It's a familiar scene: Goldfinger's got Bond strapped to the laser table. Luthor has Superman weakened by a kryptonite necklace. Victor Quartermaine has Wallace and Gromit cornered with his bunny-blasting gun. So why do they feel the need to gloat and explain their evil plans to the heroes? Is no villain immune from the hubristic flaw of letting his guard down while gloating? Don't you criminal masterminds know what is about to happen?:
Panels from Mickey Mouse #115 (November 1967), art by Paul Murry
Gosh! (Or, as Goofy would say, 'Gawrsh!') Remember when Mickey was resourceful, adventurous and physical? Bring back that high adventure Mouse, I say, instead of this giggly, weak, watered-down comedy relief rodent he is in Disney TV and animated cartoons of today. Bring back the Two-Fisted Mouse. Return the Rat of Wrath. Bring back the grand old days of mice gleefully bashing pirate cats in the faces.
"Plaster that wall-crawling menace all over the front page!" bellows J. Jonah Jameson at his beleaguered staff. "That's the way you sell papers in this town!" Well, Triple-J and the Daily Bugle, while rooted in the muckraking Manhattan tabloid tradition, may be merely fictional, but here's the actual front page of today's New York Post, the only daily paper that makes the Bugle look like The Wall Street Journal:
I think it's been 'bout sixty-leven months since I last did a batch of weekly reviews. Tight finances and scheduling've prevented me from buying a large stack of comic books since the beginning of the year, but don't think I've fallen out of love with the formcomics books and I are still very affectionate to each other and I know I always have a date for the prom with comics, even though sometimes she'll kick me in the face and roar away laughing maniacally, declaring she's the g---d---ed Batman. It's been a busy and hectic and weird week, however, so what better way to give my little stuffed self a treat than to make a list, check it twice, and head on over to Midtown Comics at my lunch hour for delicious deep-fried floppy comic books? It was good for what ailed me, because whodathunkit?every single one of 'em I picked up this week was fun. Let's get down...and back...to it, shall we?
THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #8: This comic is fun. I was never a big fan of DC's obsession with legacy heroes until James Robinson's Starman, which I don't think gets the credit it should for revitalizing and energizing the legacy hero emphasis that has made JSA a fan favorite. It influenced the line (and made fictionopolises (fictionopoli?) cool again with the wonderfully drawn Opal City). You can't swing a Wildcat in the DC Universe without hittin' a legacy hero these days, but as comics world with a later origin, the Marvel Universe has always remained staunchly first-gen in its heroes. Sure, there's a few Marvel exceptions: crazy 1950s commie-basher Captain America IV, the cheerfully optimistically seventies-styled alternate future of Spider-Girl and her Amazing Friendsbut for the most part the heroes of the MU are the ones and only. Brubaker and Fraction's quirky and elegant Immortal Iron Fist therefore brings a new twist to seventies kung-fu kicker: he's discovered that he's merely the latest in a long line of Iron Fists. This is a dandy plot development that opens all sorts of story potential of Iron Fists throughout the ages; there's already been a nifty flashback issue last month in the vein of Starman's "Times Past." Issue #8 starts a new storyline that's an updated twist on the original Iron Fist's seventies style: as that series was influenced by the Bruce Lee and other martial arts movies of its time, this series is reminiscent of the mystic and detailed (yet still ass-kicking) contemporary Asian movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers, The Promise, Hero and even the frenetic energy of Kung Fu Hustle. Worried about jumping on board a book eight months into its run? Don't, because there's a great recap page at the beginning. This is only the first part of a multi-issue story, and if you read it closely enough you could argue that not a lot of action happens yet, but it's stuffed full of characters, a developing mystery and a great last-panel hook for the rest of the story: a "final four"-type ranking board showing the match-ups for the next several issues' martial arts fights. It's an extended story and yes, this is decompressionbut there's a lot of narrative and story in this opening issue, and I'm hooked for the rest. (Incidentally, I started picking this title up because of all the love being shown for it in the blogosphere, which only goes to show: you guys have influence! Over a little stuffed bull, but it's a start.)
SUPERMAN #999: This comic is fun. Well, here we are with Superman #999. Wow, how time flies! We're only one issue away from big landmark issue #1000, and DC is really...
Wait. I'm holding the comic upside down.
SUPERMAN #666: This comic is fun. I love Superman, you betcha. I love Walt Simonsoneven before Thor, I was diggin' his portrayal of Starbuck (the guy one) in the 1980s Marvel Battlestar Galactica comic. And hoo boy, do I adore the expressive and distinctive letting of John Workman. Also, I love Satan love stories about demonic possession and the limits to which heroes can be driven. This is a cleverly-written and beautifully-drawn done-in-one comic that still doesn't sacrifice continuity from the monthly Superman books...I'm not reading those and I could recognize references to current events, but they're all so quick that you don't need to be reading the book every month to pick up this...and you really should pick this up, because it puts every other "Superman cuts loose" story to shame as our boy Kal gives into his dark side (no pun intended). There's some great and gruesome fight sequences, an honestly chilling series of deaths that even though we know won't "stick" still don't feel like cop-outs, a great "why has no one ever thought of that" idea for a villain from a dead world's hell, and an eleventh-hour twist that proves Supes is and will always be a step ahead of the baddies. And oh, that gorgeous Simonson art. Some get Simonson and Workman back on a regular, or even semi-regular book, please. (How about giving them All Star Superman after Grant Morrison's run?)
BATMAN #668: This comic is fun. I enjoyed Superman #666 more than the couple-months-ago Batman #666, but the current "Club of Heroes" trilogy, of which this is Part 2, is sheer and joyous fun of a sort we've not seen in the Dark Knight's world in ages. Like he does in All Star Superman, Grant Morrison aptly demonstrates that the silliness and whimsy of the 1950s DCU can be smoothly integrated into the twenty-first century without sacrificing the modern sensibilities of the title characters. In this case it's a reverent sequel of sorts to the "Batmen of All Nations" story in Detective Comics #215 (1955), crossed with Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None: years after they banded together, a league of gentleman adventurers inspired by Batman are called to a remote island, only to be stalked and murdered one by one. Lucky for them, Batman and Robin are along for the adventure. Morrison continues his post-Infinite Crisis revamp of Batman, and I've said it before but I can't help still mentioning it with respect and awe: this Batman captures the best of all worlds. He's tough and mysterious and definitely the hardest man in the world to beat, he's always thinking several steps ahead and he has a plan in mind for nearly every eventuality...but he's at last a likeable hero. He treats Robin as an equal (rightfully so: Robin does some solid detective work in this issue); he gives respect and kudos to the work and skills of the Club of Heroes, and while he's definitely the star of the magazine, he's a much better team player than he has been in years. That's a Batman I love to read about. J. H. Williams's art is wonderfully expressive and moody; there's a lovely retro section at the beginning that reproduces the feel of a 1950s comic (complete with age-yellowing margins and artwork bleeding through the pages), and there's several innovative pages that use large bat-figures or Batman's glove as panel borders. All that plus The Best Line of the Week: "You've never been mind-controlled by a gorilla?" Again, this is a "to be continued" issue, but there's so much in herenot crammed, but elegantly and intricately pacedthat I'm chomping on the Bat-bit for the next issue's conclusion.
As an aside, I should take off points for that awful, creepy, disturbing MAD magazine/Ball Park Franks advertising insert, partly because the idea of MAD positioning itself as an advertising skill goes against everything the MAD of yesteryear taught us, but mostly because the general motif...a massively-muscled "third arm" emerging from the lower belly...is close to suggestively obscene. Yes, even in Sergio Aragonés's cartoons in the center section. But, hey! I discovered you can tear this section out and throw it away with no effect on the rest of the comic. I heartily recommend you do the same.
THE SPIRIT #9: This comic is fun. Man, I'm gonna miss Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone when they leave this comic in a couple months. Until then, as Mama Bull useta tell me, "enjoy what you've got while you've got it." This one's worth enjoyinga creepy and violent face-off between the Spirit and El Morte, a dark mirror of Denny Colt who didn't emerge from the grave lookin' as handsome and brawny. Cooke's artwork is wonderfully done: each page is beautifully designed and colored; there's some really lovely lighting effects, and a flashback sequence uses a scratchier, suitably-hallucinogenic art style. I at first was alarmed at the high level of narration in the first couple pages straight from the Spirit's brain to the panels; I was even ready to dock it a couple points for "telling, not showing." Read the whole comic, however, and you realize how much this is a story about characters telling the story; how perceptions and events are influenced by and change with the POV of the ever-changing narrator characters. It's not a Rashomon approach, but it's suitably effective, and Cooke even uses it to wonderful effect to get inside Ebony's brain and take a peek at his love life. Like all the best Eisner stories, the Spirit takes a heck of a beating in this one. Even Dolan doesn't escape without a scratch. Like other books I enjoyed this week, that final page just shouts "to be continued" (even though it says "The End".) This isn't the finest of the Cooke/Bone Spirit issues that have come out so far, but even the least of them is a thing of a wonder and a beauty to behold.
BART SIMPSON #37: This comic is fun. If I had such a category (and it wouldn't be a bad one to judge weekly comics by), this one would be awarded Pleasant Surprise of the Week. Not that I don't enjoy Bart's comic; quite the reverse! I think I've very seldom given this title, or indeed most anything from Bongo, anything less than an unqualified fun rating. But Bart always has seemed to have been designed to skew to a younger reading audience than Simpsons Comics, less an imitation of the show's epic and detailed lengthy stories, more short gag or adventure stories, usually two or three per issue. This issue throws those expectations out like Moe hustling a broke Barney out of the bar, howeverit's a full-length done-in-one story with a great gimmick: evil scientist Doctor Colossus strikes back at Springfield by turning every resident ten years old. For Lisa and Maggie, that's a definite plus. For Homer, Marge, and the rest of our yellow crew, it's a step back to childhood. For Bart himself, there's no change whatsoever, and he can't understand why everyone is not ecstatically happy to be the best age on earth. While it's a more fantastic story that wouldn't quite fit in on The Simpsons TV show or even in the regular Simpsons comic (Bartman as a superhero has always been considered pretty "non-canon"), it's still got the quirky energy and fast-paced roller-coaster feel of a decent episode, complete with running gags and some very in-character reactions to their new ages (Homer isn't old enough to enjoy the taste of beer, Lenny finds that it's only slightly more difficult to gamble online). There's even a very TV-esque joke at the end about what Maggie's voice must have sounded like (even tho' we never saw her speak on page). Plus...and how could you not love it for this...a guest appearance by Brad Garrett!
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS #3: This comic is fun. I've made no secret of my love for Jeff Parker's reimagining of the original X-Men, the five mutants who got me interested in Marvel Comics in the first place. Parker's approach is exactly what I like to see in "flashback" implants like this: the idea that continuity does not need to fit perfectly with every issue and reference that has gone before, but rather that's what's important is the concept: five super-powered teens and their mentor protecting a world that is sworn to destroy them. At the heart of it, that concept is all the continuity you need. It's a wonderful book, issue after issue, full of genuinely funny humor, plots that aren't telegraphed pages before the revelation, kid heroes who are actually smart and savvy enough to work out the mysteries before them, andmy favorite partthe idea (in almost every issue) that just because something attacks you, it doesn't necessarily mean you must attack it back. X-Men: First Class returns to this theme several times through its original miniseries, special, and now the ongoing book. Reminiscent of Star Trek's "The Devil in the Dark," it's an admirable approach that fits in with Professor Xavier's "live in peace with humanity" ethos and yet still doesn't skimp on action or fight scenes. In this issue, for example, there's some great Monster Island sequences, culminating in the kids not punching out or knocking apart a giant monster, but instead using him as a ride towards their goal. And what a monster: a beautifully big pudgy frog-eyed guy who looks like a cross between a Totoro and one of David Horvath's Uglydolls. Notice I said "kids" above. Yes, for the first time in ages the X-Men read like real teenagers, with humorous asides and an easy, friendly camaraderie, but not lumbered with fast-out-of-date slang. (Do I have a complaint? A mere one: that the frenetic and action-packed Roger Cruz pin-up inside the book shoulda been the cover.)
And oh yes. The best thing about it all? The Marvel Girl backup. I. LOVE. Colleen Coover's artwork. Like Roger Cruz, she draws teenagers who look like teenagers:
You can sum up the story in a single sentence: Marvel Girl and Scarlet Witch hang out together and thwart a robbery. But that doesn't come close to the sheer joy and giggles I got from this short story with wonderful details like a shopping trip because Wanda doesn't have any civilian clothes. Quicksilver is a pest. Warren has so much money he doesn't know what to do with it. Wanda talks with an Eastern European accentI don't think anyone's ever done that with her, and it makes perfect sense! (There's even a lovely, almost Natasha Fatale element to her speech before Marvel Girl admits she might be coloring the accent towards mysterious.) It's only four pages, but by golly, I'd pay the whole three clams for those four pages alone. There's a glee and exuberance in this that's missing from much of the Marvel Universe, highlighted by Jeff Parker's apt and funny script and Colleen's fluid and expressive artwork. Can you tell I simply loved this?
To paraphrase SW and MG: Can superhero comics really be this fun? They can be. Jeff and Colleen's wonderful whimsical back-up lifts X-MEN: FIRST CLASS #3, in a week of some tough and talented competition, from "merely" a tremendously fun book to the most fun comic of the week! Heck, now I want a regular MG book by Jeff and Colleen! (Write to Marvel and tell them "More, please!")