Comics Panel: March 6, 2008

Comics Panel: March 6, 2008

Finally, after a decade of hiatus, Rob Schrab has come back to Scud: The Disposable Assassin (Image), his messy, manic tale of a killer robot who found out, back in the mid-'90s, that he was designed to explode once he took out his hideous mutant-monster target. So he shot off her limbs, ponied up to have her put on life support, and set out into a fairly insane world, taking on freelance jobs in order to pay his target's medical bills. Scud ended on a cliffhanger back in 1998, but the newly released issue #21 promises to be the first in a four-part series that will finally wrap up Scud's story. The new issue gets off to a bang-up start, with Scud headed to earth from heaven, bent on rescuing his dead girlfriend by blowing up the world at the behest of some cranky angels enacting "Operation Cutting Our God Damn Losses." This is no place for new readers to jump in, since much of the issue deals with what became of various extant characters during the 10-year hiatus, which Schrab humorously incorporates into the story. And old vets who primarily liked the series' amped-up, adrenaline-hypo bizarreries may be disappointed to see Schrab actually telling a coherent, linear, relatively straightforward story. Still, there's plenty of wild action, porn jokes, and over-the-top bloody fun, plus that looming Scud-engineered apocalypse. And Schrab's scrawling, expressive black-and-white art and bendy, loose-limbed characters still have all the old charm. Here's to more Scud mayhem to come… A-

We'd love to have covered the debut of the Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch Fantastic Four run that launched with issue number #554, but our local comics shop was sold out. We would have requested a review copy through Marvel's publicity department, but Marvel doesn't supply review copies. Or have a proper publicity department. We could do a "speculative" review, à la Maxim's music staff. (Take your pick: "The team behind The Ultimates prove they can get by without the HBO-level adult themes and widescreen ultraviolence!" or "The team behind The Ultimates feels a bit penned-in without the HBO-level adult themes and widescreen ultraviolence!") Instead, we picked up Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure, an odd item rescuing what would have been Fantastic Four #103 from obscurity. When Stan Lee rejected Kirby's story for that 1969 issue, Kirby resigned and defected to DC Comics. The Lost Adventure presents three versions of the story: Kirby's original pencils with story notes, a finished version of that story with new Lee dialogue, and issue #108, which recycled Kirby's art and used it as a new story. The "finished" version doesn't feel like a vintage Fantastic Four issue; Lee fills it with anachronistic phrases like "log on" and a reference to Doonesbury, a comic that wouldn't debut until late 1970. But taken as a package, it's a neat exploration of the inglorious conclusion to a historic partnership… A-

Virgin Comics' "Director's Cut" line gains an assist from reliable, uninspiring action director Jonathan Mostow (U-571, Terminator 3), who, with scripter John Harrison and artist Peter Rubin, presents The Megas, a new alternate-history adventure series that's better in concept than execution. The premise: America has been ruled by an all-powerful, seemingly benevolent monarchy or more than 300 years, and when one of the dynasty's princes kills himself, a loyalist detective finds his faith in our nation's leaders shaken by the secrets he uncovers. Mostow apparently intends Megas to be a commentary on entitlement vs. the national interest, as it relates to the plutocracy currently in charge of the real U.S., but the first issue reads like a fairly routine mystery with some superfluous fantasy trappings. If Mostow and crew can give Megas' universe more depth and intrigue in future issues, the story might be worth reading in trade form, but thus far, it's thoroughly average… C

Fans of James Kochalka's American Elf will find he has an international soulmate in Lewis Trondheim, whose cartoon diary is appearing in collected form starting with Little Nothings Book 1: The Curse Of The Umbrella (NBM). In his minute stories about daily life, Trondheim—much like Kochalka—appears as a moody worrywart who gets hung up on small things, but approaches his own attitudes with a wry, confessional humanism. Trondheim appears to be superstitious and a hypochondriac, and many of the brief stories here—in which Trondheim portrays himself as a bald-eagle-like bird-man, and the people around him as similar anthropomorphic creatures—focus on his concerns about diseases. One hilarious multi-strip sequence has him visiting a tropical island where a striped mosquito is reportedly spreading a horrible disease; Trondheim panics, but seems gleefully amused to see everyone on the island acting just as paranoid as him. Another has him looking up a friend's illness online, and swooning over all the horrifying things that the Internet tells him can go wrong with the human body. And yet he writes about the tiny triumphs and silly, minor jokes that go into his days, too. His stories are personal rather than universal, but that's exactly the appeal. Quirky, cute, and yet microdetailed with the inflections of a peculiar life, Little Nothings is a hoot… B+

For most of his first three decades in the DC universe, Batman's sidekick Robin was an afterthought character, thrown into stories more as a plot device than a protagonist. But in December 1969, Dick Grayson—the boy behind the hero—enrolled in college, and for much of the next decade, he enjoyed serialized six-page adventures in the back of Detective Comics. Showcase Presents: Robin, The Boy Wonder collects the first six years of those stories (along with some nonessential, goofy solo forays from the '60s), and offers a prime example of DC's endearing early-'70s style, when stylish art and pretensions of social relevance made conventional good-vs.-evil stories look more exciting and sophisticated. To some extent, Grayson's struggles to be a normal student and fight crime are overly reminiscent of the early days of The Amazing Spider-Man, but Robin is nowhere near as tortured. His stories don't invite readers to identify; they urge us to admire…B+

In its ongoing attempt to pay lip-service to the idea that superhero comics can still entertain children, DC introduces Tiny Titans, a humor book theoretically aimed at the elementary-school set. Cartoonist Art Baltazar and his collaborator "Franco" re-imagine the classic Teen Titans team as cute little kids, going to school and playing in their clubhouse. Tiny Titans' pictures are bright and its gags fairly funny, rooted in the idea that ultimately, all this superhero stuff is nothing but an elaborate game of dress-up. But the book is very "inside." Unless you've maintained at least a passing interest in the Titans over the past 40 years or so, the jokes aren't really aimed at you. Or your offspring… B-

Stefan Bucher's 100 Days Of Monsters (How) isn't technically a comic, but any book that encourages readers' imaginations to run wild while they look at fantastical creatures will surely appeal to a lot of comics fans. An artist and graphic designer, Bucher posts his cute/scary ink drawings of monsters to Daily Monster, accompanied by videos of their creation. He also encouraged readers to create their own stories to go with the monsters. 100 Days Of Monsters, as the title suggests, compiles 100 of these drawings and stories (supplemented by a DVD of their creation videos) into a fun coffee-table book that illustrates different ways of seeing the same odd thing. "He is a teenage geek monster," one writes of a hairy, squid-like, T-shirt-clad beast, "that just asked a popular girl if she wanted to go and watch a film with him… To his surprise she says yes and gives him a kiss. So now he is in shock and he is actually walking on clouds"… B+

For the past several years, cartoonist Ellen Forney has picked one outrageous personal ad each week from The Stranger's "Lustlab" section to illustrate—leaving little to the imagination. These ads aren't tame "Man seeks woman for hand-holding and sheet-rustling," either. These are specific, often disturbing fetishistic fantasies, described in detail so that the seekers can find exactly what they want. The taut, sexy hardback Lust (Fantagraphics) collects more than 100 of these Forney cartoons, and it's impressive both for how creative she can be in depicting, say, "My greatest fantasy: To be tied up and cut on by a cheery psychopath," and for how she's able to make adventurous sexplay look as natural as the missionary position. Lust isn't for the faint of heart, but even those whose favorite flavor is vanilla might be interested to know what other people have developed a taste for…B

The 10th volume of Fantagraphics' art-comics anthology Mome (Fantagraphics) is easily the weakest the series has produced yet, largely because many of the Mome regulars are either absent this time out, or are in the middle of lengthy serials that have yet to pay off. Aside from a typically fanciful, reepy Jim Woodring piece, Mome Vol. 10's lone highlight is Tom Kaczynski's moody four-pager "Phase Transition," in which an inescapable impulse becomes a journey into one man's primal nature—and his ability to intellectualize his way around it. Other than that, there's not much here likely to be on any "Best American Comics 2008" shortlists… C-

Readers here intermittently complain that we don't hate on enough books. Maybe we aren't more negative because we're looking at so much material that it's easy to just drop the unrewarding stuff a few pages in, and move on. Or maybe it's because we don't get sent more books like Sam Gross' We Have Ways Of Making You Laugh: 120 Funny Swastika Cartoons (Simon & Schuster). Funny swastika cartoons? Honestly? Gross' stated goal is to demystify the Nazi symbol by making funny things happen to and around it, but these cartoons aren't funny, which makes them pointless. It isn't that the swastika is too charged a symbol to joke about, it's that Gross' minimalist black-and-white line drawings—far simpler, conceptually and artistically, than his frequent New Yorker cartoons—are tossed-off and conceptually insignificant, with a little cheap shock value as the only resonance. Many of the cartoons play off of other Nazi signifiers; one has a mouse goose-stepping into a swastika-shaped maze as a researcher watches, while another has a blind Nazi with a goose-stepping seeing-eye goose. Other cartoons reveal an actual festering hatred, as two lovebirds tell a Nazi that they hate him, or some cemetery worms inform a Nazi widow that they're moving out of her husband's grave because people keep pissing on it. But most of the cartoons are the offhanded sketches of an idle, obsessed mind: swastika as a hairy insect, as a musical instrument, as a cat's litterbox or hairball, as a dog's asshole. It feels like Gross is exorcising his own emotional attachment to the symbol, but in a peculiarly personal way, with little craft or thought, and with little significance for anyone else, apart from the lingering 101 Uses For A Dead Cat tackiness. F

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