Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Magnificent(-ish) Seven

So, check this out: I go down to Thirsty Moon Records the other day and pick up the recently re-released King Khan and BBQ Show self-titled album. Nate the Nail burned me a copy a few years ago, but I don't feel like I own a record until I own the record, y'know? When I get home, the first thing I do is rip that sum'bitch open, this big-ass gate-fold double LP (well, sorta--it's got three sides instead of four), and my record player is all a-tremble with anticipation for side A to be slapped upon it. Yeah, except there is no side A. Those knuckle-knobs down at the pressing plant thought it'd be funny to give me a coronary by slipping two of the second, one-sided record into each dust sleeve. All's well that ends well: the guy down at the record store was super-cool about it and assures me I oughtta have a proper copy in my hot little hands within the next week or so.

What does this have to do with comics, you may ask. First of all, hold your water, I'm getting to that. Second of all, that self-same day was also new comic book day, so on my way home from the record store, I swung by the comic shop for my weekly armload. And despite that little King Khan snag, the day was shaping up to be pretty swell: I had only worked a half day, I'd gotten some other, properly packaged records (The Pixies and The Stooges, for the record)(har) to listen to while I waded through a fat stack of new books. I could have been doing a lot worse, let me tell ya. So the day passes languidly like so, and I make my way to the final book in the stack, X-Men: Manifest Destiny #5, the final issue in a mini-series I've been rather enjoying. Only when I go to read it, what's this? It's goddamn X-Men and Spider-Man #3! Those chuckleheads down at the printing plant, not to be outdone by any record pressing joint, thought it'd be funny to give me a second coronary by slapping the Manifest Destiny cover onto a book that wasn't even supposed to come out until the next week. All's well that ends well: Marvel fixed their goof-up and I've got the right books with the right covers now, although now that I think about it, I dunno if my boss didn't charge me for the new one like he said he was gonna.

But the big question is what are the odds that two things I'd buy that day would end up having the wrong thing in 'em? Good thing I didn't buy any Twinkies.

Speaking of comic book anomalies, I only bought seven books last week. I can't remember the last time I didn't buy books in the double digits, and a lot of times a trade or two I've ordered will at least come in, except I guess I have been taking it easy on those since I have no less than ten unread ones stacked next to my bed. So this actually works out well for me. I've got a thigh-high stack of back issues to read that I've now managed to whittle down to knee-high. I couldn't work at the shop that week due to my brief yet court-mandated foray into public service, so at least I'm not into Greg for an arm and a leg as I usually am. And also I'm kinda late on this column and generally so lazy I can't even admit that I'm lazy. So even though I'm getting kinda bored with this format (and it shows), I'll now take a closer look at the Seven of Week Two. Join you, won't me?

Deadpool #6: A while back, my old band got booked to play Danny Way's birthday show. You can imagine my disappointment when I found it was Danny Way the professional skateboarder and not Daniel Way, the professional comic book writer whose career I've been following with high interest since his collaboration with the legendary Steve Dillon on Bullseye: Greatest Hits.

My utter enjoyment of this Deadpool series is testament to Way's writing prowess, since I've never really given much of a crap about the character. A lot of these anti-hero types that rose to such prevalence in the early to mid-nineties like Deadpool, Venom, etc., were pretty boring to me even back then when I knew no better. But let a decent writer get his mitts on 'em and it's, quite literally, a whole 'nother story. As noted in an earlier piece, I had lost all interest in Cable and Bishop as characters until Duane Swierczynski started penning their adventures. I hadn't read Ghost Rider since sophomore year, but then first Garth Ennis re-booted it with good ol' Johnny Blaze, and then none other than Daniel Way steps in for a solid run before handing off to Jason Aaron (writer of The Other Side, the best book of 2006), who in turn brought back Danny Ketch and Blackout and a bunch of other characters from that '90s run that I'd also forgotten all about but in whom my interest is now thoroughly rekindled. As long as Marvel keeps giving the reins over to hard drinkin' dudes who are around my age and who all probably own every Sergio Leone movie and Richard Stark novel, hell's bells, I'd buy a new fuckin' Darkhawk series, and no lie.

Like I said, I'm not all too familiar with the Deadpool character. In an earlier issue, they kindly re-printed his Marvel Universe profile, which more or less brought me up to date, continuity-wise. But as far as the narrative in this book goes and how the character is depicted, I don't know how much Way is picking up from the old Cable and Deadpool title. But given that I've been solidly reading Way's stuff for the past five years, I can rest assured that he is staying true to the character while simultaneously bringing his own well-appreciated touches to the book. For example, Deadpool's deeply hallucinogenic perspective of reality, his constant internal feuding with two (count 'em--2) narrators, and the Misfits reference in the previous arc are all hallmarks of Way's style, which is obviously pretty goddamn rock 'n' roll. But it's never so rock 'n' roll that he leaves us continuity freaks in the dust, which is even more ironic considering the guy only just started reading comics not long before he started writing them (rock 'n' roll as fuck in itself, that). Therefore, I can highly recommend this book to buddies of mine (Converse, I'm looking in your direction) who haven't read many comics since junior high, so they can not only take a nice stroll down memory lane, but can also see how much better these characters are when they're written for us as grown-ups (or reasonable facsimiles thereof) as opposed to being written for us as snot-nose kids.

And if Daniel Way is reading this, let me know if you want my band to play your birthday party.

Final Crisis #6 (of 7): This book eats. I dunno how final this crisis is, but it's the final DC superhero clusterfuck I'll ever read, I'll tell you that much for free.

G.I. Joe #1 (IDW Publishing): From San Diego's own IDW comes the 53rd G.I. Joe comic book series. I had almost every reason to pass this one up. Hell, I didn't even order it. I was never that into G.I. Joe as a kid, much preferring Star Wars (although I did rather enjoy making my friend's Destro and Baroness figures hump each other). I am a big Chuck Dixon fan, but I still do find the guy's stuff to be kinda uneven at times, which I think is only natural considering the volume of books the guy's written. Like, in the short time he was at CrossGen, he must have written no less than 5,000 issues of different titles, and while half of 'em like Way of the Rat and Brath were killer, others like Sigil and Crux were not so much killer. The Dave Johnson cover for this G.I. Joe, which was what convinced me to pick this book up, is also solid, but still probably something I could have lived without. The book itself is not bad, but a lot of it is kinda wasted on me, having only a passing familiarity with these characters. Not that the story's not engaging enough on its own, but still. Nothing for me to write home about. But I would still highly recommend this book to my friends who were/are heavily into G.I. Joe (Fever, I'm looking in your direction). In fact, I think I'll just give this to Fever. And you should also ignore my inexpert opinion and buy this book for the G.I. Joe nerd in your life.

Gravel #8 (Avatar Press): Having fellated Warren Ellis enough in these pages (or "pages," if you will), I don't really need to tell you again that you should be reading everything this guy does. I will, however, take this opportunity to talk about how Avatar Press has pretty much won me over by now.

When I started buying comics regularly again, Avatar suckered me more than once. They would take a property owned by a big-name creator and then get a couple other dudes who I'd never heard of to adapt it into a comic. So they'd take old Robocop teleplays by Frank Miller that never got produced, adapt them into comics, and slap Miller's name all over 'em. Nothing against the creators involved on these projects, but I found this to be kinda underhanded. Like when Red Heat came out and the posters said: "Schwarzenegger. Belushi. Red Heat." Yeah, it wasn't the talented Belushi obviously, but it made people look twice at least, I'd bet.

But then 303 came out, an actual, honest-to-Christ Garth Ennis book. Not Garth Ennis' grocery list "re-imagined" as a comic, but a script by Garth Ennis. Since then Avatar's managed to get a few more heavy hitters like Ellis, Jamie Delano, and Christos Gage, so they must be doing something right, probably not unlike how Pacific used to be able to snag guys like Jack Kirby and Neal Adams back in the early '80s.

The art in these books is another story. I used to really not like their stable: guys like Mike Wolfer, Juan Jose Ryp, and Jacen Burrows. And even though there's something I can't quite put my finger on about their stuff, I have finally begun to come around on it. Maybe that's just because there's been so much of it lately attached to writers I like so much. Maybe the kinda ultra-slick production Avatar uses put me off at first (the paper is damn near an inch thick and just plain feels weird under my fingers). Whatever is going on, I am starting to really like the art, especially Ryp's, whose stuff I used to complain was "too busy" (and I'm frankly embarrassed now that I ever spoke those words aloud). Gravel remains my favorite of the four Ellis titles Avatar is currently printing (the others being Anna Mercury, No Hero, and Doktor Sleepless), so you should order Strange Kiss and then go from there.

House of M: Civil War #5 (of 5): A couple years back, the first thing I did with my tax refund check was not to try to dig myself out of crushing debt, but to instead purchase my treasured Magneto Was Right t-shirt from the sadly now-defunct Magneto is, to me, the quintessential villain: kinda long-winded, completely unswerving in his mission, and truly the hero in his own story. He's also the hero in this story, which is a nice P.S. to the big House of M crossover Marvel did a few years ago, in which the Scarlet Witch rigs up a brand spanking new reality wherein mutantkind is the dominant species and the Master of Magnetism himself rules all that he surveys. Definitely an idea I can get behind. This mini details Magneto's rise to power and his final domination over the oppressive Vice-President Trask and his Sentinels. Christos Gage, another writer's who's been impressing me no end for the last few years, scripts this series and it's probably my favorite of his stuff that I've read so far (and that's pretty impressive considering his kick-ass little arc on Iron Man recently). This series oughtta be collected into trade paperback soon enough, so do yourself a favor.

Punisher War Zone (vol. 2) #5 (of 6): I'm gonna suspend comment on this book for now, as I'm planning a complete retrospective on Garth Ennis' Punisher work. Suffice it to say, this book makes my dick hard: the reunion of Ennis and Dillon for a return to the seminal "Welcome Back, Frank" storyline. As great as all the swearing and occasional titties in the Punisher Max series were, Ennis is a versatile enough writer to be able to return to Comics Code Authority standards without losing his balls. And Steve Dillon, for my money, still draws the best pictures of guys getting shot in the face.

X-Men and Spider-Man #3 (of 4) (non-error cover): Hey, look, it's Christos Gage again. Man, this guy's in more books than Wolverine these days. All the luckier us, then. This is a nice little mini, tailor-made for lifers like me. The series begins back in the '60s era, and then each issue goes forward from there. Therefore, those in the know can pat themselves on the back by guessing the era only by noting the costume changes the X-Men go through. That sort of wink-wink insider thing can be dangerous to play with, since one can easily overdo it, like the writer is sitting next to you while you read, nudging you in the ribs every few seconds and going, "Hanh?" But Gage knows what he's doing. The plot itself mostly centers around the old Spider-Man Clone Saga, which I took a big pass on way back when. But it's still interesting to see how the X-Men and Mr. Sinister are tied into it now. Christos Gage is definitely the go-to guy for mini-series these days.

All right, that's it for now. Tune in next time for something other than me babbling about the same old shit (well, sorta). For links to some of the creators mentioned above, direct yourself rightly (to the right of this page, that is). Also I wanted to list some of the titles mentioned above along with their Diamond order codes, but them codes are hard to track down. So here's what you do: go to your local comic shop and tell 'em you want these books or you'll be forced to utilize the convenience of shopping on-line. I mean, don't be a dick about it, but y'know, make it clear you wanna give your money to them and not some anonymous jerk on the internet. Then, if that doesn't work, get a hold of me and I'll order it for you myself from the shop I work at.

The Other Side trade paperback by Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart. Published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics

Deadpool: Secret Invasion trade paperback by Daniel Way and Paco Medina. Published by Marvel Comics

Bullseye: Greatest Hits trade paperback by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon. Published by Marvel Comics

Strange Kiss (the first William Gravel story) trade paperback by Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer. Published by Avatar Press

House of M: Civil War by Christos Gage and Andrea di Vito. The trade is not out as of this writing, but I'd be surprised if you couldn't order it yet. You also would probably be able to track down the single issues.