Back to the New Comics.

*There’s some good stories in that there “Kramer’s Ergot 5”. David Heatley, Chris Ware, and Kevin Huizenga all have really good stuff, even if Heatley’s kind of overstays its welcome. Some people might not like the theological density (or perhaps simple wordiness) of Huizenga’s either, but found those words to be interesting, as well as necessary to inform later scenes in the story (a full-length 26 pages). His is probably my favorite so far. Ware’s uses characters from his ongoing “Building” saga, which pops up in “Nest” and “The Chicago Reader”. I know (thanks to Dan Raeburn’s recent “Chris Ware” book) that a ‘making-of’ special about this story appeared in the Reader at some point, but I don’t know if the whole thing’s a reprint. It was new to me.

*A very quiet week at the store, and the few books I got were mainly mid-arc. It’s a relief on my wallet, that’s for sure, but there was nothing to get me totally fired up about reviewing. At least now I’m back on blogging schedule after a long week of things to do. Sorry if the old writing has been skimpy for the last few days!

Ex Machina #6

I was strongly considering dropping this book after last issue, the conclusion of the most recent arc. But it’s amazing what a slow week can do to a reader, and with only two other comics in my hand I decided to give Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’ book another try. I recall enjoying the beginning of the last arc a bit, and here we have another decent start for the next five-part saga, though it’s not free of problems.

I think the most niggling fault of all is the fact that “Ex Machina” wants so much to be ‘more’ than a superhero book, but the superhero content is by far the most polished and effective portion of the work. Here we get another lengthy flashback to Hundred’s career as The Great Machine, with plenty of suggestions made about secrets that lie in between the conclusion of Hundred’s superhero career and the beginning of his political one. Hundred’s merrily ridiculous powers continue to provide me with perhaps unreasonable (dare I say unintentional?) amusement. And the present-day plot we’re given seems to tie directly in with the source of Hundred’s powers, which may provide some interesting stuff for the future.

But these fantastical elements, mainly well-handled, only underline the relative stiffness of the book’s political content. There’s a wholly generic (as of now) investigative reporter/love interest whom the Mayor is hesitant to pursue (there’s also an unwelcome reminder of one of the series’ more head-slapping scenes, with the Mayor of New York City’s security detail allowing a plucky reporter to slip into his getaway car directly following an assassination attempt). There’s an arbitrary two-page debate on school vouchers, complete with lines like “These are children, not a goddamn highway overpass!” I will admit though, Hundred’s shit-eating grin on the final page as he gears up to tackle a Very Hot Issue was pretty neat. I hope the arc’s handling of the topic will prove less contrived than the unfortunate Controversial Art subplot of issues past.

It often feels bad complaining about “Ex Machina”. It’s clearly trying to do something fresh with superheroes, to provide a new spin on typical Big Two comics. But the book just doesn’t seem comfortable with its own ambitions; the more traditional bits are easily outshining the attempts at innovation. But maybe it’s just the relative seriousness that the book spreads over its ‘realistic’ portions. Maybe the same sense of play that powers the superheroics should go into the politics. I look into Hundred’s smile on the last page and I know it might be possible, and I hope that the book’s execution will soon catch up with its ambition.

The Punisher MAX #14

In which old Frank plays a little live-action “Metal Gear Solid” across the snowy tundra of Mother Russia. It’s not a street-level crook-shooting Punisher yarn here; Frank’s character does have a bit more potential than that, despite his resolute lack of emotional dynamism. So we get an infiltration issue, with the old military training coming in handy. There’s even a secret weapon, and shadowy superiors, and largery conspiracies. Sure, it makes the events of last issue seem like a somewhat contrived attempt to plug Frank into a spy plot in retrospect, but the title character can work his way into almost anything without creating a total ill-fit. At least when there’s a competent enough writer like Garth Ennis at the helm. And if “Born” can infuse a traditional Vietnam saga with what I’ll call the ‘Punisher spirit’ then maybe this arc will do the same with international gunfire intrigue.

This issue there’s bar brawling and disguises and maybe a tad too much exposition. Frank even gets a sad-eyed partner, who’s amusingly depressed with Our Hero’s brutality. Dougie Braithwaite and Bill Reinhold’s art is sufficiently grim. This sort of story hinges on how Ennis decides to develop it, and its too early to really pull the trigger on that.

Terra Obscura Vol. 2 #4

Why yes Mike, I did think this issue flew by. Maybe because it’s just biding time? That’s normally boring, though, and I can’t say that about this issue. I guess with the latest time-twist attack and the return of co-plotter Alan Moore’s personal favorite page-eating device (the period-art flashback) it just felt kind of similar to other issues of this book, and even other issues of other Moore books.

Scripter Peter Hogan does manage to keep it moving, and there’s a cool World’s Finest gone awry vibe coming from the overall plot. The crazed puritan Batman figure continues to provide a cute little comment on the current fixation many comics seem to have: indulging nostalgia through acts of violence. The final page even threatens to do something with the parallel reality implications Tom/Pantha relationship. So we may yet see some real movement from interesting concepts and ideas that still seem to be mostly shuffling around albeit in a quick-reading way.

Ocean #2 (of 6)

Wait a minute! This came out last week! Hell, I bought it last week!

Who knows why I never got around to writing about it? It’s not that it’s boring or poorly done. Chris Sprouse and Karl Story’s art looks really pretty, and Warren Ellis has a strong grip on the concept. It’s just that this is an info issue, and there’s not much to say but: we get info about the book’s concept and world. That’s all. I like many of the ideas here. I particularly enjoyed the presence of a Microsoft-like corporation possibly activating ancient weapons of mass destruction simply by trying to stay ahead of the technological curve. It’ll whet the appetite for future complications and confrontations, I’m sure.

But there’s not a lot more to say. Info! Get it here!