From Mome 19, which is the best volume of the series so far. While it's arguable that the series has moved a bit away from whatever original plan it may have had by shortening the list of contributors (#19 has eight, much less than the usual number) and including artists few Fantagraphic fans will be unaware of (almost every contributor has at least one published book to their name already), it's pretty difficult to argue with the results. Josh Simmons' "White Rhinocerous Part 1", a collaboration with the Partridge in the Pear Tree (kill me now, that name) adorns both covers and consists both of Josh appropriating non-horror objects in use of the same creepy fearshow stylings he brought in Cockbone, as well as a being a twisted introduction to his latest (probably doomed) lead, an overweight white girl who looks like an overweight Michael Jackson. It's short, makes sense, is funny: great comic.
The rest of Mome 19 doesn't fall apart on the job either--TIm Lane produces one of his classic steeped-in-Americana portrayals, this one of a runaway husband staring into an abandoned carnival in hopes of finding enough nostalgia to pilot him home, Olivier Schrauwen brings more evidence of why his appeal should stretch beyond the 16 or so people who have seen his comics in a painful riff on an elderly man desperately escaping his broken meat sleeve to dally in a (possibly inspired by the Shaw/Santoro style?) candy-colored world of fantasy, and Gilbert Hernandez does...well. One of those comics that's drawn really well, that's funny, and yet doesn't make a huge amount of sense. It's about the Mexican Herbie.
There's other good stuff too, like God taking a shit on the Catholic Church. But the real prize here is DJ Bryant, who, according to the back cover bio, has released one short comic for an anthology and done some strips for Cinema Sewer. Now, if that's true--if the guy has actually done that little published work--then it might be necessary to clear off the mantelpiece and yell at the moon for a little while, because now there's another reason--in a month that's been absolutely goddamn good and full of them--to get a little bit ecstatic about comics for a moment, even if that clashes with the basic formation of our current universe, which is one of complete and utter degradation, shame, horror, rejection, depression, entitlement, hate, idiocy, gluttony, posturing, basically just an intense loathing of absolutely every single thing that could be considered sincere or, if we're being frank about it, human.
See, this is one of those old comics, very similar in tone and plot to something EC might have published (or, as Fanta's own Four Color Fear collection depicts, any one of the publishers in the early 50's who were smart enough to ape EC's style). It's about a guy, who married a girl, and the girl treats him like shit, and he takes it. Over and over again, she humiliates him, physically assaults him, sexually emasculates him, forces him into the rain so she can fuck somebody else in front of him, all while his constant weakness, his unfailing willingness to accept whatever punishment she dishes out, serves to perpetuate the hatred she has for him.
And oh yes, because it is 2010, because MOME and DJ Bryant don't have to pretend the way EC did that their primary audience is children, the sex is explicitly depicted, driving home the one thing that similarly toned stories (like Four Color Fear's opener "Hen-Pecked Harry") fail too. This victimized husband is getting something out of the relationship, and under DJ Bryant's able, perverse hand, what he's getting is clearly something that a part of him graeatly enjoys, and that enjoyment may be the whole reason he ended up in these positions in the first place.
Laced with sex, violence and murder, Bryant's final contribution to this grunting backwards homage is the delve into mania, and its here that he makes clear who he was thinking about: Steve Ditko.
Although the comic's first page had already thrown a Know Your Shit reference to Ditko's "Driven To Destruction" (caught here by Claire Donner), it's when our mid-range psycho goes full tilt loon that the comic detonates. Transitioning seamlessly between raw, hard sex and a full mental breakdown, Bryant starts splitting faces down the middle, blending panels into one, and by the ambiguous close, he's succeeded in surpassing his inspirations. Alongside a group of contemporaries who possess some of comic's most innovative talents, he chose refinement. It fucking worked.
Secret Avengers issues 1-4 weren't garbage comics, but let's be honest: you spent the whole time wondering why in the hell Moon Knight was on the team, when you remembered Moon Knight WAS on the team, which wasn't that often. Now, this, on the other hand--it's not what Secret Avengers could have been, because it's not about the Secret Avengers at all, it's another one of those sneak-him-onboard Nick Fury issues (not at all dissimilar to the Nick Fury issue of New Avengers that Bendis wrote, which, like Secret, had much more interesting and well let's just say it, better, art than whoever else was drawing New Avengers at the time, although that's neither here nor there anyway, as New Avengers wasn't a comic that really needed to have art at all, so it almost never did, although there were some occasionally interesting poster drawings interspersed amongst those thousands of panels featuring people talking at extraordinarily great lengths about what was eventually revealed to be absolutely nothing of consequence.)
So yeah: this is a Nick Fury comic, and it's a lot like what Brubaker was doing on Captain America back when Captain America clearly had a planned story that it was in the business of telling, which was the time period from when the comic started up until those issues where the Chinese war doctor showed up and Namor scowled around to show off how skeeved out he was by all these Chinese war doctor experiments. Namely, Secret Avengers is a comic where serious men with serious jawlines drop guns into their hands in homage to Asian gangster flicks so that they can clamber around inside Steranko inspired panels, all while talking about ridiculous things; glorious, wonderful, ridiculous things, like flying cars, and robots with souls, and it's all rather pleasant and rewarding. There's even reason to hope that it might last through future issues, when the comic returns to being about a team that has Moon Knight on it, for some reason that will hopefully never be explained.
The Spirit # 6
Written by David Hine & Brian Azzarello
Art by Moritat & Eduardo Risso
Published by DC Comics
The only way out is through, so let's pause for a second and forget that the First Wave launch has been a non-stop clusterfuck of late shipping and changing creative teams. This, for what it's worth, is actually the sort of thing that's worth spending time with.
HE MEANS HIS FISTS and he's supposed to be the Shadow, this Spirit, and while the historical importance of that second choice would assumedly make the lack of the first work, it hasn't yet. But look at the man David Hine has started to create: he's less Eisner, more Miller, and yet he somehow feels fresh, unsheathed from Frank's plastic wrap of icons and fetish. Under Moritat's hands, the visuals are taking a firmer shape: molten steel traps ignite the flesh of killer and savior alike, brute-filled shadows explode into blizzards of melodrama, all while Gabriel Bautista grows less and less willing to force a thousand colors into the panel. This comic is getting better--gnarlier, meaner--and while the Spirit can't be as cool as the Shadow, there's got to be a way to make this motherfucker play. He may now be under the control of hands that understand that.
Thor # 615
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Pasquel Ferry & Matt Hollingsworth
Published by Marvel Comics
Well, it's certainly nice to find out that Matt Fraction is such a stalwart member of the Writers Who Hate Poetry club that he's willing to extend that loathing into the scripts of his comics and bisect the torsos of those damnable verse-loving depressives. But the important, historical draw here is the corporate hands of Disney, who have lovingly inserted a gigantic two page advertisement for their upcoming Tron film, which used to be called TR2N, until somebody sobered up and took the idiot out of their ass.
Justice League of America # 49
Written by James Robinson
Art by...wait, it's better if you actually SEE this credits box.
No fucking around: that's crazy as shit! Justice League of America is, or used to be, the marquee book for this company, the one thing they could count on to sell alongside the other things they could count on to sell, which was A) Superman and B) Batman. Batman's still trucking along okay, although the next few months of non-stop Bat-spin-off comics will probably bring it low, which is where Superman lives. Justice League--give it a rest. Nine inkers? Two pencilers? How does the workflow for that even get handled? Do they just send everybody FTP access and say "finish whatever you can, whoever's first gets the money" and then everybody just pulls an all-nighter, toasted on white crosses? Does Rod Reis hang out with Photoshop open, waiting for his email box to ping at him? Dude, is somebody taking bets? Is there a leader board? Hell, why not try a return to those old contests where you could win your name in a comic, only this time whoever writes the best letter about why DC should keep pretending having James Robinson on staff is as much a draw as Johns and Morrison will get the opportunity to ink an actual page in a JLA comic? (As long as they include a "don't mention Starman" rule, they could have a real challenge on their hands!)
Besides all that other nonsense, JLA 49 is otherwise notable for the new Arsenal editorial dictate (and since it happened in a Morrison Batman issue, you gotta assume it's a rule) which states that all flashback/nightmare versions of the character have to include some kind of visual notation that the character is now armless. Witness!
Seems like an odd decision to make Reed Richard's daughter so intensely unlikeable through actual plot devices--after all, both of those kids are just unlikeable on the sheer principle of their existence alone, aggravating it even further by having Epting draw one of them with the most demanding punch-her-in-the-face sliminess he can muster is just risky. And yet, it's nice to see Hickman doing something different after spending so many issues riffing off of Supreme and Tom Strong. Maybe the next issue comes with a pony?
Doing this was sort of an educational experience, as it pointed out that, no matter their failings, Marvel & DC are fundamentally more skillful when it comes to readable versions of serialized comic books than a lot of their competetitors. See, there's comics published by IDW, Dynamite, Top Cow and Boom that just don't make any sense, no matter how many times you read them. The work published by DC and Marvel can still be just as bad as some of those comics, but they're still comprehensible on the most basic level, even someone with the the most fundamental understanding of English is going to be able to grasp that what they're seeing is supposed to be a story of some kind, and not just a mishmash of shiny colored pages with words scattered across them.
But then, there's Titans. The first issue in its new, Deathstroke/Arsenal focused run was a veritable buffet line of mind-boggling confusion, a comic that featured multiple, unexplained narrators, held scenes of some plot importance off-panel in service of some kind of weird anti-comics argument that boiled down to "fuck you, here's a drawing of a door for two pages", all while refusing to present any evidence that the comic had actually been completed, at any level, prior to publication. There was a team? They were around? Maybe behind one of those doors that kept showing up?
In this issue, the "team", which is actually just a couple of different shitty half-ass anti-heroes, all of whom may or may not be hatching the world's most underplanned plot to assassinate Deathstroke, fight another group. That group is led by a drug kingpin who is reaping the fiscal whirlwind that stems from that old I Come In Peace (or, if you prefer, because we know that some of you do, that Torchwood mini-series) sour trick of using live human beings (children!) as the source for some supa-dupa drugs. They fight, it doesn't make any sense, ends arbitrarily because everybody forgot that the Marvel-powered kid can kill universes (or something, who knows, nobody ever bothers to explain what those characters can do) and then you get to the meat of the comic, which is also where all the effort seems to be, and two of the characters have sex so that the other character won't relapse on heroin. Oh how quickly we forget the lessons of Rush!
The Incredible Hulk: Hide In Plain Sight
Written by Bruce Jones
Art by Leandro Fernandez
Published by Marvel Comics
A break from the long-form story that Bruce Jones' run on Hulk is most known for, this five-part story was probably created in case somebody watched the Hulk movie and liked it enough to check out the comic. (Ultimately, that was a short-sighted plan, as the comic would be returning to the middle of what became a 40 odd part story as soon as "Plain Sight" concluded, but then again, few people seem to have liked that Hulk movie to begin with.) Mostly, this is a decent thriller that probably would've worked better in four parts than five, but it's an excellent showcase for Leandro Fernandez, who is mostly known for drawing the worst Punisher MAX arc as well as making Queen & Country's main character so cheesecakey that you have to apologize to people when you recommend it to them. Check this shit out, this was in a Hulk book:
Although Hide In Plain Sight isn't without a few missteps, like when it's revealed that the Absorbing Man has possessed a very young girl and forced her to brutally kill her own parents with a very small knife, or the inclusion of a extraordinarily resourceful woman who trusts Bruce Banner completely within hours of meeting him, it's still a solid, quick thriller, and one that, for better or worse, fits in well with Jones' run on the title. Old men being mind-controlled into big handgun suicide: that's an AC/DC song on paper.
-Tucker Stone, 2010