July Comics

Wolverine #3

I know you’re reading this. Everybody is reading this.

Wolverine is one of those books you wouldn’t usually catch a comic snob dead reading. They probably did anyway, but you wouldn’t catch them. They sneak away to basements and crawlspaces with flashlights, stick it inside a newspaper, look over their shoulder as they turn the pages. Most comic snobs started reading through comics via super-heroes, and though they spurn nostalgia crazes, keep reading comics about punching and shooting even if they know said comics suck because, you know, they’ve always read those. They’re just fun.

It’s cool to say you read Wolverine now, though. Whew. Big sigh of relief. Greg Rucka is writing it, after all. Now you can stroll up to the counter and buy a copy and say, “Yeah, I read Queen and Country and it’s really great, so I thought I’d give this a try.”

And so far Rucka’s Wolverine is … well, let’s just say he writes some nice stories in Queen and Country.

It’s not that his Wolverine is BAD. It’s not bad. It’s better than Wolverine has been in a solo book since volume one of the series debuted. The first 30 or 40 issues of that first series were enjoyable, but if you’ve been reading the book since then, you’ve suffered through a lot of crap.

Rucka has tried to turn up the high-mindedness on the book just a tad. Logan’s neighbor, a young girl living alone, is gunned down in the night. They shoot Logan too, just to be sure, then split. He finds her diary, filled with entries addressed to him, and decides to track down “The Brothers,” the mysterious group she feared would kill her. This leads him into the world of gun shows and illegal arms deals and, if this issue is any indication, the middle of a militia.

That’s all well and good. Yes, Wolverine is more of a street-level book now. He’s not fighting robots or dinosaurs, which is nice. Yes, Rucka has taken more time to develop characters, primary and secondary.

But you know what? I don’t read Wolverine for slow moving arcs that develop characters. I have Optic Nerve for that, Peepshow, Palookaville. (Or – gasp — Picture Free Fiction.) It’s nice to have someone write a Wolverine arc with a comprehensible story, but when I read Wolverine I expect to see lots of claws and slashing and rage. That’s the deal with Wolverine.

If Rucka was writing some stunningly brilliant story that made me weep for the characters, I’d say go ahead. But what has he really done? Wolverine gets a soft spot for a young girl in trouble? When DOESN’T he do that. Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Rogue in the movies — that’s what everyone does to humanize him. And who are the villains? Crazy militia folk. Well, whoopitty shit.

This isn’t a great story, it’s just not nearly as bad as all those Frank Tieri tales. This is standard issue. This is competent. Three issues of chatting at gun shows, though, that’s $6.75 in Wolverine comics sans claws and slashing. Excitement, claws, slashing. That’s why you read a Wolverine comic. If you say otherwise, you’re a goddamn dirty liar. If you wanted something more high-minded, you’d be reading something more high-minded.

I’m off to read Queen and Country. Call me when the slashing and the killing starts.

Y: The Last Man #13

Brian K. Vaughn’s highly-acclaimed Vertigo series rolls on — and begins to settle into a rhythm.

Yorrick Brown, the last man left alive on earth, travels across the country with a doctor and a member of a mysterious organization known as The Culper Ring. They meet up with an agent of the Russian government who leads them to a town where a space shuttle is about to land, a shuttle containing two men who were in space at the time of the disaster and remain alive. Meanwhile, the Israeli government continues to stalk Yorrick for their own purposes.

Vaughn’s story is intriguing enough, but this arc lacks the thrill of the last two. Perhaps the novelty is wearing away a bit, or perhaps its just the inevitable come-down after a long storytelling high. After reading the first seven or eight issues of Y I kept saying, “Surely nobody can maintain this level of excitement for sixty issues,” but I suppose I was hoping otherwise. As my girlfriend will tell you, I’m very rarely right, but it looks like I was on the nose that time.

Which isn’t to say that Y isn’t a good book, or even that this wasn’t a good issue. It is and it was. Pia Guerra’s art is as nice as ever with those clean, Dillon-esque lines and sharp sense of storytelling. Vaughn has done infinitely more with his high concept that I would have thought possible. In fact, Y remains one of my favorite books released every month. Still, it just isn’t quite as surprising as those first few issues when a real sense of danger loomed for all the characters and you truly had no idea what was happening next. It seems pretty clear at this point that the next several issues will consist of Y and co. wandering across the countryside and getting into kooky in each new town.

Vaughn may have something entirely different in mind, though. I’ve been wrong before. Just ask my girlfriend.

Sleeper #7

I try to like this book the way you feel about a temporary foster child or a foreign exchange student living in your basement for three months. Like them all you want, but don’t get too attached. They’re leaving soon.

Each time I read a new issue of the book I’m thrilled with the work itself and shocked I haven’t heard the death knell from DC central already. The numbers are consistently low in the Diamond sales charts. It’s always one of the books hovering around the ten-thousand mark. Recently DC announced that the series would run only 12 total issues. If this was the plan all along, they sure kept it quiet. My guess is that they made this decision after seeing the numbers. At least they’re letting Brubaker finish the story, I suppose.

In this issue of Brubaker and Phillips’ hardboiled superhero noir, Carver, a double agent trapped in deep cover and working for a gang of super-villains led by the mysterious Tao sees the possibility of help from the outside. He receives the contact signal established by his now comatose boss and lifeline Lynch — but can he trust the signals? Plenty of goons in Tao’s organization suspect him, and even Tao himself may be setting up a double-cross to single out Carver as the spy. But this could be his last chance of getting out of deep cover alive.

No two ways about it, Sleeper kicks ass. Brubaker blends genres beautifully, and Phillips has never worked on a book more suited to his style. The book does something I would have previously considered impossible, blending the darkness of neo-noir with garish superheroes. It works in concept and execution on almost every level. This is great crime fiction, tough and menacing.

Everyone talks about 100 Bullets. Fuck 100 Bullets. I live in Chicago, just a hop-ski-and-jump away from Azzarello, who lives in Evanston. Fucking Evanston, the richest, whitest burb around — which should explain why all the characters in his book talk like that. He definitely writes street language the way you’d think a dude from Evanston would. All the critics eat it up, but then comics have always been about as whitebread as it gets, so how the fuck would they know? The sad fact is, I’m a pussy and I still live a hell of a lot closer to the street than Azz.

You want the tough underbelly of the city? You want down-on-their-luck crooks, dirty bars, double-crosses? Want a government conspiracy? Sleeper, Sleeper, Sleeper. It reads like some literary monster, stitched together from parts of Thompson’s Savage Night, Hammet’s Red Harvest and stray issues of JLA.

This is an excellent book.

So why aren’t you reading this, fucker?

Daredevil #49

I was eating lunch with my dad the other day and we were talking about movies. He asked if I’d seen The Hulk. I said, yeah, sure. How was it? It sucked, Dad. Save your money, take your girlfriend out for mini-golf instead, or, hey, buy me more lunches. Then he asked if I’d seen Daredevil. Yes, as a matter of fact. So how was that one? Worse than Hulk. God-awful. A challenge to sit through. Then my Dad said, well the comic books have to be better than that, right? If they can write such good comic book stories, why don’t they just let those people write the movies?

Which ain’t gonna happen, but, yeah, good question.

Brian Bendis continues his Hardcore arc in this issue, a story arc a million times better than the movie. The Kingpin, back from oblivion (isn’t he always?), decides to make Daredevil’s life hell. First he sent Typhoid Mary out to get him, set him on fire, threatened his girlfriend. Now Bullseye is back, and Bendis wastes no time dropping Daredevil’s classic foe right into his apartment to start the fireworks.

While I don’t think it’s his best work, Bendis writes a mean Daredevil. Often his stories move far too slowly (not every story has to be five issues long, you know), but this is not the case with Hardcore. The last four issues of Daredevil are among Bendis’ best. For the first time in his tenure at Daredevil, I think he could actually have stretched the story another issue, perhaps. Either way, this is all the elements of his last twenty or so issues bubbling back to the surface, everything coming together. It’s dark (very dark — check out those last five pages) and serious and compelling, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun to read.

If only the Daredevil movie could look this good. Alex Maleev couldn’t possibly be more perfect on a title. He’s one of those rare artists whose ability to tell a story is equaled by the sheer prettiness of his work. Pretty is an odd word for art so dark and gritty, but that’s what it is. His work is far from photo-realistic, yet it always feels incredibly real and immediate.

This is great, great stuff.

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