Thor vols. 2 & 3

August 31, 2010

I picked up the first volume of J. Michael Straczynski’s run on “Thor” last year at Comic-Con and found it to be generally entertaining, if not as brilliant as the online reviews and word-of-mouth had said it to be.  After reading the second volume, I came away much more impressed.  After the title character brought back all of the Asgardians at the end of the previous volume, he now has to contend with the problems that such an act entails.  Whether it’s Thor dealing with the problem of resurrecting his father Odin, Loki enacting his master plan to ruin his brother, or Bill the short order cook who winds up falling in love with the Asgardian beauty Kelda, Straczynski shows that he knows how to make his characters interesting and relatable while telling a long-form story that pays serious entertainment dividends throughout these volumes.  He also knows not to take all of this entirely seriously as the comic-relief provided by the Warriors Three is applied at just when the story needs it the most.  These volumes also have impeccably detailed art from Oliver Coipel and Marko Djurdjevic, though it’s the latter who shines the most in these two volumes.

Regrettably, the third volume ends Straczynski’s run on the title without any real resolution.  It’s as if he heard about Marvel’s plans for Asgard in “Siege” and figured that it wasn’t worthwhile to stick around and make sure his run had a proper ending.  Whatever the circumstances were, the lack of an ending does a good job of devaluing his entire run.  While I’ve heard that writer Kieron Gillen did pick up a lot of the threads left by Straczynski’s departure, I can’t really recommend these volumes knowing that they ultimately don’t deliver any kind of satisfying payoff at the end.

The Programme vols. 1 & 2

August 29, 2010

Some might think it odd that DC’s Wildstorm imprint has produced not one, but two mini-series about the post-Cold War Soviet Union and how it’s secret superhuman programs affect its present day.  I find it less odd that the one mini that almost wasn’t completed, Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon’s “The Winter Men,” was the more satisfying of the two.  Why is it less odd?  That’s just how I see things.  That said, while “The Programme” by Peter Milligan and C.P. Smith won’t leave a black mark on either’s resume it doesn’t really do anything interesting enough to justify its existence.

Years after the end of the Cold War, four Russian superhumans have been reactivated and decide to make their presence known by confronting American armed forces in a country that’s serving as a stand-in for Afghanistan.  Seeing as how it’s only a matter of time before they make their way to the U.S. itself, the C.I.A. takes it upon itself  to track down the two American superheroes our program produced:  a failed folk singer who now owns a bar, and an African-American who has been programmed with the personality of the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy.  While Milligan’s writing has its moments and doesn’t follow conventional narrative expectations, it’s hard to care about anything in these volumes because his delivery is so unfocused and his characters are either shallow, unlikable, uninteresting, or some combination of all three.  C.P. Smith’s art is definitely interesting to look at, but while it conveys the story well it doesn’t make it or the characters any more meaningful to read about.

In short, if you have to read a story about Russian superhmans from Wildstorm, you’re still better off sticking with Lewis and Leon’s “The Winter Men.”  After reading these two volumes, I’m just glad I found them in one of the half-off bins at Comic-Con rather than paying full price for it somewhere else.

Batman: Detective & Death and the City

August 27, 2010

I’d meant to pick up these collections of writer Paul Dini’s “Batman” work when they came out, but I just never got around to it.  Reading them now, I don’t feel that was a big mistake, but they still have their charms.  Dini’s initial run was characterized by doing lots of “done-in-one” tales that emphasized the character’s detective skills, while putting new twists on familiar villains and creating new ones as well.  The majority of these stories didn’t really set my mind on fire, but they were competent, well-constructed tales that showcase the writer’s affection for Batman’s rogue’s gallery as well as his understanding of the title character himself.  Twists like making the Riddler a freelance detective, introducing the new female ventriloquist and giving us an issue where Harley Quinn makes a surprisingly honest and true-to-character effort to reform are genuinely inspired.  Though the majority of the stories aren’t as inspired, the “Joker takes Robin hostage” story from the first volume, and Batman’s team-up with Zatanna in the second certainly are.  Had the rest of the stories been as good as these, I’d have no trouble recommending these volumes to anyone rather than just “Batman fans.”

These volumes also contain four fill-in issues by different writers.  The two by Royal McGraw are just “okay” while the two-parter by Stuart Moore is slightly better than that.  They’re not terrible, but I wouldn’t have lost sleep if they were left out of these collections.

Comic Picks #62: War of Kings/Realm of Kings

August 26, 2010

They're full of epic, ambitious sci-fi superhero action, and a few examples of how NOT to tell a story in a multi-title crossover.

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American Splendor: Another Dollar

August 25, 2010

The late Harvey Pekar may not have been as famous or financially secure as he wanted to be, but his “American Splendor” comics were landmark works in showing how the medium could be used for realistic, autobiographical stories.  While Pekar’s curmudgeonly “character” was never the easiest person to like, you could always relate to his minor struggles and understand why he was the way he was.  In the last few years, he moved “American Splendor” over to Vertigo for a graphic novel, “The Quitter,” and two mini-series, “Another Day” and this one.  I find that his work is always interesting, but these scenes from his later life don’t really grab me the way that his earlier stuff did.  There’s nothing that’s really “bad” here, but this will probably be of interest only to those who are already fans of Pekar’s work.  Those of you looking for a better example of why the man is so highly regarded are recommended to check out the “American Splendor” collection that Ballantine Books released to tie in with the movie (you’ll know it because it has Paul Giamatti as Pekar on the cover).  It’s a larger and more expensive collection, but the stories are more diverse and come from what was apparently a more interesting time in his life.

Sandman Mystery Theatre vol. 8: The Blackhawk & The Return of the Scarlet Ghost

August 23, 2010

This collection of Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle’s modern re-interpretation of the Golden Age hero is as well-written as the previous volumes, though the art is a bit of a mixed bag.  “The Blackhawk” has Wesley Dodds being recruited to be part of a group to sponsor pilot Janos Prohaska efforts to fight the Axis Powers in Poland.  However, once the women Janos romances start turning up dead, Wesley and his lover/partner Dian Belmont have to resort to some elaborate schemes to prove his innocence.  The story is a nice look at Pre-WWII tensions in the U.S. and has lots of good character moments with the cast, especially the antagonistic Det. Burke who winds up getting a personal reason to bring the killer to justice.  It also has art by Matt Smith, who will always be “the poor man’s Mike Mignola” in my book as his style is very reminiscent of that man’s -- minus the skill or depth.  Fortunately regular series artist Guy Davis returns with the next arc and all is right with the world.  Better, actually, since “The Return of the Scarlet Ghost” is a very entertaining and witty look at the birth of the comic book industry.  It’s a “warts and all” look as the organized crime elements that lurk behind the major publishers start taking shots at each other, with many innocent lives (including Dian’s) getting caught in the crossfire.  If you’ve been reading the series to this point, then you’ll find this volume to be another worthy addition to your collection.

Fear Agent vol. 1: Re-Ignition

August 23, 2010

(New York was great, but it's good to be back.  That said...)

HeathHudson is the last of the legendary “Fear Agents,” and the kind of guy who likes to self-medicate the traumas of his past by either drinking lots of alcohol, or killing lots of nasty aliens.  Sometimes both at the same time.  While he’s used to wiping the floor with the nastiest aliens the galaxy has to offer, his current job becomes a bit more complicated than usual when some old enemies set him up to come to an infested space station and his escape winds up flinging him back in time.  It’s not especially original, but writer Rick Remender attacks the material with such energy and style that you find yourself pulled along for the ride, regardless.  The material is further enhanced by the work of artist Tony Moore, who thrives on all the weird aliens and sci-fi gadgetry that Remender asks him to draw and delivers visuals as entertaining as the script.  I will warn you that this volume does end on a pretty nasty cliffhanger.  While things like that usually annoy me in collected editions, I’ll give the creators credit for making my first thoughts after reaching the end be, “Damn it!  Now I have to buy the next volume!” as opposed to “This sucks.  I think I’ll stop reading now.”

Fogtown

August 17, 2010

My primary motivation for buying all of the “Vertigo Crime” graphic novels as they come out, regardless of the creative team, has mainly been to gather material for a future podcast on the imprint’s inevitable failure-- er, I mean to observe the progression of the imprint and see the quality of the books firsthand.  The buying part has been easy, but the reading has been less so.  Quality has been all over the place, ranging from “not bad” (“The Executor”) to “phoned in” (“Filthy Rich”), to “godawful” (“The Chill”) and “a good ‘Hellblazer’ story, but not a crime story” (“Dark Entries”).  Now I wasn’t expecting much from the latest book, “Fogtown,” as the creative team of writer Andersen Gabrych and artist Brad Rader hadn’t really done much to get my attention.  Furthermore, the premise made it seem like this was going to be “Brokeback Mountain” for gritty private-eye stories set in the 50’s.

Much to my surprise, this turned out to be one of the more enjoyable “Vertigo Crime” GNs.  Frank Grissel is your standard gumshoe who wears his world-weariness and cynicism on his sleeve.  I doubt it would surprise anyone when I say that his latest missing persons case turns out to be much more complicated than he would’ve imagined, but the execution more than makes up for it.  Not only does Gabrych have the snappy tough-guy dialogue down to a science, but he makes the story’s sexual politics an integral part of the narrative and not something tacked on to explicitly prove a point or advance an agenda.  The story’s central mystery also unfolds nicely -- though it’s not designed to allow you to figure things out before the protagonists do, it builds to a satisfying climax.  Brad Rader’s art also captures the feel of the era and the emotions of the characters on the page.  Despite some glaringly unsubtle visual cues of a sexual nature (you’ll know them when you see them), it’s a solid book and unlike the majority of the books I’ve read from the imprint, I’d actually be willing to read another from this creative team.

Nova vols. 3 & 4: Secret Invasion and Nova Corps

August 17, 2010

I started reading “Nova” as an outgrowth of enjoying the character’s mini-series and participation in the “Annihilation” crossover.  While writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning did a great job of making the title character interesting, thanks to his standing as the last of the Nova Corps. and the host of the Xandar Worldmind, the first two volumes didn’t have enough momentum to get me to pick up the subsequent volumes outside of finding them in the bargain bin.  That has changed now that I’ve read these two volumes.  It’s an old adjective, but “rip-roaring” certainly fits the tone of vol. 3 as Nova has to manage the simultaneous tasks of helping the inhabitants of a planet evacuate in the face of Galactus’ assault and restraining an intangible body-jumping mass murderer.  Then he rockets back to Earth to help his brother and the rest of his science team fight off the Skrulls.  Things slow down a bit in vol. 4 as Nova finds out that the Worldmind has been rebuilding the Nova Corps. without his knowledge or permission, and that it’s been using some highly questionable methods to do so.  The volume ends on a cliffhanger with the character stripped of his powers and finding out he only has 48 hours to live.  I know he’s going to survive, but damn it -- the series has got me hooked on finding out how he’s going to do it!  It also has quality art from Wellinton Alves and several other contributors.  I may have been slow to get on the bandwagon, but I can see why the series has so many fans.  Can’t wait to see how it’ll be wrapping up (for now) in vols. 5 & 6.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Indifferent Podcaster

August 14, 2010

As you all know by now, I’m a slut for tying my podcast in to the latest comic book movie being released.  The reason this week’s edition wasn’t about “Scott Pilgrim” was because I’ve never got into that series beyond the first two volumes.  I read the first one based on the strength of the buzz around it at the time, and I really liked most of it.  Bryan Lee O’Malley did a great job of bringing his characters to life and making their struggles and interests relevant.

Then he completely broke with reality towards the end of the first book and my interest snapped.  In that moment when everyone started flying around, the comic that I had been enjoying evaporated and was replaced with something that really held no interest for me.  I picked up the second volume to see if how the story developed from there proved compelling enough to get my interest back.  Though what O’Malley was trying to do became clearer, it wasn’t enough to get my interest back.

Now that the movie is out and the series is done, I’m still not sure if I want to go back to it.  I have to admit that I am tempted to see the movie based on its great reviews (from fans and critics alike) and because I’ve heard that it establishes that its world is “not reality” pretty quickly.  As for the graphic novels, I still haven’t gotten past my antipathy towards the first few volumes.

So readers (and I know you exist, Podbean’s stats tell me that people visit this site), should I get over myself and start reading the rest of “Scott Pilgrim?”  Or, should I continue working through my stack of comics I still have left over from San Diego?  This time, the choice is yours.