just gets stronger and more confident with each issue. The Ward-illustrated backup strip is over and done with after this one, the events within it now cleverly tying into the main story, and I gotta say that if the ending’s as good as this installment was, then these guys will have achieved something pretty remarkable, namely : delivering a memorable story entirely on the back end, the first half having basically been a confused — and confusing — mess.

Lastly but in no way leastly, the “Cruel Summer” storyline currently running in Ed Brubkaer and Sean Phillips’ Image Comics-published Criminal reaches another creative high-water mark in issue #9, as our narrative bottle-spin stops on teenage sorta-hood Leo Patterson, who finds himself being led down a dangerous path by his best friend Ricky, son of longtime on-and-off series protagonist Teeg Lawless. I was cooling on Brubaker/Phillips in a pretty big way after their last couple of projects, but going back to the well and expanding its scope and reach has proven to be a genius move for the duo, as they’re back to producing grade-A work month after month with this new “floppy” iteration of their venerable neo-noir “franchise.” Long may it continue.

And that was the week that was, the only order of business left on the docket being my customary reminder that this column is “brought to you” each and 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. If you have even so much as a passing interest in my work you’re sure to get your money’s worth by joining up, so give it a try by heading on over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse