Monday, March 21, 2005

Reviews for comics from the week of 03/16/05

I’m a little behind with these, but there was some great stuff and a couple let-downs so I figure better late than never.

Jack Hunter: G.I. Spy “Eyes Only Preview”: Hey, I love trying new books out, so when I see stuff like this I always pick it up. This looks like your typical James Bond material, which isn’t really my bag, but it is pretty damn well done. The opening sequence in a dangerous frozen wasteland establishes the Russian scientist/solider villain as properly ruthless and brilliant, and the remainder of the issue is an introduction to the Bond stand-in with just enough of a tweak to make this worthwhile for fans of the genre. Jack Hunter has a more self-deprecating sense of humor than Bond, and it comes across a little more American and rowdy. The mistakes he makes in the ballroom action scene are funny, and if this genre had any appeal for me at all I’d probably check this out when it launches.

Invincible #21: Felt like I read this in about three minutes. There are some fun sequences, particularly when the Evil Batman character pulls Mark into his “Cloak from Cloak & Dagger” dimension of darkness and Mark just won’t let go of his hand – the guy is a pussy, plain and simple, and the ball-busting Mark gives him is pretty funny. But I felt kinda ripped off when I got to the last page. “That’s it?” What’s here is good stuff, as usual, but I didn’t feel like I got enough it this time around.

Captain America #4: I really liked the first issue of this, and felt a little let down by the second and third. This picks up a bit, but I think the pacing isn’t up to Brubaker’s golden standard from Sleeper’s first twelve issues. The fight scene with Crossbones was a lot of fun, and the mystery behind what’s happening to Cap’s mind is intriguing, but the tension feels a little artificial to me. I know I’m gonna find out what this is all about by the end of the arc – and if I don’t, I’ll at least get a big piece of the puzzle and some fun new questions – and I don’t feel like there’s a good reason why it’s taking this long to get there. I’m giving this book until the end of the first arc, and if nothing happens to change my mind, I’ll be switching to trade collections. The Brube’s often quite good at pulling rabbits out of his sleeve, so that big surprise may happen, but I’ve gotten really sensitive to the treatment of the serial format and the decompression trend. Density is my buzz-word of the day, and I know Brubaker’s got it in him, but this ain’t it.

Plastic Man #15: Better than the last few issues, but the humor’s wearing off a little. Too many pages spent on the same silly DC in-jokes (World Changing Events, decompression, and so on), not enough visual gags packed into each page. When I started picking this up around issue 7, every page had three or four or five different cartooning ideas that made me smile and thrilled me with the wealth of imagination it offered, but now it’s down to one gag per page at best. Still, this is funnier than the last few issues, which haven't been funny at all, so I’m glad to see some improvement.

Lucifer #60: Building towards a climax here, and it’s always fun when Mazikeen kicks ass, even if it’s only for two pages. I think she’s my favorite example of the “kick-ass chick you wouldn’t want to fuck with in a million years” trope, which can often be condescending and stupid. Carey’s done a great job of avoiding that with this character, largely by complicating her with a healthy dose of conflicting loyalties and hidden agendas; when it all wraps up in the coming year, I’ll be writing about this series as a whole, and I’ll have quite a bit to say about ol’ Mazi. Anyway, we don’t see that much of her here, but what we get I love, as always. Mostly we just come closer to rounding a corner with the Jill Presto subplot (Christ, finally), and learn a little more about Lilith’s plans. The revelation at the end of this issue is a good one, and I’m looking forward to the shit hitting the fan, but for me this series suffers a bit when Lucifer himself doesn’t appear, and this is one of those arcs.

Human Target #20: Going out with a bang and not a whimper. This is a great arc, with the reliably brilliant artwork from Cliff Chiang blowing me away every time I turn the page. Milligan finally does what I’ve been waiting for – he kicks his lead character’s ass, very badly. Christopher Chance is a character that has been in need of a situation he couldn’t handle, because it was getting predictable. When he gets his ass handed to him early in this issue, it gives way to a sequence of scenes showing him licking his wounds, trying to figure out how to proceed, and it reveals a really interesting side of the character that we haven’t seen before. And on top of that, Milligan is an absolute master of the serial format – he’s off about as often as he’s on, but he’s almost always “on” when he’s writing this series, and every issue is perfectly crafted; everything moves at a fast clip, keeping my heart beating and my eyes darting about the page, but he doesn’t go too far with it either, and keeps it at a level where I feel confident as a reader that I’m understanding everything I should (Grant Morrison, for example, has trouble with that, or I have trouble with him). Mother of God, I’m going to miss this series.

Noble Causes #8: I picked up the first collection of this series a while back, having enjoyed Faerber’s Seattle-based gumshoe book, Dodge’s Bullets. With a little nudging from Faerber himself, who’s been fishing around a lot of my message-board haunts lately and letting people know about the jump-on points with issues 7 and 8, I decided to try it out. I’m glad I did. The pacing here is moving at a note-perfect clip, with a lot of elements that remind me of what I enjoyed about Uncanny X-Men when I was a kid. In one scene, for example, two female characters (one a pregnant super-heroine, the other a regular-Jane wife of a super-hero) are taking a walk in the park when something unexpected happens to one of them – but as a result, we learn something about both of them. It’s a great way to stretch the value of your storytelling dollar without cheapening either surprise, and it’s the kind of thing I seem to remember Claremont having been good at. Plus, there’s a great fight sequence between two main characters, complete with boulder-throwing and great big blasts of energy, and that sequence concludes with the introduction of a new danger that really makes an impact on the reader – I can’t wait to see how Our Heroes are going to deal with it. If Invincible is doing for me what Ultimate Spider-Man used to, then Noble Causes looks like it might be applying for the X-Men’s job. As for the issue as a jumping-on point: yeah, it works. Will the new reader catch all the references? Definitely not. I didn’t. But I picked up enough to enjoy what I saw, and there’s a catch-up page on the inside front cover with bios for all the main characters and a plot summary I didn't read because I wanted to see how the storytelling itself would catch me up. I wish it wasn’t $3.50, but this book is definitely worth a look if you’re looking for classic super-team fights and drama combined with some fresh new ideas and characters, and it's passed my patented Serial Format Density Test with flying colors.

Shaolin Cowboy #2: Jesus, nobody’s gonna be able to pin this series down. The first issue was a challenge, for sure – ten pages spent on a single panel with no action, followed by ten pages of “violence porn” kung fu action, and a wisecracking donkey talking shit with his balls hanging out. Nothing like a story or a plot or even any characters emerged, which threw a lot of readers for a loop – it would usually turn me clean off and send me running for the hills, but I’ve got a soft-spot for Geof Darrow's madness from his work with Frank Miller, and I knew something special was going on. This issue completely flips the script on the first one, and took me about four times as long to read. King Crab, the Shaolin Cowboy’s greatest nemesis, eats up most of the issue by recounting his his misfortune at the hands of the Cowboy and his quest for vengeance, lighting up a cigarette as he tells the story. As with the first issue, this is absolutely, jaw-droppingly ridiculous, and remarkably stupid, and wonderful. Watching a little 12”-wide crab practicing ju jitsu alongside a class of Chinese monks is pretty fucking surreal. But that pales in comparison to the spectacular action stunt that ends the fight scene between Cowboy and Crab. I don’t want to spoil it, but it is all at once completely unbelievable and retarded and riveting and exciting and funny. I laughed out loud reading that sequence, thrilled with the sheer ballsiness of Darrow’s work. There are also a few spots where the Cowboy himself has some dialogue, and it goes a long way towards giving him some palpable character. Is this series going to work for everyone? I have a feeling not. But it works like gangbusters for me. My favorite read of the week.

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