What The Hell Is This: Why, it's Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane, issue number 106.
Why We Have A Copy Of This: Tom Spurgeon occasionally posts links to people who sell comics, usually because said people are in need of the kind of emergency funding only 70's comics can provide. This came from one of those times, and the idea behind the purchase was that TFO's own Nina Stone (who was actually Nina Miller during the hatching of the aforementioned idea) would read the comic and respond to it in some kind of pithy, I'm-a-woman observational fashion. (This was during the second major wave of female-front-and-center-super-hero-comics-blogging, a six week period that began approximately right after Valerie D'Orozio's fourth public retirement wherein one could earn thousands in Internet Dollars merely by adding the word "patriarchy" or "refrigerator" as keywords in banal recaps of Joe Kelly comics.) Having never gotten around to doing anything with it, July of 2011 seems like the time to shit or get off the pot. (And February 2013 seemed like the time to finish that...I don't like this metaphor.)
Hence: Ignoring for a second that this is a comic where Lois Lane submits to a Laurence Fishburne style Deep Cover for the purposes of ratting out the black experience in the Metropolis of 1970, the thing that most grabs me about this comic today is that issue number: 106. According to that Comic Book DB site, the series got started back in 1958, and it didn't finish up until 1974. While I'm sure that, like most Superman/Lois Lane stories, that means there were a lot of comics that feature Lois doing boneheaded shit that neccissitated a Super-save (saves that all but guarantee a healthy amount of shit-giving), I can't think of one non super-powered female character who has seen such a lenghty run of comics.
That Being Said: If all those 137 issues of Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane were as boneheadedly off-base as this turkey, it doesn't really mean a thing that they existed at all. This fucker ain't helping nobody.
How So: Tasked with writing "the inside story of Metropolis Little Africa", an admittedly Pulitzer-hungry Lois checks her make-up and heads over to the "black community". And there, she finds nothing but rudeness! Black children walk away from her and her questions with a silent contempt that Werner Roth and Vince Colleta depict as fear, adults slam doors in her face...one woman even wheels her baby away from Lois "as if [she] were the plague!" See, look.
After being rejected by the black community in the form of white fiction's most sterotypically accepting black member (that would be a kindly old blind woman, who silently walks away from Lois the second she hears that braying white voice), Lois finds herself on the receiving end of some serious hate speech: she's "whitey", the biological wall of hate that keeps the black community entrenched in "rat-infested slums", the capitalist fatcat who employs them only in service positions. She's the enemy, and she'll never understand. That is, unless Superman happens to have a plastimold and transformoflux pack.
At this point, the comic becomes a sort of no-self-awareness parody of that Eddie Murphy sketch where he painted his face white and found out that the black people were missing out on all kinds of free shit. Lois immediately heads home to change into "beautiful afro attire", gets ignored by her white cabdriver friend (she refers to this as her "first lesson in the meaning of black", hops onto the subway (where all of the white people stare at her as if she is a "freak"), and then she walks into the first apartment building she can find. Which is on fire, of course, because the landlord decided not to have anyone take out the garbage anymore. Helping put out the fire, Lois finds herself invited into the same apartment by the same woman who, a scant few white pages ago, had slammed the door in her face. There, she finds out that black women are constantly on guard for invading rats, fending them off of the succulent eyes of their infant children with brooms and rage.
After a tearful goodbye, Lois finds herself in a meet-cute with the now-introduced Dave Stevens, the man who was previously seen wearing skin tight green jeans and calling Lois "whitey". Joining him in a poorly thought out attempt to reprimand a couple of drug dealers, Lois is there to catch him when he gets shot in the chest. That's "catch" in the literal sense, too. Take a look at what Lois is doing in this classic Superman-melts-some-guns-panel:
Now, if you were to guess that Lois Lane ends up in the hsopital, donating blood to a bullet ridden Dave Stevens, and that this led to a scene where Dave realized that white people and black people can help each other, because they're both just plain old people down at the circulatory level, well: you'd be a cynical S.O.B., but you'd pretty much be right. It's a silent scene of shock, realization, and then good old hands-across-America stuff that closes this issue, and considering the way anything racial usually gets handled in comic books...well, this method is pretty much not that horrifying, even though you probably assumed it was going to be.
And The Moral Of This Story: is that there isn't a neat and tidy one, and if there was, it most likely is going to show up some place other than a Lois Lane comic book with a title based around my least favorite installment in the Criterion Collection. And yes, I'm aware of the film Armageddon.
-Tucker Stone, 2013
From the back page essay, written by one of this comic's writers: "[Thief of Thieves] brings to the comics medium the same kind of story you'd get in a movie, novel or a TV show, but we're utilizing the strengths of what our medium has to offer in order to tell the story."
That statement is referring to a comic book constructed almost completely out of widescreen panels, most of which utilize the same basic film tricks that even the most low-grade television show has. Consistently featured are tricks like repeating an image of a blank expression so that the character being depicted can be seen pausing before delivering a punchline, or using stark, capitalized sentences atop the image to illustrate that the story has jumped to a different time or place. The story is--no kidding around here--about a weathered and wearied criminal who wants out of the crime racket while he still has his teeth intact. His possible thwarting may occur at the hands of his spunky hip chick protege, who has tattoos to go with her piercings, or it may occur at the hands of a balding, overweight crimelord/father figure who wants him out there pulling another big job. How much do you want to bet there's a black guy with glasses who is really good with computers coming around the corner? You should be able to spot him easily, as he'll be accompanied by a fat guy from the Middle East who handles weaponry and/or lives in a strip club.
Then again, maybe this comic really is "utilizing the strengths of what our medium has to offer". It just turns out that Robert Kirkman believes one of the medium's biggest "strengths" is that most comics readers are unsure of how to turn on a fucking television set. That's always possible.
This is the conclusion of the first story arc for the series, and it turned out to be the hipster douchebag version of that old Batman mini-series by Jim Starlin, The Cult. The Cult was DC's first post-Miller attempt to do a Serious, For Mature Adults story featuring Batman. In the end, that just meant watching Batman get himself physically and emotionally debased for multiple issues before rising up and returning the favor in full--which is exactly what this new story was as well. Here, the main violence done to Batman is at the hands of a character named Talon, a character who looks so much like Marvel's Nighthawk that it'll get your dog pregnant. Mostly, it's just a violent fight comic, which is the sort of thing that DC publishes a lot of. The difference this time around is that the Batman fight comic doesn't look like shit, and that somebody--a somebody with some actual sense, which is kind of a surprise--got the word count down to a manageable, less leave-me-the-fuck-alone number.
Featuring the best last seven pages of any comic you're likely to find, The Long Death would probably get called "A Return To Form" if the previous story, Russia, hadn't turned out to be as good as it was. On the strength of this one issue, The Long Death does seem like it's going to be even better than Russia was, as this looks to be the first BPRD story since that John Severin War On Frogs issue to be going for the Holy Fucking SHIT audience so hard that it sort of makes my teeth hurt, which is totally a good thing. If this were a poker game, I'd go all in: this one is just that fucking good.
The big comment this time around on Lobster Johnson is going to be the one about Tonci Zonjic, and it's totally obvious why: the guy is extremely talented. The way he sets up and delivers the final panel in this issue--where the old Chekhov adage is followed, and a first act fedora is finally removed--quite nearly bends the comic in upon itself, forcing one's attention to rest on a single image so well known to BPRD readers that its mere appearance behaves like a kidney punch to the memory. There's more going on than one panel, but basically, this is everything one could want, assuming that what one wants is good shit.
This is--jesus fucking christ, get ready--a Peter Pan story set in World War 2 era France, or at least, set in a gray color field littered with brown and green squares that people keep calling World War 2 era France. The main character (his name is Pete Panzerfaust) rescues some orphans...some lost boys...and then he helps them jump really far...almost like they're flying....all while generally behaving with the same cloying, inhuman perkiness that you always find in comic books trying to seperate themselves from the nasty antihero books that everybody else puts out. Or maybe the guy just won't grow up. Like the song from the movie. But hey, maybe you're into this sort of nonsense. Some people are! Those people should probably be put on a watch list. A suicide watch list. Because liking this will make you want to kill yourself. Clap if you believe in fairies!
There's so many wonderfully tiny images in this comic--a smudged bit of darkness to stand in for a shadow, a sihoulette of a gun being covered in snow, a scribble that stands in for a hand, degrading fragments when an image gets blown up too many times...it's all very much in a Steranko vein, but it's so much less enamoured by the world in which its contained. It would be over the top to claim it for something other than Marvel, and it's only a matter of time before their insane release schedule cripples this title the same way that upcoming Punisher crossover is going to kneecap Daredevil, but that's just the way these kinds of comics are going to be from now on, apparently. All minutes, no hours.
Nice issue and all, but really, this fucking foodie thing...like, there's a reason most of the people who buy Daredevil and read Marvel Comics don't pay attention to conventions, twitter feeds, this blog or the thousands of others like it, and that reason is all wrapped up and personified in this letters column, which features a picture of the writer of the comic being carted off by the corporate cargo shorts guy to said guy's current most-preferred trough. Like, do we really need to do this? Why not just shit on a child's face at his mother's funeral for a couple of hours, post a video of that? Either method is as repugnant. Seriously, clap if you believe in fairies.
This is a flashback issue that fills in the gap where "how these two people know each other" was, with the two people being Jason Todd (the Red Hood) and Starfire (the hardbody orange girl who wears the metal bikini). The backstory is, no fooling, a naked shipwreck that results in the two best things that a young man can experience, which is A) playing with superguns and B) getting crazy laid, thus proving once again that Red Hood and the Outlaws is the number one DC book if the contest were Not Being Completely Full of Shit About What the DC Audience Likes To Read.
One of the many weird things that goes with reading super-hero comics is the acceptance that, while all super-heroes can be categorically organized as being essentially indistinguishable beyond their differences in costumes, there will always be a few specific ones that you just fucking despise to such a disproportionate degree that it will make you feel a little bit insane every time you remember said hatred. Example? Captain Britain and his second rate Captain America outfit. Is there any super-hero character as pathetic as this guy? Even that joke version of Captain America from the JLI, General Glory, was more inspiring than Captain Britain, and General Glory spent half of his existence as an old man with his speckled ass hanging out of a hospital gown. It's not that this particular hatred comes from the realization that Captain Britain represents some dunderheaded criticism of the UK as a place so devoid of ingenuity and innovation that the best hero they could hope for and create is a half-ass imitation of Captain America--in fact, that explanation is one that only exists after the fact. The guy is just eye cancer, which is the opposite of eye candy.
The fourth volume of these Plastic Man reprints flagged a bit, with the moment where the character takes on the form of an amorous whale (submarine sized, mind you) the only Gold Medal of Weirdness on display. But whatever it was that had killed Cole's enthusiasm seems to have been removed from his diet by 1946, as the stories from this period are right back up there with the cartoonist's previous high points. This time around, Plas goes after the likes of a man who can send anyone (except Woozy) into a deep coma merely by mentioning that a nap might be a good idea, a gun-wielding psychotic who likes to masquerade as a bespectacled infant and a couple of goons who go pretty far into Jack Bauer territory on a small child, all so they can get a magic lamp working. Although it's a waste of time to pretend that the audience for this volume aren't going to read Volume 4 no matter what let's go ahead and do so: this one makes that one look like the proverbial piece, and if there's only minutes left to choose? You know what to do.
This is another installment of Lone Wolf and Cub where the Wolf deals with the fallout from an earlier battle--specifically, he has to face off against the widow of a samurai he'd killed a ways back. She's been laying in wait for him since that day, weaving and crying (hence the title of the story), and as there's never even an implication that she'll serve as a dangerous opponent, Koike and Kojima utilize the battle as a chance to drive one of the saga's pet moments home once more. That moment comes up when little Daigoro falls through the ice into a nearby pond (at this point in the story, a bitterly cold winter has set in), only for the Wolf to ignore his drowning son's cries completely. Stoic even in the face of possible tragedy, he explains the true way of vengeance to the woman as he has numerous times in the story so far. His explanation is then echoed in Daigoro's own actions, as the little boy refuses the offer of rescue the widow almost immediately provides. As she has shown herself to be his father's villain, any help she offers is to be rejected, even if one's own death is the result. It isn't the first time in the series that Daigoro's burgeoning metal has been put on display, but that doesn't make it any less potent. Another excellent installment.
-Tucker Stone, 2012
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
Such a miserable experience, reading this comic. It's the narrative equivalent of watching the first episode of that Justice League cartoon in three minute bursts over the course of five months--there's just no way to enjoy that, it's fucking absurd. When you're a kid and you want to hold a boner longer, they tell you to do that exercise where you drape a wet washrag on your shaft and flex it up and down, but they never go so far as to say that you're going to enjoy doing that, or that it's as fun as jerking off, or that you better watch out because you might prefer washrag flexing to putting the thing inside a lady. DC doesn't seem to have ever understood the difference. It's not a surprise that they don't--take a look at the Beat or the Journal's current comment sections, you'll get a plaster cast of what's wrong with comics on both sides--but that doesn't change how tepid and unsatisfying this whole exercise of the Johns/Lee combine has become. Anyway. The Internet says you shouldn't hope people get fired, but honestly, if you just went down the list and got rid of every single person who believes that this comic is worth the four dollars they're asking for it, there's no possible way you wouldn't see an increase in the intelligence average the next time everybody at the staff table pools their "resources" and pours them, like warm oatmeal, into Eddie Berganza's beckoning gullet.
Nasty stuff, pretty poorly illustrated for the most part. You can make sense of the art pretty easily, but there's nothing that jumps out as good, the best it ever hopes for is just serviceable. Written relatively well, with some nice Ennis impersonation stuff evenly mixed with what seems to be Ewing's own voice (the "panda" dialog is an excellent line). It's disappointing that one of the most well-regarded of the "new" British writers has to make his entrance into the American market via Dynamite, which is about as good at being a comics publisher as Natalee Holloway is at swimming, but that's just the way of the world in 2012. At least he's got 2000AD--which is currently on a pretty hot streak--to fall back on.
"Message of the Geese" is a minor tale, a brief glimpse of the Wolf in battle. It's one of the "features shitting" stories interspersed in the entire saga, a claim to fame that actually isn't all that rare. But beyond the sight of a somewhat constipated Cub forcing out some magic, what sticks in memory most in this brief tale is the momentary compliment paid by the Wolf following his slaughter of a few Yagyu assassins. Upon realizing that one of the Yagyu had sacrificed himself by rushing the Wolf, throwing down his life in hopes that his body might serve as a better launch pad for his partner's attack, the Wolf stops to acknowledge how much like himself the two men were--total dedictation, at less than a moment's notice, to pin all hope, mortal and otherwise, on the missioin, relying on the honor that can only be earned through years of service. It's an excellent moment, one that speaks to one of the saga's greatest strengths: its willingness to embrace the villain.
"Tale of the Winter Crane" is a sneakier story, one whose ending seems always hazily around the corner, only to stop dead with the Wolf (essentially) delivering a "do you know who the fuck I am" speech to a couple of people who don't get it and never will. It's reminscient of that great line at the end of "Mother Russia", when Frank Castle teaches a Delta boy the meaning of the phrase "whatever it takes", made better by the fact that it's delivered with impeccable class by a man who just killed five people with a sword. It's a brief stopover, but a pleasant one.
Somewhat reminscient of that Black Jack story where he's brought in to treat a crazy computer, this final installment in Smith's cover version of Matsumoto Leiji's Queen Emeraldas concludes the story the same way it began, with our protagonist musing on a life lived in motion. There's something fascinating about the way the comic depicts space travel as being so empty and "boundless" that it seems as much a philosophical exercise in not going crazy as it is an exercise in just going, anywhere. At the end, this little excursion seems like something that belongs most to its creator (not Matsumoto, but Smith) than it does the audience, and while that isn't a criticism--if anything, this sort of openness to allow an audience inside an obsession should be met with praise--it does underline how exciting it will be to get back to SF proper, a story where the viewing hole is more distinctly made clear.
In the same way that it's hard not to overpraise Snyder and Capullo's Batman for being the fastest cripple in the polio race, it's hard to ignore that all these current installments of the Flash certainly are a pleasure to look at. There's a delightful strain of homoeroticism running through the current storyline, which is all about contemporary male relationships and great haircuts (without Geoff Johns around to champion conservatism, Manapul has been free to jettison Barry Allen's godawful Right Stuff flattop for a brighter, more pomaded, future). It never feels amatuerish, but one's still left with the nagging feeling that, just maybe, it would if it didn't look so consistently great. For now though, let's just be optimistic and raise a glass to future team-ups with cardigans and soulful brown eyes. That's my kind of rogue's gallery: the kind where the rogues are just some dudes who fuck some other dudes with easily replicatable fashion choices.
-Tucker Stone, 2012
A nice mix-up of Rip Van Winkle, Prison Pit and Conan (easier version: a French sci-fi comic), with guest appearances by the horrorshow that the dog becomes in The Thing, Prophet #21 does exactly what it had to do to meet up with the pre-show hype: it works. Delivering tone and building its world, skipping the corny character signifiers and logos that stand in for personalities and motives in the rest of the Image universe was the best move Graham could have made, forcing the reader to move closer to Simon Roy, an artist finished with his Otomo/Gipi phase and setting up shop in the "how would Jesse Marsh draw manga" school of obsesion. It's fun, and it's weird. If that's not your thing, there's plenty of the alternative available.
Now that Wonder Woman has successfully made it over the "hope it doesn't get cancelled" hump, isn't it time we address the fact that Hermes is wearing the ugliest sunglasses ever made, sunglasses that are second only to a backwards baseball cap in making a man look like a total toolbag? Even if we ignore his Woodstock '99 era rain poncho--and we really shouldn't ignore that thing, because that's as much a sign of the unfunny side of perversion as it would be if he was driving a white panel van with no windows--we're still five issues into a relationship where the most happening broad in the land has yet to tell her own brother that, oh, you know, he's wearing the same fucking sunglasses that Jerry Sandusky wore everytime he wanted to hide his tired eyes from the harsh light of a world where the rest of us don't fuck children in showers.
If any title is going to survive Marvel's bizarre creative tailspin, the smart money has to be on Daredevil, a book that's almost quaint with its slow-burn long tale plotting, most of which circles around the possession of a high end flash drive, packed to the gills with evil secrets. Even a tie-in with the Amazing Spider-Man (a series that is taking a short break from one piece of shit story arc so that it can rest its weary, shit-filled bones before it delivers what looks to be another piece of shit story arc) didn't slow it down that much, which comes as a surprise when you consider how little anyone, fictional or otherwise, wants to be around Peter Parker for a length of time more extensive than it would take to stab him in his stupid, stupid whining eyes.
About half this volume of Usagi is taken up with stories where the samurai rabbit deals with the supernatural, while the other half--a multi part story called "Circles"--concerns itself with the warrior's past, albeit with a supernatural villian thrown in. There's also a quick, predictable one-shot involving a couple of conmen, but don't let the implication of shittiness that the word "predictable" brings with it take hold: there's enough great comic-stuff going on in the story to make up for the fact that you can chart every strand of plot the thing has after reading the first five--maybe four--pages. Sakai's ability to draw a character's motives into their facial features is one of his weirdest and most fascinating talents. It's easy to spot the bad guys in most funny animal comics, and that's why Usagi Yojimbo is a cut above the rest--the complexity on display here in the face of the depressed, one-more-scam swordsmen goes beyond the simple "he's a fox, and foxes are tricky".
"The Duel" is excellent preparation for "Circles", which is all about motives and revelations. Usagi decides to return to his former home, only to walk into another one of those hard-working townspeople versus rapacious bandits settings so popular in samurai fiction. He discovers an old friend and old enemy, both still alive, checks in on his estranged lover (who packs a revelation of her own), the friend-turned-rival that married her, and then there's a nice, long battle that lasts multiple pages without ever seeming the slightest bit self-indulgent. It's a lovely story, and what it lacks in humor (Usagi just isn't funny without Gen or that detective character around) it makes up for in earnest sincerity.
If someone were to make a graph of the types of Lone Wolf & Cub stories, they'd first break them down into two major categories--the one-off ones where he earns money by killing people, and the ones where the ongoing narrative is pushed towards conclusion. Eventually, the entire book focuses entirely on that second category, all of which build to the most satisfying conclusion to any genre comic book ever published. That's not intended to be hyperbole: it's a statement of fact, albeit one that's only seen meager research. The greats of American genre comics--Eisner and Kirby--never got a chance (some quarters might word that "never took a chance", but not this one, and fuck those people) to play around with conclusions and finality anymore than Shultz, King and Herriman (a few of the greats of the newspaper strip) did. Leaving the question of whether genre requires an ending aside for a moment (a moment that could last an eternity, for how little I care to probe it), "The Inn of the Last Chrysanthemum" rests firmly in that first category described above: this one's all about the money.
One of Koike's most consistent methods of story construction is to focus the reader's attention entirely on the point of view of some new, as of yet unknown to us character. We follow that character through their (often depressing) life, they experience a few flashbacks that explain their current situation, at some point the Wolf and Cub arrive in their orbit, and then the story leads up to an (often violent) conclusion. In many cases, the story takes on an intense sense of danger and heightening panic after the appearance of the Wolf, because while this structure of story often appears in the overall saga, there's never any promise that the story will conclude happily for all we might hope it will. Sometimes the best the Wolf can do is mete out revenge for abuses suffered, other times he can only acknowledge them in word, and on a few occasions (not few enough to where the sting is ever lessened), he can only provide a quick, honorable passing for those whose long-term victimization leaves them unable to find any way forward in the mortal realm. "Chrysanthemum" is on the bleak end of the scale--the only bottom left for its guest protagonist, the "forlorn maiden, forced into a life of shame" is found in a blood drenched garden, and the only satisfaction found is in the bodies that the Wolf piles alongside her own. There's no pretense that it will be enough, but in keeping with Koike's plan, it's made clear: what matters is that debts get paid. What happens next is never our concern.
Even if you don't read the opening letter, where Porcellino admits that most of what you're about to read stems from a time period when, busted up by heartbreak and economic collapse, he "didn't do so good", you'd have to be one cold ass son of a bitch--or a non-Porcellino fan out scraping scabs--not to pick up on the general dourness of the whole enterprise. The crippling impact of a Faith Hill song? An out of nowhere "I don't want to be alive anymore" response to a Porcellino-standard observation of natural beauty and the change of seasons? It's not that these sorts of emote-heavy moments are a strange appearance in the guy's work--this is King-Creamballs-Cat we're talking about, feelings are what these little bastards always traffic in, occasionally to an embarrassing degree usually reserved for Thomas Kinkade--it's that they're being delivered in such a raw, unkempt fashion. There's no lesson at the end of this issue, no explanation given, just the implication that survival is the game, the only thing that Porcellino was going for. Each of these documents--even the moment of nostalgia that sees the guy flashing back to the irritating dopiness of youth--concludes on the same note: he made it when everything was coming at him knives out. Not every struggle has a t-shirt phrase to go along with it.
There's some serious self-indulgence going on here--landscape two page spreads for no purpose beyond the ability to say "hey, look, big", coupled with the demanding notion that you're reading about a secret society of owl-obsessed maze-building super-killers, and yeah, sorry, "owls" IS tougher to swallow than "bats", anybody who tells you different doesn't like super-hero shit in the first place--but that aside, this is actually a good little Batman comic. It doesn't deserve the over-the-top praise that it's gotten, but at the same time, it's totally understandable why that praise has been so hyperbolic: this has been the shittiest group of Batman titles in a long time. Having a decent issue show up, an issue that sees a plot humming forward with solid illustration to boot--that's going to get some knees buckling, especially amongst those who have been plugging their quarters into the super-hero slot machine since this New 52 thing started. But don't get too worked up: you've never met anyone who is going to read this thing twice, and you never will.
Time traveling away from Marvel's bone dry continuity and hanging out amongst King Arthur, violence, Merlin, and lots and lots of titties--if you're using the word breasts to describe what Kev Walker's drawing, you really don't fucking get it and probably never will--Thunderbolts #169 (god bless them for keeping the inane numbering of this series) is one of those totally enjoyable comics that probably shouldn't get mentioned on a blog, because that's a sure fire way to see the thing get cancelled the next time Marvel wants to do one of their periodical "how can we fuck up the thing that people like and want to buy" (see the Amazing Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Force for examples, look under the paragraph heading "Really Shitty Art"). But hey, why not tempt fate?
-Tucker Stone, 2012
In this chapter of the greatest comic ever, the Wolf comes upon one of the men he left behind, a former samurai still living in the exact place where he last saw the Wolf: the day the Wolf seconded the samurai's former lord's seppuku. There's no hatred or ill feelings to be found on either side, and while the conclusion is totally foregone, it's delivered with a sense of respect for the ideals the story promotes. It isn't the first time that Koike plays a scene with that kind of emotion, but that doesn't make it any less lovely. The action is, of coruse, a demented pleasure to witness, with the most graphic violence handed off to the Wolf's shadow. The opening ten pages--silent but for a few cries of death--is a masterful depiction of slaughter that introduces the man far better than any dialog ever could.
While this volume has some of the best covers you'll see (if you're reading these things in order, which is totally pointless but probably the only way people are reading them, because they have numbers on them, see: assholes like me), there's a limit to how long you can stare at Woozy WInks believing an Eskimo woman is pawing at him when, in reality, he's being sexually harassed by a lusty polar bear, and that limit is probably the same amount of time it's taking you to parse this description. If you hold out until the last story--that's 180 pages of holding out, by the way--you'll be rewarded by the sight of Plastic Man turning into a gigantic whale for the purposes of seduction. Your mileage may vary, or whatever that asshole phrase is, but it's a sight that is totally worth your time. He turns into a horny red whale!
There's no better statement on the question of whether super-hero comics is in a weird, stupid place regarding their business state of affairs then the fourth page of this comic, which is an advertisement for a goddamned wax museum in Hollywood. Deal with that one for a second: an advertisement for something that's only interesting to the most antisocial deviant tourists on God's green Earth, a location that has no appeal other than the fact that, if it burned down to the ground, absolutely every warring group on the planet could come together and hold hands under the banner of not giving the remotest fuck. That's the absolute best thing that somebody at Marvel Comics--which is owned by a gigantic multinational entertainment conglomerate--could come up with to plaster into this comic. Spin some huckster positivity out of that, Sergeant Pepper. (The comic is excellent, if that still matters.)
Containing some of Philips finest panels yet--first up that car flip, second the street scene--and adding another accomplished notch in the belt of the best colorist working, Fatale is a reward on a purely visual front. But the area where it might be even more interesting is on the writing front. Horror--if that's what you call the dreck currently ladled out by the shit merchants at IDW--is the prize pet of the low rent High Concept Kids, a loosely descriptive term I just came up with to define people who come up with 4 to 6 issue mini-series that are usually based around plot construction methods learned from Lego, i.e. taking Jack Bauer or Dexter clones and shuffling them together with bang up ideas like "zombies with ties" or "vampires with clits", plus a heaping dash of BBC references, cuz it's classy. Brubaker's the first real writer in a while to fuck with this stuff, unless you count Alan Moore's really weird rape sequel to Fish Police.
-Tucker Stone, 2012
Gantz stopped being good not too long after it stopped featuring hardcore sex, but that's no excuse for opening up to the cast to include a bunch of uninspired vampires (most of whom seem to be operating at a heightened state of arousal that is never explained, acknowledged and worse, never capitalized on) and having these vampires behave as if the Gantz-ian regulars are some long standing mortal vampire enemy. It's not a huge surprise that things have gone down the always treacherous road of "let's explain this shit"--that's pretty much par for the course in science fiction stuff that goes on to long--remember when Star Wars tried to explain the Force?--but the fact that you know why something is a bad idea doesn't make it any less tedious to wade through. That being said, the portion in this volume where the spree-killing sociopath (let it never go long forgotten that one of this series main heroes is a sexed up version of Anders Breivik, with all that pesky racism firmly intact) puts on the Predator's chameleon suit and kills 40 people with a samurai sword in the streets of suburban Japan is as irresponsibly compelling as the violence in Gantz always is. If Oku could stand to return to his other obsession--ridiculously oversized breasts, and the heavy panting obsessives who would storm Hell to motorboat betwixt them--he'd quickly find that all would be forgiven.
While the previous SF Supplementary File was a brief mini-comic exploring one of SF's many team members, this issue--split into three limited edition minis, two of which have been released--looks connected to its parent series in theme only. Described by its creator as a "hand-drawn....hand-written reproduction" of a Japanese work by Matsumoto Leiji published in 1979, the comic sees Smith hewing pretty respectfully towards the original work in the same way that he does with his Two Eyes of The Beautiful comics, a similarly designed take on Kazuo Umezu's horror work. And while it seems like a limited exercise--in some ways, it's a heavily choreographed edition of one of those theme sketchbooks people used to not be able to shut the fuck up about--Smith's sincere approach and formidable design skills lift the experience safely into the realm of honest-to-goodness art.
While there's way, way too much talking here for this to be anything more than a tolerable issue of Godland---in all seriousness, anyone who thinks the most exciting thing for Tom Scioli to draw is pointed fingers and turns of phrase should have their nuts stapled directly to their tongue, sack still intact--the final pages, where Adam Archer (our personality deficient hero) has his official team-up with Friedrich Nickelhead (our Joe Casey stand-in, dial turned three degrees north of Extreme) come as close to redemption as one could hope for.
Although the body screams for more of the violence that closed the last installment, the head understands: for death to mean something, it is best if the audience cares about the living. And while we're completely down that road for the detectives, exasperated and estranged as they may be, as well as with our victim heroes (an ape man bearing our national failure and the orphan girl who heralds the cultural demise), the rest loll like meat in the butcher's window. That's fine, actually: it's only the cheap optimism of the dumb and enslaved to theorize that pop celebrities are more than the shallow face they wear, and it's a mark in Azzarello's favor that he honestly depicts them as the frauds they'll forever be. If anything rings false--and little does--it might be the hint of a heart of gold heard in the hooker's final cry. But even that could play by Queensberry; she is still naked, after all.
There's something kind of unnerving about reading a DC comic that has all the requisite trappings of a photoshoot in Penthouse magazine, and yet decides to go completely sexless. (Schoolgirls, locker rooms, a latex skirt wearing headmistress and that "watch your rear" closer--ask any 14 year old what story that's telling.) It's almost as if Stewart and Morrison are making some weird comment about the state of geek culture today, the way it wishes to advance its backwards sexual attitudes by loudly proclaiming that sexual attitudes need not exist at all in any form, along with the even more disturbing pretense that the highest art should go should be a place where the smallest hands can still reach it. All this tolerance is cute, goes the rejoinder, but maturity dictates that the language of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X was never meant to cover the hurt feelings of 40 year olds obsessed with the My Little Pony franchise: intended or not, the big message of the Morrison/Stewart exercise in Stephanie Brown-ing is that some comics should just grow the fuck up.
It's after that first story that the comic actually gets going, though. There, Morrison and Chris Burnham continue the weird amalgamation of candied violence and neon exploration that's been their beat for a while now; call it Joker comics, his absence makes more sense that way. With the weight of continuity having been abandoned--like Marvel's hands off approach to Uncanny X-Force, Batman Incorporated stories now are free to operate without any of the "help" that produced prizewinners like Countdown, Trinity and Superman: The Gigantic Pussy That Everybody Can't Stand--Morrison is freed of expectation or responsibility. It's a refreshing feeling, and while the Incorporated recap that closes the issue serves mostly as a reminder of how messy and ill-thought Incorporated seemed at the time, it's difficult to fend off the sensation that somebody decided they might still have something to prove, after all.
While this issue is primarily the conclusion of the new "origin" of Wonder Woman (short version: a penis was involved this time), it's also the issue where her new personality is completely introduced. The short version of that is that she's sullen, pissed off and based off the final pages, probably guilt-ridden as well. We'll have to see if that personality shift is here to stay, but for now, it's a welcome one. As Dave Sim decisively proved, women are inherently angry creatures; petulant and cold beings who wander the land ruining everything fun. It would only stand to reason that the "Wonder" of women would be the worst version imaginable, a hellish, screaming harpy addicted to the genocide of joy. This is also the issue where Cliff Chiang draws Brian Azzarello into the comic, playing the part of Ares, which only cost him a blow job.
which him did i mean
-Tucker Stone, 2012