Saturday, 21 July 2007

A Quick One While She's Away: Countdown No More!

During the few days since my last proper post (hello everyone in the universe! My name's Andrew and I like comics but I get grumpy when they're bad) I've been thinking about what form this blog should take . I don't want to lose the DC-Centric tone, as that would mean getting rid of this URL and also because I genuinely like a lot of what DC are putting out. However, I want to have some flexibility, too - often there's just more to say about a comic like Action Philosophers or a magazine like Following Cerebus (the latest issue of which I will definitely review when it finally gets to my comic shop) than there is about Action Comics or whatever.

I've also figured that most weeks I can update this two or three times, so here's the plan. Every week I'll try to do three posts. The first will be a quickie-review one, covering everything I buy that week. The second will be a DC Universe roundup, looking at the DCU titles I bought, plus any 'news' to do with the DCU, Countdown, etc that I've picked up elsewhere, and my thoughts as to where it's all going. The third will be a longish essay type post on something I consider worth writing a lot about (this week I'm considering writing something about Morrison, but everyone seems to write about him all the time). With a bit of luck this format will allow me to get some interesting posts done.

To start with, I'll go through the comics I've picked up this week. These will be brief capsule reviews, written straight after first reading each issue - anything I need to go into detail about I'll do in a later post.

This week I bought a large number of comics for me. Anyone claiming that this is because my wife's away for the weekend and can't shout at me for spending too much is totally wrong. It was a totally different, unconnected reason. Honestly. Luckily it's also been a well-above-average week for comics.

deevee is a black & white anthology that's apparently been publishing for ten years, but which I've never heard of before. I picked it up on the strength of Eddie Campbell's involvement, and most of the people involved appear to be Australians who have worked on Bacchus with Campbell (I've only read Campbell's work in trades before, so don't know many of these people's work). As with all anthology titles, it's a very mixed bag.

The Playwright (written by Daren White with art & lettering by Campbell) is a beautiful, touching little story, full of bittersweet humour. The story flits in and out of the interconnected lives of four people - a playwright, his brother (the one touch I don't like about this is that he is described as 'retarded'. Having done a lot of work with people with learning disabilities, that word always makes me flinch a little), the brother's nurse and the nurse's father. Campbell's storytelling mirrors this, with panels moving between wide multiple-character shots and tight close-ups of elements of those shots. It's beautifully done, and reminds me again just how incredibly good Campbell is (and makes me want to check out more of White's writing).

Arsehole, by Mandy Ord, is the kind of filler story you find in every black & white anthology title, be it from Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Alternative Comics or whoever. Thick black cartoony lines, poor panel composition, improperly-punctuated lettering, and a story that could have been told in half the space. The story (little girl on holiday gets crush on boy, he teases her and upsets her, they go home) could have been quite nice had it been told in three or four pages, but it's told over 13 pages of six-panel grid, with most of the panels being silent panels of a kid looking sad.

The Depth Of My Anger Is An Indication Of My Love by Jeffrey Brown is a funny examination of a relationship based mostly around sex. Some of the dialogue comes off a bit Clerks, especially "I never had sex before you"..."...and then I had oral sex with a bunch of guys that summer...", but the characters come off as real people. Brown's art is very reminiscent of Ed The Happy Clown era Chester Brown, and the format is also interesting. It's done in four-panel newspaper-style strips, but reformatted into 40-panel grids of five panels by eight, so each strip carries on into the next one, with small arrows between the strips, giving an effect similar to some of Acme Novelty Library.

Don't Call Me Baby by David Tong and Matt Huynh is another slice-of-life story (and by this time many themes, intended or not, are showing up in the comic - relationship difficulties, ageing, sexual problems - Ord's piece also doesn't fit those themes, making its inclusion in here even more inexplicable). It works mostly on the strength of Huynh's art - while his sketchy style isn't to my taste, his figures are extremely expressive and he understands body language in a way shockingly few comic artists do.

Hayley Campbell Funnies by Jason Conlan is standard setup-feedline-punchline gag-strip stuff, of about the quality of some of the weaker running strips in Private Eye. The three-panel gag strip is territory that I fear has been pretty much mined out, at least until we get another Watterson, but if you have a higher tolerance for the predictable format, it might raise a smile.

The Fat Sheila Hit Me written by Peter Doyle with art & lettering by Eddie Campbell appears to be an adaptation of the court records of a rather mundane murder trial. It's done well enough, but leaves no impression.

Commute by Daniel Best & Daniel Gibbs is another filler 'story', this one a two-page sub-Pekar autobio that wouldn't even make for a decent LiveJournal entry, leading up to a punchline that isn't.

Blind Love by Daren White and Jason Paulos is an interesting failure - it can't quite make up its mind whether it wants to be parody or homage, either in the writing or the art. It's doing both 50s romance comics and silver age superheroics, and the art, while mostly rooted in Kirby, jumps between Wally Wood, Gil Kane, Eisner & Toth (the last two being the dedicatees of the story) for odd panels before returning to its Kirby ground state. The whole thing feels a bit ill-thought-out, but is fun and fits well with the other stories in here.

The one-page Karen Summers MD (also by White and Paulos) on the back cover is a decent parody of the kind of soap-opera comic strip we don't really get in the UK unless it's about football. It's impressive how different Paulos' art looks in this strip to the earlier one.

There's too much filler in this issue to give it an unambiguous recommendation, especially given the relatively high $4.95 US cover price, but the good stuff is very good, so it may well be worth getting hold of the trade paperback of early issues advertised in the back, featuring most of the same creators, along with others such as James Kochalka. It's available from

Thunderbolts: Desperate Measures #1 by Paul Jenkins & Steve Lieber (Marvel) is spinning out of one of the few definite successes from the Civil War aftermath, Warren Ellis' revamp of Thunderbolts. It seems a bit pointless, being in effect just another issue of the original title, and most of that fight scene, but it's a competent enough done in one story. The art is pitiful, though - while Norman Osborne doesn't look like Tommy Lee Jones like he does in the main title, it's because he doesn't look like the same person for two panels in a row. Lieber apparently is incapable of drawing a consistent likeness, though his composition and storytelling are decent. All in all this felt like it has no real reason to exist, but if you're interested in the characters it's not actively bad or anything.

The Spirit #8 by Darwyn Cooke & J. Bone (DC) is, as ever, a fun action adventure story. This time, you'll be able to figure out most of the story just from the cover (The Spirit and Satin trying to defuse a bomb with only three seconds to go) and Cooke packs in all the usual cliches, but it's still a fun, exciting, stand-alone adventure. To be honest, though, there's no reason for this series to be titled 'The Spirit' - it bears very little relation to the classic strip, being a far less imaginative beast. It's still well worth reading though - just don't expect anything revolutionary.

Godland #19 by Joe Casey & Tom Scioli (Image) is another great issue, with more ideas in one panel than many superhero comics have in an entire 'arc'. For those of you who for some reason aren't reading this, Godland is essentially the comic that Fantastic Four would have been if it had been created by 70s Kirby rather than his 60s incarnation, and if Grant Morrison rather than Stan Lee had provided the dialogue.
It's difficult to review an issue of Godland because it's so information-dense, and so full of references to its own backstory, that I spend half the issue going 'wait... which one is that again? Why's he hitting him?'. It usually takes a couple of rereads, and a read back through old issues, before I figure out what's going on, but the first read is still a pleasure, providing a confusing adrenaline rush that leaves me with a silly grin on my face.
If you're new to Godland, that means this issue isn't an especially good jumping on point, but you should pick up the trades now. Meanwhile, for those already reading this, it's yet another stellar issue.
There are so many good lines in this it's tempting to quote every line, but just a random sampling from a few pages:
"Thanks to you I've got labia! I want your head for a candy dish!"
"Nickelhead! I have floors yet to be scrubbed! Your arrogant insubordination is the weakness I will ultimately exploit!"
"Okay, forget what I thought about this bumblebee psycho queen!"
"Witness, you blubbering baboons! The directional exhaust jets have activated -- initiating the clockwise spin that will facilitate terrestrial penetration!"

Scioli is also getting more experimental with his inking. While he's still doing a Kirby homage, he's started putting thick lines around the bodies (but not heads) of his characters, and then inking everything else in extremely thin, fine lines. This is, to my mind, a huge improvement - whereas previously his art looked dynamic but (deliberately) ugly, now there's a strange delicate beauty to some panels, while still looking like his earlier work. This now looks like the Fourth World stuff would have had Kirby been consistently inked by people who could give his art the time it deserved.

Naughty DC! They've put the C word right on the front of Action Comics #852 (by Kurt Busiek, Brad Walker and John Livesay). That's right, it's a 'Countdown tie-in!'
In fact, it contains the Jimmy Olsen scene from Countdown 42 , reducing the number of 'Countdown only' scenes from three to two. The scene contains exactly the same dialogue, and better art. It then has an inner monologue where Jimmy explains everything about his new powers in just under half a page, rather than the ten issues it's taken in Countdown. One can only assume that the editor's note (apparently these are only banned from Countdown, not unimportant titles like Action) which says "See? We told you not to miss it!" is intended as some sort of sick joke.
Busiek's Superman work has been getting criticised perhaps a little harshly by many people, and there's no doubt he's been spread a little thin by the need to cover for the ridiculously over-late Johns & Donner issues of Action, but he gets what makes the character fun. This issue has the Kryptonite Man making a kryptonite laser 'for medical purposes' , Scottish robots called 'the rude mechanicals' who talk like the Nac Mac Feegle in Terry Pratchett's books ("They'll not be so fast to be disrespectin' traffic lights an' cash machines in th' future they won't! The clan strikes! Fer silicon! Fer justice!").
The whole thing is a great Jimmy Olsen romp of the kind I hoped we'd see in Countdown, and features what looks like it'll be the post Infinite Crisis debut of Titano. Inessential, but fun. And it makes perfect sense without having read a panel of the comic it ties in to.

Supervillain Team-Up: Modok's 11 #1 by Fred Van Lente, Francois Portela and Terry Pallot (Marvel) is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from the title- MODOK putting together a team of minor villains for a heist. This issue is all set-up, but it promises to be a very fun mini. It's the writer of Action Philosophers writing a heist story featuring MODOK - it doesn't get better than that.

Brave & Bold #5 by Mark Waid, George Perez and Bob Wiacek (DC) I will deal with tomorrow in the DCU roundup. But to repeat every other blogger ever, this is how you do a Batman/Karate Kid fight.

The Order #1 by Matt Fraction, Barry Kitson and Mark Morales (Marvel) is a pretty decent story spinning out of Civil War. I only read Civil War through Christopher Bird's redialoguing of it, so don't take my word as accurate, but Tony Stark comes off here as vastly more decent and responsible than I gather he did in the original series.
This is decent enough, but feels unoriginal. The main plot (superteam brought together, most of them are no good, new recruits take their place) is a standard one, the 'billionaire industrialist gives some untried people powers to form a new media-friendly superteam' origin is another standard one, done as recently as last year in 52, and the idea of basing a team on the Greek Gods seems inspired by the Morrison-era JLA (the first line-up of the team, disbanded halfway through this issue, are JLA-analogues).
I'll probably give it another issue or two, but at this point it just seems competent superheroics without any particular distinguishing features.

All-Flash #1 by Mark Waid and too many artists to name (DC) is a very efficient story designed to restore the status quo wrecked by the appaling previous Flash series. It does so competently and quite enjoyably, but it's really just getting things in order for the new Flash ongoing. Wally West is back and all's right with the world. I'll look at this in a little more detail tomorrow.


Daren White said...

Thanks for the review of DeeVee and I'm glad you liked The Playwright. There are three earlier chapters, each by me and Eddie, in the trade advertised in the back of the issue. There is also a graphic novel planned for release next year that will collect the existing four chapters and add another four plus other stuff.


Andrew Hickey said...

I'll definitely look out for that. I hope Mr Campbell mentions it prominently and repeatedly on his blog, because I hadn't heard of DeeVee even though it's obviously been going a while.
I'll be picking up the trade as soon as I get paid...

Mark Parsons said...

As a longtime (25 years: gulp!) reader of THE SPIRIT, I'm going to politley disagree with your assessment that Cooke's series bears little relation to the original. Cooke perfectly channels the vibe and the characters, even in the mondern setting.

An 8 page story has a radically different structure/set of challenges than a 22 pager. A 22 pager is naturally going to be more leisurely, less packed with tricks than an 8 pager. I think it would be unfair to expect Cooke' to mimic Einser's story tropes (the X-Mas story, the fairy tale story, etc). Cooke is telling stories in his own mode of expression, albeit with great nods towards Eisner's characterization and overall tone/world view.

When Cooke inevitably concludes his run, you probably won't be seeing such amazing work on the character again. Who could possibly follow Cooke's act? The Kitchen Sink series has some nice work, but overall, only a few creator's seemed to know what to do with the Spirit & co.

All told, I feel that Cooke's SPIRIT is a real gem and a more than wothy and worthwhile successor to Eisner (and his assistants') protean run.

Marc said...

Like the new format, Andrew.

And now, because no comment of mine would be complete without some hectoring, maybe you should do something about the title, too. That quote will be forgotten by the time the next issue of The Atom comes out, at which point it will become cryptic and cloying--unless you're not a fan of Gail Simone's writing, in which case it's already cloying.

Andrew Hickey said...

Mark - I agree it's a very good series, but the stories being told feel like they could be told with any character...

Marc - I'll probably change it soonish. It's just a placeholder that seemed to sum up the stuff I'm writing rather better than the original title (which even when I was writing about C**ntdown I thought stupid after a few milliseconds).

Steve Flanagan said...

I think that there are some posts on Eddie Campbell's blog about DeeVee, at least. But this was also the first issue I'd seen. To show how shallow I am, I was oddly disappointed in the format: spoiled by the likes of Mome and Kramer's Ergot, no doubt. Also, isn't Jeffrey Brown American? It'd be nice to see more Australian cartoonists.

On the Spirit, I tend to agree with Andrew that Cooke's stories could just as well (perhaps better) have been told about entirely new characters, and with Mark that it is better for Cooke to find his own way that to try to pastiche Eisner. But I was rather more long-winded about it.

John Seavey said...

Can anyone tell me what people are saying bad about Busiek's Superman run, and when the rot supposedly set in? Because I got the first two trades of it, and it practically brought tears to my eyes it was so good. Fun, entertaining super-hero action featuring a can-do, dynamic and heroic Superman.

If this is what people think is wrong with the book, man I don't wanna be right. :) On the other hand, if something changes later on, I'd like to be prepared.

Andrew Hickey said...

John, the main problem is that the Camelot Falls storyline (currently in progress) has been thrown off course (presumably because Johns & Donner's overhyped Action run took a year to tell a four-issue story (or something like that)). The main storyline's lost momentum because Busiek's been doing endless one-issue fillers for both titles, which have been of variable quality.

I suspect it'll actually read better in the trades, where the story can be put in the right order.