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Sean William Scott

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Comics What I Read 

Comics What I Liked

Narcopolis #1, by Jamie Delano and Jeremy Rock, published by Avatar
A new sci-fi serial by one of the most under-appreciated writers in recent years? Yeah, I'm up for that. Delano creates a bold world, throwing readers head-first into it without context, forcing you to work to understand both the setting the clever language games he's using for dialogue. It's breathtakingly innovative work, with stunning artwork from Jeremy Rock. It's easily one of the most exciting first issues I've read in years.

Captain Billy's Whiz Bang, published by About Comics
This is a reprint of an "adult" humor magazine from 1922. I use scare quotes because it's neither particularly risque or off-color, just somewhat deliberately, even self-consciously, naughty and provocative. Given that this is an early Fawcett publication, that level of smirking smug schoolboy naughtiness isn't terribly surprising. It has a certain charm though, in a contemporary setting, as a reminder that the supposed innocent ages of the past weren't so terribly innocent.
(Yes, I know this isn't a comic.)

The Last Musketeer by Jason, published by Fantagraphics
Jason's work never really seems to prize narrative as a focus. There's an almost surreal sense of story on display here, a kind of "this happens, then this happens, then that happens" rhythm to events that is suggestive to me of the kinds of imaginative play that children often engage in. The ideas come quickly, and blend together disparate elements that don't suggest natural pairings; in this case, a Dumas-ian musketeer thwarting a Martian invasion by a disinterested Martian Emperor while his daughter smacks her boyfriend into doing what she says. The art is deceptively clever, and highlighted by simple flat coloring.

Incognegro, by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece, published by DC/Vertigo
Moral certainty is an easy out when dealing with stories set in the South during the segregation period, but Johnson's historical mystery goes beyond a simple black/white race-based conflict to incorporate issues of class and gender as well, set against the vital artistry of the Harlem Renaissance. It's a flawed work; the evilness of the villains approaches the one-note, lacking any nuance, but it's still a strong and compelling work. Pleece's work is expressive, and he takes full advantage of the symbolism the black-and-white format of the work affords him in his characterization.

Comics What Could Have Been Better

WWH Aftersmash: Damage Control #1, by Dwayne McDuffie and Salva Espin, published by Marvel
The title alone should give you a big hint as to what my major problem with this book was. On it's own, this was a good title: well written, well drawn and genuinely funny. Unfortunately, it's been over 15 years since a Damage Control comic was published, and this comic assumes I've read World War Hulk, Civil War and the issues of Wolverine that tied into Civil War. Even a release of a Damage Control trade featuring the original issues would have alleviated some of these issues, at least it would have gone some way towards reminding me who these characters are supposed to be. But in the end, this is a book that could have been good, but is crippled by the presumption that the only people who could possibly be interested in it are intimately aware of the minutia of Marvel's publishing output.

Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka and others, published by Oni
The plotting and character-ization here are top-notch, and it's a neat trick that Rucka has pulled off, creating a realistic espionage thriller that never feels like it's either pandering to popular political opinion or seeking to avoid causing offense. The significant problem here is that the change in art styles from story to story is jarring, and certain artists feel like extremely bad fits for the story. Steve Rolston and Brian Hurtt turn in the best work here, while Leandro Fernandez's contribution marks such a radical change in style, with grotesquely caricatured characters in comparison to the work that has gone before.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman - Volume 1, by Denny O'Neil, Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano, published by DC
Oh boy, are these comics no good. The only reason these comics are even readable is that the passage of time has rendered their very rough to look at art and naive stories amusing when viewed with an ironic detachment. So the end result is that these are enjoyable to read, but by no means whatsoever any damn good. At all. If you're a Wonder Woman completist, a blogger looking for easy content, or simply entertained by well meaning failure, than this is a book for you.

Indiana Jones Omnibus Volume 1, by Various, published by Dark Horse
There is a trio of comics published shortly after the release of the third Indiana Jones movies reprinted here, from the period when Lucasfilm was trying to replicate the success of the so-called "Expanded Universe" of Star Wars to the Indiana Jones properties. The first, a comic adaptation of the stellar "Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis" video game, is yet another reminder of the fact that video games, even the plot-heavy adventure games which used to dominate the market, simply don't make good source material for comics. The second story, "Thunder in the Orient" is a twice as long as it needs to be piece of Steve Canyon fan-fiction, complete with sultry Asian villainess, disguised as an Indiana Jones story. It's simply dreadful, to be blunt. The last story, "Indiana Jones and the Arms of Gold" comes off well, simply by being competently executed and not insultingly bad. The book is more of a test of patience to see how much of an Indiana Jones fan you really are to get through it.

Comics What Were Good, That Failed To Engage Me

Lust: Kinky Online Personal Ads from Seattle's The Stranger by Ellen Forney, published by Fantagraphics
Forney's artwork is pretty, and there's a sly sense of humor on display in most of these pieces, but the nature of the project itself; single-panel adaptations of personals ads, doesn't lend itself to a big thick book. A few dozen or so in a pamphlet or in a magazine is one thing. One hundred and sixty or so pages of it becomes quite tedious. It doesn't help either that a good deal of contempt for the people placing the ads comes through from time to time. There's a certain "let's laugh at the sick desires of the loveless freaks" attitude that surfaces from time to time that's off-putting.

The Pin-Up Art of Dan DeCarlo Vol. 2, by Dan DeCarlo, published by Fantagraphics
While DeCarlo's art is as fantastic as it ever was, and the production of this volume is fantastic, with excellent use of limited color to accent the artwork, this was still an unsatisfying read. Frankly, it's because the cartoons really aren't terribly funny. The cartoons are reprints from men's humor and pin-up mags, and so the point is more to draw a really stacked dame, maybe with a hint of nipple showing if it looks like the Post Office might not be looking too hard this month for things to censor, than to show much originality or wit.

Krazy & Ignatz 1941-1942: "A Ragout of Raspberries", by George Herriman, published by Fantagraphics
Like the DeCarlo book, Herriman's art is amazing, and the production values on the book are excellent. Sadly, the work is too much of its time, and far too repetitive regarding the nature of the gag's, to really work successfully for a modern reader. It's an interesting curiosity of an earlier period, and an important piece of comics history, but in and of itself it fails to compel.

Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace 1955-1958 Box Set by Hank Ketchum, published by Fantagraphics
It's too much Dennis! I can't really think of any other way to put it. Ketchum's line work is still strong at this fairly early point in his career, and there is still an undercurrent of slightly risque humor that would disappear in later years on the strip, as it devolved into a mediocre "kids say/do funny things" gag strip. Dennis is actually more of a terror in these strips, which honestly doesn't say much for the parenting abilities of the Mitchell's. But then, given their seeming neglect of the boy and their own barely repressed anger towards each other and outsiders, perhaps it isn't too surprising that Dennis acts out. But that's over thinking the strips.

Comics What I Did Not Like
Hotwire Comics #2, by Various, published by Fantagraphics
Mome #10, by Various, published by Fantagraphics
Anthology titles tend to be a mixed bag at the best of times, and while that's certainly the case here, on the whole there is more material in both of these books that is simply bad, if not unreadable, than is good or merely mediocre. Hotwire's contributors repeatedly make the mistake too many of today's self-consciously "edgy" cartoonists make, which is that they're so busy showing off how offensive or outrageous or envelope-pushing they can be that they forget to actually create a comic worth reading. Most of Mome's contributors make a similar mistake, which is to be overly self-regarding to the point of laughable pretentiousness.

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