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Hoods, escape artists, Spider-Man, Dan Clowes, and one mouthy dragon; I read a lot of comics this week and want to review them!

by  in Comic News Comment
Hoods, escape artists, Spider-Man, Dan Clowes, and one mouthy dragon; I read a lot of comics this week and want to review them!

Under the fold, I’ll impugn the good name of a blogger infinitely more popular and entertaining than I am, actually review a comic that Burgas already talked about, and try to class up the joint with a review of a comics lit master while still doing my usual superficial take on things! That’s pretty much the biggest hardsell I can come up with.

Amazing Spider-Man #555– It’s a week late, but I’m going to review a one shot from 1987 in here, so if timelines is your thing — I’m sorry? Anyway, given what Chris Sims said about this issue here (and given the fact that I found it really easy to skip the last arc entirely), I wasn’t going to pick it up. Well, that and Chris Bachallo’s art is prone to making my eyes bleed when he’s called upon to do action scenes.

But, hey, I found it in the dollar box at the local shop (because it had a printing error so dire that it seemed like they just jammed four unrelated pages in the comic and shipped it out). Guess what conclusion I came to?

Chris Sims is wack*. I thought this was a really fun Spider-Man comic, although the first two arcs of BND did lead me to the realization that all I want out of a Spider-Man comic is a script with some one liners and sprightly plot movement, and Zeb Wells bring that to the table. That the issue also had Wolverine, Dr. Strange, and Mayan Snow Ninjas was just gravy. Also; Bachallo’s art wasn’t completely incoherent in the fight scenes!

Arkham Asylum: Living Hell– My LCS had a copy of this next to the Grant Morrison/Dave McKean GN about the titular insane asylum these stories share. I was interested in checking this out before I’d read a Dan Slott comic. Now that I’m a fan of his light hearted Marvel work, I was really interested in seeing how he’d handle darker subject matter in this story, which is sort of like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in Gotham City, except with a deplorable white collar criminal in the lead role. The fact that Ryan Sook drew it made it easier to pick up.

This is pretty different from what I’ve read of Slott’s work. There wasn’t a lot of body horror in She Hulk, for instance. While it’s not the barrel of laughs comics like that and his Spider-Man/Human Torch mini, there is quite a bit of humor in here, running the gamut from one liners to some particularly gruesome black humor, which is to be expected when your cast are Batman villains and all.

The familiar faces of the Rogues Gallery all make their requisite appearances, from the Joker to Poison Ivy, but the spotlight is firmly on Slott creations like Jane Doe, Doodlebug, and a really inspired revamp of Humpty Dumpty. He makes these additions to Batman’s pantheon of mentally ill adversaries really interesting, although it helps that he’s able to do what he wants with them and not have to keep them in any kind of shape for future appearances. He does position the aforementioned white collar protagonist, Warren White, in an interesting place for future stories, although knowing the way these things go, he’ll probably be cannon fodder in a crossover in the near future.

Sook’s art is as good as you’d expect. This was published in 2003, and by then he’d shed his tendency to look like a Mignola clone. He does a good job with all of the horror elements, but also gets to give us some great renditions of Batman and Batgirl along the way.

This is one of those mini-series that serves as an interesting off shoot of a big franchise character like Batman, while also serving as a kind of stealth genre piece. Slott tells a compelling horror/prison story with these Batman villains. The fact that I was really excited to read this and yet have no interest in something like OZ kind of makes me feal uneasy in the pit of my stomach for some reason, but that’s neither here nor there. For a Batman cash in mini, this is pretty damn good.

Criminal #2– So, yeah, I thought we needed another review of this, one that ignores “rants” of all stripes and, you know, talks about the comic. Take that, regular contributor!

Ahem. Anyway, I do sympathize a bit with Burgas in that once you’ve praised this book a couple times, it is hard to come up with more superlatives beyond “It’s excellent,” I’m in a contentious enough mood to try.

I’m not even really a noir fan. While the text pieces in the back of the book have piqued my interest in some of the movies and books Brubaker and friends have highlighted (everyone from CBR columnist Steven Grant to Warren Ellis to diminutive ball of spite and dogged prosecutor of pop culture Patton Oswalt), I signed on for this series based solely on how much I enjoyed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s previous collaboration, Sleeper.

The recent move from arcs to single issues reminds me a lot of their previous collaboration on that noir/superhero/espionage mash up, more so than the first two story arcs. What’s really impressive is that, despite the fact that these are self contained stories (and perfect jumping on points for people who have yet to try the series), the first issue ties in to the second in interesting ways, ones that made me go back and reread last month’s issue just to see how the connections enhanced the story and see if there was anything I missed. I almost never reread comics, so to be really motivated to do so is a pretty rare pleasure for me. Burgas mentioned the world building in his review, and that’s also impressive. It seems like Brubaker’s really setting down some roots on this title for years to come. Here’s hoping that his plans can come fully to fruition.

Ice Haven – Yeah, so, I don’t read a lot of alternative/art/indie comics. Given that my comfort zone as a reader is generally adventure comics, I don’t stray over to the Fantagraphics/D&Q side of things too often. I mean, look at the comics that preceded this one!

That said, I have enjoyed Dan Clowes work in the past. Ghost World is a personal favorite of mine in two different mediums (media?), and while David Boring isn’t my favorite story of all time, it was interesting (and just plain weird) enough to keep my attention the whole way through.

Ice Haven has some traits in common with both of those books (yes, there are disaffected teens and alienated adults wandering around the place, and there’s even a subplot that’s reminiscent of the film version of Ghost World), but in structure, it’s nothing like either of them, or pretty much anything else I’ve read in comics.

It’s billed on the cover of the collection as a comic strip novel, and that’s entirely accurate. Each of the book’s 29 chapters is a strip focusing one of the characters in the titular town. Some are the kind of straight up, first person slice of life comic you’d expect from a shining light of the comics literati like Clowes. Other chapters, on the other hand, take on the qualities of an absurdly verbose Peanuts, a realistic take on the Flintstones, and even one chapter which gives us a look at what the people behind the Grand Theft Auto series would do with an anthropomorphic character starring one of the characters’ stuffed animals.

The story revolves around a missing child, David Goldberg, but it’s not a mystery (despite the presence of a private detective). It’s really just a through line to give the characters a chance to interact. Given the way it’s structured (and its page count in general; originally, it was a single issue of Clowes’ long running Eightball series), it’s easy to tear through the book very quickly, but it seems like the kind of thing that could be worth multiple readings. It shares that with Ghost World, at least; it’s not an epic, but you’ll probably find yourself reading it multiple times.

When you’re primarily a genre fan, it’s easy to forget about somebody like Clowes. His work’s not out there with much frequency or volume, but it’s always worth reading. It’s also something you can enjoy on multiple levels; serious critics can rave about the structure and design, as well as Clowes commentary on the medium via a– well, serious comics critic. Me, I appreciate all that, but I was mostly impressed by how funny Clowes is. I mean, all the mastery of the medium is wonderful, but it’s the foul mouthed caveman and overly verbose 4th grader that endeared this excellent book to me.

Well, enough of that art comics stuff; back to the fights in tights!

Mr. Miracle One Shot- I could do a write up on this and all, but really, all you need to know is that it’s written by Mark Evanier and drawn by Steve Rude, and features Scott Free and Barda’s status quo circa their days in the Giffen/DeMatties Justice League. It’s in the Tales of the New Gods trade that was released recently, which takes a little of buzz out of finding a hidden gem in a back issue box, but it was still a pleasant surprise to find this. I could go in to detail about this, but really, it’s a Mister Miracle story by Evanier and Rude. That’s all you need to know. Well, lettering junkies (i.e., people named Augie) may be excited to know that Todd Klein lettered this. I’ll let you guy/s discover all of the fonts he employed for yourselves.

Thor 379- That wankster Sim’s enthusiasm for Walt Simonson’s Thor, and the man’s body of work in general, reminded me I really ought to try and remedy the fact that I haven’t read any of his run on everyone’s favorite smack talking blonde thunder god. I was hoping to find the issue he homaged in the post, but I wound up picking up the one before it instead. While it was basically a set up issue, it was an interesting contrast to the ones littering store shelves today.

First of all, there’s the casual way it crosses over with X-Factor, a comic Simonson co-wrote with his wife Louise (I’m not sure if he wrote was working on it concurrently with Thor at this point, and I can’t be bothered to check. I’ll leave it up to our prolific peanut gallery). Second, it’s weird to see how verbose Marvel books used to be, even when compared to Mr. Chatty McMamet writing so many of the current ones. Simonson was really dialing in to the spirit of Stan Lee’s old purple prose dialogue at points here, relaying exposition and characterization along the turgid way and, y’know, I kinda miss that.

The best bit about the issue, though, was the wry conversation between Thor and Fin Fang Foom. It was interesting to see that the likes of Warren Ellis and Roger Langridge weren’t the first to realize the comedic potential of Marvel’s most surly dragon (Simonson’s version is more like the former than the latter, which does lead to the disappointment of him not threatening to shove Thor down his pants). The most impressive thing about the whole thing was the way that Simonson used dramatic irony during the conversation between ol’ Fingy and Odin Son. See, neither one recognizes the other for who they really are (which leads to the big plot twist that set up that teeth smashing, splash-errific issue of legend), which creates a lot of humor and interesting observations from both of them without devolving in to schtick. I didn’t exactly expect a conversation between Thor and Fin Fang Foom to be the most entertaining part of a legendary run known for its epic moments, but it was a pleasant surprise.

So yeah, those are some comics I’ve read lately. Thought you might want to know, audience.

*I kid. Sims isn’t wack at all. In fact, he’s quite dope and ill. I’d go as far as to call him wicked fresh, but I think the joke’s already been stretched beyond all credibility and humor.

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