Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tales of Unusual Circumstance, The Losers and Stars and STRIPE volume two

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded. This time, reviews of three books I finished before I started rushing around and getting married and not having time to blog about them: Tales of Unusual Circumstance (self-published, 2008), Jack Kirby's The Losers (DC, 2009) and Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. volume two (DC, 2007).

I've met Joey a couple of times and have been very impressed by his cartooning chops. He's released several cute books of witty, all-ages-friendly material. This one collects several tales from earlier minicomics and anthologies. There are some recurring characters, such as a hapless romantic pig and a superhero who's afraid of girls, and one story features the "Late Night Gang" of little kid monsters (similar to Akira Toriyama's Cowa), who've since graduated to their own minicomic. It's rarely a kneeslapper, but Joey's mix of clever writing and design will certainly have you smiling while you read it. Good stuff, and recommended.

The story goes that Jack Kirby was never happy writing with other peoples' characters. What then to make of The Losers, a feature which teamed four C-List military men from the pages of DC's war comics, which is without argument one of the best war titles that publisher ever released? There's a lot of memory cheating when it comes to these titles; recent reissues of Sgt. Rock and Haunted Tank have shown all the creaks in books which have not aged well at all, but the little-known Losers is just hugely fun, with fabulous plotting, surprise twists, believable characters and the artist's commitment to do the job right, without the shortcuts and cliches that you often found in these books. Kirby was on the book for twelve issues, and every one is a complete gem, easily a match for and often superior to the material in my beloved Battle Picture Weekly. DC's new edition is an oversized color hardback, which comes highly recommended.

And then there's this...

I tried to like this book the second time around. When Stars and STRIPE was originally released, I was determined to like it, and for a late '90s superhero book, there is far worse out there. But this is forgettable flotsam, and I would have never traded my originals for a more durable and convenient paperback edition had my daughter not expressed an interest in it.

Honestly, volume two scores over its predecessor because none of the stories ever rush to an end so the characters can get to the next big DC Universe crossover, but it's still a navel-gazing exercise in continuity and the glorious heritage of superhero lineage, which is only important because the characters demand that be the case. What to make of a character's conveniently-unmentioned son from a previous marriage, who's come to town because he wants to be the next Star-Spangled Kid. Who wanted to be the first Star-Spangled Kid, honestly? Geoff Johns' obsession with this heritage issue is baffling since it would appear only he gets to decide who's worthy of carrying on these wholly unimportant legacies. If any other writer comes up with a new Wildcat or Polar Boy, Johns rips their arms off, but his own characters twinkle with the awesome responsibility of living up to a name that's only meaningful because the writer demands that it is.

That's the grouchy position of a jaded former fanboy, but having obtained this mess for my daughter, I can tell you that she says that she enjoyed it, but probably not much. "Was that how it ended?" she asked. "Yes, but I believe that Courtney's adventures go on in the JSA comic book, where she's a member. I can get you some of those, if you like." It took her less than two seconds to say "Naaaah, never mind." Make of that what you will.

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