18 April 2005

ménage à trois: 4/13/05

[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.]

As several current story arcs come to their drawn-out conclusions over the next couple of months, I'll be drastically paring down the Big Two portion of my pull list in anticipation of buying a house sometime this summer. As such, my weekly "ménage à trois" will either be scrapped or altered to reflect my scaled-back, indie-heavy list. It's like I've [again] outgrown the worlds of Marvel and DC, where almost everything looks and reads the same, and almost every comic is boringly predictable. Maybe it's the inevitable effect of the move towards aping Hollywood's summer blockbuster model, relying on hype and The. Event. That. Will. Change. Everything.™ corporate crossovers instead of strong, organic storytelling? Whatever the case, for the fifth time in my comic book reading life, I'm ready to move on, only this time, there's a whole other world of comics for me to move on to so I don't have to walk away completely. That said, I think this just became the final "ménage à trois" to require a Big Two presence.

One comic definitely getting cut from my list is JSA, a pleasant enough title that offers no terribly compelling reason to keep reading it. With #72, Geoff Johns concludes his entertaining time travel yarn pairing the past and present JSA teams with some high-octane fisticuffs on the White House of 1951's front lawn. Steeped in continuity, if you're not an old school DC fan it's a pretty superficial conclusion to a pretty superficial arc with the usual hiccups that come with time travel, particularly the knowledge that nothing's ever really at stake in such stories - inasmuch as anything is ever truly at stake in the superhero world, C-listers excepted - a point Johns hammers home on the final page. While he does manage to work in his usual touches of characterization here and there, and Don Kramer and Keith Champagne do a nice job making the battle royale look interesting, in the end, for anyone other than long-time fans, it feels like they're all going through the motions, perhaps holding the line until DC's big events of the Summer and Fall allow them to move forward. For the most part, they'll be moving on without me: 6 Minutes

The Black Panther is a comic that's on the fence as far as my pull list goes, one I want to continue to support and enjoy (and yes, collect, as the Black Panther is one of the characters I follow) but that needs to really show me something good with its first arc. Unlike JSA, Reginald Hudlin is delivering something a little different from the Big Two norm with this comic, treading ground few mainstream Marvel titles would dare despite their ostensibly being set in the real world. In #3, continuing his opening "Who is the Black Panther?" arc, Hudlin deftly establishes the Panther's home country of Wakanda's place in the global picture, contrasting its social and political development with that of the capitalist western world, and does so in a way that tops his ignorant General of the first issue, much to the chagrin of some readers. The complaints I've read about his "anti-Western propaganda" seem to ignore both reality and his swipe at some African countries' willingness to conspire against their neighbors for their own gain, a point slavery apologists are often quick to highlight. While Wakanda may represent a pie-in-the-sky socialist utopia, Hudlin's depiction of how other countries might view such a country, especially an African one, is spot on. (Hell, how many times have our own politicians said the terrorists hate America because of "our freedom?") Simultaneously continuing his Year One retcon of T'Challa's origins, while unfolding Klaw's plans for revenge, the art team of John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson continue to deliver the visual goods. The Rhino, in particular - "...fought the Hulk and walked away. God help us all if he had a brain." - gets a great introduction, while Dean White's coloring adjusts perfectly for the mulitple locales Hudlin visits. This one's a keeper: 8 Minutes

A couple of months ago, I didn't have a single comic book from Image on my pull list, much less my radar. Something changed recently, though, because suddenly they seem to be cranking out some of my favorite titles, including the latest, in partnership with Desperado Publishing, The Atheist. A black-and-white thriller with a tinge of horror, Phil Hester and John McCrea have fashioned a taut debut issue that effectively sets the stage for both an intriguing storyline and an engaging lead character. Antoine Sharpe, dubbed "the Atheist" by his government handlers, is kind of what the lead character in the TV show Medium might be like if played by Samuel Jackson. And the premise of the show was flipped. Kind of. Instead of relying on easy pop culture reference points, though, Hester does an excellent job of telling his own story, showing Sharpe in action and firmly establishing not only the character, but the overall premise as well: dead people are inexplicably, and seemingly randomly, taking over the bodies of the living. "I see. Reincarnated people." McCrea does a great job of laying out what is predominantly well-written, well-paced exposition and setup, effectively using shadows, facial expressions and body language to develop the cast of characters, major and minor, without ever falling into the talking head trap. It's for comics like this one that I'll be happily cutting back on the Big Two's spandex set: 10 Minutes

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