Friday, September 29, 2006

The Shortbox 9/29/06

Squadron Supreme #6
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artist: Juan Barranco
Marvel Comics, released 8-9-06
Six issues into this title, and I'm still waiting for things to get started. Typically after only six issues, a story with this much depth failing to explain everything wouldn't bother me. However, in this case, it's pace flat out irks me because Squadron Supreme is really at issue #24, being an extension of the fantastic, 18-issue Supreme Power series from 2003-05. The white elephant in the room for me is the amount of characters. Because there are 11 members in the group right now (not to mention the supporting cast), the development of both the characters and the plot is being spread too thin in order to cover all of them.
That said, Nighthawk finally makes an appearance in this issue. His most entertaining scene is one that would send Bobby de Niro's character from Taxi Driver into fits of violent jealousy. Though he may be nothing more than an African-American Batman, he's still the most interesting of the bunch to me. More Nighthawk can only be a good thing. Keep that in mind, J. Mike.
6 out of 10

Hellblazer #223
writer: Denise Mina
artist: Cristiano Cucina
Vertigo/DC Comics, released 8-16-06
I'm suggesting this as a jumping on point for all of those of you currently not reading the adventures of John Constantine because this issue was where I've begun reading as well. In this one-shot, Mina displays a fantastic ability to depict the insane with the villain here. I have a suspicion that we've not seen the last of him either. She's also reinvigorated Map in this issue, a minor character that I'm told had not been greatly utilized in recent runs by other writers. He appears to be placed on a path of great importance after the events at the close of the issue. That said, because I'm incredibly new to the title, I could be way off base. Either way, I dug the issue and can't wait to wrap my head around this world a bit more.
8 out of 10

New Avengers #23
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Oliver Coipel
Marvel Comics, released 8-23-06
If this issue is any indication as to what Bendis' proposed Spider-Woman series will be like, all I can say is, "Yes, sir! May I have another?" New Avengers #23 rocked my shit (that's a good thing, I think), and that's saying something considering how much I've enjoyed the Civil War-related N.A. issues already. Following the excellently scripted #21 and #22 about Captain America and Luke Cage, Bendis continues to focus on a single Avenger per issue. This round revolves around Jessica Drew and how the life of a triple agent is further complicated by the Registration Act. Although the Spider-Woman: Origin mini was seemingly unspectacular when I read it a few months ago, I now realize how important Jessica's past is to her relationship with the Avengers. I hope if you haven't read SW:O you enjoy this issue, but I can't see how -- you're missing out on so much without her backstory. She is on the verge of insanity by dividing herself between the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the folks over at Hydra. Hopefully she can simplify her life by choosing the side of Civil War that she does. I just don't see that happening though.
10 out of 10

The Boys #2
writer: Garth Ennis
artist: Darick Robertson
WildStorm/DC Comics, released 8-30-06
I haven't read any of Preacher yet, but when I read that Ennis had proclaimed this book would "out-Preacher Preacher" I had to give it a look. Without delving into what that statement actually means, what I know about Preacher, besides it being one of the best reads of the 90s, is that it was considered insanely violent both in subject matter and the methods in which that violence was depicted in. Don't know about you, but I can usually go for a nice dose of insane violence every month, so I slapped this baby on my pull list. The second issue introduces us to the rest of the Boys who weren't shown to us in #1. A lot of what is going to happen in this book is totally out of my range of prediction, at least as of right now. That said, it's a great setup for a series after the first two issues. Although there's plenty of subjects here that Ennis isn't the first guy to tackle, mainly critiquing of the Superhero in a modern landscape, there's also plenty to like. The Boys is certainly not for young boys and girls; in fact, it's really not for mature readers either. This is the perfect book for people over the age of 18 that still like a good dirty joke or a display of unabashed brutality.
8 out of 10

Heroes for Hire #1
writers: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
artists: Billy Tucci & Tom Palmer
Marvel Comics, released 8-23-06
The idea behind this new ongoing really intrigued me -- bounty hunters collecting on villains because the big heroes of the Marvel U are too busy fighting with each other to do the dirty work -- and toss in the fact it would be a direct descendent of the very enjoyable Daughters of the Dragon mini from earlier this year, I made sure I put it on my pull list. Colleen Wing and Misty Knight are the new front women, taking over for Iron Fist and Power Man/Luke Cage (who were busy being pushed into A-list status to bother picking up their old mantle). Joining them are an interesting bunch -- Black Cat (as I've mentioned in previous columns, an inexplicable favorite of mine), Shang Chi (no idea), Paladin (ditto) and the new Tarantula (I've never even heard of the old one, but whatever), as well as favs of mine from the DotD -- Humbug, Orka and, of course, Otis. It's a solid introduction issue and you definitely do not need to hunt down the mini to figure out what's going on. It is bogged down some in seriousness as opposed to the pure fun of the mini due to the landscape of Civil War, but I think more humor will eventually slip in. I am calling for an Otis spin-off in the near future, however. I love me some Otis.
7 out of 10

Monday, September 25, 2006

Low Blows 09.25.06

“American Virgin” #5
DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Steven T. Seagle
Artist: Becky Cloonan

If you’ve never heard of the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Josh Harris, then count yourself lucky. Its author earned himself a fair amount of fame and money, as well as moral authority, in the Evangelical Christian community around 1997 or so with his Bible-twisting and fearful message of a return to the relatively ancient practice of courtship in lieu of the modern dating paradigm.

I’m absolutely certain that Steven T. Seagle had Harris in mind when he created “American Virgin”’s protagonist, Adam Chamberlain. He, too, is hip and in his mid-twenties, and has made millions of dollars after publishing a book about the virtues of preserving your virginity before marriage. But unlike the image Josh Harris has constructed of himself, Adam is not perfect. He swears, gets frustrated easily, and sometimes gives in to lust -- well, in his thoughts, anyway. And most recently, his life has gone to hell.

Now, I’m no stranger to Christian fundamentalism, and I’m also no small critic of the same -- which is probably why I find myself responding so strongly to this book. It is to Steven T. Seagle’s credit that he has, thus far at least, not made fun of the protagonist, but in fact made him someone that I’m rooting for. Adam has real emotions, and makes no attempt to conceal that due to recent developments, he is adrift in a sea of uncertainly regarding where his life is going. All he has left is his faith, but he continues to find himself in contexts which the Bible does not offer pat, easily-digested answers for. It’s one thing to spurn the sexual advances of a groupie after a pro-virginity rally, but what does the Bible say about what to do when a mercenary under your employ provides you with a potential opportunity to confront the terrorist who severed your girlfriend’s head in South Africa?

There’s a lot going on in this book. Adam has just returned from an overseas trip, where he retrieved his deceased girlfriend’s missing head at no small cost to his sanity. His step-sister, the only one who can really trust in his family, is involved with a drug deal gone bad. His manipulative, money-grubbing mother is trying to get him to attend a Christian speaker’s convention in Australia. It appears that his step-father was involved in pornography in his younger years -- and it’s his deadbeat brother and cousins who provide him with rather visceral evidence of this. And Cassie, the aforementioned deceased girlfriend, keeps appearing to him in visions.

Beautiful, charming art by Becky Cloonan and a ghostly cover by Josh Middleton compliment this story well. Cloonan (whom I have only previously heard of from Brian Wood’s “Demo” series) is a master of expressions, and her distinct character work, reminiscent of Paul Pope but more accessible, gives the series a look all its own. I’m not sure if I’d like the series quite as much without her involvement.

I don’t want to give the impression that “American Virgin” is a downer. It’s not deadly serious, and there is some pretty heavy satire at work here. I have absolutely no idea where the series is heading, but my theory is that it’s somewhere dangerous and controversial. And I’ll be reading it every step of the way.

[9 out of a possible 10]

“Ghost Rider” #1
Marvel Comics
Writer: Daniel Way
Artists: Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira

Though I wasn’t crazy about Garth Ennis’ somewhat half-baked miniseries that this new ongoing series picks up from, it laid an interesting foundation. You see, Johnny Blaze, the original Ghost Rider, has died, and is in Hell, stuck in his “flaming skull and magic bike” form. He spends most of this issue trying to escape the Pit, for obvious reasons. And I don’t think it spoils anything for me to say that, when he finally does escape at the end of this first issue, it brings with it a load of complications.

I’ll be upfront about this: it turns out that I do like Daniel Way after all. And, now that I’ve gotten that out, I’ll go ahead and say that his “Ghost Rider” is pretty good, too. Furthermore, with the advances in computer coloring in the last decade, legendary 1990s “Ghost Rider” artists Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira are looking better than ever -- really playing off each other’s strengths, much more so than when they were drawing “Wolverine” together not too long ago. This is the best-looking Ghost Rider I’ve seen in a long time, if not ever. All of which adds up to a really enjoyable book, but also one which I’d be surprised if it breaks any sales records.

It’s not real hard to pinpoint why Daniel Way isn’t exactly Marvel’s most popular writer. I think a lot of it stems from his lackluster “Venom” series from a while back, and perhaps even his middling “Hulk” and “Wolverine” stints last year. His two Bullseye-centric miniseries with Steve Dillon on art were a whole lot of fun, except that he seemed to borrow a bit too much from the atmosphere of Garth Ennis’ “Marvel Knights Punisher” in writing these instead of developing a voice of his own. I was spurred to give this new series a chance on the strength of the first few issues of Way’s “Wolverine: Origins,” though, and I’m glad I did.

“Ghost Rider” is probably never going to be one of Marvel’s top-tier titles, but sometimes, all I really want to read is a comic where the main good guy is a glowing skeleton on a motorcycle, and the main bad guy is the Devil. Way himself has stated in an interview that he’s trying to aim for something fun and middle-of-the-road. Well, with this premiere issue of the new series, I’d say he has definitely succeeded.

[7.5 out of a possible 10]