Life is like invading Russia. A blitz start, massed shakos, plumes dancing like a flustered henhouse; a period of svelte progress recorded in ebullient despatches as the enemy falls back; then the beginning of a long, morale-sapping trudge with rations getting shorter and the first snowflakes upon your face. The enemy burns Moscow and you yield to General January, whose very fingernails are icicles. Bitter retreat. Harrying Cossacks. Eventually you fall beneath a boy-gunner's grapeshot while crossing some Polish river not even marked on your general's map. (Julian Barnes, from Talking It Over)
Good Internet friends, I have something to confess. After learning that I am extremely negative about comics this past week, I was chastened. I was morose. I looked deep into my black heart of black blackness and shuddered. I looked at myself in the mirror and didn't like what I saw. I looked again ... still, I loathed what I had become. My wife and children lived in fear!!!!! Even my purchase of some sweet new shoes couldn't remove the stain on my soul!
But what could I do? I have to keep reviewing comics, after all. If we don't post regularly here, Our Dread Lord and Master, who can control wills from thousands of miles away using only his brain, will turn his frightful power my way, and ... well, you know what happens then. Plus, I know the several readers of my reviews count on my apoplexy and bile to feel better about themselves. "I may have a goiter and smell vaguely of eels and my last date was when my mother forced me to go to the eighth-grade dance with my great-aunt Mabel, but at least I'm not that dude!" I get it, I do. But I had to change, didn't I?
Well, if I couldn't change, at least I could try to introduce a more positive element to my reviews. So, this week, I asked my good friend Ivan Hart Dominguez-Carson (he's an ethnic rainbow!) to help me review this week's books. Ivan is a swell guy who's helped me get through many of the darkest moments of my life, and I was happy to have him help me get through this one. So, without further ado, let's get to the comics of 5 October 2011. Are you ready, Ivan?
Ivan: Whoo-hoo, motherfuckers!!!!!!!!!!
Action Comics #2 ("In Chains") by Grant "I draw my own damned spaceships, fanboys!" Morrison (writer), Rags Morales (penciller), Brent Anderson (artist), Rick Bryant (inker), Brad Anderson (colorist), and Patrick Brosseau (letterer). $3.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC.
Greg: So, wow. I haven't often been totally bored by a Grant Morrison comic, but this one bored me almost completely. In this issue, Lex Luthor tortures Superman, and then Superman escapes because, well, he's goddamned Superman. Some dude who's still hung up on Lois decides to fuse himself to armor so he can become a "steel soldier" and win back Lois's affection, while Luthor, it turns out, is chatting with an alien spaceship about taking out Superman, but he doesn't know he's chatting with an alien spaceship. The only interesting thing about this comic is seeing Luthor lose his shit a bit at the end when he doesn't know who he's talking to. Other than that, blah. What'd you think, Ivan?
Ivan: Holy shit, dude, you're insane. I love you and all, but you're insane. Look at those first few pages - Lex is torturing Superman and Supes is all, like, fuck you, man! You can't keep him down! And that dude, Doctor Irons, he's all like "You can't torture people, man!" and Lex is like, "He's not a person, motherfucker!" so Dr. Irons totally quits. That's hardcore. It's like some bad-ass bald guy showdown. And come on, how awesome is it that they can't shoot Superman's cape? You don't fucking mess with Superman's cape! And how awesome is it when Superman totally turns the tables on them and escapes. Ha, ha, fuck you, Luthor! And I like how it sets up this whole "man versus Superman" thing. That's gonna be epic!
Greg: But, Ivan, this reads like everyone is in high school. That John Corben guy who's hung up on Lois, he actually whines in the middle of this that he regrew his mustache? Really? And then he thinks that turning himself into a steel-clad monster will win her back, like she's a trophy that Superman stole? Plus, I love that Morrison, master of letting readers think for themselves, actually has Dr. Exposition tell Corben that the armor will royally fuck him up. And Luthor's whiny insistence that everyone call Superman "it" is annoying, as well. I guess Morrison is trying to show us that Luthor, for all his bluster, is really a big wuss, but then why should anyone give a crap about his battle with Superman? I do like that Superman is kind of a bully, though, even as he stands up to a bigger bully. Still, even that scene is a bunch of petulant children posturing.
Ivan: Man, Superman is bad-ass in this comic. I want a bad-ass Superman, man! Plus, he's charming with the ladies. Aw yeah!
Greg: I don't get the last panel when he escapes. Morales just shows him jumping through the air in the middle of the city. Where did he come from? The blimp? Plus, I should note that this is the second issue and Morales already needs help on the art. That doesn't bode well.
Ivan: You're totally too hard on this comic, dude. This is like Michael Bay directing a Superman movie. Ass-kicking, poking fun at the Man, blowing shit up, some tortured dude wanted to get laid but turning evil to do it - what more could you want?
Greg: I think you've made my point for me. This is very by-the-numbers. Everything in this comic is expected. I'm just waiting for something like this:
Ivan: Oh, man, that would be awesome! Superman totally walking away from an explosion without caring, because he's totally bad-ass.
Greg: Yeah, well, I'm just not interested in a Michael Bay take on Superman.
Ivan: Dude, Transformers 3 grossed over a billion dollars. And it wasn't because of her.
Greg: I don't know, this just bored me. And it's $3.99 for 20 pages of story. Eight pages of Morrison and Morales talking about how great the other is isn't very appealing.
Ivan: Man, you're way off base. This is an awesome way to spend a few minutes. Superman kicking ass and putting Luthor is his place. What's not to love?
Greg's Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆Ivan's Rating: M M M M M M M M M M M
Greg: Um, Ivan - you gave it 11 "bombs."
Ivan: That's because it's totally the bomb, and its awesomeness cannot be contained on an "out-of-ten" scale! IT GOES TO MOTHERFUCKING ELEVEN!!!!!!
One totally Airwolf panel:
Greg: Last time, I waxed a bit rhapsodic about Casanova without really going into it. I was just so happy that Fraction had managed to crawl back from the darkness of Fear Itself and write a glorious next chapter of his epic that I couldn't think straight for a bit. But here's the point about "Avaritia" so far - Casanova is in despair, making this a far darker chapter than we've seen so far, but Fraction has done such a wonderful job with the characters prior to this that we feel his pain, and when he sees some hope and grabs at it desperately, we want him to succeed so badly. Fraction has gotten me so invested in these characters that through all the goofiness, I desperately want Casanova to find some measure of peace. That he probably won't is actually hard to take, for me, at least.
Fraction's meta-commentary might overshadow these concerns, as he twists the characters into knots as they ponder aloud the reasons for their actions (see below) and comment on why things are actually in this issue (Luther Diamond apparently writes and draws Casanova in some universes). It's all very clever, and the frenetic pace of the book (which bored some people in issue #1) masks the pain Casanova is feeling, until Fraction brings things to a screeching halt and we catch up to his sadness. This is a master job of manipulating the reader, but I, for one, don't care. Fraction is smart enough to stop short of overdoing it, so that the referential dialogue when Casanova attacks the boat (when he arrives, the word balloon reads "(Superficial greeting/Soderbergh homage/Reference!)" and this continues like that for a few pages) doesn't become too annoyingly self-conscious but allows the reader to glimpse at the façades Casanova and Luther have erected. Because so much of this book is artifice (in a good way), the removal of that artifice hits harder. Plus, Bá and Peter are unbelievable. I'd like to write more about the art, but I won't right now, because I might never stop. What did you think, Ivan?
Ivan: Dude, in this comic there's a naked woman wearing only cowboy boots and a shit-ton of people getting blown apart by bullets. I FUCKING LOVED IT!!!!!
Greg: Okay. I guess that's all we're going to hear from Ivan about this. I'll just finish by saying that Casanova is excellent. If you haven't been reading along, it's not the kind of book you can just pick up on a lark (unless you really like beautiful art), but it's still one of the best comics out there. I'm just so glad Fraction can, at least, bring the awesome on this book.
Greg's Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½Ivan's Rating: ⊥ ⊥ ⊥ ⊥ ⊥ ⊥ ⊥ ⊥ ⊥ ⊥ ⊥
Greg: Are those ... what I think they are?
Ivan: FULL FRONTAL, DUDE!!!!!!
One totally Airwolf panel:
Ivan: God DAMN, this is a funny issue. Have you read all of these comics, Burgas?
Greg: Sure. I've been reading Chew since it began.
Ivan: You really ought to write more about it. I mean, this is fucking funny. Look at that dude's pit stains!
Greg: I do write about it. I write about every issue, and last year it was the best ongoing series, in my humble opinion. Every year at San Diego, I talk to the writer and artist and then, in my convention report, I write about how good the comic is. This year I wrote about how I gave my cousin the first "Omnivore Edition" and then I wrote about how much she loved the comic.
Ivan: Huh. I must have missed that. I mean, if I had known how fucking funny this comic is - he's dancing like Michael Jackson! - I would have read it before this. I mean, you really ought to focus on this and not write all that negative shit so much. Look what it's done to your soul. If you wrote about this comic more often, you could totally look like me.
Greg: Ivan, you don't look like that.
Ivan: Compared to you, I do.
Greg: Never mind. What else did you like about this issue?
Ivan: Man, that dude gets fired and he has to go to work in traffic and wear that ridiculous uniform. That's awesome. And he solves that crime by licking blood and motor oil? AWESOME!
Greg: Well, that's his ability.
Ivan: And that artist dude, he's awesome. He adds all those hilarious notes to the art, and when Tony flashes back to what happened after he licks stuff, he has that cool, different kind of coloring. It's awesome.
Greg: Yeah. Every issue is as good or better than this one.
Ivan: Damn, man, you really should write more about this comic. It's the balls.
Greg: Yes, I really should. I just don't praise it enough.
Ivan: Now you're talking!
Greg's Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆Ivan's Rating: N N N N N N N N N N N
Greg: Skull and crossbones?
Ivan: He totally licks blood and motor oil!
One totally Airwolf panel:
Greg: Corey and Diecidue begin their second arc on Moriarty, and it's better than the ending of the first arc. I'm not sure if Corey struggles with endings (and problem with a lot of comic book writers, it seems) or if he futzed with it slightly because the book got greenlit as an ongoing before the fourth issue shipped, but it felt a bit off. I don't know if it was a consequence of being able to continue the book, but while I did enjoy the first arc, this issue feels like it might be a stronger one.
Ivan: He totally slices that dude's fingers off!
Greg: Yes, he does. So, in this issue, Professor Moriarty, having glimpsed the moment of his death, heads to Burma to seek out an old friend who, he feels, has something to do with his future. Unfortunately for him, the friend has disappeared, the natives are restless, and the British feel a bit like they're under siege even though nothing overt has happened. It's a nice, tense situation, and Corey builds both the delicate political atmosphere and the spookier, esoteric atmosphere very well. The final panel seems a bit abrupt, but if Bill Willingham can end issues of Fables almost in the middle of conversations, so can Corey, damn it! What did you think, Ivan?
Ivan: Man, if you liked it, can't you just say you liked it? Why do you have to use words like "esoteric"? Get a grip, man.
Greg: I happen to know that you know exactly what "esoteric" means, sir.
Ivan: Well, shit, of course I know what it means, but why do you have to use it? Listen up: Moriarty has a weird, creepy dream, he goes to Burma, weird shit goes down. Simple!
Greg: You used "weird" twice.
Ivan: That's because it's motherfucking weird, man! I call it like I fucking see it!
Greg: You weren't bothered by the fact that Moriarty claims to be an agent of the East India Company, when in fact, the East India Company no longer existed in 1914? Or the fact that we don't even know this takes place in 1914 from this issue, because Corey uses "The Present" instead of "1914," which is when the first arc took place?
Ivan: Dude, you're thinking too hard again. I can see the smoke coming out of your ears.
Greg: Well, that didn't annoy me too much - I just happened to know that the East India Company wasn't around in 1914, so I checked. But that also doesn't mean I have to use the same adjective over and over.
Ivan: When it's a good adjective, I say go for it.
Greg's Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆Ivan's Rating: M M M M M M M M M M ½
Greg: Only 10½ "bombs," Ivan? What's that about?
Ivan: Not enough violence, man. And books set in the past, with all that history, make my head hurt. Unless Robert Downey Junior or Russell Crowe or Mel Gibson is fucking shit up.
One totally Airwolf panel:
Greg: The guy who runs my comic book store, who absorbed quite a lot of the customers who once went to Atomic Comics, has begun stocking a few more unusual comics, including Adrian Tomine's latest. Not only that, he had multiple copies! I didn't pre-order this, but I figured I'd give it a look. Mainly because I want him to keep stocking slightly less mainstream books! Power to the people!
Ivan: Dude, you're weird.
Greg: Tell me something I don't know. Anyway, Tomine has a couple of stories in this, plus a short, caustic strip at the end (caustic? Adrian Tomine? quelle surprise!) --
Ivan: Dude, you're doing it again.
Greg: -- I'm having fun, thank you very much. Anyway, the first story is about Harold, a gardener who invents a new art form he calls "hortisculpture." It involves terra cotta sculptures through which Harold grows plants so that they become part of the sculpture. He decides he's going to make a fortune on this. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out that way. It's a viciously humorous take on art and the artist, as Harold tries to make a go of it in the face of many doubters. Like the other Tomine stuff I've read (not a lot, I admit), his characters might not be the nicest people, but they do sound real (even though they're a bit funnier than most people). Tomine manages to make interesting points about what it means to create and to compromise and when it's time to let go without being preachy. Even when Harold pontificates on the meaning of art, he comes off as clownish despite his words having some heft. It's a keen little story. Anything to say, Ivan?
Ivan (watching CSI: Miami and eating beef jerky): Not right now, dude.
Greg: The second story is the story of an unnamed girl who discovers that she resembles an Internet porn model named Amber Sweet. She doesn't quite know how to handle it - her friends aren't terribly supportive (they mock her for being attractive enough that she's mistaken for a porn star) and the men in her life inevitably let her down because they can't separate the fantasy from the reality. After some years in which she changes her appearance, she meets Amber and they share a nice moment (I won't tell you what happens). In some ways, this is a sweeter story (no pun intended) than Harold's, even though Tomine's view of men is a bit odd - it is possible that a large majority of men would have no idea who Amber Sweet is, so the fact that everyone but one guy thinks she's the model is kind of bizarre. "Amber Sweet" is an unusual love story, not one between the narrator and any man, but between the narrator and this mysterious woman whom she resembles. As with Harold's story, Tomine makes his points subtly, which is nice.
Finally, the final strip (after a letters column that seems really harsh toward Tomine - is this the standard when it comes to his letters columns?) is about Tomine himself and his struggles to produce single issues in a world of graphic novels. It's a bit whiny even though it's hilarious, and the final image, while something no one would ever say out loud, is pretty spot on. Such is the cruel world of comic book publishing!
So Optic Nerve is a good comic. I know, that's not surprising. I just felt like saying it. Ivan?
Ivan (watching Hooters Swimsuit Pageant on Spike TV and drinking Old Milwaukie): Yeah, I'll get to it. Ummm ...
Greg: That's okay, we'll move on.
Greg's Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆Ivan's Rating: M M M M M M M M M M
Greg: Ten bombs, Ivan? Out of ten? Did you even read this?
Ivan: Yeah, when I had to pinch a loaf the other day. Look, there were too many words in this issue and no tits in that porn story - what was up with that? - but you know, that Tomine dude worked on it, and D & Q published it, and it probably took him a long time, and I respect that. I mean, it's not like I've ever written or drawn a comic, right? Right?
Greg (throwing himself into a Laz-E-Boy and reaching for the Old Milwaukie): So, Hooters Swimsuit Pageant?
One totally Airwolf panel:
Ivan: You know what I don't get? Okay, so this comic is set in 1916, right, so it already makes my head hurt. But I can let it go, because it has that freaky dude, and if there's only two things cooler than freaky dudes, and that's freaky chicks and chicks who love freaky dudes. But there's freaky dude, showing the two kids his giant motherfucking bear trap and daring one of them to put his hand in it and then offering the other one money to spring the trap, and the main character doesn't find this weird? He even says they're going to hitch a ride with him from Chicago to Mississippi? Really? Is that kid that stupid?
Greg: It sounds to me like you're thinking about this, Ivan.
Ivan: Shit, you're right. It's just a comic book, right? How are we going to have the freaky dude attack and try to slaughter the two kids if Jack doesn't act like an idiot? And that's all that matters, right - the freaky dude and his freaky teeth!
Greg: Yeah, Snyder and Tuft were building the tension nicely throughout the entire issue. Even that bear trap scene was really well done - very tense and scary, kind of like the Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter. Even so, it's a little silly that Jack is so dumb that he's going to hit the road with this dude. I mean, Snyder and Tuft deliberately set the book in 1916 so they can show kids as a bit more trusting than the ones today, but that's a stretch. "Sorry, crazy bear trap dude, we'll find another way south."
Ivan: I like that he doesn't know what we know about Sam, too. That was pretty cool.
Greg: Especially because of what he says while they're eating dinner.
Greg's Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆Ivan's Rating: M M M M M M M M M M
Greg: I'm not even going to ask.
One totally Airwolf panel:
Thunderbolts #164 ("Golden Age Thunderbolts") by Jeff Parker (writer), Kev Walker (penciler), Terry Pallot (inker), Fabio D'Auria (colorist), Frank Martin (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel.
Greg: We're back in World War II, as the trapped-in-the-past Thunderbolts meet up with the Invaders, who are trying to find the Original Human Torch, who's been captured by Baron Zemo and the Red Skull. Obviously, a lot of this is the good guys figuring out where the bad guys are and attacking, while the bad guys cook up dastardly things, but Parker throws a nice spanner in the works --
Greg: -- because the Thunderbolts aren't sure what they should do. If the Invaders kill Zemo, will they cease to exist? So there's some hesitation, but because Zemo has a power source for the tower (which is out of power), they need to go get him so they can leave 1943. Meanwhile, of course, they'll have to fight a bunch of Human Torches. Naturally.
Ivan: Dude, here's how you describe this book: Captain America and scantily-clad chicks fight motherfucking Nazis. SOLD!
Greg: Well, I mean, Satana doesn't actually fight anyone yet ...
Ivan: IT DOESN'T MATTER! By the time everyone figures that out, they've already bought the book, right? And she is scantily-clad, isn't she? And she totally presses her boobs up against Namor, who you know wants to hit that. And Man-Thing is totally awesome in this comic. And that troll girl totally eats a raw fish! COME ON!!!!!
Greg: Okay, sure. What Ivan said. Plus, Walker's art is great. That's not surprising.
Greg's Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆Ivan's Rating: M M M M M M M M M M M
Greg: What do you mean? I liked this comic!
Ivan: Dude, seriously. This comic features NAZI HUMAN TORCHES! If that's not an 11-out-of-10, I don't know what the fuck is. But whatever. Parker's not going to come to my house and beat me up.
Greg: I don't think he'd do that to me.
Ivan: Whatever. Have you seen Parker? He will totally fuck you up.
Greg: I don't think that's Parker.
Ivan: Whatever. He'll totally send his pal Erika to fuck you up.
Greg: Yeah, she could totally kick my ass. But I will not be intimidated!!!!!
Ivan: Dude, it's your funeral.
One totally Airwolf panel:
Greg: Did you get this, Ivan?
Ivan: Vampires? FUCK YEAH!
Hark! a Vagrant by Kate Beaton (writer/artist). $19.95, 166 pgs, BW, Drawn & Quarterly.
Greg: How about this?
Ivan: Does it have Sexy Batman in it?
Greg: I don't know, let me check --
Ivan: SEXY BATMAN OR GTFO!!!!
Greg: -- Yes, yes, it has Sexy Batman!
I'd like to thank Ivan for the help this week. I think he healed my dark, dark soul. What a balm in Gilead he was! I think, I feel ...
Let's check out The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):
1. "White Russian" - Marillion (1987) "I'm uptight, can't sleep at night, I can't pretend everything's all right"2. "Ode to a Life" - Mary's Danish (1992) "With miles still to fall, my voice is screaming out"3. "Zombie Eaters" - Faith No More (1989) "I hope you never leave, 'cause who would hear me scream"4. "Doing It Again" - Token Entry (1990) "Other people can be so mean well I wish I had a friend"5. "Snowbound" - Genesis (1978) "And here they come to play their magic games, carving names upon your frozen hand"6. "Any Way You Want It" - Journey (1980) "I was alone, I never knew what good love could do"7. "Stacked Actors" - Foo Fighters (1999) "One more for hire, a wonderful liar, I think it's time we all should come clean"8. "The Stars of Track and Field" - Belle & Sebastian (1996) "But when she's on her back, she had the knowledge to get her into college"9. "Love Ain't For Keeping" - The Who (1971) "Black ash from the foundry hangs like a hood; but the air is perfumed by the burning firewood" 10. "Coal Not Dole" - Chumbawamba (2003) "There'll always be a happy hour for those with money, jobs and power"
And now, just for fun, here's a Totally Random Movie Quote!
"This is no damned book! Somebody or something is rotten in the Company!""You never complained 'til yesterday.""You didn't start killing my friends until yesterday!"
Yeah, that would be an issue, wouldn't it? Guess away! And have a great day, everyone!