Sunday, October 09, 2005

Comic Reviews For October 5, 2005

A slugfest, a coda, and a pre-Halloween treat, this week from four-color land.New Thunderbolts 13 - "Ditch"
By Fabian Nicieza and Tom Grummett

Hmm… oddly appropriate title, as I feel the story here ditches the promise of the cover in favor of, well, some setup. I was very much looking forward to the first T-Bolts/Avengers throwdown since both teams restructured, and instead I get the lead-in to that fight, where the T-Bolts ambush the Avengers, and both teams posture, and hey, I'm kinda bored. Where's the fighty-fighty? Next issue, apparently.
Not to say that what's given in its place is bad. A couple of plot threads are dropped that look like they'll turn into some very cool material down the line, and the sketchy situation the story puts Dallas Riordan and Carol Danvers in creates some good drama. The exchange between Sentry and Photon is good, and I like that both teams' "sexy spy chick" characters will be facing off in another arena entirely. And the last-page reveal, I liked, as this is one of Marvel's more underused stars, in my opinion. So it is a good story, just not the one I was expecting.
Grade: B

Incredible Hulk 87 - "Awakening"
By Peter David and Adam Kubert

I find it funny that this issue, the first to really deal with the immediate fallout of "House of M," will largely go unnoticed. The take David takes -- that most everyone wakes up the next day in the physical location House of M placed them in, but with no memory of the event -- is interesting, in a Twin-Peaks-meets-Dallas kind of way. The confusion and wackiness that ensues thankfully cuts short soon enough to get to the story. And that, fittingly enough, is Bruce getting a cold hard bitch-slap of reality after the fantasy-world examination of the last four issues. It's sobering to see Bruce be so unflinchingly honest with himself, but, at the same time, where does it go from here? Well, David doesn't have to answer that question, as this is the twelfth of twelve issues he was contracted to do on this return tour, and new writer Daniel Way will give us something completely different next issue. So there's not much sense of continuing narrative for this issue. It's kind of funny; twenty or so years later, David leaves the Hulk exactly as he found it: an odd-book-out in the Marvel stable, with no real sense of overall direction.
Adam Kubert's return (presumably penciled before he signed that exclusive deal with DC) to the Hulk reminds me of the waning days of David's original Hulk run, where the stories, different and possibly substandard as they were, were still vibrant through the art. What we have here is two talented creators falling quickly into their old vibe, and producing a narrative that really is greater than the sum of its part. OK, it's no Watchmen, but it's great to see synergy like this.
There is one thing: Whoever decided to put that double-spread Honda Civic ad between the recap page and page 1 of the story needs to be smacked. In fact, there's way too much ad presence in this issue period, to the point that I can't find a three-page stretch that's not interrupted by an ad. Oddly, no story pages are sacrificed; instead, they just threw some extra total page count in, and made it all ads. It may be a fatter comic, but it's not something I like, so let's just put the kibosh on this little experiment.
Grade: B

Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror 11
"Two Tickets to Heck!" by Creepy Chris Bonham, Scary Steve Ringgenberg, and various
"The Sub-Basement of Dracula" by Murderous Marv Wolfman and Gory Gene Colan
"Squish Thing" by Lethal Len Wein and Butchering Bernie Wrightson
Front and back covers by Matt Groening and Bill Morrison

If you're like me, you've always loved the Simpsons, but stopped watching around five years ago, and these days mostly get by on the DVDs (still at least two more collections before they get to the sucky seasons!). And, if you're like me, you've always looked forward to the Halloween specials, and can pinpoint where you lost interest in the show with the first one of those that failed to delight you as the others had. Well, thankfully, Bongo Comics and an ever-rotating collection of comics luminaries (I remember they got Mike Allred and Jeff Smith for the first one, lo those ten years ago) are still putting out the kind of macabre merriment that made those glory days so… glorious.
The lead is a "jam" story where Bart and Lisa, attending a special Halloween event at Itchy and Scratchy Land, take a haunted house tour through the horror, crime, war, and sci-fi genres of comics from the Pre-Code era. The bizarre, dreamlike quality of the connecting narrative serves to underpin the whole thing with an aura of creepiness, one that's well-punctuated by the final page. And along the way, we get some good gags at the expense of old comics, genre tropes, authority figures, and the Simpsons themselves. John Severin's chapters feature several weirdly off-model versions of the characters (especially Lisa; is Groening the only one who can draw her head right?), but other than that, the art is quite fun, and a barrel of laughs (catch the hidden characters in the background scenes).
The other two tales, as you've probably guessed, have Mssrs. Wolfman, Colan, Wein, and Wrightson lampooning their 70s horror favorites by casting the Simpsons in the title role. Of the two, I enjoyed the Tomb of Dracula rip more, probably because of the fun I had reading through the Essentials the last couple of years. The characters fit their roles perfectly (Burns is Dracula, of course, but Wolfman strikes gold by casting the Simpsons as his original Nightstalkers, with Homer as Quincy Harker and Carl as Blade), and the humor manages to be wry and sick at the same time. The "interrogation" scene is just gold. "Squish Thing" is good, too, as Wein takes a throwaway gag from a ten-year-old episode and weaves it with his old story to produce a strangely sweet horror/murder mystery. It also contains the best line in the comic (Reverend Lovejoy says it to Marge, so go buy the comic and see for yourself). Wrightson's art is a pleasant blend of Simpsons figures with a slightly more sophisticated inking and coloring scheme, while Colan goes whole-hog and creates an almost-painted effect, nothing like normal Simpsons art or his old work on TOD. But I like it.
I don't get Simpsons Comics too much anymore, but I'm rarely displeased when I do. This comic is like coming home.
Grade: A

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