Recent Reads

I’ve been trying out a buncha buncha comics lately, both new and new to me. Some I borrowed from friends, some I bought. Here’s my impressions of some of them.

Y: The Last Man (Vertigo) – This is a title that is repeatedly getting a lot of amazing press. I’ve seen several people refer to it as the best book on the shelves and so forth. I checked out the first five or six issues, and, quite frankly, I wasn’t blown away. At all. Even a little bit.

This took me back to the original days of the Vertigo imprint, when every title had to be about sexual politics or drunken Irishmen. And the sexual politics titles were handled so awfully, hamfistedly, and stereotypically, that my Vertigo reading when from every title to just two or three in almost no time at all. (Actually, that’s not true. For some reason, I stuck with Shade, Animal Man, and Books of Magic FAR longer than I should have, hoping that at some point they’d become interesting again.)

This book wouldn’t be out of place there. Its idea: Yorick (his name begins with Y! GET IT!?) is the only male survivor of some kind of mysterious calamity that wiped out every other male on Earth. We follow his trials among the inevitable post-apocalyptic landscape ruled by rabidly feminist bikers that would obviously follow such an event.

Maybe there’s some very clever subtext I’m missing. Maybe the story really took off after those first few issues. But there was nothing there making me go back for more. I already went through that phase of Vertigo; no need to revisit it.

100 Bullets (Vertigo) – A similar effect from a very different title. 100 Bullets is a tale of guns, revenge, guns, mystery, guns, crime, guns, and guns. It’s a leader in the hip current wave of what I like to call “crime-fetish” books, born out of the popularity of The Sopranos. You know you’re reading one when there are more guns than dialog balloons on each page, when everyone feels a need to identify the brand of gun, when none of the characters are even a little bit likable, and when every other word of dialog is profanity.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these things are necessarily bad. ‘The Losers’ is a crime-fetish comic, and I like it just fine. But this one just left me cold. I only read the first two story arcs, and neither one of them grabbed me or made me want to read more. I’ve been told that the series took a little while to really get in gear, and maybe that’s the case. At some point I may check out more of it.

Planetary (Wildstorm) I’m not sure why I hadn’t read this before, but now I’ve read the first two trades and I really enjoy it. It’s about a team of “mystery archaeologists”, a sort of super-powered X-Files, but the powers are secondary to the characters themselves. They investigate all sorts of weird goings-on, and of course, thanks to the stupid legacy of Chris Carter, there has to be a “wheels within wheels” central mystery at the core of it. The individual issues are pretty interesting, although many of them suffer from a constant problem I have with Warren Ellis’ work — ideas that aren’t really thought out before being put to paper. But actually, in this context, it doesn’t jar too much, and often gives the stories a sense that even Planetary is only seeing a tiny piece of the bigger picture.

The “grand conspiracy theory” is, like most of them, ultimately a letdown with a pretty obvious “secret” at the center of it, which is why I don’t think writers should casually employ this: not many of them do it well. Still, I like the overall effect, and I’m intrigued enough to keep coming back.

Crisis on Infinite Earths (DC) – Yes, it’s true. Until a couple of weeks ago, I was The Guy who had never read the infamous Crisis. I wasn’t buying comics when it first came out, and by the time I was buying comics again, it was already outdated. So I knew about it, but had never read it. I was SO not prepared.

It’s such a weird series. I understand that DC was blazing new trails here and that virtually everything about it was new territory for them, but I just wasn’t ready for how bizarre the whole thing is. For some reason I suppose I had always assumed the whole thing was a lot more cohesive and coherent than it actually was. After all, Marv Wolfman was a pretty good writer, and the idea was a big deal for DC. But man o man. Words just fail.

Sleeper (Wildstorm) – This is another book that is getting almost universal praise. It’s another crime-fetish book about a guy who’s in a super-criminal organization. Trouble is, he’s a good guy. He’s supposed to be a mole in the group, but his handler is in a coma, and that’s the only person who knows the truth. So our protagonist is stuck playing the role, hoping he won’t get found out. It’s a really good concept, but I’m not sure the powers really add anything to it.

The characters are unlikable in a likable way. You wouldn’t want to hang out with any of them, but you’re not uninterested in their stories. Still, I borrowed the trades from a friend and didn’t leave them wanting to run out and get my own copies. The first “season” (the hip new term for “volume”) ends with a surprisingly shocking development, but I can’t say that as I closed the cover I just HAD to find out where this was all going to lead. I also found the artwork fairly unappealing, and once again had to endure the hoary old “wheels within wheels” conspiracy trotted out. Obviously many people are totally charged up by Sleeper, and it’s worth checking out to see if you might be one of them, but just as I could easily walk away after the second season of the Sopranos without caring what happened next, I was able to do the same with Sleeper.

Runaways (Marvel) – This is one of the titles that Marvel repackaged in its manga-like “Marvel Age” format and I found it quite charming. The premise is simple: a group of teenagers finds out that their parents are evil. Really, really evil. As in supervillains. What can they possibly do about it?

I found this book to be fun and engaging, and I’m looking forward to the next volume. This is the kind of stuff that’s going to succeed in the marketplace: well-done stories that appeal to all ages, released in a friendly, accessible format. It ain’t rocket science.

Hikaru No Go, volume 1 (uh, I don’t remember.) Speaking of manga, here’s an actual one about a kid who becomes possessed by the ghost of a champion Go player. (Go is a Japanese board game with a high level of intricacy, despite the only pieces being black and white stones.) The ghost wants Hikaru to play Go, Hikaru isn’t interested. Hilarity ensues.

Actually, it does. The book is wildly over the top, especially during the Go sequences. Speed lines abound, and pieces are shattered by the amazingly superior Go players playing incredible moves. Both the spirit and a master Go player obsess over playing the “Divine Move.” It’s a rollicking good time. My only wish is that it included a little more background on the actual game, for ignorant gaijin like me who don’t really know Go. I eagerly await the next volume.

Superman: Red Son (DC) – An Elseworlds book from last year that posits the question: what if Superman’s little spaceship had landed in the USSR instead of the USA? Answer: A lot of crazy stuff that doesn’t necessarily logically follow. For example, the presence of the Soviet Superman causes pretty much the entire world to embrace Communism, even though in the “real” Superman universe, his presence in America doesn’t make everyone become Capitalist Democracies overnight.

But the whole is a pretty good Superman story, with pretty innovative twists along the way. I’m not sure the ending is completely satisfying, but I’m not sure what other ending would have been deemed acceptable.

The Wretch (Slave Labor Graphics) – Apparently, when I wasn’t looking, SLG took a break from publishing book after book of “cutesy goth” crap and put out this interesting series I had never heard of. How to describe it? There’s a town in which weird stuff takes place, and a mysterious being called “The Wretch” often shows up to put it all right. The stories have a dreamlike quality to them and are in turns darkly humorous and darkly dark.

I don’t know how I missed this whenever it first came around. I read a fair amount of Slave Labor titles, but never noticed it. It’s worth looking into, I think.

Supreme (Image or something) – Proof that there is no God is manifest in the fact that Alan Moore was at one point writing for Rob frickin’ Liefeld. His conflicts with DC kept him away from there, so he wasn’t doing the kinds of things he should have been doing, but was instead slumming it with talentless hacks, elevating their worthless names through association.

However, all was not lost. You know, I have to wear special goggles whenever he starts to go on about “magick” to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head, but damned if Moore doesn’t have the supernatural ability to turn any old crap into gold.

So it is with Supreme. Since Rob Liefeld had already saved him the trouble of completely ripping off Superman, which not do the job right, and use the title to talk about the history of Superman (with half of Captain Marvel thrown in to boot)? The result is a fascinating run that looks at the iconography of superheroes. I highly recommend these two trades to anyone who is interested in DC Superheroes. There’s a lot better stuff going on here than in most of DC’s regular books.

Those are some of the major things I’ve been looking at lately, other than my usual stuff. There’s other books that I haven’t gotten to or finished yet, and I’ll be talking about them in time.

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