Hunter: The Age of Magic #16
DC Comics / Vertigo — Dylan Horrocks (w); Richard Case (p); Steve Bird (i)
Wow…Where to start?
I’m rather torn on this one. There was a time, albeit rather brief, when I sort of enjoyed this book. At this point, the most telling commentary on it is that I continue to buy it mostly because I have every issue of Books of Magic and every issue of Hunter, so I’m simply waiting for it to be cancelled. It’s an inevitability, at this point; Horrocks’ relatively archetypical stories (though remarkably laden in past continuity on occasion) simply cannot keep up with the entertaining, original work being churned out by the first-tier Vertigo books these days (and, by that, I’m making reference to books like Y: The Last Man, which I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing me harp about, and Fables, amongst others). So rather than bemoan the fact that Vertigo is still printing this book and therefore forcing the compulsive collector in me (he’s small and unassuming, but he springs up at inopportune times) to continue to buy it, I’ll try to deal with the plot of the book itself and leave it at that.
There are really two problems with the plot in this issue. 1) The villain, Arawn Kruder, is just really cheesy and cookie-cutter. He’s a necromancer, which apparently means he not only runs around raising the dead (and other anti-social activities), but also worships and loves death. In that vein, he spouts meaningless platitudes incessantly about how he’s tried for ages to attract Death’s attention. Really, it just reads like poetry from a 100-level creative writing course; it’s whiny and self-indulgent and just generally poorly written. 2) Death is apparently here for no reason other than to attempt to draw a sales spike and when she does actually speak, she’s a bit out of character (though my recollection of Sandman might be less than perfect and I admit to having never read the Death minis). I applaud Horrocks and Vertigo to having never (as far as I can remember) featured Death on the cover for the cheap sale (as Marvel was so wont to do with Wolverine, Punisher and Ghost Rider in the ’90s), but it’s just sort of amusing that I expected this sort of shameless pandering to the Sandman goth crowd out of Lucifer and didn’t get it, but didn’t expect it from Hunter and got it.
However, I should put a bit of positive criticism in and it’s a plot spoiler, so you die-hard Hunter fans (there’s an oxymoron if ever there was one, “die-hard Hunter fans;” implying, of course, that there’s more than one die-hard Hunter fan) take note now and don’t complain later. Horrocks has killed Merlin / Yoyo, Tim Hunter’s familiar and tutor who has been around in the book since Gaiman’s mini-series version. It’s a nice change of pace to see someone relatively important actually killed off. It’d be even more powerful if I thought for a second that Merlin was going to stay that way for more than six months.
Strangers in Paradise #53
Abstract Studio — Terry Moore (w/a)
For the second book in a row, I must say, I used to enjoy this. Now, I know we all know that Strangers is a “chick book,” and that’s a pretty mediocre one at that sometimes. So I guess I should qualify my previous statement by saying that I only began picking the book up about a year or so ago. I read through the first ten trades of the series rather quickly and just moved on to reading it in single issues every couple months when it actually ships. And reading them all in basically the span of about a week, the whole first story arc of Strangers (which spans about forty-five issues or so) was pretty entertaining. To boot, my girlfriend rather enjoyed it and I generally try and be at least cautiously enthusiastic about anything that she shows interest in. So, to summarize, I’m basically driving at one single point here: I did not read this book issue to issue from its inception. And that’s the pivotal point to my argument about why I’m no longer enjoying the book.
It’s important because if I had attempted to follow Strangers from the beginning, I’d have given up years (literally, years) ago. Why is that, you ask? Because nothing happens in most issues. This was no as readily apparent when I consumed the entire run of the book in basically one sitting. Things flowed along rather well and I didn’t really pay much attention to the fact that a good number of issues were passing and very little was actually happening in the story. To boil it all down for those of you who’ve never read SiP (as it’s affectionately called), here’s a typical issue: Katchoo professes her love for Francine. Francine stammers out something neurotic about loving Katchoo, but not being ready to commit to lesbianism yet. Katchoo gets frustrated. David says something to try to simultaneously comfort Katchoo and coerce her into bed with him. Katchoo takes it all the wrong way, storms out and has a run-in with a random person from her underworld past. End of issue. Repeat next issue.
This went on for something like six or seven years worth of issues (though Moore produces them sporadically, and to call it that is being kind, I think). Which is fine, I suppose, when you didn’t have to sit through all six or seven years to get to the end of the story, which I didn’t. Imagine my horror when the new story arc began (after a briefly aborted and poorly received alternate timeline story) and I found that all Moore is doing is basically recycling the entire first story arc. The only critical differences here are that there’s another new lesbian thrown (Casey, who isn’t a new character, but is apparently a new lesbian; previously, she was merely slutty in a hetero sort of way) into the mix and this time Francine is pregnant (having gotten knocked up by and engaged to a doctor, then having left him to become ambiguously gay “with” Katchoo).
So what happens this issue, you ask? Not frickin’ much. It has an amusing soap opera ending (though I doubt it was meant to be as amusing as I found it) when Francine finds Casey and Katchoo sans their pants the “morning after.”
Here’s another sad commentary on it: Today in my store, I commented to one of the book’s dedicated readers, “Y’know, Moore should just start selling posters of the book’s covers, ’cause they’re better than the issue most of the time.” To my surprise, she immediately agreed. When the cover is the most entertaining part of the issue, then something smells rotten in Denmark (that’s a poorly paraphrased ((and for all the good my memory does me, it might be poorly remembered)) quote from Hamlet, for those of you who didn’t spend five years meandering through an English degree).
Cartoon Books — Jeff Smith (w/a)
It’s a running theme for this week: Books I Used to Really Enjoy!
A couple months back, Jeff Smith announced that the end of the Bone saga was drawing near. Comics fandom gave a collective shrug and went back to pivotal topics like whether or not the U-Decide stunt is a fake. Why did they shrug? Because this book comes out about three times a year, if we’re lucky.
There was a time in the mid-90s when back issues of Bone were selling hand over fist and the new issues were leaping off the shelves. Apparently that day is gone and I’m sad to see it leave. Because there’s no lack of quality in Smith’s book. It’s every bit as good as it used to be and I’ve always loved it (I liken it to Tolkien being mixed with Disney, a concoction that suits me just fine). The problem is that with each issue running later and later, it gets a bit difficult to remember exactly what was going on when a new copy finally does see the light of day. I feel bad for criticizing Smith, because Bone is a really rather enjoyable experience. It’s dramatic and funny and…I hate to use this word again, but cute. And, once again, it’s a book that my girlfriend absolutely adores, and I think that’s a good sign; anything with a broad appeal like that can’t be all bad, in my opinion. But I find myself increasingly asking, “It’s a black-and-white book. How hard can it be to crank an issue out now and then?” I ask myself the same question about Stray Bullets and still haven’t received an answer to either.
To wrap up: nothing’s changed, the book’s still great. But if you weren’t reading it before, it’s unlikely that you’re going to start now that it’s in the home stretch. I suppose I shouldn’t speak so soon though, as just this past week, a new customer at my store bought all seven Bone trade paperbacks in the span of about three days.
Let’s take a moment to see what we’ve got so far, shall we? I’m halfway through this week’s books (it was an unbearably light week, one that will allow me to review literally every book I bought) and so far we have 1) a book that I’m buying because I know it’ll be cancelled soon, 2) a book I buy out of habit and for the covers and 3) a book that ships so rarely that I have almost no recollection of what’s happening in it, although I enjoy it all the same. Not a good sign. However, I save the good stuff for last, you’ll see.
Image Comics — Brian Michael Bendis (w); Mike Avon Oeming (a)
“Best Writer of the Year,” the cover proclaims. I don’t know about all that (particularly when you take into account that one of the sources for that quote is Wizard), but he’s pretty damned good (despite my recent reviews to the contrary). All in all, it’s another solid issue of Powers and there’s little more than that to say.
We finally get a resolution to the current story arc that has seen Detective Walker leave the force and go into a life of seclusion while Detective Pilgrim picks up a new partner and attempts to carry on her work in the wake of Walker’s turbulent departure. Previously, a woman named Harvey had led some sort of Manson Family knock-off in a quest to kill “powers” for what she and her fellow crazies perceived to be their part in the downfall of society. She agreed to confess, but only if Walker would hear her confession. With Walker dug out of his hermitic lifestyle, Harvey was subsequently beaten half to death by Pilgrim during the interrogation.
There’s simply a lot to like about this issue. The series of panels where Walker’s shot tosses a lone gunman over Pilgrim’s head was priceless. And as crazy as she is, Harvey’s interview from her prison cell is was a fairly spot-on commentary on the American populace’s obsession with celebrities. Wrapping it all up, we get a satisfying return to the status quo, while simultaneously leaving plot threads dangling for future issues. I personally couldn’t be happier with the issue; even Bendis’ trademark grammatical errors continue. Good stuff all around, even if I seem to be incapable of putting into words exactly what made it so good; it’s a book well worth your money though, trust me on that.
American Splendor: Unsung Hero #3
Dark Horse Comics — Harvey Pekar (w); David Collier (a)
When I last reviewed this book, I said that I was incapable of articulating anything that would do the book justice. I think that still holds true, though a point is worth making here: the truly important thing to notice in this book, in my opinion, is the progression of how McNeill perceives violence throughout his year in Vietnam.
Early on, any sort of conflict frightens McNeill half to death simply because it’s a situation that he’s unfamiliar with and essentially untrained for. Throughout the book, he grows increasingly calloused and desensitized to the sight of bloodshed, both by and against his fellow Marines. But near the end, his anxiety towards combat returns, his veteran grunt status having been replaced with that of a man whose time in The ‘Nam is almost over. Whereas he is previously decorated for his acts of heroism and valor, his latter time in Vietnam sees his bravado replaces by the nagging fear that his ticket will be punched on his last patrol out or some other such tragedy.
Mind you, I’m not criticizing McNeill at all. Any war makes you think about how terrible is must be to know that your son was killed on the last day of the war, or on the last day of his tour of duty. Rather, I’m hoping that what I found to be the most entertaining theme of the book will help to illustrate how utterly enthralling Pekar’s new book has been. I can recommend very few books more highly than I do this one.
DC Comics / Vertigo — Bill Willingham (w); Mark Buckingham (p); Steve Leialoha (i)
Wow. That was really, really creepy. I thought the first story arc of Fables was way above average. My only complaint with it was a lingering suspicion, from the first issue onwards, that Rose Red was still alive. I couldn’t figure out why she would faked her death until later, but years of reading comics tend to put the cynicism in you about character deaths. So imagine my surprise to find that after the wit and charm of the previous arc, it’s all back this time, only now it’s been mixed with more than a liberal dash of horror.
I have a friend whose biggest pet peeve in the world is commercials that feature “talking” animals. It just creeps him out to no end and he can’t make himself watch them. He would absolutely have a fit over this issue (and since, last I checked, he picks up Fables, I’m looking forward to his reaction). And for the first time, I can sort of see his point. There’s some unmistakably disturbing about this issue, even before the plot begins to unfold, when Snow White and Rose Red interrupt the farm’s “town meeting,” being led by one of the Three Little Pigs. The animals here are not anthropomorphized Disney versions, walking around on two legs and gesturing with human appendages. We’re talking about real farm animals, only possessed of the ability to speak (and apparently to fire guns) and of a murderous intelligence and intent.
This is the sort of thing I was talking about when I said that Fables is part of what I see as a new revolution at Vertigo. A book like this is entirely unique in the comic book market (though already it appears that other fairy tale-related titles are popping up) and it’s a perfect example of everything I love about Vertigo, because you’d be kidding yourself if you thought for a single, solitary moment that a book like this has a place in the “New Marvel.” Willingham wouldn’t have even been able to finish the pitch to Quesada and Jemas. And sadly, this is the sort of thing that Marvel’s ill-fated Max line should have been catering to, not half-baked relaunches (which I what I thought Marvel Knights was for).
You owe it to yourself to read this book every month, but particularly this month. It’s the beginning of a new story arc and, as I understand it, the arcs will remain fairly self-contained at the book continues. It’s all entirely self-explanatory and so incredibly well-written. The dynamic (long-feuding siblings) between Rose and Snow White is entirely believable and the suspense just builds throughout the course of the book via Willingham’s impeccable sense of pacing and atmosphere. I could go on and on, but it’s just not the same for me to tell you about it; you need to read it yourself.
So that’s a wrap on today’s article. I apologize for what may appear to be a bit of laziness on my part, what with there being slightly less reviews and all. However, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it was simply a really light week for me this time around. I reviewed literally every book I bought. Regardless, next week looks to be an avalanche of quality titles, if Diamond’s prospective ship-list is to be believed. So I’m sure I’ll make up for this week’s lack with an overabundance of reviews next week. Thanks for reading, as well as being here for a landmark achievement in my overuse of parenthetical phrases: my first parenthetical within a parenthetical. Kerouac would be proud of me.