01 March 2005

ménage à trois: 2/23/05

[One Marvel, one DC, both published the previous Wednesday, plus a random indie from whenever I feel like it, each reviewed quickie-style: 1 Minute=bad, 10 Minutes=good. Connections, if any at all, may be forced purely for the experience.]

A light week for the Big Two, notable more for releases from their imprints than their mainstream line - sorry Morrison fans, I ain't jumping on that bandwagon! - so as a result, Vertigo and Icon step up this week with The Losers #21 and Powers #9, joined by a serious stretch of the "indie" definition with Conan #13.

Judging from its sales numbers, which dipped under 10,000 copies at the end of 2004, The Losers may not be long for this world, a fact that disappoints me greatly in that it's a fate several of my favorite comics from the Big Two seem to share these days. In Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2, Andy Diggle estimated "it will probably take three years or so to tell that complete story." This issue, however, part 2 of a 3-part arc with a last page reveal that, coupled with the ominous solicitation for #24, suggests that Diggle and Jock's electric, conspiratorial joyride is likely coming to a premature end. Which, to put it delicately, really sucks. Diggle gives good action and this issue nicely balances that with key story developments that drive the main plot forward, including the aforementioned final page's inevitable but well-delivered moment. There's something slightly off about the pacing, though, something I suspect relates to the likelihood that Diggle was given the wrap-it-up signal sooner than expected and had to jump ahead in his story. If the series does end with #25, it's unfortunate that fill-in artist Ben Oliver - notably uncredited on the cover - is handling the penutlimate arc. While he ably apes regular artist Jock's style and layouts, his details are all off, with none of the main characters looking like themselves. (As a side note, Oliver would be perfect for Gotham Central!) While not at all unique in its inability to find an audience large enough to sustain its full run, it's a particular shame to see a really good, non-superhero comic fall victim to an apathetic market: 8 Minutes

Saying that Powers is most notable for its hilarious, anything-goes letters pages - yes, plural, as in 5.5 of them! - isn't a dis. It's actually a testament to the importance of comics creators' connecting to their audience in a way that combative and/or fawning message boards can't come close to. Stan Lee knew this and used it to maximum effect. Quesada's "Cup of Joe" column is a pale imitation, filler material that's generally more embarassing for its shallowness than anything else. But Brian Michael Bendis, love him or hate him, knows how to play the game. His latest issue is a solid read - a shadowy, talky affair involving an investigation into the murder of the criminal The Joke, and the interrogation of his main nemesis, the retired Blackguard, including a nice little "twist" at the end - but it's gotten to the point where I'd probably buy Powers even if it had sucked, simply for the letters pages. Bendis is basically a smart-ass fanboy with talent that got lucky, and in "The Line Up" he revels in that fact, mocking his critics, interjecting knowing asides and pre-emptive strikes to their letters, and generally acting like a giddy fanboy himself while promoting his own projects and those of others. ("The Village - You hear me fuckers!! It doesn't suck!! In fact, it's great. Go ahead and drop my book because I said this, I don't care!!!") And the letters themselves... Reminiscent of Jay Leno's "Jaywalk All-Stars" - where Leno manages to find the dumbest people in LA who confirm that fact by speaking on camera - I wouldn't put it past Bendis to collect them into a book themselves, along with his snarky comments, and be able to outsell half the Diamond Top 100 in any given month. An ongoing pleasure: 8 Minutes

When Dark Horse announced their new Conan series a while back, I would have probably passed on it if not for the $.25 cover price on the first issue. Beyond the movies, I was never a big fan of Robert E. Howard's barbarian king, and despite my fondness for the genre, I considered Conan to be from a branch of the tree I had no interest in. A year later, it's one of my favorite comic books and, happily, selling relatively well. This issue continues an arc that's seen the introduction of both the Red Sonya stand-in, Janissa - due to complicated rights issues that have resulted in Red Sonya headlining her own upcoming series from another publisher - and Conan's future arch-nemesis, Thoth-amon. Conan has signed on to help protect the priest Kalanthes, Thoth-amon's sworn enemy, as he travels to the city of Hanumar, a trip hindered by one of the priest's followers who has fallen victim to Thoth-amon's power with creepily graphic results that artist Cary Nord illustrates perfectly. It's rare that I follow a book as much for the artist as the writer but, though Kurt Busiek puts an engaging spin on Howard's source material, it's Nord (along with Dave Stewart's expert coloring) that really brings it all to life. And what is best in life? To crush your enemies. To see them driven before you. And to be able to count on a quality comic book selling well every single month: 9.5 Minutes

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