25 April 2005

ménage à trois: 4/20/05

[So many comics, so few good ones, only three make the cut each week. Quickie-style reviews, for better, or worse: 1 Minute=bad, 10 Minutes=good. Connections, if any at all, may be forced purely for the experience.]

It figures. A week after I change things up and decide to no longer require representatives of the Big Two for this column, they each throw me a Paul Jenkins curveball and buy themselves another week in the mix. Nevertheless, the pull list purge began as the once highly anticipated OMAC Project #1 got an in-store skim (solid, if uninspired story, picking up directly from Countdown) and, despite Greg Rucka being another of my favorite writers, it went right back on the shelf. I've recently come to realize that the icons of the comic book industry no longer interest me very much, even my most favorites like Batman. Not in the context of their current convoluted continuities, at least. As a writer myself, I want to read good stories, ideally combined with equally good art, but in the end, it's the story that wins me over. While I don't care where it fits, or doesn't fit, into the larger framework of a shared universe I'm only slighty invested in, I definitely don't want to read something that obviously came off the Editorial Plan Assembly Line, either.

Spider-Man is one icon I've always enjoyed much more in concept than in practice. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko came up with one of the best super-heroes ever and Sam Raimi pretty much nailed it in the movies, making the need for a monthly dose of the character never really moving forward terribly unappealing*. Paul Jenkins changed that for me when I first came across his Spectacular Spider-Man relaunch a couple of years back. There was something about his take on the characters, particularly Peter Parker and his arachnid alter ego, that I found extremely appealing. Jenkins told good stories, deftly mixing the requisite extended arcs with the occasional character-driven standalone story. Up until the ill-conceived "Disassembled" arc, where Peter inexplicably develops organic web-shooters to match his cinematic counterpart, Jenkins had me hooked. When it was announced a few months later that the title was being cancelled, supposedly due to Jenkins' health, I was disappointed; even more so when it was derailed for a few months to wrap up the laughable "Sins Past" retcon that took place in the primary Amazing Spider-Man title. I was greatly looking forward to Jenkins' return with #27, and he doesn't disappoint, delivering a one-night only farewell that represents his talent at its peak, thankfully side-stepping continuity and having Peter visit Uncle Ben's grave for some soul-searching that would be cliché if it weren't handled so sincerely. There's no BIFF! POW! here, simply a well-told character piece that moves the overall story forward by adding depth to Peter's story. The flashback to a 1st grade Peter's involvement in a school play is priceless, the kind of thing Raimi should steal for the next movie lest he succumbs to sequelitis, effectively the same trap the comics themselves have fallen into. Jenkins goes out with class, and the Spider-Man franchise is simultaneously richer and poorer because of him: 8.5 Minutes

Meanwhile, over at DC, recent continuity developments have driven me from the majority of their Batman titles as the Dark Knight himself has become a mere plot element in their grand restructuring scheme. Gotham Central and Batgirl aside, I've accepted that my only hope for a good Batfix these days is going to be via continuity-light mini-series, and perhaps All-Star / Legends of the Dark Knight. Enter Paul Jenkins. Teamed with his The Sentry counterpart, Jae Lee, Jenkins tackles one of Batman's more compelling rogues, Two Face, in Batman: Jekyll & Hyde #1. As overwrought and ultimately pointless as the original mini-series/hoax was, Jenkins did a pretty good job of making The Sentry's battle with himself interesting and, freed of some of the restraints that total retcon called for, I'd expect an even better story here. The first of six issues, this is, of course, mostly set up, but it's effective set up as the mystery of a rash of "unexplained spree killing" hits a section of Gotham City and Two Face, imprisoned at Arkham Asylum, is somehow involved. Lee illustrates a perfect Batman, imposing when he needs to be, sticking to the shadows otherwise, and June Chung's coloring is appropriately murky without being impenetrable. Jenkins, tackling another icon with seemingly no more interesting stories to be told, gets off to a fine start here: 8 Minutes

On the indie front, I tracked down a copy of Lesean Thomas' Cannon Busters #1, a title the Color Commentary guys at Buzzscope tipped me off about. Thomas' artwork screams Nintendo, all vibrant and cartoony, and the opening sequence recounting the history of the Five Kingdoms and the Cannon Busters is right out of the introductions to some of their better written fantasy games like Zelda and Car Battler Joe. That's a compliment, if you're wondering! From there, Thomas, with a scripting and editing assist from J. Torres, jumps into the story, briefly introducing a few key characters before having all hell break loose as war comes to the city of Gearbolt. As debut issues go, Thomas has wisely chosen to smack the reader upside the head, practically daring you to not pick up the next issue. The only flaw of note here is Stuart Ng's coloring, thanks to his low-contrast palette that makes much of an 8-page attack scene hard to follow as Thomas' fine-lined artwork gets blurry underneath it all. That aside, between the engaging characters and the impressive backstory of seemingly epic scale that is hinted at, this looks like it will be a keeper: 8.5 Minutes

* It's interesting that despite the mind-boggling success of the Spider-Man and X-Men movies, nearly $2.5 billion in combined worldwide box office, their respective ongoing comic books - more than 30 different titles in March directly associated with them, the vast majority among the Top 50 best-sellers - sell less than 1 million copies a month combined. 1991's X-Men #1 sold nearly 8 million copies alone!

1 comment:

bottleHeD said...

Actually, it's easy to see why the movies are more successful. They are self contained, and each superhero has only movie out at a time, not a double dozen.