Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bryant Has Issues #32

It's been quite a while since the last time I pumped one of these comics columns out, which means one thing: I am a lazy sack of crap.  It means another thing, too: I've been swamped at work.  And for extra-special-bonus points, it means yet another thing: that I've got a whole pile of comics to cover.

Enough shilly-shallying, let's get right down to it.

The first clown out of the clowncar this time is the second issue of the two-part Evil Ground story from Marvel Comics, Robin Furth, and company.  You may or may not recall that I was none too thrilled by the first issue of Evil Ground, which I described as being one of the worst issues of the Dark Tower comic that had been produced.

Happily, the second issue is an improvement.  Don't mistake my meaning; I still didn't think this was very good, on the whole.  The gunslingers continue to not act particularly like gunslingers, and this time out, Richard Isanove's art seems off in some way.  Have a look:

Everybody in that panel just looks...weird.  I can't quite put my finger on it.  But there is a lot of that sort of thing this issue, so much that I wonder if the issue had to be rushed in some way.

The story involves Roland and his fellow gunslingers being attacked in their sleep by some weird semi-vampiric demons.  There are a few cool moments, but there is no weight to any of it, because it feels like nothing whatsoever is actually at stake.  This is technically a prequel, and it's hard to avoid that "but-I-know-everyone-lives!" trap in prequels.  I don't envy the people who have the challenge of trying to avoid it; but it's their task to solve, not mine, and as a reader, I feel like this particular comic was a failure i that regard.

Let's move on, shall we?

Way back on April 24, Joe Hill's Terrifyingly Tragic Treasury Edition, an oversized (and, frankly, underpriced) collection of four graphic tales from Hill was released.  That's how long I've been failing to get this post written, guys; nearly two months.

Be that as it may, Joe Hill's Terrifyingly Tragic Treasury Edition is a mere $10, and it's (pardon the upcoming crude estimation) about 25% taller and wider than a normal comic.  In other words, it is awesome.  Good comic-book art deserves to be seen in as large a format as possible, and the art here is good enough that I kinda wish every comic was available in this format.  I'm mostly glad that isn't the case because at that price, I wouldn't be able to afford many comics; but they'd be worth it.  The good ones, at least.

This treasury edition runs about 70 pages (making it a good 50% longer than an average comic), and collects four one-shot Hill comics that each previously appeared in one format or another.  Here's what you get:

  • Kodiak, previously published as a one-shot
  • "Freddie Wertham Goes to Hell," previously published in the Special Edition release of Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft #1
  • The Cape, a one-shot adapted from Hill's short story
  • "Open the Moon," which appeared in Locke & Key: Guide to the Known Keys

These are all good stories, and "Open the Moon" is flat-out awesome.  I'm not entirely sure it works if you haven't been reading Locke & Key, though; not because the plot is dependent upon knowing the larger series, but because certain background details won't be as meaningful.  But the uninitiated should be able to follow along relatively well, and may find themselves suddenly more interested in Locke & Key.

The art is from Nat Jones/Jay Fotos (Kodiak), Seth Fisher/Langdon Foss/Jay Fotos ("Freddie Wertham"), Zach Howard/Nelson Daniel (The Cape), and Gabriel Rodriguez/Jay Fotos ("Open the Moon"), and it all looks fantastic.  There is a fairly wide variety of styles on display here, but they all work well, and each serves the story admirably.

This is good stuff.  For a mere $10, you shouldn't pass it up, even if you already own each of the stories in some other format.  Size really does matter, you know.

It's good stuff, and worth your $10 handily.

Locke & Key: Omega #5 has arrived, and that means that there are only two issues -- Alpha #s 1 and 2 -- remaining in the series.  In this issue: bad things happen to quite a few people; heads roll ("head" rolls, at least); Nina continues to struggle to put a shirt on; one dude is totally ripped (I mean in the bodybuilder sense of being ripped, not the torn-in-half sense); "Is it ever good timing being dead?"; and someone smokes a cigarette.

Remember a few seconds ago, when I referred to a dude being ripped, but not in the in-half sense?  Well, that was true.  However, somebody else does get ripped, in the in-half sense, and unless my eyes deceive me, it's my good friend Trey Sterling.  Check it out:

That's fucked up.  Joe Hill and/or Gabriel Rodriguez, I don't know what Trey ever did to you guys, but I'm not sure he deserved that brutal a death.

RIP, Trey; flocks of angels fly you to your resting place, and whatnot.

Still on the Joe Hill front, we now come to Thumbprint #1.

This three-issue miniseries is an adaptation of "Thumbprint," a short story originally released by Hill in 2007 that received a revised publication as an e-book last October.  It's the story of Mallory Grennan, a former soldier whose experiences in the War on Terror were not particularly great.  Mostly, this is of her own doing, and she's back home now, semi-haunted by the things she did over there.

One day, she begins receiving letters that have only a thumbprint on the paper.  Somebody is fucking with her, and the way she's got it figured, they're fucking with the wrong person.

It's a good story, but it's good mainly on the strength of Hill's prose, and I was dubious as to whether it would make for a good comic or not.  Based on this issue, I'd say it's going to be fine; the art is good, and Jason Ciaramella does a solid job of adapting the story to the graphic format.

I've got a few quibbles.
First: it feels as if three issues is maybe too many.  The story does not have natural stopping points, and I think it will make for a much more satisfying read to simply take all of it in at once.  This is likely a price thing.  I paid $3.99 for #1; by the time the miniseries is finished, I'll have paid nearly $12 for the adaptation of a story that cost me $1.

Which means that the art had better be damn good.  And I wouldn't go so far as to call it "damn good."  It's good; just not, perhaps "damn" good.  I reserve the right to change my mind about that later.  The art is courtesy of Vic Malhotra, whom I'd never heard of.  He's got a semi-realistic style that seems rough in places, but also gets the job done, and proves to be more than capable of turning expressive and dramatic.  He doesn't seem to do particularly well with depicting people who are in physical pain, though, and that concerns me a bit given the nature of where the story goes.

How about a few examples of Malhotra's art?

I like the deadness of Mal's facial "expression" here; I think she's maybe a bit too attractive compared to the short story, but that's okay, I guess.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something I really like about this layout.  This is a double splash page, and those can sometimes be adversely affected by the seam between the pages.  You can't tell from looking at it on a screen like this, but holding the comic physically, the slight fold in the page adds a weird sort of 3D effect to the layout.  It's a sort of unexpected use of the ole double-splash, seeing as how it's a relatively mundane scene; it may be that unexpectedness that I'm responding to, as much as anything else.

I'm less impressed by this flashback scene, in which a detainee if being waterboarded.  In that third panel, does the character look like he's in pain?  Not to me, he doesn't.  You should feel his pain; it should come screaming off the page at you.  Instead, he's just got his mouth hanging open; the idea is that he's gasping for air while speaking, but that does not come across well at all.  This might have been a function of Malhotra being asked to accomplish too much in too small a space; but that's pure speculation on my part, so don't take it as gospel.

Anyways, on the whole, I enjoyed the issue.  I should also mention that the comic is printed on a different type of paper than most comics.  It's not glossy paper; it's also not the old-school newspaper-style paper.  It's some sort of paper that's slightly thicker than is normal for comics.  Presumably this was to accommodate the art in some way?  I don't know, but I like it.  I kinda hate glossy paper, although by now I'm thoroughly used to it.

Let's transition out of Joe Hillsburg and into Scott Snyderville.

American Vampire has been on hiatus since January, so this extra-long one-shot has the unenviable task of being the first new tale from the series in half a year.  And for $6.99, it'd better be awfully good.

It's awfully good.

In a series first (I think -- I'd have to double-check to be certain), Rafael Albuquerque gets co-story billing alongside Snyder.  Albuquerque also scripted the issue, in addition to providing the art.

The story is set in 1959, which if I'm not mistaken is a jump of a few years from where we were when the series left off.  I'm not positive of that, though.  Either way, this is the story of Billy Bob and Jolene, a pair of nice young pickpockets who get turned into vampires.  After that, things get ugly.

At least one familiar old character shows up; I could have sworn he was dead, but this appears to not be the case.  Let's assume my memory is faulty.  That's a near-certainty: I have enjoyed this series quite a lot, but so far, I have yet to read any of it a second time, so when it comes to the particulars, I'm often left scratching my head a bit.  I tend to just assume that when something doesn't quite make sense, it's my memory's fault, and not Snyder's.  Seems like a good assumption...for now.

I enjoyed The Long Road to Hell, and as much as I like what Snyder is doing on Batman and his other titles, I'll be sort of glad when he turns his attention back to American Vampire.

Although if he's going to use his hiatus from that series to do things like The Wake, then maybe I'm okay with it.

The Wake is an underseas sci-fi/horror miniseries (ten issues are planned) co-created by Snyder with artist Sean Murphy.  Murphy is most famous as the creator of something called Punk Rock Jesus, but I know him as the artist of the miniseries American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest.  That WWII tale is one of the highlights of American Vampire so far, and because of that I felt reasonably excited about the potential for a full-scale collaboration between Murphy and Snyder.

The first issue of The Wake did nothing to dim that excitement, either.  It's very solid stuff.  More setup than actual development, but that's okay; I get the sense that things will move fairly quickly going forward, and even if they don't, if the art is this good, I'm okay with it.

Let's have a look at the first few pages (which Vertigo has been using as a teaser in other comics, so I feel okay with using them as a teaser here):

Remember earlier, when I was talking about how the physical dimension of the double-splash page in Thumbprint added a nice quality to its impact.  Well, in this instance, it subtracted something from The Wake; that double-splash above is much improved without the seam of the page breaking things up.  The art is terrific, expressive and weird and mysterious and just plain cool.

From there, we flash back to "200 Years Earlier," i.e., the present day.  We meet Lee Archer, a cetacean biologist (I think) who is recruited by Homeland Security to study a weird audio recording made recently in Alaska.  She seems to have heard the sound before, apparently in some sort of personal tragedy.  Next thing she knows, she is whisked away to Alaska, and into a stationary submarine parked right off the shore.

There, she fid that she is not the only specialist who has been recruited...

...and that they are holding something prisoner.

As far as setups go, it's nothing you probably haven't seen before.  But so what?  It's executed very well here, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.  I get a rather Loveraftian (and John Carpenterian) vibe from it, and I'm always up for that.

Bring it on!

I'm so behind I've got multiple issues of some comics to cover; pathetic!

A while back, in Batman #20, Snyder ended his two-issue Clayface story.  I liked the setup a lot more than I liked the resolution.  #20 isn't a bad issue, but it's one of my least-favorite of Snyder's Bat-run so far.

#21 kicks off Zero Year, an eleven-issue arc that seeks to define/redefine the Batman origin story somewhat.  The goal here, according to Snyder and to anyone else at DC you hear talk about it, is to set Batman's New 52 origin story in stone while simultaneously making it clear that Frank Miller's era-defining Batman: Year One has been neither forgotten nor overwritten.

Does that seem like a tall order to you?  It seems like a tall order to me.

Based on #21, I'd say the verdict is still out.  Duh.  Of course it's still out!  The arc just began, and it'll run for nearly a year!  My point is, I'm not immediately certain I even think there's a chance of it working.  I want to give Snyder the benefit of the doubt, but I've been feeling over the course of the last year or so that he's biting off more than he's capable of chewing, and I worry a bit that this is going to be a bit more evidence of that.

That said, #21 isn't bad.  It's got some cool stuff, some great Greg Capullo art, and a brisk pace.  It's also got a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, which is never a good idea, and the appearance of Edward Nygma.  The Riddler is a character I've never liked.  Ever.

Maybe Snyder and Capullo can change that.  But I'm not sold on it.

I'm also not immediately sold on Snyder's new Superman series, Superman Unchained.  There seems to be potential here, but for some reason, the whole thing made me grumpy.

In this instance, "some reason" may well be nothing more complicated than the extra dollar on the price tag.  I have no real problem paying $3.99 when a comic is really good.  I'd prefer to pay $2.99, and in a perfect world I'd probably be paying $1.99.  But this is this world, not a perfect world, and if $3.99 is what I've gotta pay to get a comic I want, I can make myself zen with that.

$4.99 is a bridge too far.  If I pay that, there had better be a damn good reason for it.

In this case, the reason seems to be because artist (and DC executive bigwig) Jim Lee decided to include a stunt: a double-sided foldout poster that serves as two consecutive...I dunno, I guess you'd call 'em quadruple-splash pages.

Sounds cool, right?

It's not that cool.  For one thing, the art is nothing special.  It's good, but there's really nothing there worthy of a pair of quadruple-splash pages.  What's more, you first have to figure out how to unfold the thing, then you have to figure out how to turn it without ripping or creasing it, then you have to figure out whether you ought to remove the poster altogether.  It's held onto a piece of card stock paper by that gummy stuff that you can peel off.  Thing is, I wasn't sure I could successfully do that without fucking the page up, and guess what?  I fucked the page up.  Not badly, but enough to annoy me.

But, like, I kinda had no choice, because I couldn't fully see some of the dialogue on the back of the poster without removing the page.

For that, I paid an extra dollar.  It took me completely out of the story to have to stop and figure that stuff out; the dollar was not well spent.

I get it.  This is the launch of a new, high-profile series.  Lee and Snyder wanted to do something unorthodox.  You know what else would be unorthodox?  Proposing to your girlfriend while she's taking her morning shit.  She'd never expect that, and she's never forget it.  But odds are, you'd embarrass and annoy her, and my guess is you two end up not getting married.  You thought outside of the box, though, so good on ya, mate!  (By the way, if she says yes and not "HolyfuckingGod get thefuckoutofhere!," you probably want to stop and ask yourself if this is really the woman for you.)

As for the rest of the issue, it's decent.  There's some stuff that hints toward Snyder wanting to tell the same type of unknown-history story he did on Batman's "The Court of Owls" arc, and if this turns out as well as that, I'm in.  But the first issue did not grab me, even if you eliminate the extra dollar and the confused annoyance created by the poster situation.

I will give the series a second issue, and if it does not grab me, I'm probably going to bail on it.  And it should go without saying, but I'll say it anyways: if the second issue is $4.99, I'm out.  I'm a sucker, DC, but not to that degree.

From one Stephen King collaborator to another, we now come to the second issue of Brian K. "Under the Dome" Vaughan's The Private Eye, which, as you may recall, is being published as an online exclusive and is being offered as a pay-your-own-price download.  As with the first issue, I paid $1.99.

But god damn, is this worth more than that.  This sucker is just gorgeous.

Vaughan is on the record as saying that no print edition is planned, but frankly, if that ends up continuing to be the case, it'll be a crime.  At some point -- assuming the remainder of the series is as good as the first two issues -- there has simply GOT to be an oversized coffee-table-style collection of the whole thing.  Just for the colors alone, it'd be worth having.

As is my wont, I won't delve into the plot much.  But here's what happens in this issue: there are evidently still payphones in the future; somebody uses a carphone (pissing somebody else off in the process); somebody has a BASF cassette tape (a mix-tape, no less!); a corpse is found; somebody throws some papers at someone else, angrily; there is a room with a lot of televisions; a dude gets hit with a baseball bat; a couple of people hug it out; the P.I. gets hired; and two dudes say "Bon soir" at the same time.

It's all pretty awesome.

I want my coffee-table-sized collection already, guys.  Do I need to step it up to $2.99 per issue to make that more realistic?  If so, let me know, and I'll see what I can do.  If I can give DC $4.99 for motherfucking Superman Unchained, I feel kinda awful for only sending Vaughan and Marcos Martin and company a mere $1.99 per issue of this fine series.

Speaking of fine series...

The penultimate issue of Alan Moore's Fashion Beast came out between the previous Bryant Has Issues and this one.  (So did the final issue, too, but we'll get to that in a moment.)

In this issue: a death; someone sings a song; a surprising revelation regarding someone's will; a funeral; and a major betrayal.

We also finally find out Tomboy's name (which I don't think we knew before this issue, although someone may correct me on that if correction if warranted).

No clue what that image means, but damn is it cool...

Damn, am I glad I sprung for the wraparound covers on all ten issues; those things were fantastic.

So, Fashion Beast is over, and I must confess that in some ways I am still perplexed by it.  I won't go into plot developments, but let's just say that some things are resolved and some aren't, and of the ones that aren't I think the idea is that I'm supposed to be a bit perplexed by them.

In other words, *shrug*.

But don't misunderstand me.  I loved this series, and I fully expect to love it a second time whenever I sit down and revisit it.  I may spring for the hardcover edition when it comes out; it seems highly likely.  But even if I never quite get a better handle on certain aspects of the story, boy howdy is that Facundo Percio art outstanding.  In some ways, I think this is his book moreso than it is Alan Moore's.  I'd love to be able to read Moore's screenplay at some point and get a better feel for exactly what Percio brought to the table (and adapter Antony Jonhnston, of course, whose own role probably ought not be diminished).

Good stuff, and I hope it won't be too long a wait for the next series from Moore, Providence.


I'm happy to not have to be buying Before Watchmen anymore, though.  This last issue was a complete piece of shit.  I think the idea is that The Comedian kills Bobby Kennedy, although the way J.G. Jones draws the scene, you can't really tell for sure.  But I don't think that there is supposed to be any ambiguity; it's there accidentally, and therefore it seems like a decent way to end what has been a seriously mixed bag of a series.  I liked parts of it (Doctor Manhattan), loved parts (The Minutemen and Silk Spectre), hated parts (Nite Owl and most of Ozymandias) and felt indifferent toward a lot of it.  But the bottom line is that I gave DC close to $150 for the dubious privilege of owning it all.

I feel like a sucker, and that seems appropriate.

Some cool stuff happened in these Buffyverse titles, but I don't have anything to say about it.  Sorry to disappoint.

Well, well...looky here if it ain't another $4.99 comic book!  The third issue of Django Unchained was also $4.99, but I'll say this for that (and for #4) in comparison to Superman Unchained: it's at least longer than a normal comic.  Close to 40 pages, in fact, which arguably makes up for the extra buck.

It's another solid issue; if you dug the movie, you will definitely want to read this comic when it's in collected form.  (Did I say that when I reviewed #3?  I think I did.  Fuck it, it's good advice.)

I'd like to close out with a couple of titles I decided to sample at the recommendation of my comics dealer.  The first is Mark Millar's new superhero epic, Jupiter's Legacy.  It's about a family that seemingly was gifted with superpowers decades ago, and the ways in which their superpowered children have grown into being spoiled, bratty little shits.  Think Lindsey Lohan but with superpowers, and you're on the right track.

It's not a bad idea, and there is some good art by Frank Quitely, but this doesn't really seem as if it will end up being my cup of tea, so I'm unlikely to sample the second issue.

From writer J. Michael Straczynski, Ten Grand, a supernatural private eye sort of tale.  I'm going to let the plot-summary page from the second issue set up the concept:

A pretty damn cool concept, no?  Straczynski does a solid job with it, too, and those things combined really ought to make it a no-brainer for me to keep reading this series.

But I'm not sure I'm going to, and I'll tell you why: I don't particularly like Ben Templesmith's art.  I don't know how to describe it ("crude and yet bizarrely, and possibly ineffectively, crammed with detail" is where I'd try to begin, but I'm honestly not even sure that description works, or is even true), and I don't feel like posting examples, so I think you may have to just take my word for it.  Or seek out the truth for yourself in this instance.

Let's make a deal.  If I decide to buy the third issue -- not currently a foregone conclusion, but a possibility -- then I'll go into the art in more depth.


And, finally: a bit of mildly bad news regarding my extensive recaps of From Hell.

I just can't keep doing those.  They take forever, and while they're fun as hell for me to do, the bottom line is that this is a Stephen King blog.  Mostly.  I think a few side-steps are okay -- mandatory, even -- but at a certain point, I began to ask myself if it made sense for me to be putting that much energy into a supposed sidestep.  And the answer which came back is "no."

It's a project I hope to return to some day, but probably not soon, and almost certainly not here.  Apologies for promising more than I was capable of delivering.  But it cannot currently be helped.

Speaking of Stephen King, there's a lot of Kingly goodness on the way for this blog.  I owe y'all a review f Ghost Brothers of Darkland County; that'll possibly be my next post, although a review of the premiere episode of Under the Dome will supplant it if I can't get to them ghost brothers in the next day or two.

Beyond that, there's also a review of Hard Listening (the new digital-only anthology from the Rock Bottom Remainders, which includes a new essay and a new short story by King) on the way, as well as a review of the new short story "Afterlife," recently published in Tin House.

Once those are knocked out of the way, I'm going to begin a multi-part analysis of the uncut version of The Stand.  I've been trying to get to that for weeks now, and it just hasn't happened, and it's driving me nuts.  That and the invisible people who talk to me and keep me awake.  And all the bugs, of course.

Fun times!


  1. I am saddened to hear the From Hell overview has come to an end, though I completely understand your reasoning for ending it. The little bits you gave us, tho, are worth celebrating.

    When I saw, too, that they just released a massive re-edition of From Hell, with more footnotes and commentary, I thought perhaps that might sour you on the project. It's one thing to have, say, a "rival" From Hell retrospective, and yet another when it's Alan Moore presenting it himself. (Not that this influenced your decision, just something that would knock me off my stool if it happened to me. "Gee, THANKS, guys...!")

    Haven't read any of these, alas, so can't comment, but the art in The Wake looks cool. I quite enjoyed Murphy's illustrations in Joe the Barbarian.

    1. I've been putting aside the Fashion Beasts and need to get through those soon. Both wraparound covers you posted here are amazing.

  2. There's a review of the same Snyder issue from Popmatters at the end of this post.

    From what I can tell, they seem encouraging. My own take (partly taken from the Matters article) is that what's going on is a shift in what the fans want or expect from the characters.

    For instance, for years now, Batman Year One has been the automatic go to for all the die hard fans, a phenomenon that seems to have reached it's apotheosis in Nolan's the Dark Knight.

    Curiously, post DK, with storylines like Death in the Family this trend seems to have been taken to it's logical conclusion, and the fan base along with it.

    It seems now that fans believe the Dark Knight Batman has gone either as far as it can, or else as far as they either want it to go or before they finally at last tired of, or were put off by the current formula in some way.

    If this is in any way true, then all Snyder seems to be doing is taking it more in a direction the fans want all their favorite characters to go. From a simple storytelling point of view, this phenomenon should be instructive, though in what way I'm not sure yet, if any.

    A key line from the Matters article stuck out for me: "Zero Year, however, is a departure from other characterizations of Batman, though it owes elements to the work of Miller, Grant Morrison and even Denny O’Neil and Marv Wolfman. This Bruce Wayne is more adjusted than the malcontent Bruce of Miller’s story. This Bruce would seem to need the mask to hide his identity and strike an imposing figure on criminals and terrorists, as opposed to drawing out his true personality. It’s a shift, where Bruce is no longer the mask as has often been observed over the last 25 years."


    Here's the link:

    1. It's for reasons like that that I feel DC would have been better-served to simply do the old hard-reboot trick. I personally don't think it's a problem for Batman's origin to be retold and refined every so often (maybe once every two or three generations), but what DC -- and let's be clear to delineate between DC and Snyder -- is trying to do here is build a new grocery store without tearing the old one down. That can only get you so far, unless you've got a genuinely genius set of architects. Maybe Snyder is that and maybe he isn't; we'll see, I guess.

      But this is a very high bar for him to try to clear, and I'm not sure he's up to the task. If he isn't, it's no insult; few would be.

  3. I get so excited to see your comic reviews. I learn about so many I didn't know about. I have been waiting forever for the Watchman comics to come out in graphic novel format!!! I can't wait!


    1. Thanks a lot for saying that, Angie! I love writing these columns, but I always worry that they are too far off-point, so I'm glad to hear they're of use to SOMEbody! ;)

      I believe that all of the Before Watchmen miniseries are now available in trade paperback. Or if they aren't, they are coming out soon. If you read them, will you review them for your blog? I'd love to hear what you think of them!

  4. I've just read The Wake and I loved it. I bought because of Sean Murphy (I love his art) but the story was pretty good.

    Just like you I also got the wraparound covers for the 10 issues of Fashion Beast, but some of the regular covers were so good that I would've liked to have them too.

    I'd suggest you to give Jupiter's Legacy another chance. Besides, Quitely is doing such a good job there.

    1. I'm tempted to give "Jupiter's Legacy" another issue or two, but the fact is, I've only got X-amount of dollars to spend on stuff like that right now, and I'm already spending too much. I just can't get into too many new series; that's a rabbit hole that I have a hard time getting out of.

      I'm with you on the covers for "Fashion Beast." I got all the regulars AND all the wraparounds, and though my financially-conservative side is cross with me for doing it, the socially-liberal side of me is pretty dadgum pleased with having 'em. I loved that series!

      Thanks for reading!