Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #9
By Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, Justin Ponsor, & Allan Heinberg
Published by Marvel Comics
This is the conclusion of a nine-issue mini-series that started in September 2010, featuring a plot that is focused mostly on the events of a comic that was published in the summer of 2005. It’s a relatively decent installment in the search to find the most representative contemporary super-hero comic, as the previous issue was the one where all the fighting and violence happened, making this issue the one that involves lots of super-heroes crying (including a personal favorite, the sight of a robot, in love, crying) while a man holds his dead daughter’s corpse the same way Jack Bauer did right before he said the telling phrase, "Don’t fight it." After that portion of the comic, which also includes the hyperventilating robot lashing out and murdering an uglier, gloomier robot that he's somehow robot-related-to, the comic delivers on all the hard-hitting narrative strands demanded by the readers of 2012, i.e. you find out who will date whom, who is throwing away their costume, while generally hinting at the plot of the next event comic (Avengers Versus X-Men) that is right around the corner. There’s a throwaway moment where some of the characters try to stop crybaby robot from using its time powers to save the dead girl by arguing that this one step (using one's super power to save a girl who died in some arbitrary “just cuz” fashion) will result in crybaby robot becoming the darkest force of evil the world has ever seen, but you can tell even the guy writing it realizes that argument stopped working when Marvel comics fans no longer had a median age of twelve years old, so it’s really tossed off. If I remember correctly, and I always do, Captain America and Wolverine are even smirking the whole time this “don’t shoplift or you’ll turn into John Wayne Gacy” line of argument is being delivered.
At the same time, if you actually are that special someone who waited five full years for the privilege of waiting another two just to find out what happened to the Scarlet Witch and the Young Avengers, this comic would probably have to staple breast cancer directly onto your mother's areolas before you're going to dislike it.
By Hiroya Oku
Published by Dark Horse
Gantz is a long-running manga series where people die and then come back to life due to a circular machine that contains a living person inside it. (Twenty-one volumes in and the series has yet to really do anything with these coma-machine-people. That’s not a criticism! One of the worst mistakes comics makes is when they burn up page time explaining their precious fake science. Example: Warren Ellis comics.) After coming back to life, the people have to kill aliens (sometimes aliens are dinosaurs!) to earn points, and after they earn points, blah blah blah blah blah. The real draw here is (or was, as early adopters as diverse as the Journal’s own Jog AND Northlander’s own Brian Wood seem to have bailed on poor old Gantz) that the series was a particular noxious blend of turgid sleazeball nekkid lady pleasures finely cut with explicit speedballs of violence . . . until quite recently, when the series irritatingly turned its lens to focus on plot, to which everyone with sense has quite quickly said GAG and excused themselves from the table. While that direction leaves violence as an option, said violence has become less and less unruly, forcing the stories into ones where only the assholes die, and nobody masturbates about their adventures when they go home. In a series where a wetsuited old lady was once murdered in front of her six-year-old grandson in between hardcore porn sequences, reverting to American action movie rules reads like unscrambling eggs.
By Michael DeForge
Published by Secret Headquarters
Like every other comics blogger that isn’t that Derik Badman guy, I will certainly make up a reason to claim this as one of my books of the year in December, but right now I don’t have a fake explanation prepared for what I think it means, although I bet somebody (COUGH COUGH ROB CL-OUGH) does. Right now I just like to think it’s DeForge riffing on the way artists have to burn off the parts that are too indebted to whatever they came up being obsessed with (which in this case is Charles Shulz) or else they won’t be able to find their own shit. Alternatively, you can just draw lines all over your favorite old comics like Santoro and Seneca do, that seems to help like a ton. If DeForge had hand drawn each of the little Snoopy silhouettes on the interior covers, you might be able to make an argument that he was joshing with Craig Thompson’s Look At How I Spent All My Summer Vacations insanity in those Habibi panel borders, but since he didn’t, you can’t.
By Tod Smith, Rick Magyar, Greg Brooks, Liz Berube & Paul Kupperberg
Published by DC Comics
This is a two-part story from an '80s DC Comic that sees the Vigilante (think of the Punisher, but less effective and a total crybaby) facing off against the kidnapping of children for sexual slavery, which the comic tastefully refers to as "white" slavery. It must have been a subject that Paul Kupperberg had just read an article about, because man alive, this comic is angry with a capital P, which stands for Pedophile. These comics are a pure gold mine for any budding What-The-Fuckologist, page after page after page of children being grabbed from their actual front yards or their actual fishing holes, thrown into actual station wagons and driven away to be passed off to actual Middle Eastern oil sheikhs—because back in 1987, we couldn’t be too sure that those Arab palaces weren’t filled to the brim with heavy metal child rapin’. By the close of this two-parter, Vigilante has killed quite a few pederasts, beat a woman so bad that she ends up in a fucking coma, and yet the story still makes a distinct, unsubtle point of concluding on the image of yet another child being abducted while an oblivious Vigilante congratulates himself on the fact that he “really made a difference in the world.” I’d say I don’t know who this is for, but considering that millions of people took a break from watching Law & Order SVU so that they could buy millions of copies of Steig Larrsson’s “Women: There’s Just So Many Ways To Violate Them” trilogy, the truth is that Kupperberg and company were just way ahead of the times.
By Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Andrew Dalhouse & Bill Willingham
Published by Vertigo
This is the first of four new ongoing series from the rapidly dwindling cache of ideas that was once DC’s most thriving imprint; in keeping with their new “let’s be horrible” business model, it’s the second spin-off from Bill Willingham’s i’ll-go-away-when-the-Palestinians-do Fables mothership, unless you’re counting mini-series and shitty novels, which would in case make Fairest the 9000th Fables spin-off. The Adam Hughes cover is a surprisingly chaste affair, depicting some of the series' female characters doing the various idiotic things that Willingham has assigned them so that they can have something besides a name and hair color to distinguish them in a line-up. For example, Rose Red is drinking and smoking, because she likes to get the most out of her life. Sleeping Beauty is yawning, which seems like cheating. The comic behind that cover ends up barely touching upon those characters, choosing instead to focus on a conversation between Ali Baba and a flying blue character that is neither a flying Smurf nor a naked Guardian, which seems like a mistake on Willingham’s part. Both of those things have a fan base who probably doesn’t know that Fairest exists, and yet they could totally be suckered into buying this thing simply through their mention. As it is, this is the sort of comic that people who hate super-hero comics should be forced to read, because they really do they not have any idea how much deeper into terrible these things can actually go. Green Lantern ain't got shit on Willingham.
Orc Stain #7
By James Stokoe
Published by Image
It's been one full year since issue 6 was released, and Orc Stain is still the best single-issue comic or whatever else you want to call it. It looks great, it's really funny, and Stokoe seems to be getting better at every creative aspect as the series plods forward. Sure, there's the small hint of depression that comes from realizing that all that talk about the "Year of Image" is referring to juvenile Hollywood pitch scripts and those tacky Robert Kirkman comics and not the explicit could-exist-nowhere-but-here comics work that a guy like Stokoe is delivering, but that's a depression born purely out of another kind of juvenilia: the idea that life is fair, and that hard work gets rewarded. It doesn't, and that will never change. But to those of you who are already on board: holy shit, this issue. The two-page spread that venomously laces Vietnam War tropes into the frame while making official the video game ancestry of the contemporary villains, all proudly displaying cutesy living weapons? The second two-page spread that lays out its gigantic penises in plain sight, steals the old (and still unsurpassed in transport excellence) spaceship that '80s Brainiac humiliated Superman in, repurposing it as earth-quaking land boat transport? The venom-dripping antagonism of a gigantic living hairball that would prefer to live as a snarky, biological cape? This was career best, right here. It even had a fart joke.
By Eduardo Risso, Brian Azzarello & Patricia Mulvihill
Published by Vertigo
While it wears the trappings of a science fiction story (the protagonist is an ape-human hybrid bred for space exploration, the story is set in the near future), Spaceman is actually a crime story, even more so after this issue. This time around, the requisite flashback sequence reveals that Orson (the ape-man the reader spends most of his time with) was once involved in some kind of off-world gold smuggling adventure. Something obviously went awry--Orson now lives as a low-end scavenger, no gold in sight--and he has now entered the Grudgingly Attempting To Do Something Decent portion of his life, much like protagonists always do when they get to a certain age and are thrust between criminals and innocent victims. While the presence of Eduardo Risso combined with Azzarello’s love-it-or-hate-it dialog certainly elevates the project past most of the Luc Besson movies that mess with this sort of plot (The Transporter films, Leon, the unjustly derided Kiss of the Dragon, etc), it’s hard to ignore the similarities. Actually, that's only going to be a problem if you don’t like Kiss of the Dragon or that Korean movie where the dude cuts his hair so that he may more sexily murder all of those people who had something to do with kidnapping the precocious little one who lived next door to him. But hey, that's why they have things like comas and Nicholas Sparks books, so that people like you can go to sleep forever.
Crossed: Badlands #1
By Jacen Burrows, Garth Ennis & Digikore
Published by Avatar
By simply surviving and sticking to their revolting taste, Avatar has become a respectable publisher in a way that seems to forever escape Dynamite and the like. Avatar’s output is, by and large, completely fucking disgusting, the sort of comics that serve as prime exhibits for the case that anti-censorship fights in comics might just be horrible mistakes, as even pornographers have got more shame than comics publishers. And yet? You have to give it to them on one thing: they refuse to have it both ways. It’s all about making as much money as possible off of blood, guts, and nudity, all the time, it’s the only game they're interested in playing. Nobody’s fooled about what Ennis is doing here. His initial run on Crossed didn’t need a sequel. In fact, having so many has sort of ruined the whole “look how fucking dumb I think the Walking Dead is” joke that made that last issue such a treat. Nope, Garth is back because the money is back, and he deserves a slice of it as much as the next guy. He won’t be around long--Jamie Delano takes over with the fourth issue--but while he’s here, he looks to be back in randy form, plucking all the old Garth-strings. A Bill Hicks reference on the second page, a tragic relationship that defines a loser’s existence, and a member of the British royal family: this is as Ennis as it gets, brah.
Thief of Thieves #2
By Robert Kirkman, Nick Spencer, Shawn Martinbrough & Felix Serrano
Peter Panzerfaust #2
By Tyler Jenkins & Kurtis Wiebe
Published by Image Comics
Here's how small and fucked up the audience for comics is nowadays: Thief of Thieves and Peter Panzerfaust. These are comics of interest to one type of person, and one type of person only--the type of person who wants to write comic books for Image Comics to publish. They don't want to draw comic books, because that part is hard. They just want to write comic books that some guy they talk to on the Internet, preferably one in a foreign country far away from legal representation, draws for them, and then they want to go to conventions and tell the people they were in line with last month how to break into comics. Do they want to write short stories? No. Do they want to write movies? Maybe, if it's easy enough, sure, yeah okay. Why? Do you know somebody? That seems like it could be okay! That kind of thing. That's who Thief of Thieves and Peter Panzerfaust is for, and that's it. The funny thing about these comics is that the last thing they want to be is actually successful, because that would ruin the game--it has to seem like what you're seeing isn't that much different from what's on your MacBook, that what you're reading is the same thing that will happen to you if you can just wrangle up a few hundred more Twitter followers. Thief of Thieves: it's the story of a thief who wants to get out of being a thief so he can become a regular family man. Peter Panzerfaust: hey, what would happen if Peter Pan was running around during World War II, jumping over the Nazis with some Lost Boys? Could he be an irritating piece of shit while doing so?
Those aren't stories, they're elevator pitches. They're what got written in the fill-in blanks of a how-to book, and they result in the sort of comic that appeals only when the reader thinks they might be able to do something like this, you know, but probably with a vampire, or an Asian girl who hates her parents. Maybe it could be set in Seattle! Don't you dare mention webcomics to me, I swear I'll just die.
Winter Soldier #3
By Butch Guice, Stefano Gaudiano, Brian Thies, Bettie Breitweiser, Jordie Bellaire & Ed Brubaker
Published by Marvel Comics
If you’re a conspiracy nutjob--which you more than likely are, because A) reading comics and B) reading the Comics Journal website are just a couple of items that the data miners consider “peak traits”--you could probably make a comfortable argument that Marvel’s double shipping of comics is not, in fact, something that the consumer “demanded”, but is more of Marvel & DC’s continued onslaught on artists (as well as customers who might still care about how these things look, although that group is so infinitesimal a percentage as to not even exist). See, the only way for Marvel to get as many books out as they’re currently releasing is to swap out the creative teams rapidly, thus ensuring that the artists themselves live and work under a banner that reads “interchangeable,” while also ensuring that the audience is built out of people who consistently accept an expanding bench team (uncredited pencil assists, “inkers,” and the growing-in-power colorists). There’s all kinds of reasons why it’s a smart idea for Marvel to do so, if one is willing to accept the simple truth that Marvel is in the business of making money, selling brands to zombies, and dismantling the very creative spirit that built them into such a powerhouse so many years ago. The first that comes to mind is this: if your audience only cares about the writer, and is willing to accept any art whatsoever, no matter how Frankensteinian the current process becomes, then you can turn the most labor intensive part of the super-hero process into a fractured assembly line, and each cog will be forced into a bidding war with their peers for the lowest possible salary. They won't be able to call upon fans anymore (for the purpose of conjecture, let's kindly assume that they ever could), because they won't exist as individual entity anymore. They're just one of the seven people who ink Winter Soldier, and the comics industry is at a place nowadays where they'd beat Alan Moore's teeth in with the femur of Kirby's granddaughter if they could just roll a natural 20. Overall, this is all just a very comics-specific version of the dehumanization process that haunts all forms of popular entertainment--you're supposed to call this stuff "art" around these parts, but my mother raised me to never be a fibber--it's just so noticeable in comics because there's only about fifteen of us in the room at any given time, and what else are you going to talk about? Roy Crane? Who you gonna talk about Roy Crane with, granddad? You gonna also talk about cardigan sweaters and why you're so much better off now that the ex-wife is banging the meter reader? You gonna throw the term "meter reader" around, you old piece of wet carpeted shit? Why don't you re-order all the Conan stories for us chronologically, you Nixon-remembering tub of guts, and if you do a good job we'll all pretend that we think it's hilarious when you joke about what "the Hip Hopper music sounds like," I swear to God they should keep you people in a camp until we need your organs to protein up the fruit smoothies. Of course this is what we talk about: we still got the fire in our bellies. We'll give up and Crumb out to French cowardice just as soon as these pills stop working.