Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Nixon's Pals

Joe Casey's latest book, Nixon's Pals, was unfortunately a disappointment. I've followed Casey's work since he first launched his career by taking over Cable from James Robinson. He probably has the most distinctive voice of any American comics writer working today. When he is in top form (Godland, Automatic Kafka) he becomes one of today's greatest writers (just not in terms of sales).

However, Casey also writes a lot of fairly average work for hire. Which is why Nixon's Pals (an Image published OGN) caught me off guard when it felt like one of those with the exception of being slightly more over the top (it features a woman whose face is swapped with her nipples). Actually, I can't help but compare this book to Mark Millar's Wanted (coming soon to a theater near you).

This kind of feels like a response to it, in fact it has the exact opposite premise. Wanted concerned an average guy who becomes attracted to the exciting life of a super-villain. Nixon's Pals is about a parole officer who tries to convince super-villains to lead ordinary lives instead. It's not a bad concept, it just doesn't quite live up to what I know Casey is capable of.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fourth World Vol.4

At last, DC has finished collecting Jack Kirby's Fourth World. Sadly volume four cannot help but disappoint after the prior three. This book covers the end of the story, which really just gradually faded from existence. Back in volume 3, Kirby ended his run on Jimmy Olsen, and vol. 4 begins with the final issues of the New Gods and the Forever People (both were canceled abruptly). Kirby managed to stretch Mister Miracle out a little longer by distancing it from the Fourth World epic, but it to came to an early end.

The highlight of this book is the Hunger Dogs, a graphic novel DC hired Kirby to write that was supposed to wrap up the entire story. The rough plot Kirby had worked out was designed to be written over 3 comics for 2 years. Obviously the Hunger Dogs comes off feeling a little rushed at best. Still, it almost succeeds on pure ambition alone, and as always Kirby's art is capable of carrying even the worst of stories.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jenny Finn

Jenny Finn was a book that I seriously thought would never be completed. According to the copyright statement the few published issues were originally printed in 1999. Now here we are 9 years later and this 4 issue series is finally over. I think that might be some sort of record.

This enormous delay was especially sad as this has been one of Mike Mignola's better books. This one would fit right into one of his Hellboy or B.P.R.D. books, but Mignola wanted to place it in Victorian England, which proves to be a smart choice. The atmosphere of this book is everything, and is sold perfectly by the two artists, Troy Nixey and Farel Dalrymple (who really needs to be considered an A-List artist already, go and read the current Omega the Unknown book he's illustrating). But man, nine years between issues was just unforgivable.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Essential Fantastic Four Vol.6

Volume 6 of the Essential Fantastic Four brings the Stan Lee era to a close, and he was a tough act to follow. After all this was the book he used to launch Marvel Comics into the entertainment empire it has become. Without his influence the book quickly entered into a period in which its identity was lost.

Lee was followed by some fairly notable writers, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin and Gerry Conway all have stories in this volume, and the great John Buscema is on art for all but one issue (although it's not up to the standard of his Avengers or Silver Surfer runs). But for some reason none of them really know what to do with the characters. Wisely they all reject the passive role the Invisible Girl had played up until this point, but they way they resolve this is to progressively turn Mr. Fantastic into a bigger and bigger chauvinist until she finally walks out (to be replaced by Medusa). The introduction of Thundra (a seven foot amazon who constantly rants about the weaker, male, sex) is an equally heavy handed attempt to address the wrongs from the first hundred or so issues.

But given the amount of issues in this collection and the talent involved, there is certainly some good in here as well. The Human Torch, Crystal, Quicksilver love triangle is a definite high point. The introduction of Air-Walker, the second Herald of Galactus is quite good too. But it's hard to deny that the FF were treading water at this point, and pretty much continued to do so until John Byrne came on board much later.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Girl in Landscape

Jonathan Lethem is probably my favorite modern author. He has an imagination that puts him at the forefront of fantasists (despite not being one himself) that is combined with a skill that is far beyond any other writer of his generation (or the one before it). By reading Girl in Landscape, I have not completed all but his most recent novel, and he has never disappointed.

The novel revolves around Pella Marsh, a girl just entering her teens who has recently immigrated to the Planet of the Archbuilders, after the death of her mother. This is her coming of age story as she has to relearn who she is in the wake of a tragedy, while also relearning the world around her. The journey she makes is remarkably harsh. In fact this is probably the bleakest take on exploration I have seen in a science-fiction novel.

The planet Pella finds herself on is covered by the ruins of an abandoned civilization, and is populated by the fallen remnants of a once great settlement. Lethem uses this setting to great effect, choosing to focus on what happens to those who are abandoned, in this case both Pella and the entire world surrounding her. This is a truly remarkable book, and it paved the way for the even greater ones Lethem went on to write.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Batman Chronicles Vol.3

DC's chronological reprint of every Batman story continues into 1941 in Vol. 3 of the Batman Chronicles. By now Batman has lost his Dark Knight image fully in favor of becoming a better role model to Robin. However, the lighter tone is nicely balanced by some more interesting stories then those which were seen previously. In addition to a pair of classic Joker stories and the return of Clayface. Batman and Robin also square off against a witch, and a pirate ship.

The best story in this collection is a tribute to Jimmy Cagney's classic film, the Public Enemy, which features a oddly prescient mother-fixated antagonist that's akin to Cagney's role in White Heat, a film that wasn't released for another 8 years.

All in all a fun read, and worth reading for the historical value alone.

Monday, April 07, 2008

New Avengers

With the release of Secret Invasion this last week I wanted to reread Brian Michael Bendis' New Avengers run in order to hopefully pick out the hints towards his uberplot. Overall the series stands up to rereading very well and its nice to see something that appeared to be a small detail in one panel of Avengers #502 play out nearly 4 years later. So yeah, it's clear there has been a plan all this time, even if the constant interruptions by events (House of M, Civil War) seemed to get in the way more than anything else.

The book is not without its flaws, it's never been able to hold onto a consistent art team for one. For another Bendis had to spend an inordinate amount of time showing how such a disparate group of characters could fit together, and then had to scrap all of the work he put into it when the Civil War came along.

On the other hand anytime Bendis writes Spider-Man and Luke Cage its something worth reading. The eclectic mix of artists (Mike Deodato Jr., David Finch, Steve McNiven, Leinil Francis Yu & Frank Cho) are all top notch. And now there's Secret Invasion to look forward to, which looks like the first event in quite some time that might actually be fun and not just something to read because it will "change the landscape of the Marvel Universe forever".

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Baum Plan

John Kessel is an incredibly talented writer, and the Baum Plan serves as an excellent introduction to his work. His range as a writer is simply astonishing. This book alone contains a lunar gender study, a reformed criminal tale, and a surprisingly brilliant Mary Shelly meets Jane Austin story (despite it's groan worth title, Pride and Prometheus).

There is not a dud in this collection, however it suffers a bit due to its main virtue. The collection as a whole doesn't fit together to my liking. There is just enough cohesion amongst the stories to make me feel that there should be something more in this book. It's an arbitrary failing, but it does separate this collection from some others (Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners comes to mind) that I'd consider to be truly great.