"If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain."
- Emily Dickinson
There's a lot of crazy talk out there in comicdom. Hardly a week goes by without someone e-mailing me to sadly inform me they aren't reading comics anymore. They love reading my column, they love CBG, but they aren't reading comics anymore. After all these years, Hera help me, are we drifting apart?
I understand why some readers have come to this crossroads in their comics life, especially if their interest in comics has been centered on the long-running super-heroes of DC and Marvel. Some writers and editors - good and mediocre alike - have done some very nutty things with those characters and members of their supporting casts. Some readers, and I don't necessarily exclude myself from this, have overreacted to these nutty things. Others have failed to express their dismay loudly enough.
I'm all over the map on this one. I'm not terribly concerned about the old memory-wipe bit. I am concerned about super-heroes trying to force personality alterations on their foes or wiping the minds of their allies and friends.
I'm appalled at DC turning Leslie Tompkins - a virtual saint in their comics - into someone who lets a patient die to teach the Batman a lesson. I'm not too bothered by Maxwell Lord committing suicide by Amazon. I mean, really...
"I can control Supes as long as I live. That's right, lady, he's in my power as long as I'm breathing. Why, the only way you could stop me is to kill...SNAP!"
I would have busted a cap in his ass myself.
My own preference is for what I call the white-hat heroes, but I can still find Batman and Wonder Woman stories to enjoy. DC is reprinting a lot of fun comics from the past. There are novels and TV shows. There are even new comics which, to some extent, ignore the nutty stuff and tell the stories I enjoy.
If the nutty stuff gets your goat, look beyond the mainstream titles of your favorite heroes for those other stories more to your liking. Or find other heroes and other kinds of comics that you'll enjoy more than the ones you've dumped. Because there really are a lot of good comics out there.
Let's go looking for them together. I just know we can make this relationship work.
I don't know what made me keep reading Felipe Smith's MBQ #1 [ToykoPop; $9.99]. Three chapters and nearly 70 pages into it, I was, to be honest, repulsed by the various low-life characters I'd "met" up to that point. Then came Jeff, a giant of a young man who works at McBurger Queen, making his entrance in a hilarious 37-page chapter about a mad lunch-hour rush at the fast food joint. That's what won me over.
The next chapter introduced probationary police officer Aidan O'Malley and his training officer, R.J. Finch. The characters were instantly likeable, which made the later revelation of an incident in O'Malley's youth all the more powerful. As these characters and the aforementioned lowlifes came into each's others worlds, I got more into MBQ.
My least favorite character might be struggling comics artist Omario, the ostensible "hero" of the series. He's arrogant, lazy, and given to churlish diatribes against "mainstream" comics, mostly because he doesn't want to do them. Which, of course, we've heard so many times from non-mainstream comics creators who, nonetheless, sit up and bark like trained puppies when mainstream comics outfits offer them paying gigs. Of course, as someone who enjoys reading all kinds of comics, including this one, I never understood why one couldn't enjoy working on all kinds of comics as well. Why limit one's creative and financial opportunities?
But I digress.
Smith is a relative newcomer to comics. His storytelling is decent, though sometimes shaky. His art has a compelling energy to it. If he can lose the diatribes and make us care about Omario as much as we care about Jeff or Aidan, MBQ could be a keeper. He has definitely earned himself a second chance with me, just as MBQ #1 has earned a respectable three out of five Tonys.
In the alternate future Marvel Universe in which these stories are set, May Parker is the daughter of Peter and Mary Jane Parker. Her dad was our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man until a climatic battle with the Green Goblin cost him a leg. May is an incredible athlete and otherwise normal kid with no knowledge of her father's past or powers...until she discovers she has inherited his powers and the responsibility which comes with them.
DeFalco has a knack for writing this character. She's a hero, but she's still a believable teenager. She worries about boys and school. She wonders if she should quit the school basketball team to be fair to the players who don't have her powers. She's at odds with her parents over her resolve to carry on in her father's web-prints. I believe this character and I like her.
Each of the six stories in this book is done-in-one but with developing sub-plots. The villains are a colorful and occasionally clunky lot ranging from the Green Goblin and Venom to Crazy Eight. The adult supporting cast is well played, the teen supporting cast not nearly as interesting.
Kudos to DeFalco for a scene in which police scientist Peter Parker and lab assistant Phil Urich (who was briefly, in his youth, a heroic Green Goblin) discuss Spider-Girl and don't realize they aren't on the same page. Peter wants Phil to help him convince May to hang up the spider-tights while Phil thinks his boss is asking him to help the girl with the super-hero gig.
SPIDER-GIRL is super-hero fun for all ages with many welcome, respectful nods to classic Spider-Man comics. It earns four out of five Tonys.
While it's better written and more entertaining than most of the current Batman titles, BATMAN: DARK DETECTIVE [DC; $2.99 each] suffered from too many jarring elements and from resolutions which seemed too convenient. I was impressed by writer Steve Englehart's attempt to please as many divergent Batman fans as possible, but I think his story could have been told in fewer than its six issues and would have been better and more focused for it.
What I like most about the series were the elements introduced early on. Silver St. Cloud, the love of Bruce Wayne's life until she learned he was Batman, has returned to Gotham as the intended of Senator Even Gregory, a very good man running for governor. The Joker has also declared his candidacy with the singular position of "Vote for me or I'll kill you."
Englehart works other major and minor Batman villains into the mix. The Scarecrow has a pivotal role in the tale. His delayed reaction fear-gas ignites the smouldering passion Bruce and Silver still have for each other and convinces them they can be together. And yet, when this proves not to be the case, following a sequence of woefully contrived events, it's as if they woke up in a strange hotel room, looked at who they were sleeping with, and wondered what the heck they had been thinking the night before. Maybe this was intended as a humanizing touch for the heroes - because Silver was, in her way, as heroic as Batman - but it was an unsatisfying resolution after having following their renewed romance through the previous several issues.
Two-Face and Dr. Double X also appear and, quite frankly, they don't work. Two-Face is somewhat useful as a twisted reflection of Batman's own identity crisis, but the story already had the Joker for that. Double X creating a clone of the unmarred Harvey Dent is too super-science-fiction for the tone of the rest of the series. The story didn't need either of them.
Enough with the negatives. Englehart tells an exciting tale. He handles the "shoot Batman on sight" policy of the Gotham cops as well or better than anyone, which is, to say, the cops pretty much ignore it when it suits them. Enhanced by Chris Chuckry's coloring and John Workman's lettering, the Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin art is nothing short of excellent.
BATMAN: DARK DETECTIVE isn't perfect, but it is good enough overall to pick up four Tonys. I would buy an ongoing Batman book by this creative team in a heartbeat.
BATMAN: DARK DETECTIVE: 36 pages per issue, color.
ROUND TABLE OF AMERICA: PERSONALITY CRISIS #1 [Image; $3.50] is the latest of the "these super-heroes are oddly familiar" comics from editor Gary Carlson. Despite the obviousness of their source material, I usually enjoy them. It's like finding cool old comics from a long-gone publisher.
In "Mystery of the Numinous Nemesis," the heroes of the Round Table battle their seemingly more powerful doppelgangers. Writer Pedro Angosto has some clever match-ups here. Ultiman is attacked by his suddenly grown-up daughter. The Blitz goes up against what appears to be his empty uniform, symbolic of how much the speedster defines himself by his heroic identity. Ms. Merlin, who became a woman to learn magic, battles her former male self. This isn't a great story, but it's entertaining with a workable conclusion and decent art by Carlos Rodriguez and Albert Puig.
If you like old-school super-hero comics and have a few extra bucks in your pocket, you could do much worse than RTA: PERSONALITY CRISIS. I give it a respectable three Tonys.
Scott Cunningham's "Get Lost" leads off ARCHIE & FRIENDS #94 [Archie Comics, $2.25]. When Mr. Lodge land his damaged jet on a deserted island, he and the Archies must survive until they are rescued. Soon, in a delightful send-up of TV's SURVIVOR, it's Archie and the boys vs. Lodge and the girls to prove which are the better castaways. Drawn by Stan Goldberg and John Lowe, the tale offers a plethora of fast gags and a killer punch line.
The issue's other stories feature Josie and the Pussycats plus Archie's pal and bad-luck magnet Jinx Malloy. A refreshing change-of-pace, ARCHIE & FRIENDS #94 gets four Tonys.
Created by Lee Falk, the Phantom is one of the most enduring heroes in comicdom. His popularity is greater outside the United States, but that hasn't stopped Moonstone from publishing a series of well-received Phantom comic books and graphic albums.
In THE PHANTOM #7-8 [$3.50 each], writer Ben Raab resurrects and reinvents the Sky Band, the airborne women pirates who starred in one of the most popular Phantom stories of all time. This new Sky Band is led by the daughter of the original leader, a vicious murderess who believes the Phantom to be her father. Her teammates are equally nasty ladies with perhaps justifiable grudges against various corporations. I like the unsettling feeling of being both sympathetic towards the Band while simultaneously being appalled by their actions.
Raab handles the Phantom and Diana Palmer-Walker, our hero's wife, very well. The issues move well with peril a'plenty and good art by Pat Quinn and Ken Wheaton. On the minus side, the coloring gave the impression I was looking at the art through a translucent curtain of mud. Lighten up on the hues already.
Though I was somewhat disappointed by the story's conclusion, in which others did some of the heavy lifting which should've been the Phantom's job, I have no hesitation in recommending these comic books and giving them three Tonys apiece.
ROB HANES ADVENTURES #8 [WCG Comics; $2.95] is one of the best comic books I've read of late. Created by writer/artist/publisher Randy Reynaldo, its hero is an operative for a private detective, info-gathering, security company. His cases take him all over the world and, in most of the far-off places, he has both friends and enemies. Hanes is no super-agent, just a gutsy and highly skilled man who can be counted on to do the right thing, even when it puts him at odds with his current clients.
"The Last Explorer" takes Hanes to Africa to help an old foe find his grandfather. To complicate matters, Hanes loves his foe's innocent and long-suffering young wife and, to further complicate them, the old foe has larceny on his mind. There are perils in the jungle, perils from nature, and, deadliest of all, perils from the twists and turns of human frailties.
As always, Reynaldo tell a complete and rich story in a single issue. He masterfully sets the stage, breathes life into his each of his players, and moves his tale to a satisfying conclusion. His writing and art are reminiscent of some of the best this business has ever known, Milton Caniff and Johnny Craig among them. This is a comic book which is more deserving of wider recognition than any other comic I could name.
Your three bucks brings you the 18-page lead story, a two-page "Rob Hanes Primer," a letters column, and a "liner notes" section. For a comic this good, that's darn near a steal. I've gotten more than a little stingy with my top rating, but ROB HANES ADVENTURES #8 earns the full five Tonys without breaking a sweat.
ROB HANES ADVENTURES #8: 28 pages, black-and-white.
SIMPSONS COMICS and SIMPSONS COMICS PRESENTS BART SIMPSON can always be counted on to bring on the funny. In issue #108 [$2.99] of the former, the head of the family becomes "Big House Homer" in a story by Chuck Dixon. When the F.B.I. investigates Mr. Burns for selling plutonium to terrorists - "It wasn't earning me a dime buried under all those housing developments." - Burns frames Homer. There are great bits in the issue-long tale, but it relies overmuch on continuity from the Simpsons TV show and peters out in its last pages. With art by John Costanza and Mike DeCarlo, this issue gets three out of five Tonys.
SIMPSONS COMICS #109 also features Burns in the pivotal role. In "Now Museum, Now You Don't" by Ian Boothby, he tries to combat an unflattering documentary by putting his version of his family's history on display in "The Burns Museum of Historical Truth." This being Springfield, most of the people accept said "truth" without question. A sub-plot involving the feud between Homer and traffic reporter Arnie Pie makes good use of Professor Frink and collides with the main story for this issue's big finish. Boothby captures the "voices" of all the Springfield players exceedingly well as do artists Phil Ortiz and Phyllis Novin. This book-length story picks up four Tonys.
BART SIMPSON #25 has three stories. The funniest is "Comics Fan No More" in which Bart signs on as Comic Book Guy's gopher at a convention; it's written by Tom Peyer with art by John Costanza and Howard Shum. Writer Chuck Dixon, penciller John Delaney, and inker Shum get laughs from Bart and his pals sneaking into R-rated movies in "Box Office Bingo." Finally, "Cross Country Clown" has Bart winning a trip to Krusty the Clown's "Kalifornia Experience" in a tale by Earl Kress, James Lloyd, and Andrew Pepoy. With three good stories, the issue earns four Tonys.
All three issues: 36 pages each, color.
I eagerly awaited the arrival of SPIKE: OLD TIMES [IDW; $7.49] for three reasons: it featured the return of my favorite character from the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL TV shows, it was to be written by fellow CBG columnist Peter David, and it would confirm there was a past relationship between Spike and vengeance demon Halfrek. My anticipation was amply rewarded.
Halfrek considers herself a "justice demon" and believes her actions are part of a divine plan. Vampire-with-a-soul Spike lacks such faith and sets himself to stopping Halfrek from carrying out her mission of the moment. Without going into too many details, Spike's motives include handing out payback, protecting a fellow poet, and gumming up things just for the fun of it.
David's wicked sense of humor comes into play, often making me laugh in spite of my kinder, gentler nature. He gets Spike right and lets us know Halfrek better than we have in her TV appearances. He keeps the story interesting from start to its satisfying finish. While the comic suffers slightly from an occasional stiff figure in the Fernando Goni/Impacto Studios art, it's that story and David's keen dialogue that win the day.
SPIKE: OLD TIMES is must-reading for comics readers who also enjoyed BUFFY and ANGEL. It gets the full five Tonys and my hope that David gets another crack at Spike or other Buffy/Angel players in the very near future.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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