Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wed. Is Any Day For All I Care #9

Ambush Bug: Year None #1
Final Crisis: Requiem #1
Liberty Comics
Madame Xanadu #1




Ambush Bug: Year None #1 (DC, $2.99)
I started buying Son of Ambush Bug at the local 7-11 from the second issue, and eventually found his every appearance before and since. At a point in time when DC was most clearly embarrassed by its own history and quirks, the Bug paraded them around for all to see. Mixing adoration with ridicule, Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming wanted everyone to remember Ace the Bat-Hound, Quisp, Brother Power, and every other silly concept DC would have preferred to lock down in the basement like a mongoloid cousin in Kentucky. The problem was, you can only bite the hand that feeds you so hard before it starts to think you might also belong down in the cellar. "Son of..." was perhaps a bit too abstract for most, and by the return to form of the 90's "Nothing Special," no one in comics had a sense of humor anymore.

Well, Jann Jones finally talked Dan DiDio into letting the Bug loose, and by God, there's so much material ripe for a piss-take these days I imagine the old boy wasn't sure where to begin. "Identity Crisis" seems to be the initial target, and just as the DCU has become a much darker and more twisted place since the Bug's heyday, so too has his humor gone black. Giffen has said he needed Fleming to lighten his crueler inclinations, but when you've got a scene where the corpses of super-hero girlfriends are used as literal cannon fodder, its hard to brighten things up. Regardless, I found plenty to smile about here, and I'm heartened to see the return of a favorite character. As an added bonus, the motivation Ambush Bug provides for events surrounding the aforementioned "Identity Crisis" not only establish where he was at that point in continuity, but allow me some peace in that they provided an acceptable explanation I found lacking in that actual series.

My only slight qualm was with the art. Some of my favorite comic art ever was produced during Giffen's most heavily Munoz-influenced years in the mid-to-late 80's. Starting around the turn of the century, Giffen began working in a looser, more animated style with far fewer blacks, and I really miss the weight his pencils had back in the day. I imagine the late Bob Oksner contributed greatly to that with his inks, but it's not a look his replacement, Al Milgrom, has ever gravitated toward. The combination of Giffen and Milgrom often recalls Ernie Colon, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but caused a bit of distraction. Hopefully I'll settle with it as time goes by.


Final Crisis: Requiem #1 (DC, $3.99)
For my review here, I'll try to be objective, and leave the fanboy nit-picking for
The Idol-Head of Diabolu.

Peter Tomasi is a writer for whom I've yet to form an opinion. I've read his stuff in various places since the mid-90's, some good, some not, but nothing to tip me solidly one way or the other. I'd hoped "Requiem" would decide the matter, but no, not yet. I'm looking at buying trades of Tomasi's most recent DC work, and I'll get back to you when they come in.

I'm in the minority in liking how quickly Grant Morrison dispatched the Martian Manhunter in "Final Crisis." Murder is a dirty business, and its victims are rarely given a chance to properly defend themselves. That's largely what defines the difference between "murder" and, say, "mortal combat." This story blurs that line, as J'Onn J'Onzz in no way goes gently into that good night. This was a lengthy, messy, torturous affair that spreads as much blame as possible, while ending in the exact same spot as Grant Morrison left things.

After the deed is done, the rest feels obligatory. There's the gathering of heroes to mourn and swear vengeance, as seen in every other "heroic death" follow-up anyone's read since Jean Grey bit the big one in 1980. With one notable exception, all the attendees are the Who's Who of modern DC Comics, regardless of any actual connection to the deceased. Of course everyone adjourns to Mars, and what an excellent time for super-villains to run rampant, eh? Was "the day evil won" just the length of the interplanetary round trip? Anyhow, that's followed by the flashback montage, mostly to events that took place during the Tomasi-edited "Martian Manhunter" solo series. All pretty by the numbers. I know this all sounds critical, but I don't blame Tomasi. There was only so much room to maneuver, and there were enough nice touches to afford his work here a passing grade.

What makes the book a must read is the art. I've enjoyed Doug Mahnke's work for years, to varying degrees, and this is some of his best to date. A good deal is asked of him, from the sheer number of characters and scenes to a wide range of emotions, and he never missteps. He chose many unusual angles to express the brutality, horror, tension, and peaceful acceptance present in the story, and they work magnificently. Another important element was the finishes provided by Rodney Ramos and especially Christian Alamy. The latter made an impressive debut in American comics with a two-part Joker story over a decade back that showed enormous promise, only to disappear into a series of assignments as an embellisher. Never before have I seen Alamy display the kind of talent in his inks showcased here. Mahnke's pencils are often intentionally angular and rough, but Alamy smooths out the edges with a delicate grace, bringing a tight, sumptuous look I could stand to see in more comics. Additionally, Nei Ruffino's colors were pitch-perfect, making this the total package, and a feast for the eyes.


The CBLDF Presents: Liberty Comics (Image, $3.99)
I like to buy benefit comics when I can, especially when it comes to a cause as worthy as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Rarely though am I rewarded with a book as entertaining as this. "The Boys" by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson was about what one would expect, with the cast breaking the fourth wall to pitch for the cause and commit ultraviolence. Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart supplied "The Deadly Book," a ripping yarn of exactly the correct length to maximize enjoyment. "The House of Dracula" by Mark Millar and John Paul Leon was surprisingly low-key, but was well served. A two-page Monkeyman and O'Brien pin-up by Art Adams was typical CBLDF fare, but they're so good at this type of rhetoric, that's no slam. A Brat Pack pin-up by Rick Veitch was a bit too subdued for the proceedings. The one-page "Elephantmen" by Starkings and Moritat was more on-point, meaning pure Orwellian propaganda, and God bless them for it. J. Bone's "Gobukan" strip took a more light-hearted route to the same end. The "Criminal" story by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips effectively related a too common circumstance. "The Auteur" by writer/editor Scott Dunbier and Shawn McManus was essentially filler at double the required length. The "Groo" team of Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier tied everything together with a series of excellent one-pagers more directly relating the principles and obstacles of the CBLDF. Finally, two covers by (respectively) Mike Mignola of Hellboy and J. Scott Campbell of Danger Girl wrap things up. I strongly recommend that everyone run out and buy a copy of this book from their local retailer, in support of them, the creators, free speech, and good taste.


Madame Xanadu #1 (Vertigo, $2.99)
The only "eh" of the bunch his time out. Amy Reeder Hadley is wonderful at drawing female characters and all things faye. Unfortunately, backgrounds sometimes suffer, and her male characters look like something that should have stayed in her high school notebook. The script by Matt Wagner is full of portent and that Wiccan fantasy speak I hate so much. This may not be so much a bad book as a bad book for me, but my feeling is that a DC title revisiting Camelot yet again is a few dozen times too many to that well. Also, I like Madame Xanadu, but the lead character here feels like someone else entirely.

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