Thursday, November 30, 2006

Finally! Something resembling a schedule!

So I'm actually sort of on time reviewing comics that came out this week. My problem is that I often don't finish reading the week's books until Thursday evening or so, and then I read others' reviews, and don't have much to say. So the key is probably to try to write reviews as I read the comics, and don't read other people's reviews until I've written mine (unless I'm stumped and need something to talk about, or whatever). So anyway, with that boring introspection out of the way, here we go:

Batman/The Spirit
Written by Jeph Loeb (and Darwyn Cooke?)
Art by Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone

I expressed reservations about buying this when I did my preview this week, and I should have listened to my gut; instead, I flipped through it in the shop and was taken with the art. Plus, there's the Joker! And Harley Quinn! And P'Gell! And Poison Ivy! I didn't resist hard enough. The story is pretty much what I expected, with Loeb throwing every character he can into an incoherent plot, with some very pretty artwork by Cooke. Unfortunately, the plot is much too incoherent, even by Loeb's standards. It concerns Commisioners Gordon and Dolan, from Gotham City and Central city, respectively, going away to attend a police convention in Hawaii. Lots of police gathered together is too easy of a target to refuse, so pretty much all the criminals from both cities follow along, planning to participate in a bloodbath. Batman and The Spirit also follow along, intending to thwart the thugs. Hilarity ensues, or at least Loeb thinks it does. Unfortunately, he crams way too many characters and not enough action into the book. The plot moves at a breakneck pace, but not in a good, Morrisonesque way; rather, it is a confusing dash from one scene to the next, ignoring characterization and logic on the way. For instance, before he leaves for Hawaii, Gordon introduces his new girlfriend to his daughter Barbara; it is a beautiful woman several years his junior named P'Gell. And at the Central City airport, Dolan runs into an intoxicating woman named Ivy. Now, these guys are accomplished police detectives (commisioners, remember?). Shouldn't they recognize the high-profile criminals right in front of them? Later, the criminals are carrying out their scheme, and Batman and the Spirit separately sneak up on them. When they stumble into each other, they get into a fistfight, and Batman keeps saying "Hush" to the Spirit. Ooh, Loeb, you're so clever, referencing another story you wrote. Ugh. Then the criminals, led by Scarface (the ventriloquist dummy gangster), shoot them up a bunch and blow up the building they are hiding in. Except it turns out the ventriloquist is actually Robin in disguise, and he switched most of the bad guys' bullets with blanks, and the building actually blew up because of a low-grade explosive that he planted. Now come on, that's just straining credibility. And then the big showdown happens where Poison Ivy has brainwashed Dolan into shooting Gordon and then pushing a button that will blow up everybody at the conference. Batman and Spirit rush to the scene, but they're too late! Luckily, the Joker decided to switch the gun for a trick gun and the explosives for confetti. HIGH-larious. Oh, and all the rest of the criminals don't actually participate in the scheme; they just watch through binoculars from a boat (including Catwoman and P'Gell, who convinced The Spirit and Batman, respectively, that they were working for the FBI. I thought they were sort of good guys. Why are they going along with a scheme to murder hundreds of policemen?). What's the point of even having them in the story, other than just to cram them into a panel so people can play "spot the Riddler"?

So, the story sucks. The highlight of the book is definitely Cooke's art. I'll go ahead and include what I thought were the best panels; that way you don't have to waste your money on the book.

Here's the splash page introducing the Spirit:



I like the way this mimics Eisner's splash pages. There's also one with Batman, but it's not quite as good.

Here's a fun scene at a masquerade ball:



I like the chubby couple dressed as Green Arrow and Black Canary, and also Riddler and Penguin dressed up as each other.

And here's a good splash page with Batman and Spirit dodging bullets:



By the way, this is the scene where we later find out that they were being shot at with blanks, so I don't know what is supposed to be impacting all the stuff around them. Looks nice, though.

Here's another shot from the same scene:



I love how Scarface is holding the gun within the puppeteer's hand. Although that's Robin posing as the puppeteer. I guess he really got into character.

There are some other decent-looking scenes, like a cameo by Superman (dammit, Loeb!), but these are what I thought were the best. Not really that much for $5.00. I should have saved my money. I'm really hoping this is not an indication of the quality of Cooke's upcoming ongoing Spirit series. I had been looking forward to that; hopefully the absence of Loeb will be a boon.

Nextwave #10
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger

Now this is a book I have no problems with. It's been coming out consistently, with hilarious writing by Warren Ellis and wonderful art by Stuart Immonen. I don't really follow many of the main Marvel books (or DC books, for that matter); I tend to like the small titles on the periphery of the "universe", and Nextwave is by far the most peripheral. Is that part of why it's the most enjoyable? This issue ends the second to last storyline of volume 1 of the book. There's some of the usual violence (gotta love when The Captain squeezes a bad guy's guts all over the ringleaders of the Beyond Corp.), but the majority of this issue is a showcase for Immonen's art as the team is nearly destroyed by the greatest menace in the Marvel Universe: Forbush Man (it brings me great joy to type that), who traps them all in their minds in soul-crushingly horrible possible futures. These fantasy sequences are where Immonen really gets to show off, emulating the art styles of other comics greats. I scanned in some examples (click to see bigger versions). This is Monica Rambeau's nightmare, in which she's trapped in some sort of hippie 60's dystopia:





Jog reports that Ellis says he was influenced by Brendan McCarthy's recent issue of Solo in this issue, and I think this sequence shows it the most. Mostly because I have no idea what the fuck is going on, but it's still pretty cool. However, I think the artist Immonen is imitating is Paul Pope, which is a great choice for the gritty atmosphere.

Here's a bit from the Machine Man sequence:



I think Immonen's going for an Adrian Tomine/Daniel Clowes feel here. Any other possibilities?

I'm kind of stumped by the influece for The Captain's scene:



Jog suggests Ellis's own Ruins as a possible reference, but I haven't read that series, so I'm not sure if the art is similar or just the atmosphere that the writing evokes. I'm thinking maybe Brian Wood or somebody similar, but I could be wrong. Immonen might just be going for a really dark version of his own style. By the way, I love the titles of the comics at Cap's feet there: "Betrayal", "Love is Dead", "Constant War", "No Life". Very depressing. Also, the Easter Island-style Stan Lee and Jack Kirby heads are great.

I don't, however, have any trouble perceiving the influence of Elsa Bloodstone's nightmare. It's Mike Mignola all the way:







Check out those monsters. Looks like they came straight out of Hellboy!

So, another highly enjoyable issue of one of my favorite current series(es). The end leads directly into next issue's "final battle". I can't wait!

Crossing Midnight #1
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Jim Fern and Rob Hunter

This new Vertigo series looked pretty interesting, and I'm glad I picked it up. It's about a pair of Japanese siblings (twin brother and sister) who were born under somewhat mysterious circumstances. When their mother was pregnant with them, their grandmother (on their father's side) insisted that their father offer up a prayer for a safe pregnancy to a shrine that she owned. When the baby was born, it turned out it was actually twins, although the ultrasound only showed one fetus and only one heartbeat could be heard. The brother, Kai, was born on November 14th, and the sister, Toshi, was born on the 15th, just after midnight (hence the title). As the kids grow up, they discover strange, supernatural things happening around them, such as the discovery of a portal to a sort of fantasy world and Toshi's seeming invulnerability to personal injury. On what I think is their 15th birthday (it's in 2006, but the book doesn't give a date for their birth; it just says they are in senior high school), they are confronted by a supernatural being that demands payment, seemingly in return for answering the prayer their father originally offered to his mother's shrine. There are some other details, but this is the first chapter of the story (the title page says part 1 of 3), and I'm sure more will be explained. There are a lot of little details that will probably be important later, like the fact that this all takes place in Nagasaki, and the twins' grandmother is a survivor of the atomic bomb. Much of the story seems to be rooted in Japanes folklore and religion as well. There are some good non-supernatural details in the writing also, fleshing out the characters' personalities (the kids like Gundam; Toshi becomes sullen and argumentative toward their parents as she gets older; the parents begin to experience relationship problems when the father puts too much energy into his unsatisfying job). Really, Carey does a surprisingly good job of introducing all this in the space of one issue. I'm not familiar with the artist, Jim Fern, but he also does well. His art is like that of a less-busy Lienil Francis Yu (which is good, since the book is mostly quiet character moments rather than big action). It's a very interesting debut, and I'll definitely be picking up the second issue to see where it goes.

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That's it for what I've read so far. I still have a few more comics to read, so I might put up some more reviews in the next few days. I bought Acme Novelty Library #17; who knows how long it will take me to read, and I don't know if I'll be able to express anything after I'm done. I love Chris Ware's stuff, but it's hard for me to talk about. I'll see if I can muster something coherent after I've finished it.