[This is my Christmas message from Comics Buyer's Guide #1650, but I figure the sentiments and advice expressed in it are worth repeating even at this late date.]
Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ.
- The Simpsons
I'll start by wishing all my readers the happiest of holidays, whatever holidays they celebrate. Traditionally, at this time of the year, I'd recommend gifts for the comics readers in your lives, but that's sort of what I do all year long. Besides, I got several terrific gifts on November 4, so, on a personal level, I'm pretty much set. Thanks, America.
However, what I will do is remind you that our economy isn't in the best shape. It will take more than any one man, or any one group of people, or any one party, to turn that around. So, while I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from spending some of their hard-earned cash on comics and other gifts - after all, such purchases do help the economy - I do want to urge you to be careful with your spending. Put a little more thought into the gifts you give and a lot more thought into buying them smarter.
Fixing our economy will take time. I'd like you to be still reading comics - and this magazine - when we get there.
Mystery novelist Jonathan Ames tries autobiographical comics via The Alcoholic [Vertigo; $19.99]. Drawn by Dean Haspiel, one of the best comics artists and storytellers of our time, this book traces Ames' life and addictions, which include various drugs and questionable sexual experiences, from his first time getting blotto (as a high school sophomore) to what I assume is a recent declaration that he'll never drink again. Though that's where the story ends, it's only one of a number of similar pledges he makes throughout this graphic novel.
Ames' writing is compelling, so much so I intend to read some of his prose novels, but there are elements of this autobiography I find unsatisfying, even beyond the open ending. We never learn exactly how he gets into the situation we find him in at the start of the book, a situation which demands more of an explanation than his being drunk at the time. Additionally, he never fully explores his attraction to and experiences with men, events which seemed to weigh heavily on him. Perhaps a stronger editorial hand was called for in this graphic novel.
As for Haspiel, he brings this story to life with his bold and always sure-handed black-and-white drawings. Whether the subject be a beautiful woman, a confused teenager, a demented alcoholic, or a creepy supporting character, the art is riveting. As I've stated often, I'm a story guy first and foremost. But comic art this good demands to be recognized apart from the story.
Despite my misgivings about the writing, The Alcoholic is impressive. Definitely for mature audiences, this hardcover GN earns four out of five Tonys.
I wasn't going to review the "Freshman Year" serial running in Archie #587-591 [$2.25 each] until I read all five issues, but a sequence in issue #590 made my eyes roll and wonder if anyone involved in this storyline had ever had a child in high school or, for that matter, any public school. I'll get to that sequence in a bit.
Written by my pal Batton Lash with art by Bill Galvan and Bob Smith, the serial is a fun look back at Archie and his high-school friends during the first year at Riverdale High. I've been getting a kick out of seeing the youngsters begin to develop into the teens they are today. These are enjoyable comics and, despite the rant I'm going to inflict on you, I recommend them.
Here's the rant:
Archie #590 opens with a parents-teachers conference wherein all the parents are gathered into the classrooms as a group and, one by one, the teachers discuss their child with them.
In front of all the other parents!
That just doesn't happen in real life and, ironically, without meaning to, Lash shows why it doesn't happen in real life. First, you have the embarrassment of the parents as their fellow parents find out what a "problem" their child is. Then, you have the other parents not wanting their own kids to associate with this problem child in their midst. Of course, in the real world, these parents would complain loudly to the school board about their child being demeaned in front of the other parents and, also in the real world, jobs would be lost and lawsuits would be filed.
Parent-teacher conferences are private. Always have been and always will be. As bad as some readers may believe public schools are, they aren't that bad.
In Archie #590, this absurd sequence knocked me right out of the story and diminished considerably my appreciation for what had been an entertaining serial. It also lowers the overall score of these issues.
Archie #587-590 earn but three Tonys because, as easy as I am when it comes to willing suspension of disbelief, I ain't that easy!
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
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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