This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 23 January 2008.

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #14 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Pete Woods, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Countdown to Mystery #5 of 8, by Steve Gerber, Tom Derenick, Wayne Faucher & Shawn McManus, and Matthew Sturges, Chad Hardin & Dan Green (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #38, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
  • The Clockwork Girl #2 of 4, by Kevin Hanna, Sean O’Reilly & Grant Bond (Arcana)
  • Castle Waiting #10, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)
Castle Waiting #10 Another comic I’ve been reading for a while – since it started, in fact – but haven’t often commented on is Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting. The premise is that the castle is that of Sleeping Beauty, but the characters are various less-well-known figures who flock to the castle after the princess has departed with her prince, and who form a community. The book follows their day-to-day lives – in stark contrast to the drama and adventure of Bill Willingham’s Fables at DC – and sometimes considers what happens to the characters after their “happily ever after”.

Medley is an interesting artist with a terrific facility for drawing characters who look different and who have dynamic facial expressions (see this month’s cover, for instance). Her use of grays is sparse, so the book is truly black-and-white. I sometimes wonder if her art would work better in color, although I think I’ve seen her do a couple of things in color for major publishers and was disappointed.

The weakness in the book is that the writing is very inconsistent. When the series first started, it features short, 2- or 3-issue stories, often focusing on different characters each time, and there was a real sense of time passing, things happening, and people living their lives. Then the series lapsed into a lengthy and – to me – uninteresting tale of a group of bearded nuns, one of whom eventually came to live at the castle. While I understand Medley’s interest in exploring her characters’ backstories and in telling longer stories, this lengthy flashback felt like it brought the series to a screeching halt.

Despite this, I was pretty excited that the whole series would be printed in hardcover a few years back, and then was bitterly disappointed when the actual product had dimensions considerably smaller than a normal comic book, compressing the nice artwork to a tiny size and making the whole package much harder to read and appreciate. I guess I understand that comic-book-size is hard to sell in bookstores, but compressing the art seems like it’s always going to be a bad idea.

Anyway, Medley returned to the series, this time published by Fantagraphics, and it’s again been a lengthy story, although this time set in the present. It concerns a group of (I guess) dwarves who have arrived to help remodel part of the castle, and what everyone finds when they punch through to a hitherto-unknown passageway. There have been a couple of flashbacks about Lady Jain (who arrived at the castle at the beginning of the series, very pregnant, and who I think of as the series’ nominal protagonist) and what appears to be her uneasy relationship with a man she was engaged to, and presumably married (unhappily). But otherwise the story’s been slowly moving forward in the present day. Fortunately, this latest issue feels like a big step forward, as the characters figure out some of the secrets of the passage, while another mystery begins when Jain spots a mysterious figure in the distance. It’s the best issue in quite a while.

The series’ achilles heel is when it spends too much time in flashback, or too much time in slice-of-life mode. Fiction works best when it’s about the characters as they are now, and having things happen to them. And Medley can tell good stories about things happening, and taking unexpected turns. But as the series goes on, she seems to spend more and more time with characters just talking, and talking about their past, and that’s a lot less interesting. She doesn’t need the adventure of Fables to make the book engaging, but the story’s often a lot thinner than it needs to be to keep me engaged.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 27 June 2007.

Brian Hibbs says this is a big week, but it was a small week for me as a buyer, and not a strong one, either:

  • Countdown #44 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen & Carlos Magno (DC)
  • Wonder Woman #10, by Jodi Picoult & Paco Diaz (DC)
  • Hellboy: Darkness Calls #3 of 6, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • Castle Waiting #7, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)

Countdown is getting so slow that it’s dreary. Unlike 52 where the characters had clear problems to deal with from the outset, Dini’s story is plodding along with various mysteries surrounding the characters, but not much that seems threatening. The core of the story is the Monitor cabal, but that storyline is developing at a glacial pace. Honestly, the “History of the DC Multiverse” backups are more interesting than the main story at this point, even though I’ve already read all the stories it’s recounting.

Even worse than that, though, is Wonder Woman: Jodi Picoult’s run on the title limps to a halt (but not a conclusion – no, for that you have to read Amazons Attack, which I’m not going to bother with) in rather pointless fashion. Has any title in recent memory been less focused and more frustrating than this Wonder Woman relaunch? I’m so fed up that I’m not even going to bother with Gail Simone’s run, as she’s the next sacrificial lamb on the book. (Simone seems to have the bad luck of being assigned to books after I’ve become so disspirited with them that I’m not even willing to give a new writer a chance. Birds of Prey, for instance.)

Somewhat brighter, Castle Waiting this month has the character interplay which is what I enjoy most about the book. The current story is dragging on a bit, and to no apparent conclusion, but at least some of the bits along the way are fun. I do wish Medley would get back to writing shorter, more focused stories, though. The first volume of the title was great fun until it went off the rails with “Solicitine”, a lengthy story about the story of Sister Peace, the bearded nun, which I wished had been condensed down to about half its length.

Okay, I guess I’m just a grump about comics this week.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I purchased this week.

  • 52 #25 (DC)
  • Hawkgirl #57 (DC)
  • Jack of Fables #4 (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice #8 (DC)
  • Planetary #26 (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Seven Soldiers of Victory #1 (DC)
  • New Avengers #24 (Marvel)
  • Castle Waiting #2 (Fantagraphics)

52 has a clever cover with three young trick-or-treaters dressed like three of the main characters of the series. It otherwise has a bunch of pointless action sequences, except for one scene where Ralph Dibny (the former Elongated Man) is given a short tour of a place in hell where abusers of magic have been consigned. It’s pretty convincingly chilling.

I started buying Hawkgirl when it changed from Hawkman since I thought there were some interesting things they could do with the character. But writer Walter Simonson hasn’t done any of them, and artist Howard Chaykin mostly just draws the character in cheesecake poses. It looks like Chaykin has left with this issue, and it’s probably time for me to do the same. This whole series has been pretty disappointing, despite some great art in the first two years by Rags Morales.

Jack of Fables is a spinoff from Fables featuring the Jack character from various stories. He’s cocky, egotistical, and trapped in a forced-retirement home for fables. His escape plan gets put into motion here, and it’s a hoot so far.

Justice is Alex Ross’ latest work for DC. Co-written by Jim Krueger with art by Doug Braithwaite and Ross, it’s been tremendously disappointing, feeling at best like a warmed-over version of Grant Morrison’s JLA. It involves a group of villains learning the secret identities of the Justice League and waging all-out war on them. Sounds pretty ho-hum, huh? The secret reason why the villains are doing this is revealed in this issue, but it’s still not very exciting. Only four issues left.

One of my favorite series of the last 10 years is Warren Ellis‘ and John Cassaday‘s Planetary. It started out as a clever sort of homage to various pop culture characters of the last century, but developed into a very clever melange of story elements. Our heroes are “mystery archaeologists”, mapping the secret history of the 20th century. Elijah Snow is a man without a past, who learns who he really is, and who the powers behind the throne since the 1950s are. The whole story comes – rather unexpectedly – to a head, here, and I suspect it concludes next issue. Erratic publishing schedules have dampened my enthusiasm somewhat, but I’m still gonna miss it.

Seven Soldiers of Victory is the long-delayed conclusion to Grant Morrison‘s epic about seven heroes who will save the world without ever meeting. Like most of Morrison’s stories, it’s long on ideas and short on character. The conclusion is also very short on sense; I think Morrison tries to be too subtle for his own good sometimes, and this is one of those times. On the bright side, the art by JH Williams III is absolutely beautiful.

New Avengers continues spotlighting individual Avengers in the midst of the Civil War event, this time covering The Sentry, who is basically Superman-in-the-Marvel-Universe. I think Carla’s assessment is about right – don’t bother. Of course, I feel that way about the Civil War generally.

Castle Waiting continues Linda Medley‘s fun series about life after the fairy tale ends. I’ve forgotten what was happening at the end of last issue, but this is an amusing look at the early life of one of the main characters. Lady Jain (whose source story I can’t place) is gradually having her past revealed, and we know it comes to no good in the end, but the telling is arresting.