Thursday, August 1, 2013

COMICS READING FOR JULY: “Catching up (part 1)”

* NOW WITH STAR RATINGS (ala Wrestling Observer Newsletter PPV reports) *

*****     Watchmen, Miracleman, V For Vendetta
****      From Hell, Supreme, Swamp Thing, Fashion Beast, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (first two series)
***        Axel Pressbutton, Tom Strong
**         Promethea
*           LoEG: Century: 1969
DUD (or lower) any of his non-comics stuff

1. Tarot #31 (BroadSword Comics, 2005) *
Writer/artist: Jim Balent
It was only $3 at Elizabeths, so I couldn’t resist picking up this copy of Balent’s unintentionally hilarious sword’n’sorcery series. Hey! It’s my guilty pleasure in comic book reading.
And, hell, he draws great big-breasted babes, so that’s always a bonus! This issue is real filler fluff with Tarot and her boyfriend John whittering on about spring (and various euphemisms for stiffies and sex). Then John stupidly steps inside a “Fairly Circle” (I assume that good spelling isn’t one of Balent’s strong points) and they’re transported to a fairy realm. John gets seduced by mermaids while Tarot battles a cheeky fairy and a dominatrix spider with baby spiders crawling out of her vagina (I can’t make this shit up). In the end the couple get out of trouble and fuck on the last page where Balent sternly warn readers to wear a condom or else. Utterly stupid fun, but as it was cheap, I had to buy it. These issues usually sell for ridiculous amounts after release. My two big questions are: how can such sexist claptrap be read (and admired) by so many women? And how does Balent’s dumpy small-boobed girlfriend/artist’s model Holly Golightly get transformed into the pneumatic Tarot? Talk about artistic licence!
A few more random thoughts: I find that for a full-on sex’n’violence-saturated comic, Balent draws some weirdly coy covers and random images inside the mag (but he’ll then run graphic spread-leg pin-ups there as well, plus run topless photos from readers. Strange.)
I find it hard to believe there are readers of the book (many of them females) who buy Tarot not to be ironically ironic or whack off to the big-boobed babes, but because they find the dumb, insulting, at-times misogynistic book “empowering to women”. Really? REALLY?!

2. Absolution: Rubicon #1 (Avatar, 2013) ****
Writer: Christos Gage/Artist: Daniel Gete
3. America’s Got Powers #6 (Image, 2013) **
Writer: Jonathan Ross/Artist: Bryan Hitch
Fuck! I am soooo sick of this underperforming series. And now Ross has stretched it out to a seventh issue. Fuck! Gonna sell off this American Idol-meets-Heroes mishmash as soon as I’ve read that final ish. Fuck!
4. Jupiter’s Legacy #2 (Image, 2013) ****
Writer: Mark Millar/Artist: Frank Quitely
5.-6. The Bounce #1-2 (Image, 2013) **¾
Writer: Joe Casey/Artist: David Messina
Average superhero stuff. Underwhelming.
7. Batman ’66 #1 (DC, 2013) ***½ 
Writer: Jeff Parker/Artist: Jonathan Case
8. Kick-Ass 3 #1 (Icon, 2013) ***¾
Writer: Mark Millar/Artist: John Romita Jr
A promising start to this final arc.
9. Idolized #5 (Aspen, 2013) ***½
Writer: David Schwartz/Artist: Pasquale Qualano
So, apparently, this was all a set-up for an ongoing series. A bit disappointed there. It had a conclusion, I guess, so I’ll probably walk away at this point. An okay series in the end, but Wildguard covered the same territory more effectively years ago.
10. A1 (Titan, 2013) **
Writers/artists: various
Surprisingly meh. I won’t be back.
11. Catalyst Comics #1 (Dark Horse, 2013) *½
Writer: Joe Casey/Artists: various
Another anthology – when will American companies learn that American readers don’t like anthologies? Meanwhile, Casey proves for a second time this month that he isn’t half as clever or “out there” as he thinks he is. Boring 1990s superheroes unnecessarily revived.....shit, hasn’t this already been done with Valiant this year? 
12. All Crime Comics (Art Of Fiction, 2012) ***
Writers/artists: various
Hardboiled crime noir that never quite scales the heights. Sub-Brubaker writing and sub-Sean Phillips artwork for the bulk of this indy book. OK in parts, I guess. The Bruce Timm cover is beautiful.
13. Mystery Society Special 2013 (IDW, 2013) ****½
Writer: Steve Niles/Art: Andrew Ritchie
And then – among the dross – this little gem turns up in my stack. I loved the Mystery Society miniseries from a few years back, so I was very happy to see it make a return. An added bonus is the clever guest appearances of such horror archetypes as Dracula, Frankenstein and the Golem. Never has Drac seemed so gentlemanly yet horrific at the same time. A quietly brilliant one-shot from Niles.
14. Uber #0 (Avatar, 2013) ****
Writer: Kieron Gillen/Artist: Caanan White
The Nazis invent superheroes and win WW2. An interesting premise, but taken from the angle of the poor people struggling to survive war-torn Berlin in 1945. This is more of a horror series than a superhero or war yarn. And, being Avatar, it’s chockers with gore. Unpleasant, yet highly readable.
15. Time Warp (Vertigo, 2013) *****
Writers/artists: various
I don’t usually get so enthused about anthology specials (even though I buy them all the time), but this comic is a gem from start to finish. Sure, not every yarn is a goal, but every tale is thought-provoking and several are pure gems. A star-studded cast of creators including Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, Gail Simone, Simon Spurrier and Dan Abnett easily make this my favourite comic so far for the year.
16. Joe Hill’s Terrifyingly Tragic Treasury Edition (IDW, 2013) ****½
Writer: Joe Hill/Artists: various
I loved treasury editions when I was a kid and I’m a big fan of Joe Hill’s Locke & Key series, so this title was a must-have. It collects some rare Hill tales with the art blown up to nearly twice the usual size. My favourite yarn is the last one, Open The Moon, which is a hauntingly beautiful tribute to Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo In Slumberland. I nearly had a tear in my eye over this one. Just a lovely, lovely story and a fantastic collection put out in an eye-catching format. Well done to IDW on this one.
17. Red Dragon #1 (Comico, 1996) DUD
Writer: Brian Azzarello/Artists: Tony Akins (interior); Simon Bisley (cover)
Review can be found online at

18. Final Crisis Aftermath: Run! #1 (DC, 2009) ***¾
Writer: Matthew Sturges/Artist: Freddie Williams II (interior); Kako (cover)
Didn’t know what to expect from this comic, but I enjoyed it so much I’ve tracked down the rest of the series. In Final Crisis, low-rent supervillain The Human Flame killed the Martian Manhunter. By the end of the “event”, he was in a hospital bed and being hunted by every good guy and baddie on the planet. This six-issue miniseries shows what happens next for the ultra-violent, but ultra-stupid crook as he tries to escape his fate. Good stuff.
19. Sex #4 (Image, 2013) ***½
Writer: Joe Casey /Artist: Piotr Kowalski
20.-21. Scarlet #6-7 (Icon, 2013) ***¾
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis/Artist: Alex Maleev
22. Weapon Brown: Blockhead’s War #7 (Death Ray Graphics, 2013) ***½
Writer/artist: Jason Yungbluth
A suitably gory, disgusting conclusion to Jason’s post-apocalyptic vision world populated by cartoon strip characters. Chuck and Snoopy kick the snot out of Calvin and Hobbes in a brutal slugfest.
23. Blast Furnace: Recreational Thief Vol. 1 (self-published, 2012) ***¼
Writer/artist: Ryan Browne
24.-26. God Hates Astronauts #1-3 (self-published, 2011-12) ***½ 
Writer/artist: Ryan Browne
Too weird to explain. I think my head exploded while reading it. Ultimately, both are love stories – with ghost cows, ninja owls, giant-headed superhero crybabies and evil John L. Sullivan! Just buy both titles at
27.-28. The Ride: Southern Gothic #1-2 (12-Gauge, 2012) **¾
Writers/artists: various
Oversized, overpriced and overrated. This uneven, ultimately underwhelming sequel isn’t a patch on the original The Ride series.
29. Image Firsts: Morning Glories #1 (Image, 2013) ****
Writer: Nick Spencer/Artist: Joe Eisma
30. Image Firsts: Peter Panzerfaust #1 (Image, 2013) ***
Writer: Kurtis Wiebe/Artist: Tyler Jenkins
The “Image Firsts” series is a great idea. Reprint a bunch of first issues at $1 price tag to get new readers hooked onto old, successful titles. I tried these two on a whim. Peter Panzerfaust is a rollicking WW2 yarn that reads like a serial from an old British weekly like Battle, Valiant or Lion. It’s quite old-fashioned. I enjoyed what I read, but it didn’t entice me to return for more. However, the first ish of Morning Glories grabbed me by the short’n’curlies and wouldn’t let go. A group of different but uniquely similar teens are accepted into a prestigious-but-mysterious college. We know from the first few pages that the faculty are evil but we don’t know why nor the reason why they want these kids. But the shocking final page has me suckered. I need to get my hands on the first trade now. Well done, Image. You have a new fan of this series.
31.-34. Red Mass For Mars (Image, 2010) ***
- originally published in Red Mass For Mars #1-4 (Image, 2010)
Writer: Jonathan Hickman/Artist: Ryan Bodenheim
I like Ryan’s artwork, but Hickman’s yarn left me cold and I found none of the characters particularly appealing.
35. Marvel Share Your Universe Sampler #1 (Marvel, 2013) ***
Writers/artists: various
I really enjoyed the Marvel Adventure line – no-nonsense, fun tales featuring my favourite heroes, particularly The Avengers. Then Marvel killed off the line a few years ago. Now, I see that Marvel has brought back a kid-friendly line of comics again, this time tied into all the animated TV series they have up and running. This sampler gives us a taste of what they have in the line – Spider-Man, The Avengers, Spider-Man, etc – and it’s pretty funky. Having talented writers like Christos Gage and Fred Van Lente on board helps. All in all, I’d be happy to steer my kids towards these comics.
36. Revolver by Matt Kindt (Vertigo, 2010) ****
Sam wakes up one morning to find his world has gone to shit: avian flu epidemic, a dirty bomb going off in Seattle, social and economic chaos across America. That night he goes to sleep and the next morning he finds...the world has returned to normal. No-one has experienced what he just did – girlfriend, family and work colleagues all remain blissfully unaware. Is Sam dreaming? No! The process continues that night and the following night and so on... Sam wakes up to find himself in one of two worlds: the first is filled with unimaginable hardship and carnage, the other banal and boring...but safe. But which world would Sam rather live in: the one where he feels truly alive (even though he risks death at every moment) or a world where he’s loved and secure...yet unfulfilled and dreadfully unhappy? And what happens when Sam meets the one other man in the world who is also sharing these two worlds? Kindt has again produced a thought-provoking masterpiece that’s every bit as disturbing and compelling as Mind MGMT.
37. Varoomshka by John Kent (Eyre Methuen, 1972) ½*
Political satire only works if people remember what the fuck was being satirised. English politics 40 years down the track means fuck-all to me. Certain political figures featured in this hardback collection of strips are familiar to me – PMs Edward Heath and  Harold Wilson, Tory MPs such as Sir Alec Douglas-Home and the future Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, US Prez Richard Nixon and Vice-Prez Spiro Agnew and Rhodesian PM Ian Smith. Actually, that’s not too shabby – but I’m sure most other people picking up this book would struggle with half the faces, most of the names and ALL the issues of the day. Which makes it a real chore to read this strip that appeared regularly in the otherwise conservative The Guardian newspaper. Varoomshka herself is a gorgeous-but-naive observer of the political machinations going on around her, usually while half-dressed. It’s well-drawn but time has not been kind to this collection.
38.-43. The Sixth Gun Vol. 1: Cold Dead Fingers (Oni Press, 2011) ****½
- originally published in The Sixth Gun #1-6 (Oni Press, 2010)
Writer: Cullen Bunn/Artist: Brian Hurtt
 It’s nice when you discover a hidden gem like this title and you get to enjoy a slab of the trades that have come out in the past two years. Gothic western horror about six unholy guns and the evil that men will do to get their hands on them and the immense power they possess. Love it!
44. Housewives At Play: “Lez” Be Friends by Rebecca (Eros Comix, 2007) **
It still amazes me sexually perverse stuff like this is published by the same elitist group that constantly pooh-poohs mainstream Marvel and DC for printing “crap”. Pot calling the kettle black, me’thinks. As for “Rebecca” (and I truly doubt she’s a real female), she knows how to draw naked ladies, that’s for sure.
45.-46. The Mysterious Strangers #1-2 (Oni Press, 2013) ***¾
Writer: Chris Roberson/Artist: Scott Kowalchuk
47. Smoke And Mirrors #1 (IDW, 2012) **¼
Writers: Mike Costa and Jon Armstrong/Artist: Ryan Browne
I liked Browne’s art  on God Hates Astronauts, but it’s all a bit too straight in this tale of an alternate Earth where magic is a part of everyday life. The storyline just didn’t grab me.
48. CBLDF Presents Liberty Annual 2012 (Image, 2012) ***
Writers/artists: various
49. Rombies #0 (Gestalt, 2010) **¾
Writer: Tom Taylor/Artist: Skye Ogden
Zombies in ancient Rome? Meh.
50. Ghosts #1 (Vertigo, 2012) ***½
Writers/artists: various
51.-52. The Fall Of The House Of Usher (Dark Horse, 2013) ****
Writer/artist: Richard Corben
53.-56. The Twelve #9-12 (Marvel, 2012) ***½
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski/Artists: Chris Weston (interior), Paolo Rivera (covers)
Finally! JMS finally got this maxiseries finished. Was it worth it in the end? Sorta. I thought the ending was kinda low-key and a bit of a cop-out, really, but overall I enjoyed the series. And, unlike some other series I’ve got into in the past, at least it received a proper ending! 
57.-63. Revival #6-12 (Image, 2013) ***¾
Writer: Tim Seeley/Artist: Mike Norton
I want to give this “rural noir” series – about the dead returning to life in a non-zombie-but-still-creepily-sinister-fashion in Hicksville, Wisconsin – four stars, but a letter in #6 summed up my feelings perfectly. He wrote he had trouble keeping track of the many characters from issue to issue. I just read seven issues straight and *I* don’t understand who all these characters are. Seeley has a lotta subplots on the boil, but to his credit I think everything is building nicely each month and the gory shocks – though coming thick and fast – don’t stop the overall storyline from moving forward slowly but surely. I like this series a lot – there are images in each issue that stick in your head long after you put the book down. Not too many comics have that effect on me in 2013.
64. Bucko by Jeff Parker & Erika Moen (Dark Horse, 2012) ****½
A podcast is coming soon to discuss this brilliant graphic novel plus The Sixth Gun Vol. 1 & Saga Vol. 2. Stay tuned!