Comic Picks By The Glick

What I’ve Been Reading 8/26/09: Return of the Lightning Round

August 27, 2009

It’s been over a month since Comic-Con and I still haven’t finished reading all of the stuff that I bought there. I blame work, games, and the steady stream of new comics that are coming out each week for this. Anyway, more rapid-fire reviews after the break.

Sandman Mystery Theatre vols. 6-7: More pulpish noir stories set in the late 30’s starring the Golden Age Sandman Wesley Dodds and his girlfriend Dian Belmont. The appeal of this series lies in how it takes familiar genre setups from the time period and tells them with modern sensibilities. Yes, that usually means more blood, violence, sex and gore, but you also see racial and sexual subtexts brought to the surface. My main complaint with this series is that while nearly every story has been setup as a “whodunit” the resolution and unmasking of the villain tends to fall a little flat, and that’s no exception with these volumes. Still, you’ve got sharp writing from Matt Wagner and Steven Seagle with Guy Davis vividly realizing each story (with Warren Pleece turning in some fine work on his arc) which makes these volumes worth a look.

Phonogram: Rue Britannia: I’d heard lots of good things about Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s miniseries about a phonomancer (a kind of magician who draws his power from pop music) and after reading it, I can say that they’re mostly right. Granted, there was a stretch in the middle that I had trouble wrapping my head around, but everything comes together in the end as Gillen makes his point about the power and influence of pop music in a truly impressive fashion. Also, while I’ve never really had an interest in most of the music mentioned here, this volume did a great job in actually getting me interested. Maybe I’ll track some of it down one of these days…

MySpace Dark Horse Presents vol. 1: Almost worth it for Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon’s “Sugarshock,” but the “Umbrella Academy,” “Gear School,” “Empowered,” and “Goon” stories range from the “quite good” to “excellent” range as well. Everything else ranges from “not bad” to “meh” which is actually pretty good for any kind of anthology.

Anna Mercury vol. 1: The Cutter: I have a friend who hates the fact that Warren Ellis seems to be tossing off miniseries about whatever idea comes into his head on a given day rather than sitting down and focusing on making one really great series. I generally don’t agree with him on this, but anyone would be hard pressed to not see his point after reading this. Lots of flash with precious little substance, I’m glad I got it for half price rather than paying the $20 it normally goes for.

Batman Black and White vol. 3: The final collection of B&W Batman stories from the defunct “Gotham Knights” series. As with any anthology, there’s a wide range in quality but there’s a greater distance between the hills and valleys here than in the aforementioned “MySpace Dark Horse Presents.” There’s enough good stuff here to warrant a purchase if you’ve already got the first two volumes, but if you want to see why there are three volumes of this, go pick up the first volume instead.

Thor vol. 1 and Thor: Vikings: I now own three times as many Thor books as I did before I came to the con. “Vol. 1” collects the first six issues of J. Michael Straczynski’s run on the book, and it’s not bad. It didn’t really compel me enough to pick up the second volume (now out in paperback), but maybe next year… “Vikings,” is its polar opposite in terms of style and execution as it’s a collection of a Garth Ennis-written miniseries that has Thor fighting zombie Vikings in modern day New York. While I liked it, the collection still treads pretty familiar territory for Ennis – except for the fact that I was impressed how he managed to display a modicum of respect for Thor by the end of the story. You don’t see THAT very often in his superhero stories.

Wolverine: Logan: This collects Brian K. Vaughan’s miniseries with art by Eduardo Risso. While I can understand the desire to put a work by these two esteemed creators in a hardcover collection, charging $20 for three issues of content is ludicrous. (Which is why I’m glad I got it for $10.) That said, while Vaughan states in his proposal for the series that he wanted to create a “timeless” story that would stand alongside Claremont and Miller’s original miniseries. I’m just going to say that he falls short here and that Jason Aaron and Ron Garney’s “Get Mystique” would be a better value for your money.

Punisher: Goin’ Out West and Hunter/Hunted: More of Matt Fraction’s run on the title. Ennis is in no danger of losing his title as “Greatest Punisher Writer Ever” in my mind after I finished reading these two volumes, but they have their appeal. They’re entertaining in a straightforward “Frank Castle goes out and kills bad guys in brutally amusing ways” kind of way that won’t cause you to think any deep thoughts or cause them to stick in your head any longer than necessary.

Hawaiian Dick vol. 1: Byrd of Paradise: Here’s a detective story that’s set in the 50’s and captures the atmosphere of the Big Island like nothing I’ve seen before. While the story and characters are quite familiar, writer B. Clay Moore and artist Steven Griffin utilize the setting well enough to make things seem fresh(er). I’m even impressed that the supernatural twist the story takes doesn’t seem entirely forced.

Wolverine Legends vol. 2: Meltdown: There’s an 80’s-style seriousness that permeates this due to the subject matter, which revolves around Chernobyl and an evil mutant trying to use nuclear power for his own ends, and the art, from Jon J. Muth and Kent Williams, that appeals to me. To a certain degree, that is. All the style this book has can’t really compensate for its cookie-cutter plot involving the aforementioned evil mutant’s plans to utilize Wolverine and Havok in his plans for world domination. I’ve read better Wolverine stories, and I’ve read better Havok stories – speaking of which…

X-Men: Emperor Vulcan: Continuing the story of Vulcan, a.k.a. Gabriel Summers (Cyclops’ and Havok’s other brother), from Ed Brubaker’s “The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire.” While this miniseries was written by Chris Yost with art by Paco Diaze Luque (doing a not that impressive approximation of “Shi’ar” artist Billy Tan’s style) it furthers the story by having the Havok-led Starjammers team up with Vulcan’s Shi’ar to fight an even nastier alien menace that likes to fling suns at planets. It’s a familiar setup and Yost really doesn’t do a whole lot to enliven the proceedings, except at the end. The ending was actually a fairly satisfying “good guys lose” ending that raised my overall enjoyment of the series. Not enough to wholeheartedly recommend it, but still.

Batman: False Faces: This collects the various Batman stories that Brian Vaughan wrote before he became the superstar writer he is today. As he notes in his introduction, the fact that he didn’t get a regular gig writing Batman after his “audition” arc allowed him to focus his efforts on his series about a boy and his monkey. After reading this, I doubt that anyone will lament the fact that we got “Y: The Last Man” instead of a couple years of Batman stories out of Vaughan. Still, these aren’t bad Batman stories, but they do have a “going through the motions” feel to them. Recommended for Batman and Vaughan completists.

Silent Dragon: This was written by an Englishman (Andy Diggle) and illustrated by a Filipino (Lenil Yu) but it captures the spirit of a great Japanese sci-fi action movie in gloriously over-the-top fashion. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the faithful retainer of a yakuza is framed for betrayal, but is resurrected as an android with enough combat skill and firepower to take his revenge. Naturally, the people who resurrected him have other plans for their pawn. Even with a setup as familiar as this, Diggle and Yu rip through the proceedings with enough energy and invention that it ceases to be a problem as you let yourself be taken along for the ride. Hell, I’m even impressed that the ending manages to be satisfying even as it begs/sets up a sequel.

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