Tuesday night reviews

April 28th, 2009

Yeah yeah, Wednesday morning, what a surprise.

Comics I only bloody went and got this week, didn’t I.

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Detctive Comics 853, by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair

Well, I was rather wrong about this one*. Been looking forward to it and all, liked the first issue well enough, and was expecting a bit more of the same: one or two unchained, crisp, well-framed Bat-vignettes on a theme of Bat-death, topped-off with a weepy finish.  What came along instead was a boring, turgid, plotless (as in lost-the-plot), overcooked bag of balls, relying heavily on an unearned or (to be generous), inherited emotional weight in the readership, concrete shoes for fans. A pamphlet so uninterested in itself that the last half is nothing but double or single splashes, completely divorcing itself from the charming, intricately dense mashup of signifiers that the previous issue – and at its best, the strongman/funnybook form itself – does so well.

The issue also delivers a rehash of funereal clichés from some of the writer’s signature projects, and tries to pass off some other well worn turns as original. Look away now if you care, earth-shattering revelation on the way: Batman’s defining characteristic, the mark of his unique battiness, is the fact that he doesn’t give up. That’s the Master of Fantasy’s big statement, his shot at the title, when given the chance to come up with something moving and profound and insightful into the nature of the world’s most popular fictional character. He doesn’t give up is the bare minimum one expects from an American superhero, from any kind of hero really, and to claim it as Batman’s unique coda shows a lack of imagination that one really doesn’t expect from, well, the Master of Imagination.

The better line would have been he does it with such style. Even Jack Nicholson knew that one. It appears that Andy Kubert knows it too – his work on this story was the only thing that made me pick it up for a second read. He performs a Williams III-esque job of stylistic chameleonics, channelling notables from Dick Sprang through Brian Bolland to Dave McKean and all the expected points between, communicating without words the point that his co-author apparently failed to intuit. As with the previous, one of the most interesting parts of this issue comes after the story has completed its long, slow, repetitive conclusion: Kubert’s backmatter pages, detailing his pencilling process from draft layout to ready-for-the inks, are fascinating. His delicacy of line and gift for implying dramatic, beautiful lighting is really a pleasure to see develop. I‘m no fan of backmatter or of green-curtain pulling, but these half-dozen or so pages are much more than the usual bulking-it-out-for-the-printers or sorry-it’s-so-late-here’s-why. One reason DC editorial may have seen fit to add those pages could be pure shame – no one can be happy that those really rather wonderful original pages can have so much life sucked from them by the clumsy layers of ink, colour and dialogue that the house repro bible apparently demands. The act that the finished artwork is still so lucid and subtle after those successive spatters have been vommed all over it is a fine example of the man’s talent.

*Or perhaps, half-wrong: The mystery lady is indeed Martha W., and we do, more or less, get the pearl-necklace mommy-shot that I was after. By the time they arrived, I couldn’t give a shit about either.

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Hellblazer 254, by Peter Milligan, Goran Sudzuka, Rodney Ramos, Jamie Grant

But I was right about this one*.  Milligan’s second Constantine storyline gets started, and… You know, my mindless brethren and I like to pontificate about Hellblazer (you ain’t seen nothing yet), but, with a notable excption or two,we don’t actually read it all that much. I had a good-ish time with Jason Aaron’s issues last year, and was OK with Andy Diggle’s first issue back in 07 or whenever (though not good enough to come back for seconds), but those aside I’ve not really read the book properly in years and years. All of which is to say, I’m sorry if the issues missed have been brilliant – let me know in the comments and I shall cop again to the boundlessness of my ignorance. But, if my suspicions are correct, Milligan’s run – four issues in now, enough to make a reasoned judgement – is going to to be a bastard belter, better than antything we’ve seen for a good long while.

There’s nothing earth-shattering in this issue mind. And it’s not as if there’s nothing to grumble about – the pencils are a little clean (though the backgrounds are great) and really, when it comes to busting pustules later in the storyline, the fact that the lines are so neat and restrained now will probably make the ickiness all the more retchy. And while we’re picking holes, the Plague Doctor is a bit familiar, feeling like as much of a stock Vertigo character as any shavey-headed hardnut.

So do not let it be said that I’m just cheerleading this issue, that there’s nothing the grumbley sort could find to be grumbley at. But, because, well – I fucking loved this issue, like I haven’t loved a Vertigo comic, and especially such a Vertigoey Vertigo comic, in years and years.

As you’d espect from Milligan, the dialogue is literate andwitty, giving us finally a Constantine who’s nearly as funny as he thinks he is. The setting is instantly authentic and recognisable, cherry-picking elements from real life on this very day to create an immersive and believable London. The themes similarly pick apart the zeitgeist to find the horrors lurking just underneath tomorrow’s headlines, touching on panopticism; pestilential tension; the witch-hunt against London’s leading real-life magician ; the Olympics as a bloated, aggressive egregore gorging on dispossessed city-dwellers and swollen, multi-billion budgets.

Amid all the incidental goodness and old standards – plague pits straight out of Defoe etc. – you notice threads from the last arc are still being gently plaited into something interesting, and there’s clearly some kind of grand plan slowly coming into focus.

It’s more-or-less exactly what a Constantine book ought to be. I wanted a cigarette after I’d finished it, that’s how good it was.

*Or perhaps, half-right. It’s hard to say in all honesty that what we get here is new or different to what may have gone before. In fact, rather than being original, it feels more classic than anything, a note-perfect rearrangement of the title’s core elements, an assured and well-balanced set-up issue that doesn’t try anything too different, but hits the beats with such timing and elan that you’re almost convinced for a second that you’ve never seen anything like it. Even after the momentary illusion of unburdened freshness has fallen away, one impression remains: that it’s very, very possible indeed that we could be really getting into stride with the best run of this title’s twenty-year life.

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Viking 1 by Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein

Do you remember that time that Huey full of marines en route to Da Nang got timesnatched and ended up back in 10th Century Norway? And they turned the ‘Sixty on that army of nasty berserkers? And those mutant bandits from the 23rd century were there? Great times huh? Then Johnny turned up? Really good shit, right?

This? Not as good as that. Lots of effort gone into making the paper and format all nice, and a decent price, cool as ever to see Image continuing to mix things up of course… But no, it just didn’t quite click did it? Script trying too hard to be earthy and ribald and authentic (with a modern twist), without the sensual glee you’d get in an average episode of Slaine; and scratchy, over-painted artwork that looks like it’s trying to be Dermot Power, not a look I thought many people would be chasing today. Do you remember that time the viking chief ordered all those battle helmets, but when they arrived all the horns were on the inside?

24 Responses to “Tuesday night reviews”

  1. Tim O'Neil Says:

    I am heartened to see someone agree with me so heartily: that issue may be modest in ambition, but in execution it feels like the triumphant return of a character I haven’t loved in a long time, but used to adore. It feels authentically Hellblazer in a way Hellblazer hasn’t felt in – geez – almost a decade.

  2. Papers Says:

    I feel, and this is because you know I’m a big Milligan nerd and with moving I have to avoid most of the pamphlets because who needs the clutter, that I’m going to pick up some Hellblazer tomorrow at the shop. I haven’t, oh, haven’t really bothered with H-to-the-B-Laz in a while, something about not being able to distinguish the stories very well after a certain point (I was on quite a kick for a while when Frusin or someone was drawing it), between the aggressively muddy palette (and why, one asks, is the Mignola stuff better because of the limited palette at this ends up being the bore for the same reason?).

    But. Milligan. And I trust the Mindless Opinion, made of all facet-opinions contained therein. I mean, one can only hope that they’ll have the bright-as-hell idea that they should put Fegredo on this as well (eee-ooo), but I just say that because I have sodden my copy of THE ENIGMA with reverential sweats.

    I miss his proper, firing on all cylinders dialogue. Morrison can shit ideas like whipped cream but Milligan can do things with a metaphor that would make even a seasoned English professor *blush*, and I mean a full face-and-forehead-and-neck blush.

  3. Neon Snake Says:

    I really liked Detective. It wasn’t original, it wasn’t anything that we hadn’t seen before (in fact, we saw it about four issues ago), and it was soppy as anything – but, it was delivered really well, with a level of emotional resonance that few writers can match.

    I don’t think it matched the closing scenes of Morrison’s Last Rites issues – “There will be no hiding place for evil!” – which achieved much the same thing, but did it with swelling, glorious, Russell Crowe in Gladiator bombast.

    But it stripped some of the dirt away from teh Batmythos and recast it as a Boys Own adventure (the title, after all, was Caped Crusader, not Dark Knight).

    And there were some gems in there – I think my favourite was the “The only reward you get for being Batman is that you get to be Batman”; because actually, being Batman must be bloody awesome, and it’s nice to see someone acknowledge that it’s not all grim determination by a psychologically scarred 8 year old in a man’s body.
    Also, the line about being able to make Gotham safer by “just one person” was nice, I thought – a fitting justification for struggling against a city which will never be free of crime; but it doesn’t need to be, for Bruce to feel that it’s been worthwhile – if he saves just one person, then it’s been worthwhile.

    Again, nothing astoundingly original, nothing astoundingly insightful – but for a “Whatever Happened To…”, I think that delivering the basic premise (“he doesn’t ever give up”) in a wellpresented package is exactly right.

  4. The Beast Must Die Says:

    You nad Tucker nailed the best disses of Gaiman’s Bat comic.
    I too kinda liked the first and was left pretty cold by the second. Totally agree that his ‘revelation’ that Batman NEVER GIVES UP was so lacking in insight as to be embarassing, and totally phoned-in. Compare it o Grant’s marvellous two-parter and it comes up especially lacking. Kubert rocked though.

    Picked up the last two issues of the ‘Scab’ story in Hellblazer, and agree that Milligan’s totally nailing a JC vibe that is both true to the character and absolutely his own voice. Didn’t like the art much though – too ‘Euro’ for Hellblazer.

  5. The Satrap Says:

    Do you remember that time the viking chief ordered all those battle helmets, but when they arrived all the horns were on the inside?

    Wilhelm Richard W. has so much to answer for…

  6. Zom Says:

    I ain’t read none o these!

    Hooray!

  7. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » April 29, 2009: Three months and counting Says:

    [...] Various titles Link: Mindless Ones, J. Caleb Mozzocco and Chris [...]

  8. Thrillssss Says:

    Oh, the Gaiman comic. Bought it. Read it. Can’t remember anything of note about it except that Kubert draws a nice Gotham, one I’d be happy to wander around in some sort of RPG. The first issue also had a nice-looking Gotham, and some nice-looking supervillain transport. I liked the cars, they were good?

    Keep meaning to pick up the Milligan Hellblazer, but I keep forgetting. Looks like I’m a trade-waiter for it, then. Though this recent habit of mine of waiting for trades is not paying dividends, as the fuckers take forever to get released. I would quite like book 2 of Young Liars now, please? Bah. It’s the fault of people like me that Young Liars has been cancelled, eh? Sorry.

  9. Zom Says:

    That’s why my buying YL monthly but resisting the urge to read it until it’s all done and dusted is gud. More expensive, but gud.

  10. bobsy Says:

    Trappers, the real culprits to blame are Messrs. Elton and Curtis, shamed as I am to admit it.

    Alternatively, can’t we blame the Vikings for this one? Why not put massive horns on your helmets? It’s clearly a bloody brilliant idea.

  11. Thrillssss Says:

    Zom, that is some impressive willpower.

  12. Zom Says:

    It’s almost a fetish.

    Can’t do it with every book. Want to do it with Batman and Robin, suspect I won’t be able to.

  13. The Beast Must Die Says:

    It’s also one of the reasons that books get cancelled.

  14. Pedro Tejeda Says:

    Long Time Reader, First Time Commenter,

    I love the way you just tore away at Detective with a shotgun. I’ve never seen someone use such surgical accuracy with blunt force. Never ever change, bobsy.

    ps. I <3 Milligan on this run. Sometimes you just want something that is just timed really well.

  15. The Beast Must Die Says:

    To elucidate: If someone like Zom doesn’t buy Young Liars despite *knowing* he’ll love it, how the fuck will it have a chance of surviving?

  16. Zom Says:

    Pedro, don’t worry, Bobsy won’t.

    TMBD, ’cause I buy YL monthly but don’t read it? Eh? Thrills has already mentioned that the waiting for the trade thing is the enemy of monthlies.

  17. Zom Says:

    I’m NOT waiting for the trade. That’s the whole point.

  18. Papers Says:

    I wouldn’t mind if more people started adopted Ellis’s Freakangels model, with comics available for free on-line and then released in printed trade format *immediately* at the end of each arc. A week or two later seems to be about normal at this point. But that has its own problems and I’m not sure how I actually feel about Freakangels itself even if I find a lot of the ideas interesting.

    It depends on what I’m reading and how nuts about it I am to get stuff in pamphlets (Like Seaguy), but there *has* to be a better way to orient the market so that it isn’t based on people essentially buying duplicates of things in the end (trades are so much easier to store) or there being a weird distaste for trade-waiting in spite of the fact that it makes better sense to wait and get the whole for a lower price that’s also easier to store and looks nice.

    Re: Caped Crusader. First issue good, second issue “meh.” I want Gaiman to go back in time and rewrite the second issue to be full of the weird Bat-stories that made the first issue good (“The Cat-Woman’s Tale!”), and damn the need to say anything about Batman explicitly. It follows a Gaiman pattern of story-about-stories very closely, yes, but it could have been more fun. Bat-Girl’s story was too generic and didn’t really speak to Bette’s character at all, and Joker was reduced to four panels? Really? I would have been happy to have no grand statement on Batman beyond the clashing models and deaths and the multiplicity of Batman as a given.

    Still, it was better than any of the Battle for the Cowl crud.

  19. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Ahh Zom, didn’t realise you wuz actually buying it but not reading it.

  20. The Satrap Says:

    Well, yes, horned helmets are a good idea, but once one gets started, where does one draw the line on the things that can be rationalised as vaguely Viking-y?

    Brass knuckles?

    Spiky nunchucks?

    Studded codpieces?

    And, removing our Eurocentric blinkers for a second, what happens when, say, the Shaolin monks complain about the exorbitant privilege enjoyed by the helmeted, wild-eyed Norsemen? Do they get access to outrageous headgear too?

    It’s a slippery slope.

  21. Zom Says:

    Don’t be ridiculous, Satrap. Shaolin Monks don’t need horns, they’ve got Chinese dragons to ride and hadouken skills.

  22. Thrillssss Says:

    Just to bring in some super nerd action, my experience of fighting games has taught me that Shaolin monks tend to shun the hadouken in favour of the flaming leg.

    NO WAIT, a Shaolin character in the Power Instinct series has a hadouken shaped like a skull.

    Phew.

    And I feel I should point out that though my trade-buying may be killing comics, I do tend to only buy the trades of series that I have missed, or started late on. I certainly don’t wait for the trade on comics that I am, (ahem) ‘stoked’ about, such as the aforementioned Seaguy. I tend not to buy trades of things I’ve already bought in single issue format, as I’d rather spend the money on a trade of something I’ve not read.

    It’s a tough old game, comics.

    I’ve heard nothing but good things about ‘Vikings’ from other sites, and was planning on purchasing it, but the evocative description of the art as looking “like it’s trying to be Dermot Power” has sort of put me off. I’ve never been a fan of that sort of art, really. I blame it on reading Digitek at an early age, and thinking it was shit.

  23. Thrillssss Says:

    Sorry, ‘Viking’, not ‘Vikings’.

  24. Papers Says:

    Thrillssssss– yeah, I tend not to replace things I’ve already got with trades, but I’m finding it makes more sense to replace a couple of the key things I love now that I’m moving. Among other things, that leaves me more room in my singles box for pamphlets, as I store trades with my other books.

    Yes, I am neurotic.

    I thought about Hellblazer today but the artwork didn’t speak to me and I just can’t seem to get stoked about Conjob at the moment. In the end I went with the latest Lo3W (which was delayed long enough to distract me from my disappointment) and Phonogram’s latest single, which I’m still undecided on.

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