Four Colors to Infinity: Gay Rhino Edition
“Comic books” are a form of visual narrative literature. The modern form is published monthly, costs too much, and usually features a couple of costumed knuckleheads beating on each other for some vaguely delineated purpose. As you might expect, these “comic books” are usually terrible.
Recently, a synergy has emerged between the film and comic book industries, with the “Big Two” comics companies being owned by huge entertainment conglomerates and settling into a new role where they merely extend their brands and create cross-marketing opportunities for movies starring superheroes. It is often said that this is good for comics as well as movies, as it creates a potential new market for the medium, and that someone seeing, say, the latest Batman movie might be persuaded to enter the noisy autism pit that is a typical comic book shop and purchase a Batman comic. The theoretical reader might then be able to enjoy the comic as if it were a comprehensible story and not an awful, poorly planned accretion of seven decades of warring adolescent urges.
This is, of course, a complete lie. Still, I occasionally spend my hard-earned money on comics, often ones that I have not read in months or years, and will write about them here from the perspective of a jilted lover who suddenly gets a long, boring, poorly-illustrated Facebook message from his ex after seventeen years of silence. Enjoy!
ACTION COMICS #39: “Under the Skin”. Written by Greg Pak and illustrated by the obviously invented duo of Scott Kolins and Aaron Kuder, this story does not, as you might assume from the illustration above, involve Earth’s mightiest hero being menaced by a group of young children playing ringolevio. Instead, it has the Ultra-Humanite holing up in the Phantom Zone and kidnapping Lana Lang; Superman and Steel attempt to rescue her and must contend with a variety of spooky monsters, animals, and possessed townsfolk powered by the magic of terror, or something like that. Superman has a beard now, I guess, and looks like he should be modeling high-end flannel; he also narrates the story, which is a device I could seriously do without not only because I’m not particularly interested in his internal monologue, but also because his narration boxes have a Superman logo in them, which has to be the most brain-dead device anyone’s ever come up with. The end of this story seems to imply that Lana and Supes’ dead parents were re-animated and had to be re-buried, but it doesn’t show us this sequence of events even though it probably would have been hilarious. I didn’t understand much of this, and what I did understand I wasn’t interested in, so I’ll give this one a rating of 3.7 Galactic Golems.
ALL CRIME COMICS #3: “The Hat Trick”. I’ve enjoyed All Crime in the past, so I had my hopes up about this one. All Crime is written by, and published by, The Art of Fiction, and whether that’s one guy or some kind of conglomerate/collective, I do not know. I like to think it’s just a pretentious dude named Art Fiction. These stories are usually drawn by different artists, and while it’s a nice redundancy scheme for cartoonists, it can keep the narrative from developing a cohesive tone; that’s certainly the case here, as the bold, blood-soaked style of Jeff Snow’s second chapter clashes with the looser, more cartoony style of Brad Rader in the first and third chapters. Another rule of (the art of) fiction is that you should never introduce sci-fi elements where none are needed, and that is well-illustrated here: the plot, involving crime family treachery and a long con at the World Cup, takes place in an alternate reality where the world is ruled by what appears to be a joint Nazi-Soviet government. That’s all well and good, but it adds exactly nothing to the story, which could have played out exactly the same if you’d set it in our present, actual reality. Other than that, though, it’s pretty good, a brutal, nicely paced crime drama with some memorable moments and effective dialogue that’s only slightly undercut by the over-the-top violence. I’ll give this one a rating of 5.2 Justice Traps the Guiltys.
DETECTIVE COMICS #39: “Anarky, Part 3”. It’s worth mentioning here that the actual name of Action and ‘Tec are now “Superman Action Comics” and “Batman Detective Comics”, which, come on, guys. Anyway, this is part of a four-part arc involving a feud between Anarky and the Mad Hatter, which I guess is a good way to get some extra mileage out of two of the lamest Bat-foes. The subplot about Harvey Bullock’s new partner accidentally shooting a kid might not be the best timing in light of recent events, especially since it starts a bunch of riots that Bats makes tut-tut noises over, but the kid is white, so that’s in good taste I guess. Once again, I didn’t understand or particularly care about why Anarky and Jervis Tetch are mad at each other, but there was some good interplay between Batman and Bullock in this, and aside from the usual incoherent fight scenes (can’t anyone stage a good punch-up anymore, on the page or on screen?), I enjoyed Brian Buccellato’s art. If you’d asked me ten seconds after I finished reading this what happened in it, I wouldn’t’ have been able to tell you, though, so it’s going to get 4.1 NKVDemons.
HULK #11: “The Omega Hulk, Chapter Seven”. “Previously on Hulk, Bruce Banner was shot in the head and healed with Extremis. Now he’s a new,super-smart Doc Green hell-bent on ‘curing’ other Hulks.” They spelled it out for me and yet this is still the single most incoherent, impossible-to-follow nonsense I read all month, and the idea of reading six more chapters of it makes me want to drown myself. Hulk has a beard now because why not, and there’s the Fantastic Four only no, and Hulk goes to the Baxter Building to make a giant super-toilet which is something I’m not making up and it’s even worse than that because Gerry Dugan uses this moment as an excuse to make a completely pointless and dumb Banksy ‘joke’, and Mark Bagley’s art isn’t very good, and Hulk shoots a basketball for no reason, and Lyra shows up and there’s a punch-out so perfunctory it might as well be military barracks toilet paper, and then Hologram Hulk and Robot Dr. Banner and I’m sorry I ever read comics. I give this one 1.6 That Japanese Guy from the John Byrne Hulkbusters.
JUNGLE JIM #1: “No Title”. Part of a big revival of King Features characters from King/Dynamite, this one is set in the same neo-continuity as Flash Gordon; in Paul Tobin’s story, Flash has just liberated a Ming-conquered Earth, and now other planets under the merciless one’s thumb are starting to rebel against his rule. So we find ourselves on Arboria, where Ming’s slavers are being picked off in the forests bit by bit; a pocket of blue-skinned rebels go off to find the legendary Jungle Jim, now transformed into a sort of immortal icon of the natural world and a subject more of rumor than of fact. I actually liked this a lot; Tobin paces the story quite well, the characters are memorable, and he does a nice job of keeping Jungle Jim the subject of rumor and speculation until the very end, rather than just dumping him into the overall story in situ. Sandy Jarrell’s art is also a nice blend of detailed and cartoony, and shows a good grasp of the lost art of how to stage an action sequence. Plus, this is the only comic I read this month that has a gay rhino-man mercenary in it. It’s not great, but it’s a very good start, and I’ll give it 7.9 Witch Queen of Mongos.
MS. MARVEL #11: “Generation Why, Part Four”. I was thinking this week would be a total washout for the Big Two, but G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel revival is just so relentlessly charming it overcame my resistance. Adrian Alphona’s art is super-appealing and fits the title perfectly, the introduction of the Inhumans mythos into Kamala Khan’s origins fits surprisingly well (and gets us a fun hero turn from Lockjaw!), and the villain of this arc — the Inventor, a boasting bird-man who’s been gathering Jersey City teens into a human zoo — has that increasingly rare mix of braggadocio and cowardice that you never see anymore. Villains are so often confidently menacing darkness generators that it’s entertaining to see an old-school Dr. Sivana-style bad guy these days. Though there’s a few missteps, Wilson has a very rare gift of being able to write to and for a younger audience without sounding either condescending or like your 62-year-old uncle who’s trying to be ‘hip’ at Thanksgiving by telling his grand-niece he’s super into the Radio Heads. Well-executed all around, and beautifully suited to its target audience, this one gets 8.8 Femizons.
Join me again next month, when I review more comics I bought more or less at random with ongoing story arcs I know absolutely nothing about!