Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Comics Capsule Reviews

Star Wars #14: Did I mention Marvel’s Star Wars comics are firing on all cylinders and are pretty great? If not, they are. This issue is the penultimate chapter of the “Vader Down” storyline, where Darth Vader is shot down over a distant planet and the entire Rebellion shows up to remove him from the cosmic chessboard. The odds are around 10,000 to 1 in favor of the Rebellion. The Rebellion better go back and get some more guys. Vader is drawn into the trap because he is tracking Luke Skywalker (in continuity this takes place before Vader realizes Luke is his son). Vader comes close to catching him, until his own people betray him and a familiar character gets the drop on him. A character he may also be related to. 

If the movies were half as fun as these comics, they might actually make another billion dollars. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars. 

The Fade Out #12: (*Slight spoilers*) This twelfth and final issue wraps up the novel-length mystery of who killed movie star Valeria Sommers. I won’t go into detailed spoilers, but I will say the resolution was unsatisfying and not to my taste. I’ve not made a secret of my love for this creative team, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips. They’re geniuses. But ever since the first season of The Wire, great as it was, writers have realized that it is acceptable, and even somewhat realistic for criminals to get away with it. To get off scot free with no punishment and no remorse. Personally, I hate that idea. I really hate it when the bad guys win—always have. Comes from reading too many Stan Lee comics when I was a kid (Aw, who am I kidding? There’s no such thing). The mystery is solved, and in the end the protagonist, screenwriter Charlie Parrish, stands empty, alone and lost. It’s basically what he deserved, but it is a cold, stark finish. Valeria’s murder stands unavenged and the murderer and the system that protects him are left to run like a profitable, well-oiled machine. I wasted twelve issues for this? Objectively this book is a fine work of art by two masters at the height of their powers. Subjectively, the ending ruined the entire story for me. 

Rating: *** stars out of 5 

Rachel Rising #39: This book is eighteen pages of story, black and white, takes five minutes to read and costs four bucks. It’s worth every penny. The risen Rachel is closer than ever to finding out who killed her. Earl tells Aunt Johnny about his relationship with Jet. In the morgue, Rachel touches a fresh corpse to see through their eyes how they died. Then reluctantly she tries it again on an unidentifiable glob of goo that was also brought in recently. This time she sees the killer, but the killer stares back. With prejudice. 

I just read that writer/artist Terry Moore is ending Rachel Rising and wrapping up the story with #42. That’s a shame, it’s one of the best books on the market and has more heart and character than everything DC Comics publishes put together. I will miss this quality piece of work by a comics master. At least I know the ending will be epic. 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars 

Velvet #13: Here’s another book by Ed Brubaker, this time with art by the fabulous Steve Epting. I liked it a lot better than The Fade Out. Taking place in the early ‘70s, Velvet is a former spy tracking down her lover’s killer. The closer she gets to answers, the more maze-like mysteries she wraps around herself. And the weight of those mysteries is starting to take its toll. 

Interrogating a witness at a posh hotel restaurant, Velvet is accosted by her former spy trainer with a gun. Barely escaping, she leaps out the window and attempts to save her fleeing and terrified witness. In the end the witness uses one word that starts to make sense of this entire mess. Unfortunately, that word implicates the 1972 Republican Party. This may be another red herring, but Brubaker proved in his Captain America run that he doesn’t care for conservatives, small government or low taxes. If people want those things, for some reason Brubaker thinks they are feeble-minded racists. I’d roll my eyes and sigh, but those are the exact same thoughts expressed by almost every mainstream comics writer, so that would be a lot of sighing and eye rolling. I just hope he sticks to an entertaining story and doesn’t continue to lay the faults of the world at the feet of Republicans. We all know it’s Obama’s fault, right? No one is perfect, but I hope Brubaker can keep his partisan politics out of his stories. This isn’t Marvel Comics.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars 

Weird Love #11: If David Lynch and Salvador Dali made comics together, those comics would probably look something like Weird Love. Reprinting stories from the ’50s through the ‘70s, today we would call these stories everything from creepy to bizarre. Back then they just called ‘em comics! Some of the stories include: 

- Jailbird’s Romance (Romantic Adventures #49, 1954): Angel Morelli is one of the most hardened criminals of the decade! But she never had a chance, really. She got involved with small-time thug Alfie as a teenager, then grew to like their thieving lifestyle. When Alfie gets gunned down by the cops, Angel is captured and does her first stint in prison. When she is released she goes right back to her criminal ways, teaming up with gangster chauffer Danny to rob his boss. Unfortunately, Angel falls for the boss and refuses to go through with the robbery. And why should she? He’s not a get the milk free type—he’s actually willing to marry her! Angel’s erstwhile partner Danny doesn’t care for that plan. He frames her for a murder, then reveals her criminal past! Before she can prove her innocence, she grabs a gat and plugs Danny in front of God and everybody! Back to prison for you, Angel. Thanks for playing. And watch that temper. 

- The Girl Next Door (Love and Marriage #6, 1953): Gwen is sort of a slutty gold-digger. She is engaged to Roger, but when she sees something shiny (that would be diamonds) she leaves him in an instant to marry the older and ailing George. When George eventually gets sick and dies (mostly because Gwen was poisoning him), she moves back to town and goes straight after the now happily married Roger. At first Rog is flattered by the attention, but when things get to Fatal Attraction levels, he insists Gwen back off. Undaunted, she loosens the stair rails on her second floor and invites Mrs. Roger over for tea, Rog’s mom shows up instead and reads her the riot act. Shocked someone has seen through to her slutty, gold digging interior, Gwen grabs the stair rail and goes tumbling down the stairs. She lives just long enough to confess to poisoning George and ask Roger for one final tongue kiss. Now that’s how you end a story, Brubaker! 

- Happiness is a Guy Named Joe (Youthful Romances #14, 1952): No kidding, this is probably the best (and only) irony-free story published in Weird Love. It’s actually good on its own merits! 

Elaine and Joe are young and in love. Too young, according to Elaine’s parents. They want to get hitched before Joe goes off to war, but Elaine is underage and her parents say no. Horny, um, in love, Joe insists they elope anyway. They make it as far as Millwood and find a Justice of the Peace. But Elaine’s parents and the local sheriff track them down and put a stop to their youthful shenanigans. It’s all but over until the sheriff relates the story, ten years before, of his own daughter who wanted to elope before her boyfriend went off to the big one. When he died in battle, she was heartbroken and hasn’t spoken with him since. Touched, Elaine’s parents change their minds and the nuptials proceed. Everyone is happy. Then the sheriff calls his happily married daughter and tells her he’ll be stopping by for dinner on the way home. And he has a heck of a story to tell. Great art, too. 

- I Sinned Against Love (First Love Illustrated #21, 1952): Gail has one dreamy goal in life—to become Mrs. Ron Brewster. Doesn’t everyone? On their last date before Ron runs off to join the Army, Gail does more manipulation than a Jewish and Catholic mother combined. Letting her loneliness and desperation cling to her like flop sweat, Gail basically forces Ron to propose ... then acts shocked when it happens! Married in an drunken exhausted stupor, Ron and Gail don’t even have time to consummate their marriage before he has to report to the bus depot (I think ... ‘50s comics were a little sketchy on those details). 

Now just as lonely, Gail can’t even date because her husband is overseas playing soldier ... that is, until she starts working for the male-modelesque Mr. Holbrook. Gail agonizes over her rash marriage decision. Her thought balloons reveal the truth ... “After all, what is our marriage? The memory of a few hurried words mumbled by a sleepy stranger! We never dreamed or planned together as real married people do!” Translation: We were young and drunk, and now momma needs lovin’! Now cheating on Ron with Mr. Holbrook, Gail accidently notices Ron was killed in action in a newspaper headline. Wow, the army was really lax on next of kin notification in 1952! 

Filled with guilt, our two-timing hussy ‘fesses up to Mr. Holbrook, who righteously dumps her in disgust. Way to show some stones, Frank! The last panel leaves Gail a weeping mess, contemplating her long decline into forlorn spinsterhood. That’s about as uplifting as it gets. 

In eleven issues, Weird Love hasn’t lost a scintilla of its edge. Keep the perfidy coming! 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

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