Friday, August 17, 2012

Bryant Has Issues #14

I am currently on day two of an eleven-day stay-at-home vacation, so you'd think I'd find plenty of time for blogging.  And yet, here it is, 11:23 pm, the day almost gone, and me only on my second sentence!  Not exactly top-notch as far as blogging efforts go.

Despite that, I press on, and present to you a crab in a top hat.

Is he live?  Is he dead?  Is he even a he?  Only the original photographer knows.

Prepare yourself, for that shall be only the first of numerous images tonight that don't actually make any sense.

So, what's the first comic up on this week's column?

Yay!  It's a Stephen King issue!  I love it when that happens; it almost makes these comics columns feel like they're on the correct blog.

In this month's Dark Tower: Roland and Jake attempt to evade the slow mutants, who continue not to resemble slow mutants so much as lizard-men; Roland shoots a lot of bullets; Jake gets grabbed numerous times; Jake makes numerous awkward facial expressions; Roland and Jake find a train terminal and an ancient corpse who appears to have been the victim of a nerve-gas attack (this scene comes from the revised version of the novel); and Jake looks into a pool of water and sees what appear to be ghosts there, warning him that bad things are going to happen soon.  This last part takes place in the Dead Marshes, I think; presumably Gollum will fish Jake out of the water before he drowns.

I've been fairly negative about the Man In Black arc so far, and that isn't really going to change much this time out.  A huge part of that comes down to the art by Alex Maleev, which, frankly, is awful.  This strikes me as odd, because his three covers have been outstanding.  So why does the interior art look like such crap?  He appears to be especially poor at facial expressions; or, at least, he did a poor job with facial expressions here. 

Richard Isanove's colors help (why isn't he the full-time artist again?), and there are some good panels, but overall, it's bad to a distracting degree.

The depiction of the slow mutants is especially problematic in my opinion.  Now, I'll grant you the possibility that my opinions are colored by the way Michael Whelan drew them in the illustrations for the original novel.  That's only part of the problem, though, and the fact is that the art here doesn't even match the script.  Let's check in and see how Peter David describes them:

Ever see a slow mutant with your own two peepers?  If not, thank the man Jesus for your good fortune.  Roland and Jake, they find themselves face to ... well, what passes for a face in a slow mutant.  These particular ones are the faces of starving idiots...

About that: the above passage strongly implies that a slow mutant's face is substantively different from a human's face in some way; otherwise, there is no needs for the phrase "what passes for a face."  Maleev's depiction is a creature that very demonstrably has a face that is recognizable AS, with two normally-placed eyes, a nose, and a mouth. 

And it is not the face of a starving idiot, but the face of a malevolent lizard-man.  Elsewhere, David's script makes reference to "limp and fishlike" hands (which is consistent with the novel, in which the slow mutants are relatively weak physically).  However, Maleev draws the slow mutants as heavily-muscled, obviously imposing creatures.

There is a fundamental disconnect here between the words and the art, and that is a MAJOR problem in a comic book.  Forget the fact that the art doesn't work in relation to the source novel: it doesn't even work in relation to the script.  This tells me that Maleev either did not understand the ideas behind the slow mutants, or he did not care.

Either way, the result is a failure.

I'll be glad when this arc is done, frankly.  I spent $4 on this issue, and got virtually zero enjoyment out of it; all I did was feed my OCD, and when you find yourself buying a comic just because you need to keep the collection complete, you've got a problem.

That is not now -- nor has it ever been -- the case with American Vampire, which continues to be an engaging, amusing, and occasionally horrifying series.  This particular issue, unfortunately, is not one of the better Scott Snyder has written.  It isn't bad; it simply doesn't end up amounting to much of anything.  It is almost entirely a transitional issue, designed merely to get our players from one place to another; that sorta makes sense for a middle issue, but it's also kinda disappointing.

The Dustin Nguyen art is good, though, and there's nothing bad here, exactly; it's just boring, and is a step down from the first two issues of the miniseries.  Better luck next month, I hope.

On the subject of Scott Snyder, I am considerably more enthusiastic about this month's issue of Batman, in which we finally learn the backstory of Harper Row.

Who's Harper Row?  I'm glad you asked.

She's a character who was introduced way back in #7; if you read that issue, you may recall that after escaping from the Court of Owls, Bruce was picked up by a punk-rock chick in a van.  He seemed to know her, and when I read the issue at the time, I simply assumed that she was a character from previous Bat-lore with whom I was unfamiliar.  (Actually, a little research indicates that I was somewhat more confused than that; if you want proof, here 'tis.)

Uh-uh.  Not the case.  Turns out, she is named Harper Row, and she is a character Scott Snyder invented.  Turns out even further that he invented her long enough ago that she puts in a cameo appearance in Batman #1; she's merely a woman in a dress there, but the scene is reprised and given context in #12, so it seems that wherever her story is going, it's something Snyder has had up his sleeve for a while now.

Happily, she is an immediately engaging character, and I will be more than happy to find out more about her.  The short version of the story: she is a young woman whose brother gets beaten up a lot, and some dudes cut his hair choppily and shave "FAG" into the back of his hair.  She, being the badass cool sister that she is, chops her own hair up, and shaves "FAG" into the back of her own head, too.  The same group of bullies set upon her and her brother on the street one night, and Batman saves them.  Harper immediately -- and understandably -- becomes obsessed by Batman.  In researching him, she discovers spots where Batman has evidently tapped into the Gotham power grid; she discovers that he is actually amplifying the grid, rather than sapping it, and puts her own mechanical/electrical skills to use surreptitiously helping him boost the power even further.  Eventually, he discovers what she's doing and tells her to knock it off, which explains why he is later (in the events of Batman #7) familiar with her.

This is good stuff, and I hope we won't have to wait too many issues for more Harper.  My only complaint with the issue is that it changes artists close to the end, and their styles do not match at all.  The bulk of the issue is drawn by Becky Cloonan; I'd heard of her before, and reading this issue, I see why, because her character work is superb.  (In fact, I wish Cloonan could come back and draw any future issues in which Harper appears.  Nothing against the work of series regular Greg Capullo, but I suspect he won't draw her as well as Cloonan does.)  The final seven pages -- which would normally be the backup story, but in this issue is simply a continuation of the main story -- are drawn by Andy Clarke.  It's good art, too, but the shift in styles is jarring.  I'll show you what I mean:

art by Becky Cloonan

art by Adam Clarke

Clarke's style is -- oh, how I suck at describing art -- more realistic, less cartoony, less expressive.  It's good (and I'm not even sure I'd say Cloonan's is better), but it's different enough that the switch was slightly jarring.  No big deal, but worth commenting upon.

An excellent issue this month overall.

Final note: see the cover?  It's got almost literally nothing to do with the story.  It has Batman and electricity, both of which are present in the story, but that's about it.

Speaking of which...

This cover has even less to do with the comic inside it than the Batman one!  Unless I somehow missed it -- and I didn't -- there is no point in this issue in which a woman in a gas-mask appears, nor any point at which Ozymandias allows a woman to put him on a leash.

My assumption, then, is that the only reason this cover exists is because DC assumed it would catch the eye of gas-mask fetishists everywhere and earn them a few extra dollars.  And to be fair, it is kinda hot, so mission accomplished, I guess...?

The first issue of Ozymandias was mostly a retread of information we already had via the original series.  The second issue avoids that problem, but it isn't particular good, either, which makes two in a row I've disliked.  Jae Lee continues to provide good art with occasionally stunning layouts, but it's in service of nothing; he seems to have been saddled with the least interesting of all the Before Watchmen titles.

I continue to be deeply conflicted about the overall series.  Speaking of which...

That's a cool cover, and hey, whattaya know, it doesn't present anything that isn't present in the comic itself!  Neato!

This issue is a bit of a mixed bag for me, sadly.  As with Ozymandias #1, I love the art, but don't care all that much for the story.  Here, at least, it isn't a retread of material we already knew via Watchmen; instead, it's two stories that seemingly ought to coincide, but don't.  In one, a serial killer known as The Bard is killing women and carving poetry into their flesh; in the other, Rorschach tries to take down a heroin ring but instead gets the shit kicked out of him.  The obvious assumption we are supposed to make is that Rorschach will end up taking down The Bard, but by the end of this issue, he is still not even aware there IS such a person.  It's only a four-issue miniseries, so it doesn't seem like the end result is going to be a particularly compelling story; seems to me it's going to feel rushed and perfunctory.

I could be wrong, of course, and let's hope that that is the case.

What's here is fairly good, though.  Lee Bermejo's art is terrific, and the serial-killer plotline makes for a promising Rorschach story.  On the other hand, Azzarello's Rorschach doesn't sound all that much like Alan Moore's Rorschach, which is a problem.  Rorschach -- in his Kovacs guise -- also feels overly chummy with the employees at a Gunga Diner he visits.

Maybe the last three issues will wow me, but for now, I'm chalking this one up as a minor disappointment.

Speaking of disappointments, Saga #6 isn't.

In fact, I think it would be accurate to say that this is my favorite comic right now.  Even more favoriter than Locke & Key...?  Yeah, I think so.  Surprising, right?

Well, trust me, it's no slight against Locke & Key; Saga is simple terrific, and has been for six consecutive issues now.  The first arc seems to be at its end, and I really have no hesitation in saying it is a complete success.

In this issue: our heroes reach the rocketship forest; The Will finds out about The Stalk, and promises murder; Marko makes a sacrifice; Prince Robot IV receives a call; there is a highly-amusing author photo (no, not of Brian K. Vaughan; of the author of a novel which features in the plot); Alanna takes a shower; and a major character may or may not be killed.  That character had better not be dead; if so, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, then we are decidedly not cool anymore.

Vaughan's writing continues to be both witty and absurdly imaginative, and Staples' art continues to be just plain gorgeous.  The letters column also continues to be awesome.

Speaking of awesome, I think I mentioned before that Brian K. Vaughan's dog is named Hamburger K. Vaughan, but if that isn't a fact worth repeating, I don't know what is.

The trade edition is issues 1-6 comes out in October, and will apparently be priced at a mere $10, so if you read comics and don't go buy a copy of this, then you have my scorn.

Scorn, I say!

I've been enjoying Saucer Country, which also appears to be at the end of its first arc.  This issue is an odd one; the story consists of the Professor giving a lecture to Arcadia and her close advisers on the history of the U.F.O. phenomenon.  It is a contradictory, confusing history, and writer Paul Cornell makes that a part of the story, rather than a stumbling block.

It's an entertaining issue, although it feels a bit like wheels spinning.

Just not getting much out of Buffy right now.  Wish I was.  But the truth is, I read this comic only a week ago, and I literally cannot remember a thing that happened in it.  Oh, wait; something came back to me while I was typing that.  There's something else.  And something else.

Point is, I had to stretch for it, and that seems like a problem.

This issue is definitely better than the last one, which I found utterly unengaging.  Here, Buffy and Kennedy enlist a demon's help for an assault on the building that houses the servers for Tincan, a social networking site that is being exploited by Wolfram & Hart.  Or something like that.

It just doesn't add up to much of anything, to be frank.

Oh, for the love of...

YET ANOTHER cover that has nothing to do with the comic!  In fact, this one is an outright fucking lie: not only does Miles not get hurt, there isn't even a single fight in the entire issue!

And yet, oddly, this is far and away the best issue of the miniseries so far.  I was thoroughly disappointed by the first three, which simply didn't take much advantage of the fact that original-universe Peter Parker crossed into the Ultimate universe and met Miles Morales.  Here, the vast majority of the issue consists of Peter sitting in a house talking to Miles, and to this universe's Gwen and Aunt May.  Mostly Gwen (understandably).

It's all pretty great, and it ends with the Ultimates apparently being enlisted to help combat Mysterio.  I'm not sure I have any faith in that plot being brought to a satisfactory resolution in the one issue this miniseries has left, though; my gut tells me that apart from #4, Spider-Men is going into the books as a failure.

Hee-hee.  Here's a cover which definitely has something to do with the issue.  It'd be a spoiler to tell you what that is, though, so I won't.

Unfortunately, that means I'm going to have almost nothing to say about this issue in a specific sense.  So let's settle for some generalities:

  • I love the cover, but why is Carol seemingly of Asian descent?  That don't make no sense.  It was the case for issue #1, as well.
  • Unlike a lot of people (if the letters column at the back is to be believed), I like the new costume ... except for the mask, which I don't like at all.  I'm not sure why that is, but I think it has less to do with the actual look and more to do with the way artist Dexter Soy depicts it.  In case you;re wondering, no, in fact, I don't know what I'm talking about.
  • On the whole, I like Soy's art more here tha I did last issue.  It seems ... cleaner, somehow; no, I still don't know what I'm talking about.
  • A group of soldiers named the Air Service Pilots Banshee Squad is introduced.  I can't make up my mind as to whether I think they are awesome, or terrible, or awesomely terrible, or terribly awesome.  I will say this: as much as I appreciate a comic in which one character is a hot pigtailed woman with a machine gun, I'm not sure I like it here.  It's a little too Sucker Punch for my tastes.
  • God damn, I fucking HATED Sucker Punch.  What a piece of shit of a movie.
  • The final page here is badass.

I wasn't knocked out by Captain Marvel #1, and I wasn't knocked out by Captain Marvel #2, either.  But I enjoyed both reasonably well, and the events of this issue are certainly intriguing enough that I'm curious to see where the series goes from here.


Well, that's it for this time.

I hope to see you all in a few days with a review of Shadow Show, the new Ray Bradbury tribute anthology.  No Stephen King story there, sadly, but new Joe Hill and Robert McCammon, amongst others, so that ought to be pretty good.

See you then!


  1. It's a shame to hear that Maleev's art isn't up to par for "Gunslinger." He was the artist for Bendis's entire run on "Daredevil" and it was phenomenal.

    1. I've heard nothing but good things about Maleev, so yeah, it surprised me to not like what he's doing on this series. And maybe I'm just looking at it the wrong way ... but I don't think so.

      Whenever you get around to checking it out, let me know what you think.