Monday, March 2, 2009

In Brief - February 2009

A quick glimpse at what else I've been reading this month...

New Punisher #2 - Pretty much took everything I liked about last month and threw it back out the window in favor of another cookie cutter Punisher story. I get that every month can't be a slobberknocker, pitting two unlikely adversaries against one another with nothing to do as far as the plot is concerned beyond finding new and interesting ways to beat each other up. I also get that Frank's new partner is supposed to inject a dose of humanity to the mix, to give readers a familiar perspective and maybe return a sheen of cold, hard badass to Castle's veneer. That doesn't mean the end result needs to be as dry and redundant as this was. I was really looking forward to seeing how long the new series could continue its breakneck pace, and as it turns out that number was just about one month. This isn't bad, but it's so much of the same old stuff we're getting elsewhere twice a month that it also isn't necessary.

Epicurus the Sage TPB - Old school Sam Kieth and William Messner-Loebs, repackaged and reprinted in '03 with an extra story and three pages of sketchbook material. I never really noticed how deeply the 1970s underground comix influences ran in Kieth's work before, which is odd because I've followed him somewhat religiously forever and they're plain as day here. Overall, he's had much better showings - both in the earlier stories, which were printed between '89 and '91, and the later tale which was created specifically for this TPB. He churns out a few gorgeous spreads but indulges his lazier side wayyy too often which gives the whole book a secondhand, unfocused flavor. The story is kind of rambling and really gets caught up in itself from time to time, but I guess that's to be expected when both lead characters and half of the supporting cast are Greek philosophers. When it gets away from informing readers of how wacked out most of these guys' theories really were and focuses on adventures through the era's mythology, it's great. Doesn't happen nearly as much as it should.

Punisher: Frank Castle #67 - A mild improvement over last month, but it's still more brainless action than I'd really like. What I loved about Garth Ennis's run on this book was the way he transformed Frank from an ageless wonder with a bottomless armory and an itchy trigger finger into an older and wiser, more collected, conniving character. Two issues into this new creative team, and he's back to his old ways. As thirty-odd pages of random killings go, this was fine, but it's lacking the depth and heavy atmosphere that's kept me on board this long. The new characters feel like pale impersonations of the supporting cast Ennis completely wiped out before he left, and the thin premise is already working on borrowed time.

Ultimate Spider-Man #131 - Wow, this was actually fantastic. Bendis has this weird way about writing tie-ins to major events that are twenty times more fascinating than his writing on major events themselves. This was entirely a reaction piece to the big tidal wave of Ultimatum, focusing on the common man's reaction around the fringes of the catastrophe, rather than the superheroes duking it out in the middle of the crater, and it was a hundred times more poignant than the muck that Loeb is crapping out in the primary series. If you've ever read a Spider-Man comic before, you owe it to yourself to read Jameson's monologue in the first quarter of this issue - it's something we've been waiting almost fifty years to see, and Bendis just plain nails it. Peter's interactions with the Hulk border on slapstick from time to time, but they never cross the line and it's so much fun to watch the two cautiously interact that I can overlook it. Great issue, undoubtedly the best of the crossover so far.

My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable - I've had this for years, and worried that it wouldn't be nearly as funny the second time around. I was wrong. Basically just a compilation of David Rees web comics from years ago, before he went all political with "Get Your War On". If you love inane humor, a metric ton of profanity and homemade production values, this is your ticket to an hour of pure ecstasy. Wish it were longer, and some of the strips are pure filler, but when it's on there's nothing else like it. Fast reading, but god is it worth it.

Dark Avengers #1 (Second Printing) - A lot better than I expected, it was actually somewhat fascinating to watch the pieces fall into place for these guys. I love that there are enough mirror-image villains out there to make this concept fly, although I still don't think it's got the legs for more than a dozen issues. For now, though, Osborn alone makes for tremendous material alone and the series rides routinely on his coattails. Deodato's artwork took some getting used to, and is actually the reason I skipped this issue the first time it hit the shelves, but I was feeling it by the last page. The team's transition to power and immediate public acceptance is a tough pill to swallow (it's actually still jammed halfway down my throat) but otherwise this was enjoyable enough.

New Avengers #50 - Billy Tan's artwork gets worse by the minute, and none of the extras they've brought in to help him for this anniversary issue offer any kind of an improvement. After getting used to Deodato's rendition of Daken as a lean, prolific figure in Dark Avengers, Tan's take on the character here as a barrel-chested carbon copy of dear ol' dad would've been funny if it weren't so pathetic. I wish I could say Bendis's story fared any better. This book is like a case study for all the things he's been doing wrong lately; weak characterization, a heavy emphasis on heroes standing around and shooting the shit in full uniform, herky jerky pacing and a big lack of consequence. A misleading cover, ten pages' worth of Avengers loitering before their TV set and another nasty showing from the visual team - yeah, I wish I hadn't bought it.

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