Box of Comics: August 2009

by  in Comic News Comment
Box of Comics: August 2009

How hopelessly late am I this time? Not too much, I hope. (Place your bets on how many semi-colons I use in this post!) At least I review some stuff that I haven’t seen reviewed much around the internets. Well, aside from that one comic. You know the one.

Inside: The most awesome comic ever printed! The strangest Bat-villain of them all! The biggest letdown of the month! The latest Apparat novella from Internet Jesus himself! And an overlooked new launch from a young upstart publisher! (See anything you like? Buy it at HeavyInk, and/or pre-order the next one at DCBS!)

Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time #4 by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, and Jeff Powell (back-up drawn by Rick Woodall and Lawrence Basso) (Red 5)

Burgas reviewed this last month and found there to be “2.73 awesome things per page” over the course of the 26 story pages, which is a pretty high ratio of awesome-to-paper, in an era where you’re lucky to get 2.73 awesome things per issue. Greg’s review method was entirely quantitative, however; me, I’m more of a qualitative kind of guy. I need to know how and why something is awesome. Let’s roll.

The Chris Sims School of Comics Criticism (from which Brad Curran graduated, class of ’07) dictates that, to truly convey how awesome this comic is, I simply have to explain the plot to you in one sentence, with the occasional use of italics to indicate proper face-wrecking, so here goes: This is a comic in which Dr. Atomic Robo Tesla teams up with Carl Sagan in 1971 Peru to capture a Lovecraftian elder beast from beyond the universe using the fifth cardinal direction, Zorth. And look, I haven’t even mentioned the lightning guns, or the fantastic cliffhanger.

Clevinger’s script positively sings, grounding the ludicrous plot situations with some marvel dialogue conveyed in the back-and-forth between Robo and Sagan. The famed astronomer gets a great little character arc that takes him from sarcastic skeptic to– well, more of the same, but with some added badasstitude as he begins to comprehend the madness of Robo’s world. I don’t want to downplay Scott Wegener’s art, of course, because the man draws comics better than porn stars have sex (put that metaphor in your pipe and smoke it). Clev and Weg deserve to be seen in the same light as Morrison and Quitely, Ennis and Dillon, Brubaker and Phillips, Captain and Tennille– a match made in heaven.

Whereas Hellboy would ignore the exposition in order to punch the monster in the face, Atomic Robo is more likely to deliver the exposition while punching the monster in the face! He’s the science hero for the new millennium, making sci-fi fun again, deriving a sense of wonder from that curious beast named science.

I was going to switch to trades on this book, but with the exponential increase in awesome (atomic number: 1 jillion) per issue, I can’t possibly give up the singles. Also, they’re adding a letters page. A letters page! This is my favorite comic, and I rather suspect this particular episode will land my “issue of the year” nod. Then again, there’s still one more issue to go!

Batman and Robin #3 by G-Mo, F-Qui, A-Sin, and P-Bro (DC)

Remember your SAT analogies? BATMAN AND ROBIN : SUPERHERO COMICS ::

A.) Marvel : Disney
B.)  Red Sox : Baseball
C.) Filet Mignon : Steak
D.) Tom Selleck : Mustaches

You can probably make your case for any of the above, but for the purposes of this review, the metaphor I choose will be C. Batman and Robin is the finest cut of superhero meat you’re going to find. Morrison and Quitely have sliced off all the fat, leaving behind only tender beef, from cows raised on Guinness and Britpop. Quitely’s art appears perfectly sculpted, drawn with the hand of a surgeon, or maybe that guy who slices out all the deadly parts of the blowfish. The Batman mythos can hold a lot of air, after all, but Grant and Frank– Grank Morriley would be their name, if they were joined together in some terrifying science experiment– cut right down to the good part.

Morrison described this series going in as “Adam West meets David Lynch,” and this issue encapsulates that perfectly. We’ve got the standard structure of 60s Batman– Robin’s captured, Batman’s on the way, and it’s all going to end in a fight scene– but there’s a blatant layer of mindbending horror on top of that, as we discover the true lunacy of Professor Pyg. He’s easily the scariest and most interesting new Bat-baddie in a dog’s age; instead of standing around revealing his master plot to his captive, he jerks around like he’s sorted out for E’s and Wizz (“Sexy disco hot,” he explains), and rants about mothers (he’s built his own wire mother) and art. He really is the villainous equivalent of Vulva from that performance art episode of Spaced.  I hope he catches on, like no villain has since Zsasz or the Ventriloquist– but, like most Morrison creations, I fear he’s destined to be shied away from.

Morrison also writes the only Dick Grayson I’ve ever liked, one who has manned up and accepted his role as Batman’s successor (“Who the hell are you?” demands Gordon; “I’m Batman,” replies Dick, and means it at last). It’s going to suck when Dick has to regress back to Nightwing in a year or so. Morrison’s also the only writer at DC who seems to have a proper handle on Damian; he might have surpassed early Tim Drake as my favorite Robin already— I want to write a “Robin the Boy Bastard” series. He’s the world’s deadliest ten year old, sure, but he’s also trying to learn what being a hero means, and how to connect emotionally to others. It’s good character work.

Buy this comic! It’s cheaper than good steak, and twice as filling!

Doom Patrol #1 by Keith Giffen, Matthew Clark, Livesay, Pat Brosseau, Guy Major, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, and Nick J. Napolitano (DC)

This issue marks the, what, fifth volume of Doom Patrol? And the third one this decade? Law of diminishing returns indicates that the eighth volume, which will be on the stands in three years, will only last four issues before being mercilessly canceled from on high. At least, it will if this issue is any indication. The panel above? It contains multitudes.

I have great love for the Doom Patrol, and great admiration for Keith Giffen, so it pains me to tell you that this Just Isn’t Very Good. The new series falls into the same traps as the rest of DC’s subpar output: it’s got awkward characterization, violence for shock’s sake, bad dialogue, and unidentified characters (I inferred that the fellow above is Rocky from the Challengers of the Unknown; apparently, he is now a priest and self-appointed team psychologist). The new Doom Patrol status quo seems to be “self-pitying super-team suicide squad,” the wrist-slitting emo version of your favorite Saturday morning cartoon show. Elasti-Woman is brittle. Robotman is kind of a jerk. Negative Man cracks jokes even as the team members Giffen doesn’t want to bother with get turned into red mist. The team wantonly kills their enemies. This ain’t your daddy’s Doom Patrol!

Both Giffen and Clark really, really wanted this series, but that’s not inherent in the work itself. Clark’s got the scratchy, overly detailed DC house style down pat. Giffen’s painting by the numbers; yeah, his voice comes through, but it’s the voice of an older, gruffer, less funny Keith Giffen.

The 10-page Metal Men “co-feature” is good, though, once again reuniting the all-star JLI team of Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire. Each one of them plays to stereotype, doomed to live in that role forever, destroyed and rebuilt over and over again: Gold’s a narcissistic ass, Iron’s the normal guy, Lead’s a little slow, Tin has self-esteem issues, Mercury’s neurotic, Platinum’s in love with Doc Magnus, and nobody can remember Copper exists. They fight a weird menace and go home to the suburbs. It’s light and fun, but a bit “fourteenth verse, same as the first,” willfully playing on our nostalgia for the old JLI. I’ll take that over what the lead feature gives us, but I’m not paying four dollars a month for a back-up strip.

Frankenstein’s Womb by Warren Ellis and Marek Oleksicki (Avatar)

The cover to this 44-odd page graphic novella features an infant, perhaps a fetus, floating in a mad scientist’s liquid, stitched together, stuck with tubes. This image provides a sense of expectation to the work. Chances are, however, those expectations will be subverted once one reads it. The cover shows us a metaphor for the content within; the titular womb is not that of Frankenstein, but rather the one Frankenstein was birthed from– that of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Ellis wollstonecrafts a fictive work cobbled together from history and apocrypha, giving us the true origin of the Modern Prometheus. Mary Shelley visits Castle Frankenstein, meets a monster, and then learns of the past and the future, corpses and lightning.

I don’t want to spoil the whole thing. Let’s just say that this is not a work with dynamite plotting and breakneck pace; rather, it’s a considered work, a conversation between two unique characters, an alchemical philosophy. It’s a love letter to Mary Shelley, composed by a writer and an artist who breathe life into paper, who give a voice to the blank page. It is, as many Warren Ellis works are, about the future, and the people that craft it. Technology, machines, electricity– the stuff of magic and mystery. Oleksicki’s art looks exquisite, richly detailed and hauntingly realistic. More importantly, it keeps the reader engaged throughout, remaining visually stimulating despite pages of, let’s face it, talking heads. It’s good talk, though.

Frankenstein’s Womb is seven bucks, cheaper than two issues of Dark Avengers. It’s a work of alchemy, a chameleon at home on the comic store shelf or at your local Barnes and Noble. It’s got a spine, and it smells of the past and the future, simultaneously.

Robot 13: Colossus! #1 by Thomas Hall and Daniel Bradford (Blacklist Studios)

Here’s a book that doesn’t just wear its influences on its sleeve; it tattoos those influences to its chest and struts around shirtless. From the panel above, you can tell this one’s another comic in the Hellboy vein. Without your reading glasses on, you’d think Mike Mignola drew it! Heck, you’d think that with your reading glasses on. Throw Hellboy, Amazing Screw-On Head, and Atomic Robo in a blender, and you might get a Robot 13 milkshake. I hope a unique flavor emerges as the series goes on, however.

Hall and Bradford’s story is a bit sparse in this first issue– we’re introduced to the titular Robot 13 as he’s pulled out of the drink by some fishermen. Naturally, a sea monster follows a few panels later and we get a cool fight. Toss in some amnesia, a flashback, and Bob’s your uncle. Not too much forward momentum comes out of this one, but you get your cool looking robot with a skull for a head stabbing the Kraken in the eye, so what else do you want? The art’s pretty polished, with a cartoony-yet-gothic grace, like Ryan Yount of Scurvy Dogs if Mignola inked him. The script’s less burnished, but this is an early effort that shows plenty of room left to improve.

The duo has another book on the horizon, King!, about a Mexican wrestler who looks like Elvis and fights vampires and zombies and stuff, which sounds like someone starting picking “awesome things” out of a hat (or watched Bubba Ho-Tep too many times). Go ahead and give this title a try, though. I want to see a second issue!