4.29.09 Reviews

Uncanny X-Men #509 (Marvel): Like Michael Corleone in Godfather III, "just when I thought I was out, they [Uncanny] pull me back in!" I like the way that Fraction is emphasizing the truly radical departure that basing the team in San Francisco is. There's lots of authentic feeling local color, from the East Bay (Colossus at the Raiders game!) to The Castro. Immediately picking up from Northstar's recruitment in the last issue was also a welcome sign that Fraction may no longer be leaving plot threads dangling, which was becoming a pet peeve. The introduction of the chemical ban controlling the procreation of mutants as potential legislation is a bold piece of controversy to play with. This feels like a harbinger of things to come as Fraction amps up the political charge of the title. Even Land's art seems to be settling and doesn't feel as uber-cheesecake this issue, with the exception of some recurring S&M aesthetics for Emma Frost. There's some slight confusion in many of the action sequences, but dare I say it, Land's art looks almost... Cassaday-ish in spots! The only variable factor here is the inking of Jay Leister, so uhh, take a bow Mr. Leister. I enjoyed the scene with Dr. Nemesis, who seems to be positioned as a sort of Elijah Snow or Jenny Sparks "century baby," which is an interesting influence to note since Fraction really began his career as a Warren Ellis disciple. This was amid the scientific, time-jumping investigation being headed up by Hank McCoy, with fun little humor digressions like "Lady and gentlemen and Jeffries, what McCoy is so subtly insinuating is..." though I think the line would have read funnier as "Lady and gentlemen... (pause)... and Jeffries, what McCoy is so subtly insinuating is..." Fraction really is firing on all cylinders here, giving us a coherent history of Betsy Braddock/Kwannon/Psylocke in just one page and stressful little lines like Scott's head-in-hands "We're fine. Evvvvvvverything's fine." This series has been "good," but this issue is one of the strongest to date and is deserving of a "great." It was also a treat to see the New Mutants preview with slick art and a rousing hook. Zeb Wells and Diogenes Neves, yup I'll check out an issue or two. Grade A.

I also picked up;

Queen & Country Definitive Edition: Volume 4 (Oni Press): Finally the last installment of this terrific series, collecting the three Q&C: Declassified mini-series, with tons of bonus material and interviews, can't wait to read Antony Johnston's thoughts on working with Greg Rucka's property.

Resurrection: The Insurgent Edition (Oni Press): I remember picking up a random issue of this out of a quarter bin and being thoroughly underwhelmed, not understanding all of the hype or film optioning. However, 148 pages collecting seven issues worth of material for a mere $6 was just too good of a deal to pass up. I'll give it another go.



I was casually perusing the Oni Press web-site... While I was disappointed to see that the much anticipated full color issue #25 of Wasteland is delayed until 6/24, I came across Wasteland: The Apocalyptic Hardcover Edition reprinting the first 13 issues, along with the "Walking the Dust" shorts. Available 8/12, this looks amazing! It truly makes me happy to see Oni get behind such a superb book with such an attractive package! I can't wait! Woo-hoo!


4.22.09 Reviews (Part 2)

Scalped #28 (DC/Vertigo): Scalped reaches such a successful artistic fervor that by the second page, my heart sinks at the quiet reveal of the dead body. It’s a particularly effective establishing shot, not only of place, but of mood. Jason Aaron continues to expand the cacophony of characters inhabiting the universe of the Rez with bit players like the dead black grifter from a couple issues back and shedding a small light on FBI Agent Newsome. We also get long-awaited clarity around who really killed those agents and Gina Bad Horse years prior, as the perpetrator attempts to make amends while the truth slowly comes to light, living into the words “Everything on Earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is The Indian Theory of Existence. Mourning Dove.” R.M. Guera’s pencils are as visceral and perfectly mated to this type of script as ever, whether depicting a tatted up, weight-lifting prison yard where you can actually feel everyone’s eyes in the back of their heads mad-dogging you, or even the books quietly tucked away in Falls Down’s house. With Y: The Last Man and 100 Bullets now concluded, it seems more obvious than ever that Brian Wood’s DMZ and Jason Aaron’s Scalped are the rightful inheritors of the mantle of “Vertigo flagship” book. Grade A+.

Buck Rogers #0 (Dynamite Entertainment): John Cassaday’s character design (and cover) is cool in a… Tron meets Havok sort of way. Writer Scott Beatty has plenty of practice writing Batman, Star Wars, and some encyclopedic guides to be well suited to spin tales about one of the first pulp heroes out there. It's apparent he has a decent handle on the character, with this nice quick intro story. The Ganymedian baddies are sort of a generic Starro the Conqueror. Carlos Rafael's artistic style is really representative of the Dynamite house style, if one exists. There are some static and awkward shots, but he shows tons of promise for this type of adventure. I'll definitely check out the first issue or two to see if this has legs. For .25 cents? Hell yeah. Grade A+.

I Am Legion #3 (Devil’s Due Publishing): Fabien Nury and John Cassaday continue their genre blender that’s part old school detective thriller, part horror infused creep show that would make Mike Mignola proud, and part pulp war examination that feels so nuanced and well researched – reminiscent of F. Paul Wilson’s The Keep from IDW a few years back. Though the plot feels a little convoluted in spots (Herr so-and-so doing activity x for what motivation again?), but that’s probably attributable to being a translated work that has been chopped up arbitrarily to fit monthly installments, and will likely read much better collected. As usual, Cassaday’s pencils alone are worth the price of admission and can capture the most rousing parachute drop or even the quiet hesitation on Maria’s face. This is really a sleeper little book. Grade B+.

Ignition City #2 (Avatar Press): I think I'll just stick with Black Summer, No Hero, and Aetheric Mechanics for my Warren Ellis fix from Avatar. Why all the bare midriff? What's with all the ass poses? Why the pointy angular breasts? There's a horrid panel on page 2, where the main chic looks like she has a weird balding scalp, with an elongated head and tweaked out eyes. I'm not sure if the inks or the colors are at fault here, but somehow Gianluca Pagliarani’s breathtaking style (remember Aetheric Mechanics?!) is getting mangled here; it's so lacking of the detail and fine line work, where before (in Aetheric Mechanics!) it was swimming in it. There are pieces of the puzzle here oh-so conveniently unfolding as whatserface begins looking into her dad’s death. There are fleeting flashes of Ellisian fun sci-fi ideas: “We’re not here because we lost space, honey. We’re here because we lost our planet,” but I'm distracted by the art mishap which makes it tough to continue. The protagonist soapboxes about her life expositorially. Lines like "I could spin her around on my cock like a bolt washer" just play sort of gratuitous for shock value’s sake instead of being the trademark realistic portrayal of the way a real bastard speaks. I thought it was ludicrous how the one dude just starts talking to himself admitting he killed the dad?! Talk about exposition, he tells us what he did, how he did it, and why he did it, talking to nobody but the audience(!) for no apparent reason! There's a shot where it looks like the chic is saluting rather than blocking the sun from her eyes as she looks up to see a strange ship overflying the island. Maybe I'll pick this up out of the dollar bin one day or check out the trade, but for now I think I've had enough. This reminds me… someone once asked why some reviews are so short and some are relatively long. My answer was essentially that I put in what I get out of it. If you’re going to take the time to craft a thoughtful tale, like say, Detective Comics #853, that inspires more response in me. If you’re going to just schlock out some crude sci-fi romp, then that creates an equally brief and choppy review. There was a whole episode of The West Wing about this type of “proportional response.” That is all. Grade C.

I also picked up;

Scalped Volume 4: The Gravel In Your Guts (DC/Vertigo): If you aren’t reading Scalped by now, I just… sigh… what’s wrong with you?

4.22.09 Reviews (Part 1)

Detective Comics #853 (DC): So, a few years ago I pitched a (solicited) script to a certain Bat-Editor (who shall remain nameless) called The Waynes. The story was modeled after the 12 issue series DC had previously published called The Kents by John Ostrander, Tim Truman, and Tom Mandrake, and similarly chronicled a few generational exploits of the Wayne Family. It began hundreds of years ago near Dunfermline, in the Scottish Highlands with a character named Ciaran Wayne. There were some real world bits woven in like William Wallace and the Battle of Stirling Bridge. It followed the Waynes across Europe, through Silk Road trading, emigration to the New World, and the initial founding of Gotham City by Dutch settlers along the Jersey Coast. It talked about the land grabs and business ventures and the amassing of the Wayne family fortune, touched on a judge in Gotham named Solomon Wayne, the building of Wayne Manor, depicted Bruce’s father Thomas Wayne being born in 1939 (not coincidentally), and listening to the old pulp radio serials like The Lone Ranger and The Shadow in his father’s office near Park Row (before it became Crime Alley). I touched on The Phantom Stranger, because there were some old oblique references in DC lore about Thomas maybe in fact being The Phantom Stranger, and even had a really priceless scene in which Thomas gives Martha the pearls one year for Christmas. Yes, those pearls. The very last panel of the very last page of this series showed Thomas and Martha in the hospital as Bruce was being born. The last words spoken were the couple naming the child in a sufficiently rousing manner: “Bruce. Yes, we'll call him Bruce. Bruce Wayne.” Of course, in the back of my mind I also had grandiose visions for an entire line of DC books done in this fashion. After the (critically) successful The Kents, and my own The Waynes, there could be The Jordans, The Graysons, The Allens, The Princes, and so on and so forth. I got a very cordial rejection letter from said Editor essentially indicating that while the script had some positive attributes and redeeming qualities, there was no way in hell DC Comics would ever publish such a series that would knowingly detract from the enigmatic nature of The Bat by pinning down an actual lineage or birth date/year. That just wouldn’t line up with an already compressed continuity and would ultimately be limiting to the property and stories to be told by other writers. Now, I’m not saying that DC took my idea for the last page of this comic. I’m sure there are plenty of writers out there who have imagined the origin of Bruce Wayne (not Batman per se, but The Waynes, inclusive of Bruce) and may have even dreamed up a birth scene – I mean, this is a pretty common storytelling tool in genre fiction, the end that is not actually the end, but just the beginning. At the time I kind of understood the reasoning. Of course, in my mind I crafted a snotty response to the Editor citing the strength of the Elseworlds line centering on its guiding operating principle being the deliberate rejection of said continuity, which was ultimately liberating, and not limiting. And seeing how this issue ends, I think the point the Editor made is moot all the more. If Grant Morrison is going to reintroduce the multiverse or whatever concoction of storytelling goo he came up with in the Final Crisis milieu (52 worlds of infinite timelines stemming from a single chronal source or some such), then what does it matter if Bruce has a birth year? Everyone will live and die in alternate timelines, repeatedly, in perpetuity; within that context, assigning a fictional character a birth date neither adds nor detracts any value provided any writer can come along and simply choose to embrace or ignore all that has come before. But, I digress… It was however, pleasantly jarring (is that an emotion?) to see something I’d imagined in issue #853 of Detective Comics. I think it’s indicative of one of Neil Gaiman’s core strengths as a writer to tap into some primordial collective consciousness about this character and show the fans something they themselves have felt or dreamed of. Now that I’ve spoiled the end for you, let’s get to the review. Gaiman & Kubert’s tale of lament for the dearly departed wraps up the light speed tour of the many incarnations of the Bat. It’s as if we’re seeing the literal shutting down of all his different lives and deaths; the doors are being closed and locked, the lights turned off. Tonally, it dredged up memories for me of Lucifer Morningstar closing down Hell and giving the key to the front gate to Lord Morpheus in The Sandman. Gaiman was brought in to do to Bats what Alan Moore did to Superman 23 years ago. In my recollection, the Batman story is better, perhaps because of my personal fondness for this character. In typical inter-texutal fashion, I loved Gaiman’s allusions and homages to Goodnight Moon, the revered children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. Artistically, Kubert shines here as he delivers panels in the style of Dave Gibbons, Tim Sale, Jim Lee, Jerry Robinson, etc., and provides little flourishes like the posture of a seated Nightwing, or the lapel pins of The Mad Hatter. Gaiman’s stories typically carry some meaning about the act of storytelling itself. Not only does he do that here, but he also has a nice callback to Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Bruce utters “Are you real?” reminding us of Moore’s line about fictional stories - “Aren’t they all?” Bruce confesses “I don’t think it matters” which Batman I am. He knows that even if Bruce is dead, Batman will live on because guys like Dick Grayson will “carry on” the costume and ideal. Martha essentially tells Bruce that he’s dead… until next time. It's a nice bit of reflexive self-awareness to pose that Bruce’s death is as real as it can be in a fictional world where reincarnated stories are common with characters not bound by corporeal laws of life and death. Gaiman set out to craft a self-described “love letter to 70 years of Batman stories” and succeeds almost entirely. Though this reveal would have been extremely telegraphed, I was disappointed to learn that the figure Bruce speaks with in his mind was not Death, but his mother Martha. Ultimately, having the character turn out to be Death would have “violated” the continuity segregation between the DCU proper and Vertigo, but I think that act would have nicely proven the point of this entire affair. Continuity is meaningless in the context of great stories and fictional characters. Batman technically met Dream before the Vertigo line even launched, so why can’t he meet his sister Death upon his own? Continuity be damned. Grade A.

X-Force #14 (Marvel): The Messiah War crossover with Cable continues. Clayton Crain’s art is really fun! The dialogue is serious, but not without some perfect played irony: “And Wade, of course. Our fates seem intertwined. God help me.” Deadpool still tries to steal the show with his hail storm of sing song bullets. Dark foreboding with “Sleeping God” and Archangel’s sudden disappearance. The rapport and trust between Warpath and Wolverine is amazing: “James will die before he lets Hope fall.” These lines have a downtrodden, lyrical quality that I really respond to. Laura and Hope’s unlikely bond continues to develop; it’s full of cold truth, but also sort of caring in a way. X-Force has gravitas, humor, and a lot of pure entertainment. It is the perfect summer action flic. I’m going to probably catch some heat for saying this, but I think this might be the best X-Men book coming out at the moment! Grade A-.

Astonishing X-Men #29 (Marvel): This (late) book continues to be all over the place, manic bouts of brilliance mingled with confusion bordering on incompetence. It opens with a very forced monologue from Emma. Really Warren, read your dialogue out loud before committing it to the page. At least the plot is finally advancing, but I have to contend with lines like “I couldn’t pick Logan up without doing myself a near fatal mischief.” Umm. What?! I don’t know what that means. It’s worded so awkward and clumsy. Artistically, Bianchi gives us some very lavish scenes, and then some that are totally devoid of backgrounds with no rhyme or reason. His art is stylish, but that begs the question: is it form over function? Breathtaking shots of Wundagore Mountain. Then Cyclops doing weird homoerotic Playgirl poses. Emma looks like Priscilla Presley. This title is still diverting, but I just expect more from this creative team. I keep wondering if I should drop it, but oh well, it’s not as if there’s any urgency to the decision. I’ll have months to decide before the next issue hits. Grade B.


4.15.09 Reviews

Punisher #4 (Marvel): Thanks to Sea Donkey (that’s “El Burro Del Mar” for our friends in Latin America), I somehow missed issue #3 of this title, but eventually tracked it down thanks to an alternate provider. Jerome Opena’s gritty, world-weary style is right at home for a street level Punisher book. Whether it’s the depiction of the red light district brothel in Chinatown, the seriousness evident in Henry’s face as he utters the words “human chop shop,” or even the more mundane things like the stubble on Frank’s chin, the dinge on the white parts of his uniform, or a throwaway shot of him looking through the refrigerator, this is probably his best work yet in terms of being suited to the tone of the writing. At times, it felt like panels from Travis Charest, with the fine line detail that makes you want to pull the book right up to your face and examine it that much closer. Rick Remender’s writing is also firing on all cylinders. It starts with his trademark insertion of quotes. In Fear Agent, it was the recurring Samuel Clemens selections; here in Punisher we get Nietzsche being dropped casually. We have the flair of something like Matt Fraction’s Iron Fist with fearless bits about the “Shaolin Scientist Squad!” We get small lines with big payoff like “Bravo team’s down.” I love his portrayal of The Hood as a mentally unhinged and ruthless crime lord, who has supplanted The Kingpin in New York. He’s becoming less a throwaway character and more a worthy adversary for Frank Castle. The script is smart on a lot of levels, from the mysterious person playing chess with The Hood (shocking reveal!), to the supposed quick retribution against Henry and Frank that becomes a cat and mouse game, with participants walking into each other’s traps. I’m also really enjoying Henry as a researcher and profiler; there’s a great scene where you can really see the two earn eachother’s respect by admitting their mistakes. Remender also delivers the humor. “You. Grizzly. What’s your thing? You tell kids not to start forest fires? Chase Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins?” Overall, Remender seems to be nestling Frank back into the Marvel U nicely and reminding us that his greatest weapon is not his arsenal of firearms, training, or skill with a blade, but his mind. Grade A-.

Uncanny X-Men #508 (Marvel): Oh Greg Land, do chics naturally pose symmetrically with their asses touching like that? And that fight scene in the graveyard has some confusing panel transitions – the kind where I go back and re-read them three times and I’m still not positive I have the sequencing and character movements down. On the writing end, there’s still a part of me that feels like Fraction is suffering under the weight of his own unwieldy plot threads as characters sporadically come and go as they please, but then there are moments when it also feels like he’s starting to reign them in and they’re coalescing nicely. I do like Fraction's subtle expansion of the x-universe, with things like Logan’s Japanese graveyard and the introduction of a character that… well, I won’t spoil it. The title still boasts some clever turns, such as “Xi’an Coy-Manh – Karma. Psychic possession. Wasn’t crazy for the wrap-up of Battlestar,” and I really enjoyed the recruitment of Northstar and Aurora. I’m still on the fence with this title, but for now it’s earned another monthly reprieve. Grade B.

I also picked up;

100% (DC/Vertigo): The hardcover treatment for Paul Pope’s library continues!


4.08.09 Reviews

Echo #11 (Abstract Studio): If you’ve ever watched one of those movies that made you shout at the screen “No, don’t do that! Don’t go in there! Why are you doing that?! Pick up the gun! Come on, nobody talks like that! That’s not realistic! That’s stupid! That would never happen! WHAT?!” – then Echo is the complete opposite of that. I can’t recall another comic that so realistically captures people’s plausible reactions to totally fantastical events. As the mysterious drifter comes into full contact, we’re left wondering if he’s trying to steal the other parts of the suit and consolidate power(?) or if there is some other motive or deranged wannabe deity psychosis at work. There’s an exchange that would make Dan Brown proud, spouting copious amounts of theory and fact, and revealing the dazzling connections between math, biology, ancient cultures, and the heavens. This issue of Echo really has a lyrical quality to it, cinematically editing the jump cuts between scenes in a beautiful way, as they bounce from the present, to dream-like flashbacks, to channeled memories, to other events. In a way it really reminded me of the series finale of Battlestar Galactica, after a brutal battle Kara jumps the dying Battlestar, cut to a scene of her and Lee doing shots years before in a bit of corrolary storytelling bravado... but I digress. As usual, Echo remains one of the best comics out there and amid a lackluster list of Eisner Nominees this year, one of the few bright spots was seeing Terry Moore get a nod for Best New Series – he should totally win this category. Grade A.

Ignition City #1 (Avatar Press): With Black Summer, No Hero, Aetheric Mechanics, and Anna Mercury, Avatar really is becoming the “house that Warren Ellis built.” And that’s fine, while there are some recycled ideas and common threads in all of his work, there are some absolute gems as well. Ignition City offers up an alternate history of Earth, where space travel became possible as early as the 1940’s and looks to be shutting down in 1956 due to regulatory control, after much exploration and interstellar conflict, where Earth doesn’t appear to have been the clear victor. Sometimes I get the sense that Warren Ellis has a journal somewhere in which he jots down disparate story ideas in a long list. When it’s time to belch out another series for some publisher, he goes down the list and goes “ok, let's see... item 4, 9, 23, 71, and 113, now I’ll come up with some thin storyline to hamstring them all together” and voila – Ignition City. Despite that feeling of haphazard assemblage, there’s nice play here with the “Highball” Jordan/Dan Dare/Buck Rogers sort of archetype and this first issue really is a nice example of a “world-building” issue that makes a destitute spaceport come to life. Gianluca Pagliarani’s pencils, which were stellar in Aetheric Mechanics, I think actually suffer a bit here from Digikore Studios' coloring, and look surprisingly stiff and flat in spots. Found one typo, “received” instead of “receiving,” and (at least in my copy) there were some printing issues in many of the text boxes, looking like the lettering had a distinct shadow type behind it. We’ll see where this goes. Grade B+.

Wolverine: Weapon X #1 (Marvel): Another Wolverine book?! Yes, because it’s Jason Aaron this one is worth a look. Aaron’s script opens with a lot of rich detail and descriptions that immediately lend a tactile and visceral quality to the story. Ron Garney’s pencils look great, offering a higher level of detail than I remember his nice Captain America pages having; assisted by Jason Keith on coloring, there are some absolutely beautiful panels. One sequence was a bit confusing; I’m not sure how the grenade(?) tear gas canister(?) would be stuck in that dude’s throat and not detonate, then wait until he was inside the compound, be coughed out, and then detonate at precisely the right time. That was a head-scratcher. After a bit of a red herring, the ultimate reveal of Logan is fun and unexpected, and Aaron does offer some clever lines like “Retired, huh? That why you’re wearing four guns?” It’s clear that Aaron understands the character of Wolverine and shows off his world weary brand of confidence tempered with regret, but I have to say the plot does feel like rehash of previously rehashed elements. Secret government facility, blah blah, crazy scientists building the perfect weapon, blah blah, Wolverine has to hunt some people down and be, wait for it... the best at what he does. For a $3.99 price tag, I like that Marvel is consistently putting in some extra material, but the quality of the content seems to vary wildly. The extended pages about Maverick and Weapon X’s origin is so uninteresting. By the second paragraph I found myself tuning out and glazing over because it all sounded something like this: “Weapon X, Charles Xavier, Wolverine, Team X, Cell Six, Weapon X Program, CIA, Omega Red, C-Synthesizer, X-Men, Carbonadium, Adamantium, Vibranium, Alpha Flight, Sabretooth, Maverick, etc.” It’s just X-lore gobbledygook without any pronouns or verbs. This book isn’t bad, but so far doesn’t feel like anything new. There’s no hook. Because it’s Jason Aaron, I’ll give it an issue or two to develop one. Grade B.


4.01.09 Reviews

Scalped #27 (DC/Vertigo): “The Ballad of Baylis Earl Nitz” is fucking grand! Grade A+. Oh, wait… you want me to review it first? Ok… Hot off of Dynamite Entertainment’s Zorro and some other misc. work, Francesco Francavilla continues the tradition of rotating artists that rock. His washed out, representational style feels right at home in the Scalped world, full of tired desperate feeling characters. Agent Nitz’s matter-of-fact delivery of classic Jason Aaron lines like “maybe we should tell him to stop scalping the other prisoners, that might help” just sing with sinful glee. Aaron’s ear for dialogue is just amazing, he is one of the best writers of his generation. He has an ability to show us that there are no true good or evil men in the world. There are just men. The world is inhabited by men with different intentions and psychological drivers that catalyze their behavior and actions. They are all products of their experiences, events which have shaped these guys into who they are. Aaron’s most powerful trick as a writer is showing us that everyone, all men, can be animals, lovers, killers, noble, loyal, misguided, or sympathetic figures – even ruthless and corrupt FBI Special Agent Baylis Earl Nitz. At first glance, one might think that Dash Bad Horse is the main character of Scalped. But, notice how he’s not even in this issue. In fact, I think he’s only casually mentioned even once. No, Scalped doesn’t rely on any one true main character, not one that’s a person anyway. What Jason Aaron and his collaborators have brilliantly done is invent a limitless storytelling platform by making a place, where many lives intersect, the main character. From that platform, they can spin endless tales out from it like spokes from the hub of a dusty old wagon wheel, all of which defy our pre-conceived expectations. Scalped is a classic unfolding right before our eyes. I wish I had a rating system that would go higher than Grade A+.

The New Mutants Saga (Marvel): In time for the new series coming out soon, here’s a FREE full length comic which encapsulates the umm… well, The New Mutants Saga in one sitting. This is similar to the bonus back-up that was in the recent Punisher #1 from Rick Remender, though a stand alone and expanded version. This is surprisingly coherent and the cover art by Diogenes Neves is really great, it even makes poor Doug Ramsey and Warlock look interesting. Heck, I didn’t even mind the Liefeld panels of X-Force. His old stuff actually wasn’t so bad, he’s gotten worse with time. But I digress, Grade A.

The Wolverine Saga (Marvel): In time for the movie and (for me) Jason Aaron’s new Wolverine: Weapon X book, another FREE full length comic which umm, tries very hard to encapsulate Wolverine’s history. But sheesh, that’s quite a task. Unlike it’s New Mutants counterpart, this is clumsily worded and of course a very convoluted history that swirls around and tangles up, defying logic and contradicting itself with times, places, and people. On a positive note, some of the panels chosen are really beautiful. Grade A-.

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #1 (DC/Vertigo): Sure, I read Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart’s first Seaguy adventure and liked it. I read it once. Now, I’m not one of those rabid Grant Morrison fans and I certainly don’t think that Seaguy was his best work. I remember it being cheery fun, having kinetic art, and that it could be read (most interestingly) as Morrison’s commentary on working for “the man” on corporate controlled properties like say, New X-Men. It had rhymey songs and a great supporting cast. With that in mind, here comes the next in a trilogy of three part adventures. Immediately, Seaguy and new sidekick Lucky (alas, where is poor Chubby?) are pulled right back into an adventure. Read as: Morrison being asked to write another series. We get classic Morrison lines like “Have you come for the rent or my fabled virginity, Sea Dog?” Old Sea Dog says that “things are a-changin,’” that they’re all “planned, developed, and approved” now. Read as: Morrison’s participation in company orchestrated events, such as 52 and all things Crisis. This will provide for “continuous growth” (Read as: or continuous revenue stream) and “house thousands” (Read as: house thousands of readers or characters?). I liked the introduction of Prof. Silvan Niltoid (if ever there was a more apropos Silver Age name...) and the embedded commentary on fossil fuel consumption with things like the “Autoraptor.” Niltoid’s playful questioning of everything (“Are you sure? Are you?”) is exceptional fun, as are his comments on what makes shared universe, multi-creator properties tick: “bubblegum” (fun?), “flame” (dark, grim and gritty?), “science and history” (continuity?). It’s extremely difficult not to take it all in as commentary with lines like Chubby’s “I’m dead. Really dead. But dat’s no big deal dese days,” and “Nod Cholmondley’s Home for the Bewildered,” (writer Mary Cholmondeley?), references to “heroes dying” in “unapproved adventures” (pre-crisis?) vs. the “Anti-Dad” as the iPol (continuity police?) show up to force feed Seaguy some “forget-me” pie. Now maybe I’m assuming all of this is self-reflexive when it’s not, but I can’t help but think Morrison is, through a thin veil, writing about his experiences writing in the industry. It’s clear to me he’s writing about writing, but what’s he saying? Hopefully two more issues will tell. As usual, Stewart’s art is magnificent. It almost looks like the refined line work of Cliff Chiang, but with an inkier, thicker line weight. Special shout outs to Dave Stewart on colors and Todd Klein on letters, who all put together quite a package. Also included is a nice preview of The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. 40 pages for $1, yes I’ll be checking that out in May. Grade A-.

Invincible Iron Man #12 (Marvel): Whaddya’ know? Fraction and Larroca have hit the “one year” mark with 12 consecutive issues without any sort of fill-in creators! It might sound like I’m damning with feigned praise, but that genuinely is pretty cool since it appears to be rare these days. I’ll keep buying it as long as they keep churning it out. Larroca’s art is improving all the time here, with the exception of Namor’s face – which looks like a doughy Leonard Nimoy, his figures are more natural looking, there are plenty of details, and the panel transitions are quite smooth. Fraction makes us pull out our virtual dictionaries with references to “temblor hits” and “charnel houses,” which I very much appreciate. One of the things I look for in a writer is never dumbing down your parlance, don’t insult your readers like that, assume that they’ll either know or go figure it out. Bravo! There’s a tiny mis-step in the “Previously…” section, which references “Hill” a couple of times. Sure, I know that’s Maria Hill, but she’s never introduced and new readers wouldn’t (in theory) know who that was from this blurb alone. I did enjoy Hill’s desperation with her line “the world’s been carved up by very bad people,” right before she… well, you’ll just have to read it yourself. Pepper’s action scene with the commercial jet was a little unnecessary, but I did enjoy her suit essentially being a peace-keeping suit, with no weapons or inherent offensive capability. In a way, this title now reminds me of things like The Fugitive or the old Incredible Hulk TV show, it’s easy to root for intelligent underdogs on the run, as they outthink their opponents. Beside a few minor annoyances, this is still great fun and well done. Grade B+.

Cable #13 (Marvel): Duane Swierczynski and Ariel Olivetti’s Part 2 of the Messiah War essentially picks right up from the recent special that came out, however nothing really happens this issue. It’s mostly Wolverine and Cable arguing lots, Stryfe and Bishop expositing, and some generic baddies showing up to brawl at the end. If you want a gold panning analogy, you can get your pan out and sift through the murky river water here and find a few flakes sprinkled about in spite of it all. Deadpool is indeed “completely off his rocker,” as he offers up “Tolstoy, Cliff’s Notes,” or the “Previews Catalogue version” of what’s transpired. This interplay between him and a serious Wolverine (“continuity stickler!”) is pretty funny and I did chuckle out loud more than once. The humorous characters feel a bit like they could be in the Whedon-verse, even in the face of adversity, or you know – the Apocalypse (pun intended) – they always have time for a quip. The dynamic here between Cable and Hope doesn’t feel as smooth as it did in the X-Force book; it all feels like a crib sheet from Terminator. Cable sort of does his best Sarah Connor (gruff protector), while Hope does her rendition of young John Connor (dopey savior of the future). Bishop’s exposition reveals nothing revelatory except his quite convoluted plan: He kills Apocalypse (how?) for Stryfe so that Stryfe will kill Cable, then Bishop will (unexpectedly) kill Stryfe, but before Stryfe kills him first. Umm, ok. Why not just kill Cable? Screw Stryfe and screw Apocalypse, if they’re so bad, why even mess with either of them? On the artistic side, Olivetti’s CG’d cityscape is ugly and fuzzy; his art is a little flat, with skimpy backgrounds and awkward poses. The proportions of say, head size to body size, are all off, especially looking at Stryfe, whose suit is downright ugly, but not as silly as the silly knife that silly Warpath is holding at the silly end. I’m still interested in the overarching story, and I enjoyed the humorous bits, but the rest is pretty messy. Certainly not as strong as the special or the X-Force issues that preceded it. This is a very lackluster and weak showing, devoid of the same energy the other bits of the crossover have had, that limps in with a Grade B-.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly): Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s autobiographical tome clocks in at 850+ pages, chronicling the post-war manga boom and Tatsumi’s own quest to differentiate his tonally serious gekiga (“dramatic pictures”) style from the larger context of the sometimes whimsical and gag-oriented manga strips of the time. There’s a lot of repetition in this book about Tatsumi’s lifestyle and many non sequitur scenes that abruptly interject into the book’s natural flow. I believe this is done deliberately to illustrate the initial excitement that more traditional manga brought Tatsumi’s life, but also the eventual boredom and frustration he regarded it with as well. As he states very clearly, he grew tired of simply drawing “childish things jumping about” and continually tried to lead his life and career in a more adult and culturally significant way through his subject matter. I think Tatsumi hits a mental turning point around 1955 with the publishing of the story “The Man Smiling in the Dark,” a self-decribed "detective thriller" with cinematic influences from both Western and Eastern films. It was so much fun to see his gekiga style begin to coalesce, the heyday of manga, meeting other creators with similar interests, cold pitching ideas to numerous publishers, and getting a few deals that allowed him to make a higher than average salary and living. All the while, Tatsumi has an instinctive drive never to be satisfied or settle with his output, his fellow creators challenge each other to bring out their best work, and he tries to push his own style toward being a step ahead (or at least, a step in a different direction) from where the industry as a whole was moving. He’s not afraid to voice unpopular opinions about wanting to drop “manga” from the subtitle of his books, and begins utilizing a more decompressed film noir-ish style that emphasized pace, panel design, and sparse dialogue over cramming as much as possible into a page with a relatively simplistic set of four standard panels. While it sounds passé today, this approach was considered highly experimental at the time. It was at this time that Tatsumi began pondering the form’s “synchronization of panel and time,” culminating with the Shadow anthology in 1956. Tatsumi always comes across as a humble guy; as a creator, he consistently shows a degree of uncertainty after completing a work, wondering if it’s too experimental and will reach an audience or if his artistic choices have actually doomed his publisher(!) As a young man with limited experience, he questions whether it’s better to simply go along with his contemporaries and the prevailing wisdom of the time or listen to his instincts and pour energy into the divergence of his new methodology. As I mentioned before, the work is punctuated by random cultural events, social landmarks, and political developments. Another recurring dynamic that pops up is the presence of a ubiquitous mailman who tracks him down to deliver letters and telegrams, knowing his routine and where he’ll hang out based on time of month, day of week, social circles, and what’s generally happening in the world. Whether factual, embellished, or imagined, the mailman serves as metaphor for how Tatsumi can’t escape from manga; the two are linked in perpetuity. Even when he craves a brief respite, it always finds him and pulls him back toward his calling. I enjoyed the rude awakening that the Skyscraper anthology becomes for Tatsumi, as both editor and contributor. He quickly learns that the business aspect and art aspect of the publishing industry can butt heads at times and can be competing paradigms, in conflict with their respective objectives. To further this point, a fellow contributor later suggests that a friend function as editor. This friend has a business degree and has experienced much success in that world. The Tatsumi character simply says “I never thought of that.” This isn’t an indictment of his intelligence or own brand of business acumen, but effectively illustrates how thoroughly he thinks of himself as an artist. It wasn’t even in his DNA to consider it a business, or that editorial could perform as a non-artistic business function. It was also interesting to see that in 1959 Japan underwent a comparable witch hunt, like the one Dr. Wertham catalyzed here. This culminated with ludicrous statements from the government like “any book with pages, 2/3 or more of which is without text, is immoral,” in response to some of the moody, decompressed crime tales he and his brethren were making a living from. The end of this book plays anti-climactic, it abruptly stops. There’s another “end” in the epilogue story about attending funeral services of the legendary Osamu Tezuka. The repetitive themes found here basically amount to Tatsumi committing to comics, and his gekiga quest, forever. Since his quest to elevate manga to gekiga proportions is admittedly not yet over, perhaps it is fitting that the inconclusive endings (think The Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica, Angel, etc.) are utilized as just another recurring theme. Anyone interested in autobiographical comics, a historical overview of manga from an individual perspective, or Tatsumi’s stellar work (Drawn & Quarterly having now translated – thanks to Adrian Tomine – The Push Man & Other Stories, Abandon the Old in Tokyo, and Good-Bye) should definitely check this out. Though I would have loved another essay or interview excerpt from Tomine included (as was the case in the aforementioned works), at 850+ pages for $29.99, this is both fantastic reading and a bargain. The only April Fool's Day joke is the one you play on yourself if you don't buy this book. Grade A+.