This is excellent, of course. These issues (as well as others) were collected by Fantagraphics a few years ago, but there's something to be said for cracking open the yellowing pages behind Frank Frazetta's somber illustration of an American soldier standing knee deep in a pile of dead Vietnamese soldiers, the faint sky blue smoke rising from his rifle. Anti-war war comics are tough work--you're basically saying that you're planning to be entertaining, but this is the kind of entertainment that should leave you stroking your chin and looking off into the middle distance--and it would be impossible for all of those attempts to stick the landing. But if you take a second look at the line-up of talent this one bears, it's no surprise that so much of it does work. Severin's story is a nasty piece of EC style "surprise, asshole!", delightfully stocked with the same kinds of expression heavy faces you'd find in a Maguire Justice League. Toth's is pure post-apocalyptic lechery, with a climax that will appear doubly insane to modern readers. For my money though, the best thing in this package is Reed Crandall's "Foragers". A classic slice of that war comics staple--fragging the lunatic in charge--blessed with the sort of caricature style art that nowadays only shows up in movie parodies, if it shows up at all, and its reliance on brevity only ups the savagery with which it delivers that most classic of messages: Don't Be a Fucking Asshole.
This issue of Animal Man is taken up with a comic length presentation of a super-serious film version of Mark Millar's Kick-Ass by way of Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, (in the comic it is credited to "Ryan Daranovsky" which is just adorgahhh), which, in the DC Universe, features the Buddy Baker character in the starring role. As this is a standard super-hero comic in 2012, there's only enough room to show what would probably be the first 8 minutes of a movie, and the best thing one can say about it is that it's an incredibly accurate depiction of how fucking mealy mouthed and boring a super-serious film version of Kick-Ass would be; that is also, unsurprisingly, the worst thing one could say about it. The comic drones on for a while in this fashion, and whether you think it's being pretentious by choice (as a way to comment on the disgusting immaturity of a man who chooses ego validation over doing things like "pay child support") or not will be determined by whether or not you actually read the comic in question. Theoretically, there's probably an argument to be made here, but when you put the whole thing under the lens of working human eyes, it becomes rapidly apparent that "being a super-hero" is something that non-pieces of shit stop doing the second some girl barfs their kid out of her vagina.
Although this leans so heavily on film tricks that half the reading experience consists of pages of Checchetto drawing zoom effects on dead bodies and plugging up the page with "establishing" shots, it's actually a pretty engaging comic, almost like it's being so in spite of the way everyone involved would apparently be happier storyboarding David Fincher movies. Rucka's take on the Punisher is still an unwelcome return to the stories that get told whenever the character is being written by people who can't shut the fuck up about their own personal disagreements with Frank's horrible (and yet still fictional) worldview--and in this case, it's the old "make the surrounding situational ethics unassailably in Frank's favor, and then spend as much of the comic's page count as possible amongst other characters"--but the comic is still so deeply immersed in that professionals-only landscape that Rucka tends to do best in, and it all sort of works. As long as they keep the Spider-Man types and wistful grandmothers at arm's length, this book has actually gotten pretty decent.
This is probably the purest mediocrity that DC has, a comic so boring that its ideal audience would be found in a locked room containing a Rubbermaid tub of semen with a Tupperware container of ova floating in it, as that way you'd be at an absolute Ground Zero, surrounded on all sides by something that has never had the opportunity to know any better. Even trying to find something in the story to point to as evidence deserving of cruelty is a pain in the ass, this comic, such a slippery eel of banality. Near the end, there's an exciting tease of a moment when a woman in the UN's "Security Group" is depicted wearing a dress seemingly cut from the exact same design that one sees on the United Nations flag, but then there's a close-up drawing and you see that it's just a bunch of little white palm trees (?) on a blue background--still without class, but not as hilarious as one could have hoped for. That sequence also features the funniest part of the comic's script, although it isn't legendary or anything--just a bunch of mid-grade super-heroes making excuses and playing victim for multiple pages. It brings up one of those intermittent questions that arise following the reading of too many super-hero comics: don't regular civilians despise these fucking clowns? Wouldn't they despise them further, to see them whining and passing the buck? Comics or real world, it's the same old song, the reason that girls don't like "nice guys": because desperation and pleading are the ugliest things on the planet, and we've been bred, correctly, to treat weakness with the virulent contempt it very much deserves. Failure is nothing more than that, its failure, and you better hurry up and get married if you want anybody to care that you have a cold and cry sometimes, Booster Gold. Because if there's one thing we've got plenty of, it's another clown with a self-esteem problem and a bunch of fucking gadgets.
-Tucker Stone, 2012