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Monday, February 23, 2004

Short, Sharp Shocks -- Enlightened critiques of contemporary sequential art by one of the comics blogosphere's two biggest assholes.

Human Target #7 -- A three-part story focused on '60s radicals gone to ground begins here, and it's Peter Milligan's most expansive storyline in the title to date. In this first chapter, Christopher Chance is almost a bit player as we meet the people from a decades-old Weather Underground cell who are being picked off today as coincidentally Chris Chance decides to throw his fate to the wind. Artist Cliff Chiang has made the book his own, delivering an impressive realism with a gratifying economy of line. If you're someone who likes what Michael Lark is doing on Gotham Central or Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier, you should also give Human Target a look. It's a top-notch suspense title that is also one of the best-looking on the stands. Grade: 4.5/5

DC: The New Frontier #2 -- Speaking of Darwyn Cooke, the second issue of his epic take on DC history continues the high standard set in the debut issue. As an added bonus, there's more superheroes here, too, if that's your thing. This issue we see the Martian Manhunter's arrival on Earth, conflict between Superman and Wonder Woman, the origin of the Barry Allen Flash, and other vignettes, concluding with one of the most visually and thematically stunning moments I've seen in a superhero book in a long, long time. Please don't be deceived by the $6.95 cover price -- ad free and double-sized, this is the biggest bargain in superhero comics today, and also the best, freshest look at DC's stable of superheroes since Alan Moore was romping around the DCU all those years ago. Grade: 5/5

Demo #4 -- "Stand Strong" is the story of a gifted young man stuck in a dead-end job in a nowhere town who has to choose between the paths of nihilistic chaos and mere decency. I felt a definite Love and Rockets vibe in both the story and the art, with Becky Cloonan delivering some especially impressive page layouts that show off her beginning mastery of inking and page layout. Brian Wood's story is another resonant slice of somewhat strange life, as we've come to expect from Demo. It's safe to say at this point that this is a series well worth your attention, either now in single issues or in the eventual, inevitable and much-welcome TPB collection. Grade: 4/5

The Couriers: Dirtbike Manifesto -- Wants to be a loud, super-cool action comic but falls down on the artifical, unconvincing cool factor of its two lead characters and silly, off-the-wall stereotypes. Brian Wood's Demo shows he has potential as a writer, but Dirtbike Manifesto plays to his worst instincts (see also, Pounded). The art here has a few nice panels, and the layouts are mostly fine, but the mostly lifeless ink line is only overcome by decent greytones. This will probably satisfy the hardcore AiT/Planetlar/Brian Wood axis, but otherwise it's pretty much inessential. Grade: 3/5

Supernatural Law #39 -- Batton Lash delivers the usual wackiness in his lead story, "The Appeal of the 800 lb. Gorilla," but it's the back-up story that caught my true attention. "The Scariest Kid on Earth" is a surprisingly effective homage to Chris Ware, with the title character a Jimmy Corrigan stand-in afflicted with lycanthropy. Lash doesn't capture the essential agony of a typical Ware character, but I'm not sure he was trying to. The story is just noteworthy for its ambition and how close it comes to fulfilling it. Art Adams contributes a terrific cover that plays to his interests. Grade: 3.5/5

Common Grounds #2 -- This is a book that wants to be like Astro City in the worst way, and very nearly is. Superhero vignettes that on the surface seem to have all the beats down pat, but are missing the essential humanity and thoughtfulness Kurt Busiek almost always brings to the party. The first story's over-the-top take on a woman pretending she's got powers in order to scare off a murderer is almost insulting in its inability to convince, and the second tale also fails in its ambitions, in this case to deliver a bittersweet take on generational heroism. Dan Jurgens gives the story more heft than it deserves, but Ethan Van Sciver's Brian Bolland imitation on the first story is earnest but stale. I know this book has won raves from some readers, but I find it inessential in the Geoff Johns style, and of course lacking decrepit corporate icons to let it slide by on nostalgia. Grade: 2.5/5

Spawn #132 -- Even shipping late as it always does, it's almost impressive that this title has reached 132 issues. I don't imagine anyone present at the "Image Revolution" (you know, the first one) thought their experiment was going to produce that kind of longevity. It's a shame, then, that Spawn is such a relentlessly ugly and uninteresting book. This one surprised me by having much more story than most of the issues that I've sampled over the years. A serial killer is bumping off people who look like Spawn's wife, Spawn (in his human form -- I have no idea -- or curiousity about -- how that happened) consults with noted cops Sam and Twitch (who are actually almost fun to read about in their own title, sometimes) and has a brief confrontation with the killer, to be continued. It all has an air of contempt for women (who are always just plot contrivances in this title anyway, unless Neil Gaiman is involved), and the recursive loop that the identity of the killer indicates makes it apparent that the only people that even exist in this universe are those that are needed to tell more bad stories and generate more action figures for Todd McFarlane's toy company. Spawn, meet Clown. Clown, meet Wynn. Wynn, meet Spawn's Wife. Spawn's Wife, meet Spawn. Lather, Rinse, Repeat for over ten years of mind-numbingly awful comics (plus that one interesting issue written by Dave Sim, of course). I don't know who is still buying this after all these years, and frankly I don't want to know. Spawn is violent, mindless superhero porn for those too meek to buy snuff films. Grade: 1/5


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