Batman # 663 — Writer: Grant Morrison; Art: John Van Fleet
This isn’t a comic, but an illustrated Joker short story by Morrison ( his first try at the Joker, Arkham Asylum, was…1989? Eighteen years ago? Geez…). It’s a good story — a couple of places near the beginning are overwritten, in the way that most all comics writers do when they tackle plain prose, but it settles down and does fine, and maybe it was the only way to get all the psychological underpinnings of this new, more ghastly Joker into place. Points for not calling attention to itself beforehand as a big experiment; it was a lot more effective when I just opened the comic, stopped, went “D-uh?” and then settled down and read the thing, and ended up liking it.
Thunderbolts #111 — Writer: Warren Ellis; Artist: Mike Deodato, Jr.
It’s got to be hard writing a book where everyone’s either evil, compromised or ineffective, and the one true hero is a sacrificial lamb who ends up completely, permanently slaughtered by the conclusion. Ellis, of course, is just the guy to do it (although Ed Brubaker’s Sleeper showed that he has the chops, too). This is meant as nasty, throwaway fun, although there’s an undercurrent of outrage at government and media corruption that sometimes bubbles to the surface, and gives a certain gravitas to the proceedings. Points for realizing that it’s part of Bullseye’s job to know where the cauda equina is, and what to do with it. Who says comics aren’t educational?
The Punisher Presents: Barracuda Max #1 — Writer: Garth Ennis; Artist: Goran Parlov
Another sure-footed (and much more guilty) pleasure: Barracuda was created by Ennis as a Punisher villain, but proved too great a character to kill. He’s the toughest, smartest guy on the block, an unstoppable force, but he’s not mean: he’s just completely amoral. What he wants, he takes, and he has enormous fun doing it (that sense of humor was what made him such a great foil for the dour Punisher). He’s a cartoon; his amiable ability to shrug off any obstacle, however deadly, and get his way makes him Bugs Bunny, if Bugs were a black contract killer. Ennis underscores this by making him the bodyguard of a kid who’s the dead image of that genius Looney Tunes kid with the enormous glasses.
Astonishing X-Men #20 — Writer: Joss Whedon; Artist: John Cassaday
This continues to be a perfect example of good mainstream superhero comics. Cassaday’s ability to show emotional expression in just a few subtle lines is perfect for Whedon; a lesser artist would never have been able to communicate all the little character beats so effectively. At the same time, all the explosive high notes work, too. Very sure-footed, and a pure (if slightly guilty) pleasure to read.
Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #12 — Writer: Warren Ellis; Penciler: Stuart Immonen; Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger
Twelve issues was probably about all this could sustain, but let’s call the whole thing a success: it’s yielded two trades that should be in print a long time. It’s an entertaining story, minor Ellis and often over the top, but with a kind of warm, anything-goes humor and occasional actual characterization, too.