Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wed. Is Any Day For All I Care #3

So maybe two months is a long wait on a review column? Time is not relevant to my reviews! I will not be cowed by your bourgeois sensibilities!

Booster Gold #0 (DC Comics, $2.99) Back in the 90's, I had begun moving out from Titans and JLI fandom into the greater DC Universe, and saw two event projects as excellent opportunities to try out the full slate of titles: "Bloodlines" and "Zero Hour." Perhaps not the best of choices, but at least DC's "Zero Month" allowed new readers easy access to properties as unwieldy as "Legion of Super-Heroes," which I continued with for many years. DC has on special occasions returned to the #0 ploy, and while my complete set was busted up years ago, I'm still willing to buy these things as they pop up. The Booster Gold iteration was cute, though not nearly as entry level as it should have been. Oh, we get an origin recap I didn't actually need, but all this convoluted new status quo involving guardianship of time, multiple incarnations of Blue Beetle existing concurrently, Booster's rather familiar looking "dad," direct ties to multiple "event" series, and the promised salvation of two characters left unresolved had me feeling a bit overwhelmed. The main problem remains Booster Gold himself, whether as a bland cypher or a self-serving cypher, but never a character that stands on his own for me. I believe I'll explore this in greater detail soon.

Dark Ivory #1 (Image, $2.99) I was big on Joe Linsner in the CFD days, and helped talk the owner of the first comic shop I worked at full time into buying about four times as many copies of Dawn #1 as "X-Men." I believe he died before he sold them all, but between the 1-in-25 incentive covers and the eventual 300% mark-up on the regular books, he cleared a massive profit. You'll notice though that I just spent a couple sentences talking about the marketability of Linsner instead of the strength of his post-CFD writing? Yeah, purposeful, as I haven't read anything by him I've really enjoyed since the "Drama" one-shot. This new work is co-written by studiomate Eva Hopkins, and is much less pretentious and more accessible than anything Linsner's done since he went all "Barry Windsor Smith" on us. That said, it's still teen goth angst and a moon-faced protagonist, and we've all been there already. Further, I expect it to descend into the romantic Anne Rice vampire fare Linsner and Monks used to piss on, but it was good enough for what it was that I'd consider a heavily discounted trade.

Tiny Titans #1 (DC, $2.25) A little while back, I was surfing the net, and found a flash animated Teen Titans "adventure" in which "Slade" deals Raven some decidedly unwholesome violation. I'm no blushing virgin, and this isn't the first time I've seen children's tv fare molested in such a manner, but in this instance I was appalled by how oddly appropriate this horror was (speaking in a strictly canonical sense.) Remind me again who decided to feature a known ephebophilic master assassin named Deathstroke the Terminator in comics, none of which made it past the TV censors, on a kid's show? You know, the villain who returned to prominence through the 1-2 punch of kneecapping a pubescent boy and defending a rapist from a cadre of super-heroes? And let's not forget Raven, the daughter of an other dimensional demon who seduced Kid Flash to gain his protection? The same Raven who finally gave in to her father's unholy nature and committed acts of sapphic rape against several victims, including teammate Starfire, whom she impregnated with a "demon seed?" Maybe, just maybe, the producers should have stuck with safer teen heroes and their rogues.

All this leads me to Tiny Titans #1, and why exactly this series exists. Sure artist/co-writer Art Baltazar's doodles are cute, but his strips with Franco are weak sauce. Much of the humor is derived from in-jokes for aged fanboys and mild snark, only the latter of which would hold any interest for uninitiated children. For old fogies like me, there's a cognitive dissonance in seeing characters like Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark playing together as twin Wonder Girls, where young readers familiar with the cartoon series have a pint-sized Legion of Unfamiliar Heroes to sort out and fail to be entertained by. The book is confused, unfocused, and unfunny.

Reich #1 (Sparkplug Comic Books, $3.00) I had never heard of controversial psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and his theories about "orgone," a harnessable sexual energy, until reading this book's solicitation text. It all sounded fascinating, and I'm pleased that I followed up on that lead, but sorry the actual comic failed to impress. The impressionistic cover image gives way ill-suited cartooning inside, and Elijah J. Brubaker seems to have picked the least interesting point in Reich's life to start a decompressed biography. We see a brief wartime tryst, his being an opinionated ass at university, a brief first encounter with Sigmund Freud, and entirely too much freeloading and womanizing. If the goal was to make Reich recognizable in the manner of that slacker douchebag you ran into at Starbucks, mission accomplished, but the opening paragraph on his Wikipdia entry had more meat on its bones than this pamphlet. I pre-ordered the second issue sight unseen, so at least I can expect resolution of the cliffhanger ending in this first edition (WTF?)

The Last Defenders #1 (Marvel, $2.99) I'm a Dr. Strange fan, and I appreciate the other three founding Defenders as well. That said, I thought the mini-series by the old JLI creative team of Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire, seemingly designed to take the piss out of all of them, was still a great pleasure to read. The Defenders have always been a bad idea made viable by accepting the improbability of the team dynamic and running with the idiosyncrasies. I shouldn't have had any problem with a totally new assortment then, now produced by Joe Casey and Jim Muniz with the returning Keith Giffen, but I think maybe I do. Nighthawk has since childhood bothered me as a concept-- an open Batman analogue consistently mishandled and maligned by one writer after another, all while wearing a poorly designed outfit that somehow managed to get worse with time and effort. His loser status seems to be embraced here, as he's allowed by Tony Stark to lead a new team intended to represent New Jersey in the 50-State Initiative. He's joined by the unjustly dismissed Colossus, not that he's ever been a compelling figure, a mildly transgressive take on the Blazing Skull, and She-Hulk. The make-up seems intentionally unbalanced and due to be changed near immediately, but I bought the first issue expecting entertainment, not transiency. The group prove themselves to be an incompetent disaster by design, but again, what does that do for me as a reader but sigh at money wasted? A really nice cover by Steve McNiven that reminded me more of Travis Charest than the real thing does today, and a cute flashback to Damian Hellstrom as a failed applicant for Sorcerer Supreme are the only saving graces here.

Bluewater Comics Presents #1 ($0.99) ...several random pages from books in our super-heroine comic book line, all of which feature art heavily indebted to 90's Amerimanga favorites like Joe Madureira, Humberto Ramos, and so on. "The 10th Muse" had that faux animated cel computer coloring that was in vogue a few years, nothing resembling a character introduction, and an incomprehensible story excerpt(beyond "the fat chick with the mech is evil.") "Judo Girl" was far better, as far as that will take you from nowhere. At least here the basic premise is alluded to: a 60's martial arts super-hero transported to the present, where she faces her now aged old foes. Gearz suffered from comparison, as it used the exact same self-referential non-linear narrative device as the previous piece. The art was worse and the lead character the type of clueless super dork only seen in media, but at least she's well established. A two page centerfold of nearly twenty of the line's heroines failed to impress beyond the "hey-- even I could draw that better" sense. I'll give points to "The Legend of Isis" for allowing its heroine realistic belly fat, but it was otherwise too obtuse to follow (beyond "the giant lizard man is evil.") "Insane Jane" had the most original art style, realistic body types, and still no actual story. "The Blackbeard Legacy" seemed like it really wanted to be "Tellos." In summary, if you fondly remember the Marvel post-bust work of guys like Roger Cruz and Al Rio on C-list titles, Bluewater may be the place for you, and no one else.

Gunplay Preview #0 (Platinum Studios Comics, $0.99) By my count, this represents one-quarter of the upcoming graphic novel, bu which point we still have no protagonist, vague caricatures instead of characters, and a wealth of hateful violence with the slightest motivation. The story is meant to take place in a version of late 19th century West Texas populated by seething, unreasoning racists that I don't believe actually existed. There's some supernatural hoo-ha and a suspect preacher, but no actual story. Its just a collection of transgressive acts intended to sicken or titillate, depending on the audience. The only material of interest here were five pages of prose by Christopher Priest, a brilliant but challenging comic book writer consigned to the hell of lending support to this dreck. He covers no new ground in three chapters, but does it with so much more style and conviction than the main story as to shame its author by comparison.

Birds of Prey #111 (DC, $2.99) I try to make clear in the title that I don't care if my reviews are weeks or even months old, but I felt I should point out I waited over four months to read my final issue of BoP because the book had become such a chore to me. I started reading it mid-way through Gail Simone's run, double back in trade, and intended to move forward in the same format. However, DC was still waiting a year or more to collect her issues, so I switched to floppies about the same time the book began to sag in quality, before the bottom really dropped out in #100. I'm not a huge Black Canary fan, but the character's departure seemed to take much of Simone's interest with it, turning her last extended arc into a fan fiction clusterfuck of every girl power heroine she could snag. Come on now, Ice had managed to stay dead for over a decade without an excessive of tears, and while I always thought the character was shabbily treated in her last days, there was a perfectly good replacement Ice Maiden lying around. Where was Simone to keep a second ice woman out of the refrigerator, when she was skinned alive in a JSA: Classified story?

Anyhow, I've yet to warm to Sean McKeever, but I still had fond memories of Tony Bedard's Valiant work, so I decided to stick around for what became a mini-run of fill-in issues of descending quality. Thankfully, this final installment allowed Oracle a chance to shine as a differently-abled field agent, and even confront the Calculator, her second arch-nemesis in as many years. I think it's wonderful Barbara Gordon has been given the rogues gallery she was never allowed as Batgirl, but the story itself has some damaging pitfalls in the logic department, and it still confirmed that despite Bedard's soon returning as the book's designated writer, I won't be joining him.

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