Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/06/2019 – 10/12/2019

To absolutely no one’s surprise, DC is cashing in big on the success of the new movie Joker with an unconscionably over-saturated slew of Joker-centric comics — as well as plenty of Bat-crap that doesn’t feature the so-called “Clown Prince Of Crime” — so let’s take a look at the attendees at this week’s cash-grab party, as well as one more item of interest —

Okay, so I was lying when I said Joker/Harley : Criminal Sanity #1, the newest offering in the veritable onslaught of books coming out by way of DC’s “Black Label” imprint, was an “item of interest.” In point of fact, popular YA author Kami Garcia’s script, which re-imagines Harley as a criminal profiler and Joker as a standard-issue serial killer, is so clumsily written and embarrassingly verbose as to be well-nigh unreadable, while “flashback” sequence illustrator Mike Mayhew’s art is so heavily photo-referenced as to appear more like tracings with the faces swapped out. Considerably more successful is Mico Suayan’s black-and-white illustration in the scenes set in the present day, but that alone can’t come anywhere close to justifying the book’s exorbitant $5.99 cover price. Nine issues of this? Nah, I don’t think so.

Very nearly as impossible to make it through is Year Of The Villain : The Joker #1, a one-shot special that apparently ties in with some ongoing “event” or other and features a story by horror legend John Carpenter and a guy I’ve never heard of named Anthony Burch, with art by Philip Tan and an honest-to-God army of inkers. For all that, though, the book looks fairly consistent throughout, but it’s the consistency of the script that’s the problem — as in, it’s consistently lousy. We’ve seen this “Joker through the eyes of his most recently-conscripted henchman” thing done before in Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Joker graphic novel, and believe it or not it’s an even less effective trope here, and makes our titular anti-hero look neither fresh nor foreign nor exciting — just kinda clueless and random. The late, great George Romero tried his hand at comics near the end of his life with mixed results, and while with Carpenter the sample size is smaller, a conclusive “guilty of crimes against art” verdict is much more quickly arrived at. Stick with your work behind the camera, John — you’re a lot better at it. And as for you readers, your five bucks could be put to much better use elsewhere — and by that, I mean just about anywhere.

Lastly on the Bat-front we come to The Batman’s Grave #1, which I take to be the opening salvo of a 12-part series written by Warren Ellis, penciled by Bryan Hitch, and inked by the great Kevin Nowlan. The story here is more “street-level Batman” than we’ve seen in his other publications of late, and that’s most welcome — as is Ellis’ take on the Batman/Alfred dynamic, which is far (and immediately)  superior to Tom King’s version — but the CSI-type high tech crime scene recreation of the murder at the series’ core gets pretty old pretty fast, as does Hitch’s overly-stylized art. Nowlan does his part by giving things his always-welcome sheen of fluidity and moodiness, and that might be enough to keep me around for another issue or two at $3.99, but the other creators need to up their game to match his efforts in a hurry.

Switching gears — and publishers — over to Marvel, “Hollywood guy” Christopher Cantwell and veteran artist Salvador Larocca give us Doctor Doom #1, the first issue in the first series starring the MCU’s chief baddie. Cantwell does a superb job imbuing Latverian society and culture with some real uniqueness, his characterization of Victor Von Doom is spot-on, and the plot “hook” of framing the tiny Baltic nation and its dictator for a terrorist attack on the moon is pretty far-out and fun. Larocca’s art is a bit too photo-referenced for my liking (that this is a pet peeve of mine should be fairly obvious by now), but largely works in context here, and even at $4.99 this comic left me feeling like I got decent value for my money. Along with Hickman’s X-Men and Ewing and Bennett’s The Immortal Hulk, this provides solid evidence that there’s room for some genuine creativity at the so-called “House Of Ideas” for the first time in a long time, and it’s already joined those titles on my pull list.

And that’s our week rounded up, with the last item of business being to remind you that this column is, always, “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Please take a moment to give it a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


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!