Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wednesday Is Anthologistic 2011 For All I Care #130

Liberty Annual 2011
The Next Issue Project #3: Crack Comics

I've had these two swell anthologies lying around for a slow week to review, then took off much of December in that department. Now I've got to rush them out while the year of release in the fucking title still matches the year of review...

The CBLDF Presents Liberty Annual 2011 (Image, 2011, $4.99)
I didn't know that Bob Schreck was bisexual, and I don't actually care, except that an aspect of his co-editing this year's anthology seemed to be gaying it up. Maybe Lady Gaga's really the one to blame, but somehow censorship and queer bullying got all tangled up into a book that seems more concerned with the latter than the former. Let's break it down...
  • Editorial illo by Moon and Ba. Baa? Bah.
  • Batman pin-up by Dustin Nguyen. You know, the hero accused of being a card-carrying member of NAMBLA by Frederick Wertham, whose publisher helped create and sustain the Comic Code Authority of America. See the cognitive dissonance between stated subject and textual one already?
  • Grendel in "Sympathy From the Devil" by Matt Wagner. Even a big greasy wop mafioso can dig on dick. That's One to Grow On. Pedantic and fucking lame.
  • Alan Turing pin-up by Frank Quitely. It used a high minded concept as an excuse to not finish the friggin' drawing. I Googled him, as requested by the artist. Dead dandy who was persecuted while contributing to the development of computer science.
  • "It's Not a Trick" by J.H. Williams and Todd Klein. Stop me if you've heard this one-- Williams sacrifices storytelling for an intricately designed page layout.
  • "The Light at the End of the Tunnel" is a Hustler strip, except trading misogyny for homosexuality and somehow, impossibly, being even less funny.
  • Cowboy Ninja Viking by more people I don't care enough about to type the credits for. Preachy shit that reads like comments following a Yahoo article on censorship.
  • "La Caricature" by Brabdon Montclare and Joelle Jones: Finally a well drawn story relevant to the subject. Mediocre, but still.
  • "Punk Rock, Gay, Time Machine" by Steve Niles and Michael Montenat. Still gay, but the autobiographical aspect makes it interesting, while sidestepping the recently ubiquitous "it gets better" platitudes.
  • X-Men pin-up by Greg Land. I guess framing the muties as social outcasts and spotlighting the White Queen in her fetish costume marries the two subjects of this edition. I repeat-- Greg fucking Land best summarized this comic.
  • "Dunce" by Carla Speed McNeil: I seriously have to find some Finder. Two stories in two anthologies on completely different subjects were highlights in each volume. Discusses political correctness and mental retardation from a very personal standpoint.
  • "The Broken Arrow" by Michael Vincent Bramley and Fred Hembeck: What I find interesting is that you don't even have to "read" this silent story panel by panel. You can take it all in at a glance as one image with a clear message. It would make a nice poster for tolerance.
  • "Radiation" pin-up by Shane Davis: Um... what?
  • "The Flowering" by Kazim Ali & Craig Thompson: Easily the best of the bunch. Sensitive, thoughtful, spiritual, insightful and even sensual.
  • Avengers Prime trio pin-up by Greg Horn. Big, dumb and ugly.
  • "Separation of Church and State" by J. Michael Straczynski and Kevin Sacco: Strong two pages of talking points against the bullshit notion of a "Christian Nation."
  • Green Lantern pin-up by Ivan Reis. Okay, I'm far more irritated about these goddamned super-heroes than I am about the homo-hijacking. They have absolutely, 100% fuck-all to do with anything, and are woefully out of place. "The Will To Power!" Seriously?
  • "The Conversion" by Dara Naraghi and Christopher Mitten: Man, the examination of Islam is the salvation of this edition. Nifty story set in 1982 Iran that could in many respects be a direct reflection of Anytown, U.S.A. today.
  • "God I Hate The Unfunny, Ham-Fisted Judd Winick," or something like that.
  • "The Naked Truth" by Richard Starkings: Three pages of anthropomorphic animal cock and the disproportionately slim quim that accommodates them. Unnerving nude paper dolls with amusingly hyperbolic text. Why would a merciful god withhold so brutally on the poor pachyderm?
  • "Being Normal" by Mark Waid and Jeff Lemire: Somehow, accepting yourself while getting your geek on feels like a more universal progressive message than Hunter Rose's making observations about the bible most of us worked out by junior high.
  • "Dangerous Customs" by the guys stuck spelling out the mission of the CBLDF on the last page of these annuals each year.
In summary, the disparity between the good and bad was more pronounced this year, and by taking on a specific "b" cause this time, the book felt less inclusive and more like a lecture than usual. Hopefully, more inspiration will be taken from the highs that blended homosexual characters into a broader narrative than from Judd Winick dick-slapping people across the cheek in each panel.

Crack Comics #63 (Image, 2011, $4.99)
Almost a year late, the latest (and slowest) Next Issue Project was well worth the weight. Three issues over four years (Fantastic Comics #24 (2008) was solicited for December of 2007, while Silver Streak Comics #24 (2009) came out two years ago) is not an admirable shipping record, but this was honestly the best one yet, and one of my favorite reads of this year. Let me count the ways in which this single issue modern continuation of a Golden Age series is superior to the Project: Superpowers competitor experiment it outlived (though likely will never outproduce, at least in the 21st century...)
  • Mike Allred cover: Simple but swell.
  • Nifty period novelty ads.
  • Captain Triumph by Alan Weiss: A dynamite story with lush art that makes inventive use of the character's central gimmick.
  • The Space Legion in "A Matter of Some Gravity" by Chris Burnham: Fun art, storytelling, and effects to evoke the period, but weak characterization and an abrupt, oblique conclusion.
  • The Clock by Paul Maybury: I've never heard of this guy before, but his story seriously kicked ass to the point where I want to read the next issue after that big tease of a closing splash. I suspect this owes as much to the influence of the Punisher as the Clock, but a great time nonetheless. The art is in the indie mode, along similar lines as Paul Grist's contribution to a previous N.I.J., but it suits the material, as does the muted, almost slate coloring.
  • Molly the Model by Terry Austin: A bit more titillating than the source material would suggest, with art recalling early Los Bros Hernandez, which for a single page gag strip adds up to winning.
  • Alias the Spider in "Curse the Darkness" by Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri: More talent unknown to me, and they seem intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but don't quite pull it off. There are one or two too many twists in the serpentine script, preventing it from ending on a high note on page five of six. Regardless, the giddy high their superb craftsmanship put me on up to that point mark them as persons of interest.
  • Spitfire by Herb Trimpe: The quality starts to decline rapidly at this, the Trimping point. Actually, this was a cute story, a sort of rambling origin for an exceedingly P.C. lift of the Blackhawk Squadron. I confess to a lifelong anti-Trimpe bias, but I had no idea that he drew this until I looked up the credits, and it's the best art I've ever seen from him.
  • Slap Happy Pappy by Joe Keatinge: Easily the worst story of the lot. It just plain sucked. Ugly mini-comic art and a dumb, trite story of blessedly brief two pages.
  • Hack O'Hara by Erik Larsen: This project is Larsen's baby, but he's also guilty of being the most consistent provider of poor choices in this series. Featuring art stylings, layouts, and a monster deeply indebted to Silver Age Kirby, Larsen brings snarky '80s revisionism and a friggin' intra-feature crossover to boot. Larsen has the most fun with the book's conceit technically, including brown paper and off register color separations, but it's atonal in its company and reminds me of mistakes made previously in both the N.I.P. and the short-lived Dynamite Publishing Golden Age sub-line.
  • Red Torpedo in "Life at Sea" by B. Clay Moore, Frank Fosco and Erik Larsen: A rather dry silent story to close out the book. Larsen's inks overwhelm Fosco, and the plot owes debts all over the place. Decent enough to not dissuade me from giving the book as a whole my unreserved recommendation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wednesday Is New 52-2 For All I Care #129

Aquaman #3 (2011)
Demon Knights #2
The Huntress #2 (2011)

Aquaman #3 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
This was my favorite issue so far, since I felt it had the best balance of back story, exposition, action, characterization and tantalizing morsels of future developments. A lot can come of a simple throwaway line like "You still kept that trident. Despite all the trouble it might bring." Anyway, the book remains gorgeous to behold, and while still a slight read, this time it was a satisfying one.

Demon Knights #2 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
Like the first issue, except the closing battle there carries on throughout this issue and on to the next. Nice art, mildly humorous, flips the Stormwatch paradigm by focusing on the familiar characters you like instead of the new ones you don't. Still, nothing is accomplished beyond displays of powers/prowess. I could have posted this week's reviews last week, but I kept putting it off waiting to be inspired to say more about this one comic. Never came. Eh, these books are mostly two months old anyway, so who gives a shit?

The Huntress #2 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
I liked it better when it was called The Huntress #1. It's like they just rearranged the pages here. It still looks good, and I'd like to give a shout out to colorist Andrew Dalhouse for managing softer, feminine coloring suited for a purple-clad vigilante without undermining the darker aspects of the story. However, that story has not progressed in the slightest, and reads like a silly '80s action movie without a sense of stakes or accomplishment for the protagonist. There's even a mild, halfhearted exploitation vibe. The Guillem March cover is this comic in a nutshell: an otherwise attractive image marred by an incompetently positioned bo staff obscuring the heroine's face. I want to like it, but it undermines itself in obvious ways.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

1998 Wizard Magazine Holiday Present Tags

Featuring Katchoo from Strangers in Paradise, Dawn, Monkeyman and O'Brien, Darkchylde, Danger Girl, Lady Death, The Coven, Shi and The Tenth. A very indy Christmas, so I figure the big two must have been Grinches after last year. It occurs to me that I wish Tony Daniel drew Batman in his old cartoony style. Might be more palatable.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Ésta Es Tu Vida" by Hombres G

Released: 1990
Album: Ésta Es Tu Vida
Single?: Yes.

The album was a critical success but a sales dud. Cool, dark, preachy video, though. Dig the cheesy early CGI!

Ellos lucharon por tu nombre
y ni siquiera saben cual es
jovenes que llegan desde algun lugar
pero todo sigue igual.
Ellos murieron en las playas
no todos pudieron cantar
ahora hay abuelos
que no hablan de la guerra
pero todo sigue igual.
Y yo no se porque
no nos abrazamos
porque queremos aparentar tanta frialdad.
Hay algo aqui lleno de odio
hay algo que funciona mal
y entre tu y yo es posible
que tambien haya algo que cambiar.
Y yo no se porque
no somos todos hermanos
porque queremos aparentar tanta maldad.
Todos vemos la muerte
y sentimos el dolor
lo pasan todos los dias
por la television.
Tiene alguien algo que decir
queda alguien que aun crea en el amor.
Esta es tu vida, y asi sera
pero no puedes luchar mas
ahora mira a tu hijo a los ojos
porque te preguntara:
no se porque
no nos abrazamos
porque queremos aparentar tanta frialdad
Hey tu
ellos esperan una palabra de tus labios
Hey tu
ellos no quieren que les enseñes a matar
Hey tu
ya no hay batallas en las playas
ya no hay gente que se calla
aunque todavia se muere por la libertad

Saturday, December 17, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Silent All These Years" by Tori Amos

Written By: Tori Amos
Released: November, 1991 (U.K.)
Album: Title
Single?: #21 on UK Singles Chart, #65 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100

I want to say my introduction to Tori Amos came with the video to "Crucify," followed by her appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992 to perform "Silent." It's a beautiful song that has never lost its power, but I somehow managed to go nearly twenty years without seeing the official music video. As a result, I prefer the live version, so you'll have to scroll past the lyrics for the glossy take.

Excuse me but can I be you for a while
My dog won't bite if you sit real still
I got the anti-Christ in the kitchen yellin' at me again
Yeah I can hear that
Been saved again by the garbage truck
I got something to say you know
But nothing comes
Yes I know what you think of me
You never shut-up
Yeah I can hear that

But what if I'm a mermaid
In these jeans of his
With her name still on it
Hey but I don't care
Cause sometimes
I said sometimes
I hear my voice
And it's been here
Silent All These Years

So you found a girl
Who thinks really deep thougts
What's so amazing about really deep thoughts
Boy you best praya that I bleed real soon
How's that thought for you
My scream got lost in a paper cup
You think there's a heaven
Where some screams have gone
I got 25 bucks and a cracker
Do you think it's enough
To get us there

Cause what if I'm a mermaid
In these jeans of his
With her name still on it
Hey but I don't care
Cause sometimes
I said sometimes
I hear my voice
And it's been here
Silent All These...

Years go by
Will I still be waiting
For somebody else to understand
Years go by
If I'm stripped of my beauty
And the orange clouds
Raining in head
Years go by
Will I choke on my tears
Till finally there is nothing left
One more casualty
You know we're too easy Easy Easy

Well I love the way we communicate
Your eyes focus on my funny lip shape
Let's hear what you think of me now
But baby don't look up
The sky is falling
Your mother shows up in a nasty dress
It's your turn now to stand where I stand
Everybody lookin' at you here
Take hold of my hand
Yeah I can hear them

But what if I'm a mermaid
In these jeans of his
With her name still on it
Hey but I don't care
Cause sometimes
I said sometimes
I hear my voice [x3]

And it's been here
Silent All These Years
I've been here
Silent All These Years

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone By (2004)

I believe The Walking Dead is now my personal single longest unbroken run reading a title. I was interested when the first issue was solicited, but I was inclined to trade-wait most series by that point, and am glad I did. That first volume was less than ten bucks, and was released quickly enough that I got to preorder the first uncollected single issue that same month for a dollar. It was jarring jumping from the shocking finale of the trade to a follow-up issue by a new and extremely different artist. Rereading the trade, I was much more conscious of the individual issue/chapter breaks, and I don't think I would have related to the story the same way in monthly installments. The book works better as a twice yearly bolus infusion of zombie soap opera, and I suspect I might not have stuck through the grind of months.

Kirkman seems to need that twelve times a year schedule. In his first and only foreword to the trade paperbacks, he explains that this was intended to be the zombie story that never ends, as opposed to the grim finality of most movies. Kirkman dismisses Return of the Living Dead in favor of Dawn, which is something I could never do, despite Romero's film being perhaps my favorite ever. Still, I understand that Kirkman needs his epic to be deadly serious, always relate in human terms, and cleave to Romero's social commentary over O'Bannon's cheeky kicks. This is the beginning of the long journey of a group of characters experiencing hell on earth, and so far, Kirkman has remained true to his stated goals.

Kirkman said of the series' star, "You guys are going to see Rick change and mature to the point that when you look back on this book you won't even recognize him." He also spends a lot of time heaping praise on artist Tony Moore. These things are related. Moore couldn't produce on a monthly schedule, and after years prior as a creative team, their partnership ended with the last issue collected in this trade. The split was acrimonious, but Moore stayed on to produce covers into the second year. A bone of contention that I've always had with the book is that there are no cover reproductions in the trades, but I'm somewhat thankful now. The new artist so made this book his own that I literally do not recognize the Rick Grimes of these earlier issues as the guy I've followed for years since. Of course, Kirkman meant the changes that would occur within Rick, and that was true as well.

It's very interesting to look at Tony Moore's work in retrospect. He has a very crisp, energetic style. He's a natural storyteller who packs in just the right amount of detail to please the eye without stalling the flow of the story. The sequence where Rick and Glenn scavenge at a gun shop in Atlanta, and things take a bad turn, is one of the rare instances in all my years of with comics where I was so excited that I had to stop reading the text and let my eyes travel panel to panel to see the action resolve. Moore's work is wonderful, and yet, I think it was best that he left the book when he did. All of his characters have friendly, comic strip faces that make it difficult to take dramatic moments seriously. His zombies are delightfully grotesque, but in a Jack Davis at EC vein that render them less threatening and tragic than they should be. There's a key character death where the victim looks less in agony than about to groan "good grief" in their best Charles Schultz imitation. The dichotomy is problematic.

It was a great thing to have Tony Moore start the book. He set the artistic bar high and hooked readers that might have resisted his less flashy replacement. The gray tones Moore established set the visual look of the series in an essential way for a black & white comic intended for a broad audience. It lends weight and shadow that is the life blood of the reality and survivalist horror of the book. At the same time, there's an innocent quality to the art that reflects the naivete of the characters at this stage of the crisis. The final twist at the end of the trade shatters any illusions of normalcy, and is the perfect point to switch to a moodier, more "vérité" art style.

I don't believe that I've ever revisited any of the volumes of this series before, and after nearly a hundred issues and 1.5 seasons of a television adaptation, it's revelatory. I sometimes think of the AMC show as a "What If?" tangent universe where a few variations yield divergent results. I'm reminded how phony that notion is. The characterization on the show is so vastly different that many "adapted" characters are unrecognizable, and I feel their being informed by the characters as they developed severely damages their personal arcs. For instance, the Lori of the show is a cold bitch pretty much from her first episode, and in the comics she did become rather unsympathetic, but in the beginning it was easy to see her as a loving wife and mother. On the show, I often find my loyalties divided between Shane's amoral pragmatism and Rick's perilous altruism. It's no wonder the audience favorite has ended up being Daryl Dixon, the white male Michonne. It's clear why Rick became group leader from this first trade, as he's the most intelligent and the broadest thinker of the band. The comic book Shane is plainly deluded and emotionally unstable, so it's no wonder Rick was readily embraced. TV Rick jumped straight into territory where his reasoning is permanently in question, while comic Rick proved himself thoroughly before making understandable missteps in uncertain times.

Another thing I miss on the TV series is the time taken to properly introduce supporting characters and ensure that they are likeable and valuable. For instance, the show threw Glenn, Andrea, T-Dog and Merle at the viewers all at once. My girlfriend couldn't understand why Glenn is my favorite surviving character, because on TV he wasn't the person who guided Rick through Atlanta, and he wasn't the lone sneak thief that sustained the group. My Glenn didn't show up until the second season. The Dale of the show has been an increasingly irritating nuisance and busybody, where in the book he was the first person to warn Rick about problems within the group, and proved handy with an ax in saving Donna. My recollection was that Amy and Andrea developed as sisters across a couple of years worth of comics, so I was surprised to find the turn in their relationship was about as swift as on the show. However, they then progressed quietly in the background, whereas the show turned that into such an in-your-face development as to be a major turn-off. At least Carol and her family were vastly more engaging adapted than their dull comic origins.

All this is to say that The Walking Dead deserves its success, because the foundations of a multimedia property were sound from the beginning. Yes, the 28 Days Later... homage opening was dumb, and the influence of zombie fad flicks of as recent a vintage as Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake are apparent, but Kirkman and Moore build from their skeletons something with real meat to hang off them. It was excellent on first read, and holds up in part because what followed remains vital, begging reflection and comparative analysis. I feel it's one of the major works of the zombie genre and the comics medium, so I look forward to that third reading in 2019.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Love That Bob

"The Church of the SubGenius is a "parody religion" organization that satirizes religion, conspiracy theories, unidentified flying objects, and popular culture. Originally based in Dallas, Texas, the Church of the SubGenius gained prominence in the 1980s and 1990s and maintains an active presence on the Internet."-Wikipedia

Anybody else miss "Night Flight?"

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Stay" by Shakespears Sister

Written By: Siobhan Fahey, Marcella Detroit & Jean Guiot
Released: January 25, 1992
Album: Hormonally Yours
Single?: UK Singles Chart #1, U.S. Billboard Hot 100 #4, certified gold in both.

My brother recorded a copy of this video off MTV way back when, and I loved it immediately. I recorded various other Shakespears Sister songs off broadcast TV shows like Friday Night Videos, but of course none of those ever reached the heights of "Stay." The "band" was actually a generous name for Siobhan Fahey as a solo act. The forty-year-old veteran backup singer Marcella Detroit only performed on a few songs, but based on the success of this single, lawyered-up to try taking 50% of the act. Detroit got shitcanned, and Fahey ended up institutionalized with severe depression. As I recall, both singers were also pregnant at the time of the song's release. Talk about a drama factory. I ended up buying Hormonally Yours on CD about half a decade later, and there were a number of solid tracks on it, but also a fair amount of Europop crap. Anyway, here's the little seen extended version of the video, but turn up your volume to hear it.

if this world is wearing thin
and you're thinking of escape
i'll go anywhere with you
i'll do anything it takes [just wrap me up in chains]
but if you try to go alone
don't think i'll understand

stay with me, stay with me.

in the silence of your room
in the darkness of your schemes [ ... dreams]
there among the souvenirs [you must only think of me]
and the useless memories [there can be no in between]
when your pride is on the floor
i'll make you beg for more

stay with me, stay with me.

you'd better hope and pray
that you'll be safe [ that you make it safe]
in your own world [back to your own world]
you'd better hope and pray
that you're gonna awake [that you wake one day]
back in your own world [in your own world]
[cause when you sleep at night they don't hear your cries]
[in your own world]
[only time will tell if you can break the spell]
[back in your own world]

stay with me, stay with me.

As an added and more audible bonus, here's the song performed live on The Arsenio Hall Show. I have a more complete copy of this with the host's introduction, but it is otherwise inferior, so I won't bother uploading it...

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Frank Review of "Death Wish" (1974)

The Short Version? Vigilante Movies: The Beginning
What Is It? Thriller
Who Is In It? Charles Bronson, Cosmo Castorini
Should I See It? Yes

In an alternate universe, Sidney Lumet stuck with this picture instead of jumping ship to Serpico. It starred Jack Lemmon as the aging Paul Kersey, who gradually turns to vigilantism after the murder of his wife and the psychologically catastrophic rape of his daughter. It was a socially conscientious look at the impact of crime and outlaw justice. Henry Fonda played the police chief, and it was another film classic from perhaps the greatest decade of cinema.

In our reality, Death Wish is an above average exploitation flick by journeyman director Michael Winner starring that spectacular lump of meat, Charles "F'n" Bronson. While filmed in the gritty '70s style of contemporary greats, name dropping producer Dino De Laurentiis should dissuade viewers from any elevated regard for the picture. It's a Dirty Harry knock-off coincidentally swollen with cameos by stars in the waiting (including Olympia Dukakis and Christopher Guest, while debuting Denzel Washington and Jeff Goldblum.) Bronson is a lousy actor but an intimidating screen presence. The assortment of scenarios with muggers waiting to meet the business end of his revolver are exciting and retain the element of real danger to the protagonist, as opposed to the bulletproof tough guys of the 1980s. Vincent Gardenia plays the detective in charge of finding the vigilante, and he's actually intelligent in adept pursuit.

The movie is basically Paul Kersey's origin story, so it takes nearly forty-five minutes before the protagonist goes out on his first patrol. The information before this point is necessary to the development of an extreme response. Rather than setting up grand villains and such, the movie then begins the parallel stories of Kersey's new life and the police pursuit of him for it. The result is, ahem, all-killer no-filler, and leads to a logical conclusion that doesn't insult the audience's intelligence by involving the hoods responsible for Paul's woe (although there's meta-justice dealt out in "St. Ives". Already in his fifties, the movie finally made an action star out of Bronson, and remains engaging nearly forty years and countless imitators later.

  • Theatrical Trailer Also, don't underestimate subtitles. With bare bones releases, you appreciate the little things.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wednesday Is Old New 52 For All I Care #128

Demon Knights #1
Grifter #1 (2011)
Justice League #1 (2011)

Demon Knights #1 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
The characters are a lot more fun in this book than in Paul Cornell's Stormwatch, and the story is clearer, but it seems kind of pointless. This is like a JLA of immortality, meaning that the characters that are best known are perfectly safe, so your reading enjoyment is dependent upon your interest in watching the leads going through the motions. Madame Xanadu is more flippant and sexually adventurous than I recall. The Demon is more amorous and gullible, plus I don't like the wings. Vandal Savage is more thuggish and boisterous. It would be interesting if Al Jabr turned out to be Adam One. I suppose it's cute seeing these characters in earlier days, and the playing with magic as advanced science (dragons = dinosaurs) is nice. With a name like "Demon Knights" and all these Daemonites running around the DCnÜ, you just know there will be some tie-ins to come. I guess that's something to look forward to. Appealing art by Diógenes Neves aside, this seems like a short-lived aside, if not an outright lark.

Grifter #1 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
I vaguely remember reading the original Grifter #1 back in the '90s, which had the misfortune of being a side story in a crossover event. That book failed to impress, as did this one, for somewhat similar reasons. The issue opens on an airplane, with Grifter hearing voices, being attacked, and falling into the clear blue sky. It might have worked to start in the middle of the action in a movie, but it fails miserably as a comic. Since the reader likely knows Grifter is the hero of the story, there's no confusion about his role. His attackers are also obviously evil and something other than human. The scene therefore does not misdirect or surprise the viewer, and as a comic does not need to immediately hook the reader on an action beat (especially a lackluster one,) so all it does is confuse and disengage.

Then the flashback starts, including an extension of the title sequence, which grinds the breakneck pace to a whiplash halt. It's this nighttime office building rendezvous game of nitwits-- con artistry on the level of putting your thumb between your fingers and claiming to have another person's nose. At least Grifter is finally owning the meaning behind his kewl Image name, if nearly twenty years and a whole bunch of John Cusack movies too late. Tension and reveals have to be built up, all to return to the opening sequence of the book, on which a full page of recap is wasted. Worse, the resolution of the "cliffhanger" lasts exactly one panel, and if Grifter has super-powers that would allow him to survive a midair dive from an airplane, that might ought to be spelled out. The grinding gears of shoddy pacing strip the story of traction. What when laid out sequentially seems like a decent introductory episode feels slight as disarranged modules.

The last few pages are spent dumping exposition that a better writer could have worked into the story, including the completely unbelievable notion that the protagonist's military background would lead a Pentagon official to send his brother after him with extreme prejudice. Let's not get a highly capable but personally disinterested agent to track down Grifter, but instead send a blood relative. No massive, obvious conflict there. Old readers will shrug and say "this again?" New readers will just shrug. This is one of those comics written by someone whose knowledge of the world comes from other comics and video games. Part and parcel, it helps to read other "Edge" line books like Voodoo to fully appreciate the extent of the hand-me-down, been there/done that experience.

Given all my complaints about Nathan Edmonson's story, I want to make sure to point out that the book's grace is in the art. I liked Cafu's work on Vixen: Return of the Lion, but it was soft and stiff. His work with Jason Gorder flows better, with tight inks that lend mood and weight. There's a strong resemblance to early Gary Frank, without the excessive detailing that mars his art today. I understand the miserable Scott Clark takes over art chores in a few issues, so hopefully that means the present team move on to a book that could better utilize their talents.

Justice League #1 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
As evidenced by the story title "Justice League: Part One," more thought and originality was put into Johns' spelling of first name "Jeff" than into this story. It's basically a fifth of the plot points of Legends #1 with a fifth of the characters but five times the crosshatching and cover price. My go-to complaint about Star Wars: The Phantom Menace has been that if you asked any random person with a basic knowledge of the franchise to imagine their own Episode I, it would have been a more entertaining movie than what was produced. Ditto.


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