This Week’s Haul

Between the death of my beloved cat Jefferson last week, and before that a weeklong visit by my girlfriend’s family, I haven’t had much time for comics reviews. But I’ll get down a few comments on titles from the past week.

By-the-by, if you’re an insane fan of Planetary, as I am, the final 9 issues were collected in hardcover two weeks ago. The regular hardcovers are a really nice package, easily the equal of the large-and-unwieldy Absolute editions, and since John Cassaday’s skills lie primarily in his designs and not his detail work, the art doesn’t significantly benefit from the larger size of the Absolute version (not the way, say, George Pérez’s does).

Two Weeks Back:

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four #2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • First Wave #1 of 6, by Brian Azzarello & Rags Morales (DC)
  • Planetary: Spacetime Archaeology vol 4 HC, by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Age of Reptiles: The Journey #3 of 4, by Ricardo Delgado (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #40, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)

Last Week:

  • Batman and Robin #10, by Grant Morrison, Andy Clarke & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • Ex Machina #48, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Secret Six #19, by Gail Simone & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • The Unwritten #11, by Mike Carey, Peter Gross & Jimmy Broxton (DC/Vertigo)
  • Criminal: The Sinners #5 of 5, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Powers #3, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • B.P.R.D.: King of Fear #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Chew #9, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
Brian Azzarello’s First Wave is a mash-up of a number of 30s and 40s heroes, from Batman and Doc Savage to The Spirit and Rima the Jungle Girl. It takes place outside regular DC continuity, and it’s unclear whether it takes place in the 30s or in the present day; designs and fashions seem to evoke a little of both, but without a clear emphasis in either direction. One wonders whether Azzarello is making a subtle comment about how fundamentally the world hasn’t changed all that much in the last 80 years.

This first issue focuses on the Spirit investigating a smuggling operation, Doc Savage returning to New York after missing his father’s funeral, and Rima rescuing a man who was captured by savages and a giant robot. It’s just the hint of where the 6-issue series is going, so it’s way too soon to tell if it’s any good. But despite the artwork by the always-fantastic Rags Morales (who always seems to get stuck doing not-as-good-as-they-ought-to-be miniseries), First Wave doesn’t start off as particularly intriguing or stylized, indeed it feels a little generic, and definitely way too self-conscious in its handling of Will Eisner’s Spirit, a character who was unique in a way that defined his becoming an icon (the anti-Doc Savage, in a way), yet Azzarello seems to want to put the icon stamp on him here.

Given the breadth of material Azzarello is working with, though, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt after just one issue. But he’s got some work ahead of him.

(Incidentally, there will be both Spirit and Doc Savage spin-off series coming out in the next couple of months – yes, before the miniseries finishes – but I don’t plan to sign on for either of them.)

The latest Batman & Robin is so silly I almost like it. Robin has been programmed by his mother (leader of the League of Assassins) to take out Batman. Meanwhile, fresh from learning that the Bruce Wayne they tried to resurrect last story isn’t the real thing, they start looking for clues as to where Bruce has gone, and they conclude that he was thrown into the past and has been leaving hints in Wayne Manor to that effect, which leads Batman to a secret Batcave.

Little of this makes a lick of sense, of course: Why wouldn’t Bruce Wayne or Dick Grayson have noticed these hints in the last few decades? Morrison’s suggestion that they hadn’t been looking is of course absurd. Okay, Bruce may have noticed and realized that he would just have to deal with the issue when it arose, but you’d think he’d have confided in Dick at some point, advising him of the quest yet to come to the extent that he could. The set-up seems intended to evoke some of the sillier time travel stories of the 50s (like the “secret origin of the Batcave” one), and it’s a cute little conceit, but it’s also just outright silly.

Very nice art by Andy Clarke, but Morrison just doesn’t seem able to achieve a consistent level of quality in this series. Parts work, parts are so ludicrous that they clash badly with the realistic elements. Little of it feels much like Batman stories, and of course Morrison seems completely lost when it comes to characterization, which is a crying shame since the set-up was perfect for a great character drama.

Brubaker and Phillips’ Criminal, like their other work, bring pulp sensibilities to the table like First Wave does, but unlike the DC series, these guys put their own indelible stamp on everything they do, with Brubaker’s hard boiled writing and Phillips’ heavily shadowed figures. They do some of the most engaging comics around.

The fifth Criminal story is a sequel to the second one, featuring ex-soldier Tracy Lawless, effectively indentured to a crime lord, having an affair with the boss’ wife, and charged with investigating a series of murders of underworld figures. Lawless is a bent but not yet broken man, trying to do the honorable thing without getting himself killed, and he navigates a series of threats (getting beat up more than a little in the process, because that’s the sort of series this is) to clean up loose ends and settle some scores before meeting his own fate. Yet, I bet we’ll be seeing Tracy again in a future series. As always, though, if you like this kind of stuff, you can’t go wrong with Brubaker and Phillips’ take on it.

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