Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/01/2020 – 03/07/2020

I’ll be the first to admit that most weeks these Round-Up columns are just my way of keeping up with what’s happening in the comics mainstream, and truth be told my “pull list” is so small compared to that of many of my readers that I often have a difficult time finding four books that I even feel like talking about. This week was a glorious exception, however — one of those weeks where yeah, I maybe spent a little too much, but I was reminded of why I even stick with the ritual of heading down to my LCS on Wednesdays in the first place. Yeah, we all know that small-press comics are cool, but ya know what? The “Big Two” and the major indies still put out some damn good stuff too, and this week they hit us with four first issues that are well worth anyone’s time and money —

I wasn’t necessarily expecting a whole lot from Strange Adventures #1, being one of those crusty holdouts who didn’t find much value in Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ much-hyped Mister Miracle (although I should state, for the record, that I found The Sheriff Of Babylon to be compelling — if gutlessly apolitical — reading), but I dunno : maybe it’s the addition of Evan “Doc” Shaner to the line-up, or maybe this team just has a better handle on Adam Strange as a character, but whatever the reason, this DC Black Label debut hit all the right notes for me. The overly-forced nature of King’s pseudo-“naturalist” dialogue appears to have given way to actual naturalism here, and the decision to split the art chores (Gerads doing the sequences taking place on Earth, Shaner cutting loose with the Silver Age stylings on the pages set on the war-torn world of Rann) is looking, so far, like a stroke of genius. Is Adam Strange a hero, or a war criminal? We have no idea yet, but I think I’m probably gonna be down to spend the next year finding out. Oh, and there’s a pretty solid Earth-bound murder mystery going on in the background, as well. This is how you do super-hero revisionism right.

The team behind the superb relaunch of The Flintstones is back together over at Ahoy with Billionaire Island #1, and not only have Mark Russell and Steve Pugh not lost a step, being unencumbered from corporate licensing considerations seems to be agreeing with them rather nicely. The premise of this near-future tale is that climate change is fast rendering the plant uninhabitable, so the super-rich are doing an “Alternative 3” type of thing (Google it if you want to go down an interesting rabbit hole), only without leaving Earth. Is this heavy-handed? You’d better believe it, but the billionaire class deserves every ounce of scorn that’s heaped upon them and Russell, as always, is a funny as he is topical, while Pugh, for his part, delivers the goods in workmanlike, highly competent fashion. I’m digging the political cover-up at the core of the story, and the reason our hero-in-waiting is out for revenge makes perfectly good sense in the midst of all the absurdity. I thoroughly enjoyed the living hell out of all my Wednesday pick-ups this week, as we’ve already established, but this may have been my favorite of the bunch.

I’ll tell you what, though, it’s got some stiff competition in the form of Boom! Studios’ King Of Nowhere #1, a phantasmagorically “trippy” tale from Ice Cream Man‘s W. Maxwell Prince and Matt Kindt’s frequent artistic collaborator, Tyler Jenkins. I have no idea what the fuck is happening in this comic, and that’s its’ great charm, as we follow the exploits of a drink-and-drug-addled loser who either wakes up a literal “stranger in a strange land,” or else doesn’t wake up at all and is having one hell of a dream. Lots of imagination on offer in terms of both script and art here, with Jenkins’ always-inventive illustration really capturing the look and, crucially, the character of my most enjoyable acid trips, while his wife Hilary’s watercolor hues breathe a bunch of post-psychedelic life into every page. Not only do I not know where this five-part (I think) series is going, I don’t know where we are right now. You may call that whatever you wish, but I call it exciting.

Lastly, Port Of Earth scribe Zack Kaplan joins forces with the criminally-underappreciated Piotr Kowalski at Aftershock for Join The Future #1, a pretty clear-cut and unambiguous sci-fi tale about “wild west”-style survivalist hold-outs trying to make a stand for the old ways in the face of encroaching terraformed cities that provide a life free not only of toil, but of any sort of exertion (physical or mental) whatsoever. The parallels between the Wal-Marts and Amazons of the world are obvious here — as is everything, really — but the characterization is great, the good guys are easy to root for, and Kowalski (who also drew this week’s Wellington #3 from IDW — I swear, we’re spoiled) just plain knocks it out of the park with stylish art and eye-popping futuristic design work. This one’s also slated to go five issues, and I fully expect to be on hand for all of them.

And with that we kick back and hope for another solid week coming up. Until then, though, please consider helping out this jobbing freelancer by subscribing to my Patreon site, where I serve up excusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Here’s the link for you to check it out :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 05/26/2019 – 06/01/2019, Two Debuts And Two Finales

I don’t keep precise track, but it seems like it’s been a good month or two since the Round-Up looked at new “mainstream” stuff to that hit LCS shops the previous Wednesday, so we’re gonna correct that imbalance by looking at two first issues and two last issues that saw release this week. We’ll start with the “starts” and stop with the “stops,” if it’s all the same to you —

Killer Groove #1 comes our way from Aftershock and the writer/artist team of Ollie Masters and Eoin Marron. Masters seems to dig the “1970s period-piece noir with a twist” premise, as this is his second foray down that particular rabbit-hole, the first being his Vertigo series The Kitchen, soon to be a major Hollywood blockbuster starring Melissa McCarthy. This one seems just as ripe for commercial exploitation, but so far characterization, motivations, even the plot itself are all paper thin. Our protagonist is a struggling, marginally-employed (and, apparently, marginally racist) would-be rocker named Jonny, whose life takes a turn for the weirder — and probably more profitable — when he intercedes to save the life of a guy who turns out to be a Mafia hitman. The ease with which Jonny kills for the first time is pretty tough to reconcile with reality, but Marron’s suitably gritty art — to say nothing of Joride Bellaire’s atmospheric AF colors — are probably enough to keep me around for at least one more issue, maybe even two, but the story’s gonna have to improve fast in order for me to continue much beyond that.

The downright weird Batman : Last Night On Earth #1  is not just the latest release from DC’s Black Label imprint, it’s also the last Bat-story from writer Scott Snyder, artist Greg Capullo, and their usual partners in crime, inker Jonathan Glapion and colorist FCPO Plascencia. Or so we’re informed. Truth be told, they said the same thing about Batman #52 and the Dark Nights : Metal mini-series, so we shall see. The basics here are that in the future, Darkseid has left the world a ruined wasteland and Bruce Wayne may or may not actually be in a psychiatric hospital and the Joker’s decapitated head is now a lantern. There’s nothing here that Josh Simmons and Patrick Kek didn’t already do before — and thousands of times better — in their Batman-in-all-but-name Twilight Of The Bat comic a couple of years ago, so why someone would drop six bucks per issue on this three-parter I have no earthly idea, but whatever. If this sort of thing is your sort of thing, then you’ll probably like this comic just fine, but I dunno. Elseworlds used to do better at this sort of storytelling, it’s just a fact, but there are quite a few cool visuals in this, so I guess it’s not a complete waste — even if several pages kind of telegraph ahead of time that it will, indeed, prove to be exactly that by the time all is said and done.

Sticking with DC but leaving beginnings aside in favor of conclusions, Tom King — who started this week by being “fired” from Batman and ended it by being put in charge of some new Bat/Cat project and signing on to co-write the forthcoming New Gods movie with director Ava DuVernay — and Clay Mann bring us Heroes In Crisis #9, which reads like a mercy killing that came, I dunno, six issues too late. Mann’s art is this annoying “sensitive, vaguely realistic” take on classic “cheesecake” stuff, and King’s dialogue is a stilted, disjointed mess. I read the first issue, skipped the rest, then give this one a whirl digitally, and while it was confusing as all get-go to read absent most of its context, it doesn’t take a genius to discern that there’s nothing in this issue that compels you to go back and read previous installments. Wally West killed all the other heroes at PTSD super-group home Santuary, only now he didn’t ‘cuz, ya know, time travel and all that. Personally, I’d settle for just getting back the 20 minutes of my life wasted on this horseshit.

Dynamite’s apparently been cozying up to “comicsgate” quite a bit recently, so they’ve seen their last dollar from me, but Kieron Gillen and Caspar Wijnaard have done such an amazing job with this entirely unofficial Watchmen sequel that I cracked open the review .PDF for it and was blown away by the degree to which they were able to “stick the landing.” Not ready to say that Peter Cannon : Thunderbolt #5 is the strongest issue of the bunch, but it’s damn close, and Gillen seems to be surpassing Grant Morrison in terms of incorporating overtly “meta” trappings into his comics, while Wijngaard certainly makes the 9-panel grid look fresh and exciting for the first time since — well, since Moore and Gibbons used it as the main weapon in their arsenal over 30 years ago. Absolutely superb comics-making here, folks — the only question remaining is whether or not having only four issues in my longbox is gonna drive me straight-up nuts. Place your bets on whether or not I end up going back and buying this thing, or if sticking with my principles actually means more to me than my unhinged completism.

And so went the past week. As always, we close up with a note that I would sure welcome your support on my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. There’s tons of content up on there already and joining only costs a buck, so come on — what have you got to lose? Here’s your link :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/11/2018 – 11/17/2018, Three Beginnings And An Ending

This week, we take a brief side-step away from our usual small-press “turf” to have a quick look at four high-profile mainstream comics now available on your LCS shelves — three are alphas, one’s an omega.

The Green Lantern #1  marks DC’s latest attempt to revive the flagging critical and commercial fortunes of their premier cosmic super-hero, and while the sort of “back-to-basics” approach being undertaken by writer Grant Morrison and artist Liam Sharp may be precisely what the character needs (not having read a contemporary GL story is probably a couple of decades I’m really not in much position to judge), a dose of some sort of ambition would probably go a long way, and this book has precisely zero of that. It’s hard to believe that the same guy responsible for such thought-through and intricate mind-fucks as The InvisiblesThe FilthFlex Mentallo, and Nameless could be so lazy as to write a dull and hackneyed pulp-adventure pastiche such as this, but that’s precisely the case, as Hal Jordan, “space cop,” goes after some meddling aliens intent on using a quasi-mystical device intended to bring its owners good luck — and very little else actually happens. Liam Sharp’s art is flashy and reasonably inventive in terms of his page layouts, panel designs, etc., but if you check out Hal’s weird, elongated neck on the cover, you’ll see that human anatomy is not his strong suit, and the problem is only exacerbated on the interior pages, some of which actively border on the hard to look at. This comic has one huge saving grace in the form of the coloring by industry legend (for good reason) Steve Oliff, who not only hasn’t lost a step but is still a good few paces ahead of most who have followed in his wake, but the hues alone in no way justify this book’s absurd $4.99 cover price (DC having apparently decided to tear a page from the Marvel playbook and charge an extra book for debut issues with maybe 6-10 extra pages). I went in to this one not giving a shit about the title character but hoping for the best given that Morrison is still capable of some thought-provoking, thoroughly engaging high-concept stuff —  and I walked away from it still not giving a shit about the title character, nor what these marquee creators do with him.

Hex Wives #1 marks the debut of the second non-Sadman title in the umpteenth relaunch of DC’s once-venerable “mature readers” Vertigo line (now re-branded, for what it’s worth, as DC/Vertigo), and again, one issue is all it takes to let me know that what’s going on here isn’t likely to be of much interest to me. Writer Ben Blacker is clearly trying to author the next feminist genre hit, and good on him for that, but this story of a group of amnesiac immortal witches held captive in sham suburban marriages by the men who have been tormenting them for centuries seems like it’s doomed to run of gas pretty quickly, as these ladies would have to be pretty stupid indeed to believe that their husbands go to work all day while they stay home and clean, prevented from going anywhere by the fact that none of them drive, and that there are long-running forest fires off in the distance that make the prospects of ever leaving town seem pretty remote indeed. I dug Mirka Andolfo’s clean, smart artwork, but the point of parables is that they’re already obvious enough for a child to understand, and I fail to see how layering a few on top of each other is going to do anything other than leave readers feeling pissed off that their intelligence is being insulted by something this painfully obvious as far as metaphors go. I laid out $3.99 for this comic from may own pocket, and I assure you that I have no intention of making that mistake again.

Bitter Root #1 sees the reunification of the acclaimed Power Man And Iron Fist creative team of scribe David F. Walker and artist Sanford Greene, this time plying their wares at Image Comics,  where both gentlemen ( joined for this project by co-writer Chuck Brown) appear to have not lost their strides at all, as this “Harlem Renaissance
take on the conflict between a likable-but-eccentric family and the vaguely Hoodoo-esque monsters they’re tasked with protecting their city — hell, their world — from” hits the ground running and never lets up. There’s still a veritable fuck-ton of details to be worked out as things progress, mind you, but this is a prime example of how slipping in social and political themes can often elevate a work at least a little bit beyond its genre trappings, given that these characters’ real chief nemesis is bigotry and intolerance. Yeah, it’s about as unsubtle as the just-reviewed Hex Wives, but in the hands of a triumvirate of creators as accomplished as these folks, who are clearly firing on all cylinders, the tried and true can still seem reasonably fresh and exciting — as this comic does. So, that’s $3.99 added to my pull list on a monthly basis — maybe it’s time to balance the scales by dropping one title for each new one I jump on?

Mister Miracle #12 is our “omega” this time out, in that it represents the final installment of writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads’ much-celebrated revival of Jack Kirby’s venerable Fourth World escape artist, and while the comic is (as has always been the case with this series) quite pleasing to have an extended “gander” at, I found the story to be somewhat uninspired and would like to humbly point out that I called this out as “Mulholland Dr., only with super-heroes and the suicide attempt the beginning” way back when I reviewed the first issue — and whaddya know, that’s not a bad description at all when thinking about the series in its totality. I’m also more than willing to bet that this finale will be hard-argued-over in many a fan circle for years to come, and that DC will iron out where this story fits into their corporate continuity long before the question of whether or not it even “really” happened is resolved to the satisfaction of crusty, pedantic funnybook-obsessives the world over. For my part, I thought it worked reasonably well for what it was — but what it was proved to be more or less exactly what I was expecting. I generally found that I felt like readers got their four bucks’ worth out of each issue in this run, but if you weren’t following it monthly you’d d be much better off waiting for the trade collection, which I would imagine is only a short time off, rather than hunting down the back issues. As you’ve no doubt gathered, I was considerably less effusive with my praise for this title than a lot of other critics out there who absolutely (and, frankly, embarrassingly) fawned over it, but it’s not like it was bad or anything, and I’m looking forward to having the time one of these days to sit down and re-read the whole thing in one go with an eye out for anything I may have missed.

And so ends another week of comics reading. Next week’s column will focus on — shit, it’s late, get back to me on that.

 

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.

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/04/2018 – 02/10/2018

Once again, and against all odds, the new release racks at my LCS featured a pretty decent selection of stuff worth both reading and talking about this week, so give me a second to roll up my sleeves here and I’ll get into it —

Twisted Romance #1 is the first of a four-part weekly “supernatural love”-themed anthology published by Image and spearheaded by writer Alex De Campi, who is here joined on the main feature, “Old Flames,” by the incomparable Katie Skelly — who probably should have been been given free reign on both story and art, since this succubus-themed tale is a decent enough little throwaway yarn, but certainly no My Pretty Vampire by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a crisp, breezy read that wisely allows the stylish and sharp visuals to pull most of the weight, but ultimately rather forgettable.

Fortunately, though, things improve as the book trudges forward, first with  “Leather & Lace,” a pleasing-if-predictable prose story  about two Wendgio hunters (one human, one vampire) in love written by Megan Cubed that may not knock your socks off but gives you just enough of a handle on the characters to want a happy ending for them before proceeding to deliver precisely that, and then with a downright stunning impressionistic/interpretive backup (or first-up, depending on which of the “reversible” covers you flip to) strip, entitled “Red Medusa In Hell,” by visionary talent (not to mention damn fine critic) Sarah Horrocks that straight-up blew me away with its fatalistic high-energy visuals and daringly sparse scripting. The story looks and feels like a cry for help from a doomed lover for whom it’s already far too late, and touches on themes of anger, jealousy, rage — and even necrophilia! This is a direct shot of uncomfortably violent stimuli mainlined right into your brain via the optic nerve and a deliriously chaotic cacophony of all that can go wrong when love does go wrong. The book’s worth four bucks for this story alone — hell hath no fucking fury, indeed.

Shifting from “alpha” to “omega,” but sticking with Image, we come to Rock Candy Mountain #8, the finale of Kyle Starks’ superb love song to hobo culture, and yes, the mythical “promised land” of many an itinerant worker that the title alludes to is, indeed, found by our protagonist here — after a fashion, at any rate — but fear not : there’s still another gigantic hobo brawl to get through first and, oh yeah, the inclusion of the Spear of Destiny into the joyously-gummed-up proceedings finally pays off in quiet-but-major fashion. I’m really hoping that Starks and colorist supreme Chris Schweizer team up for another project sooner rather than later, as this has been a textbook example of first-rate cartooning from start to finish. If  you’ve been passing on it in singles then you definitely need to pick it up in trade (the second volume should be available shortly), and I’ll tell you what : even though financial suicide isn’t exactly my thing, if they collect the entire series in a handsome hardback at a fairly reasonable price, I’ll probably “double dip” and go for that, as well, since that would be a damn fine thing to have on my bookcase. I have nothing but love for this comic.

Speaking of love, that’s also an eminently fair description of how I felt about Incognegro : Renaissance #1, the second comic to come down the pike from editor Karen Berger’s new “Berger Books” line at Dark Horse. A prequel to writer Mat Johnson and artist Warren Pleece’s Incognegro graphic novel (which Dark Horse re-issued in hardback to coincide with this comic’s debut), this is immediately arresting stuff that sees our “light-skinned-enough-to-pass-for-white” protagonist stumble headfirst into a murder mystery set at the height of the Harlem Rensaissance (hence, ya know, the title) that is bursting at the seams with intrigue and any number of potential red herrings right from the outset. Johnson’s dialogue is witty, sly, and authentic, Pleece’s always-underappreciated art is frankly better than ever, and to say this comic “oozes atmosphere” is probably an understatement, but oh well, too late, I already said it. I was a little bit iffy about the direction Berger’s imprint was heading in after an underwhelming debut with Hungry Ghosts last week, but now I’m feeling decidedly more optimistic. This was a terrific read, and fuck you if you think a black-and-white comic ain’t worth $3.99.

DC wants eight of the dollars you work so hard for in exchange for Swamp Thing Winter Special #1, and whether or not you should give it to them probably depends on how big a fan of the character you are. The main feature by Tom King and Jason Fabok certainly pays loving homage to co-creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, but the AM sports radio framing sequence surrounding the “Swampy tries to keep a young boy safe from an unseen snow monster” tale falls flat, you’ll see the plot “twist” coming from at least ten miles away, the attempts at heartstring-tugging seem forced, and King’s hyper-stylized, “choppy” dialogue is beginning to make all the characters in all the books he writes sound exactly the same. And speaking of the same, he employs the identical “fast-forward” truncated timeline technique in this as he does in the latest issue of Batman. I guess Jason Fabok’s art is okay if you like standard-issue “New 52” superhero stuff, but I don’t, so count me as being fundamentally unimpressed with everything about this story.

Of somewhat more interest is the backup, which was to be the first issue of a new Wein/Kelley Jones Swampy mini-series. Their last six-parter was all kinds of retro fun, and the prospect of them re-teaming for another filled me something approaching joy, but Wein’s untimely passing cut that short, and so all we have is this glimpse of what could/should have been. Jones’ always-superb, Wrightson-esque art is here presented sans dialogue and narration, since Wein — whose script then follows — essentially wrote “Marvel-style,” providing his artist with what amounts to an extended synopsis that includes minimal specific panel instruction, very little dialogue, and lots of “leave me room for some caption boxes here”-type notations. It’s fascinating to see the level of (entirely well-placed) trust he had in Jones, and DC did absolutely the right thing (how often can you say that?) both in terms of deciding not to let somebody else step in and finish what Wein had started, and in making sure Jones’ sumptuously creepy art was able to see the light of day. Does it make me long for what could have been? Sure, but I’m glad we got this much, and its inclusion here provides a fine endcap for what is essentially a “tribute special” for Swamp Thing’s creators.

And on that note, I think we’ll call this a wrap. A couple packages — including one from friend of this website Brian Canini — arrived yesterday, so I’ll look forward to diving into that stuff and reporting back on it, plus whatever else strikes my fancy, when next we meet here in seven days!

 

 

 

2017 Year In Review : Top 10 Series

Okay, let’s keep our best-of-2017 theme going here with a look at the Top 10 ongoing series of the year. A quick refresher on the rules : both ongoing and limited series are eligible in this category, as long as they meet a three-issue minimum. The idea here is to rank comics that are chained to a regular(-ish) production schedule, as opposed to those that come out whenever a cartoonist or creative team has the time and/or finances (in the case of self-publishers) to release them. Those books were all eligible (and, frankly, dominated) the “Top 10 Single Issues” list that I cranked out a couple days ago — and, as with that, this one won’t feature full reviews of each series, nor even ones that graduate to the “capsule” review level, just short summations of why I like ’em.

Sound good? I’m happy if you agree, and frankly could care less if you don’t. And so, with my “arrogant asshole” credentials out of the way, let’s get into it:

10. Doom Patrol (DC/Young Animal) – This book has seen numerous production delays, but whenever a new issue comes out, it’s worth it. Yeah, writer Gerard Way leans pretty heavily on Grant Morrison’s DP run for influence, but he’s not slavishly beholden to it, and Nick Derington’s art is equal parts classic and forward-thinking. The closest thing to an “art comic” you’re likely to get from either of the “Big Two” publishers.

9. Royal City (Image) – Jeff Lemire’s moody and slow-burning solo book is a little bit examination of a town that has seen better days, but mainly a compelling family drama about a dysfunctional clan that has definitely seen better days. A touch too mired in ’90s nostalgia for my tastes (news flash, that decade sucked — yes, even most of the music), but damn near pitch-perfect apart from that.

8. Dept. H (Dark Horse) – Matt Kindt’s underwater murder mystery is probably the most compulsively page-turning series going right now, and the watercolor-style hues provided by his wife Sharlene complement the atmosphere perfectly. I dunno how a book with a whole ocean to play in ends up being having such a claustrophobic feel, but damn if the walls don’t seem like they’re closing in on every member of the ensemble cast, all the time.

7. Black Magick (Image) – Writer Greg Rucka and artist extraordinaire Nicola Scott took a break from this one to work on Wonder Woman for awhile, but now they’re not only back, but back with a vengeance. Part police procedural, part Wiccan educational text (for the uninitiated, at any rate), this comic is like nothing else out there, and the rich, cinematic art will absolutely knock your socks off.

6. Mister Miracle (DC) – Yeah, this thing has been over-hyped to the hilt, and won’t seem anywhere near as “revolutionary” as advertised to anyone who’s seen a few David Lynch flicks (particularly Mulholland Drive), but Tom King and Mitch Gerads nevertheless deliver a smarter, more confounding, more complex, and more conceptually spot-on take on a Jack Kirby concept than we’ve seen to date — heck, I daresay The King himself would probably be proud of this one.

5. The Wild Storm (DC/WildStorm) – Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt have done the unthinkable with this series : turned Jim Lee’s gone-and-largely-forgotten relic of ’90s comic book excess into a thought-provoking, Philip K. Dick-esque, paranoid sci-fi political thriller. Crisply scripted, lavishly illustrated, and overflowing with key visual information in every panel, this is borderline-brilliant stuff.

4. Violent Love (Image) – Nobody bought this just-wrapped series and even fewer people are talking about it, but fuck it, that’s their loss. Frank J. Barbiere’s Badlands/Natural Born Killers/Bonnie And Clyde -style “criminals on the road” script is as fast and furious as they come, and Victor Santos’ art is the most stylish thing going in any “major independent” book, brimming over with ’70s exploitation grit and film noir cool.

3. The Flintstones (DC) – Truth be told, all of DC’s licensed Hanna-Barbera comics have been far better than any rational reader had probably assumed they would be, but this recently-concluded revisionist take on life in Bedrock from writer Mark Russell and criminally-underappreciated veteran artist Steve Pugh is clearly the best of the bunch — and, obviously, one of the best comics of the year. Spot-on social and political commentary that spares no sacred cows matched with wit and whimsy that’s downright charming, this wasn’t so much a Fred, Wilma, Barney, and Betty “re-launch” as it was a thematic and spiritual successor to Howie Post’s legendary Anthro. Utterly sublime, and hopefully a second “season” will be in the offing sooner rather than later.

2. Love And Rockets (Fantagraphics) – Los Bros. Hernandez have brought their series back to its original magazine format, and whenever a new issue hits the racks, all is temporarily right with the world again. Beto’s stuff is arguably at its most deeply self-referential right now, but rest assured it’s still great, and Jaime’s strips are aging so gracefully it’s almost painful to take in — seriously, Maggie, Hopey and co. are even more compelling at mid-life than they were in their twenties. By all rights this comic should have devolved into nostalgia and stagnation by now, but not only has that not happened, there are no signs that it ever will. Who are we kidding? This is one of the greatest comics not only of the year, but of all time. Always has been, always will be.

1. Black Hammer (Dark Horse) – Just when you thought super-hero revisionism was finally dead and buried, along comes Jeff Lemire and a majestically resurgent Dean Ormston (who had to re-train himself to draw after suffering a stroke) to show that you can move the most tired sub-genre of the most tired genre in the medium forward while writing a love letter to its past at the same time. This book consistently hits every note that long-time comics readers could possibly ask for, and somehow does so without a hint of either cynicism or irony. Capes and tights haven’t been done this sincerely since Alan Moore’s run on Supreme, and who knows? By the time all is said and done, this just might — I say again, might — prove to be almost as good.

Like my list? Hate it? Somewhere in between? Let me know! Certainly I had to leave a few solid contenders off, but as with the single issues, I’m really comfortable with my rankings — in fact, I had no hesitation about any of them, nor where they should fall. It all came almost disturbingly easy. Which, in theory, means I’m probably missing something really obvious — but I don’t think so.

Up next : the Top 10 Collected Editions (Contemporary) list, which will rank the best books presenting material from the beginning of the so-called “Modern Age” right up to the present day. TPB collections, comic strip collections, anthologies, webcomics collections, and the like are all eligible in this category, as long as their contents appeared somewhere else, either physically or digitally, first. I’ll hope to see you back here in a handful of days for that one!

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/26/2017 – 12/02/2017

More often than not, a fifth Wednesday in any given month means a “slow week” for comic book readers. Not so this time around, though, so let’s take a look and see what the LCS and the US Mail had in store for yours truly —

Spain Volume 1 : Street Fighting Men is the first in a multi-volume retrospective from Fantagraphics of the career of legendary, trailblazing underground master (and Zap Comix co-founder) Spain Rodriguez. His famous allegorical “stand-in” character Trashman takes center stage (and rightly so) in this book, and you already know all these strips (presented here in their entirety) are beyond fucking awesome, but also worthy of note here is the inclusion of “Manning,” a superb 1969 story about police corruption that originally ran in The East Village Other, as is the richly-detailed text history of the artist’s life and times authored by underground scholar par excellence Patrick Rosenkranz. $29.99 cover price, but you know you can find it for less than that easily enough. Buy this or die.

“Thems” is an intriguing and typically idiosyncratic one-shot written, drawn, and self-published (in magazine-sized format, no less) by Denver-based cartoonist Alex Graham (she of Cosmic BE-ING renown) featuring three of her extra-terrestrial (or should that be extra-dimensional?) characters who have a long history together going back multiple lifetimes and are re-united here on Earth. How best to consummate this rekindled eternal bond? How about a menage-a-trois? Drawn in somewhat-thicker-than-is-her-norm black ink and printed on yellow paper, to call this a “sex comic the likes of which you’ve never seen before” is to give it short shrift. I can’t claim to entirely understand everything Graham is depicting here, but I do know that I like it — and I think you will, too. Seven bucks very well spent, available from Porcellino’s outfit at http://www.spitandahalf.com/

Batman Annual #2 might be something you’d be surprised to see me drop five bucks on given my frequently-stated antipathy toward Tom King’s run on this series in general (there have been a couple notable highs, but far too many lows), but here he’s re-teamed with artist Lee Weeks (for the most part, at any rate — Michael Lark does the final seven pages), and their collaboration on Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1 was terrific, so what the hell, am I right?

This one’s an Earth-2 story focused on an early meeting meeting between Batman and Catwoman, then it jumps to the future and shows their life as an  elderly married couple, complete with tear-jerker ending. On first reading I was damn impressed with this yarn, I admit, but on second (hey, it only takes 10 minutes or so) its calculated and contrived cynicism is easy to spot. The “flashback” segment that forms the bulk of the book basically only exists to add emotional “punch” to the epilogue and isn’t much on its own (apart from a gorgeous two-page center spread by Weeks), and conversely said epilogue only serves to remind us of what we’re never gonna get from the Bruce-Selina relationship in the “main” Bat-book, because who are we kidding? Editorial simply can’t or won’t allow it to  develop into the warm, loving, long-term marriage we see here. If I pick this thing up again six months or a year from now, who knows? I may like it all over again. But right now it basically looks like a one-trick-pony “Elseworlds” kinda thing — albeit a gorgeously-illustrated one. Extra props to colorists Elizabeth Breitweiser (on Weeks) and June Chung (on Lark) who give the book a lavish, moody look.

I’m thinking that the genesis of Batman : Creature Of The Night (the first issue of which just hit shelves in the old “Dark Knight Format,” priced at $5.99) went as follows:

“Yeah, Kurt Busiek here.”

“Hey, Kurt, it’s Dan DiDio (or Jim Lee, take your pick — doesn’t really matter either way). Remember that Superman : Secret Identity thing you did maybe 10,12 years ago? That “real world” story about that kid whose life was kinda like Superman’s? People liked that, so I was thinking — you wanna do it again? This time with Batman?”

“Uhhhhmmmm — what’s it pay?”

“$(redacted). And we’re gonna get John Paul Leon to draw it, so you know it’ll look great.”

“Sure, what the fuck — I’m in.”

And thus is a self-described “spiritual companion” born. And yeah, it does look good — great, even. But the whole thing has the stench of “been there, done that” about it — you know, like pretty much everything else coming out of DC these days.

This, of course, is the point at which I’d normally launch into a “what’s it gonna take until we get something new and genuinely innovative”-style diatribe, but I dunno. I think the “Big Two” have been so successful at narrowing down their audience to nothing but the crustiest, most developmentally-stunted nostalgia addicts that a creative dead end like this will probably get great reviews, win Eisners, and sell reasonably well (by today’s standards, at any rate). The “target audience” for this thing is clearly 40-60-year-olds who want to feel good about the fact that they still read superhero comics and occasionally even need to be flat-out congratulated for it. “No, you haven’t wasted thousands of dollars and years of your life — here’s a reminder of why you love this stuff that hits every emotional and story ‘beat’ you could ever ask for. That’ll be six bucks — you’re welcome. Oh, and you’re cool with us, no matter what anyone else might think.” Needless to say, I won’t be back for the second issue. in fact, I feel pretty damn stupid for buying this one.

And on that snide and derisive note, I think I’ll call it a wrap before I piss off every single reader out there. Next week we’ve got — shit, I don’t even know. Haven’t checked the advance solicits yet. But I’m sure there’ll be at least a few things worth talking about, so hopefully I’ll see you back here then.

 

This Week’s Reading Round-Up : 10/8/2017 – 10/14/2017

Once again into the breach, as we take a look at various items that caught my interest from the past week, whether at my LCS or in my mailboxes, physical and electronic —

Baking With Kafka is Tom Gauld’s latest collection from Drawn + Quarterly, and I’m sorry to say that the shtick is wearing a bit thin. I gather that Gauld is viewed as something of a national treasure in the UK, and that’s all fine and dandy, but $19.99 for a collection of strips that have all been published elsewhere (most notably The New Yorker and The Guardian) is a bit much, unless said strips pack in quite a few laughs — and I’m sorry to say these don’t. I really rather enjoy Gauld’s minimalist style, but it works better for me in leisurely, longer-form narratives like Mooncop. Here he “reaches” for too many punchlines (most of which come up flat), and strains to be topical when his illustrations really aren’t all that naturally conducive to real-world “grounding.” A few years back his stuff really worked for me, but his earnest refusal to break from formula has strained my last nerve. If he does more original book-length work (notice how I steadfastly avoid using the term “graphic novel” whenever possible) I’ll probably check it out, and just as probably enjoy it, but as far as the collected stuff goes, this is the end of the line for me.

All-Time Comics : Crime Destroyer #2 is the second issue (duh!) featuring this character, but fifth (unless I missed one) overall in the line from Fantagraphics, and while I gather that the somewhat fashionable thing to do is to bag on this comic, taking particular note of its (obvious and apparent) shortcomings  when measured against Michel Fiffe’s Copra, I’m not at all convinced that they’re necessarily trying to do the same thing. Fiffe’s playing by exact self-imposed rules according to an equally exact and equally self-imposed schedule, while the principals behind ATC — most notably Benjamin Marra and Josh Bayer, who uncharacteristically aren’t joined by others on the main story here — seem to be making things up as they go along. Five issues in (again, unless I — ah, fuck it) ATC may have a fairly distinct look, but it still feels very much like a project that’s finding its footing. I can understand why lots of folks find that frustrating, but for me it’s exciting, because you literally never know what the next page holds. Too earnest to be labeled a spoof, yet too tongue-in-cheek to be considered pure homage, maybe we’ve just gotta finally take Bayer, Marra, and Co. at their word here and accept that what they’re doing is a fun, dumb, colorful super-hero line in the vein of late-“Bronze Age” Marvel. It seems to me that too many greater minds than mine are looking under every nook and cranny for signs of intentional irony here and, finding none, walking away a little bit pissed off. Excuse me, but — since when is lack of irony a bad thing? Is it so hard to accept that Bayer and Marra just like this kind of shit and want to try their hand at making some? At the risk of forfeiting every single “cool point” I’ve ever earned, I say this is “must-buy” stuff.

And since I’m busy dragging my reputation into the gutter, I might as well come right out and admit that I’m enjoying the hell out of Howard Chaykin’s latest Image yarn, The Divided States Of Hysteria. I’m sympathetic to every single concern that’s been raised about this book, but I respectfully disagree with all of them. “That cover” for issue number four was never gonna really hit the shelves, and offers no proof whatsoever of racism on Chaykin’s part — but offers plenty of proof that he learned a lot from the “B-“movie hucksters of his youth, most notably William Castle and Herschell Gordon Lewis. And that scene in the first issue? The one that was variously described on twitter by “concerned citizens” who’d never even seen the book as featuring “a trans woman being raped” or even “a trans woman being murdered”? It featured no such thing, and indeed depicted a trans woman (who has since emerged as the only thing even vaguely resembling a “sympathetic” character in this series) fighting off and killing her would-be attackers herself! Other, somewhat less hysterical, complaints said that it was the kind of scene that reinforced the “trap defense” that assailants and/or killers of trans sex workers can apparently (and sadly) still get away with using, but again, these gripes are equally misguided given that Chaykin explicitly takes aim at what an absolute crock of shit the “trap defense” is in his character’s interior monologue during the scene. I’ll absolutely grant you that this comic is every bit as ugly, mean-spirited, amoral, and confrontational as its critics charge — but that’s the whole fucking point! In any case, for my money Chaykin and master letterer/designer Ken Bruzenak are absolutely killing it on this title, and any of my fellow leftists who walked away from it (or, more than likely, never even gave it a shot) are missing a thorough-going critique of the private prison and private security (let’s just call ’em what they are, mercenaries) industries, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, racism, the so-called “War On Terrorism,” macho bullshit in general, and other noxious societal ills. It’s all about as subtle as a kick to the crotch, and it’s incredibly garish to look at, but I love it. The story ran in place a bit last issue, but everything kicks into overdrive here in number five.

On the “Big Two” front, the third issue of Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ much-fawned-over Mister Miracle hit this week, and while I’m on the record as saying I think that a lot of the hype is overblown, it’s still pretty damn good — and “pretty damn good” is worth $3.99 a pop, in my book. Orion’s in full-on “asshole mode” here, Scott Free learns he’s a hero to The Bugs, and Barda is just doing her level best to survive both the biggest goddamn cosmic war ever (this week, at any rate) and her husband’s neuroses. But, of course, the key question remains — how much of this is actually happening, and how much is all in Scott’s head? And speaking of heads, Granny Goodness no longer has one. Apart from Joe Casey and Nathan Fox’s criminally-underappreciated take on Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers, this is the best of the Kirby revivals that have become a downright ubiquitous feature at the shops in recent years.

Okay, whew! Lots of heavy-duty opining this time out! Next week we’ve got a couple that showed up too late for me to get around to this time out that I’m really looking forward to, Sophia Foster-Dimino’s Sex Fantasy, and sweet-looking new UK sci-fi anthology Berserker. Plus whatever else strikes my fancy. If this column hasn’t landed me on your “shit list,” then I’ll look forward to seeing you in seven days!

This Week’s Reading Round-Up : 9/24/2017 – 9/30/2017

By and large long-form reviews seem to be the order of the day here (at least so far) with this new blog that I am, admittedly, still “feeling my way through” or whatever, but one thing I wanted to do when I decided to “break off” my comics criticism from its former home on my movie blog was to crank out some sort of weekly(-ish) column that takes a quick look at some stuff I’ve read recently that, for one reason or other, I just don’t feel compelled to devote 1,500 or more words, and an hour or more of my time, to discussing.

First up as far as that goes, then, is D.J. Bryant’s debut collection from Fantagraphics, Unreal City. A friend suggested that this book would help scratch my Lynch itch now that Twin Peaks is (deep sigh) over with, and I guess I can see the comparison to a degree, but these five stories (all of which have previously appeared elsewhere, although not in a fancy, oversized hardcover like this) wear a number of other conspicuous influences on their sleeves, most notably Daniel Clowes, with the protagonist of the last (and best) strip, entitled “Objet d’Art,” often appearing to be a near spitting-image for Clay from Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron. Perspective, reification, objectification, obsession, selfishness,  alienation, lethargy, and of course sex are major themes running through everything on offer in this book, and while Bryant seems to have a surface-level grasp on various art styles ranging from photo-realism to Harvey Comics-style “hijinks” cartooning, his technically proficient illustrations are ultimately as facile as his narratives, all of which hew tightly to a “Twilight Zone for grown-ups” formula that hinges on “twist” endings that not only usually fall flat, but ultimately undermine the character-driven psychodrama leading up to them. Bryant probably has some great comics in him waiting to come out, but they’re not to be found in these pages, and probably won’t emerge until he figures out how to distill all the voices of others that are whispering in his ear into one that is more distinctly his own.  I’ll keep an eye on his stuff to see how his work develops, as he does appear to have plenty of potential, but I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone spend $16.99 on this uneven — and largely unsatisfying — book.

While we’re on the subject of Fatagraphics, the first book released under their small-print-run Fantagraphics Underground (“F.U.,” get it?) imprint, Jason Karns’ Fukitor, has just rolled off the presses for a second time, and while more or less every critic I respect (and even a few I don’t) have spent the last couple of years imploring everyone, everywhere to avoid this collection culled from the pages of Karns’ self-published “floppies,” my disdain for authority, particularly self-appointed authority, kicked in and I decided to give it a shot. Turns out I should have listened to the army of detractors, though — these “EC On Bathtub Crank” strips are desperately trying to achieve Mike Diana or S. Clay Wilson levels of subversiveness, but their bizarre combination of painful self-awareness and utter lack of self-examination ends up making them feel a lot more like borderline glorifications of the racism, sexism, misogyny, and psychopathy that I’m guessing they’re theoretically designed to be functioning as a critique of. Karns certainly fits well within the “ugly art” tradition, but a collection of his visual grotesqueries sans narrative would probably make for a better book, since his “writing” (such as it is) basically functions as a wink and a nudge to audiences saying “come on, admit it, you like this shit.” The dark side of the “dudebro” culture that’s been seeping in at Fanta’s margins thanks to cartoonists like Matt Furie and Ben Marra.

Bottoms Up! is the latest thematically-assembled anthology from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books, and since it’s subtitled True Tales Of Hitting Rock-Bottom!, you already know what this one’s all about. Yost has once again assembled a flat-out superb collection of contributors for this book, with Noah Van Sciver (as you’d expect), Max Clotfelter, Meghan Turbitt, Jess Worby, John Porcellino, Sara Lautman, Peter S. Conrad, and Tatiana Gill being responsible for the strips I found most compelling, but even the “weaker” entries still have something to offer, and a good 25% or so of the cartoonists featured in this thing are folks I’ve never even heard of, so that’s always exciting. The contents are a mix of autobiographical stories and visual adaptations of the lives of anonymous others, and just in case you’re burned out on sordid tales of booze and drugs, fear not : addictions to porn, religion, sex, gambling and other vices are all present and accounted for, as well. The great Ben Passmore provides the cover. Buy this one now.

On the mainstream comics front, this week saw the release of Kamandi Challenge #9 from DC, and while this series has been as up-and-down as you’d expect given its “round-robin” format, it’s fair to say that this was the issue everyone was looking forward to given that it features a team-up of current “hottest writer in the business” Tom King behind the keyboard and TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman on art (Robbie Williams II provides inks). Presented in glorious black-and-white, this is easily the most visually interesting “Big Two” comic we’re likely to be served up this year, and King’s script, while overly-stylized and frankly desperate to be noticed, is nevertheless a harrowing, frighteningly stripped-down view of captivity, small-group dynamics, uncertainty, and how fucking annoying optimism can be. Two things I’m sure of : Jack Kirby is looking down on this comic from on high and smiling, secure in the knowledge that, finally, somebody got one of his concepts exactly right; and Rick Remender, if he ever reads it, will feel his blood pressure going up by a good 10-20 points as he sees pretty much every theme he’s put forward in his various ongoing four-color therapy sessions more or less completely negated in the space of 22 sparsely-dialogued pages.

Okay, that’s going to do it for this week, thanks to anyone and/or everyone who’s reading this, and if you think I should keep doing this sort of rapid-fire column on a weekly basis, then by all means, please chime in and let me know. I’m not too proud to admit when I’m desperate for feedback, and this whole “brevity” thing, well — it’s kinda new for me.