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Box of Comics: February 2010

by  in Comic News Comment
Box of Comics: February 2010

This month, every comic I bought revealed shocking political statements underneath the four-color face-kicking! What madness is this!?

Okay, I lied. But it got you to read the post, didn’t it? Onwards!

Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #1 by Clev, Weg, Patt, and Pow (Red 5)

Every time a new issue of Atomic Robo comes out, I write a review with hyperbole so hyper, it becomes positively ultrabolic. Eventually, I’m going to run out of superlatives to describe this comic, which is the comic I’ve been waiting for all my life, the one that shows up at the door wearing only a too-short coat, an Xbox controller in one hand, a moderately expensive beer in the other, having called in an order for delicious bacon pizza just under 30 minutes ago. It’s a smart comic, one that can’t help but wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more to its audience, taking a grounded, matter-of-fact approach to a world infused with the ludicrous. It points out the silliness of sci-fi tropes and then uses them anyway in a thoroughly intelligent manner.This first issue gives us a typical day at Robo HQ, and it naturally involves an invasion of vampiric monsters from another dimension.

I believe this mini-series marks artist Scott Wegener’s first “inkless” issue, with all the art going straight from pencils to colors. It’s fairly impossible to detect, however, aside from some sketchy bits around the panel borders, but for all I know, they may have been there this entire time. The art’s mind-bendingly convivial, reveling in glorious, glorious mayhem with an insane glee usually only seen from a maniacal, chainsaw-wielding Bruce Campbell or Christian Bale, covered in blood and gore, a wildness pulsing from the eyes, truly alive. … Ahem.

Seriously, if you read this blog on anything resembling  a regular basis and you aren’t buying, reading, and enjoying Atomic Robo, I don’t know why the hell I bother.

Batman and Robin #8 & 9 by Grant Morrison, Cameron Stewart, Tony Avina, Pat Brosseau, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Ra, Ahura Mazda, Quetzalcoatl, Marduk the double-god, and Xenu (DC Comics)

I like how Grant Morrison portrays superheroes as uber-competent, but not perfect. I like how Cameron Stewart adds a sense of tension and mayhem to the fight scenes by shifting the panels around like a falling house of cards. I like Stewart’s attention to dynamism and character detail, and his magnificent inking skills. I like evil chimney sweeps with knockout soot. I like how Zombie Batman screams while flying the Whirlybat and how his speech balloons get all grody in the back half of #9. I like how Alfred’s weapon of choice is a cricket bat. I like Damian Wayne’s moxie, and his dialogue. I like how Morrison writes Batwoman, and how it doesn’t involve the word “lesbian” appearing three times per sentence. I like the Squire and Knight. I like Dick Grayson, and I’ve never, ever liked Dick Grayson. I like this comic. Can Cameron Stewart draw every issue?

That is all.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #32 by Brad Meltzer, Georges Jeanty, Andy Owens, Michelle Madsen, Richard St– what? Yeah, I said Brad Meltzer. Yeah, I know. I know, okay? Shut up already. (Dark Horse)

So it’s come to this. Another Simpsons clip sh– I mean, a Buffy comics review. I’ve been steadily buying this thing, in singles, since its debut. At some point, long ago, over a year by now, maybe further, this series became the most unremarkable comic book on the stands. Not bad, per se, but not any kind of good, either– completely adrift, existing but not existing at the same time. Schrodinger’s comic, in a quantum state of readability. I– and many others, I’m told– have been buying this thing for ages, purely out of undying loyalty to Joss Whedon and some kind of fiscal inertia. The ball, she rolls down the hill, and nothing has stopped it yet. Eight issues left until this “season” ends, and then, then we can free ourselves. Hopefully.

Anyway, this issue. Yes, it’s written by Brad Meltzer, and yes, I’m probably on record somewhere as proclaiming Identity Crisis to be the worst comic book ever, in all of time and space, in this or any other dimension or timeline. And it is, my friends, it is. But if Jeph Loeb couldn’t get me to stop buying this comic, what hope does Brad Meltzer have? And so, here we are. You want to know what the really crazy thing is, though?

This is the best issue of this comic in ages.

(I realize that’s a pull quote doomed to be taken out of context, but lo! There comes a contextening!)

Licensed comics are expected to be pretty terrible, right? Often diluted, mishandled doppelgangers of something everyone loved in a different medium, a different format entirely, translated to the comics page for a quick buck, with little care or craft applied. It’s not always true, but it happens more often than not. When this particular Buffy comic started, we comics-reading Whedon fans were excited. Here was King Joss himself giving us the “real” continuation of the TV show! Sure, the TV series may have gone on too long and this would stretch the narrative even further, but we didn’t care. It was exciting.

What the Buffy comic became was a comic pitched to both hardcore Buffy fans and hardcore comics fans. It didn’t become the TV show on paper; it was something else, broader, more grandiose. In theory, this was because you can do anything with words and pictures, and the Mutant Enemy crew could get away with things they couldn’t do on TV. Unfortunately, it dragged on, and on, mired in Buffy continuity for its own sake, and losing all sense of narrative momentum. Some of the TV show’s writers returned, but their scripting skills could not adjust to comic book pacing, and we got many lopsided issues that didn’t feel particularly interesting or useful, in any way. (And yes, I’m aware this review is currently traveling in a similar direction.)

But now, Brad Meltzer–

–I know, Buffy, I know, but let me finish, okay? Brad Meltzer shows up, and the Buffy comic actually begins to feel like a Buffy comic. That snappy patter we liked so much on the show returns, and lines and gags echo and recur throughout the issue. The panel-to-panel pacing works. This thing flows like a comic, once more. And hey, the plot begins to move, and things begin to happen. The story becomes exaggerated above the confines of Buffy’s TV budget, but not to a ridiculous degree; despite Buffy’s newfound powers, like flight, the story keeps its feet on the ground, more or less.

Meltzer gears the story too much for the superhero-comics-reading-audience, however. Presumably, there are fans of the show who have never read a comic beyond this, and don’t necessarily need an extended Superman homage, references to every one of Xander’s favorite superheroes, or a page-long digression that serves as nothing more but a cutesy in-joke to Whedon’s admitted love of Kitty Pryde. Oh, and then there’s the bit with a giant machine that Andrew tells us is straight from the pages of the 1982 X-Men/Teen Titans crossover, I shit you not. Faith rightfully punches Andrew, and Meltzer, in the face for that one.

At least the plot’s moving, though. The villainous Twilight’s (tee hee) machinations are coming to a head, Buffy’s got super-powers (er, moreso) from dead slayers (that’s a development), all the main characters are actually showing up– it’s an improvement. It’s maybe the best Brad Meltzer comic ever. That really doesn’t mean anything, I know, but it doesn’t make me want to hurt myself and others, so that’s a plus.

Jeanty’s art continues to look perfectly fine. His body language and figurework continues to impress, though often the characters look like action figures rather than people, which I guess is a fitting metaphor. Sometimes, he nails the likenesses, and other times– especially with Dawn– he’s way off. I get that he’s going more for the essence of the character than the face of the actor, but occasionally I can’t tell who’s supposed to be who. The best part, though, is that there are no huge… tracts of land… in this comic. The women look like women, and not like blow-up dolls. It’s nice.

This comic hasn’t quite become a great read overnight, but at least it emerged from the box and declared its existence. That’s good to see. Maybe the next issue will go back to being hopelessly dull or outright terrible, but maybe it won’t.

Doom Patrol #7 by Keith Giffen, Cliff Richards, Matthew Clark, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, a shedload of other people, and Adobe Photoshop (DC Comics)

I haven’t spoken much of this series’ regular Metal Men back-up strip (er, I mean, co-feature), and now that that strip wraps up with this issue, I feel I must. Okay? Here goes: It is good. Once again, it is the primary reason to purchase this comic, and now that it’s out the door, so too is my interest in this comic. More on that later.

A couple of decades later, the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire team still appears very capable of making good comics. Sure, the jokes are a little cornier, and fall a little flatter, and too much revisitation can be a bad thing– more on that later, too– but the stories give the reader a smirk and a chuckle. “Fun” is something I demand from my comics, and we get it here, in a quick wrap-up story in which the Metal Men fight Giganta and shred her costume, revealing her titanic t– uh, huge… tracts of land… to the world. Burgas would be offended we don’t see nipple, and Kelly would be offended that the women in this story are only here for their breasts and their fawning devotion to the male characters, and they would both be right. But since this is my show, I just smirk and move on.

I’m sure we could agree, though, that Kevin Maguire’s art is absolutely exquisite, and has only gotten better over the years. His linework is brilliantly fine-tuned and detailed, and his facial expressions and mannerisms are as good as ever. Modern paper and coloring has only made his work prettier. Open this baby up and look at Douglas, Robot Hunter. Every strand of hair, every scale of mail, every facial tic, it’s all right there on the page. And the pages themselves, broken up into ten- and sixteen-panel grids, crammed with words but still expressively illustrated? Yeah, I like that. It’s gonna be sad to see this go.

Meanwhile, in the front, titular portion of the book, we have another mediocre issue of Doom Patrol, where the eponymous characters appear on only one page. The rest of the issue involves set-ups, moving pieces around the board without accomplishing anything, and once again dredging up sackfuls of continuity that never needed to be dredged up.

This comic is Johnsian in its continuity-dredging. It refuses to “include and transcend,” choosing instead to “include, and include, and include some more, and wallow, wallow, wallow.” Remember those interviews where Keith Giffen said stuff, like, oh, “I’m determined to make the Doom Patrol a book that traffics in new concepts” and “the book is not about their past. It’s about their future” and “I’m going back to that idea that every issue of a comic is someone’s first”? All that pretty much went out the window by #4, when Blackest Night hit and zombified versions of forgotten 80s characters started showing up. This issue, meanwhile, brings in Thayer Jost from the Arcudi run, Oberon, from Mister Miracle and JLI (now with a ridiculous toupee), a few cheeky background references to old Doom Patrol adventures, the apparent death of Danny the World, and the return of Crazy Jane and the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man. There are one or two new characters and concepts mixed in there as well, but we only get them in conjunction with that which has come before. Rather than take the Doom Patrol and move forward, Giffen casts his eye back to the past, and, as seen in the last issue and this one, in an attempt to reconcile the Doom Patrol’s entire history, shoves all the various incarnations and portrayals into one box, even if they don’t fit. Geoff Johns does the same with his comics– bringing in the whole of a concept or character’s continuity, and using it as the driving force for the series. That’s not how I like my comics, but it crops up again and again in DC’s output. Why did Giffen lobby so hard for this comic? We’re seven issues in and he’s barely done anything with it, aside from that neat living black hole guy who hasn’t shown up for a few months. If this were the Drake or Morrison runs, our brains would be dribbled out of our ears by now.

Cliff Richards draws the Doom Patrol better than Matthew Clark. Justiniano drew the Doom Patrol better than Matt Clark. And yet, Clark remains the nominal regular artist on this book, despite the fact that he can’t do two full issues in a row. I hate to disparage the guy, but I can’t say the artwork here is worth waiting for.

If I buy any more issues of this series, it will be out of the dollar bins, or cheaper. As Tin says in the back, “Th-th-th-th-th-That’s all, folks!”

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