Best Shots: Seaguy, Punisher, Irredeemable & More

Best Shots: Seaguy, Punisher & More

Cover to June's Batman & Robin
Cover to June's Batman & Robin
Batman and Robin #1

Let’s open with this past week’s Best Shot Extras . . .

Batman and Robin #1

X-Men Forever #1

And a bonus look at the final issue of Ultimate Spider-Man from our own J. Caleb Mozzocco over at Blog@

We lead with another take on the week’s biggest book . . .

Batman and Robin #1

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Frank Quitely

Colorist: Alex Sinclair

Publisher: DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Grant Morrison, during his "Batman and Son" arc, promised to build a better Batmobile -- in other words, to retool and reenergize the Batman mythos like never before -- and with Batman and Robin, this Batmobile flies, in every possible sense.

Now, there are a lot of people out there who were disappointed with Morrison's last run, with its dark, scattershot tone, as well as Batman: RIP ultimately being concluded in the pages of Final Crisis. If anything, Batman and Robin takes an opposite turn, with the darkness of the Bat-villains being tempered by an old-school optimism: to paraphrase Morrison, Gotham isn't just drenched in shadow -- it's also lit by the brightest neon lights.

This story opens up with a car chase, with a twist: the deformed circus freak Toad is on the run, spouting some fun quips as he declares that "Batman is as dead as night is black." Yet as Morrison defiantly claimed nearly one year ago, "Batman and Robin will never die!" -- and this new status quo is surprisingly refreshing. This is due partly to the artwork of Frank Quitely, who imbues this new Dynamic Duo with speed and energy, as well as some of the I-can't-believe-they're-getting-away-with-this goofiness of sci-fi action -- let's just say that good things come to those who wait, because Quitely really just delivers the goods.

As you can tell by the cover, Dick Grayson as Batman is a bit more bemused than his Scrappy-Doo counterpart, Damian. As the Batmobile flies through a tunnel like a flying saucer, the Heir of Assassins haughtily snipes, "I told you it would work... all I had to do was adapt my father's blueprints." Since we're used to seeing Robin as nothing more than the Boy Hostage, it's great to see that the smarts and hostility -- if not the tactical thinking -- of Morrison's Batgod has been inherited by his son. Yet Damian has some surprisingly tender moments, as Alfred tries to compliment him on creating this flying Batmobile: "I promised I'd finish what my father started," Damian says, as you see just how deeply he misses his father. "That'll be all, Pennyworth." I know there are plenty of people out there who don't like Damian, but I'm seeing him as a really three-dimensional character, who really is differentiating himself a bit from Robins past.

Speaking of former Robins, Dick Grayson is a little bit more nebulous than his partner-in-heroism, which is perhaps no surprise, considering how little Morrison worked with him in the earlier Batman: RIP storyline. Yet he's far from useless, even if he lacks Damian's (and by extension, Bruce's) killer instinct -- I really love the little touch of Morrison including Dick's past as a carny helping him out in this case, as he recognizes Toad's use of the word "dinari." Yet Quitely really steals the show with some innovative layout, as Dick turns out the back of the all-too-empty Wayne Town Car, just to see the gravestones of Thomas and Martha Wayne -- complete with a small Bat-shaped tombstone silently standing nearby. It's heartbreaking, but it also illustrates the necessity of what Dick must do. The sparks haven't quite flown between Dick and Damian yet, but I'm confident they will, as they both are struggling with the loss of their father figure -- the mantle of the Bat has never felt heavier.

Yet Morrison's greatest strength is his villains -- during his done-in-one future tense issue in Batman #666, he introduced a brand-new Rogues Gallery for future Batman Damian, and in Batman and Robin, he begins to deliver on these seeds of promise. Toad is a wonderfully three-dimensional character that really fits in Batman's mutated and deranged group of villains -- meanwhile, Professor Pyg, the pig-masked creator of a horde of monstrous living dolls, is a wonderfully menacing villain, tapping again into this primal fear of madness, savagery, and deformity that fuels so many Bat-villains. It's a great set-up, and gives back to the Bat-mythos in a way that the umpteenth return of the Joker or Black Mask can't. And I think that's what I like most about this series: this is the sort of Bat-series that starts us from a new beginning, and seems to have so many new and different -- and satisfying -- stories that can be told. With Batman: RIP and Battle for the Cowl, there might have been a few bumps, turns, and scrapes on the road, but Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely have succeeded in building a better Batmobile, and I can't wait to see where it goes next.

Punisher MAX: Naked Kill

Punisher MAX: Naked Kill

Writer: Jonathan Maberry

Artist: Laurence Campbell

Colorist: Lee Loughridge

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

What happens when you take Frank Castle, add in a porn/snuff film ring, add in a garbage bag, a feather duster, some #2 pencils, and hold the guns? You get Punisher: Naked Kill, a new one-shot springing up alongside Rick Remender's masterful balancing act between capes and guns. With the somewhat untested comics writing of Jonathan Maberry setting up a porn-inspired bloodbath, one has to ask if this book, er, measures up. The answer: you may have seen bigger, you may have seen better, but Naked Kill is a decently satisfying book that takes a different direction than Remender's sleeper hit, but will still make fans of the Punisher happy with his exploits.

The book opens after Frank's discovery of an underground snuff film organization, where he vows to rescue the captured girls from their sexual slavery. The problem: the security is tight, and any alarms will trigger the release of poisonous gas, killing all of the girls while their diseased captors watch from their specialized safety rooms. A ban on metal objects nixes guns and knives; automated transmission prevent Frank from stealing a guard's taser. The result? He has to sneak in as a janitor, shoving pencils in eye sockets and crushing skulls in copy machine doors as he makes his way to the head of the criminal syndicate. Some readers might say it's a bit of a stretch for this high concept to work, but if you can suspend your disbelief, this is a concept that really can work well for this particular character.

While this is one of Maberry's first forays into comics, after writing a short story for Wolverine: The Anniversary, it's clear his experience as a novelist has helped him out in terms of creating a solid story. Naked Kill starts off a bit slow, of course, as Maberry's internal monologue for Frank comes off as a bit 1920's gangster, as opposed to the roughneck sense of humor that Remender pulls off so well. But once Maberry sets up the premise of the story, it becomes a Die Hard-style thriller: while it's clear Frank isn't a natural improviser in the killing arts, Maberry's ideas for killing these thugs are pretty inspired, and it's easily the best parts of the book. In fact, I think this improvisation ends a bit too soon, but Frank's idea for an exit also fits in perfectly with the story, and makes up for a lot of the other flaws, including the book's underdeveloped villains.

Campbell, meanwhile, is somewhat of a mixed bag. His work starts off fairly muddied, with the initial action being really difficult to understand (even as he and Maberry insert some pornographic puns within the first page). Yet you get used to Campbell as the book progresses, and his scenes of carnage are fun but aren't overpowering in the gore factor. That said, his pacing isn't always 100 percent -- when Frank finally parts ways with the thug who got him into the building, Maberry has a really great line about Frank: "I don't have a better nature." Unfortunately, Campbell doesn't really sell the line, giving us a too-small black panel which doesn't give us nearly enough room to speculate.

All in all, while I don't think this book maximizes Frank's potential the way Remender's does, the second and third act of this book alone makes Naked Kill some quick and dirty fun, even if it's a 32-page book. Yet these extra pages do provide some nice bang for the buck, and if you can buy the high concept and some of the holes in the story, you might want to give this brutal, gritty book a look.

Seaguy #3

Seaguy #1-#6*

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Cameron Stewart

DC Comics

Review by Jamie Trecker

Seaguy’s Slaves of Mickey Eye! #3 hit the shelves this past Wednesday. It is, to be succinct, a “difficult” comic with an equally tortured history.

Let’s start with that history. The new comic mini-series is actually the second volume of a proposed trilogy that has been released erratically since 2004. You should also be aware that an attempt to make heads or tails of this miniseries without reading the first volume, will likely lead you to wonder, as Seaguy’s sidekick Chubby Da Choona would say: “Da Fug?!”

Seaguy (Original) sold so badly that the copies almost went straight to the quarter bin on release, and you can find them there, or in a handy DC trade. There was to be no second volume, but the rumor is that Morrison agreed to do DC’s far more successful 52 series only on the condition that the company agree to release the final six issues of this series. Thus, the three-year lag and why it’s really best to think of the three-issue series on the shelves now as numbers #4, #5, and #6. I realize it is off-putting to be told that to enjoy this volume you have to buy another volume, but hey, it’s worked for the X-Men, right?

OK: Chubby, as it happens, is a (dead) porpoise who hates the water, floats in mid-air and swears in Chuck Jones patois. Seaguy himself doesn’t actually do very much — in fact, he is basically just a dude in a wetsuit — and so both serve as the straight men/fish to an elaborately surreal series of happenstance. There’s the not-so-subtle takeoff on Disney, “Mickey Eye;” a jealous yet powerful butterfly; and an elaborate and confusing set of reversals straight out of the Prisoner. Got that so far?

And, Morrison has claimed this book is right in the same vein as his magisterial run on All-Star Superman. Sort of: All-Star Superman was a sophisticated, history-mashing fairy tale that managed to distill 60 years of mythos so purely your teeth almost ache. Seaguy, on the other hand, reads like pages ripped out of Morrison’s fake children’s book, “Anyhow Tales,” last seen in the pages of his well-regarded run on Doom Patrol. The stories allegedly contained in that book —“Mother’s Brand New Tail,” was one — were nasty, creepy, and thrilling.

Seaguy, is also nasty, creepy and thrilling. It’s also a very weird take on the age old story of a young man growing up.

The first volume takes him from his “birth” as a hero with nothing do after the defeat of the “Anti-Dad” in a Crisis-esque event. He yearns for adventure, like a character in the old British serials from which he is derived, and yet seems blind to the world around him. Mickey Eye a brutish, sociopathic cartoon character whose all-seeing legions use mind-control techniques is enslaving the population — and yet, despite ample, bizarre evidence, he doesn’t seem to notice. Seaguy himself ends up on the wrong end of Mickey when he uncovers a secret moon base, and then is forcibly lobotomized.

The second volume follows right on the heels, with Seaguy having no memory of his missing pals — or his lobotomy — but slowly becomes aware that things are very wrong. Mickey, and his henchmen are fixated on Seaguy for reasons that are still unclear, but it also revealed that the Eye might not be what he or she seems. Along the way Seaguy becomes a lingerie-waving matador and an unlikely hero who gets the (bearded) girl.

Does this sound like fun? I’m not sure it does, or, that it in fact is. But it is also riveting, and quite disturbing. It also reminds this Scotsman of a very obscure subset of comics that Morrison surely read as a child— the world of Scottish cartoon broadsheets. Produced in Dundee, strips such as Korky the Cat, Jimmy Drake and Lord Snooty’s Gang mixed violent surrealism and hints of despair with what was ostensibly material for children. Add in that a great deal of this material was supposed to also reinforce the class and caste systems, and it’s no wonder some of it seems so unsettling and so tense when read as an adult. Seaguy is tense in the same way. I can’t help but wonder if Morrison pulled out his old issues of the Beano when he was at work on it.

This is not a sustained work on par with Doom Patrol, The Invisibles or The Filth, or his controversial (but excellent) run on New X-Men. But it’s not a curio, either. Seaguy is not for kids —I think — but it is about them, and what we adults do as seen in their eyes.

Irredeemable #3

Irredeemable #3

From: Boom!

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Peter Krause

Review by Mike Mullins

Deconstruction of the super hero genre and the Superman archetype continues in issue three of Irredeemable. Waid and Krause open with a sequence that adds a new layer to the Plutonian’s personality that contrasts the love detailed in the previous issue with his lust for another woman. Each month, the psych profile of the Plutonian continues to expand as each issue provides the reader with a growing understanding of the fall from grace of a world’s greatest hero.

Irredeemable has quickly developed a formula that really works for the title given the premise and the relative familiarity of the world being examined. Each issue captures one of the moments that helped push the Plutonian into a fall from grace, an act of depravity perpetrated by the Plutonian, a glimpse into the world before the Plutonian’s fall, and the actions of the remaining heroes to stop the Plutonian. Even with this formula followed in the first three issues, Waid and Krause present it in varied methods that highlight different aspects of their world building while changing up the speed and timing of slack jawed moments. From the lobotomy of the Plutonian’s sidekick on the final pages of issue one and the rejection of the Plutonian when he proposed to the love of his life in issue two, this issue kicks in with its own series of moments that jump off the page.

The opening and final sequences of the issue are disturbing as we see that the Plutonian harbored a rather deep desire for another member of his former team, the Paradigm, and that he will go to extreme lengths to have that itch scratched. The efforts of Scylla and Charybdis to find a weapon in the lair of Inferno (think Batman) that could be used against the Plutonian crosses paths with the Plutonian’s equivalent of a Rogues gallery. If Inferno had a method of coping with a rogue Plutonian, Irredeemable shows that it does him no good if the Plutonian hunts him down before he can arm himself. This issue also builds on the mystery behind Qubit, the technologist of the Paradigm, and his robots

molded to look like Modeus, the Plutonian’s arch enemy.

As the framework of this world continues to unfold, the biggest difference between Superman and the Plutonian appears to be the relationship between identity and alter ego. The Plutonian is simply the alter ego for a personality that is shy and insecure, using the Plutonian persona to gain acceptance and accolades, but the few whispers of mockery hurt more than honors and the inability to attain and retain the affections of the women he desires is an insurmountable blow to his fragile ego.

More and more the question that drives the issue is shifting in my perspective from how did the Plutonian fall from grace to how did the Plutonian ever pull himself together enough to be a hero. This may be the weakest element of the book so far, as in order for the Plutonian’s fall to be the meaningful backbone of the series, the title must show that he truly was a hero first and not simply someone acting the role of hero in search of acceptance.

This series keeps building a world that is understandable around a hero that was so flawed he went rogue. The twists and turns in the story and the building mystery around the surviving members of the paradigm push Irredeemable forward without allowing the reader to become complacent in their expectations. Waid and Krause are still finding themselves with Irredeemable and each issue improves on the previous issue.

Grimm Fairy Tales #38

Grimm Fairy Tales #38

Writer: Ralph Tedesco

Pencils: Jean-Paul Deshong

Colorist: Blond

Letters: Bernie Lee

Zenescope Entertainment

Review By: Jeff Marsick

A street thug reborn and redeemed as an undefeated mixed martial artist is the center of this re-imagining of Aesop’s “The Lion and the Mouse”. For twenty years, Michael “The Heart” Lyons has ruled the Octagon and now, with a busted wing and an hour before ring time he has to make a most fateful decision: postpone the event or step inside for his largest payday ever and possibly suffer tarnish on his perfect record. Zenescope’s flagship book is never so straight-forward and easy, so add to the plot mix a shady back office showdown between manager and mob nigh-requisite to any story about boxing/fighting, and the champ is suddenly rudderless. Enter that luscious minx Sela, masquerading this issue as a bikini-clad ringcard girl, who affords the champ a few minutes of lesson learning to help push him into a decision.

While the moral of the fable this story relates to is “little friends may prove to be great friends”, or “big things come in small packages”, writer Ralph Tedesco weaves a yarn after the more obscure lesson of “no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”. It was Michael’s manager who got him off the streets and into the ring eighteen years ago; to his manager, then, lies Michael’s loyalty. It’s an interesting stretch, but the story is more apropos an allegory of “The Goose Who Laid the Golden Egg”. Michael’s decision in the ring in the final act is a refreshing surprise but, unfortunately, wholly unbelievable. Especially given his longevity as king of the ring. Even the final panel, a close-up of Sela, I can’t help but wonder if that look on her face is one of chagrin, with her thinking “No, Michael. That’s not what you were supposed to do.” (I wonder that a lot about Sela, if she’s always happy with the results of her ‘lessons’.)

Grimm Fairy Tales is in need of an event. Something big, some mainline of adrenaline that will resuscitate this series. Issues like number #38 aren’t bad, but they’re not great, either. Right now it’s decent campy fun when you’ve got nothing else in the queue, but the concept and the characters have enough potential to be a top ten read every month. The regular monthly formula is getting tired: set-up, show Sela and her cleavage, make with the fairy tale, end with a twist. Sela and her polar opposite, Belinda, need to raise the stakes in their machinations and motivations of affecting change in the mortals they toy with. Maybe everything that Sela does, Belinda could come along and undo; the latter playing Alia to the former’s Sam (for all of you Quantum Leapers out there). Maybe the two end up being unlikely allies in a greater crisis. Maybe the fairy tales turn on them and they become the ones in need of saving by mortal man. Whatever, just as long as change happens.

An ad at the end of the book teases that hit-woman Mercy Dante (last seen in issue #29) will be returning in issue #41 for the kick-off of “Dante’s Inferno”, which portends a step in the right direction for GFT. While the next two-issue story is “The Frog and the Scorpion” (with yet another gorgeous cheesecakey cover) I’m hoping that issue #41 is when this series returns to some semblance of its former glory.

George Sprott: 1894-1975

George Sprott 1894-1975

Written & Illustrated by Seth

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Following its serialization in The New York Times Magazine cartoonist Seth’s George Sprott 1894-1975 gets an expanded, hardcover edition from his long-time publisher Drawn & Quarterly. George Sprott is many things in his lifetime – a would-be gentleman adventurer, a lothario, a host of a local television program, a husband, a father and a colleague. Delivered in Seth’s clean line, understated style, George Sprott 1894-1975 becomes a powerful document of a fictional life, delivered in a way that underlines its universality to all lives.

One of the most interesting aspects of Seth’s technique is how he calls into question how well any of us know one another. Certain facts about the life of George Sprott remain unimpeachable, yet Seth shows us through his own admissions of limitations as a narrator and via the many “interviews” with Sprott’s colleagues and family that all of Sprott’s many foibles and adventures were all perceived differently by every person in his life. What drove George Sprott to explore the Canadian north? How far would he go to avoid confrontation and emotional duress? Every character in the narrative has a different answer, a new perspective, and undoubtedly each reader will come away with a slightly variant notion of just who Seth’s fictional protagonist was.

Delivered in his low-key style, Seth fills each page with upwards of 20 panels, each packed with clean backgrounds that carefully depict the reality of mid-20th century Canadian city life. Fashions and architecture look convincingly archaic, and the character designs – many of which are seen over the course of many decades, during which Seth is able to present their aging so that they remain recognizable, but have clearly seen many sunsets pass – remain distinct and crisp.

PELLET REVIEWS!

GODLAND #28 (Image; review by Jamie): I’ve always enjoyed Joe Casey’s work, sticking with the guy despite the fact that he seems cursed: Books he jumps onto swiftly improve … and then get the axe, anyway. That’s why it pains me to say that I’ve kind of thrown up my hands and walked away from Godland, which once was once of the best books on the shelf. Morrison’s books might be maddening, but they are always thought-provoking, even if that thought is “Euurrgh!” Godland, on the other hand, is currently unfathomable. I get the whole Kirby cosmic trip thing, and we all get (and got over) the ironic quoting of pop culture detritus. But as Casey might have one of his retro-tinged characters say: “Where’s the beef?” Scioli’s artwork remains impressive, but it’s still a Kirby homage/pastiche/rip-off. I wish that he had followed the lead some of his fellow Kirby-obsessed artists (Jorge Lucas and Ladronn come to mind) and expanded on the King’s work instead of simply trying to duplicate it. There’s no denying Scioli’s work is fun, but there’s also no denying the fun arises from the memory of another artist’s work. That’s channeling, not challenging, and I think Scioli could do better. I’m not quite sure where Godland went off the curve — perhaps it was when it became too self-referential for its own good; or when the character development took a back seat to splash pages — but I honestly wish it hadn’t. Moreover, I wish I could articulate a way to nudge it back on track.

World of New Krypton #4 (DC; review by David): A great cover, but unfortunately the meeting of New Krypton and the Green Lantern Corps isn't as high-octane or destructive as you'd think. In short, the Lanterns warn Kal that New Krypton is looking pretty ominous... and that's about it. I know Kurt Busiek established a lot of trust between Clark and Hal during the One Year Later arc, but I'm surprised there was no Kryptonian vs. Oan action, especially with Zod in charge. It was interesting, however, to see Superman stammer and stutter after discovering he's not on the moral high ground, after the Lanterns discover Zod's growing stockpile of armaments, and I did love Daxamite Green Lantern Sodam Yat's reaction to learning another Daxamite was protecting planet Earth. (Although his reaction to a yellow sun was weird, only because he learned what that would do in the Sinestro Corps War.) It's weird, because despite the number of superstrong and fast Kryptonians in this series, this story just feels like it's going fairly slowly, delving into the politics at the expense of the otherworldly abilities that makes Superman, well, super -- that said, the end of the issue puts Clark in a really bad spot, and I'm hoping it'll pick up the speed next issue.

The Boys #31 (Dynamite; by Troy): If what appears to have happened really happened, then we’ve had a huge status quo shift in stunning fashion. The Boys continues to entertain as it appalls; the issue gets to the ultra-violence early, shifts back to some broad comedy about marketing and super-hero stereotypes, then steps back dark to kick you in the stomach. Hard. Guest penciler Carlos Ezquerra, no stranger to Ennis or hardcore action scenes, does this all at such a high level that you almost don’t miss Robertson. Ennis once remarked that he expected the series to run about 60 issues; here then, at the mid-point, is a critical issue. If you haven’t been reading this one, you’re missing out gritty action that’s actually secondary to the Burgess-inflected satire.

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