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What I bought – 9 April 2008

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 9 April 2008

Another small week in terms of quantity, but some extremely solid comic books came out. That’s always nice. So let’s check them out, shall we?

Criminal (volume 2) #2 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Val Staples (colorist). $3.50, 33 pgs, FC, Marvel.

It’s neat how Brubaker is building his own little world, as we get the story of Tracy Lawless’s father, which ties into the story from last issue, told from a different perspective. It’s still all very dark and gloomy, but unlike, say, Daredevil, we don’t feel like Brubaker is dumping on these characters just to dump on them. They’re more real than Matt Murdock, so they make choices (bad ones, true, but choices). Plus, there’s no supervillain manipulating things, so the crap they get into is usually by their own design (for the most part), so even though it’s depressing, we don’t get a sense of Brubaker gleefully holding these characters under a magnifying glass while the sun burns off their appendages, like I’ve felt with regards to Murdock for quite some time. This is far more complex than Daredevil (of course, as it’s not a Marvel franchise), and so even though I know everything is going to shit each and every issue, it’s still a compelling comic (I’d say Phillips has something to do with that, but Lark on Daredevil is almost as good, so I don’t think it’s that). And we get chilling and real lines in this book, like the final thought from Teeg about the love he feels for his sons. Yes, chilling, because of the way Brubaker twists it. Criminal follows the noir formula, certainly, but it does so very well, and it’s a fantastic comic.

I am a bit grumpy about Brubaker’s diatribe in the back, though. He writes about Jason Aaron, who provides the backmatter, and how good Scalped is and how we should all buy it. That’s perfectly fine with me – I’ve bought the first two trades of Scalped and like it quite a bit. But then comes the rant:

I’ve decided that everyone reading this book should stop reading one comic they buy out of habit and don’t really enjoy, and try Scalped instead. Please do as I say. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. But seriously, the comes market is being unduly harsh on anything outside the norm (that norm being superheroes) and Warren Ellis recently told me “We got the comics market we deserve” and what I think he meant was, when people buy shitty comics instead of great ones month in and month out, you can’t really blame retailers for not ordering enough of books like Criminal or Fell or Scalped or the Goon or whatever.

And honestly, I’m starting to miss the comics market of the 80s, when there was not only diversity, but a certain amount of embracing of diversity. So, help me bring that world back by trying out some different kinds of comics this year. Hell, if you’re reading this, you’re already on the right path.

There’s nothing wrong with writing this. I agree with it. Later, he tells us to pester our retailers to order more copies of Criminal, which is a bit silly. My retailer doesn’t order stuff that he knows won’t sell, and if he ordered more copies of this, it would sit on the shelves for months. But that’s neither here nor there. What bothers me about this rant is not the spirit of the rant, but the tone. Brubaker has read our blog before, and I don’t want to insult him, because he is one of the better writers in comics, but he and Ellis are, after all, part of the problem. Yes, they do their own stuff quite often, but they also write big-time (wait for it!) superhero books for Marvel. Does Brubaker want us to stop buying Uncanny X-Men in order to buy Scalped? Maybe he does. I appreciate that he and Ellis write non-traditional stuff, but if they really had a problem with the way the comics market was structured, they would drop out of it and sell things independently. Lots of creators do that, but they don’t make any money whatsoever. I’m not blaming Brubaker for wanting to make some money, but when you contribute to the situation that you decry, it becomes harder to sympathize. I know a lot of people who buy outside the norm, because they do want different things. But our resources aren’t unlimited. Maybe – just maybeScalped isn’t all that good. It doesn’t deserve to exist just because Brubaker likes it. Plus, if we’re talking about stretching our wings a bit, why don’t Ellis and Brubaker? Again, I like both writers. But let’s be honest – Ellis is stuck in a “weird science” rut, and Brubaker is stuck in a “pulp noir” rut. His writing on Uncanny X-Men actually forces him to write differently, and maybe that’s a good thing, even if it’s for a mainstream superhero title. Maybe a lot of people just don’t like noir, no matter how well it’s done. If Brubaker wrote, I don’t know, a freakin’ romance comic, maybe people would go outside their comfort zone, because who doesn’t love romance comics?

I try very hard to read a lot of different comics. Like Brubaker implied, if you’re already reading Criminal, you’re probably one of those people to. He should write this kind of rant in the letters page of Uncanny X-Men (yes, I know Marvel won’t allow it), because the people who read Criminal probably don’t need to hear it.

Man, I love a good rant. Let’s see if I’ll do any more!

Doktor Sleepless #6 by Warren Ellis (writer), Ivan Rodriguez (artist), and Greg Waller (colorist). $3.99, 26 pgs, FC, Avatar.

When issue #5 of this came out, I mentioned I was dropping it. Well, not so fast! I must pre-order this, and when issue #6 (and, I think, #7) was solicited, I hadn’t decided to drop it yet. As it’s the only one my comic shoppe was ordering, I kind of felt beholden to buy it. I have to check to see if I’m going to get issue #7 too, even though I don’t want it.

This issue, by the way, doesn’t change my opinion of the book. It’s a dull Ellisian recitation of things that he finds fascinating, with the thinnest veneer of a story on top of it. As I mentioned above, “weird science” stuff is what Ellis does, and I’m just not that interested in that anymore. If Ellis does something else, I’ll probably check it out, but this isn’t doing it for me. Oh well.

Gamekeeper (series 2) #2 by Jeff Parker (writer), Ron Randall (artist), Ron Chan (artist), S. Sundarakannan (colorist), Ravikiran B. S. (letterer), and Rakesh B. Mahadik (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Virgin Comics.

That’s not a Michael Netzer cover, but it looks like one. And that means it’s pretty darned cool.

I was a bit disappointed by the first issue of this series, because it focused on the group that is hired to take out our hero, Brock, instead of on Brock himself. I mean, if anyone is hired to take out Brock, you know they’re going to be bad-asses, so why did we need an entire issue to show us that? But we’re back on track in this issue, as the bad guys kidnap the women at the Morgan estate (to keep them from revealing the secret of cold fusion to the world) and the Raven, the bad-ass assassin, tracks Brock. However, Brock turns the tables on the bad guys, as we figured he would. It turns out that the group’s employer was less than forthright about Brock’s abilities. Why, we don’t know. I assume it will become clear eventually.

This is a nice, thrilling issue, as Brock and the bad guys play a cat-and-mouse game. Parker paces this comic very well, Randall does a decent if unspectacular job on the art, and we end the issue with the implication of much more mayhem to come. It’s nice that Parker and Randall are showing us a lot of action without making it too gory. It might turn gory soon, of course, but the first series, written by Diggle, was a bit more bloody. Maybe that’s just Diggle’s way! So far, Parker has restrained himself, and it’s an interesting contrast. Again, next issue could be cover-to-cover blood, so I could be eating my words soon enough.

This is a decent thriller. I imagine Brock will win out and save the day, but Parker does a nice job with the tension within the issue in the meantime. And that’s a nice feat.

Suburban Glamour #4 (of 4) by Jamie McKelvie (writer/artist/letterer) and Matthew Wilson (colorist). $3.50, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

Well, I suppose I am going to SPOIL this, so you’ve been warned.

McKelvie’s initial mini-series as a writer comes to an end, and it’s rather McFarlane-esque. Oh, I’m kidding. McKelvie has shown throughout this series that he has a nice grasp of how teens talk, and that doesn’t fail him now, as Astrid confronts the two sides of her life and has to decide what to do. She ends up staying in the “real” world and rejecting her fairy parents. That’s not too shocking, after all – we could easily see it coming. The biggest problem with the story in Suburban Glamour is that it’s only about Astrid learning about her fairy-ness and deciding whether to go to Fairie or not. There’s a bit with the rivalry between Titania and Morgana, but it’s not clear exactly why Morgana wants to kill Astrid (did I miss something? – I re-read the first three issues, but may have missed the reason for her animosity). Despite some action, there’s a decided lack of tension in this issue and the series as a whole. McKelvie obviously can create some good tension, because he does it occasionally, but it never really coheres into a very good story. Take this issue, for instance: McKelvie teases us with a different outcome, but we never really believe that Astrid is going to leave her parents. Despite her typical teenaged problems with them, throughout the series McKelvie has shown that Astrid is a decent girl and her parents are decent people. Yes, she whines about the boredom of suburban England, but a character in issue #2 even points out that this is generic teenaged behavior, and we never really believe she’ll ditch them for the exotic new world. So the plot doesn’t really work here. The nice thing is that most new writers seem to be able to plot the hell out of things but struggle with making the characters real. McKelvie has the characterization down pretty well, and good plots can flow from that.

I should mention that, once again, the art is fan-freakin’-tastic. There’s a lot more action than we’ve seen so far, and McKelvie handles it very well. He even sneaks a sort-of British flag into one panel, when Astrid smacks a bad guy with a guitar. Astrid, as usual, is gorgeous, but he does nice things with Morgana’s facial expressions, and nice subtle things with eye movements to express emotions. The style looks fairly simplistic, but as you linger over the panels, you realize that there’s a lot going on that is more subtle than a lot of artists out there.

There’s a lot to like about this series, and if you haven’t seen McKelvie’s art yet, I would recommend it just for that. Although the story doesn’t really work, the characters are very well done, and McKelvie will only get better. I don’t know when the trade is coming out, but look for it!

Wasteland #16 by Antony Johnston (writer), Christopher Mitten (artist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $3.50, 23 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

On the third page of this issue, Mitten gives us a full-page drawing of Sand-Eaters clashing with the Newbegin citizens, and it’s a gruesome and glorious sight. There’s a ton of action in this issue, and Mitten handles it extremely well. The squalor and sudden death of battle is nicely depicted, and we feel the frenetic pace of the issue far better because of the art. Johnston shifts focus quickly throughout the issue, catching up with many of the principals. The biggest problem I’ve always had with the book (and many others have as well) is keeping track of who’s who. That’s still a problem, but I’ve decided to just enjoy the ride and worry about the details later. If that sounds like a weird way to read a comic, so be it. I can live with not remembering exactly where Skot has been (Johnston gives us a nice summary, and I remember the scene vaguely, but it’s not really important at this moment) because each issue is so gripping that even when I lose sight of the bigger picture, I’m thrilled by each scene. As we know, Johnston has a big plan with this book, so when he’s finished, then I’ll sit down and read it at once and very carefully and see all the connections. Right now, however, it’s more about reading each issue and being dazzled by the way he has created this world and is confidently navigating his way through it. The battle takes center stage in this issue, but so much is happening while the two sides fight that Johnston easily moves to all the crucial places. And when we get to the end, we know what is said isn’t true, but the way Johnston has set things up, we still feel the character’s conviction, and that’s good writing.

This is a really good issue. Of course, they’ve all been really good, so that’s not too surprising.

Young Liars #2 by David Lapham (writer/artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

After a wildly frenetic and highly entertaining first issue, Lapham slows things down and takes us back three years, to show how Danny met Sadie in the first place. Unfortunately, the issue isn’t as good as the first one (although it doesn’t have Sadie’s dad acting weird, so that’s a plus). In the first issue, I could overlook the somewhat stereotypical characters because Danny and Sadie were pretty interesting. But when we go back, they become less so. I think this “origin” issue would have been better left for later in the series, when we’ve known them a little more, of perhaps not told as a single issue at all, but doled out in flashbacks throughout the series. When we see it all at once, Danny and his cronies become mired in clichés: the struggling and lousy band; the guy using the band just to get laid; the friend screwing Danny over to take Sadie to a concert when he had promised to take Danny (another example of these people hanging out with people they don’t like, as I mentioned last issue); the girl who needs “rescuing” by Danny but doesn’t appreciate it; the guy falling for the girl even though she ignores him; even the mother who seems to have something weird going on with her disabled son. If we got this is segments, it might seem less standard and might have more impact. But these clichés, piled on top of each other in one issue, makes the ending a bit less powerful. From what we’ve seen in this issue, it seems like the final page, which is really horrific, might be a blessing in disguise for Danny, based on how his life is going. I hate to say that, because it really is a horrible event, but nothing in this issue makes me feel like Danny has an emotional connection to what has happened. That’s a shame.

I’m still giving the book a while to let me down, because Lapham is a very good storyteller and the first issue had a lot of promise. I just think doing this issue so early in the run was a mistake. We didn’t need to know Danny’s backstory quite yet, especially when it’s kind of boring.

Another week, more fun comics. What do you say to that?

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