Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thirteen "Going on Eighteen"

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Thirteen "Going on Eighteen" (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010)

Thirteen "Going on Eighteen" was a teen girls' comedy series written, and mostly illustrated, by John Stanley. It was originally published in quarterly issues by Dell between 1962-1967 and the first nine have been repackaged, with truly satisfying design work by Stanley-phile and Bookshelf fave Seth, by Drawn & Quarterly in a really nice, heavy chunk of a hardcover.

Honestly, the ongoing budget crisis - well, I suppose it isn't really a crisis, I just don't have as much disposable income as I once did - meant that I intended to leave this one on the shelves for now, but I showed a copy to my daughter to see whether she'd like it. Just as her brother fell for Stanley's Melvin Monster, my daughter, at age eleven the perfect audience for this comic, insisted that I take it home. If I didn't, she probably would have thrown back her head and hollered "BAW!" at me.

I remain a little frustrated with D&Q's choices about how they're managing their reprints. Melvin Monster's nine terrific issues are being spread across three hardcovers, and here's a nice big book with the first nine issues of Thirteen. On the one hand, I wish D&Q had simply packaged all of Melvin Monster in a book this size, but on the other, I can see that in the case of Thirteen, they would have been shooting themselves in the foot by only reprinting the first three, which really aren't very good. These stories were drawn by Dell regular Tony Tallarico, and they're just plain dull. Stanley's scripts weren't very engaging, either. He took over art duties with the third issue, but it's not until the fourth that I started laughing. I didn't stop until the end, either.

Val and Judy's world of chocolate shoppes and moptops is pretty far removed from ours, but teenage girls still act like drama queens as often as possible, and their shenanigans, usually involving Val's insensitive older sister or her next-door neighbor, are usually quite funny. The very best comics, however, are the little shorts about Judy Jr., suggesting that Stanley was still more supremely confident depicting the world of little kids than teens. Judy Jr. is just hilarious, a clueless bully who strongarms her hapless friend into whatever she wants, punishing him on one occasion by throwing him out of his own house so that she can continue playing with his toys.

Since the first third of the book is really uneven, I can't give this the loudest of recommendations, but if you've got tweenage girls in your household, you'd be well advised to pick up a copy. Should the publisher bring out a second volume, however, that will be essential. When y'all bringing out Kookie, guys?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pluto Volume 8

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Pluto Volume 8 (Viz, 2010)

Pluto has finally ended, and I'm sorry to see it go. This was a genuinely terrific adventure, one which never outlasted its welcome or felt overlong. Naoki Urusawa can take a bow; this was among the best comics of the last decade.

If you were among those oddballs who failed to jump on board while it was ongoing, you might have missed what we were raving about. I described it last year as a "simply expert blend of detective fiction, classicist science fiction and big robots knocking the bejezus out of each other." It's actually a revisionist expansion of a celebrated Astro Boy adventure by Osamu Tezuka, in which some unknown force has been eliminating both the greatest and most powerful robots on the planet along with robot-friendly scientists. Only another robot could destroy the heroic droids who previously brought an end to a worldwide war, but robots are programmed never to harm humans, so the detective Gesicht has a dangerous problem on his hands, one that threatens to plunge the world into darkness.

If Pluto has a failing at all, it's that book six could have been the conclusion and I would have been satisfied. Sure, it would have meant one heck of a bleak ending, and one quite opposed to the always optimistic Tezuka's worldview, but Urusawa created a climax there which knocked me for a loop. Honestly, the real ending, while still quite satisfying, just doesn't have the emotional resonance of the earlier moment. There's an unexpected epilogue with a hell of a payoff, too. If you enjoy mysteries, comics or old-school SF, there's a lot in Pluto to surprise you. Strongly recommended.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Defoe: 1666

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Defoe: 1666 (Rebellion, 2009)

I know what you're thinking: Really, I'm good. I don't need any more zombie comics. I don't blame you; the market's flooded with them. When you add comedy films and Jane Austen pastiches to the mix, nobody would be wrong for passing up another damn zombie comic.

Except Defoe is written by Pat Mills and features a very interesting take on the alternative history genre. What if, after a meteor raised the dead in 1666, the politics of England were irrevocably altered and the severed head of Oliver Cromwell becomes the leader of a new zombie army and occupies most of London?

Our hero is Titus Defoe, who fought on Cromwell's side during the English Civil War but now counts Isaac Newton as his greatest ally, for he has been developing weapons specially designed for the destruction of the zombie menace. Newton's just part of a truly huge supporting cast, the book's only real flaw to my mind. This a very busy comic, dense with backstory and characters serving an extremely fast-moving plot. I've found Defoe to be one of Pat Mills' most satisfying and wild creations yet, and enjoy it tremendously, thanks in no small part to Leigh Gallagher's very intricate artwork and designs, but it really demands a higher than usual degree of work from readers to keep everything in place.

Three Defoe stories have appeared in 2000 AD since it debuted in 2007, with a fourth scheduled for later this year. This collection reprints the first two, with some modified artwork and lettering, along with several pages of design sketches by Gallagher. These show a considerable evolution in Defoe's appearance before he started work on the stories. Titus is a terrific character, one of Mills' very best, but I can't help but wish Gallagher had gone with the long-haired, mustached "Cavalier" look. Nobody in comics looks like that! This book comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Three Days With the Rabbi

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Three Days With the Rabbi (Fawcett, 1977).

When I was a little kid, I recall wandering into the "grown up fiction" shelves at the Lewis A. Ray public library and being intrigued by the covers of the Harry Kemelman novels featuring Rabbi David Small. I never took a course in design or typography, but whomever came up with that remarkable font used for the titles is probably more responsible than anybody else for sparking any interest in the subject that I have. I was too young to actually read the books, of course. I didn't even know what a rabbi was yet, but I just loved staring at the lettering.

Many years later, my early '90s fascination with Columbo led me to look into that program's fellow series on The NBC Mystery Movie and was surprised to learn that the novels had spawned a short-lived adaptation of four TV movies in 1977 starring Bruce Solomon as Rabbi Small and Art Carney as Chief Paul Lanigan. They seem to have inverted the focus of the books onto Carney's character, the chief of police in a small Massachusetts town, but I never got to see them and so I'm not certain. I recall reading the entry and remembering those neat books with the wonderful lettering on the cover. Despite reading about these movies while sitting down in the largest research library in the southeast and being completely fascinated by everything to do with the NBC Mystery Movie, it still didn't occur to me to actually, you know, read the books.

So, something close to three decades after I first saw the darn things, I finally read three of them. I found an old book club omnibus of the fourth, fifth and sixth novels in the series at the Clarke County Library sale a couple of months ago and they were... cute. As you might expect from a property that attracted Art Carney's attention, they're pretty gentle, read-in-bed cozies where the murder is a puzzle with no broader ramifications and which leaves no major trauma in its wake, rather like Christie's Miss Marple books. Apart from The Late Show, which was filmed around the same time as the Lanigan's Rabbi TV movies, Carney rarely went in for the heavy stuff, and unsurprisingly, the novels are light to the point of being fluffy. Law & Order: Criminal Intent's fanbase, which shipped pounds and pounds of marshmallow cream to Universal and USA to protest Vincent D'Onofrio's ousting from the show, probably wouldn't enjoy a contemporary adaptation of these books.

I did enjoy them to some degree, particularly in contrast to finishing all of Raymond Chandler's novels recently. The focus is more on the rabbi's family life and congregation, and the strange synagogue politics that result from trying to satisfy Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and every other branch of modern Judaism in one community. The books employ an enormous cast of characters to fill the town of Barnard's Crossing with colleges, drug stores and a board of directors, I guess, at the temple. The books focus on all of these families and business partners, and their polite, loving disagreements. The murder is often a background element to resolving the light tensions between squabbling factions.

Rabbi Small fascinates me. He's unfailingly polite and curious, even when confronted with well-intentioned nonsense from sides as disparate as a "some of my best friends are Jews!" anti-Semitic professor or an "I do whatever my rebbe tells me!" Hassidic acolyte, and Kemelman did a really great job breathing life into the character. Interestingly, when reading Chandler, I could never hear a consistent voice for Marlowe. The narration sounded like David Janssen as Harry O sometimes and Humphrey Bogart others. When I read Rabbi Small, however, I invariably heard John Schuck, the character actor who played, among a million other things, Sgt. Enright in McMillan and Wife. See, all things come back to the NBC Mystery Movie.

Having said that, I was baffled by one point. The rabbi's schtick is that he solves the mystery by use of Talmudic reasoning, leading to his climactic party trick where he juggles all the evidence and all sides of the possibilities in a strange little sing-song voice, which Kemelman depicts with elo-o-ongating wo-o-ords in his monologue. I have no idea what on Earth that could sound like.

I really don't think these books are for everybody, but the only sincere letdown I found was the occasional cloying treatment of college-age radicals, whether the demonstrators in the fifth book or the Hassidic fellow in the sixth. They're a shade more sincere and believable than the Hollywood hippies of a period Jack Webb show, and I don't think you can damn with fainter praise than that. Otherwise, if you're looking for a break from hard-boiled detective fiction or don't mind something more interested in amusing you than challenging you, Kemelman's novels have aged reasonably well, and I'll certainly be keeping an eye open for others in the series.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Captain America and the Falcon: The Swine

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Captain America and the Falcon: The Swine (Marvel, 2006)

From 1976-1977, Jack Kirby was back writing and drawing Marvel's Captain America & the Falcon, but by the end of his run, he was pretty clearly bored of having to include the Falcon in the stories, and so this third collection, which wraps up the run, mostly sidetracks that character so that Cap can get involved in a very lengthy storyline that is occasionally tiresome but mostly quite satisfyingly bugnuts.

This was the period where I think Kirby was plateauing, still making comics which were revelatory in one way or another but with sometimes heavy disclaimers. The goonish caricatures of some of the villains instantly took me out of the story, but not half as much as this must-be-seen-to-be-believed pinstripe suit that Cap wears in his civilian identity. I'm not sure whether the problem came from Kirby using 1930s reference for the fashion, or the colorist attacking it with stripes so wide that it looks like Cap's advertising chewing gum.

The storylines, however, are so engaging and over the top that most people will probably overlook Kirby's power beginning to fade a little. Over the course of eight issues, Cap gets abducted by a crazy South American dictator who's been buying guardian monsters from an insane scientist called Arnim Zola who keeps his face on a video screen on his chest, and who is bankrolled by the Red Skull, the supervillain that even all the other supervillains hate, because he's a Nazi. If you can't even count on Dr. Doom or Magneto to back you up in attacking the X-Men, you really are a scumbag.

Speaking of Magneto, he turns up in a bonus story, having recruited a really pathetic new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants with such awe-deflating names as "Peeper" and "Lifter." It's not a really notable chapter in Magneto's story, but it's pretty amusing watching Cap find novel ways to thrash all of their butts.

This is not Kirby at his best. Even compared to the stories in the first in this three-volume series, this feels a little uninspired and slow. On the other hand, darned if I can think of a Marvel Comic in the last four years to be half as entertaining and wild as this. Recommended with some reservations.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Second Confession

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of The Second Confession (Viking, 1949).

As readers may have noticed, I've been devouring all of Rex Stout's stories of Nero Wolfe in order. When I read And Be a Villain, the novel that preceded this one, I mentioned to my wife how much I enjoyed it, and how I hoped that we'd see the clearly-inspired-by-Moriarty character of Arnold Zeck again. Then I went and read the Wikipedia entry for that book and spoiled my discovery that we would. Stupid Wikipedia. Because it's the service's fault and not mine.

The Second Confession is an interesting book that really plays with the rules of the series. It has rather less in common with the refined English school of detective fiction that informs most of the series, taking inspiration from radio and film thrillers. Wolfe is asked by a millionaire bigwig to find evidence that the man courting his daughter is a communist, and Wolfe only agrees to get involved with something like that because he's a strident patriot who hates the reds.

Unfortunately, the potential red is also being scouted by another source, leading to a faked holdup by the side of the road, and an ominous phone call from the master criminal Zeck, warning our heroes to lay off their investigation. When Zeck realizes that his threats require a little proof that he's serious, he brings it on with a surprising attack on Wolfe's property. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this adventure isn't as witty or lighthearted as others in the series, but it's so tremendously exciting to follow that I enjoyed it all the same. Recommended, but not as your first Stout novel.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Locas II

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Locas II (Fantagraphics, 2009)

This was a Christmas present from my wife, a book that I had no intention of buying myself. Well, no immediate intention. You never know. That's because I'd already bought almost all of the contents of Jaime Hernandez's Locas II twice already, when the 418 pages within its covers were originally printed in Love & Rockets and then when the artist carved them out and expanded them into the larger Fantagraphics books Locas in Love, Dicks and Deedees, Ghost of Hoppers, The Education of Hopey Glass and another one that I don't remember the name of. These are wonderful stories, where the aging regulars from the original Locas tales pay lip service to the idea of settling down in the suburban southern California heat. Maggie's past is more painful than her present, Ray and Doyle refuse to grow up, and Hopey... well, I've never really got a handle on Hopey, or what makes her tick.

Frankly, all these different assemblages of the same material is really getting confusing. Maybe it doesn't help that I'm petulantly pouting that I didn't enjoy Hernandez's "Ti-Girls" adventure that appeared in the 2008 and 2009 Love & Rockets "New Stories" books and wish he'd just tell us more about what happens to Maggie and Hopey next, and so since I'm being a dissatisfied Monday morning quarterback, it's coloring how I view the pages in front of me. A week ago, I picked up Penny Century, the newest collection - I think book eight - in that OTHER format, the one that I really like, of about 300 pages in a shorter, squatter book, and it looked a whole lot like a whole bunch of these pages were being reprinted for their FOURTH time there. So I put it back on the rack and didn't buy it.

Honestly, nobody needs to buy these things four times, but I think that Fantagraphics could do a far better job simplifying things to keep things in order. I think the big coffee table books like this one aren't intended for the collectors, and should be perceived as just a one-shot art book. That's part of why I didn't buy Gilbert's The High Soft Lisp (a 120-page tall collection) last week, either. Cash is a little tight around these parts, and I figure all those pages will get into a 300-page short book pretty soon too, right? Is there some comprehensive website somewhere that tells us exactly what stories are in which book, so I can sell some of this stuff? Do I still need Ghost of Hoppers; are all its pages reprinted in Locas II?

As for this book, yes, it's completely lovely, gorgeously designed by Jacob Covey. Its contents are so damn delightful that within one week of finishing reading the book, I was actively entertaining buying what seemed to be all of it again in another format. It's an absolute treasure, a work of art I'm glad to own. I just wish I hadn't spent what looks to be close to a couple hundred bucks chasing assorted L&R comics and books around the last several years getting all this stuff, when I could have just waited and got this for forty, or the Penny Century book for eighteen. Locas II is recommended, strongly, if you haven't read the material, but do some research and make sure you're not duplicating yourself too much if you have.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Judge Anderson: The Psi-Files Volume 1

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Judge Anderson: The Psi-Files Volume 1 (Rebellion, 2009)

Take three, I think the expression goes.

When Rebellion and DC teamed up to release a couple of dozen 2000 AD collections in 2004-05, one was a splendid little set of 35 Anderson: Psi Division episodes. Some time later, Rebellion issued a set called Shamballa, which contained almost all of the various stories illustrated, beautifully, by Arthur Ranson. Neither of these found a follow-up volume. Now, finding success in their "phonebook" line of great big 400-or-so-page collections, they've gone back to basics and released an omnibus edition called The Psi Files which reprints the DC book in its entirety, along with another forty-plus episodes, including (among them) Ranson's first serial "Triad," which had already been seen in the Shamballa book. Confused yet?

Judge Cassandra Anderson, a supporting character in Joe Dredd's world, graduated to her own occasionally-scheduled series in 1984, following several memorable guest appearances in the main series. She has never had a consistent, lengthy run, nor a regular artist, so quite a few different people have illustrated Alan Grant's scripts. Across these installments, you've got work by Ranson as well as Brett Ewins, Cliff Robinson, Robin Smith, Barry Kitson, David Roach, Carlos Ezquerra and several others.

So visually it's a real mixed bag, but the quality of Grant's storytelling is consistent throughout. Ewins seems more fascinated by Anderson's posterior than anything else on his pages, and I'm completely in love with Roach's inking, but his Mega-City One's oddball fashions and empty streets have more in common with a photoshoot by a New Romantic band from the early '80s than any other artist's take on the city. Happily, Alan Grant ties it all together with some superb stories, the first three co-written with John Wagner, all of which start with a wild premise that requires the input of Justice Department's division of psychic agents and stampedes into who-knows-where.

The book is more hit than miss. The only really sour note is a twelve-parter called "Engram," which I detested at the time and still smacks today of a flirtation with that early nineties' trend of relevancy and giving heroes unnecessarily human weaknesses and tragic backstories. Other than that, everything here has aged very well and proves that Grant does a better job than most in the business at raising tension across a set episode count, with each chunk of every serial a solid building block of classic thrillpower. Plus it's got a great bit where a demonic door calls our heroine an "interfering bitch." Who could resist? Recommended.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volume 10

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volume 10 (Dark Horse, 2010)

Over the course of its run, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service should have started to run out of steam, but it hasn’t. I say that because while I’m certainly not making any claims to being an expert on Japanese comics, I do have several shelves full of digests and every one of those that form long-running serials was feeling at least a little tired by its tenth book, almost as though the creators were working to a lengthy contract and their initial enthusiasm had long ago been dampened.

Kurosagi, on the other hand, just gets better and better with every book. The impression I get is that Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki had a concept so nebulous and a cast so sketchy that it’s taken them years to grow their creepy and promising work into something solid. Again, no claim of expertise here, but I wonder whether other creators that I enjoy do a great deal more behind-the-scenes work with editors before their stories hit the ground running. In his always entertaining annotations, editor Carl Horn mentioned a volume or two back that this series has wound its way through three or four different anthologies. Perhaps the lack of a solid editorial guide, with one eye on the popularity chart and the sales figures, has done Kurosagi a favor?

Whatever the case, over time the cast has become more fleshed out and human, especially Numata, whose mentor we meet in the last storyline here, and the cases more intricate, fascinating, horrifying and rule-breaking. There’s a bit in book ten where a guest character’s best friend is, in a moment I never would have seen coming, killed by the villains of that story, and another bit where I exclaimed aloud and distracted my family from our nice hour of quiet reading time. We need more comics that do that. Long may Kurosagi chill and terrify.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Essential Thor Volume 3

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Essential Thor Volume 3 (Marvel, 2007)

About 18 months ago, with one eye skeptically wavering, I sat down to read the second volume of Marvel's Essential Thor, knowing that I really didn't like the character when I was a kid and read some his overblown and stilted late '70s adventures, but also knowing that the original '60s material by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was certain to be different and superior. I had no idea what a trip I was in for. This stuff was completely wild and wonderful, absolutely one of the best two or three comics of the 1960s.

I elected to save this book for a rainy day, so to speak, and savored the anticipation, and am glad that I did. What a thrill this book is. It's 500 pages of beatdowns and wildly escalating, insane cosmic threats. It's every bit as long as a proper rollercoaster should be, especially one of the great wooden ones like the Georgia Cyclone where you have no idea where in the ride you are or what you can possibly expect around the next bend. Lee and Kirby just kept ratcheting this mad book up, with one unbelievable threat after another for thirty issues without a pause. There's Ulik the troll and the Wrecker and Karnilla the Norn Queen and a war between Galactus and Ego the Living Planet and Greek deities and Mangog and every so often, you just have to put the book down and rest for a little bit.

In the stories reprinted in the second volume, the format was a 16-page lead story and a separate five-page backup by the same team called Tales of Asgard where Thor and some of his adventuring friends had wild tales set in some nebulous, glorious past. Those backups reach an end after about ten of the 30 issues here, and I kind of missed them, though I was pleased that Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg were incorporated into the main storyline, expanded to twenty pages at a time, a little bit. They're present when Mangog, sole survivor of a race of billions who got on Odin's bad side some millennia previously, decides to attack Asgard while Odin is in his cannot-be-awoken-lest-the-universe-end "Odinsleep," leading to the cast's most desperate battle yet, until the next one, anyway. It's a book that writes its own hyperbole. Sheer, unadulterated bliss.

Also, at one point, Thor is flying around New York, realizes he's thirsty and gets himself a chocolate ice cream soda. He salutes the soda jerk's concoction and cute girls swoon over him. If that doesn't make you smile, you're hopeless.

There's a fourth Essential Thor available which takes the story into the early 1970s, and sees Kirby, whose art in this book will separate your jaw at least once every ten pages, stepping down, replaced by John Buscema and Neal Adams, and Lee handing the reins to Gerry Conway. Those men are all fine talents, but a big part of me doesn't want to see the saga end that way. In a perfect world, Thor is so much more than a simple character within the big, bulky Marvel Universe and a cog in that machine, he's the lead character in one of the most consistently entertaining comics that anybody's ever made. Very highly recommended.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Doctor Who: The Widow's Curse

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Doctor Who: The Widow's Curse (Panini, 2009)

You remember how, in August of last year, I reviewed the previous volume in Panini's series of Doctor Who collections, and noted, with some skepticism, that it arrived costing about a third more than the solicited price? And how I wondered whether, when the next book showed up, they'd pull the same scummy stunt? Well, The Widow's Curse did come out towards the tail end of 2009, and it did cost $32 when it was solicited as a $25 book. Those guys are making it very difficult to justify letting them go without clearing my throat about their business practices.

The contents almost make up for the price hike. Ever since the TV series returned, the comic strip has been treading water, making the mistake of letting rotating teams of creators tackle the strip. That's not to say the individual stories are lacking - Ian Edginton and Adrian Salmon contribute a cracking little three-parter, and Jonathan Morris and Rob Davis give the terrific character of Donna Noble, one of my all-time favorite Who companions, a send-off so terrific in "The Time of My Life" that it's almost worth the cover price alone.

However, the feature would be so vastly improved by letting a single team loose on it. Panini's earlier collections prove this repeatedly, earlier allowing the likes of Steve Parkhouse and Scott Gray the chance to develop storylines and revisit themes. As individual comic stories go, most of these are quite entertaining, but reading them like this, you can never escape the knowledge that they could have been so much better under a single writer's tenure. Happily, the 21 episodes that followed these story - the tales featuring comic-only companion Majenta and due for release in their own collection later this year - were all scripted by Dan McDaid and are said to be much more successful and consistent. I'm looking forward to them - let's just get the price right, Panini! At $32, it's recommended with reservations. At $25, it's about right.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Death of Jean De Wolff

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Amazing Spider-Man: The Death of Jean De Wolff (Marvel, 1990)

Here's a book I have not cracked in more than a decade, and yet it has moved with me several times and diligently been filed and refiled several times, the only color Spider-Man collection that I own. I found this copy ages ago in Athens, probably at the old Vinyl & Video store a few doors down from Mama Sid's Pizza in their three-for-a-dollar box.

I think that this book comes from a short-lived line of Marvel trade paperback reprints, aimed past the direct market at bookstores, and collects a four-part story by Peter David and Rich Buckler that originally appeared in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man in 1985. I really don't know anything at all about that title, and wonder whether it was going through a phase of having Spidey tackle more "real world," street level crime. It starts with the murder of one of the hero's confidantes, a police captain who apparently enjoyed dressing like a 1980s Cosmo model, and over the course of the four issues, Spidey and Daredevil team up to track down the nut with the ski mask and shotgun who killed her.

There's nothing wrong with the artwork, but I didn't care for Rich Buckler's style at all. The story has, pleasantly, aged very well for something so obviously inspired by the period concerns of vigilantism in New York. There are discreet references to the Guardian Angels and to Bernard Goetz, and it's interesting to me how well and how very effectively David slips these into the narrative without lingering on them. I have not read very many of Peter David's comics, but I did follow his later Supergirl run for a lot longer than the material warranted, and suggest that the little "kisses to popular culture" were pretty obnoxiously overt there. In this Spider-Man story, he's much more subtle and effective.

Spider-Man, here dressed in his short-lived black and white costume, works really well in a contemporary thriller like this one. Stripping away the melodrama and fantasy of superhero combat and grounding him in a world of screaming tabloid headlines and a terrified populace, the character really shines, with plenty of chances for his self-doubt and selfish nature to rise. Despite a printing error that reversed the order of two pages, this was much better than I expected it to be. Recommended.