Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wed. Is Any Day For All I Care #5

1001 Arabian Nights: The Adventures of Sinbad #0 * Astounding Wolf-Man #1-4 * Batman #667-669 * Captain Action Comics #0 * Final Crisis #1 * Invincible Iron Man #1 * Justice League of America #21 * Justice League Unlimited #43 * Legion of Super-Heroes In The 31st Century #11 * The Perhapanauts #1

1001 Arabian Nights: The Adventures of Sinbad #0 (Zenescope, $0.99) Archetypes or not, scripter Dan Wickline manages to provide solid characterization for better than a half dozen character over the span of eleven pages, no mean feat. Yes, the story tugs on knees, like the audience not wanting a clumsy but beautiful woman to taste the whip, or allowing us to fall for the charms of the rogue who sees to it our damsel comes out okay. Again, his thing's 11 pages, with three story credits, and is introductory priced to help launch a new series. Getting a tale that actually entertains without bludgeoning me with exposition already places it in my good graces. The art isn't quite there, borrowing a bit too liberally from guys like J. Scott Campbell and Bernard Chang, but it isn't hard on the eye or detrimental to the narrative. A four page preview of the first issue followed, this artist owing more to Joe Madureira, with more polish but less personality. Recommended.

The Astounding Wolf-Man #1 (Director's Cut,) 2-4 (Image, $3.99/$2.99) The trade paperback collection containing these issues almost made the cut when I was placing my order with Previews last month. However, I read a series of tepid reviews online, a pattern I've followed since the book's release, and decided to skip it. While I've thoroughly enjoyed some of Robert Kirkman's writing (Walking Dead, Irredeemable Ant-Man,) I found most of my exposure to be less than enthralling (Marvel Zombies, Marvel Team-Up, Invincible.) Therefore, I bought into the lukewarm reception, and because of that, I fucked myself out of what's shaping up to be a great read. I was housesitting for a friend with these issues lying around, and reading them in one sitting, I suspect a combination of a bi-weekly shipping schedule and intentionally unsympathetic characterization thwarted some expectations.

The series stars a well-heeled corporate suit who, at the point of introduction, has already been bitten by a were-something-or-other. The blessedly allowed us to skip what could have been an issue's worth of set-up before the bite, but damns us to shorthand after the fact to clue us in our "hero" and his family are the kind of WASP preppies the type of social misfit who reads comics can't stand. That was, admittedly, off-putting at first, until I began to realize this is Kirkman's take on the ethically dubious Post-Civil War Tony Stark. Sure, the guy takes up training with a mysterious mentor to turn his lupine inclination into a force for good-- but your definition of "good" may not quite be in line with his. After the first issue, the twists start coming, but they arise organically from the player's seriously suspect inclinations, marrying super-heroic drama and monsters movie. I've dreamt of a book that skirts the line between these two genres so well since buying the 70's "Legion of Monsters" one-shot as a young lad from some flea market cheapie bin. My only small complaint is with artist Jason Howard, who's cartoonish art destroys any real sense of horror. This actually helps with that balance between capes and claws, because with a book this gory it's hard to not fall into "Midnight Sons" territory, where what you really ought to be invoking is something more akin to early Spawn/EC Comics ghoulishness. However, Howard makes exploding intestines almost cute, preventing the book's violent moments from being as impactful as they should be. Regardless, this is a book that should provoke more of a response, because it's much better than many would have you believe.

Batman #667-669 (DC Comics, $2.99) You know, the last Grant Morrison book I really got a kick out of was "Seaguy," and any affection I had for Batman seems to have been left at the back of a closet somewhere out of reach. There are only two reasons I can use to explain buying this three issue arc. The first is easy, J.H. Williams III. The second is more shady. You see, like many fans, I still dream of writing one day, and I've long wanted to work on a respectable new take on the Global Guardians, employing quality international heroes and villains in place of the losers made so thoroughly laughable in "Superfriends" and "JLI." Hence, my interest in the reworked "Batmen of the World."

I've liked Knight and Squire since their reintroduction in "JLA," and really appreciate William's ability to invoke he style of such a dissimilar artist as Ed McGuiness without swiping, or even straying far from his own look. Same goes for Wingman, clearly geared toward a UK vibe without aping any single practitioner. Seeing him share a room with El Gaucho, invoking Spanish artists by way of Howard Chaykin, is almost like the comic book equivalent of "Who Famed Roger Rabbit," but with far smoother integration. The only major fault I find in the art is its tendency to sacrifice narrative all to often in favor of design, causing distraction, confusion, and even irritation. Subtle, it's not.

The story is perhaps too familiar. The Alan Moore-pilfering metatext wears, and the plot is straight out of Agatha Christie. Most everyone you expect to die will, the most obviously treacherous will betray, and the resolution will be dissatisfying so as to allow for inevitable continuation. I still enjoyed it, but best to be upfront about all that, so as to meet expectations.

Captain Action Comics #0 (Moonstone, $1.99) I bought the Paul Gulacy cover as a fan, and because the cover by interior artist Mark Sparacio involved a character continuously afflicted with awful photo reference. Aside from that though, the illustrations are gorgeous, and a big-name corporate gig in a prestige format is undoubtedly in this guy's future. I try to imagine the two-page spread of Captain Action and his sidekick, surrounded by images from their 60's heyday, with the pair in the Captain America & Bucky costumes of their doll origins (sold separately.) As for the story, well, this is nothing new under the sun. Marvel's currently running hog wild with the book's basic premise, but without the Pat Mills circa "Marshal Law" seasoning, and I also can't help but recall Fabian Nicieza's previous writing on "JLA: A Midsummer's Nightmare." Some boudoir antics seem out of place in a tot license adaptation, but it isn't bad for what it is, and so damned pretty while owning up to it. A shame the book being promoted is one of those "illustrated novellas," and by a different artist to boot, but this prelude is worth the money for the art alone. Reminds me of Jay Anacleto, it does.

Final Crisis #1 (DC Comics, $3.99) Hot damn, but comics are getting expensive. As the proprietor of a Martian Manhunter blog, you'd thing I'd be more twisted up by his fate, but it's that inflated price tag that really gets under my skin. Perhaps that and the weight of unrealistic expectations is what's led to an unwarranted backlash against this debut issue. Everyone agrees it's a nice looking book, but the solid script has been overly maligned. Comic readers typically respond poorly to extended sequences without dialogue, myself included, but the Kubrick riff sat well with me. The link between Vandal Savage and the first salvo of the coming war was well executed, as was Anthro's representation of heroism and the dual-edged nature of knowledge. I got a kick out of Dan Turpin and CSI: Oa was a unique take on a tired trope. I'm less amused by the continued abuse of third-tier heroes, young girls especially, and more so when Dr. Light is involved. At some point, it just becomes a matter of propriety. Despite the cries of outrage, the murder of J'Onn J'Onzz is lent a voyeuristic, intimate quality that heightens the sordid nature of the murder, splendidly defying the expectation of a valiant spectacle. It's a small, pathetic encounter amongst the kind of defective humanity that would happily upload their misdeeds to YouTube. I'm pleased some effort has been made to distinguish the Monitors from Marvel's Watchers, but I still have no desire to see their existence continue. Also, the New Gods' inhabiting humanity is an old saw that failed to please, though the Anti-Life Children of the Damned were rendered to provoke maximum discomfort. Based on one issue, I think the book's going places, and I hope after "Countdown" some faith can still be mustered amongst the buying public.

Invincible Iron Man #1 (Marvel, $2.99) When I stepped out of my first viewing of "Batman" in 1989, there was a rack of movie adaptations for sale. As I recall, it was serviceable, and I was lukewarm on the movie besides. When I stepped out of "Iron Man" this year, Bedrock City Comic Company had a full booth filled with t-shirts of all sizes, toys, posters... and comic books. I'm not sure this was one of them, but I hope so, because a fan of the film would very likely become a fan of this series. Matt Fraction combines the smart ass appeal of Robert Downey Jr. with the high-fallutin techno-babble guys like Warren Ellis popularized. Sal Larroca's art, while sometimes a bit too processed, is still damned attractive in its heightened realism that cannot yet be replicated by film or animation. It's edgy, timely, and has enough meat on its bones to satisfy while leaving you with questions enough to bring you back.

Justice League of America #21 (DC Comics, $2.99) Another reason "Final Crisis" may have been judged too harshly is that Dwayne McDuffie's lead-in was so much more fun. I thought the banter amongst the trinity popped. Though I miss the Martian Manhunter of "JLA" who's role in this inner circle has been usurped by Wonder Woman, Diana deserves to be treated with this level of respect and confidence forevermore. The delusion of the Human Flame has already been wonderfully deconstructed elsewhere. Roy Harper was treated with the regard needed to truly step into the big league, and the air of menace surrounding the closing meeting amongst the Society is damned thick. I actually walked into a comic shop and paid full cover for this book, and I don't regret it. I do regret not pre-ordering it, but that's my own fault.

Justice League Unlimited #43 (DC Comics, $2.25) Keith Giffen on the Blue and the Gold? I'd call it a no-brainer, but it takes smarts to write this special breed of dumb fun. Without DeMatteis, Blue Beetle and Booster do seem to switch personalities, but their trademark hijinx are in effect. The humor may be a bit too subtle for the intended audience, but there's action and character work consistent with the animated show to tide them over.

Legion of Super-Heroes In The 31st Century #11 (DC Comics, $2.25) Not a bad story, but it was ending while I thought I was still reading the set-up. Superboy wanders into a situation on a futuristic Mars that is briefly established, then resolved, without giving any of the characters or circumstances given a chance to make an impression. I've never seen the now cancelled cartoon, but I must say some of the design work was really nice here, especially Timber Wolf.

The Perhapanauts #1 (Image, $3.50) This struck me as an interesting assortment of characters, with the design of "Big" being especially well done. However, the creators chose to pick-up at the end of a previous mini-series, and while they helped get me up to speed, there was too much of the feeling you've been deceived into buying issue #12 instead of being given a proper entrance to the book. Worse, pages are devoted to showing potential future individual death scenarios for characters you don't know well enough to find resonance in. A wasted opportunity and a lost reader to what seemed a promising series.

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