Saturday, August 8, 2009

New Comic Cavalcade

Comics up for review this week include: Captain America Reborn #2, Warlord #5, Astro City: Dark Age Book Three #4 and Jonah Hex #46

Once upon a time, I used to be a complete new comic junkie. At one point I was buying 39 titles a month. However, that’s when comics cost about the same as a can of Coke, whereas these days for the price of a new issue of Fantasitc Four I could buy majority ownership in a bottling plant. It’s true that I’m not real excited about many of the storylines going on in comics these days, but the fact is, back when I was buying everything I could get my hands on, there were a lot of crappy or disappointing stories as well. Secret Wars II, anyone? The difference now is simply one of finances; if I had an unlimited amount of money to blow on stuff, I’d probably be buying as many comics today that I don’t like as I did when I was a kid.

This is all my way of saying that reviews of new issues won’t be a regular feature here, with one caveat: from time to time I do find myself in a store that sells comics and whenever that happens, I read as many for free as I can before I get tossed out. So in the future, you may very well see some of these Stolen Reviews, as I not only read comics so that you don’t have to buy them, I also read comics so that I don’t have to buy them either.

Today, though, we have a special treat, as four of the six titles I am currently buying came out with new issues. So lets get down to it:

Captain America Reborn #2

Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch, Butch Guice

First off, I love Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run. I’ve read just about every Cap story since his Silver Age revival (though I missed a couple years of stories at the beginning of this decade) and for my money Brubaker and Steve Epting have put together the best Cap run ever. That’s right, ever. So I am inclined to go into Reborn with a slight bias towards liking the story, even if it superficially resembles the last season of Lost. Er, that is, Slaughterhouse Five. Or... 1602? Whatever.

Having said that, this issue didn’t really do much for me. It’s not that it’s badly done; on the contrary, Bryan Hitch is turning in some typically excellent pencils, though I’m not entirely sure he and Butch Guice are the best pairing (no slight intended to the always solid Guice). The problem here is simply that this is the second part of a five part story, and in today’s terms that means it’s the Issue Where Nothing Happens. Spoiler Alert: nothing happens. Cap continues bouncing around and Bucky and Natasha finish getting themselves captured by Norman Osborn. That’s it. That’s the whole issue. Yes, there’s a lot of action and fighting and whatnot, but I sort of got over the whole comic book fight sequence thing about twenty years ago, so this doesn’t hold a lot of draw for me. Unless the punch is a donkey punch it's not going to catch my attention.

Once this story is all collected in a handsome slipcover edition, I’m sure it will be excellent. But as it stands, the individual episodes so far have been a bit lackluster by Brubaker and Hitch’s high standards.

My Grades: A- for potential, B for the actual comic book.

Warlord #5
Mike Grell, Chad Hardin, Wayne Faucher

Let me start by begging you to go out and buy Warlord. I’ve been waiting nearly 20 years for Warlord to get an ongoing series again (that thing from Bart Sears doesn’t count) and when it finally comes out, it’s even being written by Mike Grell himself. How could you ask for anything more? But right now sales of this book are so subterranean the lettering is being done by Mole Man and if it ends up getting canceled again I’m going to need a scuba mask to keep from drowning in my own tears.

In fact, I’m so desperately hoping you buy the book that I’m going to ask that you skip the rest of this review, because unfortunately it’s not too positive.
On the plus side, the covers are absolutely gorgeous; Mike Grell has long been one of the finest pure pencillers in the business, and he has a terrific sense of design, meaning that his covers are almost always fantastic. Unfortunately, he’s not doing the interiors of the book. Chad Hardin is not bad, mind you, but he’s not Mike Grell either; his art is workmanlike at best and right now that’s not what Warlord needs from either a sales or creative perspective.

As for Grell’s writing, well, it’s okay too. It’s actually a little hard to judge because he usually draws his own work and it’s possible that there’s just a disconnect between what Grell is writing and what the artists are drawing. In other words, if Grell were drawing this, I think it would seem like better writing. For people who don’t enjoy Grell, though, well… stay away. This isn’t quite as didactic as some of his more politically slanted issues of Green Arrow, but it has its moments and there was one point in an earlier issue where the dialogue and message were so Grellian that I think if it had been in a police lineup I could have sent Grell up the river just on cadence alone.

All in all, it’s not a bad comic, but it’s not a great one either. It’s only the first arc, so a lot of stuff is still being set up, but unless something changes fast I’m not sure the title will last long enough for it to hit its stride. Which is too bad. Because if they don’t finally resolve this Tinder storyline, I swear to God I am going to cut a bitch for real.

My Grade: This gets an A+ in my mind, but unfortunately it’s only a C on paper.

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #4
Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson

Before I get into this comic, I just want to mention the cover. One great thing about Astro City has always been the sweet Alex Ross covers. This time, though, I’m not sure just what was going on with the coloring, but I don’t particularly care for it. It’s all this very muted… color… I don’t even know what color that is supposed to be, but it looks like some kind of pudding or yogurt. I just don’t think this color scheme is doing the art any favors.

Anyway, on to the comic. There’s not a whole lot to say about it at this point. I mean, it’s Astro City, so you know it’s going to be very good at the worst and brilliant at best. This only falls into the very good category for a couple reasons. The main one is that Book Three of Dark Age ends with, well, mainly with a set up for Book Four. Which is fine except I’m beginning to feel like the comic is called Dark Age because the first issue of it came out before the renaissance; I think there was a variant cover by Fra Angelico. It’s no fault of Kurt’s that he’s been unfortunately slowed up by health issues, but with this story literally going on for half the decade I was hoping for a little more closure.

It’s also the first issue of Astro City I can remember where the big super hero fight is actually a major part of the plot instead of just a lens for character development to be seen through. That’s not to say that the focus swerves much from Eddie and Royal; but they are caught up enough in the action so that the big throwdown gets a lot more screen time than I have come to expect from Astro City.

Luckily for everyone in the comics world, Kurt has recently announced that Astro City will be going monthly again, meaning that after the Dark Age storyline finishes, the regular series will resume and we’ll once again be treated to tales from all corners of Astro City instead of just this one. I’m looking forward to the resolution of Dark Age and finally learning just what the fate of Silver Agent is, but I’m looking forward even more to being reintroduced to the rest of Kurt’s wonderful world.

My Grade: B. But I sense an A coming on the horizon.

Jonah Hex #46
Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Cristiano Cucina

This is an interesting one for me. I’m a big fan of Jonah Hex, thanks to the fact that the vault of comics I received as a kid had a long run of Weird Western Tales. Though I like the classic version of Hex more (because, well, he’s more likeable), I’ve been very pleased with this current series. Interestingly, it sells about the same as Warlord, but while I expect that title to be cancelled at any second I think Jonah Hex has more security, thanks to established trade sales and the upcoming Hex movie.

So you don’t have to worry about me begging you to buy this book. If you did, though, you’d be picking it up at a good time to jump aboard. This is the third part of a six part storyline, which means it’s the first extended arc in the entire series. One of the draws of the series, in fact, is that it’s one of the few comics left where you can expect to get a whole story in one mag, which seems to be a lost art. Still, picking up this arc would be a good way to get introduced to the characters because it is essentially a reimagining of Hex’s origin; not only do you get his backstory but you also get introduced to the two best loved and best remembered classic Hex villains, Quentin Turnbull and El Papagayo, who are making their first appearances in the new series.

This storyline also ties together several threads form earlier in the series, including appearances by Hex’s friends (which is a gross misuse of the term; reluctant companions with complementary goals is more like it) Bat Lash, El Diablo and Tallulah Black. The result is a winding, action filled epic that sprawls across years of Hex’s life and covers territory from America to Mexico. In point of fact, I’m enjoying this storyline more than most of the one shots, not because it is longer but because it has a different tone; earlier issues sometimes devolved into exercises in gratuitous gore and violence in an effort to be cutting edge, but with a tighter plot requiring more focus, what excesses exist are more fully earned.

My Grade: This specific part of the arc only gets an A- because the pacing was a bit strange, but the whole arc so far gets an A.

Bookmark and Share