Happy Sunday and Happy Fourth of July, as we once again delve into what the Robot 6 crew are reading this week. Joining us as our special guest this week is Jeff Lemire, creator of Sweet Tooth, The Nobody, The Essex County Trilogy and Lost Dogs, and the writer of the Atom strip in Adventure Comics and the upcoming Superboy series.
To see what Jeff and the Robot 6 crew are reading, click below …
DC sent me a copy of the new hardcover collection of Blackest Night, so I finally got to see what all the fuss was about. Honestly, the best I can give it is a shrug of the shoulders and mere “eh.” It’s neither so awful to merit my scorn, nor good enough for me to endorse or recommend on any level.
The basic concept is sound. Killer even. Utilizing the basic “superheroes versus zombies” angle gives you the opportunity to offer a commentary on the nature of the industry to recycle and reuse their properties until they become bereft of all vitality and charm. On another level, you can examine what death actually means in a world where people with god-like powers can not only survive horrendous disasters but come back from the dead seemingly at will. What meaning or power would death hold in such a place? At the very least, you should be able to pen an entertaining, slam-bang horrorish thriller.
Sadly, Geoff Johns and company do none of the above. It’s just one gigantic set piece after another that never really gels into a collective whole. Part of the problem for me is that I really don’t care much for Ivan Reis and company’s art. To me it’s emblematic of the worst of that post-Image, post 90s style, all over-rendered musculature, gritted teeth and PhotoShop tricks. Their habit to constantly provide one enormous, densely packed splash page sequence after another really annoyed me as well. I understand that kind of momentism is what the kids crave these days (“Oh boy, here’s where all the DC heroes come to kick some zombie ass! Look, there’s Starfire in the far right corner! I wish I could buy a poster-sized version of this!”), but it severely interrupts the story’s flow and really doesn’t make for very good comics. It’s as though Reis is more concerned with making things look cool than with making things look good.
I didn’t have any trouble following the story, despite all the hardcore DCU references, nor was I put off by the “superhero decadence” scenes like Firestorm’s girlfriend turning into a pillar of salt — it’s part horror story. That stuff comes with the territory. And I did like how Johns opted to use second and third bananas like Mera and Atom to help save the day. There was something charming about that. Ultimately what really, truly bugged me was Johns constant need to remind us — in captions and dialogue — just how awesome all these second stringers were. Every other sentence uttered by the cast seems to be a love letter to Flash or Green Lantern. Did Johns forget about the “show don’t tell” rule? I felt was like I was constantly being elbowed in the ribs by Johns and Reis while trying to read as they shouted at the top of their lungs, “This is awesome isn’t it? Isn’t this awesome? This is so awesome!” No guys, it really wasn’t.
Not to go borderline jingoistic on the Fourth of July (particularly for our international readers) but my favorite reads of this week involved Steve Rogers.
When I was a kid in the 1970s/1980s, Marvel captured my interest with the multiple super teams, The Champions, The Defenders and, of course, The Avengers. Ed Brubaker’s approach on the Secret Avengers (issue 2 came out this week) reminds me of the 1970s teams, with heroes you normally would not imagine teaming-up: Moon Knight with Valkyrie, for one example, or Beast and Sharon Carter. And I’m really happy to see how effectively Brubaker is utilizing Carter, after her using her too often (not always) as a plot device or prop during his Cap run.
Meanwhile in Captain America 607, it’s interesting to see how the Bucky and Steve Rogers dynamics are shaking out–as shown in this issue. Aw hell, who am I kidding–Steve Rogers is going around in one of Nick Fury/SHIELD’s flying cars! It’s panels like that which make me love comics.
Saving the best for last, Karl Kesel is writer, penciler and inker on Captain America: The 1940’s Newspaper Strip–originally developed for Marvel.com’s Digital Comics Unlimited Service. This is the first of three issues in a limited series. In an afterword of the first issue, Kesel wrote: “I’ve often wished I had been born 50 years earlier so I could have written and drawn an adventure strip, and I finally got my chance. I have to say: it’s the hardest, most satisfying job I’ve ever worked on. And I could do it for the rest of my life.” Good news, Kesel, I would read them as long as you were producing Cap tales.
Well, you know already that I liked Wonder Woman #600 pretty well. Subsequently — and thanks to Amazon.com, ha ha — I read the first collection of Diana’s “Mod” period. These stories come from Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky, with Dick Giordano’s inks distinguishing them from, say, Sekowsky’s JLA work. Basically they read like the comics equivalent of a late-’60s spy knockoff. Not nearly as bad as “The Girl From UNCLE,” but more like O’Neil and Sekowsky wanted to do Emma Peel and couldn’t decide how “serious” it should be. In fact, towards the end of the book Diana has already returned to Paradise Island to fight gods and monsters alongside her Amazon sisters — never mind that when the Amazons left our plane of reality a few issues earlier, they made it sound like they were never coming back. The rest of the book is similarly uneven, almost to the extent that it doesn’t connect at all to the familiar status quo. Still, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the experiment, mostly to see how far afield it got.
Both Madame Xanadu and Unknown Soldier had fine standalone issues this week; and both with guest artists, too (Marley Zarcone on MX, Rick Veitch on US). It’s already too late for Unknown Soldier, but perhaps it will do well enough in trades to warrant the occasional special issue or OGN. Madame Xanadu, however, has definite crossover appeal, especially with main-line superhero readers like myself who enjoy the occasional Phantom Stranger or Martian Manhunter guest-shot. The latest issue doesn’t have anything like that, but it’s still an excellent little fantasy/horror tale set in the early days of the Civil Rights movement. I really wish DC would promote the heck out of Madame Xanadu — it’s consistently among the best books in the publisher’s lineup.
Meanwhile, Action Comics #890 probably doesn’t need much more promotion, but if future issues are as good as this one, it too deserves to be one of the publisher’s top sellers. New writer Paul Cornell and returning artist Pete Woods bring us the continuing adventures of Lex Luthor, now busy trying to unlock the secrets of Oan-type power rings. By no means has Lex been driven to do good by his involvement in Blackest Night — instead, he’s in full-on megalomaniac mode, and that’s what makes the book so enticing. In a way, Lex’s quest for this particular knowledge makes him a good reader-identification character, because what semi-serious DC fan hasn’t wondered how the rings really work? (Notwithstanding Ganthet’s DIY sequence in Green Lantern Corps, that is.)
As far as phone-book collections go, I’m working my way through Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2 and Essential Captain America Vol. 4. Finally, while buying some short boxes (better for the aging back) at the comics shop today, I picked up the Muppet Show: Treasure Of Peg-Leg Wilson collection, and can’t wait to read it.
Sean T. Collins
Two anthologies and a lackluster manga for me this week. Click the links for reviews…
not simple by Natsume Ono: Ludicrous melodrama and coincidence mar this manga about a broken family.
Shitbeams on the Loose #2: Fun if not light-the-world-on-fire material from the altcomix edge.
Closed Caption Comics #8: A thrillingly dark and dirty anthology by the CCC collective.
1. Atari Force: Gerry Conway and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez: Amazing art and some really fun Sci-fi concepts. This is a really overlooked gem from the 80’s that still holds up to other great team books of the day like The New Teen Titans and The Legion of Superheroes. I wish DC still owned the rights so I could pitch a revamp!
2. Tumor: Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon: A really great graphic novel in both concept and design and in it’s execution. Tuazon’s washy, loose art is a perfect fit for protagonist Frank Armstrong’s increasingly diluted state of mind. He has a brain tumor, but he has to finish on each case before he goes…great read!
3. Revolver: Matt Kindt: Matt’s debut Vertigo GN is awesome. His art has never looked better and the post-apocalyptic concept of a man caught between two world’s (literally) is perfectly explored with Matt’s trademark sense of cleverness, great characterization and amazing art. Also features the coolest page numbers EVER.