Monday, July 16, 2007

Comics ketchup

I mean "catch-up". Whoops. I've got two weeks' worth of pamphlet-format comics to go over, and wow, it was a hell of a batch of comics. There's some really good stuff here, starting with:

All-Star Superman #8
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely



This is part two of the Bizarro/Zibarro story, and it's one of my favorite issues of the series so far, right up there with the Clark Kent/Lex Luthor prison issue and the original trip to the sun. Strangely, it seemed to get somewhat poor reviews on a few comics blogs, but I absolutely loved it. Maybe people were put off by the Bizarro-speak that fills the issue; it does get difficult to decipher in places. But there are just so many crazy ideas here, and Zibarro is such a good character. He's so sad and forlorn, stuck on a planet of imbeciles who despise him. I love the way Morrison has thought this through. Superman is different from everyone on earth, and they love him. But on Bizarro World, Zibarro is different from everyone, and they hate him. And all the other crazy Bizarro ideas, like Bizarro Jor-El (El-Roj!), the Bizarro Justice League (featuring, among others, Bizarro Flash, whose top speed is two inches per hour, and Bizarro Green Lantern, who can't think of anything for his ring to create), or the hilarious Bizarro national anthem (I thought that was an amazing bit of writing on Morrison's part; the lyrics are the opposite of "The Star-Spangled Banner", but they still rhyme and even have the same rhythm!).

And Quitely turns in his usual excellent art, dazzling with the crazy designs. I love how Zibarro's hair has a Z-shaped curl on his forehead, like the S-curl on Superman's:



And the Bizarro Flash design is hilarious, with chains on his suit instead of lightning bolts:



He even sneaks in fun little details like the Bizarro version of the Daily Planet staff:



Beautiful stuff, as always. I can't wait until the next issue (don't I say that every month?).

Oh, by the way, I should point to Valerie D'Orazio's interpretation of the issue, viewing it as Grant Morrison trying to escape from the messed up world of mainstream comics (although I don't understand what Stephen Colbert has to do with it). That's a fun way to look at it.
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Chronicles of Wormwood #5 (of 6)
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Jacen Burrows



Man, there were some images in this book that were downright stomach-churning in their gore. I guess that's what you get when you send Ennis to Avatar. Well, that and meticulously-rendered sex toys. The plot is heating up and coming to a big climax, and I'm really enjoying it, especially the sacreligious aspects. I mean, that last page (which I would love to spoil, but won't) was laugh-out-loud funny, but anyone with positive feelings toward Christianity would probably be horribly offended. There were other details I liked, like Satan showing up on his throne, being carried by the dead kings of earth: Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Boris Yeltsin, Saddam Hussein, Yassir Arafat, Moe Tse-Tung, and others. And a good character moment between Wormwood and his ex-fiancee, in which we see how he's (kind of) trying to be a good guy, but he can't help being a bastard; He's the anti-christ, for god's sake! Anyway, it's another good issue, and I'm excited to see the ending. I'm sure Ennis will pull out all the stops and make it hilarious and insane.
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Deadpool/GLI Summer Fun Spectacular
Written by Fabian Nicieza and Dan Slott
Art by Kieron Dwyer, Nelson DeCastro, Paul Pelletier, and Clio Chiang



Well, not everything gets praise this post. Man, this was disappointing. While I liked the other GLA/X/I series, I was worried about this one, due to the presence of Deadpool, a character I've never liked, and Fabian Nicieza, a writer that I don't have much respect for. And my fears were justified; Deadpool is annoying rather than funny (which I assume he is supposed to be), and many of the jokes ring of forced attempts at humor rather than Dan Slott's usual deft touch. Ha ha, Deadpool keeps stabbing Mr. Immortal or cutting off his head! Ho ho, Deadpool likes Bertha, but only when she's fat, because he's a chubby chaser! There is a fight between Deadpool and Flatman that's somewhat amusing due to Flatman's use of different origami fighting techniques (and Clio Chiang's nice art), but it's pretty much the only Deadpool-related part of the book that didn't have me rolling my eyes and/or yawning (I'm very expressive when reading my comics). Really, the best parts of the issue are the ones that involve Squirrel Girl trying to rescue her boyfriend, Speedball, from his current emo/goth incarnation, Penance. It's a goofy bit of self-criticism toward the post-Civil War forced seriousness of the Marvel Universe. And it has this hilarious bit:



There you are, the only bit of the issue that made me laugh. Now you don't need to bother buying it.
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DMZ #21
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli



Oh, man, this book never stops, does it? This one features some comments and questions about war that really get one thinking, along with some truly excellent artwork. Riccardo Burchielli has gotten even better over the last 20 issues, turning in what may be the best artwork of the series so far, whether in flashback scenes of urban warfare:



Or simple scenes of conversation:



But the content of said conversation was what really had me catching my breath. It's a perfect example of what I think is the theme of the series: how different war would seem if it's happening next door rather than on the other side of the world. The military commander that Matty talks to this issue makes statements about living with bad calls, or men following orders and doing their job, and it's the kind of thing you hear all the time from military people or members of the Bush administration. But in this case, the "trash" that he's talking about fighting are Americans, and that changes everything about how we look at the war. It becomes horrific to even contemplate, and it's what we need to start thinking about war anywhere it happens. This is an important comic, one that should be put into the hands of pro-war people (I mean people who are for any war, not just the conflict in Iraq). Who knows, it might just change some minds.

Anyway, this storyline wraps up next issue, as the city looks like it's going to fall into a riot following the verdict in the trial of the soldiers involved in the Day 204 Massacre. I'm sure it will be exciting and thought-provoking. I hate to ruin the mood, but here's where I talk about buying policies. I'm thinking I'll switch to trades at the next storyline, so that means figuring out where the break between trades is going to be and dropping the series at that point. While I don't mind reading the book monthly, I figure it will read a bit better in collected form. Here's to saving money!
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Madman Atomic Comics #3
By Mike Allred



Now here's the big one in this post. I thought about separating discussion of this issue into its own post, but I figure I should keep it here in order to try to not just scan the whole thing and post every page. The reason I would do that is because this issue consists almost entirely of Mike Allred copying the art styles (or possibly tracing, or "swiping" their art; I'm not sure what his exact process was) of influential creators throughout the history of comics. It's an amazing feat, with a new (yet recognizable) art style in nearly every panel. We get to see Allred's version of nearly every "name" in comics, from the likes of Winsor McCay:



And George Herriman:



Up to present stars like Paul Pope:



Or Frank Quitely:



Wow. The in-story reason for this is that Mr. Excitement, Frank/Madman's favorite childhood superhero, is taking him on a tour through his subconscious, sorting through all the influences he's had in order to get to his present, true state. Of course, these are really Mike Allred's influences, and like his character, he's throwing them all on the page, experiencing them one by one in order to show both himself and us what has led him to the current point in his life and career. It's an incredible experience, and I had a blast trying to identify the various artists being copied (the list/dedication on the title page certainly helped). I thought I recognized most of the artists, but some were hard to tell. I would love it if somebody put up some annotations explaining which artist was being referenced (maybe someone already has; if so, please let me know in the comments). The story itself is also good, full of the usual Madman philosophizing, and hopefully leading to the "Madman in space" storyline that Allred has talked about for years. But the real delight is the comics history lesson we get throughout the issue. Allred continues to astonish me and demonstrate why he's one of my favorite artists. Keep it up, Mike!

Oh, hell, I can't help myself; I have to show some other panels I thought were awesome. Here's Charles Schulz:



Mike Mignola:



And Chris Ware:



Okay, I better stop before I get in trouble for infringing copyright.
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The Punisher Presents: Barracuda #5 (of 5)
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Goran Parlov



Man, this is a Garth Ennis comic to a T, featuring stuff like psychotic CIA agents shouting Bush slogans in the middle of a firefight:



A porn star getting shot nonfatally:



A pedophile getting impaled on a statue of Ronald Reagan, or a corrupt businessman being run over by a tank (multiple times). Nice. And that's not even mentioning the general gory violence or the implied cannibalism. It's tons of fun, even if you don't usually follow Ennis's Punisher book. I probably should have waited for a collection, but it was definitely worth reading. Good times.
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Runaways #27
Written by Joss Whedon
Art by Michael Ryan



I guess I shouldn't have doubted Joss Whedon; I had some problems with the previous issue, but this one turned out excellent. The kids are stuck in the past (late 19th century, it seems) and trying to get home. There are some pretty good ideas, like them being able to use their powers in public because there will be no photographic evidence. Or them meeting a group of Victorian-era superheroes who call themselves "Wonders" and count The Yellow Kid among their number:



I thought that was pretty cool. But the highlight of the issue for me was a scene in which the Leapfrog played back a holographic recording for the kids of its creators (Chase's parents and Gert's parents) working on it. The recording ends with Gert (who, for those who don't know, died around 10 issues ago) wandering into the room, and it's a surprising and poignant moment:



Check out Old Lace's sad eye in that panel. Nice work there by Michael Ryan. It's an excellent, sad scene, and it made the issue for me. But pretty much everything else was great too, from the kids' clothes to their mixed excitement and fear about being in an unfamiliar era. There's a bunch of dialogue that is hard to decipher, but it's one of those plots where it will surely all make sense in future issues. It looks like the kids are going to get mixed up in a war between factions of 19th-century superheroes (involving some familiar villains!), and that's pretty cool.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: we also get a glimpse of a Victorian-era Punisher equivalent called the Adjudicator:



That's pretty damn funny. Good job, Whedon.
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Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #20
Written by Sean McKeever
Art by David Hahn and Christina Strain



So this is the end of the Sean McKeever era of Mary Jane comics, and he certainly goes out on a high note. It's a really nice issue, with Peter/Spider-Man sort of breaking things off with Gwen and Firestar while Mary Jane also breaks up with Harry. There are several references to past comics (or related media), with Spidey and Firestar meeting up with Iceman to create a reunion of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, or Harry showing some anger issues, which we know points toward his eventual role as Green Goblin. But that's all window-dressing, with the relationships of the characters being the main course here (there's some mixed metaphors for you). I love the work that McKeever has done building these characters' personalities, and he brings his run to a satisfying close, with a beautiful hint of ambiguity on the last page.

The art continues to be pretty nice; I think the real star on that side of things is Christina Strain, who does the coloring. Check out how she depicts the characters' visible breath in cold weather:



That's a cool effect, and I don't think I've seen it before. I should also mention that I like David Hahn's depiction of Peter Parker; it reminds me of Steve Ditko's version of the character.

As for the book's future, Terry Moore (of Strangers in Paradise fame) is slated to be the new writer, but there has been no word as to when the next issue is coming out, who the artist will be, or whether it will be restarted with a new #1. I might use this chance to switch to trades, which have been printed in inexpensive manga-style digests for this series in the past. That is, if I keep reading the book at all...
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Y: The Last Man #57
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Pia Guerra



Damn. Brian K. Vaughan is a hell of a writer. This issue, we see Yorick and Beth together for the first time in the series (unless you count the phone conversation in the first issue), and their relationship is depicted perfectly. They're slightly awkward with each other, since they haven't seen each other for about five years, but we can still tell how close they are, and their reactions to news about each other is spot-on. Vaughan has a bit of a difficult place to get out of here, since while Yorick has been searching for Beth for the entire series, we don't really want them to be together; he's obviously meant to be with 355. But he still needs some closure on that relationship, and Vaughan is depicting the circumstances and his reactions perfectly. I'm sure he's had this all planned out from the beginning, but I'm really enjoying watching it all fall into place. And I'm sure there will be other complications, including but not limited to the arrival of Other Beth with Yorick's daughter.

Pia Guerra's art is as excellent as ever, and I love that she doesn't shy away from depicting (full-frontal) nudity, both male and female. Most of this issue takes place in a dim apartment, and I love her depiction of light and shadow:



Nicely done.

So there's only three issues left in the series. Man, it's killing me to wait for this story to wrap up. Keep up the good writing, Vaughan!
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Wow, I think that's everything for now. I decided to skip talking about The Dark Tower and Superman Confidential, but they were both pretty good. I might have another review up this evening, or a look at solicitations, but right now I need to rest my mind. Later.