March 5, 2013
Matt Seneca‘s new Very Fine Comix imprint has released its first two products in rapid succession. First, Daredevil 12″ (#56 of 100) is a folded-copy-paper zine-format comic wherein Marvel Comics superheroes Daredevil and the Black Widow have graphic sex for a while, until the story just sort of ends. “Christ it’s cold,” Daredevil murmurs at the beginning, in a nod to his superhuman sensitivity and his Catholicism. “I’ll warm you up,” Black Widow replies, and then it’s off to the races.
I have, in a pile of books to be read, an actual mass market fiction book titled Rule 34. Anyone with Google and sin in their hearts can amass a trove of Daredevil porn to match the libraries of the ancient world in scope. In 1983, or even 1993, Seneca’s Daredevil 12″ would be transgressive in its subversion. Post-internet-porn, the only aggressively esoteric aspect of the material is that it’s printed on paper and he’s charging money for it.
The sex itself in Daredevil 12″ is conventional, which is odd. Why use Big Two superheroes at all unless you’re going to get really weird with it? Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss 2 is still fresh in the comics intelligentsia’s cultural memory. Next to that, the only appropriate reactions to Daredevil 12″ seem to be relief or disappointment, depending on one’s taste for extremity. Seneca only gets playful when he messes with the design of things — aping Paolo Rivera’s innovation of how Daredevil’s powers can be represented visually in some panels, or swimming in the vein of Guido Crepax (who gets called out on a billboard in the background of the two leads sixty-nining). In execution, it comes off more like Guy Peellart in things like The Adventures of Jodelle, minus Peellaert’s flow-like-water psychedelia.
In the end, there’s something plain and xvideos.com-like about Daredevil 12″. It’s two people in silly costumes (well, one — Black Widow is just a naked redhead, whereas Daredevil keeps his longjohns bunched around his hips like a kid at a urinal) having sex, with a minor Satanic outro that honestly isn’t disruptive enough. The only 100% successful part of the book is the cover, this rough-and-ready shot of a sweaty Daredevil in extreme close-up, biting his lower lip in an awkward Gil Kane angle. The rest of the zine doesn’t deliver on that great, ugly image’s promise, nor does it answer the important questions, like how a superhero whose sense of touch is a million times more vivid than the normal person’s would feel about teeth grazing him during a blowjob, or whether he shaves or waxes (bereft as he is of pubic hair), since both of those would probably be hell.
The second Seneca release on Very Fine is Trap: The Magazine About Drugs #1 (#42 of 100), another zine-format comic. Instead of a single narrative, it strings together a bunch of short comics and single-page pinups, mostly about women doing drugs. If nothing else, these sketches — and make no mistake, most of them do feel like sketches and fragments — have more energy than anything in Daredevil 12″, and come off as more lurid and exploitation-movie-esque than his actual sexploitation comic.
If Trap can be compared to anything, it’s Vice Magazine, with its scattered reportage, refusal to take a position, and cherishing of young urban females making questionable-at-best decisions. In his back-cover editorial, “Trap Rap,” Seneca just seems confused about what he’s doing: “[The drug experience] can be good like when you see you needn’t take everything so serious or realize how fun listening to Skrillex on percocet or MDMA is. Or it can be bad like when the .32 in your hand is shaking like the San Andreas fault as you hold it on the dude who is supposed to be your best bro and scream that you need the rest of the yay more than him and you’re eyeing the drawer where his cash is as your septum caves in. … The stories in this magazine are about people who ACT — without anything holding them back.” Those two scenarios he pitches would both make perfectly decent comics. But Trap itself is just a batch of moments: people doing drugs or living the fallout, without context, build-up, consequence, or any of that. The closing story has three panels, and the person who ACTS in it snorts a line of heroin and then hugs her knees to her chest while on the nod. To its credit, Trap really does reflect the drug experience: getting a good idea and then losing half of it on a ray of sunlight, trying to cling to what’s left.
Katie Skelly has the coolest taste in movies in all of comics. That’s a subjective judgment, but this is a blog, so it’s no less absolute. Here is some proof, though, for the people who need it. When a comic book gets tagged with the dreaded “cinematic” adjective, it usually means that it’s ripping off a mass-market CGI summer adventure flick, or that it’s ripping off Bryan Hitch. “Cinematic” dialogue is bad Quentin Tarantino, or worse, Whit Stillman. It’s rare that a comic book reminds me of the movies in a good way, and thus, Katie Skelly is a rare cartoonist.
Skelly calls to mind a figure like the young Leos Carax, when he was making movies like Boy Meets Girl. Like early Carax, Skelly absorbs the influence of films — especially the canonical French New Wave, films still suave in their middle age — and synthesizes their spirit, attitude, and decor. Operation Margarine #1 (self-published, #14 of 150) is the first reel of the badass biker mama movie that Claude Chabrol never quite got around to making in the sixties.
In Operation Margarine, rich girl Margarine gets out of a mental health facility and teams up with tough girl Bon-Bon. They sock a jerk and hit the road on motorcycles. To be continued. It reeks of (to steal an LCD Soundsystem lyric) “borrowed nostalgia” — all of the obvious call-outs are to things from well before her generation. Margarine’s Jean Seberg haircut, the mod fashions, the Easy Rider vibe, girls named “Bon-Bon”… And yet there’s a distinct love for the stuff, shot through with Skelly’s confidence in her own voice. A bad comic would make me wonder why I didn’t just watch a movie; a good one reminds me why I love them, and Operation Margarine is very good indeed.
As a follow-up, Skelly contributed the short comic “A Winter’s Dream” — based on an Arthur Rimbaud poem — to Study Group Comics’ website. “A Winter’s Dream,” even moreso than Operation Margarine, shows why Skelly stands out. It’s not just her taste, or her whimsy: it’s her figures, and what she does with them. She draws noodle people with bobble heads. They all have big doe eyes and noses like pinky fingers. Their skulls are round and maybe soft to the touch. These people are fragile and adorable, which is why the sexual delirium of “A Winter’s Dream,” or the violence of Operation Margarine works: these people are too cute to fuck, too stringy to swing a fist, and yet that’s exactly what they end up doing.
March 3, 2013
March 1, 2013
Robin died. A different Robin than the first one that died — both were bratty punks with a tendency toward murder, but this one, people had come to enjoy a bit. The first time, the comics readership had a choice, and voted to let the little bastard die; this time, he’s just been taken off the game board, no reader participation invited. It’s provoked quite a lot of reactions, largely because it’s a big “important” story, like the time Johnny Storm died, and has been promoted with the same gusto. My favorite of these has been Colin Smith’s call of “why does no one seem to care that we just looked at a ten-year-old getting stabbed in the belly,” once again proving at length that he is troublesomely sane for a comic book fan.
DC Comics has slated a whole month of mourning across the bevy of Batman books, although they’ve again skimped out on reader participation by not polybagging them with black “R”-logo armbands. Then again, I’m not sure anyone would be right to mourn Damian Wayne, our young Robin. For one, within the logic of the story, he’s the grandson of constant death-cheater Ra’s al Ghul, and a dunk in the revivifying Lazarus Pit is a destiny I’d bet money on. For another, even if that’s not how it happens, we’re living in a year when Vibe has his own comic book, and if Vibe of all people won’t stay dead, no one will. For a third, would it even be that great to keep him around?
“Yes,” cry out the fans of Damian Wayne, while also personally insulting me. “He’s a great character and a breath of fresh air and he and Dick have crazy chemistry and blah blah.” Okay, that’s fine, and I hear you on that; I’m no small fan of the Dick-and-Damian Batman and Robin myself. But let’s look at what being a Batman sidekick gets you: a decade or so (give or take forty years in Dick’s case) as the Boy Wonder, and then the sales department dictates a newer, fresher take (or a return to a more classical i.e. guaranteed-appeal take), and then what?
I’m not going to broach the issue of “disrespecting characters” because as it turns out, I’m real and they’re not. As it is, in my imagined future for the Batman books, Damian will end up dead for a minute, dunked in a Lazarus Pit, insane thereafter, and an enemy of the Bat-family until such time as he can be pulled back into the fold as the prodigal “bad boy” (i.e. when Jason “Red Hood” Todd’s appeal no longer translates into sales). Or, he comes back, returns to being Robin, and eventually transitions into a full-time post-Robin gig as Redbird or something (see also Tim “Red Robin” Drake). Or, he comes back and then is written out and in and out and in and out and in until the enduring social profile of the character is the idea that liking them makes you part of a persecuted set (see also Stephanie “Batgirl” Brown and Cassandra “Batgirl” Cain). (Eventually, in any of the above scenarios, Batman presides over a legion of twenty-something-year-old acolytes who were all born in different generations.) Or, he stays dead, and the New 52′s thirst for blood is decried all ’round.
None of these seem like winning propositions to me. Yes, someone could come along and make decent comic books out of them, but someone could also come along and make decent comic books out of Firestorm, so let’s not get crazy here. I mean, it sucks that Damian died, sure. I just dread to find out how badly it could suck if he lives.
December 14, 2012
This past Wednesday, Avengers Arena #1, by Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker (secretly Marvel’s best artist), was released to the sustained, Tina-from-Bob’s-Burgers-esque moans of the people who are so wrapped up in their favorite teen superhero characters that they haven’t yet figured out that “death in comics” is even more meaningless than “superhero comics in real adult life.”
But that part’s not important. What’s important is the letter that got printed in the back:
Eagle-eyed Nowhere / No Formats readers might remember Mr. Case from a review post I did nearly a year ago, where I brought him in as “resident dArkhawk expert” to explain the enduring appeal of the character. And so, without anything of my own to say (again), I re-present to you Mr. Case’s startling essay:
The first thing you have to know about dArkhawk is that he is the spirit of the 90’s. He embodies all that is good about the 90’s and all that is bad about it. His origin is 90’s as hell, his powers are 90’s as hell, and his anger management issues are 90’s as hell.
Let’s start by looking at his brilliantly conceived origin story. Chris Powell, is your normal teen just hanging out at abandoned theme parks with his two younger brothers. I don’t live in New York so this might be a pretty common thing to live across from old theme parks. While hanging out at the abandoned them park, Chris sees his cop father taking a bribe from a known mobster. Why did his father decide to set up his bribe money transaction across the street from his house? One simple answer, the Powell family doesn’t think ahead. After seeing his father’s back alley deal going down, Chris freaks out and runs away coming upon a giant pink crystal. Instead of just continuing past it like every other human being he instead brushes off the used condoms and grabs the crystal and is transformed into DARKHAWK! This really is all there is to his origin story. As you read more of the comic you actually forget about his dad or any other pieces of his origin because they don’t actually matter. Everything in his story is flimsy setup for him to find a pink tech crystal and becoming a space robot. This is the perfect 90’s story because it has no substance and gets you right to the part you care about, the part where a robot beats people up.
The most 90’s part about dArkhawk is his powers, which either don’t make sense or are taken from a more popular hero. First, dArkhawk has a claw that unsurprisingly looks exactly like Wolverine’s claws, but it is totally different because he only has one and it is also a grappling hook. We should just rename the 90’s to the Woverines because everything in those years was about how Wolverine you could be. dArkhawk gave it a good try, claw and all. Second, dArkhawk has wings that allow him to fly, which makes his grappling hook even more pointless. It is like the creator got drunk and made a list of powers his awesome robot hero was going to have. Grappling Hook? Check. Claws? Check. Can fly? Check. Wait did I put in someone like flying already? Whatever, I’m too drunk to double check this. Third, dArkhawk has all the generic hero stuff. He is more durable, stronger, and faster than a normal person. He basically has a little Spider-man thrown in there to cash in if that is your kind of thing. You wouldn’t want him to be really original. Lastly, you have to give this robot some real power, maybe some sort of blast like an optic blast but we can’t totally be ripping Cyclops off, how about a chest laser. A laser that shoots out of his pink chest crystal. So with a great mix of random and ripped off powers you have the amazing abilities of dArkhawk.
This may sound like I hate dArkhawk but nothing could be further from the truth. I love dArkhawk. He is the perfect character to read when you don’t want to care about comics. Everything in dArkhawk is carefree. He can go from one issue where he brags about not having to breath in space to the next issue where he freaks out because he thinks he is going to drown while fighting a squidman. dArkhawk is the kind of comic where I can watch two sweaty muscled robots punching each other and trying to gross each other out by taking of their helmets(his robot face is ugly, no one knows why). It also doesn’t try to hide the fact it is absurd. Half of the issues near the beginning of his run are team ups with people whose powers he has ripped off. I have to root for an underdog like dArkhawk, the comic tries to make him seem really important like when people fro mthe future talk about this super awesome hero in the future called ‘The Powell’, and you just know that is never going to be talked about again because it is stupid as hell. A lot of the other dArkhawk historians won’t cover this but dArkhawk is also one of the few chubby chaser suoerheros. Every girlfriend dArkhawk has is a skinny girl who he treats like trash. Obviously, because he has a deep desire for a large girl but can’t get one. He is truly a confilicted hero. Having read the entire original run of dArkhawk, I can tell you it is worth reading if only because dArkhawk the character is a lot of fun even when he is fighting communists or whatever random shit comes up in the series.
October 22, 2012
A bit of fun: the letter column–both pages of it–from May, 1967′s Detective Comics #363. #363 was the second appearance of Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, and the letters in that issue (including one from the legendary Mike Friedrich!) show the polarized reaction the character initially received. There was also a letter from Gardner Fox, not reproduced here, about an Elongated Man backup.
June 6, 2012
You guys out there who follow comics know what this week’s Big Deal is. You should know, then, that I’m not gonna be reviewing any of it–or, hell, reading any of it. I know, I know, it’s such a let-down, especially because you know and care who I am and what I have to say about these things. I think we’ll be okay, though. Certainly that tunnel can’t get any darker.
Dark Avengers #175
Marvel Comics. Written by Jeff Parker. Illustrated by Declan Shalvey. Colored by Frank Martin Jr.
For purposes of brand synergy or whatever, the Thunderbolts have progressed from their semi-regular conceptual shake-up to a full-on rebranding. Picking up characters from Brian Bendis’s recent ‘Dark Avengers 2: Dark Harder‘ plot and hitching them to mainstay series lead Luke Cage, Parker and Shalvey hit all the perfunctory beats. There’s subplot set-up, there’s a fight, there’s a twist ending. The sad thing is that it does feel totally perfunctory at times — like these two guys are running down their checklist to make sure that the comic could be picked up and understood by the most freshly-spanked comic-cult initiate. There’s a weird balance that’s been lost since days that probably never happened to begin with: exposition, excitement, and exotica in weird but complementary proportions. The irony remains: an instantly comprehensible Marvel book is one of the most soaked in Marvel continuity, while the company’s tentpole mega-event is borderline glossolalia.
Green Arrow #10
DC Comics. Written by Ann Nocenti. Penciled by Steve Kurth. Inked by Wayne Faucher. Colored by Richard and Tanya Horie.
The old Ann Nocenti — the one we missed! In 20 pages, she and an unfortunately rushed-looking Steve Kurth kick through a weird story that brushes all the weird spots mainstreamers usually shy away from. Green Arrow, divorced from subplots, investigates a shady “servbot” enterprise after a cyborg tries to self-terminate in front of him. The dialogue is theatrical, and the situations just as contrived as an SVU rerun. But like her best stories, Nocenti clearly has something on her mind, and rather than using the comic as a heavy-handed, thinly-gloved screed, she lets those interests and questions seep and ooze around the edges. She’s let down by Kurth and inker Wayne Faucher, who turn out page after page of unfocused, uninspired staging and follow-through. It feels like this issue got a lethal case of necrotic deadline-itis, but it’s still got a great beat, and you can’t dance to it.
Winter Soldier #6
Marvel Comics. Written by Ed Brubaker. Penciled by Michael Lark. Inked by Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Thies. Colored by Bettie Breitweiser.
Ed Brubaker welcomes back old co-conspirator Michael Lark for a story of the Winter Soldier hunting down his lethal, unpredictable protege. The stakes in this first installment are strictly cat and mouse, but with a grimness that Lark does better than anyone Marvel’s got. The callbacks to Brubaker’s own first Winter Soldier arc light up like neon — sometimes too much so: the fate of Jim Davis, replacement Bucky to a replacement Cap, doesn’t really shock or awe. Brubaker feels like he’s still playing with the switches to make this title unique, trying to flesh out the titular hero’s dial-a-past continuity to make him engaging, without truly utilizing the great characters (Nick Fury, Black Widow) who are right there in the supporting cast. Watching him figure it out is still good fun, and Lark’s art is so elegantly tough that you’ll be too busy gawking to worry about anything else.
Love etc, LTZ
May 31, 2012
Since I don’t have quite as much free time anymore, I’m liking this new model of “posting clumps of short reviews every so often,” as opposed to just writing until I feel stupid every Wednesday. Other stuff I was doing will be folded back in–right now the only issue is getting the rest of my life’s schedule in tune, before I worry about, you know, blogging for fun.
America’s Got Powers #2
Image Comics. Plotted by Jonathan Ross and Bryan Hitch. Scripted by Jonathan Ross. Penciled by Bryan Hitch. Inked by Andrew Currie and Paul Neary. Colored by Paul Mounts.
The first line of dialogue in AGP #2 is “With a total of two fatalities and seventeen serious injuries in the first show, the all new America’s Got Powers is the most talked about and highest rated show on the planet.” Unfortunately, Ross and Hitch still haven’t found any deeper veins to mine. Hitch draws the hell out of it–his stuff’s looking better, and far more energized, than it has in years, if we’re being frank–but it’s not enough sizzle to overcome a lack of steak. Tommy Watts, mysterious figure of great power in the tradition of Final Fantasy protagonists, is still something akin to a hapless pawn surrounded by dickhead rockstar supercocks and characters about whom the descriptor ‘suits’ says everything. The stakes still feel arbitrary, and the world around Tommy is still neat details arranged without pattern or cohesion. But fuck, that Hitch art.
Self-published. Imagineered by Michel Fiffe. Acquire here.
The only good tribute to the Suicide Squad is a tribute that ends with a pie in the face. Michel Fiffe takes Ostrander, Yale, McDonnell, et al.‘s post-Crisis-DC masterpiece, Suicide Squad — from my perch, the best ongoing they ever published — and, in sixteen pages, runs breathlessly through nearly everything that made the old series fantastic. It’s not quite a cover song, so much as a band’s catalogue crammed into one five-minute medley. Government-corralled black-ops team the Suicide Squad is at war with their snarly terrorist rivals, the Jihad — until the mission goes to hell, almost literally. Fiffe eschews modern continuity-cop tactics for the terse, declarative style of 80s action movies and 8-year-olds, and spends panel after panel indulging design ideas too clever for trash pulp superheroes to really deserve. It’s handsomely-printed showboating — but what’s the point of infringing copyright if you’re not going to show off?
Icon/Marvel Comics. Plotted by Mark Millar and Nacho Vigalondo. Scripted by Mark Millar. Penciled by Leinil Yu. Inked by Gerry Alanguilan and Michael Jason Paz. Colored by Sunny Gho and Javier Tartaglia.
What’s entirely welcome about Supercrooks is how briskly it moves. The premise of this series has always been something like “Ocean’s Eleven robs Sean Connery, except they’re all assholes,” and it gets exactly as much page time as it needs. Does that mean zipping through maybe-romantic subplots with two pages of conversation, as opposed to a twenty-page Special Luke, We Need to Talk Issue? Hell yes, and praise Jesus. The characters are thin, the plot beats are familiar, and the villain is as old and tired as he claims to be (his revenge for someone ripping him off is the sort of thing Mark Millar lives to make other humans draw). Brevity is the soul of heists, though. Leinil Yu continues to elevate the entire book with his pencils, keeping his lines loose but limber in a way that entirely suits the ropey, silly material. It’s his show to steal.
love and luck and LTZ
May 28, 2012
Adventure Time #4
Kaboom!/Boom! Studios. Written by Ryan North. Illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb.
Did Pendleton Ward conceive of Adventure Time as turning into the perverse, twitchy-thighed teenager it’s become? This is still the fantasy series of choice for hipster doofuses — after all, it stars a boy who thinks jean shorts and an ironic(?) hat are okay to wear whenever, to say nothing of Marceline — but the mask of sanity keeps slipping. A dog with no genitals picks up a living candy heart whose chest says “TUG ME” and dissolves his lower half, effectively candy-castrating him. No one seems to regard this as a particularly vile crime, and then the dog crossdresses for a panel. It ends with leading an army of girls made of sand — no feminine softness — into a giant hole and leaving them there, forever, after depriving them of life itself. Adventure Time is the comic book Buffalo Bill would make if he hadn’t turned to tailoring.
Avengers vs. X-Men #4
Marvel Comics. Plotted by Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and Jonathan Hickman. Scripted by Jonathan Hickman. Penciled by John Romita Jr. Inked by Scott Hanna. Colored by Laura Martin.
Avengers vs. X-Men #4, courtesy of Hickman and Friends and JRJR, is an aggressively stupid comic book. It devotes more thought to explaining why it is that Hope Summers, Phoenix Girl-Child, has a fake ID than it does to anything remotely resembling the metaplot of the series. It’s just more clanging and banging, death and destruction, riding tightly until yet another person gets to utter those immortal, near-meaningless lines, “It’s here.” It even tries to be witty — not really. It’s as if Hickman braved the abyss of the fanboy soul, realized that pleasing them was as simple as delivering more content, and whispered into that sweaty collective ear, “Fine.” The worst part, though, is that maybe he’s not just kowtowing to stupor — maybe he means it. Romita’s stress fractures are starting to show, and the only person holding the boat together is Laura Martin, the colorist, who’s dynamite.
Mind the Gap #1
Image Comics. Written by Jim McCann. Illustrated by Rodin Esquejo. Colored by Sonia Oback.
Mind the Gap #1 reads like a TV show. Not in its technique — certainly, it doesn’t read like the afterbirth of a failed TV pitch, which is more than I can say for some. McCann and Esquejo are creating a world represented almost entirely on television. There’s no comic-book equivalent to the self-conscious speedfreak banter of Gilmore Girls, or the pop-culture-gratia-pop-culture wrist-deep jill-off of Glee. Mind the Gap comes close. These people live in Esquejo’s pretty, uncluttered landscapes and never look like they have a feeling-not-so-fashionable day. The things they talk and care about — shout-outs to TMC and Lionel Richie and ringtones, a coma ghost devoting half a page to Pink Floyd trivia… This is a comic written for young people who think Tumblr is essential to first-world civilization. Is it? I’m in my late 20s. Maybe I’m out of touch, and this just might be the truth.
Image Comics. Written by Brian K. Vaughan. Illustrated by Fiona Staples.
The gift of Brian K. Vaughan is that one of the most likable characters in comics recently is a disemboweled child rebel soldier ghost who appears to be half monkey, half Dorothy Spinner, even though she commits unforgivable crimes like saying “whatevs.” He and Fiona Staples have loosened their collars and really settled into the vibe of Saga, which still has a terrible title but makes up for it everywhere else. Unlike, say, Mind the Gap, it takes the sort of TV-friendly genre roles that inspire suicide-vest devotion amongst Twitterers and spins it into something that can’t be found outside of comic books — at least, not without losing a significant amount of charm. There’s violence and politics and funny animals and jokes and breasts and everything. I’d ask why we can’t have more books like this, but honestly, I don’t want to see the money-scenting hacks even try it.
May 25, 2012
More reviews, including more ‘actually new things,’ on Sunday.
Captain America: Operation Rebirth, To Serve and Protect, American Nightmare, Red Glare
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Barbara Kesel, and Karl Kesel. Penciled by Ron Garney, Pino Rinaldi, Dale Eaglesham, Andy Kubert, Mark Bagley, Doug Braithwaite, and Lee Weeks. Inked by Scott Koblish, Mike Manley, Dennis Rodier, Mike Sellers, John Beatty, Jesse Delperdang, Andy Smith, Bob Wiacek, and Robin Riggs. Colored by Paul Becton, John Kalisz, Malibu, Joe Rosas, Digital Chameleon, Shannon Blanchard, Kevin Tinsley and Chris Sotomayor.
A few years ago, while promoting these collections, Mark Waid said that he might not be able to write Cap today — he’d gotten too cynical. Here we have Cap as unassailable force of human good — walking away from the fights that are beneath him, even. Ron Garney illustrates iconic panel after iconic panel, giving Cap the unbeatable superpower: dignity. Then we get Andy Kubert, and he and Waid exchange one look and then gleefully leap over the edge, hand in hand. Abandoning the squinty blandness of his X-Men days while keeping the bizarre poses, this is Andy’s best work ever, kinetic and raging. Over and over, the stakes of Cap’s battles are nothing short of freedom itself. In each Waid/Kubert tale, one wrong step means enslavement and oblivion. There’s no cynicism here, in the final gasp of the Silver Age — just a few really shitty page reproductions.
Doom Patrol #19-22
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Penciled by Richard Case. Inked by Carlos Garzon and Scott Hanna. Colored by Michele Wolfman and Daniel Vozzo.
“Crawling From the Wreckage,” the first storyline of Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s weird, wonderful Doom Patrol run, ends when the enemy is forced to acknowledge that it does not actually exist. It begins with the throes of existential despair and the promise, however fleeting, of recovery. As the four issues go on, illustrated in Case’s style that’s permanently if slightly askew, healing disappears. That’s not to say the Doom Patrol — freaks, misfits — embrace their problems. When comic book characters are confronted with the abyss of non-existence, the only appropriate action is to keep going and extend their inkbound lives page by page. That’s what makes Doom Patrol one of the most uplifting series in Morrison’s canon. These fictional totems are surrounded by stories that fragment themselves, laugh off citations, and that aren’t so much resolved as endured. What makes them real characters is that they press on.
Marvel Comics. Written by Jim Starlin. Penciled by George Perez and Ron Lim. Inked by Tom Christopher, Joe Rubinstein, Bruce Solotoff, and Mike Witherby. Colored by Ian Laughlin and Christie Scheele.
Is it any wonder that Thanos is one of Jim Starlin’s darlings? It’s easy to imagine Starlin relating to the Mad Titan, whose bid to become a cosmic autocrat is thwarted by his own self-consciousness when he’s too patently uncool for the abstract concept of death to give him a handjob. I’m sure Starlin has better luck with the ladies, but that sense of doomed, ambitious collapse is so deeply coded in Infinity Gauntlet that the creators themselves lived it out. After starting with George Perez-drawn feats of hubris — such as assuming Mephisto, the Devil, doesn’t know how to spell “GOD” — to Ron Lim rushing out a final confrontation that amounts to a million explosions drowning out everything, including outer space (the only thing easier to draw). Throughout, Adam Warlock assures incredulous onlookers that he knows what he’s doing, which was likely verbatim from Starlin’s editorial calls.
Live Kree or Die: Iron Man #7, Captain America #8, Quicksilver #10, Avengers #7
Marvel Comics. Written by Kurt Busiek, Richard Howell, Mark Waid, John Ostrander, and Joe Edkin. Penciled by Sean Chen, Andy Kubert, Derek Aucoin, and George Perez. Inked by Sean Parsons, Eric Cannon, Jesse Delperdang, Rich Faber, Al Vey, Bruce Patterson, and Bob Wiacek. Colored by Steve Oliff, Jason Wright, Digital Chameleon, Joe Rosas, and Tom Smith.
Carol Danvers, formerly the swimsuit-clad Ms. Marvel, is now Captain Marvel in an attempt to claim the respect inherent in a red-and-blue clingy bodysuit. You laugh, but it’s a marked step up, especially when her most famous early stories amongst Internet cognoscenti are the one where she was raped and the one where she was put into a coma. In one of the periodic attempts to rebuild her into a non-embarrassing character, Kurt Busiek made her an Avenger, newly christened her “Warbird,” and gave her a drinking problem. That alcoholism fuels “Live Kree or Die,” where the Avengers fight a bunch of Kree rebels in disjointed, disconnected vignettes strung together by the throughline of Carol drinking too much and fucking things up. The scene where she staves off the D.T.s by drinking alien liquor out of an unmarked beaker must be read to be believed. Earth’s Mightiest Heroine can party.
Sparkplug Books. Imagineered by Katie Skelly.
Nurse Nurse is the sort of story that a person can only really make in their twenties. That’s the only phase of your life when thing still feel disproportionately important and confusing, but you’re just old and wise enough, barely, to recognize when it’s just ridiculous. If this little book — about Gemma, a space nurse, who goes on a strange adventure involving aphrodisiacs, space pirates, television, and identity — was made by someone in their 30s or (god forbid) 40s, it would be a lightweight lark, or worse yet, crushed under the weight of self-seriousness. Katie Skelly uses her loose, wabby-limbed style to make things cute, but also fragile and awkward. The single best panel is when Lucian, a doctor turned pirate, is having his leg amputated, and he lays in a trance, surrounded by visions of splintered bones, hearts, skulls, and butterflies. A benevolent comic book mushroom trip.
Squadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald Omnibus
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Gruenwald. Penciled by Bob Hall, Paul Neary, John Buscema, and Paul Ryan. Inked by John Beatty, Sam de la Rosa, Butch Guice, Dennis Janke, Keith Williams, and Al Williamson. Colored by Paul Becton, Kevin Feduniewicz, Mike Higgins, Joe Rubinstein, Christie Scheele, and Tom Smith.
Mark Gruenwald didn’t survive long enough to see his favorite work’s prophecy fulfilled: this 12-issue series is the playbook that modern superhero comics have been working from for over a decade now. Before this book, the Squadron’s world had been devastated by a demonic faux-President in the course of a Defenders story; the Defenders then went home, because it wasn’t their problem. This series asks: so what next? How do a handful of superheroes actually try to rebuild a planet, and should they? Bob Hall’s early issues have a rough, twitchy quality that suits the shaky ground — when Paul Ryan comes in, things get smoother and more “Marvel”, just as everything goes to hell. Gruenwald sews superheroic morality to the real big questions of power and responsibility (dictatorship, mind alteration, cures for cancer), and then fails to come up with an answer, which is really the only mature option.
Too Many Nitrous #1
Self-published. Imagineered by Billy Burkert and Samuel Rhodes.
In this extremely unofficial prequel to the Fast and the Furious film franchise, Vin Diesel’s character — terse gangbanger Dom Toretto — reveals his secret origin. Not only was he a fat kid, he’s a fat kid driven to become a major motion picture action anti-hero by the traumatic experience of his favorite fast food restaurant being blown up. No doubt this raises a dozen red flags about the already notoriously fragile continuity of the series — where in the films does Dom, during a heated street race, pass a glowing Burger King display and, for one moment, risk losing his focus as a cold rush of nostalgia creeps up his spine? This book doesn’t have answers, but it does have cheerful mania and the most adorable Vin Diesel ever drawn. This is only issue one — hopefully we’ll see the first meeting of Dom and whoever the Rock played.
Transformers: Regeneration One #80.5
IDW Publishing. Written by Simon Furman. Penciled by Andrew Wildman. Inked by Stephen Baskerville. Colored by John-Paul Bove.
Simon Furman and Andrew Wildman’s Transformers comics are the highest peak in the byzantine metalwork mess that’s arisen from a Japanese line of toys being resold to American kids. When I was 13, I went to a Transformers toy show, where a grown man and I got to talking about the Transformers comics. Back then, there was only the Marvel product, long out of print. I mentioned how I’d collected most of the issues, and the guy snorted and bragged about how he had all of “the UK issues” — the less candy-colored sci-fi tales where Furman got his start. After moving to the US Transformers, Furman continued pushing out grim-faced, Wagnerian melodrama with Wildman, whose work worshipped chrome-plating and angry paranoia, until cancellation at #80. Who knows what “best Transformers comics” means, but Regeneration‘s for adults at the toy show, bragging to the 13-year-old Michael Bay fans of today.
Two Eyes of the Beautiful #1-2
Closed Caption Comics. Imagineered by Ryan Cecil Smith. Adapted from the original by Kazuo Umezu.
“Why do you ask, Mrs. Coppard, and what are you doing with that rope–?” Two Eyes of the Beautiful is Ryan Cecil Smith’s ongoing adaptation of a 70s “monstrous mother hunts children” horror manga by Kazuo Umezu, Blood Baptism. Smith is a clever cartoonist, and while the techniques here aren’t as gorgeously creative as the color printing in S.F. Supplementary File #2C, it takes a lot of audacity to do a completely blacked-out sequence in a mini-comic, while still working in the necessary information in a way that flows easily. The second issue is where Smith seems to become more assured with using his own style as a bridge to Umezu’s original — there’s simply no silly cartoony way to draw a dog with its brain scooped out, if you want it to look horrifying and not like some Lenore icon, ready to be disseminated via t-shirt to Slipknot fans.
Winter Soldier #5
Marvel Comics. Written by Ed Brubaker. Penciled by Butch Guice. Inked by Stefano Gaudiano, Tom Palmer, and Butch Guice. Colored by Bettie Breitweiser.
Winter Soldier #5′s artwork looks like it was finished by a small army of inkers, who weren’t just dividing up pages amongst themselves, but panels. Butch Guice’s individual style gets stretched to its breaking point as he, Palmer, and Gaudiano struggle like oxes to crank this thing out, and Bettie Breitweiser is left with the bewildering task of tying it all together, like an engineer who has to master a CD recorded everywhere from Abbey Road to Fort Apache to a sewer pipe. There are pages in this thing that are as incomprehensible as old X-Men annuals. And yet — it’s got its charm. For one thing, seeing Guice somehow dredge up his inner Gene Colan only makes me want more. Brubaker remains committed, as ever, to long-term plotting in a straightforward Mighty Marvel Manner. When you’re this good, you can count on readers trusting that the seeds’ll pay off.
Wonder Woman #9
DC Comics. Written by Brian Azzarello. Penciled by Tony Akins. Inked by Dan Green. Colored by Matthew Wilson.
This is a comic book that opens with a David Caruso CSI sunglasses joke. A couple pages later there’s a joke about Wonder Woman’s “hole” being “filled” in her wedding chamber. What Brian Azzarello and Tony Akins have done here is make a very smart — almost overbearingly smart comic book. The most beautiful goddess of all is only shown from behind or the neck down. War, the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, is the author himself, aged and slathered in blood. But at the end of the day, this is a comic where a hot-headed, waxy-skinned, blind-to-what’s-around-him man-child still spending his days seated in his father’s lap attempts to bully a fantasy superheroine into being his loveless, beautiful bride, to imprison her with all of the other souvenirs in his hollow kingdom. Wonder Woman is smart, yes, but then you can’t spell “smartass” without it.