Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (9/19/12)

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Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (9/19/12)

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Bucko
by Jeff Parker and Erika Moen

Dark Horse, 2012
Rating: 8.6

Bucko is sort of a hipster Big Lebowski, a detective story that’s more about the journey than the solution and happy to meander, Raymond Chandler-style, picking up interesting characters along the way. Sure, it has cliffhangers, no doubt driven by its original publication as a webcomic, but it’s not a plot-driven enterprise. Rather than be annoyed at the lack of resolution, you’re sad when it draws to a close because it’s been so much fun. Jeff Parker’s filthy, inventive mind pairs nicely with Erika Moen’s gorgeously simple drawings as the sense of sweetness in the visuals cuts the acid of the writing, which spares no one. Usually, when someone’s referred to as an “equal opportunity offender,” it means a bunch of aggressive, loutish behavior, but Parker makes the description one to be proud of. Authors’ commentary at the bottom of each page is snappier by far than on any DVD I’ve owned and is a nice bonus for those who want the printed copy of Bucko. (HB)

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Sword of Sorcery #0
by Christy Marx, Tony Bedard, Aaron Lopresti and Jesus Saiz

DC Comics, 2012
Rating: 6.3

DC Universe Presents #0
by various artists

DC Comics, 2012
Rating: 4.7

Some of the “zero” issues that DC is releasing this month are series debuts. Sword of Sorcery is one of them. This anthology leads with a revival of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, a relatively obscure fantasy comic from the 1980s targeted to female readers. The material might excel as a series of YA novels: Amy Winston has a tough life until she turns 17 and realizes she’s actually a warrior princess from a magical fantasyland. Animation writer and game designer Christy Marx’s reintroduction of the character stages a few stock scenarios—popular girls are catty, jocks are assholes, poor goths who move a lot struggle to make friends and resent their mothers—but there’s a bit of universal truth there that makes the world Amy escapes from into a believable and recognizable hell. Hopefully the core conflict progresses past the old Wizard of Oz good witch / bad witch dichotomy established at the end of this story. Aaron Lopresti’s art is static and muted during the Earth sections, which is off-putting, but comes to life during a bit of swashbuckling at the end. Perhaps that’s intentional? A brief secondary feature is more promising, a Beowulf retelling set in a post-industrial collapse retro-futuro-Medieval Denmark. Characters speak formally and dress in 12th century garb but they uncover Beowulf from an abandoned modern-day military facility. The Beowulf character design is lamentable—he’s a shirtless, grey-haired Wolverine lookalike with tribal tats—but Tony Bedard’s twist on a classic is intriguing and Jesus Saiz is a fine artist.
Some of the cancelled New 52 comics get their own brief origin stories in the DC Universe Presents #0 anthology, which checks in on a handful of departed books. Ten more pages of the gone-too-soon Jack Kirby homage O.M.A.C. are very welcome but not enough on their own to justify the six dollar price tag. The other forgettable stories will remind you why you didn’t read Mister Terrific, Hawk & Dove or Blackhawks while they were around. At least the closing Deadman short features some impressive expressionist art from Scott McDaniel. (GM)

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The Infinite Wait and Other Stories
by Julia Wertz

Koyama Press, 2012
Rating: 7.9

If not for the fart jokes, Julia Wertz would be like any number of confessional cartoonists, provoking as much aggravation as sympathy through her portrait of a concatenation of fuck-ups. But (and this is an important point), her fearlessness when it comes to depicting herself in an unattractive light elevates her work to something more than snark plus tales of woe. Her books also manage to avoid whininess, unlike, say, Joe Matt’s, which may reveal their author’s character through his endless complaining but eventually wear on the nerves. That isn’t to say she doesn’t bitch about everything under the sun, but there’s a stoicism and a fundamental grasp of reality underneath the surface carping. Her deliberately primitive style can get old after pages and pages, but it also lends some important distance to her stories of alcoholism, underemployment, poverty and systemic lupus. As her career as progressed, she’s moved more toward long-form storytelling, and this volume contains two longer stories and one short one. The latter, about her memories of libraries, is surprisingly touching, at least if you spent a lot of formative time with your nose in a book, and although the other two (the first about all the jobs she’s had and the second about her diagnosis with lupus) make a few too many references to her other work, they are reliably unsentimental, grouchy and secretly sad. (HB)

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Ghost #0 of 4
by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto

Dark Horse, 2012
Rating: 5.8

Back in the 90s, Ghost chopped a Y chromosome off Will Eisner’s The Spirit to create a sexy, stylish art deco heroine with roaring 50s style and bad grrrl attitude. The series also served as a playground for some of the most gifted artists in mainstream comics, with Adam Hughes, Terry Dodson, Ivan Reis and John Cassaday tackling the resurrected curves of a deceased reporter and her twin pistols. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto bring Ghost back from the dead once more with mixed results. The script takes on an everyman angle in the miserable monologues of Vaughan Barnes, a fired journalist who helps film a shaky-cam ghost hunter show with his intolerable friend (you’ll block him out after the fourth “bro”). The pair proceeds to use a magic crystal to summon a transparent brunette who looks like she just stumbled out of Marilyn Monroe’s wardrobe. Unfortunately, the phantasm loses her fantastic when she inexplicably starts eating hot dogs and rides around pickup beds in a pair of Levis. DeConnick is known for writing fun dialogue and fleshed-out characters, but the casual tone diminishes the Golden Age mystique of a levitating Hollywood Starlet. Likewise, Phil Noto’s history of sepia-toned femme fatales should translate perfectly to this title, but his overall direction lacks dynamism. His pencils shine in storytelling and anatomy, but like DeConnick, Noto’s approach feels too conservative for the vintage supernatural fun this character should bring. Juxtaposing the extraordinary through the mundane can be a potent tool (check out the found footage deluge of the past decade), but this introduction feels a tad lifeless. (SE)

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