Box of Comics: June 2009

And lo, the first round of cuts to my pull list hits, as I try to wean myself off single issues and into trade paperbacks. What did I decide to keep buying in singles? Join me under the jump for the stuff I bought that's worth typing about: robots, space horses, vampires, more vampires, and Batman. What's most surprising, dear reader? My favorite comic this month wasn't written by Grant Morrison. (Gasp!)

Atomic Robo: Shadow from Beyond Time #2 by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, and Jeff Powell (Red 5)

This, my friends, was my favorite comic from June 2009. Mark it in your ledger!

Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener have perfected their shared wavelength and created the most entertaining comic on the stands. Clevinger's plotting is perfectly pared down to the essentials-- after all that fun banter and exposition in part one, this episode's all action, but not without its fair share of hilarious dialogue, be it Charles Fort's mixture of eagerness and incredulity ("Edison would never allow the likes of you or I near his necrophone"), or Robo's carphone conversation with Nikola Tesla, in which he tries to act like nothing's wrong and he's not chasing down a giant Lovecraftian (literally!) beastie with a carful of lightning guns. Meanwhile, Wegener's artwork is crispier than fried chicken, his facial cartooning brilliant-- it's marvelous how he can eke so much emotion out of a character who, by all rights, doesn't have a face.

It's in the last handful of pages, however, where Clev and Weg (as they shall now be known) really hit me, as Robo literally turns things up to 11 and the reader is handed the most badass, exciting comic book moment I've read in ages. It's flawlessly paced, the epitome of action storytelling. "There's one underlying scientific principle common to all existence. ... Everything explodes." That's the best way to describe Atomic Robo-- explosively awesome. And not in the "Taco Bell put the fear of God in me" way.

Batman & Robin #1 by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Alex Sinclair, and Pat Brosseau (DC)

I suppose the title is technically "Batman and Robin," but I enjoy typing ampersands. What can I say about this comic that hasn't already been said? Nothing, probably. Heck, reviews of the second ish are already out and I've just sat down with the first! Egads, Bill, get with the times! Batman & Robin #1 is so last month!

G-Mo and F-Qui have this thing down to a literal science by now. They have become such a well-oiled machine that one expects nothing less than perfection from their collaborations, and we pretty much get that here. I loved the hell out of this thing, from the vibrant yellow background on the cover to the flying Batmobile to Quitely putting the sound effects into the art to the decrepit remnants of the giant mechanical dinosaur to the cutaway of the Bat-Bunker (which I did hope would be a bigger drawing, I admit), to Damian calling Alfred "Pennyworth" to the paracapes to the brilliantly disturbing new baddie Pyg. And now I'm out of breath. But yes, absolutely gorgeous and electric, giving me the same chills I got with Morrison and Quitely's first issue of New X-Men. You might as well call this New Batman, because that's what it is. I didn't think I'd care about Dick Grayson in the Batsuit, but I'd read it forever if these two Scottish blokes were in charge. Really, there is no need for another Batman comic besides this one.

So there, I've just repeated what everybody else said. But man! What a cool comic! Why couldn't Morrison's whole run to date have been like this?

Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #1 by Kieron Gillen, Kano, Alvaro Lopez, Javier Rodriguez, and Nate Piekos (Marvel)

Kieron Gillen writing pop comics about hip music and the cool cats who dance to it? I can't wrap my brain around that. Kieron Gillen writing an action comic about a space horse with the power of a Norse god who decides to kill an unstoppable force that devours planets? Hell yeah, sign me up.

I get the feeling that Gillen's going to be a big name in a couple years, one of those go-to guys at Marvel who follow the same path as Matt Fraction or Jason Aaron-- they'll wow you with their early creator-owned work and then start spinning cool superhero yarns, but they gotta start by paying their dues. And so Kieron Gillen gets to write a mini-series about one of my favorite characters, the noble alien warrior with a face like a dead horse who shares my name and flies a talking spaceship named Skuttlebutt. I'm surprised to see Beta Ray Bill getting the spotlight as regularly as he has been, what with the mini-series and one-shots and team books he's appeared in over the last few years. What once was maybe a novelty pet character of Walt Simonson's is apparently a favorite of some editor out there, and so we're blessed with books like Godhunter, which is about the titular Bill deciding Galactus needs to die, and going about the mission. It brings him into contact with SWORD, which puts him in the path of of a being who disintegrates folks with his cosmic organ music-- yes, that happens-- and then into a smackdown with one of Big G's heralds. And yeah, the story is pretty groovy, and it could be going places, so I'll be looking forward to the second issue.

Kano should probably be a star by now, but it seems he keeps getting overlooked for the big assignments, and that's a shame, as he really bridges the gap between a looser, cartoonier line, and more of what's the Marvel house style, but it gives the art a real verve.

This puppy's a whole lotta pages for four bucks and has no ads! What it does have, though, is a reprint of Thor #337, the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill, written and drawn by Walt Simonson. I've got this issue in my collection already, but what really struck me in perusing the reprint were the colors, especially when compared to the new story. George Roussos provided the original coloring to this old story; on newsprint, it looked cool, rife with Benday dots, but on these slick magazine pages, the bold flat colors throttle one's retinas-- in a good way, of course.

Take a look at the two panels above. Which ones excites you more? Yes, coloring is far more of an art in comics these days, and I do enjoy the various digital brush strokes you can see in Thor's face on the opening pages, but these bombastic colors in the back half of the mag really command my attention. A lot of coloring these days feels really over-rendered, which gives the pages a muddled feel, and certain contributes to the "sameyness" of Marvel art. Loads of careful attention is paid to the comics page these days, but I can't help be more enchanted by the almost violent, done-by-hand work of Simonson, Workman, and Roussos in some old issue of Thor.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Vampires by Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos, Dave Stewart, and Comicraft's Jimmy (Dark Horse)

I made sure to buy the one that had the Moon-n-Ba cover, because those two gents are awesome.

What Cloonan and Lolos give us here is something only tangentially related to the Buffyverse, but I'm glad that Buffy logo is on there, because that means a lot more people are gonna buy this comic, which is superbly crafted. Cloonan works away at the periphery of the Buffy mythos-- folks know vampires exist now, sure, and slayers are out there, but Nashua, New Hampshire is far from the Hellmouth (well, closer to the one in Cleveland), and dull teenage life is still dull teenage life. Jacob yearns for more, and he gets it-- at a price, of course. It's about choices, and bad ones, specifically.

Cloonan's known for her art, but she really sells the script here, especially with the mother character. Lolos' art is excellent as always, deftly cartooned, letting the primary characters be almost swallowed by the empty backgrounds, until the vampires bring everything into close-up.

Dave Stewart's colors are magnificent. There's a reason he's the best in the biz, and it helps that he falls more in line with what I talked about above. Many of the colors here are subdued-- lots of mauve, surprisingly-- but that works to the art's advantage. I dig Stewart's play with light, whether in the panel above with the parking lot lamps, or with the shadow that so often appears on the protagonist's face for the first half of the book.

So yeah, it's a good book, probably more akin to Demo than any issue of Buffy, and I hope the usual Buffy audience picks it up and responds well to it.

Lightning Round!

Astonishing X-Men #30 by Warren Ellis, Simone Bianchi, Andrea Silvestri, Simone Peruzzi, Morry Hollowell, and Chris Eliopoulos (Marvel)

A lot of folks rag on Simone Bianchi's art, and I'll say this: I really dig it. It's not the most dynamic, and the storytelling isn't necessarily brilliant, but my word, look at those ink washes! Every page of this looks like it wasn't sullied by mere human birth but instead brought down from Olympus by the god of storks himself and raised on pure, massaged Kobe beef. Other than that, the story finally decides to go places in its last chapter and the X-Men become dark, mean, genocidal maniacs. Maybe this is the beginnings of a dark, longform plot from Mr. Ellis, but it takes a lot to make me enjoy an X-Men comic, and I don't feel I'll be back for the next arc. Sorry, chaps.

Captain Britain & MI13 Annual #1/#14 by Paul Cornell, Mike Collins, Adrian Alphona, Leonard Kirk, Ardian Syaf, Livesay, Jay Leisten, Craig Yeun, Jay David Ramos, Christina Strain, Brian Reber, and Joe Caramanga (Marvel)

You know, I read the Annual, and still I feel that I don't know anything about Meggan or the game of cricket. There's not much in here to excite me or make me really care about the characters. Sorry, Paul! But I did very much enjoy #14. Yes, the opening negates the previous issue's balls-to-the-wall cliffhanger, but it does so using pieces earned from previous stories. Things are heating up for the big finale, and I'm looking forward to it, though I'm saddened that the end is near.

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #3 by Grant Morrison, Cameron Stewart, Dave Stewart (no relation), and Todd Klein (DC/Vertigo)

I was going to write about this here, but I'm now considering saving my thoughts for a larger standalone post. But it may just have redeemed this mini-series for me; I'll have to reread the series and get back to you later. Promise!

Two-in-One Review!

Doctor Who: Autopia by John Ostrander, Kelly Yates, Kris Carter, and Kubikiri (IDW)

Thor: The Trial of Thor by Peter Milligan, Cary Nord, Christina Strain, and Joe Caramanga (Marvel)

I try not to buy comics whose titles don't start with A, B, or C, but sometimes I make exceptions.

I've lumped these two comics together because they both provoke the same feeling in me, which is that they feel like comics you'd find in a three-for-a-dollar bin in the back of a comic shop, wedged between unloved issues of Dan Jurgens' Justice League run. By which I mean they both exude the less-than-sexy aroma of the dreaded "filler." This Thor book is not unlike a random Thor annual you'd find in the early 80s, only with better coloring, and the Doctor Who comic lacks any of the more interesting or exciting ideas and developments you'd find in the show; it's just what one fears when they open a licensed comic.

I know Ostrander and Milligan are good writers-- I've read their good writing! I feel they're more capable than this. Both comics just kinda go through the motions, shuffling towards the inevitable when they happen to run out of pages and the plot decides to stop. The artists do their best with the material-- Kelly Yates' cartooning is quite polished, and he storytells the hell out of a plot that mostly consists of guys and robots standing around; Cary Nord draws a mean fantasy barbarian comic, and this issue is no exception.

Neither book, however, thrilled, intrigued, or otherwise truly entertained me. There's nothing inherently wrong with these comics-- everybody does a professional job, nothing stands out as an eyesore-- but they're just kinda there. A mediocre comic from good creators is the most depressing comic of them all.

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