Game Tape: Return of the Grumpy Old Man

I picked up 5 books this week. Three I liked, one aggravated me, and one made me madder the more I reflected upon it. Hence, we return the grumpy old man image from retirement.

There have been issues with individual issues of Hickman’s Fantastic Four, but you can’t fault the guy for a solid over-all vision on the book. Even his less than stellar issues/ moments were still strong compared to most pap out on the shelves. Like McDuffie’s run, there is a strong thread of family in Hickman’s work. Everybody says FF is a family first; then most go off and forget that. This issue highlights that with a trip to a toy store. Okay…it’s got Arcade (the Marvel Universe’s answer to the question, “What if 1970’s Elton John mated with Jimmy Olsen?”) so the issue already has my attention and positive feelings.

It’s also got Reed’s camp for the really smart kids. They’re working a project that won’t surprise some, but Hickman has an interesting take on it. One of the main reasons I respect and enjoy Mr. Hickman as a writer is that he understands the importance of done-in-one story telling, but he can skillfully weave an ongoing thread into the story. I heard recently that he plans long term, somewhere near 16 months in advance. Detailed plans more than just the story beats. His general philosophy and micromanaging of a story pays off in not needing to have issues that are exposition or dull “middle” parts. If you’re on the fence about FF, give Hickman a chance. The guy knows from good story.

Return of Bruce Wayne #3 was so much better than number two. No boring puritans. No heavily inked and confusing looking faces. Although it’s not wholly reasonable to call this story “Pirate Batman.” Explaining that would give too much away. Still, it’s really good. A lot of people are comparing this series to Batman’s 1950’s adventures through time. It’s a fair comparison, but a more accurate one would be to say it’s a series of Brave and the Bold issues. It’s a series of team-ups. He’s met Anthro; and this issue has him meeting both Blackbeard and John Valor, the Black Pirate. It always impresses me to what degree Morrison does his research. For a comic book, the pirates aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge are nicely accurate. In addition, Morrison cleanly ties the series into his work on Batman and Robin. There’s also a brief glimpse into the present and the JLA’s efforts to find/stop Bruce. Coherent and fun, it’s a good issue all around.

Muppet Snow White also continues to be fun. One thing that helps it work well is the return to the conceit of having Gonzo and Rizzo narrate. This time around they’re Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. It’s enjoyable and will read well if you prefer to wait for the trade.

Superman #700 is better put together than the Batman counterpart, but it’s still not worth 5 bucks. Consistency in art helps. On the other hand, at 56 pages of relatively weak material, winning first prize in an ugly baby contest is not a real prize.

First up, James Robinson wrote a coda to the whole “New Krypton” business. It’s a “tender” reunion between Lois and Clark. Having just caught up on Love and Capes, I’ve seen how well written that sort of story should be. Thom Zahler wrote scenes of a similar vein in his issues #9 and 10. Zahler’s were funny and touching and warm. Robinson’s version came off as rote and cold.

On the other hand, Jurgens’ section of the book was a fun little story about Superman and Robin. It just wasn’t strong enough to save the whole issue.

I have to be even less kind to the third section. Remember that time an old man asked Hal Jordan why he didn’t help “the black skins?” So does JMS. Evidently he’s under the delusion that he’s the only one to have read it. The bulk of his section of anniversary issue Superman #700 is a poorly veiled rewrite of this scene. It’s a short piece to set up for his apparently ground breaking and year long arc. After 70 years, Superman had to face the hard fact that he can’t save everyone, but he should give it his best shot. He’s asked to consider solving everyone’s problems. So he’s going to walk across the country. If JMS has the stamina to finish this run, and I’ve got twenty dollars that says he won’t make 6 months, it’s either going to read like episodes of Highway to Heaven (where he travels cross-country helping people by rarely using his powers) or maybe a painful return to the time where Superman’s only power was to super weep. Wasn’t that a big deal in Infinite Crisis and 52? Wasn’t Superman supposed to get the sand out of his vagina and start acting… super? Walking across the country crying about things doesn’t seem to be very super.

Adding insult to mortal injury, the final two section of this issue are previews. The first is text pieces highlighting each of the titles in the Superman family. Each contains sample art and an explanation of where the book is headed. It’s not new material to anyone who follows things on DC’s Source, Newsarama or CBR. Finally we’re treated a preview of Paul Cornell’s Action Comics. I’m looking forward to this book on the strength of his Marvel work, but it’s a weak ending to an anniversary SUPERMAN book.

Okay, so Avengers #2 doesn’t fully fit under this heading, it’s pretty good and not near as bad as Superman, but it’s agravating. Bendis is writing specifically for a large trade collection, and issue 2 was the middle of the beginning. It also seems that everyone on the team cracks wise. There are eight or nine members on the team, and at least six of them talk with Spider-Man’s voice. It’s slow as molasses too. Bendis spends most of the issue showing readers how to build a time travel device…then something happens…and something else will eventually happen because that’s the 22 page mark. It’s an exposition heavy middle issue. Why can’t more people write long stories with an episodic bend to it?

Man it was a rough week with Superman #700. I’m going to reread US1 to cleanse the palate for next week.

Devil Dinosaur… SECRETS

Do you have any idea how hard it is to be an effective predator when you're FIRE-F$@%ING-TRUCK RED?

SECRETS…*

When your reproductive, urinary, and digestive tracts all exit through one hole, puberty is a mess.

SECRETS…

PBS wanted me to play Barney, but the Sesame Street gang threw a fit because I'm red like Elmo. They were afraid it would cause marketing confusion.

SECRETS…

"Devil" is an old family name. It's the dinosaur equivalent of Eugene. I'm not satanic or anything.

SECRETS…

Shaving my legs is next to impossible with these little arms.

SECRETS!!!

*On a personal note, there is nothing about this image that doesn’t make me sad that there isn’t more of this sort of thing in the world. There is a depressing lack of sharp dressed, champagne swilling, revolver totting dinosaurs in my life.

But you don’t have to take take my word for it…

I imagine some of you are tired of hearing about the wonders of Heroes Con, but I promise that this will be the final post until next year’s convention.

The problem of living in the sticks, comics-wise, is that the stores don’t hold a wide variety of non-cape and cowl trades. I read about something that looks good, but I forget about it because I can’t find it. The convention is the perfect chance to pick up things of this nature. The best part is, at the cons you can get it signed. I’ll start with something you probably haven’t heard of:

Several months ago I read a review of a series of adventures each focusing on a different member of a family tree. The volume coming out focused on the french foreign legion. Who writes and draws comics about the FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION? Apparently, cartoonist Chris Schweizer does.

Crogan’s Adventures is the series. Each volume is self contained and loosely tied together with modern bookends relating to the Crogan family as a whole. The volume I picked up at the con, Crogan’s March, is the volume about the foreign legion. It’s the second volume, but like I said it’s self contained so you can start anywhere. Schweizer’s style of cartooning, while certainly his own, compares favorably to Jeff Smith’s work on Bone. There’s humor and poignancy in his characters; each has a distinct look and a distinct voice. Even though this is their introduction and sole appearance, it is neither difficult to know who they are and what they are about nor is it a tedious introduction. The story itself is a solid well rounded adventure taking a more modern view on the end of the colonial era for France. It’s excellent story telling. So enjoyable that I’m picking up copies of March and the first volume Vengence for my class library. This was the most pleasant surprise of the convention because I got to rediscover the title.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Schwiezer is a genuinely nice guy with a offbeat sense of humor. I picked up a print from him titled “Smokers of the Marvel Universe.” Take a few minutes and check him out.

Something else I picked up that I’ve wanted to read for a while is Roger Langridge’s Fred the Clown. We spend a lot of text here praising Langridge’s work on The Muppet Show, and rightly so. The man is comically gifted. His timing is as keen as spanish steel. Langridge honed his craft on Fred the Clown. The title character is an unfortunate and hapless loser, and Langridge abuses him with cartoonish glee. Like the Muppet Show, this thrives as a series of short pieces, essentially comic sketches in panel form. I hesitate to call them strips because it’s usually more complex than a three panel gag. The real treat for me to discover with this collection was Langridge’s diversity as an artist. With in this volume he manages to successfully ape just about every great cartoonist of the 20th century: Walt Kelly, Windsor McCay, Charles Schultz,  Chic Young, and Jack Kirby being most notable. It’s hilarious and ridiculous in the same way that the most surreal of Monty Python’s bits are. Fred can be a little risque at times, but it’s never blue. Published by Fantagraphics, I’m surprised that Jesse didn’t pick it up in Seattle.

The final item I snagged was from Ryan Dunlavy’s table. The More than Complete Action Philosophers afforded me a chance to read the entire series in one sitting. I was familiar with the work of Dunlavy and van Lente both individually and collectively, and I was looking forward to reading some more about history’s greatest philosophers (I had already read a short volume featuring Jean Paul Sartre and John Stewart Mill). This collection didn’t disappoint. Fans of The Incredible Hercules should enjoy this collection as van Lente continues to clever and entertaining while teaching you everything you need to know about philosophy. For example: I never knew that Plato was a wrestler (and is portrayed as a luchadore herein). I’m looking forward to a collection of their current project about famous cartoonists and comic book creators.

Jesse and I have both talked about Love and Capes so I won’t go over it again here, but it’s as worth picking up as any of these books. For more information on these and other great books, why not head on over to your local library?!

Bonus: Here’s the sketch of Dr. Doom that Dunlavy did for me. He says that he and van Lente are working on a Doom project due out later this year.

And the Mebberson cover of Muppet Show #6.


This Week’s Comics!

Yeah, that’s right…This week has earned an exclamation point and a trip to a PG-13 movie.  It’s a jumbo-sized batch of comics this week!

  • ASTRO CITY #1 – Great call on DC’s part my making the first issue of this stellar series available for only a dollar.  If any of the series they’re promoting will hook readers and suck them into buying more comics, it will be this one.  We don’t spend a lot of time discussing Astro City here — probably because of it’s  somewhat erratic schedule — but Matt and I are both big fans of this book.
  • BATMAN RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE #3 (OF 6) – Caveman Batman?  Check. Pilgrim Batman?  Got it.  Pirate Batman…  This week!  I expected that we’d only see Batman in different time periods thoughout this mini, but there’s definitely a coherent story between his time-jumps…And the Justice League’s attempts to stop him have got me hooked.  Thank you, Grant Morrison!
  • SUPERMAN #700 – Despite not reading any of the Robinson run and not planning to read the Strazcynski run, I probably shouldn’t pick this up.  But I’m a sucker for an anniversary issue, and the transition stories (ending New Krypton by Robinson and starting up whatever JMS is planning) mean I can stay somewhat current on Superman current events without actually putting up the time or money to read the whole things.


That’s it for me.  What are YOU looking at?