Review Revue

All-Star Superman #12 concludes what’s been one of the most moving, inventive, and just plain fun comic reading experiences of my life. I want to devote a longer post to it later this weekend, but in the meantime here’s some talk about this past month of comics…

  • Batman Detective Comics #848
  • Guerillas #1
  • Criminal #5
  • Scalped #21
  • The Lone Ranger #13
  • Buffy: The Vampire Slayer #18
  • Ex Machina #38
  • Final Crisis: Revelations #2
  • Lucky #2

Reviews after the jump…

Detective Comics #848 underwhelms this week, continuing to elicit an overall lukewarm and quickly withering response in me to the “Heart of Hush,” story arc in general. Last month I expressed my general antipathy for Hush as a character and the belabored flashbacks necessary (micro-thin veneer of pathos? Check. My total lack of interest? Check.) to make Hush remotely interesting. At this point I’m wondering if Dini is just in a pissing match with Grant Morrison’s Batman R.I.P. arc as they’ve got parallel criminal masterminds who have knowledge of Batman’s secret identity enlisting other villains to wear Batman down to presumably kill/break him once and for all. For real this time, definitely (maybe). While Batman R.I.P. is shockingly absurd and surreal at times– it’s genuinely intriguing and suspenseful. When was the last time Batman was so unpredictable? (Or poorly dressed, I mean a purple cowl w/ clashing red/yellow tights? Girl, that outfit is busted….)

Relative to the lysergic highs of Morrison’s opus, Dini’s more coherent but dull storyline is definitely suffering by comparison. Aside from some face-kicks that just might mildly thrizzle the ISB (or like-minded face-kicking enthusiasts), DC#848 is a dud despite potential for high-stakes action (the lives of Catwoman and some random kidnapped kid, “hang in the balance!”). But since this is a superhero book, “high-stakes action” is by definition: average, and the issue’s ending takes titular literalism to a place where groans go to die.

And those groans are only then resurrected, ‘roided-up, and freed to smash pre-existing expectations of mediocrity with… Guerillas #1, a Vietnam war book with the worst twist-at-the-end, this side of a stirred-Hákarl martini. Right up till the end the book is innocuous and enjoyable enough, the art serviceable if lacking in subtlety as it conveys the story of cowardly new recruit to the US armed forces. Flashing between the horrors of war and the more mundane traumas that led him to enlisting, the story seemed to be a genre exercise– Vietnam war as bildungsroman. Page after page we get brief introductions to other soldiers before they’re immediate shot and killed bye enemy snipers. The cowardly private manages to survive the massacre of his entire troop, with a large mass of Viet Cong on the verge of discovering him when he is miraculously rescued by savage, shadowy soldiers.

And spoilers be damned with a cover price of $5.99, I can’t warn enough folks away– the last page reveals that dude got rescued by ARMED MONKEYS in G.I. fatigues. Even as a comic-book-reading anti-war pinko-mofo-liberal post-punked so-and-so, I gotta say I was bothered by such a silly-ass rendering of a very real war. I’m sure there are folks who are gonna get some LAFFS out of monkeys shooting up Viet Cong, but this makes Marvel Apes seem outright classy in comparison. Cripes, I can’t believe I even had to type a sentence that distinguishes a comic that features Captain America as a gorilla as classier than any other comic.

All is not dark this week, or rather there’s some darkness worth recommending with Criminal #5 . Part two of, “Bad Night” continues to smolder and spark as Jacob’s life continues to run off the proverbial rails. I’m running out of synonyms for both “murky” and “awesome,” to describe Brubaker’s compelling crime series, but suffice it say that you get something “murksome,” when you add together: conflicted sex, hastily drawn guns, a dead body, and Frank Kafka chiming in with his cartoon P.I. advice.

Speaking of running out of ways to say something’s “murksome,” Scalped #21 kicks off a new storyline, “The Gravel In Your Guts.” With the previous arc settling into a nihilistic idyll, we see more action in this issue than we’ve seen in the past three. Opening with a classic flash-forward cliff-hanger, Red Crow reluctantly enters a cafe an unloads his gun-clip inside before jumping back to the present and leaving us dangling. We then catch up with Dino Poor Bear getting pulled over, robbed, and forced to act as a drug courier for one of Red Crow’s thugish cops.

Even with two unnamed dead bodies in the casino, it’s a relatively bloodless issue and this relative lack of violence seems to be about all the good will writer Jason Aaron can muster for his characters. For every reprieve from trauma and bloodshed– it only seems to make these characters’ collective future seem fraught with greater misery. At the end of the issue Red Crow is offered a significant opportunity for redemption, but it hinges on him living a “harmonius life. No fighting, no arguing. Everything [he does] must help to purify this soul.” And with our little glimpse of the future and the fact that this is Scalped we’re reading, well there’s a better chance of me endorsing a national security strategy centered around a counter-insurgency strike force composed of primates. Heeeey, I have an idea for a comic to pitch…..

The Lone Ranger #13 is slowly paced for a comic that’s primary action is set putting out a fire. A slow pace isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but instead of drawing out tension the way Scalped did with their last arc, the Lone Ranger seems to be losing momentum. There just isn’t a whole lot happening in the issue or behind the scenes to keep me on the hook. I started reading LR based on the recommendation of an acquaintance, skeptical that I’d be interested in the grim and gritty revamp™ of the classic Western hero. Surprisingly, I loved it. The comic was faithful to the story and origin (a group of betrayed Texas Rangers left for dead, with a lone survivor) but matched its tone to the bleakness of the modern Western film, rather than the grinning cheer of the original radio serials. But after a long hiatus the title has returned without a strong direction, just stretching established plot threads without giving us a whole lot more to chew on.

Buffy: TVSS8 #18 is packed-full of the pithy Joss Whedon dialogue that’s enamored nerds everywhere. [My laptop's presently out of power, I'll post a particularly pithy panel por example later on, I promise...] Things are getting more confusing for Buffy in the far-flung future, but despite a few cliff-hanger conflicts and a double-cross– this issue is breezy and I daresay, “witty romp” in classic Whedon style.

Ex Machina #38 is another title that seems to have lost some of its ineffable zang. Some solid character stuff going on (Helloooo, chief!) but the political parallels and issues Brian K. Vaughn raises by framing the action in NYC’s 2004 Republican convention would be more compelling if we didn’t presently have a white hot presidential race demanding our attention .

Final Crisis: Revelations 2 of 5 is a weird read, and not in a good way. I’m picking it up because I’m a Greg Rucka fan but will probably drop it after this second less-than-satisfying issue. FC: Revelations attempts to map out the metaphysics of the DC universe, and it’s just a mess of muddily rendered characters, shallow religious allusions, and strange, strange choices. I recently finished re-reading all the Gotham Central TPBs and I can’t help but miss the more mundane police detectives we used to know. Renee Montoya (now the Question,) and Crispus Allen (now the Spectre) are no longer (and haven’t been for a while) relatable characters thanks to bloated storylines like the largely mediocre 52 and just-plain-awful, Countdown to Final Crisis. Having skipped much of the latter story, Montoya’s connection to the already hokey cult of the “crime bible” stuff was lost on me as was any emotional resonance with Crispus Allen’s turgid Spectre-related inner turmoil.

Honestly, I don’t mind that Montoya is the Question, it’s a character evolution that has a lot of promise (which has largely been squandered). Allen as the Spectre is a less pleasing choice, it just seems like a lazy mish-mash of DC past/present that clashes with both characters roots other than that the original Spectre was a cop, too. (The Spectre as a character has kind of jumped the shark in a lot of ways but that’s a whole other subject of discussion…) I just miss the very real flaws, passions, and circumstances readers used to get out of Brubaker and Rucka’s Gotham Central. Mirroring the best TV police procedurals, Gotham Central had tight pacing and efficiently engaging character work– all the basic requirements for fantastic drama with believable stakes for the ordinary cops who dealt with Gotham city’s super-villainous crime. So it’s a bit jarring to find these characters in a comic that seeks to map how the DCU’s God(s) relates to the New Gods of the Fourth World and how that relates to new religions, ancient (but heretofore unknown) prophecies and… it’s a mess, essentially because there are too many pantheons to reconcile and far too much omnipotence to go around.

Gabrielle Bell’s Lucky (Vol. 2) #2 is an airy antidote to FC: Revelation’s dreary self-importance. While she’s an Ignatz winner for “Most Outstanding Mini-Comic,” I’d previously only encountered Bell’s work in anthologies. Bell mixes short, anecdotal travel-diary style entries with a few longer (but still brief) stories about disconnection and the common search for personal relevance. The most affecting story is about Bell running away from home at age 11, and how acutely isolation is felt in adolescence.

p.s. Before it’s assumed that I’m an anti-primate species-ist, let me remind you that #48 on my Hembeck 100 favorite things about comics list was, “Gorillas who are often accompanied by brains in jars.” Apes (both greater and smaller) and the subject of war deserve more craft and attention than a simple gotcha ending is all I’m saying.

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