Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reviews: Even a little stuffed bull can cry at a comic.

Hey, let's do some reviews, okay? Okay!

SIMPSONS COMICS #146: This comic is fun. The front cover of Bongo's flagship cheerfully proclaims "A cover so nice we did it twice!" referring to the Separated at Birth nominee previous issue #145 (itself a candidate for matching up alongside all those Supes/Flash covers), but the story itself is ultra-familiar as well: Marge gets a wildly inappropriate job outside the home (in this case, a roller derby queen, yee haw!) and learns A Valuable Life Lesson™ from tiny tyke Lisa in being true to yourself. It's reminiscent of such televised Simpsons episodes as, say, The One Where Marge Becomes a Cop or The One Where Marge Works Out and Gets Really Scary Abs, not to mention other Bongo Comics like The One Where Marge Becomes Krusty. But who cares? Part of the Simpsons's charm is the familiarity in the face of new events. F'r instance, is it any surprise that Homer does something dumb-ass in this issue? It is not. Not only that, but SIMPSONS #145 contains The Best Panel of the Week: Marge and Duff-Man displaying their crime-fightin' skill with a near-perfect Fastball Special!
Fastball Special!

MARVEL APES #2: This comic is sorta fun. The first issue of this alternate Marvel Universe high adventure (is this Earth-Six-One-Simian?) was amusing, energetic and funny, pretty much right up to its final cliffhanging page. But a dark twist pretty much comes out of nowhere and gets even blacker in the second issue, causing me to sigh and say, "Is there nothing Marvel can't attach the word 'dark' to?" There's a lot of good stuff here: entertaining monkey puns as names for the Earth-Ape heroes, the mystery of Ape X, a likeable and compelling protagonist in the Gibbon, but oh! That twist! [SPOILER WARNING] Ape-Captain America and the Invaders are vampires. They beat Doc Ock to near-death and feast on him, then kill Reed Richards and in a gory, blood-splattered panel, Captain America drinks Reed's blood. Then the vampires plan to invade and feast on the regular human Marvel Earth. Cheese and crackers! This is just another riff on the Marvel Zombies issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four except with less Greg Land. Oh dear. But then why (you're asking me), am I grading this as sorta fun then? Well, take out the dark vampire apes and it is a pretty fun and goofy series with a lot of potential. I'll be checking in on this series to see if the tide turns for a happy ending, and if this ish's cliffhanger means there's a rebellion combing against Cap-Ape and Co. (Also, the "Bonobo-Pen Bulletin" page is pretty funny: I'd pay good money to read a comic starring "Aperaham Lincoln."

GREATEST HITS #1: This comic is fun. The idea's so simple I wonder nobody's thought of it yet: a quartet of British superheroes become the biggest pop stars of the swinging sixties. I remember a letter way, way, way back to Marvel's What If? which proposed a story of "What If the Beatles Had become the Fantastic Four?" (To which the editor jokily but disappointingly dismissed with "You mean they didn't?") Well, this, folks, is that concept at last brought to the comic book pages. Convergent plots from 1966 and 2008 fill in the history with beautiful art by Glenn Fabry. This one's not for all ages (and probably not for a little stuffed bull...I didn't get all the adult jokes!), but as the first in a six-ish limited series, it's a good start for something a wee bit different from Vertigo.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS #16: This comic is fun. I've made no secret of my love for Jeff Parker's various X-Men: First Class series, which are pretty much the sheer definition of fun. It doesn't matter to me that these stories contradict or rewrite some of the carefully spun history of Marvel-Earth: what's important is that this has been consistently the most entertaining X-Series in years. By this issue, #16, Parker's firing on all cylinders with a very delightful tale of Iceman moving out of the X-Mansion in frustration and moving in with Johnny Storm. They're not just roommates, they're teammates, firing crooks with fire and ice! There's a lot of lovely touches in here: Scorpion and the Beetle arguing over their team name, Professor X's self-satisfied smile on assuring the other X-Men that Bobby will be back, and the twist ending that spells an end to the Iceman/Human Torch team-up. Plus, not-yet-dead Gwen Stacy at a pool party. Parker avoids a couple of the clichés of earlier issues (there's no well-meaning but misunderstood monsters in this issue) and Bobby's defection and return is handled with a lighter and more natural touch than the same recent storyline for the Angel. That makes it all the sadder that #16 is the final issue in the series, but never fear, as Iceman himself points out: they'll be back again some day next month with Giant Size X-Men: First Class, and a miniseries next February. Hooray! Even without a back-up from Colleen Coover, this woulda been the most fun book of the week, if it had been a week that hadn't included...

BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM! #2: This comic is fun. I'm in love with Mike Kunkel's gorgeous and unique artwork for this all-ages series, a sequel of sorts to the Jeff Smith Shazam! mini of last year. Kunkel reinvents Black Adam as a school bully (hey! I resent that remark!) intent on capturing Billy and Mary's magic word, getting them in trouble at school and capturing the power of the Seven Deadly Sins. Sounds grim, don't it? Nope, it isn't. It's joyful and expressive and dense (it takes a lot longer to read this "kids" comic than it does most decompressed superhero comics)—there's a lot of meat in this slim $2.25 book. If all Kunkel did was bring his wonderful art style—busy without being crowded, and oh-so-full full of energy—to the page, he'd well deserve praise for giving us a book with a unique new look. That he's melded it with an entertaining and funny storyline and dialogue is even more worthy of applause. This series shows great signs of placing high on my year-end Fun Fifty list, and it woulda been the most fun book of the week, if it had been a week that hadn't included...

ALL STAR SUPERMAN #12: This comic is fun. Thus ends the most picture-perfect dozen issues of Superman since...oh, man, I can't remember when. Like the Twelve Labors of Hercules, Superman series isn't complete until he finishes issue #12, and his tasks on Earth aren't over as long as Luthor rampages free, gorged on the superhuman power of the dead Superman. Did we say dead? Aw, that trick never works. Grant Morrison's dialogue is wonderfully read-out-loud delightful (try it yourself with Luthor's proclamations and see if you don't wind up cackling with glee) and Frank Quitely's art is such a natural fit with Morrison's writing that it's hard to imagine any other team taking over after this storyline. Quitely's style is...look, I can't quite describe in words but let me try. Each panel is set up like a photograph or movie still: there's no cartoon clichés like speed lines or sound effects...but read 'em as sequential art and the movement is so smoothly natural and so intensely commanding that you begin to realize we sometimes take for granted the power and versatility of comic panel art. And his expressions are sublime: check out the surprise of the subway riders as Lex and Superman crash in, Steve Lombard's near-panicked tears trying to revive Clark, or Luthor's time-addled confusion when Kal defeats him using science!—a Flash Fact of a solution concerning gravity and the passage of time that has me slapping my forehead with my little stuffed hoof and going "Of course! I shoulda thought of it!" But I didn't, Superman did. And Grant Morrison did. And entertained me every step of the way. I'll miss this series tremendously. I'll miss All Star Superman himself. That's why ALL STAR SUPERMAN and no other comic could possibly be the most fun comic of the week. Even tho' it made me cry like a baby. Yup. This comic made tears roll out of my button eyes. In fact, I can't write anymore. Let's listen to this instead:

Sniff. So long, All Star Superman. Sometimes I despair the world will never see/Another Superman comic like you.


SallyP said...

The Shazam book is indeed a nice and meaty and fun read. I only wish that it came out more often.

But alas, Allstar Superman is finished, and while it was a wonderful final issue, I'm just sad that it's all over. I'm also going to miss Quitely's work, which as usual, was sensational.


mdtk said...

Very nice review of Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam. I am really enjoying the book as well.