Sunday, August 27, 2006

Low Blows 08.27.06

(It's been a while, and I've got some catching up to do...)

"100 Bullets" #73
DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Eduardo Risso

"100 Bullets" is my favorite comic that I have no idea what's going on in, month after month. Some might argue that Azzarello reads better in trade paperbacks; I just say that a lot of comic readers are lazy -- myself included -- and can't be bothered to dig back through their collection and do some re-reading. But that's not to say that this book isn't enjoyable. It's violent, funny and intriguing, and the crime noir trappings of the first 50 or so issues of the series have more or less given way (for the time being, at least) to an exploration of the inner workings of the Trust, the conspiracy behind Agent Graves' own personal conspiracy.

Issue #73 is the fourth part of "A Wake," in which it seems we are meeting yet another Minuteman for the first time. Parallel plot threads including the above-mentioned awakening of a sleeper agent, South American beef bandits, a pair of warring small-time crooks who happen to be brothers, and the selection of a new member of The Trust fill this book to the brim with story. Decompressed it's not, though it does still feel as if the story is unfolding at a slower pace than your average comic book. But then again, this is no average comic book.

There's not a lot new about "100 Bullets" that I can say, really, as the book prepares to enter the final quarter of its 100-issue run. Azzarello's dialogue continues to be lyrical, streetwise and obtuse, his plotting perhaps moreso, but in a good way. And, what can I say -- Risso's fluid, dangerous art couldn't be a better match. I'd be a liar if I said that this would be a good issue for a new reader to start with, though, as it's too involved in the mythology of the series to provide any kind of good entry point into the story. In fact, I'd say "100 Bullets" is probably well past its new reader-friendly stage. Instead, I'd recommend that the new reader start from issue #1, as I'm about to do (for the third time), and experience the "100 Bullets" saga from the beginning.

[7.5 out of a possible 10]

"Ares" #5 (of 5)
Marvel Comics
Writer: Michael Avon Oeming
Artist: Travel Foreman

You've heard of Mike Oeming -- he's the artist of "Powers," and the writer who killed Thor and wiped Asgard off the map. Travel Foreman, on the other hand, is probably best known as "that guy who dropped the ball on that awful 'Doctor Spectrum' miniseries."

It so happens that I really enjoy "Powers," (though I realize that Oeming's artistic prowess most likely has little correlation with his writing skills -- point in case, the majority of Image Comics' founders) and I had also heard that Ares may be joining the New Avengers in the future, so I decided to give this miniseries a try.

I'm glad, too, because I was rewarded with a truly interesting story about warring Eastern and Western pantheons, centered around the betrayal of sons to their fathers. The character art and backgrounds in these five issues has varied in quality between merely serviceable and outright stunning, but I blame this inconsistency on deadline pressures rather than any lack of talent on Foreman's part. My only other complaint lies in the fact that Zeus seems to die about three times in battle over the course of this story, only to return quickly to his allies' side -- but perhaps this is just a piece of the mythological underpinnings to the story that I'm unaware of.

This final issue ties things up nicely, and leaves me wondering exactly how Ares might fit into a modern team context. My money's on him filling the "tough guy" role in the new "Mighty Avengers" book that Bendis and Frank Cho are going to be putting out after the Civil War runs its course. What actually sold me on the story wasn't the plentiful action scenes, but instead it was the relationship between Ares and his son, whom he fears will follow all too closely in his footsteps. I only hope that this narrative thread, and also the larger story of the Marvel Greek gods, isn't lost when Bendis takes over the reins.

[7 out of a possible 10]

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Longbox 8/25/06

Lethal Instinct #6 (of 6)
writer: Romulo Soares (with Bart Thompson translating)
artist: Alex Borges
Alias Comics, released 7-5-06
You know, you read a lot of gripes online at comic sites and message boards about how everything in the industry revolves around superhero titles and the small, out-of-the-mainstream books never get noticed. These are accurate complaints to a degree, as some of the best stories being told in any medium can be found from the independent comic publishers. Exciting work has been coming out of Oni Press for quite some time, most recently in the form of new series Wasteland and the upcoming Damned (a book that sold me on its gangsters and daemons concept from the moment I found out about it). Boom! Studios with their X Isle mini-series and IDW Publishing picking up Peter David's Fallen Angel, among other titles, are two other comic houses to keep an eye on these days. What all this means for us, the fans, is we have more places to look to spend our money when perusing around the local shop (assuming your shop carries books other than the big sellers). You'll find that this has some drawbacks, as I find that I've been dropping more cash on comics each month because they are just so damn good I can't control myself, but that is the nature of the beast because more comics equals lower drinking funds (thank god I live in a college town where booze is cheap to find).
However, among all of those great books I've been getting, I have come across a few stinkers, the worst of which is being reviewed in this article.
See, about year and a half ago when I began to become serious about reading comics, I wanted to spread my horizons and get some books by lesser-known publishers. At that time, two were just putting up shop: FC9 Comics and Alias Comics.
FC9 intrigued me with Hell, Michigan, which told the story of a town that bred evil within its boundaries, causing a few citizens to band together to combat it. Sadly, I only ever received two issues and though it wasn't as great as the premise, I'm still disappointed that I never found out how it ended. A quick look at their website reveals that they've been as stagnant as Britney Spears' music career over the past year.
Alias, on the other hand, offered up Lethal Instinct, a tale about a paranormal-investigating policeman who just happens to be a werewolf. And issue #1 was only 75 cents! How could I resist?
The first issue was released on June 6th, 2005. Over 13 months later, I finally received the concluding sixth installment. Wow, was it NOT worth the wait.
Really I have only myself to blame for this. I knew this issue would be bad. I've known it was going to be a horrific display of inconsistent art and cliche-ridden storytelling for over a year now. But I ordered it anyway. Why? So I could tear it apart in this column.
*** Part of me feels a little guilty for what you're about to read. I really do try to support independent publishers and always root for their success, even Alias in their future publications. However, this atrocious comic must be lambasted and reviled in every possible aspect. Continue reading at your own risk. ***
First off, because this comic is so immeasurably horrendous, I couldn't bring myself to dig out the previous five issues and reread them. It's taken me all the willpower I possess not to burn them so that no other person would be subjected to the shear amateurish nonsense contained on these pages.
Lethal Instinct was originally published in another country and this is the American adaptation. As a result, all the Spanish (or was it Portuguese? can't remember) has been translated. The problem with this is that Bart Thompson either had absolute shit dialogue to translate from, or didn't know how what the proper translation would have been, instead incorporating every pathetic line from recent Eric Roberts strait-to-video cop movies. However, I may be giving Mr. Thompson a little too much credit. You see, when you have such gripping dialogue as, "You're informant's timing sucks!" on page two of this issue, and since it just happens to have a glaring grammatical error as the improper utilization of "you're" as opposed to "your," you kinda lose all potential credibility. In prior issues, the lettering itself would inconsistently waver from bubbles overloaded with text to gigantic balloons with hardly anything within them, obstructing the sub-par artwork.
Speaking of the art, it truly is some of the worst I've ever seen. Issue #6 thankfully is without some of the obvious blunders of past installments. I recall a panel in issue #3 or #4 where our hero, the werewolf, is locked in a cage, but for some reason his shadow was going the opposite way of the shadow the cage was casting. And to top it off, the cage depicted on the next page failed to even have a shadow.
The remainder of Borges' pencils in the series are not significantly poor; they're simply uninspiring -- action scenes have no sense of drama or impending doom, werewolf transformations appear routine, and every big-breasted bimbo is generic in virtually all imaginable ways. Unfortunately, lackluster art is the rule with this book.
I think that most artists rise to the occasion of the script they are given, so blame of Borges can only be taken so far. I believe the majority of the finger pointing belongs to Soares. His original story is probably just as weak as what the American version has turned out to be. Within the precinct, Frank, the werewolf cop, is constantly having his chops busted (I swear that phrase was used 40 times in the entire series) by his unsympathetic sergeant, who coincidentally looks a lot like Samuel L. Jackson, ala the Ultimate version of Nick Fury. Frank is the police detective in every B-movie you've ever seen, only worse. He's given the wisecracking jokes (if they really can even be called that) and puts the obscure pieces together to solve the mystery before anyone else does. Then there's Ingrid, the beautiful new partner who is actually working for the bad guys, but at the end of the day sees the light not only in doing the right thing, but within Frank as well. LAME.
The only remotely interesting aspect of Lethal Instinct is Daniel, Frank's friend who grew bat wings at the end of the series. There isn't anything in particular that makes his character worth continuing the saga further, but a guy with bat wings fighting a werewolf cop would be kinda cool, even if it was depicted in a shitty art sequence.
Welp, that's about all the complaints I can muster up, so stay away from this title with all your might. Now I'm off to the backyard to have myself a little barbecue.
1 out of 10

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Shortbox 8/7/06

Daily Bugle: Civil War Newspaper
various writers and artists
Marvel Comics, released 7-19-06
I almost didn't pick this little guy up after my disappointment with "The Pulse" newspaper that came out during House of M last summer. Not that that one was horrible; it just didn't completely win me over. This Civil War issue, however, is a completely different story. I think Marvel learned a lot from last year's experiment and improved remarkably upon this concept. For those not in the know, this is a mock issue of the "Daily Bugle," complete with articles and editorials regarding the current state of the Marvel Universe -- the issue is an actual newspaper, right down to the paper it's printed on. There's an article giving us a quick synopsis of each Civil War-related book in the Marvel U, clearly a marketing ploy, but it also allows someone like me who is not getting every
tie-in issue to have a better understanding of what the other titles are up to. Some highlights from the many articles inside include Wolverine's hunt for Nitro, a debate over whether heroes are to blame for teens begin inspired to put on costumes and then getting themselves killed, and a very entertaining Fifth Page, much of which is dedicated to lambasting Mary Jane. Perhaps the best article, however, is an editorial "written" by J. Jonah Jameson vilifying Peter Parker for misrepresenting himself to the "Bugle" for so many years, creating doubt around the paper's legitimacy, ala the Jayson Blair incident with the "New York Times" a few years back.
special issue has a lot going for it. It'll be interesting to see if Marvel can put out one similar to this without having a huge event to fall back on like House of M or Civil War.
7 out of 10

Wasteland #1
Antony Johnston
artist: Christopher Mitten
Oni Press, released
This new series from Oni Press is very intriguing. After a yet-to-be-explained apocalyptic event, the entire known world is left as a big 'ol desert. Our hero is a wandering soul; quick with a gun and light on the dialogue. He also happens to have a mysterious understanding of a cryptic, ancient language. Anyway, he arrives at a town, meeting the other main character and future love interest, Abi, who in addition to being the town cutie pie just happens to be the sheriff -- a hottie who can tussle with the big boys. The town inevitably comes under attack before the stranger can leave, and a pretty-damn-cool battle ensues. Wasteland is mixing elements reminiscent of spaghetti westerns, The Road Warrior, Dune, The Gunslinger, the Tatooine scenes of Star
Wars, and Waterworld (minus the water, of course) together for something entirely it's own, which is no small feat. While there are more questions than answers at this point, I gather that's the way it's supposed to be.
8 out of 10

X-Men #189
writer: Mike Carey
artist: Chris Bachalo
Marvel Comics, released 7-26-06
I've heard a lot about Mike Carey being one of the top writers in the industry, so when this new X-book run started up, I decided to hop on the bandwagon. While I can't say this issue and the first part of the Carey run, #188, are bad, I am saying I'm thoroughly confused at this point. This is due in part to my relative ignorance of the X-Men in general. I know the main group from the movies and cartoons of the 90s, but outside of the characters featured in those mediums, I'm mostly at a loss. I know Rogue and Iceman. I know Mystique's role in the Marvel U has been expanded greatly since Singer infused her into his two X-movies; although exactly what that role is, I'm not entirely sure. As far as Cable and C
annonball go, I essentially have no idea who they are -- I don't think I even had heard of Cannonball before. And then there's Sabertooth. I think he's the lynchpin to success on this first arc of Carey's. If whatever Creed is up to makes sense and is worthwhile, you'll see me raving about this title. If not -- well, I'm never against saving myself $2.99 a month. That said, Rogue seems to be a good change-of-pace choice as leader of the group, so I am holding out hope that her growth into that role is one of the stronger points of the run. The rating is based on the merit of this issue alone, but the series is a long way from being foregone.
5 out of 10

Jack of Fables #1
writers: Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges
artist: Tony Akins
Vertigo/DC Comics, released
Spinning out of Fables is the new on-going Jack of Fables from the mind of Bill Willingham. I'm still behind on the monthly installments of Fables because I've been reading it in trade, but Jack's story here picks up exactly where I left him a few weeks ago (in my time, not the release of the original issues). About half of this issue was dedicated to establishing just who Jack is for new readers and a brief explanation of what a fable is in Willingham's world. Once that stuff is out of the way, the story does begin to come together. Probably my favorite panel in the book was a classic character in the background toward the end of the of the issue -- you'll know it when you see it. It sure will be exciting to see Jack interacting with new fables.
I was never totally enamored with Jack in Fables as many others were, but he is an enjoyable rebel. He's the obvious choice for a spin-off to be based upon, even though I personally would like to see more background on Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf, respectfully. I hope this series will be
one that I look forward to each month, but based on this initial issue, I'm not convinced. Other than introducing additional fables, I don't see what the big adventure for Jack is yet.
6 out of 10

Runaways #18
writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Adrian Alphona
Marvel Comics, released
A Runaway dies in this issue. While that character was probably the one I least wanted to go (well, one of three -- who am I kidding, they're all awesome and I didn't want any of them to die), I still can't be disappointed in the way events turned out, especially when I think about how this affects one character in particular. This is just more outstanding work from Vaughan and Alphona, as I expect out of them each month. I suppose I should start catching on to
Vaughan's penchant for killing off his most dynamic characters, however.
9 out of 10