Friday, December 31, 2010

My Disappointments in Archie #616

I was very excited about the prospect of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin joining the Archie Comics stable of characters, but so many of my expectations were dashed in the debut, I must count the ways...

  1. Obama "endorsing" Betty instead of Archie, just to fuck with the rednecks.
  2. Palin "endorsing" Betty instead of Veronica, after Betty rebuffs Obama and turns out to be a closet case opposed to mixing with coloreds, illegal aliens and non-incestuous abortions.
  3. Veronica revealing to her father that she was secretly Obama Girl, and hopes to join the Liberal Media Elite after attending college at UC Berkeley.
  4. Dilton Doiley criticized as an intellectual elitist and drummed out unfairly from the Math Club on accusations that advanced calculus is witchcraft.
  5. Pop Tate breaks down after realizing Jughead Jones has put the Chocklit Shoppe so far into the black that he'll be taxed in the rich man's bracket.
  6. Willow Palin calling Kevin Keller a faggot on Facebook.
  7. Chuck Clayton revealed to be Obama's love child. Michelle throws Barack out of the White House. Hillary consoles.
  8. Reggie Mantle grilled by the media after applauding the peaceable negotiations skills of Riverdale's Spire Christian Purity League during the desegregation process.
  9. Bristol Palin puts lipstick on Ethel Muggs; enters her in Dancing With The Stars as a partner for Dustin Diamond.
  10. The Archies furious to learn Miss Grundy was denied necessary treatment by a Death Panel.
  11. Sarah Palin fills Moose Mason's face with buckshot.
  12. Midge Klump immediately impregnated by Levi Johnston.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Empowered Volume 4 (2008)

I’d like to issue a personal apology to Adam Warren. You see, months back I wrote a highly critical review of the third volume of Empowered, but then rolled right into volume 4, which was a massive improvement. Unfortunately, I’ve had that negative reaction sitting around the internet for about a half a year, and sat on the positive opinion I have for this edition. The character of Empowered gets nominated as “Suprahuman Most Deserving of Wider Recognition” in this story, and the book also warrants more positive word, so I feel like a jerk for laying down on the job.

The book opens by reprinting the color story from MySpace Dark Horse Comics Presents, a fairly average introductory piece for new readers. Speaking of color though, for some reason I always thought Sistah Spooky was an Asian girl that tried to act black, and it wasn’t until I saw her on the back cover here that I saw how unambiguously African-American she’s supposed to be. Call me obtuse.

The new material picks up with Ninjette recovering from the events of the previous volume. The hospital for “capes” where she’s staying offers a lot of opportunity for Morrison mad ideas, which Warren has a gift for communicating with much greater clarity and humor. The three principles (including Thugboy) then bond back at home in a more organic (and sexah) fashion than the karaoke contest last time.

Unbeknownst to the reader, those fifty-four pages of seemingly random episodes, exposition, and recovery have been lulling them into believing that the new tale hasn’t begun, when in fact Warren has been craftily threading in clues to a central mystery that will dominate the volume. Fun new characters are introduced, Empowered is subjected to her usual emotional battery, and sorting out the read herrings from the essentials may challenge the reader. Most of the cast is given an opportunity for action and character exploration. Once the shit starts hitting the fan at 17th Annual Caped Justice Awards ceremony, pay-offs come fast and furious, and our heroines truly show their worth.

I loved the first volume of Empowered because it was a collection of short stories/comic strips designed to satisfying at the end of each treat’s single-digit page count. Volume two worked because it was many of the characters’ first chances to entertain in extended tales. Three faltered because of the contempt of familiarity and meandering before the final fight, which had been teased too much and ran too long. Also, the balance of humor, tension, action and characterization was way off, feeling forced or slight depending on the individual segments.

Volume four works because Adam Warren manages to keep all of its balls in the air the entire time, an amazing accomplishment. Each chapter is fun, usually quite funny, and often enhances the characters. At the same time, the episodes are downright insidious is their stealth building of an overarching story which ties together and completes the volume. For the first time since the beginning of Empowered, Warren has delivered an edition that works in parts and as a whole, magnifying the pleasures of his work. He seems reenergized here, and the enthusiasm and focus grabs the reader by the boo-boo. Any reservations I had about continuing to follow the series were dispelled, and it is once again among my top recommendations.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fire: The Definitive Collection (2001)

Back in the early ‘90s, I bought my comics at a flea market stand where the proprietor was savvy enough to order first issues beyond the usual speculator crap with informed judgment. For instance, there was a debut from Caliber Press called Fire with a photo cover of a floppy haired college girl with a gun, ala Le Femme Nikita. I’ve had a weakness for fumetti since that Marvel Team-Up cover where Joe Jusko dressed as Captain America, and a weakness for floppy haired brainy girls nearly as long. Surely the shopkeeper knew at least one sucker would buy the book, and that sucker was me.

The comic was about a male (drat!) university student who had been recruited by an intelligence agency. The story opened with his having run afoul of his boss, Murphy Brown, and ending up battered and locked away. The rest of the issue was then told in flashback, revolving around how the student was lured into the spy business and partially trained by a cute floppy haired spy girl (yes!) It was a pretty alright story that ended on a cliffhanger. The dialogue had a nice pop to it, with unusually strong character repartee for a comic of the time. I liked the moody high contrast art, which made up for some of the obvious photo referencing (especially Ms. Candy Bergen) with personality. The lettering was rather amateurish, though, and the writer/artist was pretentious enough to use his full name and merge the a & e in “Brian Michael Bendis.”

Anyhow, the dealer must have lacked confidence in selling a second issue, and if I asked him to reorder that half, it never got to me. I did keep up with the progression of this Bendis guy, and even tried odd issues of his crime comic A.K.A. Goldfish, but I never found anything strong enough to hook me. Bendis eventually became one of the biggest names in the industry, and I still don’t fully understand why, because even his best stuff (Alias, Powers, Daredevil) has consistently left me wanting. The worst stuff has been outright wankery, and I don’t think the guy “gets” the high profile super-heroes he now gets to write, so I avoid his stuff whenever possible.

Still, a few years back Fire came out in an affordable single volume, reedited/altered/expanded like it was George Lucas’ project instead of Bendis’. I can’t recall if I bought it myself or got a loaner, but after about a fifteen year delay, I finally finished Fire in its ultimate form. I guess after my various exposures to the writing style, a lot of the perceived originality novelty had worn off. That, and I’ve seen a bunch of Mamet and Tarantino since then. In fact, a lot of the circular exchanges of dialogue were grating as fuck today, and I hated the unnecessary repetitions of pages/sequences. I still like the artwork, especially when Bendis borrowed from Patrick Nagel for his floppy haired girl. It strikes me as a good book to show off some technical prowess and get your foot in the publishing door, but unsatisfying and derivative as a volume of some sort of froo-froo Brian Michael Bendis collection. In fact, I read this thing in the spring of 2009, it went multiple trips where I intended to get writing done, and I’ve only just now gotten around to the bother of reviewing the damned thing. I seem to recall having a lot more invective to hurl at its construction and excesses, but time has dulled that harsh critique, and I just don’t want the mediocre book hanging over my head anymore. Besides, this collected edition doesn’t feature either of the old photo covers, and that floppy haired chick was the only reason I bought the fucking thing in the first place.


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