Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, October 22, 2006
      ( 10/22/2006 08:20:00 AM ) Bill S.  

THE FIFTEEN-MINUTE COMIC – Vampires in the midwest, zombies in the deep south, and good ol' Doc Strange is still a-travelin' in the astral plane – must be time for some quickie comics reviews:
  • Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures #1 (Dabel Brothers/Marvel): Been a while since I've read one of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake novels (made it up to number eight in the series, putting me way behind in the currently fourteen-book series), but when I saw the books were being adapted into comics, my first thought was something on the lines of "Gee, it might be fun to catch up with our girl via comic adaptations," given that writer Hamilton has grown steadily more verbose as her books have progressed (the Stephen King Syndrome), much to the detriment of her plots. (Too often, when writers attempt to blend pulpish action with gothic material, the propensity to overwrite wins out.) But considering that this first ish only gets us through the thirty-so pages of Guilty Pleasures, it's gonna be years before we get to a book I haven't read yet, so scratch that thought. For those unfamiliar with 'em, Hamilton's books are set in an alternate America where monsters roam freely – and vampires (thanx to an activist judiciary, no doubt) have been accorded legal citizenship. Our hard-boiled heroine Anita is a professional necromancer whose main job is reviving the dead, though she's regularly called in by the St. Louis P.D. when other suspicious supernatural deaths occur in the area (this background info, though established in the novel's opening, is not as clearly laid out by adapter Stacie M. Ritchie). Much of the action in the first ish revolves around Guilty Pleasures, a vampire strip club run by Jean-Claude, a puffy-shirt wearing vamp who is Angel to Anita's Buffy. Neither scripter Ritchie nor artist Brett Booth (who has an annoying habit of drawing Anita's free-flowing pre-Raphaelite curls so that one of 'em dangles in front of her nose, looking like a black print smudge) seem up to the task of showing the psychic battle that ensues in the club (it sure was a lot easier to parse in the novel!), which doesn't bode well for this series. May have to go back to the prose, after all, if I wanna catch up on Miz Anita.

  • Criminal #1 (Icon): Ed Brubaker, on the other hand, knows and deploys the advantages of tough, lean prose – and this new creator-owned series shows him playing to his strengths. The opener to his first five-part caper tale is a model of no-nonsense writing that recalls hard-boiled storytellers like "Richard Stark" (who also served as an inspiration for Darwyn Cooke's Selina's Big Score GN). Contrast Brubaker's crisply distinctive characterization to the blurrily defined figures in Anita Blake, and the advantage is even more clearly Brubaker's: I particularly loved the unsentimental scene 'tween our putative hero and his father's senile junkie partner. And if writer Brubaker knows how to keep the writing economical, artist Sean Phillips (after years of collaborating with the writer on Sleeper) is more than capable of filling in the spaces: the four-page opening flashback of a caper gone wrong immediately pulled me into the story. Definitely gonna follow this through the first five-issue arc, if only to see if we get any more eps of "Frank Kafka, Private Eye."

  • Doctor Strange: The Oath #1 (Marvel): Building from Peter Milligan's slightly whimsical Doc Strange in the Dead Girl mini-series, scripter Brian K. Vaughan works overtime to make the character accessible to modern audiences – and though the results take some getting used to (didn't quite buy the "handsome devil" in the beginning, though I appreciated some of the character's later banter), by the end of the first volume, I accepted Vaughn's take on the character (he's certainly more fun than JMs's ponderous Strange mini-series). Artist Marcos Martin has a way of recalling original Strange delineator OtkidDitko without aping him (the secret's in the linework), and I especially enjoyed his full-page depictions of Other Realms. Gotta tell ya, though: I really don't buy the idea that a woman general practitioner would call herself Night Nurse – even if her primary clientele are super-types who've been wounded in battle. That much time in college, and you call yerself Night Doc, even if it does spoil the Company's plans for keeping hold of the Night Nurse trademark . . .

  • Pirates of Coney Island #1 (Image): As an East Coast-born Baby Boomer with dim memories of visiting the place as a kid, I've gotta admit that the idea of Coney Island is pretty evocative. Wish that writer Rick Spears & artist Vasilis Lolos gave us more of the place to hold onto in this debut issue – one quick glimpse at a roller coaster and a panel shot of Nathan's doesn't really suffice. The opening sequence, with its young punks, pink tinges and well-placed shocks of bloody ultra-violence recalls Bambi And Her Pink Gun in places, though our rootless nameless hero could do with a dose of that series lead's personality, IMO. Back cover makes a joke of not once showing the eponymous Pirates once in the opening ish, but if these guys wanna keep my interest going, them buccaneers damn well better show up in the second outing, okay? There's some promises you just don't break . . .
Also Briefly Noted: Artist Chee seems rushed in the 6th issue of Boom!'s Second Wave – eliminating shaded texturing out of need to keep to the deadline, perhaps? The results flatten out the visuals on more than one occasion . . . Meanwhile back at the Apocalypse, the "dreadnek" Savage Brothers rampage through issue #2 of their enjoyable zombie-battling adventures. Andrew Cosby & Johanna Stokes scriptwork is more fun than Cosby & Michael A. Nelson's collab on X-Isle (now maundering into its third issue). Is Stokes (also responsible for some crisp scripting on Sci-Fi’s Eureka) the crucial ingredient?

More later.
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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