Saturday, June 30, 2007

New comics, and ponderings about my buying habits

I think I'm getting to the point where I wonder if many of the comics I buy are worth the money I spend on them. Sure, there are some that are totally worth every penny, but there are plenty that leave me wondering why I bothered. I think I've reached the point where I'm going to attempt to dial back my weekly spending and focus on trades, collections, graphic novels, manga, etc. So I think I'll look at each book this week and decide if I want to keep buying the series, or if I want to wait for the trade (or drop it altogether). Off we go:

The Boys #8
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Darick Robertson

This series seems to be plugging along regularly, making fun of superheroes and throwing in lots of gross-out humor and profanities. This story arc seems to be slightly different than the previous one (at least so far), as Hughie and Butcher investigate the death of a young gay man with links to the superhero Swingwing, a parallel to Nightwing. Meanwhile, Tek Knight, the Batman analogue, is having more sexual problems. Maybe this will lead to another big brawl, but for right now the story is focusing on exploring the sexual issues of this world and developing the characters. There's an amusing bit where Hughie objects to Butcher using terms like "poof", but then he is afraid to go into a gay bar and interact with actual homosexuals. It's enjoyable enough, and I'm sure hilarity will ensue in the future. (EDIT: After reading Alan David Doane's comment on this review, I realize that my wording makes it sound like the little character bit between Butcher and Hughie is amusing and a setup for future hilarity. I actually was referring to the issue as a whole with the last sentence there, and I agree with Alan that it was a good character moment that brought some unexpected depth to the characters in a book that seems to be mostly focused on superhero satire. That's what I get for rushing through this without thinking it over or proofreading).

Should I keep buying it? Certainly.
Monthly issues or trades? I'll have to decide after this arc is over.

Criminal #7
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

The arc continues to plug along, with exciting developments for Tracy Lawless as he infiltrates his brother's former gang in an attempt to find his killer while they perform a heist. Brubaker writes some great crime fiction, and this chapter is excellent, as the gang performs the first part of the job, which involves breaking a guy out of prison who has the plans for the second part of the job. Very exciting. Plus, we learn how this story is connected to the first story arc when Tracy visits Leo in prison in order to get a reference on his criminal resume. I can't wait to see where this goes.

As for Phillips' art, I've said before that I wish he would stick to this sort of thing and stay away from the superhero/zombie stuff that he sometimes does. His style suits this sort of story perfectly, with lots of moody shadows and atmospheric details (although he hates drawing buildings and cars, according to Brubaker's afterword; that was amusing, because this issue contains a lot of those). One thing I noticed in this issue was how well he draws women's faces, differentiating them from his men's faces, which usually have sharp corners and rough lines:

Instead, the women's faces have smooth curves and sharp lines:

Nicely done.

Should I keep buying it? Definitely.
Monthly issues or trades? I like the "backmatter" text pieces that various authors contribute about noir films, and I don't think those are included in the trades, so I'll stay with the monthly issues.

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #3 (of 6)
Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Duncan Fegredo

This series is tons of fun, even if I'm still having trouble following the plot. Not that it's too convoluted or anything, but I'm just not familiar enough with Hellboy's history. This issue, he fights an army of corpses mustered by his old enemy (I think) Baba Yaga:

He even gets to do the old gag where a bunch of bad guys pile on top of him and he crawls out from under the pile and runs away. That's a classic. He also gets some help from giant wolves:

Man, Fegredo is really knocking the art out of the park here, cramming an insane level of detail into the panels while still keeping close to Mignola's signature style. Wow. In future issues, it looks like Hellboy will have to face a creepy guy named Koshchei the Deathless, along with Baba Yaga herself, I assume. Lots of crazy stuff is going on here, and I can't wait to see what's coming next. Here's my pull quote:

"Hellboy: it's the book to read if you want corpse-kicking action!"

Should I keep buying it? Yes!
Monthly issues or trades? I'll finish out this miniseries in monthly format, but I figure I'll buy trades for any future (or past) stories.

The Immortal Iron Fist #6
Written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker
Art by David Aja and Russ Heath

Holy crap, this is an awesome book. We get the big showdown between Iron Fist(s) and Steel Serpent, along with Hydra's armies and the Heroes for Hire gang (that is, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Colleen Wing). Sweet! Tons of cool stuff, like Luke celebrating the team-up:

Colleen cracking wise while diving down an elevator shaft:

Misty yelling "Aww, yeah!" while blowing away Hydra agents (no picture for that one, but just imagine it), and some kick-ass kung-fu poses:

And lots more! Next storyline, Danny travels to some mystic dimension to represent K'un L'un in the tournament of the Seven Cities of Heaven. Sweet. It's an awesome, awesome book, and I can't get enough of it.

Should I keep buying it? Of course!
Monthly issues or trades? I'm thinking I'll switch to trades, although I'm going to have to figure out if next month's issue spotlighting the story of a past Iron Fist, the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay, is going to be included in the first trade or the second. Okay, I looked it up on Marvel's site, and it says volume 1 contains issues #1-6, so I think I'll be dropping this one to wait for future collections.

Jack of Fables #12
Written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Art by Tony Akins and Andrew Pepoy

As somebody who is intimately acquainted with the creators of this book, I think my opinion has a lot of weight when I say it is awesome. The current storyline is called "The Bad Prince", which is a good counterpoint to the storyline running in the sister book Fables, called "The Good Prince". I'm not sure what poor nobility has to do with the story so far though, other than Jack stating that he was once a prince for two days. The rest of the issue deals with his recapture by Priscilla Page and the circumstances of his (probable) escape. I won't spoil them, but I will say that there is a hilarious running gag in which Jack alternates between telling us via caption the good news and the bad news of his circumstances. We also get some hints about the larger running storyline, such as Jack's connection to Wicked John and what's going on back at Golden Boughs. And one crazy-ass final page. I don't know what's going to happen next, but I'll be reading it.

Should I keep buying it? Yes. This is getting monotonous, isn't it?
Monthly issues or trades? Hmmmm. I'll have to decide as I read this storyline. I'm enjoying it monthly, but there's really no reason not to wait and read stories all in one chunk.

Marvel Adventures: Avengers #14
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Leonard Kirk

Well, this book is pretty fun, but I'm starting to wonder if it's worth my money. This issue, the team gets pulled back in time (or to an alternate universe, maybe) to help some villagers that are regularly robbed by bandits. If the story seems familiar, you might have watched The Seven Samurai at some point. Or The Magnificent Seven. Or some other variation on the tale.
It's still a pretty fun take on it though, with the team changing their uniforms to fit the period, training the villagers in ways to fight (Hulk's training is the best):

And appointing Wolverine as leader for the mission:

It's very enjoyable, but it's just so lightweight, I don't think I can justify spending three dollars a month on it. Especially since I'm getting more and more sick of superheroes lately; I'm figuring I'll drop pretty much anything that I don't really like.

Should I keep buying it? Unfortunately, no.
Monthly issues or trades? Since it is a fun book, and I do like Jeff Parker, I suppose I could pick up one or more of the digest collections sometime.

The Nightly News #6 (of 6)
By Jonathan Hickman

Well, the series wraps up in explosive fashion, with some change apparently being effected. Was all the violence worth it? Surprisingly, Hickman seems to be saying it was, but I'm not sure. It's been a subversive series all along, with readers seemingly encouraged to cheer as the evil media spokesmen were being murdered, but there were also some hints that the group behind the murders were an unthinking cult just following orders, and that's not any better than listening to a profit-obsessed media. But with the revelation of the cult's mastermind, Hickman seems to be celebrating the murder spree they went on, even hinting at a sequel aimed at another evil group of people. I'm not sure what to make of it, but I did find the story quite enjoyable.

And the art was also pretty damn cool, revealing an incredible design sense and an intention to push the limits of what comics can look like. Great stuff, and I think Hickman will be a major talent. At the end of the book, he announces two upcoming miniseries that will be appearing soon: Pax Romana (written and illustrated by Hickman) and Red Mass For Mars (written by Hickman, illustrated by Ryan Bodenheim). Plus, two more coming in 2008: Transhuman (written by Hickman, art by J.M. Ringuet) and The Return (written and illustrated by Hickman). Unless Hickman does something to really turn me off, I'm sure I'll be reading all of those.

Should I keep buying it? Um, the series is over.
Monthly issues or trades? Well, for future miniseries, I might consider waiting for the trades, but I might want to buy the monthly issues to support Hickman. We'll see.

White Picket Fences #2 (of 3)
Written by Matt Anderson and Eric Hutchins
Art by Micah Farritor

I kind of liked the first issue of this miniseries, but this one doesn't really do anything interesting. We get some more scenes of the kids and their antics, more scenes of neighborly competition, and some backstory that was probably already obvious. There's a decent scene in which the general negotiates with a Martian ambassador, but it's nothing amazing. And it seems the whole thing can be resolved if Charlie (the kid) returns the laser trigger to the army, and even though he knows this, he can't figure out what to do. I'm sure there will be some exciting stuff of some sort in the final issue, but I'm not really stoked about it.

And the art started really bugging me, with characters' heads often seeming too large for their bodies, the kids looking like adults in some panels, and a freaky shot of Charlie's mom in which she seems to be related to Plastic Man:

So, I don't think I'll bother getting the final issue of this. Too bad; it had potential.

Should I keep buying it? Nope!

X-Men: First Class #1
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Roger Cruz

I figured I would give this a shot after enjoying the recent special, and it's really pretty good. I've never really liked Roger Cruz's art since I first encountered him as a fill-in artist for Chris Bachalo on Generation X, but he's really improved; his art is actually quite good and suits the style of this book excellently. This issue is about Jean Grey spending some time with the Invisible Woman in order to see a fellow female superhero at work and get some motherly advice and stuff. It's a lot of fun, with lots of hugs and hero worship, amid fights with the likes of the Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android. But then the rest of the X-Men freak out and think she's leaving the team to join the Fantastic Four, so they go to beg her to come back, just in time to join her for the fight. It's a really fun book, with lots of good details, like Jean using hairbrushes telekinetically while putting on makeup, or Johnny Storm putting the moves on Jean, much to Scott's chagrin. This is the kind of book that Jeff Parker is great at writing, filling the issue with character details while still throwing in lots of action. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be following it. It's a good book, probably one of the best things Marvel is publishing right now, but like MA: Avengers, it's just kind of lightweight, and I don't think I want to spend three dollars a month to read it. I'll still recommend it to anybody looking for a good superhero comic though.

Should I keep buying it? Unfortunately, no. Sorry, Parker!

So that's it for this week. I'll have to continue this examination of what to continue buying and what to drop or wait for the trade. Just for fun, I'll try to list off the top of my head what I should keep reading in single issues and what to switch to trades for.

Read monthly:
All-Star Superman
Batman (if I keep reading it)
Y: The Last Man (It's almost finished)

Madman Atomic Comics

Runaways (for now)
Astonishing X-Men (it's almost over)
Fell (for the backmatter)
The Goon
Wait for the trade:


100 Bullets

Jack of Fables
The Boys (maybe)
Immortal Iron Fist

Desolation Jones
(after the current arc, if it ever continues to come out)
Not sure:

Ex Machina


The Spirit
Okay, that's enough for now. I might update this list if I think of other series.