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Criminal: Sinners #1
Icon
(Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips)

Well, I didn’t think it’d be the case, but I’m glad Incognito is over. Something about that series didn’t quite click for me. Don’t get me wrong, Brube and Philips always produce quality work, but Incognito just felt a little…uninspired. It didn’t say anything about supervillians and heroes that the infinitely more sophisticated Sleeper did (God, that was such a good comic).

So seeing Criminal back in it’s place was a winner for this Beast. Criminal feels like it’s the comic Brubaker really wants to write, and there ain’t nothing like an A-grade writer bringing his A-game to the table to put a smile on the face of a discerning comics fan (that’s me by the way, you peasants). This issue takes up with tracy Lawless from the second arc. Still plugging away as a heavy hitter for sebastian Hyde, but he seems to have developed more of a conscience about what he’s doing. Add to the mix a hardnut CIA operative on the trail of Tracy (who’s a deserter), and some upstart vigilantes with an as-yet unspecified agenda, and you’ve gotthe usual ingredients for another hardboiled twisty tale. Part of the pleasure of Criminal is the way that Brubaker plays with absolutley familiar plots and characters, but invests them with the right amount of pep and originality to keep the comic ticking over. Whilst Sin City is a bezerko quasi-parody of noir tropes and themes, Criminal is content to carve out a more convincing, believable style. It’s still a world of permanent night, sleazy neon bars and dangerously horny brunettes (yes Ed, we know you have a type…), but we the reader can relate to Tracy, or Leo in a way we could never hope to with a gonzo caricature like Marv.

Sean Phillips does such sterling, exemplary work that you can take him for granted. But here’s the fact: he’s one of the very best artists workimg in comics and Criminal would be a tenth of the comic it is without his input. He and Brubaker have a powerful creative synergy that many comics would benefit from.

Add the fact that you’ve got a nice interview with Darwin Cooke about his Stark adaptation, an essay on a lesser known Peckinpah movie, and no ads, and there’s really no reason for you not o be buying Criminal. And if you’re buying Captain America and not buying Criminal – naughty!

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Strange Tales #2
Marvel
(various)

Hot damn, it seems like every week is ‘indy creators take on established corporate property’ week don’t it? Let’s see what they’ve come up with…

Well, mostly lighthearted pastiches of Marvel characters! I’ll be danged! I’m a big fan of projects like these, but there’s always something a little…bollockless about them. I mean don’t get me wrong, seeing Tony Millionaire take on Iron Man in his usual drunken style is something I want to see (is it me or is that a perfect fit – big ol’ drunk creator writes big ol’ drunk superhero?) And the talent show on display in this issue and the last is pretty impressive – ‘Red Meat’s’ Max Cannon take on the Fantastic Four is something I genuinely didn’t think I’d see come to pass. But nontheless there’s always something a bit cutesy and tame aout this stuff. Bizarro Comics suffered from a similar slight lack of imagination.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m definitely just grousing here. I’d rather read a comic like Strange Tales than 90% of Marvel or DC’s current output, but I’d really like to see some creator’s go apeshit with their strip, rather than the nudge-nudge wink-wink stuff on display here. The recent Fin Fang Four stuff by Roger Langridge as waaay cuter than most of the stuff in Strange Tales. More often than not you’re left with a watered down version of both the character and the creator, which is a shame. That said I loved Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg’s Brother Voodoo strip, with it’s obvious nod to the duo’s own Afrodisiac character.

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Astro City Special: Astra #1 (of 2)
Wildstorm
(Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson)

Well thank Galactus the Dark Age is over. I dunno…I really dug the first mini in the most recent Astro City epic (in particular it’s evocation of the streetwise, edgy 70′s strain of Marvel superheroes), but boy did it fucking drag towards the end. For every great idea, like the Apollo 11, there was reams of tedious plot about Charles and Royal’s mission to uncover their parent’s killer. I think the truth is that Astro City functions better with the stand alone stories. Kurt Busiek can often pull tremendously affecting meditations on superheroes out of the bag, but just isn’t served that well by long running story arcs.

Which is why it was nice to pick up the recent special focussing on Astra, youngest daughter in the Furst family (AC’s loose Fantastic Four analogues). Busiek neatly positions her as a kind of Paris/Lindsay Lohan figure, only with super powers and a deeply cosmic social life. It’s a cute idea, played out nicely. It’s exactly the kind of thing this comic does so well. By playing around in a universe of his own creation, one that nonetheless seems ever-so familiar, Busiek can do things he simply can’t in either of the Big Two’s continuity constipated clog holes. At it’s best Astro City reminds you why you fell in love with superheroes and their colourful complicated shared universes. Brent Anderson’s comfortably timeless artwork is a constant throughout evoking Neal Adams or Gene Colan to great effect. His art’s been a bit wibbly of late, but he’s an intrinsic part of Astro City’s appeal – you can’t imagine the comic without it. Even Alex Ross’s overused, bland style seems re-invigorated with his AC covers. Good stuff all round.

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King City #2
Image
(Brandon Graham)

2nd issue of Image’s lovely repackaging of Brandon Graham’s idiosyncratic and fresh King City. I love the expanded format – it gives Graham’s loose fluid artwork room to breathe and really emphasises his use of negative space and weird perspective. Truth be told not a great deal happens (part of the hindrance of chopping up Manga-style formats) but it’s all so charming and different that it’s hard to care. Much like Bryan Lee O’Malley or Taiyo Matsumoto Graham mashes together East and West in a gloriously uninhibited way, and the results are a blast. I could do with slightly less of the hipster angst – too bloody reminiscent of Brian Wood and Jim Mahfood – and more of the Cat, but really, no complaints. Do yourself a favour and pick this up. Gorgeous covers too – I’d dearly love to see some full colour BG stuff.

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Batman & Robin #5
DC
(Donna Tartt & Ernest Borgnine)

Well I can’t really be fucked to talk too much about this. Not because I disliked it – quite the opposite, I’m enjoying the sordid trashy vibe that Morrison & Tan are bringing to the table, in particular the gleefully stupid new characters being introduced and dispatched with giddy abandon. No, I just simply don’t want to fill up any more blogspace with writing about it.

Starstruck #2
(Elaine Lee & MW Kaluta)

IDW’s sumtuous repackaging of this lost and loved sci-fi epic from the 80′s continues at it’s glacial pace – I didn’t bloody realise it was bi-monthly! Difficult to gage the story at this stage. Lee employs all sorts of narrative tricks and quirks to keep things oblique, much like Robert Altman did with film in the 70′s. Characters talk over each other and interrupt each other mid-way through sentences, not to mention talking about vast, complex socio-political alien situations. The scope for the series is certainly ambitious, and the attempt to create a convincingly futuristic world is admirable.

The real draw, obviously, is Kaluta’s beautiful, beautiful artwork. It really is fantastic – delicate, complex linework and a truly marvelous sense of design. The recolouring is sensitive and luxurious and the whole package reeks of quality. Plenty of backmatter as well, not to mention brand new Kaluta artwork in the shape of the curious ‘Galactic Girl Guides’ strip. Starstruck is well worth sampling if you’re after something different

13 Responses to “Whauttup foo’s, it’s Tues reviews…”

  1. Marc Says:

    Well thank Galactus the Dark Age is over

    Don’t thank the devourer of worlds just yet–there’s still one more four-part mini, plus a final character special (on the Silver Agent, apparently).

    Have to say, I actually enjoyed the last miniseries quite a bit more than this special. Book 3 did fall apart towards the end, but the early issues played to Astro City’s hidden strengths–not the standalone stories, and certainly not the character studies (which are cloying at least as often as they are moving), but the “superhero procedurals” that take a genre cliche and carry it out to its logical end: What would happen if a criminal actually learned a hero’s secret identity? What happens when a supervillain actually makes the big score? How exactly do you prosecute a supercriminal anyway?

    This time, we got an inside look at a Hydra/Kobra style organization, all from a henchman’s perspective. (I was hoping we’d get the same view of SHIELD or whatever Busiek calls his knockoff–EAGLE–but that was where the mini started to fizzle.) Contrary to all the usual praise for Astro City’s focus on the little guy, Charles and Royal get a lot more interesting when they’re actually interacting with the amazing world of the superheroes, even on that small a scale.

    Whereas the Astra issue felt like a retread–just another version of the same story he told last time, thirteen years ago. Astra is in her twenties and thus a little more in Busiek’s comfort zone as a writer, but otherwise it’s all the same–a tour of the wondrous people she knows, mundane and fantastic life intersecting uneasily, yada yada yada. Busiek has pushed the doubts about the heroic lifestyle onto the pusillanimous boyfriend, but I’m not sure that’s an improvement. And while making Astra a genuine Lindsay Lohan-type fuckup has been done before, too–that’s a Powers story, right, not an Astro City one?–it would still be more interesting than the nullity who’s at the center of this issue.

    Astra is at an amazing, terrifying moment, a moment that only comes once or twice to us if we’re lucky: she’s young, free, powerful, unstoppable, and she has absolutely no idea what she wants to do with her life. How the hell did Busiek make that so boring?

    I know this is exactly the type of story Astro City gets celebrated for, and maybe that’s the problem. Busiek could have written this script in his sleep and it shows. If the next mini gives us more plot and more peeks inside the inner workings of a fully functioning superhero universe, I’m all for the long-running story arcs.

  2. Papers Says:

    I often feel like Brandon Graham’s stuff involves me going on some sordid quest to find it. I love KING CITY so fucking much, and I can’t wait to see the new stuff when it comes out. Have you had the chance to read Escalator? It’s a mixed bag, but fun.

    STRANGE TALES suffers from “Looks great, but there’s no meat to this story” syndrome.

    BATMAN & ROBIN is sort of, there. You know. I’d forgotten it was even out but there it was.

  3. The Beast Must Die Says:

    I see what you’re saying Marc, and I dug the henchman’s insider view, but to me what drags is the *bleh* plotting – it just chugs along with no real sense of drama. The same thing happened with that interminable Steeljack story from yonks ago. The devil is in the details in Astro City.

    Is there really another mini? Fuck I thought it had ended. Shows how little I was paying attention towards the end.

    I really enjoyed the mystery and intrigue set up in the first mini, and thought it captured that gnarly 70′s urban Marvel comics vibe perfectly. In particular the Ghost Rider/Punisher pastiche (what was he, the Blue…something?). I just think that it failed to deliver somewhat – perhaps the long wait between minis affected the sense of pace.

    The last Astro City thing I really dug was the Beautie one shot – a genuinely unsettling riff on Pinocchio filtered through superheroics.

  4. Zom Says:

    I enjoyed Batman and Robin more this time around. The art still suffers from a lack of clarity and the comic as a whole is still a massive come down after the first three issues, but I think you pretty much sum up the issue’s appeal. It does feel sordid and trashy and that’s fun to be sure.

  5. Marc Says:

    Yeah, the pacing on Astro City has been terrible–another place where the last mini improved considerably just by coming out monthly. It also helped that the plot functioned mostly independently of the neverending Silver Agent stuff, which petered out years ago.

  6. The Beast Must Die Says:

    One thing I have a bit of beef with Morrison about is his use of dead and mutilated prostitutes to create a sense of nastiness in his Batman stories. He had it with the ’3 Batmen’ story and again with the Flamingo here. Veering a bit too close to ‘Women in Fridges’ territory for my tastes…

  7. Zom Says:

    Yeah, tres agreed

  8. Marc Says:

    On the other hand, you have to love any villain whose first on-panel appearance cites “Purple Rain.”

  9. Zom Says:

    Is truth

  10. Zom Says:

    How’s the book going, by the by?

  11. Marc Says:

    First draft is a little more than half done. (Hopefully the difficult half.) I should be finishing up the Flex Mentallo section instead of typing this…

  12. Zom Says:

    [Squintyeyestrain]willing you on[/squintyeyestrain]

  13. Everyone’s A Critic: A round-up of comic book reviews and thinkpieces | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    [...] And the Mindless Ones review a whole bunch of wacky pamphlet [...]

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