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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Teh New Comics. 

Yes, "Teh."

Hellboy: Makoma (or, A Tale Told By a Mummy in the New York City Explorers' Club on August 16, 1993) #1 of 2, (Mike Mignola, Richard Corben) - It could be I just have a touch of that particular brand of comic book fandom nostalgia, but I enjoy any Mignola story told with Hellboy about twice as much as those told with the other members of the BRPD at center stage. I was having this conversation last night, actually: the reason I enjoy myth so much is how cleanly and without fuss it melds the surreally supernatural with a completely unphased tone. Hellboy works so well because the title character adds that unphased, even worldweary tone to even the strangest tales. He is the perfect myth wanderer.

That said, I'm not sure I understand the apparently random shift in art duties between Mignola and Corben (not that I would ever complain about seeing either artist.) Sure, Corben basically handles the "flashback in Africa" duties, but doesn't do all such panels. (Witness tiny Hellboy confronted by an enormous rhino.) Ah, well. An entertaining read, and welcome after a few slightly dull BPRD shorts.

Supreme Power: Nighthawk #6 of 6, (Daniel Way, Steve Dillon) - I guess these two are the new kings of Mean-Spirited Popcorn Comics at Marvel. Which sounds harsher than I mean it: I rather enjoy their collaborations, and the sly sinister wit underlying most of Way's work appeals directly to my sensibilities. Without a doubt, this is not much more than the Batman and Joker story retold with a more modern sensibility (and a knife to the eye), but it's a solid read all the same, with a genuinely detestable villain. This writer and this artist may actually get me to pick up a Wolverine mini-series, god help me.

The Flying Friar, (Rich Johnston, Thomas Nachlik) - This book disappointed me to the point of actually pissing me off. What starts off as a compelling story of a preternaturally gifted monk-wannabe and his skeptical, scientifically oriented friend in a chokingly religious 17th century Italy turns out to be just another fucking Superman story, and not a subtle one at that. I don't know the story behind the creation of this book (did Johnston originally pitch it to DC as an Elseworlds title?) but really, I think the last thing the comic book world needs is another goddamn retelling of these done-to-death themes. It also bespeaks a lack of imagination: as troubled a company as Speakeasy Comics is, they manage to have a presence in comic book stores that other small publishers would kill for, and this is what they put out: an homage to one of the Big Two's staple corporate trademarks.

The writing and art are OK, servicable but not spectacular, but what are they in service to?

Hard Time #3, (Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, Brian Hurtt, Steve Bird) - Now this, on the other hand, is about as compelling a mainstream comic as I've ever seen. The story is extremely well-crafted, stretched to fit over a theoretically infinite run but dense enough with setting and character to contain surprising moments in every single issue rather than a lot of empty space. (New Breed of Comics Writers, please take note.) Somewhat surprising (and pleasing) is the use of Ethan's gift taking a more organic role in the story: in Season One it generally was "this thing that occasionally happened" that usually distracted from the main thrust of the story: Young Kid in Prison Environment. Now? It's fully a part of it, and has made it all only stronger. You are doing yourself a disservice if you aren't reading this book.

Y the Last Man #42, (Brian K. Vaughan, Goran Sudzuka) - This book tears at me. I want to talk about clever but not too-cute dialogue, distinct and well-formed characterizations, generally compelling ideas and turns of plot -- but then I realize this is issue fucking 42, and I no longer have any clue that this story has forward thrust. In series like Preacher, by issue 42, you're already tearing ass at mach 10 toward a distant but looming climax somewhere over the horizon, and you can feel it coming. Not so, here.

I'm switching to trades. Maybe I'll find more satisfaction there.

Fury: Peacemaker #1 of 6, (Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson) - I'm dying to know what Joe Kubert thinks of this. What we've got here is Garth Ennis doing straight-up war comics -- no, not like the meditative War Stories he did for Vertigo, but motherfucking war comics, with that sheen of naiveté washed away. The encounter at the end between a stranded young two-eyed Fury and a German command jeep is pretty typically Ennis -- grizzled old war vets who care more about the sport than netting convenient kills, men who do not realize how much trouble they would save their side by capping this guy Fury right fucking there. I figure this is another of Ennis's ruminations on How War Brings Out the Beast in Man, which from him can be either spectacular or pedantic.

I'm mildly skeptical, but I'll give it another issue.

The Punisher #30, (Garth Ennis, Leandro Fernandez) - The conclusion to "The Slavers," an arc that shows Ennis hitting another stride on a writer-character pairing I thought was running out of steam. This arc is the pitchest-black of a long series of nihilistically grim Punisher Max stories, and that is really fucking saying something; what Ennis taps on here created such a reaction in me that the last page got me, ah, emotional. There, I said it.

Here's the insidious thing about the Max series: Ennis has a gift for creating scenarios ("pulled from today's headlines," as they say, or perhaps "pulled from today's intelligence reports") that have such a ring of casual, horrific truth to them, that Frank Castle's response to the world seems to be one that makes perfect sense. Ennis implicates you by giving you Castle's thoughts, by presenting those who oppose his reasoning and methodology but really can't think of any way around it -- it all makes for a deeply personal, deeply unsettling experience.

So, yeah. I liked it.

Dead@17: Protectorate #3 of 3, (Alex Mamby, Benjamin & Marlena Hall) - An interesting case where a spinoff turns out to be far more compelling than the original property. This last issue is a bit of a wrap-up from beginning to end, so nothing new or particularly unexpected happens. Still, the ideas presented are compelling, told in perfect tone halfway between Deadly Serious and, well -- the kind of horror that has busty blondes in negligees as its heroines.

I didn't really need the end part, either, where it's All Tied Together into the original mini-series published lo those many moons ago. What we're given here is an epic enough history that not every single story has to tie in with that gothy chick what kills zombies with axes. Basically, give me an Expanded Universe, already.

And that's all she wrote.

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