Sunday, August 26, 2007

Brief Thoughts on Recent Comics

1-800-Mice: There’s really no point in describing the semi-coherent short stories contained in this second issue of Matthew Thurber’s new comic book, except to say that Thurber employs an art style and sense of humor you’re either going to be on board with or not. I might call it a mixture of David Lynch and Michael Kupperman filtered through the Fort Thunder aesthetic? It’s the kind of thing I enjoy to the point that I’m very much looking forward to more new work by the artist, although it’s not the sort of material that creates a lasting impression, and probably doesn’t demand revisiting.

Also, this series is an example of an “alternative” cartoonist bucking the graphic novel trend in favor of a good old-fashioned comic book series. This is a trend I appreciate.

Astonishing X-Men #22: Joss Whedon’s and John Cassaday’s run on this series is nearing its conclusion. Here, the X-Men reunite to take on Kruun, ruler of the Breakworld that Colossus is prophesied to destroy. There’s an important revelation about Danger in this issue, and one of our heroes appears to make the ultimate sacrifice. As always, the story is pulled off with great skill by Whedon and Cassaday. I only wish the wait between issues wasn’t so long.

Batman #668: The great draw here is the art by J.H. Williams III and master colorist Dave Stewart. Really, some of the work on display here is almost shockingly gorgeous. Grant Morrison’s story is a lot of fun, too. Batman and the Club of Heroes try to solve a kind of drawing room mystery of the murder of one of their own. A fun, straight-forward superhero comic.

Black Summer #2: This issue seemed more superhero-y than the previous two (there was a zero issue, so this second issue is actually the third part of the story), probably because the principals spent most of the issue in costume, fighting and using their powers in terrifically violent displays, expertly rendered by Juan Jose Ryp in a deliciously decadent style. Warren Ellis’ script succeeds by not taking things too seriously, although he stumbles a bit when he gets lost in the complex, pseudo-scientific explanation for one of the characters’ powers. You’ve got to expect that with Ellis, though, right?

I was happy to see an advertisement for a Blackgas trade paperback in the back of this issue, collecting both of Ellis’s zombie miniseries, although the ad doesn’t say when this might be coming out.

Thunderbolts #116: If I were to give out an award for the most pleasant surprise in comics, this year Warren Ellis’ and Mike Deodato’s run on Thunderbolts would be a pretty strong contender. I guess I’m surprised I enjoy this series so much because it embodies a lot of what I usually dislike in modern superhero comics. It’s ridiculously violent, for one, and it’s basic premise is born out of one of those currently fashionable company wide mega-crossover events I generally avoid like the plague. Everything here works, though, I think because Ellis embraces the absurdity of the concept without quite making it a parody of the genre a la Nextwave. This book is just…bad ass. It’s like if all of those early Image books were as good as you thought they were when you were thirteen years old? I adore Ellis’ take on Norman Osborn, and the new Venom, a character I'd not previously had much interest in, is pretty awesome. “Venom’s in me but he’s not me.” Yes.

Ultimate Spider-Man #112: This is Stuart Immonen’s first full issue , after sharing art chores with now-departed series artist Mark Bagley last issue. I loved Bagley’s work on this series, and I have to say it was difficult even for me to imagine the series continuing without him, but man o man does Immonen own this book. The guy’s art just keeps getting better and better. I loved his work on Nextwave and his work here is a step up even from that. A really sleek, dynamic looking book. The story is the first part of what I guess might be the final Green Goblin story arc, and involves an unfortunate cliché of a subplot where Peter Parker and his classmates have to pair up to care for virtual baby dolls. Would you believe that the kids are unhappy with their respective partners? And do you think Peter will have trouble caring for his and Kitty’s kid, what with his Spider adventures and all?? Ah, who cares? Check out that awesome nightmare monster sequence on pages 9-10.

Uptight #2: I’ve saved the best for last. Actually, I reviewed these books alphabetically, so it just so happens that the best of the bunch is also the last one I’ll be talking about. But it’s great. The centerpiece of Jordan Crane’s excellent new comic book is a short story called “Before They Got Better,” about a man who seems exhausted and depressed by his life and his family. He and his wife don’t get along, his daughter hates him, he seems not to enjoy his work, and the neighbor’s dog keeps shitting on his lawn. The only glimmer of joy in the man’s life is his granddaughter, who adores him. This is the kind of comic that makes me wish I was a better writer so I could accurately convey its strengths. Crane chooses his moments carefully, giving us just the right amount of information without overstating things. There’s no real solution or moral offered in this short tale, and not much plot, but there is, I think, hope, and possibly even moments of grace hidden within the tapestry of this tired man’s sad life. I love the title, too.

The other two stories here are also good. The first is an expertly-paced horror story that fumbles the ball only in it's somewhat predictable ending, and the last is the second part of the serial “Keeping Two,” begun last issue and employing a different, thicker-lined drawing style than the first two tales.

Really, “Before They Got Better” is worth twice the price of admission all on it’s own, but the book as a whole adds up to an incredibly pleasant reading experience. Crane is the real deal, and I’m glad he, like Thurber, has chosen the serialized comic book as a format to display and develop his skills as a cartoonist. Where Crane is concerned, it almost goes without saying that the cover is one of the most beautifully designed and colored I’ve seen all year. Seek this one out.

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