Box of Comics: July 2009

You've read the best, now read the rest! The internet's most belated comic reviews are back! Thrill to my extended verbiage on fine comics periodicals such as Atomic Robo, Batman & Robin, the Captain Britain finale, two flavors of Doctor Who, the Metalocalypse/Goon crossover, and the first Spider-Man comic I've bought in ten years! I swear, I put half my pull list on the "wait for trade" pile and I'm still spending the same amount of money on singles!

Once again, thanks to the Discount Comic Book Service for being such nice chaps.

Amazing Spider-Man #600 by Dan Slott, John Romita Jr, Stan Lee, Marcos Martin, and about 100 other people (Marvel)

I haven't bought a Spider-Man comic, since, I dunno, Ultimate Spidey started. And if we're talking the "in-continuity" stuff, since Mackie and Byrne were dealing in the single digits. Now we're back in the triple digits, and here I am purchasing a Spider-Man comic. Why? Well, I just can't pass up a deal. What we have here is over 100 pages of brand-new material, with no ads, for a cover price of five bucks. And DCBS was selling it at half price. How could I refuse? It's a lovely, thick wad of comics-- this baby took me about an hour to read (I had to stop twice for snack breaks)!

Slott, Romita, et al. have produced the best Spider-Man comic I've read since I was eight years old or so, and they've done so by creating a comic that eight-year-old me would unabashedly love. It also evokes all the feelings of a classic Stan-Lee-and-company Annual from days gone by. Look at what we get for our paltry dollars: A 60+ page main story with fight scenes and guest stars galore, a wedding, classic villains, and a cast of dozens. The spirit of Spidey's 60s heyday still lives, vibrantly bursting forth from every page. And let's face it-- at this point, Spider-Man flows so mightily through John Romita Jr's veins that he doesn't have to draw anymore, only bleed all over the page; when it dries, it looks like this-- which is to say, amazing. Or perhaps spectacular. Or maybe "Web of." Okay, not that last one.

I was truly surprised-- and pleasantly so-- at how good this comic was. It's Spidey as you like him: In college! In trouble! In action! action! action! Okay, maybe not that first one, but everything else. We've got Spidey cracking jokes (I quite appreciated the reference to Family Guy's "everybody gets one" and the someone-else-remembers crack about Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place), we've got the umpteenth Doctor Octopus story (with a twist), we've got J. Jonah Jameson officiating his father's wedding to Aunt May-- it's like Stan-Lee-a-palooza all up in here. Then The Man himself stops by to pen a quick ditty (with Marcos Martin art!) about a Stan Lee stand-in chatting with Spidey about all his freakish transformations and continuity mishaps, until he's driven mad by it all and seeks out a shadowy Steve Ditko for guidance. And then the rest of the Spidey-writing crew stops by for back-up strips, and those go about how you'd expect: Waid and Doran do an obvious but still moving Uncle Ben story; Gale and Alberti deliver a pretty but empty story about how Spidey's life sucks; Guggenheim and the Breitweisers do the same Aunt May story that everybody does every 100 issues or so; Wells and Donovan poke some fun at the Spider-Mobile's expense; and Kelly and Fiumara get to be all portentous and stuff with a Madame Web flash-forward. Throw in some one-page gags and even a letters page (gasp!), and you've got yourself an epic comics package that makes everything 1965 all over again. Or 1976. Or 1987. Or 1994.

Will it get me to follow Spider-Man on a regular basis? Well, no-- but it was nice to stop by and see what some old friends were up to. Eight-year-old Bill(y) gives it his highest recommendation.

Atomic Robo: Shadow from Beyond Time #3 by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, and Jeff Powell (Red 5)

I believe I've figured out why I enjoy Brian Clevinger's writing on this book so much. Oh, you may think it's for the face-rocking action or the hilarious banter-- and well, it is-- but it's also for his unwavering commitment to verisimilitude. Recently, he's spent some time on the Atomic Robo site explaining why giant robots and aliens aren't gonna show up in the Roboverse anytime soon-- because, naturally, a world with giant robots and aliens wouldn't be a world exactly like our own. You may find this a bit hypocritical, considering the comic is about a talking robot that fights giant bugs, Lovecraftian beasts from beyond this dimension, and Nazi war machines, but I enjoy seeing everything fit into an uber-context, rather than a patchwork universe like DC or Marvel, where God is a known quantity, space travel's a piece of piss, and extinction events occur every two weeks without daily life being affected at all. That's why the back-and-forth dialogue between Robo and the supposedly time-traveling super-smart raptor Dr. Dinosaur in the Free Comic Book Day special was so awesome. But that's me.

Anyway, the comic. This issue jumps the story ahead by a few decades, as 1950s Robo reencounters the aforementioned Lovecraftian beast from beyond this dimension in a cross between an Atomic Age B-movie and the Left 4 Dead video game. It's as funny, cool, and exciting as every other issue of Atomic Robo, which just goes to show that this is probably the most consistently enjoyable comic on the stands. And you should buy it.

Also, Scott Wegener's art is as lovely and fluid as your favorite lager. The overlooked team of Pattison and Powell does an excellent job, too; every aspect of this comic is just damn pretty. Now buy the damned thing or I'm going to come to your house, use your bathroom, and leave the toilet seat up.

Batman & Robin #2 by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and let's be honest, you're not reading these credits, are you? (DC)

Can a comic be too good? Is such a thing possible? I'm afraid Morrison and Quitely may have discovered the alchemical formula to such a thing. Seriously, everything in this comic is so perfectly tuned: every word so considered, you can literally taste each line of dialogue; every panel so meticulously laid out, every image so precise, that the pages exist as modern architecture more than drawings on a page. Morrison and Quitely bring out the best in each other, of that there's no doubt, but their collaboration is such a well-oiled machine that the work almost feels rote and mechanical-- lifeless, by being too lively, or somesuch paradox. The rich art and seemingly minimalist scripting techniques that I've enjoyed so completely since I first saw them in concert on New X-Men in 2001 have perhaps oversaturated me; they hold less impact. Perhaps I'm just insane.

Anyway, the comic. It's a fast-paced sucker, this one, with a gorgeously laid-out fight scene taking up the bulk of the plot, though G-Mo and F-Qui crisscross these sequences with trademark after-the-fact Dick Grayson despair, though Alfred, of course, saves the day, as he always does. My biggest problem comes from Alex Sinclair's coloring, actually; the backgrounds shimmer like a pool of oil left floating in a parking lot. I'm not sure if it's a fluke of the printing process or a stylistic choice, but it is slightly off-putting to my eyes, at least. But that's a good thing. If this comic was any better it would probably suck-- going so far up one end of the scale that it appears at the other end, like a mighty Ouroboros.

Captain Britain and MI13 #15 by Paul Cornell, Leonard Kirk, Jay Leisten, Brian Reber, and Joe Caramagna (Marvel)

I have awfully heavy hackles, let me tell you, but several things still manage to raise them. Take the cancellation of this series, for example. I'm used to comics I like being canceled, as it's something that happens to me often. The unfortunate demise of this series could've been prevented, however, if someone in editorial took the unwieldy title-- and the fact that the good Captain is probably the least interesting character in his own book-- and changed it to Avengers U.K., or something similar. Avengers: England, BBC Avengers, The British Avengers, Wait, No, Not the Steed and Peel Ones. Whatever. That's what this comic's all about, after all-- England's Mightiest Heroes, defending queen and country. Those Avengers comics are pretty hot, these days. Maybe a different title and an occasional cameo from a sneering Norman Osborn would've given us another ten thousand readers or so. Who knows? The praise of the blogosphere clearly doesn't seem to have an effect on sales, otherwise the Top Ten would have stuff like Seaguy, Young Liars, Scalped, and this.

Anyway, the comic. This is the grand finale of my favorite Marvel series of the past, oh, 15 or so months. It gives us everything we could expect, in a Joss-Whedon-y "season finale that could totally be a series finale, and oops, it is" way. Tables turned, lost loves reunited, vampire torpedoes from space, a gratuitous Death's Head appearance, swordfights with Dracula, and probably the coolest final page from anything in a while. Paul Cornell writes the hell out of it, Leonard Kirk draws the hell out of it-- it's good comics. It's British comics.

Love 'em and leave 'em-- that's the British way. At least, that's what I've learned from James Bond and short-but-satisfying British television seasons. The nigh-paltry sum of 15 issues and an annual is certainly less than Cornell intended for this series, but I'm glad we got that much, at least.

(I would love Cornell to write a Blade series. He is the only one to ever make me care about Blade.)

Dethklok versus the Goon by Eric Powell and Dave Stewart, with some help from Brendon Small, and hey, they didn't credit a letterer, did they? (Dark Horse)

I've tried Eric Powell's Goon before, and it wasn't to my taste. I initially thought the same thing about Metalocaylpse, however, but giving it a few tries on Adult Swim eventually won me over completely. So when I saw that my favorite fictional animated heavy metal band, Dethklok, was crossing over with the Goon, I knew I had to give it a try. And so I did. And I didn't like it.

This reads like bad Metalocalypse fanfiction, which is weird, because creator Brendon Small was brought in to script doctor. Lines that might work in a late-night cartoon, however, fall completely flat on the page, but most of the dialogue just doesn't ring true as what the Dethklok characters would say, or perhaps how they'd say it. "Flat" and "untrue" describes the art, as well. I love Powell's art-- and when it comes to the Goonverse characters, he's right on. But when he draws the Dethklok gang, he does so in a flatter, less-defined, 2-D style, as best to ape the look of 2-D animation; it all just looks off somehow, contributing to the lifelessness of the whole thing.

I can see why they didn't credit a letter, though-- because the lettering is terrible. Maybe Augie De Blieck and I are the only folks who notice this kinda thing, but the first-- okay, maybe the third-- rule of lettering is (or should be) "don't cross your i's in the middle of a word." Down with the serifs! It makes the whole thing look ugly. The choice of font isn't exactly a winner, either. The writing was probably half-killed purely because of the lettering, which is, of course, antithetical.

So yeah, I'll stick to the cartoons.

Doctor Who: Room with a Déjà View by Rich "Bleeding Cool" Johnston, Eric J, Kris Carter, and Neil Uyetake (IDW)

If all time travel stories give Greg Burgas a headache, this one would probably kill him outright. Our hero, the Doctor, receives a distress call (or does he?) and investigates, landing in a isolated space station in the literal middle of nowhere (or is it?). There's been a murder (or has there?) and the prime suspect happens to be an alien fellow called a Counter, who lives his life backwards in time (or does h-- yes, yes he does), answering the Doctor's questions before he asks them. So, naturally, to unravel the mystery, the Doctor travels back in time-- over and over and over again-- to work out the chap's story. Because of this, a few sequences in the comic have to be read backwards to get the full poop, a clever little trick we'd probably never see on the TV show.

Rich Johnston nails the tenth Doctor's voice down pretty well, as the script sparkles with jokes, asides, and one-liners, but the emotional moments sell the whole story. The backwards interrogation scene is the central showcase, and the main conceit of the plot plays those clever tricks with time travel that we all like seeing. Eric J's art is often rough-hewn, but tells the story well enough; the script's clearly the star here, though.

I've praised a lot of comics to the hilt in this post, batting my eyes at them until they buy me one drink too many and whisk me off to their respective hotel rooms, but I have to say that this little book here is my comic of the month. I wouldn't mind seeing Rich get another crack at the Whoniverse. This is a really great little one-shot, doing the exact kind of thing these comic spin-offs should do: telling a good story in a manner the televised parent can't get away with.

Greek Street #1 by Peter Milligan, Davide Gianfelice, Patricia Mulvihill, and Clem Robins (DC/Vertigo)

I give every new Peter Milligan comic a chance, because Milligan's delivered a lot of my favorite comics over the years. This is not one of them. The premise, which adapts classic Greek tragedies to a dark, edgier, modern HBO setting is okay enough, sure, but the execution leaves me cold, and I liked Davide Gianfelice's artwork more in the first arc of Northlanders. It's worth picking up if you see it lying around, because it's one measly dollar for an oversized first issue, meaning everyone should give it a try, as it's bound to be the perfect comic for somebody. I'm not that guy, though.

My biggest gripe with this issue comes from the coloring, however. I guess it adheres to the standard Vertigo color palette, but it looks more like Patricia Mulvihill never met a shade of brown she didn't like. Browns, mauves, anything generally dark that bleeds well together with other tepid tones, making the art look more muddled than anything else. I picked up the second trade of Scalped, from the same colorist, and I could barely tell what was happening on some of the pages. Nothing really stands out; the characters on every page look like action figures sinking into mud. I don't know if it's the fault of the colors, or the paper stock, or both, but this is probably the drabbest comic you will see this summer.

Ignition City #4 by Warren Ellis, Gianluca Pagliarani, Chris Dreier, Digikore Studios, and why don't these comics credit letterers, darn it? (Avatar)

Ever notice the indicia in Avatar's books? "All characters as depicted in these stories are over the age of 18"? I'm sure that's left over from Avatar's, er, less savory publishing days, but since they've become the go-to place for original work from Ellis, Ennis, and even Moore, among others, it seems like something they could do away with, no?

Anyway, the comic. Ellis brings the goods here, giving us my favorite issue of the series thus far. The reason? It's almost all down to Doc Vukovic; every line he spews is absolute gold, from the bit you see above to "Science will fuck you!" and "They are stupider than mud that's been fucked by a donkey." What Vukovic really brings to the proceedings, though, is heart. Our protagonist Mary Raven is finally able to let her guard down, allowing Ellis to reveal the emotional core of the characters. The series works in detailing a place where all the glorious, forward-looking, optimistic pulp science fiction of old has a cynical shadow fall over it. The Buck Rogers analogue reveals the horror of the future that turned him into a broken man; a thug, spending all his time in the engine rooms of those old shiny ships, laments never having seen space; the old Doc has stopped wondering, stopped being curious, and it's ruined him. Cracks begin to show in the dark veneer, however, as Ellis lets a bit of hope and redemption leak through; the mad bastard is, of course, a big softie.

Gianluca Pagliarani's artwork looks less like lines on paper and more like woodcuts, or perhaps etchings on the side of a big metal spaceship that's starting to rust over. It's a fitting aesthetic for this book.

Lightning Round!

Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #2 by Kieron Gillen, Kano, Álvaro Lopez, Javier Rodriguez, and Nate Piekos (Marvel)

This book's likely to fly under the radar of most "mainstream" readers, I'd imagine, except for the completists (get all those space horse comics!), and that small sect of comics aficionados who enjoy "quality." And yet, this probably sells five times or more than Gillen's baby, Phonogram.

Anyway, the comic. It's cleverly written, with some fine character work for comics' favorite Bill, and well drawn by Kano. And it still has that snazzy Simonson reprint in the back, complete with eye-singing primary coloring.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #26 by Jane Espenson, Georges Jeanty, Andy Owens, Michelle Madsen, and Jimmy Betancourt (Dark Horse)

Joss Whedon has a strong pimp hand. This is why I'm still buying this series, which had, at one point, some forward plot momentum, but which took a year off to wander around and "find itself," like a pretentious teenager. And now Jane Espenson is kick-starting the plot again and throwing the whole cast in a room together because bloody hell, it's #26 and we haven't really done anything! When season nine-- which I'll probably buy, because pimp hand--  inevitably hits, I hope the cast shrinks considerably. We just can't care about faceless hordes of teen slayers getting impaled by faceless hordes of demons. The cast needs some serious trimming, and the thematic focus needs to go back to what it once was-- high school/college/growing up is hell. Not "my army is bigger than your army."

Anyway, the comic. Oz is back. Yay, Oz! Now can we get more racist Dracula?

Doctor Who #1 by Tony Lee, Al Davison, Lovern Kindzierski, and Robbie Robbins (IDW)

Here's the debut of the new Tony-Lee-driven ongoing Doctor Who series, and the last place we're going to be seeing the Tenth Doctor once David Tennant's final stories air at the end of this year. But even when Matt Smith graces our screen, we can still turn to IDW for more Doc Ten goodness. This issue's got the atmosphere of a 1970s episode with the gob of the Tenth Doctor, as he stumbles into old-timey Hollywood and runs into Charlie Chaplin-- oh, I'm sorry, Archie Maplin. That's the biggest problem with the issue-- the fact that something legal popped up at the last minute and turned Chaplin into Maplin. But that's what white-out is for. Meanwhile, Davison's art is solid, with some good facial work in spots, but the occasional awkward figure here or there. This crew seems to really "get it," and this series will sate Who fans' hunger as they wait for the next special to air.

I have no idea how Burgas does this reviewing thing every week. It took me two weeks just to write this.

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