Thursday, January 11, 2007

Comics Round-Up (STL 56)

Here's the first comics round-up of the new Simplest Things Last. I wrote about comics occasionally before, but didn't survey current happenings. Don't think I've done super-hero comics at all. This past year I got into following multiple super hero titles and weekly comics buying for the first time since the 80's. Although I really enjoy what's going on in the comics I'm reading, the weekly trip doesn't fit my budget or the publication schedule of what I'm interested in. I found that I would often either have to come home with one or two comics, or I'd be tempted to stretch to meet my weekly budget by trying out something new. That's fine until the occasional weeks when a lot of comics I read come out and I had to go over budget. However, this year I'm limiting myself to biweekly trips on a reduced budget. This way I will come home with more good stuff but actually spend less. Also, with the ending of Marvel's Civil War event, I'll be dropping several titles I wouldn't otherwise buy. I'm sticking with this plan at least until I get a new job.

I'll be writing about my purchases after every trip. There will be spoilers.

Yesterday I bought six comics. In ascending order of good-itude, they were

  • Amazing Spider-Man #537. I'm only reading this comic as a tie-in to the company-wide "event." This issue is part 6 of 7, so I'll almost certainly be dropping Spidey next month. Not that it's so bad, but fairly middling in all ways. Ron Garney's art isn't over-rendered like so much out there now, but there's at least one sequence near the beginning that I can't make heads or tails out of-- Peter Parker apparently leaves his motel room once but returns to it twice. J. Michael Straczyski's script is alright, although the conversation between Spidey and Captain America goes on for t00 long. Actually, it's not the conversation that goes on for too long, the actually interchange is great, but it's Cap's citation of Mark Twain that "voices over" a montage from Cap's career. It reminds me of those terrible back-ups in Civil War Frontline that try to make the Civil War "relevant" and "artistic." These are worthy goals, but the execution in every case I've seen is totally misguided.
  • Justice Society of America #2. I think the relaunched JSA depends on a lot of DC Universe history that I only partially know. But I like the idea, since it taps into the potential of comics stories to take place in network of events that no one totally knows. I know more DCU history than the average bear I suppose, and I was pretty excited by the double reveal at the end, (I ALREADY SAID SPOILERS) in which we learn that Starman is the old Star Boy from the future, who has escaped from the more recent future of Kingdom Come (got it?). Since the series is still ramping up, and since I liked the first issue a lot, I'll be sticking with this for now.
  • Civil War #6. On reflection, the hype influenced my rating of this book, which may be the worst of the group. There has been some good characterization and reflective moments in Civil War, but it's apparently coming to a head in a big fight. This is over next month, so I'll reserve judgment til then.
  • Phonogram #4. I've loved this series so far. It begins with the assumption that the Brit Pop movement of the mid 90's was a major locus of occult power. (Well, it begins with the assumption that magic exists and works, and if that's so then why wouldn't Brit Pop participate in it?) I love the way everything follows from this assumption, even though I'm not into Brit Pop or magic (though both seem interesting in their own way). This was my least favorite issue of the series so far, probably because it draws more directly on knowledge of Brit Pop than previous issues. (It's interesting that there's a similar network aspect to the JSA, and even Civil War.) But I love the series overall, especially the essays, playlists, and letters in the back. In deciding whether to follow a series or wait for the trade, these extras can make the difference. Since this is a 6 issue limited series, I'm in until the end and will be looking out for future work by Gillen and McKelvie.
  • The Irredeemable Ant-Man #4. The "World's Most Unlikable Super-Hero" theme could get old, but I continue to love the 16-panel grid. This is the first issue that doesn't actually have a 16 panel page, but the story continues to unfold in variations: sets of square and rectangles consisting of the basic units. Sometimes a wide box across the top followed by two four panel rows followed by another page wide box, and sometimes a full page spread. Robert Kirkman says he doesn't write in arcs exactly, but I guess that in another two issues the first story will mostly be told. I'll be sticking around at least that long.
  • All-Star Superman #6. I haven't bought this before, though I can't say why. One of my favorite artists (Frank Quitely) and one of my favorite writers (Grant Morrison) taking on the most iconic super-hero? I was sort of waiting for a collection, but this self-contained story is perfect for the pamphlet format. The story at once riffs on Silver Age tropes, recycles Morrison inventions, and is quite moving. Earlier this year, I was reading both Action Comics and Superman, since another favorite Kurt Busiek was writing them both for the big One-Year Later event. Since I thought 2 Superman comics each month was a little much, I stuck with Action for the next arc and dropped Superman. That may have been a mistake, since I had to drop Action when Busiek was replaced by Richard Donner. Superman looks really good right now, but rather than trying to figure out a jumping on point, I'm making All-Star my official Superman comic. It might not come out that regularly, but I've got five back issues to track down!
Glancing back over the list, I see that there's a clear break between the top half and the bottom half of Phonogram, Ant-Man, and All-Star Superman. The first three feel more like writers and artists serving a company style and collective decisions, while the other three all have discernible individual styles in art words and vision. Here I was getting all excited about "the network" when the best comics to me are all discrete stories with unique properties.