The Pull List – July 14th, July 21st, & July 28th

So, long time out of commission, I know, but I picked up all my comics yesterday and today and managed to read ’em all already, so let’s see what’s been going on, shall we?

Batman #701: Grant Morrison reunites with artist Tony Daniel to tell the “Lost Chapter” between the end of R.I.P. and Batman’s “death” in Final Crisis. As with R.I.P., I don’t really care at all for Tony Daniel’s art. It’s too sketchy, too lacking in polish, too inconsistent. It mostly deals with Batman trying to figure out whether or not Dr. Hurt survived the helicopter crash at the end of R.I.P. (which anyone who’s been reading Batman & Robin knows he, y’know, did) and decide whether or not Hurt is who he claims to be. This seems like a pretty inconsequential story, honestly, and I’m not sure why Morrison felt it was necessary to do it. It’s not exactly bad, per se, but unnecessary.

Justice League: Generation Lost #5 & 6: Issue 5 gives us the reconstituted JLI standing around trying to decide whether or not to go after Maxwell Lord (they decide to, of course) Issue 6 deals with Captain Atom jumping into the future after absorbing too much energy and jumping into the future, where he discovers that if they don’t stop Max, things’re gonna get real bad. We’re about a quarter of the way through the series now, and we really haven’t seen much happen as of yet. It’s all been setup, getting characters into place, establishing motivation, and making Max not just a credible threat, but someone who really needs to be stopped to prevent something horrible from happening to the world.

Booster Gold #34: Booster goes back to the ol’ JLI days again to try once more to get evidence to pin on Maxwell Lord and prove to everyone that Max even exists. Booster spends a good chunk of the issue ruminating on the fact that he’s not the same guy he was back then, and his sister and the young child he rescued from the future spend some time getting to know each other. Giffen steps in and pencils a couple of pages this issue, and the shift between his work and Batista’s is pretty significant. Overall, it’s another solid issue from this creative team.

Invincible Iron Man #28: Posturing between Iron Man and Mrs. Hammer, more folks get hired for Stark Resilient, and Tony starts to tie some things together. This comic is on a slow build, but Fraction’s payoffs are usually pretty solid, so I’m willing to ride out the talky issues in anticipation of those payoffs.

Deadpool #25: Cross and double-cross, switched identities and changing alliances…I’m not really quite sure what the point of those particular storyline was, though it does seem to set up a new (albeit temporary, I’m sure) status quo for Deadpool as a guy with a (gasp!) job. It lacked the manic energy and non-stop gags we usually get in the Deadpool book, but the backup story (written by Duane Swierczynski) is pretty awesome (and the first time I’ve really enjoyed the “Pool-o-Vision” gag).

Green Hornet: Year One #4: In the past, the Green Hornet and Kato arrive in the United States, while in the present (well, 1938, at any rate) they continue their assault on Chicago’s mobsters. There’s some decent character work here by Matt Wagner, and Aaron Campbell’s art remains moody and fitting for the time period and subject matter.

Atlas #3: I was tremendously sad to hear that this title will be canceled after issue 5, as I’m really digging the story. Bad guys that can possess people’s bodies, a legacy hero who’s the only one who can see them, and some great art and well-crafted dialogue make this a solid book. The back-up story, featuring more detail about the origin of M-11, is also solid, though it just adds more details to what we already know.

Prince of Power #3: Amadeus Cho and Thor go into the Egyptian Underworld in search of the next piece of the recipe for eternal life, only to find that they’ve played right into Vali Halfling’s plans. The trademark humor and sight gags are in place and as hilarious as ever, and the lioness goddess of destruction turning into a LOLcat is pretty damn hysterical. It’ll be interesting to see how they wrap this up next month and set the stage for the Chaos War.

Welcome To Tranquility: One Foot in the Grave #1: This mini picks up right where the second collection left off. Mayor Fury is released from prison, and Sheriff Thomasina Lindo doesn’t seem to be too happy about it. Simone builds on previous Tranquility stories, teasing out existing stories and characters and setting up some new plot lines. The return of a character at the end of the issue is a nice twist, and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes next. Horacio Domingues’s art is decent and not too far off from Neil Googe’s style, though some of the lines seem too thick and make the characters come across as too blocky and kind of blurry.

Birds of Prey #3: I’d love to say this issue was fantastic, but there was a printing error and the middle 1/3 of the issue was actually from an issue of Batgirl. This is clearly another “nothing is as it really seems” sort of issue, and I’m more than happy to wait and see what Simone has planned, but I really do wish I could have read all of the issue (it’s pretty clear that there’s some important plot points in those missing pages).

Wonder Woman #601: This issue kicks off JMS’s Wonder Woman run, and it really just picks up right where the prologue in Wonder Woman #600 left off. Every vibe I get from this book is that this major status quo change has to be temporary; the very dialogue in this issue indicates that things shouldn’t be this way and that success will be measured by achieving a revival of the old status quo. All that being said, this isn’t a bad issue; there’s actually some plot developed (and not just in the plot dump/exposition vein of things), Wonder Woman finds her motivation and purpose, and we’re introduced to a shadowy new villain.

Action Comics #891: Mister Mind, that worm with a big brain, attempts to trap Luthor in his own fantasies so he can do…something to Luthor’s brain. For someone we don’t know. The worm fails, because you just don’t mess with Luthor’s mind, but the fantasies themselves are fantastic (Luthor as Dr. Frankenstein, a gunman in the wild west, and as a caveman stealing fire from the gods a la Prometheus). Cornell and Woods are really knocking this one out of the park.

Detective Comics #867: David Hine continues his run on Detective, this time with art from Scott McDaniel. McDaniel’s art is cartoony and recalls the old Batman: The Animated Series look without being a slave to it. He also manages to maintain a strong sense of kinetic energy and good storytelling mechanics. The only real problem with the story is that it’s pretty mundane: a group called the Jokerz are using a variation on the old Joker Venom running around causing trouble, and Batman and the GCPD are trying to stop them using minimal force. When a cop gets killed in retaliation for a dead member of the Jokerz, things get strained, and an impostor pops up at the end that will definitely cause trouble next issue. It’s standard fare, but well-crafted.

Batman: The Widening Gyre #6: This is the first half of Kevin Smith and Walt Flanagan’s planned twelve issues, and it’s a double-sized issue that ends on a hell of a cliffhanger. We get plenty of action, some nice interaction between Batman and Silver St. Cloud, and a surprise marriage proposal. The twist at the end I’d actually pegged well before it came around (if you’ve read Smith’s previous Batman min, Cacophony, you probably spotted it early, too), and there’s a tragedy that anyone who’s ever read a comic where Batman falls in love with someone could’ve predicted easily. It’s decent, if not great, and I am curious to see what Smith and Flanagan do next.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4: Batman the cowboy! Honestly, that should be all you need to know, but it’s not really all that great, I’m sad to say. Morrison’s script is solid enough, though I’m not sure what the hell is going on with the bad guys, why they’re doing what they do, or anything like that. Georges Jeanty’s art is pretty awful; characters aren’t consistently rendered, adults often look like children in terms of stature and appearance, and it’s hard to tell characters apart sometimes. I’m definitely going to have to re-read this (and, really, the whole series) to truly be able to follow what all’s happening.

I also picked up two trades: X-Men: S.W.O.R.D. and Cowboys and Aliens. S.W.O.R.D. is pretty good so far; I’m definitely becoming a fan of Kieron Gillen’s work. I haven’t dug into Cowboys and Aliens yet, but it was only $4.99 for a pretty substantial chunk of comic (way longer than the same-priced Batman: Widening Gyre #6), and it’s written by Fred Van Lente.

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Despatches From The Homeland

Woody Guthrie has a mural.  Woody Guthrie has a folk festival.  Do YOU have a mural or a folk festival?A week into my trip back to the homeland (known to others as “Oklahoma” or “that hellish place from whence you came”), and I’m having a blast. Friday was spent at the Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma. Talk about a lot of fun: free concerts by names big and small, bluegrass and folk and Americana surrounding you, and kind, friendly folks all around…but the real draw is the pickin’ circles they hold at the campgrounds every night: a dozen or more people gathered together with guitars, mandolins, banjos, upright bass, fiddles, and whatever else they can scrounge together just playing a song that someone in the circle calls out. It’s a freakin’ blast, man.

I’ve spent most of my time so far with each parent. This coming week is a visit to all the grandparents, getting fed more and better food than you can possibly imagine, and maybe a little golf. On top of all that, I found a copy of Bob Dylan’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack for $5 last night. Good times.

The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

I have a soft spot in my heart for bands that wear their influences proudly. The Gaslight Anthem are definitely one of those bands – hell, it seems like one out of every four lines on their second album, The 59 Sound, was directly lifted from Springsteen. I’m definitely okay with anyone who honors the Boss, and you could obviously do much worse than using some of his lyrics, but I felt they needed move beyond that.

American Slang does just that: pushing forward, but looking backward. This isn’t just an album that trades in nostalgia, it’s an album about nostalgia. Many of the songs deal with the way we view the past through rose-colored glasses and bemoan the loss of some wasn’t-ever-really-real golden age. Most of the lyrics are written in the past tense, and everything from the song titles (“The Spirit of Jazz” and “We Did It When We Were Young” spring to mind) to the cultural references and touchstones (references to Sinatra and “old records”) seems to hearken back to a bygone era. The themes of the music aren’t anything new for the band – they’ve been trading on this nostalgia for the swingin’ ’50s New York City era since their inception – but they’ve perfected their Boss-meets-Sinatra balance of sincere and earnest street poet and street-smart, tough-as-nails backstreet kid.

Vocalist Brian Fallon is in strong form on the record, though he tries to reach beyond his range in a couple of noticeable places. His rough, everyman voice works well for these story songs, and the E Street Band circa The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle backing vocals are the perfect complement. Guitars alternately chime and growl, and the swinging, muted jabs on “The Diamond Church Street Choir” are perfect. The band tries some new sounds here, too, throwing in dub-inflected rhythms on “The Queen of Lower Chelsea.” This isn’t to say the band’s abandoned the driving, anthematic sound that defined their previous songs. Those are still here in spades (“Get Lucky” being the best and most obvious representative), though the band isn’t afraid to slow the rhythm section down a bit and let the song roll along at a less breakneck but no less enjoyable pace. The opening track, “American Slang,” is a perfect example; the band let the song build and still retain the anthematic feel without sacrificing melody or a fantastic build. The band feels tighter overall on this record; previous outings featured at least a track or two where things didn’t quite feel like they synced up, but that isn’t the case here.

The opening four tracks on the album – “American Slang,” “Stay Lucky,” “Bring It On,” and “The Diamond Church Street Choir” – are probably the best opening salvo on a record I’ve heard all year. In fact, it’s often hard for me to get to the back half of the record because I keep going back to hear those four songs over and over again. The album does lose some momentum on the back side, though it never loses its sense of purpose or driving rhythms.

American Slang is easily one of the best albums I’ve heard all year and avoids many of the pitfalls I feared the band would hit trying to follow up their breakout record. Definitely recommended.

The Pull List – July 8th

Comics were delayed a day this week by the holiday weekend, but that hasn’t stopped us from buying them and reading them! And hey, it looks like it’s flashback week, what with classic writers and artists turning up all over the place. Let’s take a look:

Batman: Odyssey #1: The great Neal Adams writes and draws this one. The first half is just Bruce telling a story from his early Batman days (back when he carried a gun), and it’s neat to see Adams reflect Bruce Wayne’s naivete and uncertainty in a variety of ways (the fact that his costume has ears that aren’t solid and flap in the wind on the train; trying to climb a ladder with a gun in his hand). The art isn’t as solid as you’d expect from the guy who defined the look of Batman back in the 1970s, but c’mon: that was almost forty years ago now. The art still looks pretty good (there are a couple of weirdly-posed figures and some faces that feel a little off), and the sketchiness of the line work isn’t a bad thing. Adams still has some great art chops, and he composes panels and pages that flow and are full of energy. His dialogue and dense use of captions and thought balloons (!) can get a little overwhelming from time to time and do slow the story down some, but it’s not a bad comic, and it’s a very different take on the Bruce Wayne Batman than what we’re used to seeing. One weird point: this was supposedly originally a twelve-part series, then two six-part series, but the book clearly indicates this is issue one of twelve. Either way, you get twelve issues, sure, but it’s weird.

Hercules: Twilight of a God #2: the Prince of Power faces off against a ticked-off Herald of Galactus, and it’s a hell of a knock-down, drag-out fight. Most of the comic is just fight scene, which Ron Lim (pencils) and Bob Layton (script and inks) handle like the old pros they are; there’s also some extra plot thrown in about black holes that I guess sets up the rest of this miniseries. We do get to see why messing with Hercules (and his family) is a bad idea, and we get proof that even if this Herc is older and a little more doddering, you still don’t want to mess with him.

Doom Patrol #12: The Doom Patrol fight the Front Men, then…leave. It makes way more sense if you read the comic, and their leaving has very specific repercussions for the team down the line, I’m sure. This is playing out very similarly to the plot of Birds of Prey: discrediting a team through the media for some nefarious purpose, even if the Doom Patrol are being targeted not because of who the enemy is but because they happen to be convenient scapegoats. I’m definitely interested to see where this is going, though I did have one nitpick: at one point, a character refers to a YouTube video of Wonder Woman breaking Maxwell Lord’s neck. So, is this taking place before the events of Justice League: Generation Lost #1? Or did Keith Giffen (who works on both series) just slip up? A minor detail, to be sure, but one that could have easily been avoided.

Secret Six #23: John Ostrander steps in for a done-in-one story about the Secret Six as the Most Dangerous Game. The pacing is perfect, each character gets a chance to shine, and Ostrander gets to have Bane beat a guy to death with his own arm. We get a couple of the creepy/funny moments from Ragdoll that we all know and love, though Doll hanging from the front of a power boat singing, “What do we do with a bendy sailor” may be my favorite thing of the day. The art for the book, unfortunately, isn’t quite up to snuff. RB Silva’s pencils are fine in terms of presenting dynamic action and competent storytelling, but the faces seem…wrong. From the back of the head to the front, everyone’s faces seem too long. If it were one or two panels where this happened, I could let it slip, but it’s every time we see a character from something other than a straight-ahead view, their faces and heads look wrong. If you’re at a 3/4 angle, I shouldn’t see the face as though you were facing me. It just threw me off, y’know?

Batman and Robin #13: Pieces of Grant Morrison’s Batman-related run start to fall into place here, as we see that everything that’s happened in this series starts to connect with what happened in his Batman run. There’s a nice conversation between Dick Grayson and Commissioner Gordon that highlights just how different Dick is from Bruce Wayne; we get a sense (and not for the first time) that Dick isn’t sure he can handle what’s happening (though we do get the sense this time that me may be right about that); and Damian goes to town on the Joker with a crowbar. It’s a solid issue from a comic that’s been consistently awesome, and Frazer Irving’s art works for the dark tone of the story.

Casanova: Luxuria #1: I never got around to reading the comic that broke Matt Fraction into the big leagues, Casanova, so when Marvel decided to reprint it (in color!) through their Icon imprint, I decided I’d be a fool not to get in on it. And it’s great. Definitely the sort of high-concept, bug-crazy stuff that makes you smile. I mean, there’s a staring contest with a mutant, for cryin’ out loud. Definitely recommended.

As for trades, I grabbed the latest BPRD release, 1947. BPRD is a consistent book and a lot of fun, and these looks back at the Bureau’s early days are always interesting.

Sadly, I won’t be able to pick up comics next week or the week after, as I’ll be in Oklahoma visiting family. I’ll just have to write about something else then.