|Wednesday, October 28, 2009 06:29 AM|
| by Fëanor|
Fëanor's (semi-)weekly comic book review post.
This post covers new releases from the week of 9/30. Beware spoilers!
Back issues and old data
Darwyn Cooke adapts as a graphic novel one of Donald Westlake's Parker novels, which Westlake wrote under the pen name Richard Stark. The story I'm familiar with from the film adaptations, but this is a different version of it altogether - from what I can tell, far more faithful to the source material. The great majority of the opening sequence is entirely wordless, making for some really powerful but subtle storytelling. About a quarter of the way through the book, Cooke takes a 180 and resorts to a whole lot of exposition to fill us in on the backstory, but the writing is so good it doesn't feel like cheating at all. One of the most fascinating things about the book is that it's a character portrait of a man who resists at all times any attempts to sympathize with him. The very first page of the book sees him responding to a kind offer of help with a curse. When his remorseful ex-lover tells him she takes pills every day to try to get over what she did to him, he says, "Take too many pills." When she does, he cuts up her face and dumps her in the woods so it will take longer for her to be found and identified, and he'll have more time to do what he needs to do. He's a hard, brutal man - not totally heartless, as his mission is one of passion and revenge, but certainly not sensitive or romantic. He's willing to do whatever it takes - even casually, efficiently, and single-handedly taking on a huge criminal empire - to get back at the people who hurt him, and to return to the pleasant, mechanical pattern that his life once had.
If the book has a flaw, it's that the ending is perhaps a bit anticlimactic, but really I'm just picking at nits. It's brilliant and riveting, and I can't wait for the next one, which we can apparently expect in summer of next year.
I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets
An amazing collection of reprints of the Golden Age work of writer/artist Fletcher Hanks. Most of these stories star either the interplanetary techno wizard Stardust, or the magical jungle goddess Fantomah, although there are a couple of random stories featuring tough logger Big Red McLane and space cop Buzz Crandall. It doesn't really matter that much who's in the stories, however, as every one of them has exactly the same structure: an incredibly powerful hero discovers that a crazed villain is planning to wreak terrible havoc. After the villain has set his evil plans into motion, the hero intervenes, easily defeats the villain, and then gives him a horribly appropriate punishment, a la Dante's Inferno. The sameness of the plots does not lead to boredom, however, as the details are endlessly inventive. The stories and dialog are oddly simplistic and almost childish in terms of logic, conception, and motivation, and yet they're also epic in scope and surreally imaginative. (The title of the book is an actual line of dialog from one of the comics; the characters are spitting out fantastic stuff like that all the time!) Hanks' art perfectly complements his writing; it's big, bold, weird, and striking, and yet also simple in its colors and forms.
Hanks' heroes are impossibly, unimaginably strong, and yet one gets the sense they're not being quite as heroic as they could be. Each story opens with the hero somehow becoming aware of what the villain is about to do, but quickly thereafter the hero vanishes from the story, and for the next few pages we simply watch as the villain sets his horrible plan into motion and begins murdering innocent people and destroying whole cities or planets. It's only as the chaos is about to reach its peak that the hero finally strolls onto the scene and takes care of business.
Hanks' villains seem like children compared to his God-like heroes, and yet their powers and schemes are also epic in size. Inevitably they have whole squadrons of bombers at their disposal, or the ability to create tsunamis, or to stop the Earth from spinning. But rarely do they think their plans through. After you've thrown everyone else off the Earth to steal their wealth, what good will that wealth be to you? Hanks' heroes seem troubled by similar short-sightedness, which is never clearer than in this unintentionally hilarious text on the title page of one of the comics: "Stardust, whose vast knowledge of interplanetary science has made him the most remarkable man that ever lived, devotes his abilities to racket-busting."
Hanks' stories are simple and clumsy, but also full of amazing magic, insane technology, indelible images, and incredible action. I will definitely have to pick up the second collection, You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the book's unique and wonderful afterword, "Whatever Happened to Fletcher Hanks?" This is a short autobiographical story by Paul Karasik, the guy who put this collection together, in which he explains how he became fascinated by Fletcher Hanks, what Hanks' work means to him, and how he started trying to track down what had happened to Hanks by finding and interviewing his son, Fletcher Hanks, Jr. The clever bit is that Karasik has chosen to write his afterword in the form of a comic - a smart, subtle, funny, and moving comic, at that. We learn some unsettling facts about Hanks here - that he was an abusive drunk who walked out on his own family. But he also made some incredible comics.
This series is finally starting to get a little interesting. We get more backstory and explanations, and also the android is malfunctioning in pretty fascinating ways - he's even falling asleep and dreaming.
Dark Reign: Lethal Legion #3
All the secrets finally come out, and all the mysteries are revealed. Turns out everybody was betraying everybody else! It's actually a pretty complicated story, with a lot of little twists and turns, and some intriguing characters at the heart of it. I particularly liked the relationship between the Reaper and Wonder Man. And the Grey Gargoyle's totally wrongheaded guesses as to the true identities of Osborn's Avengers are pretty funny.
Dark Reign: The Sinister Spider-Man #4
The end of this series does not disappoint. All of our subplots collide in a scene of extreme hilarity and chaos at Mayor JJJ's festival. I love Bullseye throwing a yap dog into Venom's eye, and the gangsters bonding over corn dogs. In the end, everyone of any importance mistakenly thinks Venom is a hero, and he's learned absolutely nothing from the entire ordeal. Fantastic!
Die Hard: Year One #1
I'm really tired of the whole "Year One" phenomenon, but I like the Die Hard franchise enough that this seemed worth trying. Unfortunately, it's quite bad. There's too much narration, it's poorly written, and nearly every character in the book is a completely disgusting and terrible human being. It's repulsive.
Green Lantern #46
We get to find out who those lovers are at the heart of the Star Sapphire's power battery: they're the original Hawk Girl and Hawkman. Sort of. I think. Meanwhile, there's lots of cheesy dialog, and then Sinestro gets to have his showdown with Mongul over ownership of the Yellow Lanterns. It's pretty cool how he wins. The arrival of Abin Sur and Arin Sur at the end is not at all a surprise, though it is rather melodramatic and over-the-top.
Jack of Fables #38
Jack Frost travels from fantasy world to fantasy world, and finally gets himself settled in a grand old fantasy adventure. Meanwhile, his Dad keeps getting uglier, fatter, and more disgusting. He's not anywhere near as charming as he used to be, and I don't see him coming to a good end. The dialog is still quite funny, and the tale reasonably entertaining, but I'm losing interest in this title.
Marvel Divas #3
Heh. I like the Runaways joke. I'm also really impressed with how this comic has turned into a funny, moving, realistic story about a woman dealing with cancer, and her friends rallying around her even as they deal with their own personal problems. Of course, because it's a superhero comic those personal problems have to do with winning a cursed monkey's paw at an auction, fighting with a super boyfriend over committing a robbery, and making a misbegotten deal with the son of the Devil. It's great stuff!
New Mutants #5
This issue ties up of some of the loose ends from the last story arc, gives us the return of Warlock, and introduces us to a new artist. Not sure how I feel about the weird new art, but I'm still loving the writing and the characters.
Wolverine: Weapon X #5
Another big showdown - this time including sharks! - a shocking reveal about Maverick's participation in all this, and that's it for the first story arc in this title. I have to say, I'm really disappointed. I was expecting a lot from Jason Aaron on Wolverine - especially Aaron on Wolverine versus new Weapon X soldiers armed with laser claws. But despite some great concepts and a few great scenes, overall this book has been pretty dull and mediocre. I think I'm dropping it.