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 : 02/25/2018 – 03/03/2018

Looming nuclear war with North Korea! Looming cold war with Russia! Looming trade war with every other country on the planet! What have we got to take our minds off all this potential conflict? Why, comics, of course! And this week offered plenty of distraction — some good, some decidedly less so.

The Beef #1 is the opening salvo in a four-parter from Image that has apparently been in the works for quite some time. Co-writers Richard Starkings and Tyler Shainline, of Elephantmen and Liberty Justice, respectively, join forces with living legend (as far as I’m concerned) Shaky Kane to serve up this story that appears to be part character-study of a lonely middle-aged “nobody,” part examination of small-town generational entrapment, part super-hero parody, and part polemic on the merits of vegetarianism. Kane’s art and colors are, needless to say, absolutely magnificent — larger than life and twice as bold, he’s the nearest thing in style and spirit to Kirby these days — and I’ll be damned if the narrative isn’t instantly involving, as well. It’s all done up in OTT broad strokes — alienated protagonist trapped in the same cattle-slaughtering gig as his old man before him, still tormented by the same bullies (one of whom is the Mayberry equivalent of Donald Trump Jr., given that his daddy owns the meat-processing plant and the fast food joynt while he plays “dudebro” at age 40) that have been making his life hell since high school — and laced with plenty of entirely un-subtle commentary on the evils of anti-immigrant prejudice and carnivorous eating. Yes, they really did make a label out of Kane’s cover art and stick it on a can of SPAM-type meat “product;” yes, our ostensible “hero” appears to turn into a freaky super-human “meat man” at the end; yes, the asshole bad guys really do set a charging bull on a shapely young lady who wisely won’t give either of them the time of day; and yes, this book is every kind of awesomely deranged fun you can imagine. Highest possible recommendation ain’t high enough — buy this comic and remind yourself why you still, stubbornly, love this beleaguered medium.

The One #1 kicks off IDW’s year-long run of Rick Veitch reprints (Brat Pack will be following suit), and offers prima facie evidence that, once upon a time, super-hero deconstructionism wasn’t such a bad thing at all. Originally published under Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint, this has been (correctly, in my view) heralded as a thematic precursor of sorts to later, more-celebrated works such as Watchmen and The Dark Knight returns, but without the self-seriousness of either/both. Veitch is positively brimming over with ideas here, the comic is lavishly illustrated and beautifully colored, and consumer excess comes in for just as much scrutiny within its pages as does the notion of the super-powered vigilante. It’s been a hell of a long time since I read my B&W trade collection of this series, but I’m more than pleasantly surprised by how utterly relevant it remains — shit, I won’t even say that it’s “aged well,” as it’s more a case that the capes n’ tights scene is even more desperately in need of Veitch’s thorough-going, critical examination than it was 30-plus years ago. All the tropes that he wryly dissects are more entrenched — and frankly more nauseating — now than they were in the early 1980s, and even though “revisionism” has been done to death over the past few decades, this book still feels like a breath of unbelievably fresh air. $4.99 may be a little steep for what is essentially a standard-length comic, but for material this smart, incisive, and respectful of its own targets? Shit, it’s an absolute bargain. We’ve seen the problems inherent in this genre laid bare by any number of folks who have disdain for it — Veitch’s deconstruction comes from a place of, dare I say it, love, and he’s much more concerned with elevating costumed crime-fighters to where he thinks they should be rather than taking them down another peg or two. If you’re looking for a story with heart and humor that examines super-hero comics without making you feel like an asshole for still reading them, this is (insert audible groan here) the one.

Doom Patrol/Justice League Of America Special #1 wraps up Steve Orlando and Gerard Way’s “Milk Wars” DCU/Young Animal cross-over series in confusing and faux-“transgressive” fashion by turning the DP’s Rita Farr/Elasti-Girl into a kind of Christ-like figure who died for comics fans’ sins, only to be resurrected here as the very same sort of living plot device that the narrative ostensibly takes aim at. Orlando and Way more-than-imply that she’s a character who’s always deserved better than what she got — then cynically use her “rebirth” as a sort of deckchair-shuffling device to set the stage for the various soon-to-be-relaunched (just over a year into their existence) Young Animal titles. Some forced caption-box narration about the inherent value of being “weird” and “different” is apparently meant to make us forget what a naked cash-grab this entire venture was (seriously, the three “specials” in the middle of this series weren’t necessary to the proceedings at all — if you want to know what “Milk Wars” is all about, the first and final books are, strictly speaking, all you need) because we’ll all be too busy patting ourselves on our backs for our supposed “coolness.” I guess Dale Eaglesham’s art on the main story is okay if the standard “super-hero look” is your thing, and certainly Nick Derington’s work on the epilogue is every bit as fun and fantastic as his illustration in the main Doom Patrol series, but this whole friggin’ thing left me feeling decidedly unimpressed by the time it was over. Cliff Steele/Robotman is human again, Mother Panic has been thrust into the future, Shade’s got a new body, Cave Carson and crew are now in outer space, a character called Eternity Girl has something to do with something or other (we’ll find out in her own book, I guess) and Elasti-Girl is back. That’s where things stand now. Did it take five comics, each costing five bucks, to get us to this point? Not really, since all the events just mentioned take place on the final five or six pages of this one. Young Animal may pride itself on being some sort of “alternative” DC imprint, but the hustle is exactly the same. Oh, and is it just me, or is the stylized lettering on the Rita Farr “cosmic crucifixion” pages way too small? Mind you, I say this as a guy with 20/20 vision — I can only imagine the strain bespectacled readers went through trying to read that shit.

The Terrifics #1 is the latest book to launch as part of the self-described “New Age Of DC Heroes,” and it occcurs to me that, in addition to these titles being constructed according to the “Marvel Method” (writer hacks out a quick synopsis, artist then turns it into a 20-page story, writer comes back and fills in the word balloons and caption boxes), these are all Marvel comics. Which is fine, I suppose, since Marvel itself doesn’t seem interested in publishing them anymore, but seriously — Damage is pretty clearly DC’s take on the Hulk, The Silencer is a Punisher analogue, Sideways is Spider-Man with a different name and set of powers, and this new team consisting of Mister Terrific, Plastic Man, Metamorpho, and Phantom Girl doing the dimension-hopping bears more than a passing similarity, premise-wise, to the Fantastic Four. Jeff Lemire is scripting this one with Ivan Reis on art, and I was having a reasonably fun enough time shutting my brain off and going with the flow — until the last page, when Tom Strong shows up for the cliffhanger and DC proves, once again, that they’re more than happy to keep strip-mining Alan Moore’s imagination for all its (apostrophe omitted with specific intent) worth just to piss the guy off. Come on, any number of dormant space-faring adventurers would have worked just as well in Strong’s place — Adam Strange, anyone? — but it seems like the Dan DiDio/Jim Lee regime simply can’t resist rubbing The Bearded One’s face in their excrement. At first it was just sad and pathetic that they’d actually prove Moore’s points about how creatively and ethically bankrupt they are for him, but between this and Promethea’s recent appearance in Justice League Of America, it’s actually starting to feel more than a bit mean-spirited. I refuse to play along, and you should to. Drop this title from your pull now or suffer through the V/Batman and Top 10/Titans team-ups to follow. You’ve been warned.

And so we arrive at the end of yet another weekly wrap column, and reluctantly turn our attention back to the real world. At least until Wednesday, when a new batch of floppy, four-color escape valves arrives to take us away from the madness once again—

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 01/28/2018 – 02/03/2018

Would’ja believe — there wasn’t too much that came in my mailbox this week and it was my LCS that kept me busy with new stuff to read? I swear, it’s true, so let’s have a look at some items of note that I picked up —

For a series/line that prides itself on being “old-school,” Josh Bayer’s All-Time Comics seems in some ways to hew pretty closely to modern publishing norms. Issues frequently ship late, for instance, and their latest release, the bumper-sized (and subsequently more expensive than usual) All-Time Comics : Blind Justice #2, marks the end of the first “season” of the range, with an Image-style gap of three or four months now on deck as they get their ducks in a row for their next not-exactly-an-arc. The script this time out is a Bayer solo endeavor, and frankly not the greatest — the last half of the comic essentially being an extended “bad guy rant” — but it’s still kinda “warts and all”-style fun that will appeal to most Bronze Age babies like myself by hitting all the right nostalgic notes. It’s really down to the art to essentially carry most of the weight here, though, and weird as it sounds to even say things like “Noah Van Sciver inked by Al Milgrom” and “Sammy Harkham variant cover,” that’s precisely what you get here, and it’s every bit as awesome to look at as said phrases would lead you to expect. I have no doubt that the overall ATC project will continue to confound readers looking for some over-arching unifying grand purpose, as it appears that Bayer and co. really don’t seem to have one, but for my money that’s a large part of the appeal of what they’re doing, and even though I’m sure admitting as much will brand me an intellectual simpleton in the minds of many in the critical community, I’m seriously looking forward to seeing where this whole thing goes next, as regulars like Benjamin Marra return to the fold and newcomers like Gabrielle Bell (yes, you read that right!) join in the four-color carnage. Operating in a previously-unexplored middle ground that exists between the polarities of “homage” and “spoof,” these comics are hitting a “sweet spot” for me — even when they run six bucks, as this one did.

It’ll cost you seven, though, to pick up the second issue of Shelly Bond’s Black Crown Quarterly, and to be honest, I think I’ve seen enough at this point. The format’s nice, with heavy cardstock covers and high-quality glossy paper, and to be honest, most of the individual strips range in quality from “pretty decent” (Rob Davis’ “Tales From The Black Crown Pub,” Jamie Coe’s “Bandtwits,” Leah Moore and Nanna Venter’s “Hey, Amateur! How To Be A Badass Goth In Nine Panels”) to “actually quite good” (“Cannonball Comics” by Christopher Sebela and Shawn McManus, who illustrates in a very engaging and eye-popping style quite unlike anything he’s ever done), but the “Cud : Rich and Strange” ongoing by Will Potter, Carl Puttnam and Philip Bond continues to be a dud, the inclusion of more preview pages for David Barnett and Martin Simmonds’ forthcoming Punks Not Dead make me wonder if we’re not going to end up seeing the entire first issue before it even comes out, and the text pieces are either essentially extended promo blurbs for other Black Crown titles like Kid Lobotomy, or else self-consciously “hip” music and travel recommendations. What frustrates most about BCQ, though, is that Bond’s hopelessly dated tastes and aesthetic sensibilities end up making the overall package less than the sum of its parts, and at the end of the day it almost feels like she’s assembling a comic for an audience of one — herself. Unless you, too, are an anglophile whose musical knowledge doesn’t extend beyond the borders of late-’70s UK punk, it’s hard to see the appeal in an anthology this specifically — and rigidly — constructed. Gotta love the pull-out poster featuring the Bill Sienkiewicz cover variant for Punks Not Dead #1, though.

In what passes for a “bargain” this week, five bucks will get you in the door of Justice League Of America/Doom Patrol Special #1, and while it’s not a spectacular read or anything of the sort, I did have fun with this first part of “Milk Wars,” a five-part weekly crossover that sees Gerard Way’s Young Animal line clashing head-on with the “proper” DC Universe. Way and Steve Orlando wrote the script for this book, and thematically and tonally it seems pretty well right in line with what the My Chemical Romance lead singer is doing with his main Doom Patrol series, in that it borrows equally from Grant Morrison’s run on the book and Larry Cohen’s cult-favorite horror/comedy hybrid The Stuff. I don’t know much about the current Justice League Of America line-up, but it appears to be a bunch of B-and C-list characters like Lobo and Vixen, so I guess re-casting them all as a 1950s neighborhood decency brigade is no particular skin off DC editorial’s back, and for the purposes of this story the conceit works — as does ACO’s frenetic, mildly psychedelic art. Perhaps even better than the main feature, though, is the two-page backup strip, which begins what I’m assuming will be an extended introduction to the character of Eternity Girl, who will soon be featuring in her own series courtesy of this story’s creators, Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew. I’m as shocked as anyone to see a cartoonist of Liew’s caliber taking on an assignment for DC, and equally shocked that he wouldn’t just write it himself since that’s how he’s made his bread and butter previously, but if this brief Silver Age-style yarn is any indication, he and Visaggio should make a good team. Anyway, all in all, this comic stood head, shoulders, and udders (read it and you’ll get what that reference is all about) above most “Big Two” fare.

Lastly, we come to Motehrlands #1, the first of a new Vertigo six-parter from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Rachael Stott that proudly wears its 2000AD influence on its sleeve and isn’t afraid to plunge you in at the deep end from the get-go and trust that you’ll catch up — at some point. The action’s pretty breakneck in this one, though, and absolutely absurd, so don’t expect much hand-holding in this wild mash-up of badass-bounty-hunter, “reality” TV, and dysfunctional family tropes, our main protagonist being an inter-dimensional mercenary skip-tracer who lures her mother, a sort of washed-up female version of that “Dawg” guy, out of retirement in order to help track down the third member of the clan, the good-for-nothing brother/son. It’s a fast-paced and — here’s that word again — fun read, and Stott’s art is a nice mix of the conventional and the far-out, so I’m probably gonna stick it out in single issues, but if you missed the first installment, “trade-waiting” probably wouldn’t do you any harm, and will more than likely save you a few dollars.

Okay, I think that’s good enough for now — the small-press stuff was in short supply this week, which is kind of a bummer, but I’ve got a box on the way from Retrofit any day now of some comics I missed out on from the tail end of 2017, so hopefully I’ll have read enough of those books by this time next week to talk about at least some of them in my next round-up column. Hope to see you again in seven short days!