Thursday, August 11, 2005

ultrafast reviews

Big box of stuff arrived from my main man Biff today. It included:

STUPID COMICS #3 by Jim Mahfood. Love Mahfood's visual stylings, like his autobiographical shorts, but feel his attempts at satire are usually a tad unoriginal, obvious and leaden (the guy's no Bill Hicks). He's an artist that works best collaboratively (i.e. should hook up with a decent writer more often).

HIP FLASK: MYSTERY CITY by Richard Starkings and Jose Ladronn is one of those rare things: a perfect comicbook. Turns out Starking isn't just a revolutionary letterer and businessman, but a fine writer as well. Ladronn has finally matured as an artist. His style has gelled, fusing his influences perfectly, where once they seemed to over-power him. He's now the perfect hybrid of Kirby's dynamicism, Moebius's ligne clair and Juan Gimenez's textures that he always threatened to become, which seems apt, given the themes of this book. Tellingly, this book is dedicated to "Alan Moore, Steve Moore, Steve Dillon, David Lloyd and Steve Parkhouse". Basically, the entire crew (with a few exceptions) of the classic anthology WARRIOR, which kickstarted the revolutions the medium of comicbooks went through in the mid-eighties. This comic effortlessly captures the same questing, progressive spirit of those imaginauts.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #11 by Joss Whedon and John Cassady keeps dragging on. Jesus christ, it's bad. Really regretting my decision to keep buying this, just so I can sell it on eBay as a complete set. Nothing should be this much hard work.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #21 by Mark Millar and Greg Land. "Ever get the feeling you've been had?" Best John Lydon quote in a Marvel comic in years. That said, less happens in twenty-odd pages of this comic than in half a dozen pages of a Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four, and Land's artwork is awful. Horrible. I'll hang around until the punchline. Millar's good at those. Then it's dropped again.

DESOLATION JONES #2 by Warren Ellis and J.H. Williams III. More greatness by a magical combination of the most cynical writer in comics with the most romantic artist in the field. Inspired. If Spider Jerusalem was Ellis channelling Hunter Thompson, Jones is as loving an homage to Raymond Chandler as a grumpy, smart-arsed Englishman can do.

THE DEFENDERS #1 by the team supreme of Keith Giffen, Jean Marc DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire. These three, back from the dead, and strangely, demonically rejuvenated, move on to pastures new with fresh, yet simultaneously predictable (i.e. funny, great looking) results. It's something of a Giffen-month, as next up it's...

HERO SQUARED #1, by Giffen, DeMatteis and Joe Abraham. Of course, it's really #2, but changing publishers (after a fashion) has allowed them the privilege of two first issues in a row. Free of editorial heaviness, and continuity crises from concerned corporations, Giffen and DeMatteis get to do it their way at last. The liberating effect is obviously energising. This series may be the best comic with a Giffen byline since he blew up the earth and scarpered from LEGION OF SUPERHEROES in the mid-nineties. And finally on the Giffen tip is...

COMMON FOE #2 by Giffen, Shannon Denton and Jean Jacques Dzialowski. This series, like so many other indie comics these days, reads like a handy, already pre-vizzed, movie pitch. I can imagine that meeting now: "It's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN meets THE KEEP versus ALIENS!" Fortunately, we get more characterisation this issue than the first, so now we know we're supposed to care about these characters as they inevitably get ripped apart in the last issue.

SEVEN SOLDIERS: THE MANHATTAN GUARDIAN #3 by Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart. Seven Soldiers rumbles on, and this issue is another well-balanced meal of action, humour, satirical intent and intrigue. Groovy.

100 BULLETS #62 by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso. Nothing much happens, but what does go on manages to be impeccable and impossibly stylish anyway.

CONAN #18 by Kurt Busiek, John Severin and Bruce Timm. This is the first issue of Dark Horse's revival of Conan I've bought, specifically for the Timm-drawn short in the back. Noticed this is Busiek's best writing since MARVELS and ASTRO CITY - the guy was coasting awfully doing stale superhero stuff for the big two for what seems like a decade. The Timm four pager is fantastic, the longer story is even better, like a new CONANcentric twist on an old TWO FISTED TALES style story (and yet Severin was always far from being my favourite of all the old EC guys).

HELLBOY: THE ISLAND #2 by Mike Mignola. And miraculously this month, another perfect comic. If this, unfortunately but not really unexpectedly, turned out to be the last Hellboy comic Mignola ever managed to commit to draw himself, it would be a shame and a crime, sure, yet not unfitting.

THE ULTIMATES 2 #7 by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. Or as it might have been called once, "WHAT IF THE AVENGERS WERE A BUNCH OF BASTARDS" rumbles on, ever slower. A series that's easy to admire, but harder to like. Especially when the only likeable character in the book is currently stuck in lockdown, the second most likeable beats his wife, and the third most likeable is a mass murderer on the run. Get my drift? But the writing's snappy, the plot ticks over like a Swiss clock, and the art is uniformly great.

THE NEW AVENGERS #7 & 8 by Bendis and Steve McNiven. My grandmother had a saying, "Bendis is as Bendis does". I was never quite sure what she meant, but these comics are the equivalent of the cheeseburgers on the big photo menu at Burger King: they look good up there in lights, but when you hold them in your hand, they're never quite as impressive. And they only last about one minute before you fancy another one. Anyway, if McNiven is going to be the new artist on this book, I recommend they put more female members on the roster. Given Bendis's obvious love of all things Marvel and seventies, I'd go with Ms Marvel and She Hulk. Oh, and Dazzler.

JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR #43. I keep expecting this magazine to run out of things to say, images to print, but it's a tribute to the genius of the man, and the length and variety of his career, and sheer size of his output, that they don't. And just when you think it's getting a bit stale, they add a new feature that just makes the mag seem even better value: the new "Public Domain Theatre", reprinting great out-of-copyright shorts.

BLAM! And I'm outta here, losers! A Brutha's gotta eat sometime!