Phil's Reviews — Stuff I Bought #46

The Spirit #11 — Writer/Layouts: Darwyn Cooke; Finishes: J. Bone
One bonus of reading this book is marveling at the obvious care that goes into it, from the detailed “Day of the Dead” cover this issue to the page layouts (especially the double-page “Spirit” title splash) to the coloring; given all that, it seems churlish to complain that sometimes the plots don’t quite make sense (Zombies? Really? OK, Hallowe’en, but still…). Cooke is one of very few creators capable of taking an icon like this and combining extensive knowledge of the source material with enough personal creative chops to make it work as a modern comic, and we’re all going to be sorry when he leaves, although it’s got to have been both an exhausting and an exhilarating twelve issues.

Grendel: Behold the Devil #1 ( of 8 ) — Writer/Artist: Matt Wagner
Yet another ’80s revival, although Hunter Rose (and Wagner himself) have never really quite left. What’s fascinating about this latest return to origins is that it’s a reminder about how modern the book has always looked; for over twenty years, Wagner has managed to stay ahead of the curve, and each time he returns to this character his design, spare but startling use of color, and retro/cutting edge style have grown to match the current artistic climate, and make the book seem brand-new yet again.

Conan #46 — Writer: Kurt Busiek; Artist: Greg Ruth
Busiek showing why he’s a good storyteller — after last issue’s examination of the politics of colonization, we now reap the whirlwind in full-out bloody action, as the Cimmerians show the Aquilonians why barbarians have no need for diplomacy — and, in the aftermath, Conan completes his origin and lights out for the bright lights and big cities. Conan’s a sturdily-built creation, thanks to Robert H. Howard, and other creators have done well by him, too, but Busiek, aided by Ruth’s sparse, smoky rendering, has offered one of the better interpretations, and it’s too bad this is the end of it.

Powers #27 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; Art: Mike Avon Oeming
OK, fine, it’s still a good read (and the letters page, cheerfully scatological and relentlessly, casually obscene, continues to be the best in comics), but for the love of God can we resolve this story, get the status somewhere within hailing distance of quo, and move on?

Action Comics #859 — Writer: Geoff Johns; Penciller: Gary Frank; Inker: Jon Sibal
Johns takes such pleasure in setting up his situations (of course the LSH future-Earth currently has a red sun, courtesy of a “solar shuttle research accident,” to muck things up for Our Hero) that he can be forgiven if his stories seem a trifle soulless; if the players and props sometimes seem like dominoes, that’s because they are, but they’ve been placed so carefully that it’s still fun to see them fall into each other and reveal their pattern. Frank continues to be a good choice for artist, although I’m not as sure about Sibal’s inking; it’s a little too scratchy for Frank’s clean style, and seems to emphasize his already-big eyes even more, so that the characters look disturbingly like lemurs.

The Boys #12 — Writer: Garth Ennis; Artist: Darick Robertson
Speaking of “relentlessly, casually obscene”: Ennis and Robertson continue their tightrope act of simultaneously deconstructing the superhero genre and creating an entertaining, surprisingly-addictive story from the bones of its charred corpse. Only in this title could a word like “Bonjour” have such menace, or a line like “Bloody hell, Hughie, is this lunatic fuckin’ slapper tryin’ a coup?” make the reader so look forward to the next issue.

Detective Comics #838 — Writer: Paul Dini; Penciller: Ryan Benjamin; Inker: Saleem Crawford
Crossover time, as the Ra’s Al Ghul story shuffles its way to Detective. At least on the comics page, Dini seems to be a lot better at one-off stories, where his tight plotting can shine, than he is with pieces of a larger work (i.e., Countdown), and this is no exception — it’s OK, but there’s no beginning or end, and the characters are just there to get manipulated into whatever positions they need to be in for the next book down the line. There are, as always, a couple of good character beats, but this has not been, so far, one of those must-have Batman epics.

Umbrella Academy — Writer: Gerard Way; Artist: Gabriel Ba
After three issues, the surprise at just how entertaining these creators can be is starting to wear off, and some of the soap-operaish aspects are threatening to overwhelm the plot, but it’s still managing to balance between “quirkily arch” and “archly irritating” without falling over, and Ba’s art continues to match the surreal, dramatic/humorous tone perfectly (Mike Mignola needs to keep him in mind for Hellboy, the next time Duncan Fegredo’s unavailable).

Phil Mateer

About Phil

With 40 years of experience in comic reading, collecting and reviewing, English Professor Phil Mateer has an encyclopedic mind for comics. Feel free to ask Phil about storylines, characters, artists or for that matter, any comic book trivia. He will post your questions and answers on the AABC blog. His knowledge is unparalleled! He is also our warehouse manager, so if you are looking for that hard to find comic book, ask Phil!
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