Hay guyz, am I early?

*Sorry gang, I got no sleep last night and I had several long hours of non-comics writing all this morning, and then I had to drive around in cutting rain. Directly thereafter, I fell fast asleep, and while I desperately needed the rest I felt enormously guilty as I’d not even accomplished every last thing I’d set out to do in my non-comics day, let alone my blogging duties. I think I need to learn to budget my time a little better. So to sum up, I’m just getting to the computer right now just after midnight on the east coast after reading all two of my new comics for the week (no “Ed the Happy Clown”, which isn’t entirely surprising). At least it’s still yesterday for all of you out in California, so the time zones can forgive my tardiness a little (then again, if you‘re in England, it‘s getting into daybreak already).

*Noted ante-upper Tom Spurgeon presents no less than 1000 Things to Like About Comics. Frankly, I knew it would be an awesome list as soon as I saw Al Columbia's "I Was Killing When Killing Wasn't Cool" in the #16 slot (they're not ranked in order of quality); that's the Fleischer Bros. homage he did in issue #4 of "Zero Zero", which I mentioned last week. You should get that issue, you really should. Hmmm... I'm seeing a couple "Zero Zero" classics on that list, like Jeff Johnson's "No Erect Penises"...

Seven Soldiers - Guardian #1 (of 4)

And again, the ‘full’ title as presented on the cover seems to be “The Manhattan Guardian”, but the legal notes prefer simply “Guardian”, and we like to keep it legal here on this site. I liked how all of the headlines on the newspaper cover that the title character is bursting out of really do refer to stuff going on in this issue. And I’ll say no more on the old ‘modular’ structure for now, since I truly cannot imagine how this issue doesn’t sink the ‘every issue a self-contained story’ interpretation entirely. My own alternate ‘every miniseries a self-contained story’ and Matt Brady’s ‘every issue capable of being read without reading anything before’ are still at work, although I recognize that such structural concerns have become a distraction for me, hence my calling the analysis off until later.

This is pretty straightforward superhero work, with pretty straightforward superhero plotting, far more so than the last two entries in the project. The “Seven Soldiers” #0 bookend dolloped plenty of (effective) self-analysis atop the costumed action, and “Shining Knight” performed largely within the context of fantasy trappings for its introductory issue, but this one is a superhero origin book plain and simple, with the haunted protagonist getting his costume and becoming Better through the grace of powerful forces, in this case being hired by Mr. Stargard, a boy superhero-turned computerized media mogul with a hot paper to run and a happy tendency to speak in slightly knowingly melodramatic superhero comic terms like “Jettison your inner demons, Jake. There’s a nightmare on the ‘N’ line.” Jake will take the name of the paper itself, the Manhattan Guardian, and become its proactive superheroic avatar, the media striking back against Bad News. Really, the details of the Guardian’s job are the most interesting thing about the book, like the fact that a lot of New York readers, even DCU New York readers, don’t seem to take the paper seriously (devoted as it is entirely to fantastical local DCU events). Organization doesn’t seem to be Stargard’s strong suit, as some of the awesome technology he bestows on his Guardian doesn’t work yet, and his Newsboy Army doesn’t have all that much to offer (they’re certainly not “Global Frequency” here). For all the high technology, there’s a sense that the organization is still learning as it goes along, which is fun.

And that’s the most fun to be had; not to say that this issue isn’t an entertaining comic, but it’s not as strong as either prior “Seven Soldiers” book, nor any of Morrison’s recent Vertigo work. Maybe it’s the dialogue, which seems to be stretching a bit too hard for giddy ebullience (a Subway Pirate literally tears the skin off a man’s back while bellowing “Sure, all them years of gunpowder wine has me neurons knackered!”), although I‘m a bastard about forgiving silly lines in the context of, well, something like Subway Pirates. No, I think it’s the relatively pedestrian quality of the plot, which even resorts to the Guardian’s caring father-in-law being brutalized by villains and his beloved wife kidnapped by the cliffhanging end, as we all race off on the trail of underground treasure. And also, while this isn’t much of a complaint, I noticed that I could sense when Morrison was referencing older DC books; there’s one big bubble of text between the Guardian and his wife that couldn’t possibly serve any other purpose, and while I can’t say I was confused by the information, it did provide a strange jostle in the reading experience, if only for me to think to myself “Ah, so here’s where Grant throws candy to the historians in the audience.”

But if the background setting of the book’s story is more interesting than the story itself, at least such an environment is brought to our eyes by Cameron Stewart, who (with the assistance of awesomely-named colorist Moose Bauman) crafts a slightly dreary, weathered NYC, constantly overcast or raining, with even the high science halls of the Guardian building an ominous marble. Good action scenes too, and amusing designs for the Subway Pirates (the guy wearing light bulbs as earrings was particularly boss). Hey, it’s good, standard superheroics, and that’s not a bad thing, if that‘s what you‘re after.