Leave Your Spandex At The Door 4.13.03: March Rants&Reviews

One week late, but double-sized to fill your appetite, this is “Leave Your Spandex @t the Door”, in the monthly Rants&Reviews edition! 16 March shipping titles are reviewed below, so you’d better start reading fast if you have any plans or tonight…

Best of the month: FABLES#11: A self-contained story starring Jack of Tales, with art by Bryan Talbot. The setting is the American Civil war and the story is freely adapted from several stories of American folklore, as noted in the issue’s credit box. I’m not familiar with any of the American fables, so I can’t say how much of this plot is pilfered from old stories and how much is of Willingham’s design, but I can say that it’s a real gem: Nick Slick, magic bags, nymphomaniac aristocrats and living dead chicken make for a riveting tale that would easily fit under the “Tales from the Crypt” title genre.
Bill Willingham finally breathes 3-dimensionality into Jack with this tale, and makes me care for a character I had previously written off as a stereotype. Bryan Talbot seems the ideal choice for this tale, and it’s good to see him in more Vertigo projects as he is truly a master of the horror genre.
Story: 9/10
Art: 9/10
Overall: 9/10

SPACEMAN ONE-SHOT from OniPress, by Mike Allred and Laurence Marvit. The first in a series of one-shots starring Mike Allred’s Atomics characters, released again this month. This is the best-looking book I’ve seen this year, thanks to an experimental technique introduced here, that emulates the classic animated movie process. Lawrence Marvit provides breath-taking hand-painted alien civilisation backdrops, and sketches the aliens that comprise the antagonists and supporting cast. Mike Allred draws in his Spaceman character and inks all the characters. Then Laura Allred colours all characters in flat tones and they place them on top of the backgrounds: instant magic!
As far as the plot goes though, don’t hold too many expectations. As Mike Allred explains in the afterword, the plot here is just a means of showcasing Marvit’s talents, and the dialogues were kept to a minimum so as not to cover up much of the art. The story is a straightforward space romp, with an expected plot twist near the end. With this kind of high-quality art though, I’m not one to mind…

Story: 3/10
Art: 10/10
Overall: 7/10

RELOAD#1: All-new Homage limited series by Warren Ellis and Paul Gulacy. I ordered this one because I was stunned by the beauty of the pencil line-work I had seen previewed in an online newssite. This was my first exposure to Paul Gulacy’s artwork and I was impressed by his storytelling skills, his daring camera angles and his detailed textures. Unfortunately something goes amiss from pencils to inks. As much as I was impressed by the texturing of the pencilled art, I didn’t find the same magic in the finished product. I’m not sure if the inking or the colouring is to blame, but most characters’ facial features look slightly crooked (especially the eyes) and the book might have looked a lot sweeter if it was released as black and white, straight from the pencils…
Storywise, there’s not much in this issue to go on, it’s one giant action-scene, supported solely through the art with usually no dialogue or captions on the page. The first issue chronicles the U.S. president’s assassination by special agent Kiva Reed, and her escape from the secret service agents, led by Chris Royal. Hi-tech gear, BIG explosions and nasty acrobatics should delight even the most demanding action movie fans.
Story: 5/10
Art: 8/10
Overall: 6/10

BLOOD+WATER#1: New 5-issue Vertigo limited series by Judd Winnick and Tomm Coker. Adam Heller used to have it all: looks, popularity, his health. Now, seven years later his body has betrayed him and he is dying of Hepatitis A. Luckily (?) for him, his best friends make him an offer he can’t (and won’t) refuse: become a vampire, live forever, kiss your worries goodbye. Hardly a novel concept, but always ripe for new juicy executions. In this first issue Winnick focuses on Adam Heller’s living hell of a life, without holding back in his portrayal of Adam’s disease. Coker’s depiction of the dying body is truly grotesque to match the vivid narrative, crafting am intense “before” portrait for Adam, setting the stage for next issue’s metamorphosis. Coker is no stranger to vampire stories, and his bold and shadowy art fits like a glove on this story. Adam comes off as sad and tragic while his vampire buddies are charming and scary.
Story: 7/10
Art: 6/10
Overall: 7/10

CATWOMAN#17: New storyline, with art by Javier Pulido! This issue deals with the inevitable fallback from the cataclysmic events of the last issues. Selina’s sister is in a coma, Holly’s in emotional shambles and Selina is finally together with Slam, but is it the right timing?
Most of the issue is spent with a narrative from Slam or Selina as they each ponder their new status together. Ed Brubaker shows his genius scripting skills here by delving inside each character’s feelings and turmoils and making them more real than ever before. However great those segments, my favourite part of this issue was the “ocean in her mind” sequence, starring Holly, where she feels herself drawn to drugs once more, through an enchantingly quirky series of illustrations (not spoiling this for anyone).
Apart from this segment, I wasn’t impressed with Javier Pulido’s artistic efforts in this issue, not so much concerning his storytelling abilities but his character designs. Could be I’m just spoiled by Cameron Stewart’s work (regular series artist who is taking a short leave with this storyline), but the figures seemed very rough-cut for my liking, and Selina too much akin to a leprechaun in the last pages.
Story: 10/10
Art: 6/10
Overall: 8/10

Reviews in brief:

Y THE LAST MAN#9: “Cycles part 4”. All the players have made their way to Marrisville for a grand stand-off. Sister versus brother, brother versus psycho Amazon and a bloody climax. And do I really need to repeat my praises for Pia Guerra’s uncanny knack for drawing blood (especially on women), or Brian Vaughn’s talent for agonizing cliffhangers?
Grade: 8/10

LUCIFER#36: New storyline “Naglfar”. The title becomes a team book, as Lucifer gathers some of the brightest (and some of the not-so bright) supporting characters from previous storylines to form the crew of Naglfar, the ship built from dead men’s nails, for the purpose of retrieving Elaine Belloc’s lost soul. Two pencillers in this issue with direct result some jarring art transitions from Peter Gross’ larger-than-life realistic settings to Dean Ormston’s dark and shadowy visuals.
Grade: 7.5/10

HELLBLAZER#182: New storyline “Black Flowers”. Mike Carey’s weakest issue yet, it’s one of those ghastly “set-up” issues with lots of foreshadowing and mood-setting. With all the page-space dedicated to it, the mood is indeed masterfully set, with clever use of red shadows on black&white art. Something evil (and ghastly red) is afoot in Stone Cross and Constantine sets off to investigate. Hope the setup pays off next issue.
Grade: 5/10

SLEEPER#3: Miss Misery recounts her origin to Carver as they make their way to their new mission. Brubaker has managed to come up with a trully original villain motivation, and has officially convinced me to stay on board this title to see where he’ll lead this story. This is an excellent issue for those wanting to try out this title.
Grade: 6/10

LOONEY TUNES#100: It’s literally “Looney Tunes A to Z” as a host of talented artists provide 1-page stories and pin-ups starring nearly all of the loved Warner characters. In case you need convincing, here’s some deliberate name-dropping: Darwyn Cooke, Kyle Baker, Jill Thompson, Amanda Conner, Marie Severin, J.Bone…
Grade: 6/10

BAST#3: final issue. The cute kitty has possessed Lucy’s body and is bringing cat-pocalypse to her home-town. Another drastic change in the feel of the series, as this issue is essentially a “what if cats took over the world”. I’m disappointed in the copout ending that resolved the lead character’s conundrum just as he was about to make his fateful decision.
Grade: 4.5/10

H-E-R-O#2: Jerry learns the secrets of the HERO dial and discovers it’s not easy being a superhero. This series is all I expected it to be and more, offering a gritty take on the usual teenage superhero concept. Kano’s artwork has also started to grow on me, he reminds me of German Garcia mixed with Eduardo Risso, not a bad combo…
Grade: 8/10

X-STATIX #9: Self-contained story: “X-StatiX: the movie!”. It feels like the good old X-Force days again! Media manipulation, celebrity look-alikes, gratuitous gore scenes, lots of team members dying, Guy and Edie together again… Do you think I’m pulling your chain? Pick this baby from the shelves, it will be worth your trouble!
Grade: 9/10

Filling the spandex quotient:

NEW X-MEN#138: “Riot at Xavier’s: conclusion”. Beautiful wrap-up to a great storyline, and a much awaited spotlight on Emma, as everything around her starts to deteriorate… Also Quitely’s last issue, he will be missed.
Grade: 8/10

UNCANNY X-MEN#420: “Dominant Species: conclusion”. Mediocre conclusion to a mediocre storyline. Chuck Austen shines in his character moments, but I do wish he’d tone down the action quota in the title, because it doesn’t seem to be one of his strong areas… For now, I’m just happy I won’t be seeing any more mutant werewolves in the near future.
Grade: 6/10

AMAZING SPIDERMAN#51: JMS on a roll here, providing a jam=packed issue, with the introduction and origin of a new spidey-villain, and lots of peter-mj romance scenes that people have been clamouring for quite some time. This is the best spidey in a while, and it just keeps getting better and better still.
Grade: 9/10

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The rest of you, tune back in 411comics and “Leave Your Spandex @t the Door” next week for an interview with Philip Bond, artist of Invisibles, Ver
tigo Pop: London and X-StatiX!

Do you want to discuss this article? Visit the message boards and voice your opinions (but please no death threats!). As always, I’m waiting for your comments through email or in the boards…

Manolis Vamvounis
a.k.a. Doc Dooplove