I’ve been putting this off for a while, but it’s just building up into an insuperable task, so: It’s time now for an epic mega-sized comics round-up. We’ve got a full eleven graphic novels to get through here, so let’s get this party started, as the kids say. Also, because I’m lazy, I’m not going to recap much about later volumes of comics I’ve already talked about, so you may want to refer back to the archives.

  • Ed Brubaker’s Sleeper, vol. 3: A Crooked Line continues to be a twisty quintuple-agent tale of double-crosses that are actually quadruple-crosses with a splash of lime. The quality has not declined, many initial mysteries have been revealed (so it’s not just relying on stale mystery), but there are still intriguing things left to be revealed. Odd thing: It turns out this is actually part of a “Wildstorm Universe”, so perhaps some of the things I think are mysteries are actually already-witnessed events in other comics. If so, that’d be... odd. Anyone care to comment on that?
  • Warren Ellis’ Ultimate Fantastic Four, vol. 3: N-Zone continues to be (since the second volume; the first was pointless and dull) an enjoyable pure superhero comic book. There’s nothing fancy or literary about this, but it’s got lots of cool stuff and nifty superpowered action sequences. A classic comic book experience with a lot more realism on top.
  • Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, vol. 3: Year of the Bastard , on the other hand, is a horrible book. It’s just terrible. Not only does it have lame attitudinalizing suffusing it, but it hardly even makes sense on its own terms. I refuse to believe that the protagonist is such an awesome journalist that he — a print journalist! — has inspired a cult of followers large enough to swing a national election. Very Mary Sue.
  • Bill Willingham’s Proposition Player ended up impressing me. It’s a story about a professional poker-playing loser schmuck who ends up winning a bunch of souls in a bar bet — and thereby attracting the attention of agents of Heaven and Hell, who are disturbed by this newly-minted power. Neat concept, but Willingham is the guy who takes neat concepts and makes them mediocre, as in Fables. Not here, though — this is interesting and non-generic, with clever witty touches now and again. The main problem, actually, is that the protagonist is such a horribly unpleasant person you kind of want him to die.
  • Matt Cherniss and Peter Johnson’s Powerless imagines a world in which various superheroes were just plain folks, and watches as they nevertheless are totally cool and heroic ‘n’ shit. It’s a vaguely interesting “What If...?” concept, but it’s stretched out too long, and the execution isn’t all that great. Not bad, but not great.
  • Mike Carey’s Lucifer, vol. 8: The Wolf Beneath the Tree pretty much continues the story from the previous seven volumes. I’m a bit concerned that this might not be amounting to much, as I’m starting to lose track of the plot and characters, but that might just be an artifact of reading these volumes months apart. When it’s all done, I’ll definitely go back and do a straight-through read, which’ll give me a much better sense of the series.
  • Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways, vol. 2: Teenage Wasteland and Runaways, vol. 3: The Good Die Young conclude the main story arc (and entire run?) started in the first volume. There’s nothing great here, but it’s enjoyable page-turning fluff.
  • Kurt Busiek’s Astro City: Local Heroes surprised me, because I hadn’t realized there was a new Astro City volume out. Pleasant surprise, for sure — but I was a bit wary, because the last volume (The Tarnished Angel) was a noticeable step down from the previous books, and Busiek had some health difficulties that had prevented him from writing Astro City. Fortunately, he’s very much on form, and the stories in this book are... well, maybe not quite on par with those in the earlier volumes, but close. The only problem is that this is a fifth volume, not a first or second, so doing stories similar to those in the first volumes is a bit been-there-done-that. Still, this is good stuff that transcends the superhero genre, and I highly recommend it. Start with the early volumes first, though.
  • Christopher Priest’s Black Panther: Enemy of the State is a really excellent book. In the first volume of his run (collected as Black Panther: The Client), Priest took the lame ‘70s character of The Black Panther, and made him seriously cool. He’d always been a king of a technologically advanced African nation, but that was mostly an origin story before Priest made it really matter. He plays up the political, the diplomatic, and even the racial aspects of the Panther, without being dull. In fact, he’s pretty much the opposite of dull — the books are written in what Chad Orzel calls First-Person Smartass, and they do all sorts of Sorkin/Tarantino chronological tricks, starting from the middle, then working their way back up, and so forth. Very well-written, very clever, and quite different from the other superhero comics out there. If you read any superhero titles, I demand that you buy this one.
  • Bruce Jones and Brian Azzarello’s The Incredible Hulk, vol. 1: Return of the Monster is, by contrast, very much a conventional superhero book. Or, rather, it’s a conventional Hulk book — all angsty Bruce and smashing Hulk and so forth. Well-explored tropes done competently doesn’t interest me in this case (I just don’t care for the Hulk that much), so I just kind of dutifully paged through this one. It’s not bad, but unless you like the smoldering rage bit, little reason to read it.

And that, as they say, is that. Whew.


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