Sunday, May 29, 2011


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 Flynn (Avon, 1977).

Inspector Francis X. Flynn was introduced in the second Fletch novel by Gregory Mcdonald and he got a book of his own the next year. He's a terrific character, a laconic, sarcastic weirdo with a musical family, who treats the theft of his son's violin as every bit as important as the passenger plane that explodes almost atop his house as it's lifting off from Boston's airport.

With a federal judge on board along with several other notable celebrities, there could be any number of motives for the mass murder, including a local cult that preaches killing as the only way to curb the planet's population, but the real question for Inspector Flynn is who is this detective, and why does the captain assign him to work with the feds on the case when the Boston police department does not actually recognize the rank of inspector?

This is just a hugely fun book. I love Flynn's relationship with his suffering sergeant. At one point, Flynn sends his teenage sons undercover to do a little work for him, and sends the sergeant to chase them around to make it look good. It goes exactly as Flynn planned it, but not at all like how his sergeant did. His recounting of what happened is just about the funniest thing I've read in months. Highly recommended.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fargo Rock City

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 Fargo Rock City (Scribner, 2001).

Chuck Klosterman is only about six months younger than me, but he sure liked heavy metal more than I did. I won't try and hide it; I was totally a middle school metal maniac at the same time that he was. Quiet Riot, Iron Maiden, makeup-free KISS, they were all awesome for a few months there. I'm not sure what happened next; I don't know that I bought any music at all in the eighth or most of the ninth grade, and then I was a hippie and I could probably still tear the shit out of "Incense and Peppermints" at karaoke, assuming that you could ever find anything as unlikely as "Incense and Peppermints" at a karaoke bar.

Hell, even when I was a-warbling in karaoke bars, awfully, I couldn't even find "Wichita Lineman."

ANYWAY, while I lost interest in glam metal, and spent my high school years wishing MTV would play the Bunnymen or New Order just a third as much as fucking "Sweet Child of Mine," Klosterman never gave up on his retarded obsession with glammy hair metal, no matter how ridiculous it got. Mixing memoir and celebratory history, Fargo Rock City dissects the fun of growing up with such a singular hobby, and, with a damn-the-torpedoes sense of not caring how uncool his favorite music is, he just talks about it, intelligently, wittily, and at great length. It's a blast.

The thing that impresses me most about Klosterman's writing is his ability to accurately nail archetypes down to the last detail. Speaking about Def Leppard, he correctly notes that their fan base consisted of more girls than any other metal group's fan base, and all those girls were named Danielle and wore Espirit tank tops. This is true. She was in your fifth period English lit class.

I learned a lot from this book, none of it really important, but most of it amusing. All that I knew about Guns N Roses' Use Your Illusion duo-LPs is that the idiots released both records the same day, thereby denying one of them the # 1 slot on Billboard. Releasing the second one seven days later would have been brilliant marketing. Apparently, GNR did something noteworthy and ridiculous with the videos from the LPs, which were meant to form a twenty-minute mini-movie. At least they would have, had Axl Rose and Stephanie Seymour not split up after they shot a couple of them, meaning that she had to be replaced by some other supermodel in the last video and it stopped making sense. That is so weird, but, apparently, par for the course where anything about Axl Rose is concerned.

Klosterman's writing might not be for everybody - Mark Ames' legendary takedown of him is both brutal and mostly accurate - but I smiled my way through this and only ended up with a single song maddeningly stuck in my head - Def Leppard's "Photograph," which, sadly, I'm probably going to have to buy off iTunes now, even if that mean Danielle in fifth period wouldn't let me copy her lit notes. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Suicide Girls # 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 Suicide Girls # 1 (IDW, 2011).

Most of the time, when a comic shop clerk recommends a book to me, I've got enough of a sense of decency to actually purchase that book from them, instead of doing something scummy like buying it off Amazon or the like. But a couple of weeks ago, I stopped by the Titan store in Woodstock to say hello to the manager, whom I dated some years ago, and - in front of my kids! - she tells me that she had thought about me when the shop received the first issue of a new Suicide Girls miniseries, and that I'd certainly enjoy all the nude pin-ups in the back drawn by Cameron Stewart.

So I probably should have bought it from that store, but, try as I might, I just don't know that it's right to go around buying smut from anybody you used to smooch. So I bought it from the shop where we always visit for Free Comic Book Day, since you can get more free stuff there if you spend some money, and couldn't decide what else I wanted to actually buy to get the desired amount of free swag.

We'll draw a polite veil on why the manager in question instantly thought of me upon seeing this comic, but we'll agree that I should probably buy something else from her to make up for being a bad customer. At least I have an ex who recommends me girlie mags; there's this one girl I once dated who has taken to pretending she's not white so she can "win" racial arguments on the internet.

Anyway, unfortunately, Cameron Stewart only inks the actual comic, which is penciled by David Hahn and scripted by Brea Grant. Stewart does contribute four pin-ups in the back, and the artwork is generally very good throughout. The story, however, really needs an electric charge to get moving. I know that it seems that critiquing the story of a Suicide Girls comic book is like kicking small, defenseless animals, but while this wasn't a very good comic by any measure, I've seen far, far worse from Marvel and DC lately. The plot suggests a world where, rather than being a fun soft-porn-led online community, the Suicide Girls are a very old, Illuminati-styled secret society of ass-kickers. The scenario's genuinely not far removed from Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. Seriously. The execution is, surprisingly, not quite so good.

I'm willing to accept the very silly rules of the narrative for its own sake. This is a world where a murderer - one of the heroes of the story - tattoos the names of her victims on her body, which is something only a very, very stupid killer would do. But okay, they do that sort of thing in Suicide Girls-world. There's a big multi-national religio-techno-conspiracy based around privatizing the prison system and so it's okay to kill the executives behind it. As with The Invisibles, the morality of the protagonists is shifty and their actions are ethically questionable but it's given a pass because the baddies are allegedly bad enough to deserve it.

I don't have half the problem with the narrative as I do the slow, deliberate presentation. Twenty big-paneled pages breeze by and damn near nothing happens in them. Brea Grant, an actress just beginning her comic-writing career, is sadly taking lessons from modern American superhero comics. All that happens in these twenty pages is that a small group of Suicide Girls break their new recruit out of prison and they give each other a little backstory. Maybe two of the six ladies get a little memorable characterization, but for the most part, it's paced in a similarly glacial style as almost everything I've read by Brian Michael Bendis and his imitators, with long establishing shots and lengthy internal narration from the imprisoned recruit, when picking up the pace and using more panels per page could have seen so much more story in this issue. Nothing happens across any six pages that a better writer couldn't have managed in one.

This leads to very disappointing results from Hahn, whose figure work, as I recall from his old series Private Beach, is really excellent, but, forced to only draw four or five panels a page, he's got no choice but to emphasize too much negative space. This is a story that mostly takes place in a dark prison and in a dimly-lit underground base.

I'm willing to be a little kinder to Grant, and give her points for trying, than I was to Joe Casey and Frazer Irving, whose Iron Man book I mentioned here a few weeks ago, because those two have been in this business a while and really should know better. I've got no objection to this book's concept, and am not going to dismiss it out of hand just because it's fashionable among comic book snobs to mock the Suicide Girls for being naked or having a booth at San Diego or whatever, but while it's not very good, at least it's different and it's drawn very well. I can't recommend it, but I appreciate the effort. And that pin-up of Radeo in the back. My.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Conversations with Rabbi Small

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 Conversations with Rabbi Small (Fawcett, 1982).

Most used bookstores will file a copy of this in with their mysteries, and why shouldn't they? If the store is worth a shuck, they probably have a few of Harry Kemelman's rabbi novels there already, and any clerk who's doing their job has seen them filed in that section. I thought that this was another detective story, too. I was quite mistaken.

In this novel, a young woman goes to Rabbi Small hoping that he will convert her to Judaism. He apologizes that he does not "do" conversions. She, a Christian, plans to marry a non-practicing Jewish scientist and gain the approval of his parents. Rabbi Small asks to meet the fellow, and over the course of the rest of the book, they spend several evenings just talking about Judaism and what sets it apart from Christianity. The book is a couple of hundred pages of philosophical and theological discussion, which will either try your patience or keep you engrossed in a study of Jewish culture. Eventually, it becomes clear that the crafty Rabbi Small has an ulterior motive: he has no interest in converting the bride-to-be, but he does want the scientist to learn that their faith is as based on logic and reason as his studies.

I didn't enjoy it. I kept waiting for something to happen. I kept flipping ahead twenty or thirty pages and exclaiming "They're still talking?!" If you can handle a book in which three characters do nothing but converse, then you might enjoy the experimentation, but I'm not one of them. I am, similarly, disinterested in reading two hundred and fifty pages of Inspector Morse talking about real ale, Father Brown talking about the priesthood, Sherlock Holmes talking about bees, Nero Wolfe talking about saucisse minuit, or even Lord Peter Wimsey talking about collecting first editions, just in case anybody had any clever ideas.

Friday, May 20, 2011

John Stanley's Summer Fun

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 John Stanley's Summer Fun (Drawn & Quarterly, 2011).

Drawn & Quarterly might want to be a little careful with these annual collections, lest they explode their carefully-constructed myth about the genius of John Stanley a little earlier than they'd planned. Don't get me wrong; the publisher's John Stanley Library remains a remarkable set of books and I'd like to own more, because when Stanley was on fire, which was most of the time, he was writing or illustrating better kids' comics than anybody else. Stanley's best work in the sixties seemed effortless, just a casual understanding of what made kids and teens tick, and scripts that just bounced with clever and silly gags that followed a logical progression.

There's a great story in this book, the third assembled for the annual Free Comic Book Day event, in which Judy Jr. schemes to steal a sandwich and manipulates her usual target to get it. Every panel just clicks with energy and a zippy irreverence. Even once the reader figures out where the story is going, watching it get there is a guaranteed joy. There are certainly other good stories in this collection as well. Even though you know going in that anything that Tubby tells you about a giant sea monster will either be a dream or a lie, watching the very construction of the story is great fun. Speaking as a sometimes wannabe writer, I'm just amazed at how easy Stanley makes this look.

Sadly, though, it's not all that good. Some of it reminds me, for the first time reading Stanley, of those horrible flat 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoons. You remember all that crap like Huckleberry Hound and all those exactly-the-same cartoons that kept reusing all the same gags from each other? I couldn't stand those things when I was a kid, even though I watched them out of frustration with nothing else being on, and was reminded of them while reading a Choo-Choo Charlie installment about a physics-defying runaway ferris wheel. The absolute worst kind of kids' humor is the sort that relies on impossible things happening and everybody being stupid about them. Nancy and Rollo show up in a story in which Nancy lands on an "island" which is clearly a whale and I don't remember whether she and her summer camp buddies ever figured it out, because I got bored waiting for them.

A lot of this might seem like arbitrary decisions of taste, but I'm not so sure. Nobody's going to agree that Looney Toons were at their best in the 1960s when you had team-ups with Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales; everybody knows that Tom & Jerry were only any good when they were trying to kill each other. The long, crappy decline of Hanna-Barbera didn't merely come because they cut corners for TV animation, but because the scripts were terrible.

It's sad to learn that Stanley was just as capable of everybody else in the period of making eye-rollingly stupid kids' entertainment, but it's also sad to see that Drawn & Quarterly has already started unearthing and publishing some of it. About half this book is uncommonly clever, and about half is like the Gold Key comics that you quickly threw away as a child, wishing that your well-meaning aunt had bought you something with fights and monsters in it. As such, the book is a very poor choice to introduce anybody to Stanley. Recommended only for Stanley completists.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Essential Amazing Spider-Man Volume Two

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 Essential Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel, 1998).

I suppose that I could be struck, reading this collection, as to how vibrant and wonderful Steve Ditko's art is. This collection of 25 issues of Marvel's Amazing Spider-Man contains the second half of Ditko's run as artist and co-plotter on the series, along with the first six issues of John Romita's run. I suppose that I could also be struck to learn just how steep Romita's learning curve was. Romita has been my favorite Spider-Man artist for as long as I can remember, even, heretically, surpassing the wonderful work of Ditko, but his first two issues are just stiff and awkward. Perhaps it's the inking, by Mike Esposito, not quite in sync with the pencils, but his first two issues look really sloppy and ungainly for one of Marvel's best-known creators.

But no, the main thing that strikes me about reading this collection is how utterly insane teenagers were in the 1960s. Oh, sure, they're insane now, but either scripter and co-plotter Stan Lee was coming up with laughable, flatly unbelievable elements to these stories, or they're reasonably accurate portrayals of deeply, utterly bugnuts, highly-strung freaks that are having complete meltdowns every other month. Oh, yeah, and a kid bit by a radioactive spider beats up on guys who dress like scorpions and rhinos.

You get the usual accounting of completely histrionic women that you expect in boy-targeted comics, just dialed up to eleven. Peter Parker, here aged around 17, has a few suitors, like Daily Bugle employee Betty Brant. Betty, also being wooed by a guy named Ned Leeds, flies completely off the handle, and into Ned's arms, when she learns that one of Peter's elderly neighbors has a niece around Peter's age. I mean, she flips totally out of control just hearing that somebody named Mary Jane Watson might exist. We don't even actually meet Mary Jane for many months, by which time Betty has exited the series, chased out by a possibility.

Then there's Peter's fellow classmates at Empire State, who have way too much time on their hands. During one protracted segment, Peter's Aunt May, not for the first nor the last time, is gravely ill. Peter is so upset by this that he does not talk to anybody about anything, and just goes through the day with his head hung low under a forest of thought balloons. His classmates conclude that Peter's intentionally freezing them out, prompting class hottie Gwen Stacey to alternately come onto him like a va-va-voom girl or an ice queen, with consistently weird results. Nothing anybody does in this comic has any relation to modern teenagers, who, for starters, would be blogging and Facebooking the bejezus out of how bummed they are that their aunt is in the hospital. Hell, my teenage son made a federal case out of his inability to convince his wicked stepmother to drive him twenty miles to an Apple Store. On Easter Sunday, when it was closed.

This is deeply, deeply dated stuff. I have a collection of Archie newspaper strips from twenty years prior to this, and its teen leads might be jealous, easily offended weirdos, but they're more believable than the teen attitudes depicted here. This is a shame, because the superhero stuff is really first-rate, with some impressive plots and even more impressive artwork and fight scenes, but one of the selling points of 1960s Marvel books is supposed to be how they're "realistic," and match the highwire melodrama with issues that normal readers can understand. Unfortunately, everything faced here by Peter Parker is just so utterly ridiculous, and played out with such overbearing hysteria, that it overwhelms everything around it. When it's good - when Ditko gets a dialogue-free page to show Spider-Man and the baddie of the month smacking the daylights out of each other, when Lee depicts a hero who can out-talk and outwit anybody - it is almost transcendent, but when it is ordinary, it is excruciating. Recommended for very patient readers.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


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 Numbercruncher (Rebellion, 2011).

I have a lot of time for writer Si Spurrier, provided - as I mentioned in a recent column on this page - he isn't wasting my time and his doing trademark protection garbage for Marvel Comics. With Numbercruncher, he's back at work with Rebellion on a creator-owned project told across ten episodes, and back doing the things I like best from him. There's lengthy first-person narration, a jerk of a protagonist who should be unlikeable but manages to be completely loveable anyway, a remarkably complex, yet believable world, and a concept that couldn't be much higher and still make any sense.

The protagonist of this story is a big East End-looking thug called Bastard Zane, and he's the enforcer and dogsbody of what we might have named God before this series reveals to us that He is actually a weedy-looking, bespectacled accountant called the Divine Calculator. Every so often, He balances the scales and crunches the numbers and makes deals with humanity in exchange for services to be rendered. Enforcers like Bastard Zane remain in His employ until they find a mortal soul willing to render those services. Zane is looking forward to a well-deserved retirement after a mathematician agrees to come on board after some more time on Earth with the chance to be with the woman he loves.

What the mathematician doesn't know is that the Divine Calculator is an incredible cheat, and screws him on the deal. What the Divine Calculator doesn't know is that the mathematician anticipated the possibility of Him cheating and put a loophole in the contract, leaving the karmic ledger sheets unbalanced as the wheel of reincarnation continues to turn, and Bastard Zane is forced to pop backwards and forwards in time to see accountancy prevail and get the retirement that he craves.

Illustrated with a breezy flair by PJ Holden, Numbercruncher is an incredibly fast-paced and very surprising comic, utterly original and very funny. Spurrier is able to tell melodramatic action stories with a great sense of wit and irreverence, and what he's developed here is one of his best creations. It began in issue 306 of Judge Dredd Megazine and is scheduled to continue to issue 315. Clicking the image above will take you to Clickwheel, where you may purchase low-priced digital copies of the issues, and they're packed with all sorts of other great comics. Highly recommended!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Love is a Mix Tape

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 Love is a Mix Tape (Three Rivers Press, 2007).

What an absolute heartbreaker of a book! It's probably not possible for a sap like me to talk about it without evoking Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, so I'll get that out of the way. Hornby proved, to thousands of us, that we were not alone in obsessing over music and hoping to bond with some girl over it. Rob Sheffield was one of those who successfully pulled it off, and married a firebrand named Renee thanks to a shared interest in Big Star bringing them together.

Five years later, however, Renee was dead, killed almost instantly by a pulmonary embolism. So yeah, this book gets a little heavier than Hornby.

It's an absolutely engrossing memoir, and I love the way that Sheffield tells it, bouncing around his unlucky past and up through his mostly happy marriage, filled with fights about money and pets and his admiration for everything that Renee does. The circumstances of her tragic death will knock readers on the head as thoroughly as it must have been for him; he tells the story of her funeral that well.

Somehow, the story remains otherwise upbeat, geeky and silly despite the dark incident at the book's core. Sheffield's self-deprecating humor and his and Renee's love of music on cassette keeps the story invigorating and fun. He provides fodder for a hundred arguments among record collecting types - I'm with Renee on XTC, and Sheffield's just flat out wrong about the R.E.M. LP Document - and the feeling of optimism and hope in the book's final sections just made my day. Absolutely readable and compelling, although possibly not for people who never made mix tapes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry

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 Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry (Crown, 1966).

Since I've been reading these books in entirely random order - whenever I happen to find one - I've unwittingly allowed myself the pleasure of popping back and reading some of the earlier, better books in the series. This comes after already seeing how Harry Kemelman, out of touch with any but his Centrum Silver-aged readers, had let his Rabbi David Small series descend into mediocrity and, in the end, awfulness.

However, in 1966, he was still at the height of his powers, and building the rules for his fun little detective adventures. Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry, like the later books, is certainly not going to be essential reading for more devoted fans of hard-boiled fiction. It's a cozy, cute story about community politics and backstabbing, touchy members of the rabbi's temple, and well over halfway through the book, the characters finally figure out that a death is neither a suicide nor an accident, but murder.

Actually, I really enjoyed the pace, reflecting the confusion about the death. The initial investigation is just for insurance purposes, with a hefty settlement waiting on confirmation that the deceased took his own life. Reading a book like this, from the perspective of the present, the audience is certainly going to know that the fellow was deliberately killed, but the leisurely pace around this point is actually kind of charming, and I really liked how the question suddenly gets the rabbi in trouble with one of the more powerful members of his temple. With the deceased already buried as an accident, and the sudden possibility of him having to be exhumed and moved as a suicide after the rabbi's made a tough ruling elsewhere about whether fasting includes medicine, and the resulting withholding of medicine being suicide, Kemelman might well have tricked his 1960s audience into thinking that this was the principal conflict.

Dated, of course, and not for everybody, but I enjoyed it, and I wonder whether the next couple of Kemelman novels that I've found will prove as amusing.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea

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 Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea and Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang (Gallery, 2008 / 2010).

I'm really not familiar with comedian Chelsea Handler, but I think I might have fallen for this book when I first saw the title a couple of years ago, and I finally read it and its follow-up. I haven't got around to finding her first book, My Horizontal Life, yet, but it is on the agenda. I settled in with Vodka, not completely knowing what to expect, and had a blast reading these stories of her completely ridiculous antics, tall tales and screwball love affairs.

I am not entirely certain I can believe some of the tales in this wild memoir; Chelsea's remarkably vulgar father is just an amazing piece of work. Dirty but never disgraceful, these are great stories of drink and debauchery and I love the self-deprecating tone that she takes. In one hilarious moment, she gets dumped by a red-haired fellow while another guy is hiding under her bed.

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang isn't quite as complete a success, mainly because it seems rushed and confused in places. The opening chapter, in which elementary school-age Chelsea discovers masturbation and just won't quit, for weeks, is a knockout, and a very long and detailed practical joke involving an ostensibly dead dog is very amusing, but I was completely lost in a story about a drunken trip to an island and the shenanigans on the beach that followed. Vodka is definitely the better of the two, so I do recommend it for older readers, with mild reservations about its follow-up.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Iron Man: The Inevitable

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 Iron Man: The Inevitable (Marvel, 2006).

Now here's a book that's just all kinds of terrible. I don't actually own any Iron Man comics other than this one; even as a kid, Iron Man was never much more than The Boring Avenger, and his was a comic book that I studiously avoided. I thought the first movie was a heck of a lot of fun, but we never got around to going to see the second one. But here's a book that I bought - all six issues - because I really do love the artist Frazer Irving, and this was, I believe, his first job for one of the big American companies.

I knew Irving from his exceptional work for 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine in the early part of the decade. Apart from some occasional one-offs and fill-in jobs, he illustrated series and serials like The Simping Detective, Storming Heaven and A Love Like Blood. He kind of got saddled with a lot of strips that were too short to make any real impact other than the visuals, which were usually quite amazing. And then he got poached.

I think that now, I've been burned enough by creators leaving 2000 AD and going to write and draw massively inferior garbage for American companies. As far as I can see, it's only been Grant Morrison and Andy Diggle who've gone on to genuinely better things for DC and Marvel. Even Alan Moore. I own a stack of Alan Moore comics that reaches about up to my chin, and not one of them is better than Chronocops. So, as part of my scaling back on everything, even if an extremely high-paying job were to land in my lap and I become able to resume buying comics at the volume that I did at my peak, I'm not touching any of this trademark-protection crap that my favorite creators keep spinning for American superheroes. None of it. This could be the greatest Iron Man comic ever, and it would still stink, and while I'm certain that Frazer Irving and his family greatly enjoy the larger paychecks that Marvel and DC can offer him, supporting this work means purchasing deeply mediocre, stupid comic books for far too much money just to see some good art. You have to read this dumbass story to look at it. We should quit applauding creators acting like they've been called up to the majors when they get a six-issue miniseries about the Living Laser, and instead support the infinitely more creative fields where they have been succeeding enough to make THOSE the financial goal.

In a perfect world, in other words, 2000 AD should sell enough for Rebellion to be able to pay its creators so much money that the idea of leaving to illustrate a comic book as moronic as this would be laughable. If creators were taking a pay cut to do work like this, the work would not have happened.

This Iron Man comic, like damn near everything I have seen from Marvel in the last ten years, is an overlong, bloated bore of continuity and characters that don't develop. Scripted by Joe Casey, the story might have made for an acceptable two-issue fill-in back in the Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan days, but in 2006, it somehow required the services of a separate six-issue miniseries running alongside the regular monthly Iron Man comic. The plot concerns two of Iron Man's enemies teaming up to take him down, while, in his civilian identity of billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, our hero has hired a new ladyfriend, a psychoanalyst, to try and make contact with a third enemy. In a previous storyline, this baddie had been converted to pure energy, and now Stark has invested squajillions on some new technology to entrap the energy-baddie and have some way for the ladyfriend to communicate with his weird new energy form. Six issues. Remember when that meant, "Whoa, this is an epic"...?

Like a lot of melodramatic comics - and 2000 AD's not immune to this - some of the ostensible high points come with last-page revelation cliffhangers. Part one ends with the big arrival of The Ghost, redesigned by Irving to look much more awesome than his solid, caped Heroclix incarnation and more like the weird, insubstantial outline of that anti-matter fellow in the Doctor Who serial "Planet of Evil." Part two begins, however, with countless pages of the two villains talking. It turns out that one of the villains is actually the third to take the name of Spymaster and wear his armored suit. He yammers a lot about being a "legacy" villain. I suspect that Casey is a clever enough writer that this is a parody of the ridiculous continuity-obsessed comics scripted by Geoff Johns, where evidently insane people punch each other over who will have the right to be the next Star-Spangled Kid, but it's still five pages of people in silly costumes talking about what it means to be the new Spymaster.

I confess that I did not actually read this comic when it was first published. I saw that Irving was drawing this book and went ahead and ordered it from Bizarro Wuxtry, Earth's finest comic book store, because I (then) wanted to support the artists that I enjoyed. I never actually found the time to read it, figuring that it could wait until I had all six issues. And then... I just never found the hour or so I needed to do it, until, purging comics, I decided to give this a try before I give it to Scottish Rite for some sick kids to read.

I suppose about 45,000 people bought this comic. For what it's worth, I regret that I shoulder 1/45,000th of the blame for this being successful enough for Marvel to offer Irving more work and steal him away from drawing more Simping Detective, which is 45,000 times more entertaining than this dull, boring and stupid but well-drawn comic.