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Morose By Any Other Name

“O, some play games for sky-high stakes,
And some play penny-ante
But they who gamble with the law
Must pay the Vigilante!”

Before I start the reviews, I wanted to mention that those who have some interest in keeping up with the major graphic novels of the past year really can’t use cost as an excuse, or at least not as much of an excuse. Not that Amazon needs any push from me, but I just noticed that some books I don’t myself have yet, like Louis Riel, The Fixer, In the Shadow of No Towers and Persepolis 2 are all available for around 30% off the cover price, some even more than that. Buy $25.00 worth and you get free shipping, and I guarantee you these hardcovers will hold up better, in more ways than one, in a comparably priced JLA trade paperback. And I don’t mean this to be another indie-vs.-superheroes thing, because there are good deals on Ultimate Spider-Man and DC Archives collections as well. In fact, and I’m sure retailers like JC Glindmyer wouldn’t want to hear this, but not only are the prices better than most comic shops (and no sales tax), but with Amazon’s “People Who Bought --- Also Bought ---“ automatic feature, Amazon is actually a better-informed salesperson than most comic shop employees I’ve found. And while big box retailers like Borders and Barnes & Noble can rarely boast employees with this level of comics savvy, if you join their e-mailing lists, you will receive printable coupons for 20-25% off any one item, and these stores will order whatever you want for free, within about a week. I’m not saying there’s a substitute for that great specialty shop with an immense selection and friendly, knowledgeable employees, like Glindmyer’s store Earthworld and some others, but if you’re not near one, or you already know what you want and price is an issue, then this is just frankly a better way in many cases than going through that Previews catalog and ordering or hoping your shop will order that book you want.

Kudos to Ben Abernathy, who has toiled the past few years as a Wildstorm editor through some difficult circumstances such as the Micah Ian Wright debacle, the Robbie Morrison Authority and good but cancelled series like Automatic Kafka and Wildcats 3.0. Well, those series were written by Joe Casey, and who knows if his newest Abernathy-edited book, The Intimates will share a similar fate, but the kudos are for a damn fine first issue. Casey, though indulging his best comics kid fantasies in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Mortals, continues to try to push superhero comics in interesting places.

The Intimates is about a school for superheroes called The Seminary, its name suggesting that putting on tights and masks to fight crime is some sort of religious calling, an idea several of the young students introduced seem not to give any credence. Punchy is the bad boy of the lot, and of course Casey has good fun writing this kind of character, even playing this kind of character. Destra is the hot-but-bored type we’ve seen in books like Generation X, but presumably there’s a dark secret or two ready to pop and make her unique. Duke is the upright, strong but reserved young man with a no-account dad and a tight lid on what must be a lot of rage inside. We meet a few other future heroes and faculty, and Casey really packs in a lot of information on them, the school and its place in the Wildstorm Universe. There’s little action to speak of, and no supervillain to contend with yet, but it’s thoroughly engaging nonetheless. What Casey does to try to make the book different from other young team books, since, admittedly, the description above isn’t enough to set it apart, is to make sure the presentation of the information, text and visuals, is as cutting edge as possible for newsprint comics. The layouts are full of severe but hip diagonal panels, and every attempt is made to make the fonts, sound effects, colors and character fashions attractive and different from staid old superhero comics. Much of the character background is relayed with text crawls at the bottom of each page, and with sidebar panels, a blunt but refreshing effect. Jim Lee contributes not just costume designs but a couple pages of a fake comic that Punchy’s reading, and while it’s nice to have Lee’s involvement, this conceit seems like an unnecessary distraction, and it plays into Casey’s weakness for making fun of other comics rather than just making his the best it can be. Gags about “Market Comics” aren’t very funny, though the idea that Punchy sees role models in them rather than the teachers around him, is a good one. As with Wildcats, Casey is again teamed with an artist, this time Giuseppe Camuncoli, who is decent but still developing his style, but the book is off to a good start, and hopefully Lee’s involvement will help keep it afloat longer than previous Casey series.


Abernathy also edits the immaculately constructed revamp of The Question by Rick Veitch and the much-missed Tommy Lee Edwards. I won’t profess to know much about Steve Ditko’s original version, other than it was an early example of his Randian philosophy, but I was a fan of Dennis O’Neil’s version in the '80s. So whether this is a meld of both, or something completely new, is hard to say, but the Vic Sage/Question character here is definitely prone to elliptical pronouncements on good, evil and the soul of a city. Seems that, like Jack Hawksmoor, Sage can hear what a city is thinking and feeling. Now he’s out of his element, on a train from Chicago to Metropolis for a mystery that will involve Superman. Though the metaphysical narration is indulgent and probably a love-it-or-hate-it thing for readers, I found it a good touch, both ridiculous and profound at the same time, like kung fu dialogue. Edwards is brilliant here, drawing the figures in a sharp, noirish style but adding rich and surprising colors, even to what are essentially silhouettes. The construction of the story, which brings readers up to date on what Sage is all about as well as why things are a little different for him now, is near-perfect, one of Veitch’s most controlled efforts.


Baraka and Black Magic in Morocco
By Rick Smith. Alternative Comics. $14.95

When it comes down to it, there are so few comics and graphic novels that aren’t sci-fi, superheroes, crime, fantasy or slacker humor/navel-gazing that when two or three travel-oriented books come out in a calendar year, it’s considered a new movement or trend. Regardless, we should be happy about any comics works that attempt to show us worlds and cultures we don’t know well enough. Smith, known for his appealing, idiosyncratic Shuck series, here recounts his and his wife Tania’s travels through Morocco in 2000, right around the time of the controversial U.S. Presidential election. As he points out in his introduction, Morocco has changed much since 9/11, and no doubt if they traveled to Morocco now they would find things even less pleasant, and harder to navigate.

As it is, though, we’re left with an engaging if slight read. Rick, Tania, and other English-speaking travelers they befriend, have little to contend with but aggressive guides and salesman and overpriced goods and services, which is pretty common. A trip can’t be too rough if you can readily score hashish and wine. Smith’s a good storyteller, and his straightforward approach is appreciated after his challenging Shuck style, but there just isn’t a lot happening here, nor is there a real attempt to educate the reader on Berber culture. Like any of us, the Smiths spent a small amount of their trip on educational tours, but most of it on relaxing, sightseeing and shopping, and it makes for a readable but not very memorable book.


Avengers Finale #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by David Finch, George Perez, Mike Avon Oeming, Various.
Marvel Comics. $3.50

So that’s it. It’s funny; Alan David Doane and I had intended to write a piece about the first couple chapters of this final Avengers arc, and after several hundred words, we both lost interest in finishing it. A slam-bang beginning became a story that lacked momentum, with a revelation that made sense but came out of nowhere, and with the deaths of some major and minor Avengers that didn’t feel earned. Well, at least Hawkeye went out heroically. I’ll admit, I’ve always liked Hawkeye, Vision, Ant-Man and Scarlet Witch and didn’t want these things to happen to them, but a really good story would have made me accept the events, and this just wasn’t that story. It had its moments, but was poorly paced, and the motivation was questionable. Now, one of the best moments was actually this entire issue, though I’m not sure why they had to do it as a one-shot and not the last issue of the series. Probably some people will even miss this issue, having only Avengers on their pull list or something. But this issue, consisting entirely of the remaining Avengers meeting three months later to say goodbye to each other and talk about what the team has meant to them, was quite well done and even touching in spots. The various artists all turned in nice work for the occasion, and the somber tone kept Bendis’ occasionally inappropriate sarcasm and digressive dialogue to a minimum. Here’s hoping that, having cleaned house and made his splash as an Avengers writer, he will now start writing some good, involving stories not dependent on big deaths to be meaningful.


The Conversation is not just a Coppola film or short-lived(?) Allen/Doane column, it’s also a proposed series of small comic duets between James Kochalka and other cartoonists. The first issue came out last summer, and I finally got around to reading it. It features Kochalka trading lines and panels with Craig Thompson on the nature of Art and its purpose in the world. Aside from the fact that these are two excellent artists whose every squiggle is pretty pleasant to look at, this book is almost embarrassingly bad. Less so for Kochalka’s contribution, as he honestly has some interesting things to say, and tries mightily to draw something out of Thompson. But unfortunately, Thompson offers little but “Art is intense; art is a solace…an indulgence, too” or broadsides about superhero artists. There’s some self-deprecation here, too, I must admit, but I didn’t find it too convincing. I think this book would actually have been much more interesting as a wordless sketchbook. It’s just too brief to really get a “conversation” about anything going, and having to contend with that and this unfamiliar collaboration, they get too self-conscious to make the experiment worthwhile.


Jay's Days: Rise and Fall of the Pasta Shop Lothario
Written and pencilled by Jason Marcy
Inked by Joe Meyer and Jeremy Kaposy
Published by Landwaster Books; $10.99 USD

I must admit, despite the recommendations of friends, I was leery of reading this. I’ve yet to read the first two volumes, and Marcy’s daily online strip -- the best possible advertising he could have for his printed work -- is a poor use of his talents. The short, demanding format causes Marcy to produce extremely redundant, downbeat strips centered around the inconvenience of parenting a baby, and his chronic problems with his ass. It doesn’t make for a good strip.

But given a bit more time to draw, reflect and structure an actual story, Marcy the graphic novelist is a whole other animal. The stories in this volume focus on Marcy, struggling cartoonist with a day shop making pasta at his father-in-law’s shop, learning that his wife is pregnant. He must learn to deal with this idea, and how it puts his admittedly pathetic fixations and flirtations on his teenaged female coworkers into sharp relief.

Marcy is as brutally honest about himself and his inadequacies as R. Crumb, but his genuine love for his wife and the lack of any real malice in his screw-ups makes him a much more appealing character than Crumb, more along the lines of Tom (True Story, Swear To God) Beland if he subscribed to Barely Legal Magazine. And while there’s nothing distinctive enough about Marcy’s art to emulate, he’s a perfectly good storyteller, able to consistently perform the quiet job of making largely conversational comics readable and interesting. Readers will laugh at Marcy; they’ll groan when he falls back on bad habits, but ultimately, they’ll care, and damn if the childbirth scene near the end isn’t one of the more moving scenes in comics.

Finally, not to further dis the American Comic Book Store, but I couldn’t help mentioning how cool Tokyo mangakissas like Manboo sound. Wired Magazine’s latest has a small piece that informs us that for abour $4 an hour, patrons can watch the latest anime DVDs, play PS2, drink bottomless cups of coffee, tea or cola, and get a manicure. For just $11, you can crash there overnight on a couch or in a private room. I wonder how far we are from trying something similar here, obviously with the main emphasis being on manga, rather than other comics. Oh, yeah, and the magazine also mentions Jim Starlin briefly but knowingly, and the upcoming Wachowskis/Skroce comic Doc Frankenstein.

-- Christopher Allen

Review copies may be sent to me at:

3361 Calle Cancuna Carlsbad, CA 92009



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