Saturday, October 1, 2016

COMICS READING FOR SEPTEMBER: “Tying up loose ends”



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

NEW! HOW I RATE THE COMICS VIA THE GRANT MORRISON SCALE
*****     All-Star Superman, We3
****      New X-Men (the early issues), Batman Inc., Batman And Robin, Dare, Arkham Asylum
***        Zenith, Seven Soldiers
**         Final Crisis, Flex Mentallo
*           Marvel Boy
DUD (or lower) Nameless, later New X-Men and any of his hippy-dippy, pseudo-mystical crap

I TIED up some loose ends last month and finished off some long-unfinished comic series (and arcs). Was it worth the wait? Let's check out what I perused, shall we?

1.-9. The Boys #55-63 (Dynamite, 2011-12) *****
Writer: Garth Ennis/Artists: John McCrea, Darick Robertson, Russ Braun
10.-15. Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker #1-6 (Dynamite, 2011) *****
Writer: Garth Ennis/Artist: Darick Robertson
16.-24. The Boys #64-72 (Dynamite, 2011-12) *****
Writer: Garth Ennis/Artists: Darick Robertson, Russ Braun
Man, does Garth Ennis hate superheroes or what?
Fantastic work by the great man and a satisfying conclusion to this brutal, at-times offensive, but always entertaining series. The relationship between Butcher and Wee Hughie was just wonderful. Tragic and wonderful. Manipulative and utter bastardry on Butcher's behalf...but wonderful.


25.-28. Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1-4 (DC, 2012-13) ***
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski/Artist: Adam Hughes
29.-32. Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1-4 (DC, 2012-13) ***½
Writer: Brian Azzarello/Artist: Lee Bermejo
33.-38. Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1-6 (DC, 2012-13) ***¼
Writer: Len Wein/Artist: Jae Lee
39.-42. Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1-4 (DC, 2012) ***½
Writer: Darwyn Cooke/Artist: Amanda Conner
43.-46. Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1-4 (DC, 2012-13) ****
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski/Artists: Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, Bill Sienkiewicz
47.-52. Before Watchmen: Comedian #1-6 (DC, 2012-13) ***¾
Writer: Brian Azzarello/Artist: JG Jones
53.-54. Before Watchmen: Moloch #1-2 (DC, 2013) ***½
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski/Artist: Eduardo Risso
55.-60. Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1-6 (DC, 2012-13) ****¼
Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
61. Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill #1 (DC, 2013) ***
Writer: Len Wein/Artist: Steve Rude
When DC announced the “Before Watchmen” concept, well.......at the time I was happy they came out because I loved anything Watchmen-related and, childishly, I got off on the idea that it pissed off Alan Moore and his cronies.
I bought them all and started reading them in sequence, but quit half-way through the series as they felt...uninspired.
My reading theme for September was a good excuse to go back and reread those issues, then plough through the rest. In the end, my opinion hasn’t changed that much: all are pretty much unnecessary and some are downright pointless, Dr Manhattan, Dollar Bill, Ozymandius and Moloch in particular.
Set during the New York blackout of 1977, Rorschach has beautiful art from Bermejo, but the story doesn’t quite work for me.
Silk Spectre is funny – and Conner’s art is gorgeous – and it gives us a legit reason why a 16-year-old might start dating a giant blue freak like Dr Manhattan.
Nite Owl is pure adventure, but it fleshes out the relationship he had with Rorschach. There’s a nice sequence where the duo burst into a massage parlour and, confronted by naked women, Rorschach goes crazy and tries to attack one of the “whores”, and has to be physically restrained by Nite Owl. It reveals the puritanical streak that drives the masked crusader to more extreme actions later in life.
Comedian suggests that it was probably his involvement in the Vietnam War that finally sent the amoral hero over the edge. A key plot device is Blake Edwards’ close friendship with JFK and Robert Kennedy. Unlike what was hinted in the movie, the Comedian DIDN’T assassinate JFK. This miniseries reveals he was sent on a wild goose chase that day to keep him away from Dallas. Shockingly, the miniseries’ conclusion sees Comedian murder Robert (after Sirhan Sirhan fails), because the presidential candidate was going to tell the world about Comedian’s involvement in a massacre in Vietnam. Overall, Comedian is one of the more interesting series on offer.
That leaves us with Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen, which is far and away the pick of the bunch. The retro art is perfect and the fleshing out of all the Minutemen characters, especially The Silhouette and Mothman, is wonderful. Cooke’s writing is probably stronger than his artwork as he makes the whole Minutement concept work.
Much of what Moore touches on when discussing the Minutemen in the original Watchmen – Comedian’s attack on Sally Jupiter, the death of Dollar Bill, Hooded Justice’s disappearance – are barely touched on here by Cooke, who prefers to explore other aspects of the team’s career.
The suggestion early on that Hooded Justice may actually be a child killer turns out to be a furphy and the conclusion to the series – a midnight conversation between Comedian and retired crime-fighter Hollis Mason in his apartment – is chilling and a genuinely shocking conclusion to the miniseries.
As for the ongoing two-page serial, The Curse Of The Crimson Corsair (Writers: Len Wein & John Higgins/Artist: John Higgins), it’s pretty forgettable.
In conclusion, I would have been happier if DC had just run with the Minutemen miniseries and left the rest alone.
As for the proposed inclusion of Watchmen characters in the current DC universe? Well, as long as it pisses off Alan Moore, then I’ll be happy.

62.-69. Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker #1-8 (Image, 2011-12) ***¼
Writer: Joe Casey/Artist: Mike Huddleston
Casey is so overrated, but Butcher Baker is like a reimagining of what might have happened if the Comedian had lived to fight on in the 21st century.

70. Fantagor Presents Brood (FantaCo, 1983) ***
Writer/Artist: Richard Corben
For the past 34 years, I’ve waited to read the conclusion to Corben’s sexy sci-fi epic Jeremy Brood. I finally did so courtesy of FabSeb, who sent me a digital copy of the first half of this comic, which contains the truncated conclusion to the poor-selling graphic novel. And boy does it feel...TRUNCATED. Clearly, Corben was anxious to conclude this tale and move onto other things. It’s okay, but ultimately disappointing considering how huge the initial project was supposed to be. Corben’s art feels rushed, too.
Still, I've read it now, so the circle is complete.

71.-72. Doctor Strange #4-5 (Marvel, 2016) ****
Writer: Jason Aaron/Artist: Chris Bachalo
73.-74. Drax #4-5 (Marvel, 2016) ***¾
Writers:  Cullen Bunn and CM Punk/Artist: Scott Hepburn
75.-76. Squadron Supreme #4-5 (Marvel, 2016) ****
Writer: James Robinson/Artists: Leonard Kirk (interiors); Alex Garner (covers)
77.-78. Dream Police #11-12 (Image, 2016) ***¾
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski/Artist: Sid Kotian
79.-80. The Fade Out #11-12 (Image, 2015-16) ***¾
Writer: Ed Brubaker/Artist: Sean Phillips
81.-83. Absolution: Rubicon #3-5 (Avatar, 2013) ****
Writer: Christos Gage/Artist: Daniel Gete 

OTHER STUFF
84. Maralinga (The House Of Skullduggery, 2015) ***¾
Writer: Jen Breach/Artist: Douglas Holgate
Post-apocalyptic tale set in future Australia with gorgeous art by Holgate. But it took me about five minutes to read it and this is the only volume. Bummer.
85. Stray Bullets: Sunshine And Roses #18 (Image, 2016) *****
Writer/Artist: David Lapham
86.-90. The Last Resort (IDW, 2010) ***¼
- originally published in The Last Resort #1-5 (IDW, 2009)
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray/Artist: Giancarlo Caracuzzo
The death of Elizabeth’s Books in Pitt Street earlir this month came suddenly. I hadn’t been past the store in a week and decided to check it out after I picked up my weekly comics haul from Kings Comics on the other side of the street.
As I got closer I saw that there was a 50% off sale going on. I asked the manager Amy if the store was closing down and she nodded, “We’re merging with the other store in Newtown.”
“That’s awful,” I said.
She looked at me and said she was so emotional all day that she couldn’t bring forth any more tears: “Don’t take my lack of emotion as meaning I’m not sad.”
This was Thursday. The store’s final day was the Friday.
Elizabeth’s – a Perth-based bookstore chain – first opened in Pitt Street in 2007. I think the Newtown branch came first, but I’m not certain. It sold new and used books – prices were frustrating, ranging from ridiculously cheap to stupidly overpriced. And I embarrassed myself more than once trying to sell them review copies of books I received at work. The staff somehow made you feel like a junkie scumbag and only gave you a cash coupon that you had to spend in the store. I stopped trying to sell them stuff on an intermittent basis after a few years.
Other than that, I BLOODY LOVED going there.
When I worked on Goulburn Street, I would walk past it twice a day to and from the train station. It became a nightly habit to check out what stock they had.
For the first few years, it was open to 9-10pm every night – it was cool going to the pub after work, staggering out at 9pm and still being able to scope out the bookshop on the way to Town Hall.
The first sign of the store struggling came when it cut back its opening hours several years ago. A new manager took over – Amy (not that I knew her name then) – and started concentrating on expanding its range of comics and books.
Elizabeth’s was a place where I could go in there day after day and not find anything worth buying for months. Then, suddenly, there’d be a stack of new comic books or a fantastically rare graphic novel and I would buy heaps.
Sometimes, I’d just buy a random stack of 10 or so comics – at $3 a comic that was a bargain.
Bought so many things there: Journey Vol. 1 by William Messner-Loebs, X-Men #106 (only $3 but it’s worth over $100), a ton of early 70s Fantastic Four mags and the complete Strangers In Paradise trades.
I scored bargains in the Newtown store, too, but Pitt Street was more handy.
Of course, I bought non-comics related stuff, too, including the last book-related gift for my father (four sci-fi novels that I don’t think he got around to reading).
And now it’s gone. When I went past the store the following Tuesday, it was empty and the shelves were being ripped down.
Sure, the Newtown store is still around – and it should fare better in that hipster suburb than it did in busy Pitt Street – and Amy’s gone to work there (I hope she’s allowed to bring her dog to the store, too. It was a fixture at the front counter of the old shop.)
Taking advantage of the 50% sale, I grabbed a copy of IDW’s The Last Resort trade for $9. And, true to form, Elizabeth’s gave me a bargain. As I flipped through the book the next day I found that in the extras section was the five original comic covers drawn by the late, great Darwyn Cooke. Every single pin-up had been personally signed by Darwyn.
I was overcome with a mixed feeling of elation and sadness.
So long, Elizabeth’s, and thanks for all the books.


SUICIDAL THOUGHTS
91.-99. Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Trial By Fire (DC, 2011) ****½
- originally published in Suicide Squad #1-8 (DC, 1987), Secret Origins #14 (DC, 1987)
Writer: John Ostrander/Artists: Luke McDonnell, Dave Hunt, Bob Lewis and Karl Kesel (interiors); Luke McDonnell and friends (Secret Origins, Suicide Squad #2-6), Howard Chaykin (Suicide Squad #1), Jerry Bingham (Suicide Squad #7-8) (covers)
100.-109. Suicide Squad Vol. 2: The Nightshade Odyssey (DC, 2015) ***½
- originally published in Suicide Squad #9-16, Secret Origins #28, Justice League International #13 (DC, 1988)
Writer: John Ostrander and friends/Artists: Luke McDonnell, Keith Giffen and friends
110.-115. Harley Quinn’s Greatest Hits (DC, 2016) ***½
- originally published in Countdown #10, Batman Adventures #12, Batman #613, Gotham City Sirens #7, Suicide Squad #1, Batman #13, Harley Quinn #21, Harley Quinn And The Suicide Squad April Fools’ Special #1 (DC, 1993-2016)
Writers/Artists: various
I finally saw the movie – review HERE – and really enjoyed it. Which made me want to revisit the classic comic series penned by John Ostrander in the late 1980s. Many of the movie elements are based on his first few arcs, so it was appropriate to read them again after nearly 30 years.
I loved Suicide Squad from the moment I first picked it up. It was the first gritty, noir comic put out by DC not called Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns. The fact that it was available on Aussie newsstands was remarkable.
The idea of a team of super-villains – Task Force X (aka “Suicide Squad”) – put together by ball-breaking Amanda Waller to carry out covert missions without official government sanction was a great concept.
Many of the storylines were current – even ahead of their times – including neo-Nazi demagogues, Russian dissidents and the cocaine trade in Nicaragua.
In the first arc, the squad battled a team of super-terrorists in the Middle-East. One squad member – Mindboggler – is killed when the cowardly, treacherous Captain Boomerang allows her to be gunned down rather than help her. Mindboggler’s death was shocking but a cool reminder that ANY character was expendable in the Suicide Squad.
In a later arc, Slipknot tries to escape during a mission to destroy the Manhunters’ lair and has his arm blown off by a device attached on his wrist (a plot device more brutally reworked for the movie). On that same mission, team leader Col. Rick Flag’s ex-girifriend Karin Grace betrays the team and is eventually killed.
A mission to Nicaragua sees the whole squad – Mister 104, Psi, Thinker and Weasel – die with only Flag surviving.
Of course, the stories in the first two volumes aren’t perfect. Ostrander is a fine writer but he’s still cobbled by DC’s 80s writing style that was a bit too wordy at times. On a more personal level, Boomerang is a great character undermined by horrible dialogue as Ostrander COMPLETELY MISUNDERSTANDS the Australian accent and slang. His dialogue is actually embarrassing at times.
Art-wise, I’m more tolerant towards it now, but at the time I thought Luke McDonnell was a poor artist – he had a really loose sense of human anatomy that saw people’s arms and legs go in directions that aren’t physically possible. His style is...well, CLUMSY.
That said, Ostrander’s writing – particularly his characterisations – makes the series and the first two volumes are very strong.
Really, Ostrander’s Suicide Squad feels like a precursor to the equally entertaining Secret Six (another team of villains featuring Deadshot).
Of course, Harley Quinn wasn’t around back in the 1980s, but when the series was revamped for the New 52, she became front and centre of the new Suicide Squad.
A couple of these issues appear in Harley Quinn’s Greatest Hits and stand up well to the original run. I may pick up a trade or two down the line, especially as I’ve become a big fan of Quinn thanks to the movie.




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