Thursday, November 01, 2007

Comic Picks and Pans: Special Forces #1, Batman #670, Countdown #26

Our friends over at Pop Culture Shock have invited us to be a part of their Picks and Pans feature this week, and so we're running our contributions here in place of our usual Snap Judgments. The reviews are a bit more in depth than Snaps, and they may not be quite as spoiler-free. Consider them "spoiler lite".

Albo Picks Special Forces #1
Written and Drawn by Kyle Baker

Usually when comic books reference real world politics, both directly and allegorically, I cringe so hard my testicles crawl up into my ears. For some reason, it seems to be a really hard thing for a comics writer to pull off without appearing to be a neophyte fishing for a couple of “hell yeah!”s. This book, by notoriously political Eisner and Harvey award winner Kyle Baker, is all about politics (specifically troop enlistment), yet somehow manages to keep my gonads mostly clear of my cochleae.

The story starts with a desperate Sergeant Ramirez, who scrapes some wretched souls (psychos, criminals, the physically unfit) from the bottom of society’s barrel and enlists them in the military in order to reach a recruitment quota that will keep him from having to go back to war himself. Unfortunately for him, one of his recruits gets killed attempting armed robbery the day he is set to ship out and Ramirez finds himself back in Iraq, assigned command of the miserable lot he sent to war.

The book is drawn in Baker’s usual cartoony style, with exaggerated action, bold color choices and a busty protagonist whose clothes become scantier and scantier with each new page. In spite of the naked girl and generally comedic tone (or maybe because of this), Special Forces is the grittiest, most emotional and meaningful war comic I’ve ever read. I’m not claiming to have read many, but this sure beats all that Garth Ennis schlock. There is palpable danger threatening the squad, a point made clear by the fact that almost all of them die by the end of this issue. My heart wept for these people as things kept getting worse, and I can’t wait to pick up next issue and cheer for them as things get better. If they get better.

AHR's Pick and Pan right after the jump!

AHR Picks Batman #670
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Tony Daniel

It’s finally here; Ra’s Al Ghul: The Final Resurrection Tour! This issue’s cover indicates a mere “prelude” to the big comeback, but rest (resurr-rest?) assured the man himself does in fact appear in this story, and he’s less than pleased to find his grandson running around in a dead Robin’s costume and talking all sorts of sass. Ra’s Al-Ghul vs Damian Al-Ghul-Wayne? Ra’s for the win, I’m thinking. Last month marked the end of artist J.H William III’s fantastic three-issue run on this series, and I was all set to talk about how I missed his consistently jaw-droppingly gorgeous art. As it turns out, I didn’t have time to reminisce about artists gone by with everything going in this issue. Morrison sets the scene for a epic-scale story about the struggle for control of the League of Assassins and (sniff) the bonds of family, but instead of feeling like a rev up to a big storyline, the action starts on the first page and doesn’t stop. The issue is filled with actual gasp-inducing surprises, which is something of a rarity when so many DC superhero books simply kill (or appear to kill) a character rather than think of more original plot twists. Here, there’s something exciting on every page, not the least of which is a special appearance by World Public Enemy. Remember that awesome band? Kinda like the Misfits from Jem, but more super-villainous? C’mon, they were featured in issue of Batman from 1966, remember? No, neither does anyone else, except of course for Grant Morrison, Champion of the Forgotten. Here he throws the pop-tart trio into the mix as a mere diversion, but much he did with the men of the Club of Heroes, Morrison gives these flash-in-the-pan villianeses funny and instantly recognizable characters, and their brief appearance just about steals the show.

AHR Pans Countdown #26
Writer: Paul Dini
Art: Tom Derenick

I hate to write a bad review of Countdown when the book already takes so much flack on the internet, but honestly it was the only book I read this week that I didn’t enjoy, and this feature is called Picks and Pans. But it pains me to pan Countdown, because Paul Dini is one of my all-time favorite comic book writers. Hell, he’s writing some great stuff currently on the stands - get yourself an ish of Detective Comics and Madame Mirage, and that’s a recipe for a good afternoon. Unfortunately, in twenty five issues as Head Writer on Countdown he has not succeeded in shaping this omnipresent series into entertaining read. We were told this book would have a slow start, and that the issues of exposition were necessary for a big payoff. Accepting that, I’ve been waiting for the twist that would kick start the real action, but here at the halfway mark things have still been moving at a glacial pace in dealing with characters who keep talking about the same thing; Kyle and Jason don’t like each other, causing Donna to roll her eyes. Trickster throws a calculatedly tame gay joke at Piper, who in turn rolls his eyes. Between these repeating character dynamics and the endless fake-science explanations of the Karate Kid and Jimmy Olsen storylines, the overall feeling of this series is sterility, and this issue is no exception. The whole thing is essentially a clinical explanation of the story so far as told by those Ben Steins of the DC Universe, the Monitors. If you do happen to be a big Monitor fan, you’re in luck, because the single piece of plot information revealed in this issue relates to them. The tone of this issue can be gleaned simply from a look at the backgrounds; a mail-order typical space-station, two separate planets that consist of nothing but craters and sand, and a whole lot of brick walls. Are we having fun yet?

Click here to read the rest of the Pop Culture Shock Picks and Pans!

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