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Box of Comics: Jan/Feb 2009

Right, so I've finally managed to sit down and read all the pictoral periodicals I've accrued over these past two months of twenty-aught-niner from the fine folks at the Discount Comic Book Service (pluggity-plug-plug), and now I'm going to talk about them. Nothing says "up-to-date blogging adventure!" like "reviews of comics you read two months ago!"

Click on, my wayward son, to see my illuminating thoughts on the debuts of Agents of Atlas and Jersey Gods, Milligan's opening salvo on Hellblazer, Neil Gaiman's Batman headtrip, the conclusions of the bodacious Blue Beetle and that funny Final Crisis all the kids were talking about a few weeks ago, the continuing adventures of Captain Britain and the Umbrella Academy, and probably some more stuff about licensed books and whatever else is cool enough to talk about. Sorry, no visual aids this time. Scanner's borked. Feel free to add your own pictures.

Away!

Agents of Atlas #1 by that handsome Jeff Parker and ladies' man Carlo Pagulayan with a backup drawn by beefcake Benton Jew. Yes, Burgas is better at these credit boxes. Leave me alone, man, I'm too sexy for all that.

Don't be a hater, gator, but I still haven't read the first Agents of Atlas series, by Parker and Kirk. I'll get to it one of these days, I swear. That little factoid might explain why this first issue left me a bit cold, however. Now, I love me some Jeff Parker, from Marvel Adventures to Age of the Sentry, and obscure characters like Gorilla Man and Man Mountain Marko are my catnip, but something's off about this first issue, and I don't know if I can place it. Do I not enjoy Jeff Parker's scripts when they're chock-full of that continuity all the kids like? Is Dark Reign raining on my parade? Maybe I just expected it to be a bit more light-hearted and fun, despite the Angel-season-five setup. Pagulayan turns in some solidly-crafted work, yes, but it's a bit too quirk-free for me. The backup, with art by Benton Jew, is more along the lines of what I was expecting, with some neat ideas andgorgeously detailed artwork.

So yeah. I wish it could be a bit more standalone, but, by its nature, I suppose it cannot be so, and solicitations lead me to believe we'll be touring the Marvel Universe for some time. Well, I may not be sold on the opening, but I'll give it a few issues.

Batman #686 by Newbery Award winner Neil Gaiman and Kubert School graduate Andy Kubert, with Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair and I swear, I don't ignore anyone, I love you, letterer Jared K. Fletcher, son of Irwin

Ol' Scary Trousers takes a vacation from his career writing bestselling novels and promoting gorgeous films based on his work to spin a Batman yarn about an oddball collection of folks spinning Batman yarns. A lot of people are giving Gaiman some flack for what's apparently another story about stories, but I'm going to hang back and wait to see how the story concludes before I give any concrete comments on it. This issue is filled with some clever bits (Alfred's story is excellent, the Riddler parts especially) and some confounding bits, but I'm sure the confusion will work itself out by the end, like in all good tales.

Meanwhile, on the art side, Andy Kubert turns in the best work of his career. He throws in some fantastic flourishes, paying homage to the art styles of previous Bat-artists without ever becoming subsumed by them. Great stuff.

Blue Beetle #35-36 by Matt Sturges, Carlo Barberi, and friends

So here it is, another series fated to die simply because I started buying it. I know, I'm the kiss of death to mainstream comics, but hopefully we can have some fun while it lasts. And I did have some fun with Blue Beetle-- man, that John Rogers conclusion was something! And now we have the series finale, its story delivered by Sturges. Jaime found himself the inheritor of a legacy, and now we see Jaime's legacy-- and it's not necessarily a good one. The series has been about living up to what's come before but forging one's own path, becoming one's own man-- your superhero coming-of-age story. Farewell for now, Jaime Reyes-- let's hope you don't get killed in the next crossover.

This book wasn't just about Jaime, though; it was about the people around him, and I'll miss them even more, as they're far less likely to crop up in future comics pages. One of them dies in the finale, yes, and it wasn't who I expected, but the "big death" is not very big. In fact, most of the characters seem to get over it pretty quickly, aside from that one bit of foreshadowing that I bet will never fully coalesce, though it's out there, somewhere, waiting for a future writer to snatch it up and do it justice.

Carlo Barberi delivers capable artwork, though I can't help but miss Rafael Albuquerque.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #21-22 by Jane Espenson, Steven S. DeKnight, and Georges Jeanty

Espenson's issue never quite came together for me. She's one of my favorite writers to work on the actual Buffy show, but her comic scripting needs a bit more polishing. Also, I find the whole "audiences love that actual vampires are killing actual people on television" thing a bit too preposterous even for Buffy. Points for Clem, though.

Meanwhile, DeKnight turns in a fun issue featuring Kennedy, the bane of the Buffy Universe! This one's about slayers fighting demonic Hello Kitty, basically. You can't go wrong! Jeanty's art's always good, though I had trouble telling Satsu and Kennedy apart in some scenes. I am also missing the Scooby gang, who basically sit around and watch TV for both of these issues.

So that's Buffy for you. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have...

Captain Britain and MI:13 #9-10 by Paul Cornell, Leonard Kirk, and some other folks.

I'll be honest with you here, faithful readers, I don't have much to say about this series at the moment. I just wanted to make sure you all knew that it's Marvel's best comic, and getting better with every issue. Legitimate surprise! Actual change! Big moments! Cool characterizations-- heck, Blade is interesting! Blade! Also, it has Dracula arguing with Doctor Doom on the moon, and vampire rockets from space. The book consistently entertains, so those of you reading this who aren't buying it should run out, right now, to your local comics proprietor and/or online distributor of choice and pick up the first trade and all the recent singles and find out for yourself how damn good this series is. I will keep reminding you of this every month until it's either canceled or Paul Cornell puts a restraining order on me. (Venetian blinds won't stop me, Cornell!)

Doctor Who: The Forgotten #6 by Tony Lee and Kelly Yates

This mini is pretty much for hardcore fans only, and wraps up in fanwanky fashion. This is the kind of fanwank I can get behind, though, filled with winks and elbow-pokes to the core audience while still telling, you know, a story. I can't wait for Tony Lee to take on the Doctor Who ongoing this summer. Allons-y!

Doctor Who: The Whispering Gallery by Leah Moore, John Reppion, and Ben Templesmith

I bought this one-shot for the sole purpose of seeing Mad Ben Templesmith draw the Doctor, but Moore and Reppion give us a good little twist on the "emotionless society" trope, and show us that the Doctor's got more emotion than anybody. It allows Templesmith to draw weird monsters and cool fingers (seriously, best fingers ever, man). The faces of his Doctor and Martha appear quite photoreferenced in places-- to the point where enterprising fans can surely identify which episode/scene they come from-- but it merges well with his style. I'd love to see him draw the Doctor again. And maybe the Ood.

Final Crisis #6-7, Superman Beyond 3-D #2 by Grunt Mozzarella, Doug Mahnke, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Marco Rudy, and about 52 different inkers

Yeah. In the end, this didn't work for me the way I imagine it was supposed to. I'm not Tim Callahan or Jog (le blog). And yeah, I know it'll all work better if I read it all in a sitting the way G-Mozz intended. I feel, however, that this series reaches beyond its grasp-- and while that's good, I know Morrison is capable of grasping the unreachable, so it hurts when he doesn't. quite. make it.

The 3-D literally gives me a headache, but the ideas are what pop off the page most of all, and I like them. Ultimate Good vs. Ultimate Evil, Superman being truly super, the heroes of Limbo rising up despite their inadequacy, the message on Superman's tombstone-- yeah, cool. But Mandrakk is a laaaame villain, I'm sorry, and to have him pop up as Big-Bad-ex-machina at the end of Final Crisis, too? I don't dig that kind of storytelling. And I love Batman being the ultimate badass, but I feel like G-Mozz could have come up with something better for him to do.

The channel-surfing structure in this hurts it, overall. Morrison loves to cram and cram ideas on the page, and I usually revel in that, but it becomes overly cramped here. The Big Moments aren't big enough because they haven't had enough lead-in; we haven't been asked to care enough. Some characters vanish completely-- what became of Montoya?-- and everything's all tidied up by the end. I can't help but wonder about the man on the street in the DCU. The cosmos gets eaten by monsters beyond comprehension every year or so, and poor Ted just goes back to his job at the office like nothing happened, after months of being enslaved by Darkseid's will and having the skies turn red and all life in the universe almost end? Morrison might almost-- Grodd forgive me-- go overboard in his attempt to make the DCU as weird and wondrous as it could be. But at least we've got Aquaman back, right?

I don't think the storyline is as confusing as some people seem to think, but it's not the most well-plotted piece of literature, either. I mean... Zero Hour was more exciting than this, wasn't it? Ahh, to be young again.

With the end of Final Crisis and Blue Beetle, I'm pretty much done with the DCU. But at least there's Vertigo. For instance:

Hellblazer #251-252 by Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Stefano Landini

I have never ever read an issue of Hellblazer before. Heck, I haven't even seen the apparently-terribly-unfaithful Keanu Reeves vehicle Constantine. But for Peter Milligan's return to Vertigo, I will give it a shot. The character of John Constantine isn't quite what I was expecting-- I thought he was more like a Denis-Leary-in-Rescue-Me-sort-of-but-with-magic-instead-of-fires. Here we have a seemingly younger, calmer John Constantine, who's gone and found himself a normal girlfriend. Of course, trouble of the magic variety follows him through the door, so we've got mysterious scabs tied to Liverpool union strikes and evil aborted fetuses resurrected out of mystic scabbery and stuff. So Milligan's story is holding my attention so far.

I like Camuncoli's angular art, and he nails the expressions of the characters. Jamie Grant's coloring is brighter than I would've expected from this book's reputation, but I like the way it fits. So yeah, I'ma stick with this book for now. Let's see where it takes us! I expect a lot of identity themes, as fitting Milligan's modus operandi-- and I greatly miss his Human Target, so it's good to see more Vertigo work from him.

Jersey Cods #1 by Glen Brunswick and Dan McDaid

Oh, I'm sorry. Jersey Gods? Really? But the cover says Cods... I swear.

Anyway, I haven't seen nearly as much buzz about this book on the 'net like I thought I would. Now, me, I always love it when I get in on the ground floor of something that's going to be the Next Big Thing, like Atomic Robo or Umbrella Academy. Unfortunately, this isn't one of those times.

Here's Jersey Gods in a nutshell: Take Jack Kirby's New Gods, transplant them to Jersey, mix in some domestic sitcom, and bam, you've got it. The problem I have with this opening issue is that almost all the domestic sitcom bits-- you know, the god-married-to-a-human-living-in-the-suburbs I was promised by the series' very premise-- are missing. What's left is basically a direct take-off of the New Gods, so it ends up as almost pure Kirby pastiche, but with less fun dialogue. The main human character, Zoe, comes off as fairly delusional and annoying rather than identifiable.

I do dig Dan McDaid's art (I voted for him on Comic Book Idol), but quite a bit of the art here looks quite sketchy, though filled with Kirbyfied energy. Still, add in a typo or two and a word balloon's text getting cut off by page trim, and things look less polished than they should.

I love Kirby, but Kirby homages/pastiches rarely work for me. This series is getting another issue to hook me (mostly because I already pre-ordered it), but it's going to be an uphill battle, I'm afraid. This debut doesn't work for me.

Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3-4 by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba

The comics industry is a fickle mistress, however, and that's why this little title, written by a frontman to some band I'd never listened to, has become my favorite comic series. A lot of critics compare this book to Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, and I can see that-- the dysfunction in the cast, the blatant surrealism-- but Way's plots hold together in a logical way that, I feel, the Doom Patrol stories didn't. All those lovely weird ideas, like the demented Hazel and Cha Cha, the time-traveling assassins, the true face of God, the dude with a fishbowl for a head, etc., are wrapped up in what's becoming a marvelous little story structure. I love that I have no idea where this series is heading from issue to issue, but here, we get the true meaning of the mini's subtitle revealed as Number Five's past becomes illuminated! It's fabulous storytelling.

What's also fabulous storytelling is the gorgeous artwork, courtesy of Gabriel Ba's always-stunning stylings, and Dave "best in the biz" Stewart's excellent coloring-- dig the scene where Seance visits Heaven and all the color and shading drains out of the environment. That's some comic art, baby.

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