Sunday, August 27, 2006

"Alive from snout to tail."

And...we're back.

Max Weinberg, folks. Max Weinberg. Isn't he great?

Oh, wait...I'm channeling the wrong "we're back."

We're back from Chicago, the Windy City, City of Big Shoulders, Hog Petter to the World. Much deep dish pizza and many Portillo's hot dogs were consumed, and although there were no Oprah sightings, I'm pretty sure I spotted Stedman riding on the Pink Line with me. I took in the Art Institute and stood in awe for a long, long time before my favorite painting. Then I went to the gift shop and bought a lotta pencils. And it's not a perfect Chicago day if it doesn't end with a box of hot, sweet Garrett Popcorn Shop carmelcorn. It's worth the long wait in line, believe me, and if you get sticky hooves while eating it, why, just do what I do: lick 'em off!

One thing I didn't get to do was head to one of the finest comic book shops in the country, Chicago Comics. The busy sales conference schedule and rainy days kept me from wandering anywhere far off the Miracle Mile. But as a great man once said, "Wednesdays are Wednesdays wherever you are," so I did trot down to the pleasant and well-stocked Graham Crackers Comics on Madison Street. It's a fun shop with a lot of foot traffic and has an excellent selection of back issues as well as the current stuff. It's definitely a different beast than Chicago Comics, but Bully gives it two hooves up.

Comics this week therefore receive, in addition to my patented fun/sorta fun/not fun grading system, an additional Chicagonometer of comic book funness: each book will also be graded on something you find in Chicago that is fun, sorta fun, or not fun. Will I be tougher on comics from Chicago than from New York? Well, as Fred Allen once said: "Things are so tough in Chicago that at Easter time, for bunnies the little kids use porcupines."

JLA #1JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1: This comic is not fun. Why, it's as not fun as the Eisenhower Expressway at rush hour: it's slow, confusing, and doesn't really get you where you want to be. Believe me, I had high hopes for the new JLA: the last couple reinventions of DC's flagship team title have been classics and I'm very fond of them. I'm willing to forgive last month's teaser comic Justice League of America #0: it had no true plot but I don't consider a zero issue part of the real series. But a number one not only carries the weight of all my expectations for a comic but, while it doesn't necessarily have to hit the ground running at full speed, at least has to have a forward-moving plot that's compelling, clear and makes you want to read #2. JLA #1 had none of that: a lot of talking heads (more accurately, headless talking heads with colored speech captions), a long and involved Red Tornado B-plot that feels stilted and dragging to me, too many tears and oh-so-precious dialogue by Brad "Read my book!" Meltzer. Where's Starro? Where's the White Martians? Where's any sort of solid action and energy? It isn't here, I'm sorry to say. JLA #1 is too self-absorbed in its playing with the yarn of leftover Infinite Crisis threads, and this reminds me too much of Identity Crisis in look and feel for it to be fun for me. For the moment, here's my League comic book. This was my Pick Up One New Comic Title I Haven't Been Reading book for the week, but I wasn't charmed. I may check in again with JLA when a new storyline or creators start.

52 Week 1652 WEEK 16: This comic is sorta sorta fun as that giant Picasso statue you see in downtown Chicago—you know you're s'posed to appreciate it but you don't necessarily understand it, and while you might get a kick out of seeing it it's not the best thing there is to sightsee in Chicago. Weddings are usually fun, especially if there is plenty of yummy, yummy wedding cake, and it's nice to see a wedding follow after last week's 52 death. As much as I'm been enjoying the Black Adam/Isis storyline, however, this week is riddled with so many holes you can drive the Question-Mobile through 'em: Montoya makes so many leaps in detective logic to get to the conclusion she does that Batman ought to step up to her and smack her upside the head. Unless the bomb was either planned by Adam or Isis, or is a diversion for something else that's happening behind the scenes, it was a fairly scattershot and risky plan for the normally quite-organized Intergang, don't you think? I'm also confused: is Billy Batson still crazy now, or what? Does that explain why he thinks highly of Adam? He certainly didn't have that opinion in JSA, and I can't believe Captain Marvel condones some of Adam's public actions. And since the rat poison was present two weeks ago, and it's only this week that Adam popped the, if you'll pardon the expression, Question, how did Intergang know to...oh, my little stuffed brain hurts. (And does the reading line on the front of the cover for the Animal Man/Starfire/Adam Strange subplot really say "Far Out Space Nuts"?) But even with all that, 52 is a fun and rollicking ride most weeks—this week it's just a little off. And I'm not saying that just because I didn't catch the bouquet!

Bart Simpson #31BART SIMPSON #31: This comic is sorta fun. I think most regular readers of my reviews know I'm a sucker for Bongo Comics: they're the most reliably fun entire publishing line as far as this little stuffed reader is concerned. Some Bongo ishs are excellent, others are good if not great comics: like this week's Bart Simpson #31. Two short stories (Bart wins a toy store shopping spree, and Maggie and Moe solve a mystery) and a pair of two-page comedy fillers give you a lot of yucks for your three bucks, but it's definitely not up to the caliber of the TV show or the best of this series. Like the giant Picasso statue, you'll appreciate the skill in making it but you probably won't visit it twice in one trip.

Heroes for Hire #1HEROES FOR HIRE #1: This comic is fun. How much fun? Why, as fun as a big piping-hot Chicago deep dish pizza, that's how much fun! In the words of the fearless Fortress Keeper last week in a comment to one of my reviews, "That's the strange—and frustrating—thing about Marvel these days. They can totally mess up their flagship characters, yet print a totally awesome comic starring Venus and Gorilla Man." I'll say the same thing about the cast members of Heroes for Hire: while I wasn't a huge fan of the back-archin', hip-thrustin' posing of the Daughters of the Dragon series, I still enjoyed the over-the-top adventure aspect of it, and I gotta give props to two of my fave seventies characters, Colleen Wing and Misty Knight, reinvented for the twenty-first century. It's good solid action, funny dialogue, interesting new characters mixing with classic old ones (Shang-Chi is always welcome in my book, and hey, who doesn't love Orka?), and it's got a Defenders-vibe goin' on where lots of Marvel characters can drop in to be part of the team for a short arc and then bop away again. The riffs on Misty as Marvel's version of Power Girl are likely to get old real fast, though, so watch that, guys. (And who wears a top with arrows pointing to their breasts like that?!) But it's nice to have a Colleen that looks Asian for once, and you gotta love a comic with so many cute girls kicking ass. I even like the new Tarantula and her pointy chus! This sort of comic demands a light touch, so we'll see if the fun continues. I'm not quite certain kicking off the series with a Civil War tie-in cover is the best way to attract buyer attention on the comic book store shelves, however.

Wonder Woman #2WONDER WOMAN #2: This comic is not fun. Cute girls kicking ass? You'd think this book would be full of that, wouldn't you? I liked issue #1 a lot but the combination of the wait for this one and a less-than-spectacular issue #2 might drop this from my list faster than the sandals of Hermes. Sure, Emma Peel Diane Prince is here, and crazy, crazy Cassie Sandsmark pops in, but the one thing missing from Wonder Woman is, uh, Wonder Woman: the only real Wonder Woman action comes in two pages of flashback at the beginning. I've got zero problem with Donna, um, donning the tiara and bracelets, but she spends this entire issue as a Wonder Pendant to Giganta, which is a dandy visual but a lot less Wondy action that I hoped to see. There's some great ideas at work here and the artwork is just fine, but this was a big-time disappointment to me and I'll be only cautiously checking out issue #3 in September October or later to see if there's any pick-up. Coz #2 ought to be ramping up the action, but so far it's as devoid of a real Wonder Woman as Eisenhower Expressway at rush hour. Unless, of course, you're carpooling with Lynda Carter, which I highly recommend to anyone.

Eternals #3ETERNALS #3: This comic is sorta fun. Eternals #3 suffers a bit from mid story-line slowdown but I'm still enjoying it: I loves me some Gaiman, although this is by far nowhere near Neil's top work by any means. Still, a slightly pedestrian comic by Neil Gaiman still has a lot going for it. His riff on Jack Kirby's cosmic heroes is a much quieter, mysterious and deliberate comic than Jack would have done, and I'm all for that—and I think maybe Jack would appreciated that aspect of this Eternals: there's always been an excess of creators trying to do Jack's characters in the Kirby manner, and it's always a breath of fresh air when someone puts a new and differently-toned twist on them (I felt much the same about Grant Morrison's version of Mister Miracle). Where this comic loses points for me is in its Civil War-centric plotline: too much emphasis on a storyline likely to be forgotten or brushed under the cosmic carpet in a few years lessens, not strengthens, this series for me. Gaiman is an expert at pulling rabbits out of hats, but I can't imagine there's going to be a twist that will explain why this series must be a Civil War tie-in in the final issue. (If there is, and I like it, I'll eat my little cowboy hat, 'kay Mister Gaiman?) In the end it's fun but probably a story that would best be read all together or in the trade, but as I'm halfway there I'll keep buying the reg'lar issues and pass up the paperback. Like that giant Picasso statue, it's not the greatest of works by a great artist, but you've gotta admire the mastery even if you don't understand every element of it.

Batman #656BATMAN #656: This comic is fun. Two issues in a row Grant Morrison's Batman has captured the coveted Bully most fun comic of the week award. Is it because of ninja man-bats? Gorgeous and dynamic Andy Kubert art? Batman actually acting like a smart fighter for the first time in a long time? My favorite goofball element of the story, pop art acting as commentary for the action? The return of Talia (although watch the outfit, Andy: as I often tell Greg Horn, fabric don't stretch like that's been sewn specially to separately)? Is it The Best Line of the Week: "Father. I imagined you taller."? Well, it's all those things and more: just the basic fact that Batman is good solid back-to-the-basics Batfun, and even when you make a quibble (Bruce Wayne's in London, so's Batman, so why does nobody put two and two together?) it's a call-back to a simpler, more dynamic time when ultra-realism concerning secret identities is maybe less important than an action-filled story. And, may I repeat: ninja man-bats! That's why this comic is the equivalent of the most fun person in Chicago, the grand master of oral history and a fine fellow whose observational skills rival Batman: the great Studs Terkel. I've met Studs (you can't even think of him as Mister Terkel) several times in conjunction with both publishing-world work and just plain-running-into-him-on-the-sidewalks-of-the-Loop serendipity, and a more genuine and intelligent yet enthusiastically friendly guy I've yet to meet. This bull salutes you, Studs, and when I compare you to Batman, that's my highest praise, old chum!

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