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CSBG Archive

Trade paperbacks, older editions, and miscellaneous for April 2012

And … we’re back! What fun crap lurks below? Click away to find out!

Legion of Monsters by Dennis Hopeless (writer), Juan Doe (artist), Wil Quintana (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $15.99, 80 pgs, FC, Marvel.

This is a fairly generic Marvel Monster Comic, made a bit better by Hopeless’s Elsa Bloodstone, who’s not quite as acerbic as Warren Ellis’s but is still a fun character, and Doe’s frenetic art, which features some nice monsters. The plot is fairly forgettable – there’s some kind of virus infecting Marvel’s monsters and turning them into crazed killers, and Elsa decides to help Michael Morbius cure them instead of trying to kill them all – but it’s a mildly pleasant read. The story, unfortunately, is pretty obvious, even to someone like me, who doesn’t really think about “twists” in a plot. Hopeless doesn’t do the best job introducing the characters, relying more on the readers’ knowledge on Marvel history to do that for him, but he does manage to get across some of the basics. The biggest issue I had with the book is that Elsa seems to have, or want, a relationship with Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night, and it comes out of nowhere. She insults him early on in the book, then thinks he’s “pretty,” and then, after he recovers from a serious wound, suddenly they’re a thing? I don’t know if they have any history together, but if they do, Hopeless makes no mention of that, and if they don’t, the whole courtship is really awkward.

Legion of Monsters is not a bad mini-series, and it’s an enjoyable way to pass the time, but it doesn’t leave much of an impression. The writing is pretty good, the art is better, and there’s nothing really wrong with the book. It will entertain you, but you’ll probably forget it pretty easily. Damning with faint praise? Sure, but that’s the way it is!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Cold War: The Damocles Contract by John Byrne (writer/artist), Ronda Pattison (colorist), and Neil Uyetake (letterer). $19.99, 86 pgs, FC, IDW.

Cold War is Byrne’s foray into James Bond comics, as Michael Swann, his protagonist, is a thinly veiled James Bond analogue. Swann quits MI6 early in the book, which makes him a perfect agent a few years later when the British government believes one of their rocket scientists is going to defect to the Soviet Union. Eventually, Swann ends up in the USSR, where of course he needs to break out of a Soviet facility and escape. That’s just the way it is, isn’t it?

Byrne begins the book with a bang, as Swann is on a mission to East Berlin. The first 11 pages show the successful mission and Swann’s escape completely wordlessly, Byrne shows once again that he’s a very good comic storyteller. The rest of the book, unfortunately, isn’t as successful. Yes, Swann seduces women and they love him for it, and yes, there’s a Russian agent with whom he has sex even though they try to kill each other, and it’s all done with an arch knowledge of the James Bond milieu, but Byrne never gives us a good enough story to carry us through. First of all, the way he diverts attention from the real defector is strange – there’s dialogue in the book that points directly at one character, but it turns out it’s not that character but someone else. I don’t want to say any more, but it’s very confusing and done, presumably, just to throw us off. Second, we’re never actually told what the Russians have planned with this defector. The “Damocles” of the book’s title (which is also the title of the fourth issue) is a complete red herring. Damocles, in case you don’t know, refers to a figure of legend who wanted to sit on the throne of a king, and when the king allowed it, he also put a sword hanging over Damocles’s head, showing him how precarious a position of power could be. I assume the Russian rockets that Swann has to stop from launching are the “Damocles” of the title and are meant to imply that the Russians would have the Western powers at their mercy, but it’s never explained. We have no idea what the defector is meant to be working on, nor what Swann is supposed to stop. It’s quite annoying. And, in the classic James Bond trope, the bad guys don’t shoot Swann in the head when they have the chance, and no reason is given. Perhaps it’s supposed to be a subtle comment on the fact that the Russian agent is too charmed by his manliness. Beats me.

Cold War is a fun romp, I suppose, but it’s not Byrne’s best work. It’s too bad, because the first section is so well constructed, but the rest of the book just fails to live up to it. It’s pleasant to see Byrne’s art (at least I think it is), and I’m certainly glad that he’s able to go off and do what he wants instead of slaving away for the Big Two, but this just a mediocre spy story. Byrne promises more Michael Swann adventures. Let us hope they’re better than this one!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode by Justin Jordan (writer), Tradd Moore (artist), Felipe Sobreiro (colorist), and Fonografiks (letterer). $14.99, 145 pgs, FC, Image.

Luther Strode is close to being a really great comic, but it doesn’t quite make it. That’s okay, though – it’s very entertaining, and it’s a fun read. Justin Jordan claims in a foreword that the book is about power and what a normal person would really do if they got superpowers. He betrays himself, though, in the final paragraph when he writes that the book is about power “and sweet, sweet ultraviolence.” Jordan might have a higher thought in mind for the book, but really, it’s all about the ultraviolence.

Luther Strode is a phenomenally violent comic book. You know how a lot of people (me included) have dropped Invincible because it has become so very, very violent? Well, Invincible looks like a stroll through a cheerful meadow compared to this comic. Luther Strode gets superpowers, but he doesn’t know how to use them, so occasionally he goes a bit too far. Furthermore, part of the condition of getting superpowers means that he starts seeing people as less than human, so there’s no reason not to kill them. This is what his nemesis thinks, so he is bound by no moral code whatsoever. Suffice it to say, not only do a lot of people get killed in this comic, they get killed in spectacularly horrific fashion.

The basic plot is that Luther is kind of a nerd at school, and because he’s tired of getting bullied, he sends away for one of those “Charles Atlas” self-help books. In no time at all, he’s able to kick major ass, and Jordan (wisely, I think) doesn’t explain too much about how the method works. It turns out that the man who sent him the book, a bald, bearded dude known only as the Librarian, is recruiting people into an ancient murder cult, and he’s not terribly happy when Luther doesn’t want to join up. Much mayhem ensues. Really, all the stuff about power and what it does to people is so secondary to the main point of the book, which is that Jordan wants to write ridiculously violent scenes and Moore gets to draw them. Luther’s best friend, Pete; his new girlfriend, Petra; and his mother are all targets. The closest, really, that Jordan gets to developing his stated theme is with the bully, Paul, who discovers what it means to be a victim, and with Luther’s estranged father, who beat his mother. Luther doesn’t want to become either one of them, and Jordan does a nice job showing how these two people have influenced his life. But, really, it’s all about the violence.

Moore’s art is superb, and the biggest reason to buy the comic. He draws violence really, really well, and it helps make the comic so much more visceral than if he hadn’t been able to draw it with such precision. He shows how Luther perceives the world once he masters the “method” well, too, from the way he can anticipate where people will move to the way he sees people as sacks of meat. Luther is in high school, so Moore is even able to give his characters a bit of innocence that makes the proceedings all the more awful. In a book like this, choreography is extremely important, and Moore’s fight scenes flow beautifully, and his fight with the Librarian at the end of the book is amazing and horrific. Jordan wisely gets out of his way a lot, and Moore is completely up to the challenge.

You might wonder why I enjoyed The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, given that I got annoyed with Invincible. Well, there’s the fact that it’s only 6 issues long. Jordan implies that there will be more mini-series, and I might get tired of that, but for a short story, I don’t have a problem with it. Plus, the whole point of the book is that a murder cult exists, and I suppose I had different expectations for it than I do for superhero comics (yes, Luther becomes a superhero, but not really). Or maybe it’s just something new, and I will get bored with it. Who knows? But it’s a pretty good read, even though it’s rather bleak, and while it’s not quite as deep as Jordan wants it to be, it’s an interesting comic. Plus, it looks great. That goes a long way!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo volume 1 by Bob Haney (writer) and Jim Aparo (artist). $49.99, 510 pgs, FC, DC.

This giant hardcover collects The Brave and the Bold #98, 100-102, 104-122, all of which were by the creative team of Haney and Aparo (why Aparo is singled out on the cover I’m not sure, but that’s the way it is). They were published from 1971 to 1975 and are, frankly, awesome. While the comic might be 50 bucks, it’s totally worth it. These are insane and wonderful and goofy and exciting – all the sorts of things you might want from a comic book. They came out after Denny O’Neil decided to change Batman back into a “dark creature of the night,” so there’s plenty of murder (most of it off-panel and bloodless), but there’s also some nice silliness, tempered nicely by Aparo’s excellent artwork. I’ve mentioned before that when I first started reading comics, Aparo was drawing Batman (the first comic I ever bought was Batman #426, the first of the “Death in the Family” issues, and Aparo drew that), and I wasn’t too impressed – it’s not that it was bad, but I just didn’t love it too much. Over the years, people have pointed out that his work in the 1970s was much better than his later work, and you can see that here. (The speculation is that he was inking himself here, and while I haven’t checked, I could have sworn in his later years, he was still inking himself. Maybe it was a different kind of paper that made his art look slicker than it was in the 1970s, or maybe it was just that Aparo was getting older and sloppier. He was born in 1932, so by the end of the 1980s, he might have been slipping a bit, as much as we don’t want to admit that.) His art in this comic, even with the nicer paper, is rougher than his later work, more solid and defined, and far more detailed. I still dislike some aspects of his art – I don’t think I’ll ever like his Joker, with that extended and pointed chin – but it’s obvious that during his golden age in the 1970s, he was a top-notch talent. He switches easily from war comics (Sergeant Rock shows up in two of these stories) to mystical weirdness to a bit of horror, and nothing ever looks out of place. Haney packs a lot into the scripts, and Aparo does a great job keeping up. He even does a nice job with stuff like fashion and different cars, which is very cool (especially because stuff like that often falls by the wayside in comics today). Your eyes might burn out of your skull when you see Oliver Queen’s green polka dot shirt (green polka dots on a lighter green background, mind you) and orange blazer, but at least it’s interesting fashion!

Haney’s stories are a nice blend of serious crime-solving and wackiness, although I doubt he intended them to be all that wacky. Some of the weirdness comes from the differences in culture that have occurred over the past 40 years – they make these comics far more charming than a lot of comics done today, where the creators strive to be “timeless” and leach all of the weird cultural references out of them. Haney was already in his mid-40s when he wrote these, so the best parts are when he tries to use “hip” slang, which is dicey even when you’re immersed in it. When Batman teams up with the Teen Titans to help some young kids fix up their run-down neighborhood, it’s particularly hilarious, but the story is still a good one. Haney’s not the most enlightened fellow – Black Canary actually stops in the middle of a case to get her hair done because rain messed it up – but he also writes a lot of interesting characters who, while they reflect their times, don’t fall into stereotypes … for the most part. Haney also gives us “half-breed” Indians who Aparo makes as white as anyone in the comic; a “black Napoleon” in Central America who is, of course, a bad guy; shady Arabs doing nefarious things; and a bunch of American soldiers who are inadvertently members of a Thuggee cult (it makes perfect sense in context, trust me!). While some of these villains are painful stereotypes (the Indians who hijack the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are particularly egregious), Haney also tries to make the villains interesting and motivated by different things – they’re not just cardboard bad guys. Plus, we get cults, both the Thuggees and Satanists; Nazis; Satan himself; corrupt government officials, both local and global; Two-Face; the Joker; a sailor from 1883 who has become a volcanic monster; ancient Egyptians; aliens; and animals who walk and talk like humans. You know, just normal Batman comics. Batman teams up with everyone from the Phantom Stranger and the Spectre to Green Arrow, Wonder Woman (the de-powered version), from Sergeant Rock to Swamp Thing to … Kamandi? Yes, even Kamandi. What’s amazing about the stories is that the guest stars don’t really feel that forced … well, the Kamandi one does, but everyone else fits easily into the context of the stories. I mean, when you need someone to shrink down and stimulate the cortex of a brain-dead Batman so that he can solve one final crime, of course the Atom will show up!

Haney also does a nice job with Batman himself. His Batman is a brutal avenger for justice, sure, and occasionally he gets a bit obsessed, but he’s also human. Can you imagine today’s Batman strolling down the street in the middle of the day and thinking, “The pretty girls are blossoming like flowers! Delicious!” Of course you can’t, but Haney’s Batman is a total playa – at least two women give him a big smooch as thanks for helping them (I don’t feel like going through the book and finding any more examples). Can you imagine today’s Batman thinking that it’s good that Gordon is being forced to retire because he’s too old? Of course not, but Haney’s Batman can be a tool, too, because he’s only human!

I really can’t stress how excellent these comics are. They’re exciting, single-issue stories with just the right amount of weirdness. They have very cool guest stars, fun crimes that require some detective work and a whole lot of butt-kicking, Batman getting bashed on the head far more than is healthy, and great artwork. I may not be quite as in love with the Bronze Age as Mr. Other Greg and Mr. MarkAndrew, but with stuff like this, I’m getting there!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Six Guns by Andy “Dave” Diggle (writer), Davide Gianfelice (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $14.99, 100 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I’ve often written that I would love more comics like this – set in the Marvel or DC universes but not having anything to do with superheroes, because it would be neat to see writers use certain things we’ve come to expect in superhero books but with (relatively) normal people. So Six Guns, which features several updated Western characters from Marvel’s non-superhero days (the late 1940s and 1950s), should be right up my alley. There’s some mentions of superpowers, Roxxon is a major presence in the book, and the plot revolves around something that is fairly common in the Marvel U. but doesn’t exist in our universe. And you know what? I did enjoy this comic!

Diggle must miss his days writing The Losers, because this is basically The Losers in the Marvel Universe. Five disparate characters are thrown together in a common cause, and there’s a lot of bloodshed. Tex Dawson, Texas Ranger, is transporting a prisoner – the latest version of the Tarantula, who’s the token hot chick of the group – when he and his partner are accosted by the Black Riders motorcycle gang. They’ve been hired to deliver Tarantula to some swarmy blond white guy (he doesn’t look too much like him, but if they’re going to make a movie out of this, they’ll hire Neal McDonough – Vance even uses a rail gun in this comic!), but things don’t go as planned. Before you know it, both Dawson and the leader of the gang – Black Rider himself – are solo, and Dawson wants revenge on Black Rider, who wants revenge on Vance. Meanwhile, bounty hunter Matt Slade wants Tarantula for the money, while a blond, freckled Hispanic dude with no name (his last name is Reyes, though) wants to kill Vance because he thinks Vance killed his brother (this is the Two-Gun Kid, hence the title of the mini-series – the five characters have six guns between them). The action mostly takes place on an island called San Diablo, which is split into two hostile countries, both of whom have gotten rid of their military and are using private contractors to fight. Of course, the five principals are at odds for a time, until they realize that Vance (and, behind him Roxxon) are probably the bigger threat. After that, it’s mayhem in the Mighty Marvel Manner!

Gianfelice can be a good artist (I didn’t like his work on Greek Street, for instance, but he’s been good on other things), and he does a nice job illustrating the violence here. This is a fairly bloody book, and Gianfelice does a good job making the violence somewhat inventive (Tarantula escapes her captors in a rather interesting way, to say the least). The book is crowded, but Gianfelice does a nice job giving everyone a unique look, so I could keep track of everyone. His Tarantula is sexy, sure, but the way he draws women is well done, because she’s not a classic beauty – Gianfelice’s thick lines make her a bit tougher and rough-hewn, which is nice. The action flows really well, which is crucial in a book like this. Visually, it’s a good comic.

Six Guns is a bit disposable – it would be nice to see some of these characters again, but not imperative – but it’s a fun read. I would like to see more comics like it, because superheroes can’t be everywhere in the Marvel Universe, and sometimes you just need nasty people shooting up the bad guys. It’s a good action movie comic, and when that’s all it aspires to be, there’s nothing wrong with it. If that’s what you expect, you’ll like it just fine.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City by Brendan Leach (writer/artist). $9.95, 39 pgs, BW, Top Shelf.

This comic came out in 2010, but I’m not sure if it was in this format or not. It’s 11¾ by 14¼ inches, so it’s gigantic. It’s printed on newspaper and the first page looks like a newspaper, and Leach gives us some of the background of the book on that first page – it’s New York, it’s 1904, people hunt pterodactyls, and the animals are almost extinct. It’s an interesting way to present the material, and it makes for a fun reading experience.

Leach’s story is fairly simple – Eamon Sullivan is a top dinosaur hunter, while his brother, Declan, mans one of the towers in which spotters sit. The hunters fly around in balloons and harpoon the beasties, which is what Eamon does early in the book. Another pterodactyl actually manages to kill someone, and then Eamon is injured while trying to bring that one down (they’re pretty confident it’s the last one in the city), so of course Declan needs to step into his place. So we get a sibling rivalry, Eamon’s real reasons for trying to kill the pterodactyl, a hint of lost romance between Declan and a nun, and some dinosaur-hunting action! Leach’s rough art works well on newsprint and in black and white, as the way the book is presented and his stark, almost rigid style makes this feel like an ancient comic that someone just unearthed. His details are quite nice – Declan walks around with scribbles haloing his head, mainly because he feels unworthy and resentful of his brother’s glory. The action scenes are quite nice, too, with a rough, almost reckless feel to them, which is how hunting giant flying dinosaurs in hot air balloons would probably feel.

The biggest disappointment that I have with the book is that it’s too short. I don’t know if Leach is working on more or if this is a standalone book, but there’s a lot more that he sets up than gets resolved. He ends on a particularly ambiguous note, and while I don’t have any problem with stories ending ambiguously, absolutely nothing gets resolved, and that seems odd. Perhaps he’s going to do more with the book, but it really doesn’t end well. There’s an awful lot of set-up for a comic that’s less than 40 pages, and when we reach the end, the natural inclination is to say, “Is that it?” That’s a frustrating feeling.

Leach has quite a lot of his comics up on his web site, in case you want to check them out. I wanted to like this comic more than I do, but for most of it, I thought it was pretty good. It’s just disappointing that the book doesn’t work at the end.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations by Norman Davies. 830 pgs, 2012, Viking.

Norman Davies, one of the grand old men of European historical writing, has produced this doorstop of a book about various states in European history that, for one reason or another, have disappeared. Davies doesn’t pretend this is an exhaustive study – there are far too many failed states for that – but he tries to focus on the more important ones or ones that had a lasting impact. Some of his choices are odd, but overall, the book is quite interesting. Davies writes with authority and some wit, and his prose doesn’t get bogged down too much in crushing details. That’s not to say the book isn’t thorough, and it’s really not for the faint-hearted – this is for readers who already have a solid background in general European history and know, for instance, why the Habsburgs are important (if you don’t know that, you’re definitely not the audience for this book). The book is partly a survey, yes, but it’s also more in-depth than that, and Davies expects us to keep up. Part of the reason why the book is so long is because Davies does try to boil down ridiculously complex European history into manageable parts so that laypeople can try to keep up, but I’m not sure he’s that successful. I don’t know – I know a lot of the background in this book, so I can’t say how good a job he does.

Davies includes some odd kingdoms and omits some odd ones, as well. He spends very few pages on the Byzantine Empire, which, given the historiography that’s been done on the Eastern Roman Empire, is probably for the best. He ignores Muslim Spain and its fall except tangentially as part of Aragon’s rise, which is odd. Al-Andalus lasted for 700 years, after all, and had a huge impact on Spanish culture to this day, and there’s no reason to exclude it, especially when he includes some weird kingdoms. He puts Ireland in the book, which is strange because Ireland, in fact, does still exist. He uses it as a backdrop for the break-up of the United Kingdom and points out that Northern Ireland is not part of the Irish Republic, but as the UK also still exists (perhaps not for much longer, true, but still), it seems he might have included it simply to appeal to a British reading public. That might be why he includes Rosenau, which is better known as Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and which provided the UK with its current ruler (in case you don’t know, the Windsors adopted the name during the First World War, when having a German surname was kind of embarrassing; it’s rather funny to consider that the current royal marriage, between a Windsor and a Mountbatten, is actually between a Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and a Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg). The duchy is relatively unimportant but for that fact, and there are many other petty German statelets Davies could have chosen (he does deal with Prussia, which is an actual vanished kingdom). Those are some of the odd choices he makes.

The kingdoms he covers are: The Visigoth kingdom in southern France, destroyed by Clovis and the Franks in AD 507; Strathclyde in Scotland/northern England (again, one wonders why he didn’t pick Mercia, just to name one of the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms); Burgundy, which has a fairly convoluted history in a few different areas; Lithuania-Poland, at one time the largest state in Europe; Byzantium; Prussia; Savoy, whose rulers eventually became kings of Italy but lost their ancestral homeland in the process; Galicia, which is now part of Ukraine; Etruria, which was one of the states created by Napoleon; Rosenau; Montenegro, not the modern incarnation but the one that disappeared at the end of World War I (it fought on the Allied side and was ignored by those victors, who stood by and let Serbia gobble it up); Rusyn, which existed for one day in 1939; Ireland; and the USSR, with a focus on Estonia’s place within the Soviet Union. It’s a nice list, and some states are only included because Davies has an axe to grind with regard to other topics – he studied in Eastern Europe, so he’s angry about the Soviet takeover of the Baltic states and Poland and the West’s reluctance to stop their erstwhile Allies. That doesn’t mean he’s not comprehensive, just that his biases are worn well on his sleeve. What he does very well is get into the people who live in these areas and how they are different from what many people in the West think – Estonians, for instance, are not Slavic, and Lithuanians remained pagan longer than anyone in Europe. He does a very good job looking at languages and culture, because Europe is far more interesting on the margins than anyone might expect – the supposedly monolithic cultures of “English,” “French,” “German,” “Italian,” “Spanish,” and the like are far more fractured than Americans might think (which is surprising, given our experience with so many cultures). Davies does a nice job with the politics of the book, but a casual reader might get lost in the genealogies that he helpfully provides (seriously – the family tree of the Jagiellons of Lithuania-Poland could make anyone weep). His examination of the people and how they lived is much more easily digested.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, even with some of the seemingly random choices and some unfortunate minor mistakes with names and dates (it’s not that I’m all that smart, it’s that Davies occasionally contradicts himself within a few pages of each other). I’m not even sure if they’re mistakes of if it’s just yet another person named Pedro or Ramón (seriously – the counts of Barcelona were all named Ramón Berenguer or Berenguer Ramón, and here are the first 8 Aragonese kings, from 1162 to 1387: Alfonso, Pedro, Jaime, Pedro, Alfonso, Jaime, Alfonso, Pedro), but it’s weird. Even with that, this is a fascinating book. Who doesn’t love books about obscure European states that no longer exist? Commies, that’s who!!!!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Poseidon and the Bitter Bug by Indigo Girls, Vanguard Records, 2009.

I’m a pretty big fan of the Indigo Girls and have been for 20 years, but I missed this when it came out, so I only bought it recently. When I was ordering this on Amazon, I read some of the reviews, and a lot of people said this was a “return to their roots.” I don’t know what those people were smoking, because the Indigo Girls never strayed too far from their roots, and if you like their other albums, you’ll probably like this one. It’s not as Gothic as Swamp Ophelia (1994) and it doesn’t rock as much as Come On Now Social (1999) (relatively, of course, as the Indigo Girls never rock too much), and it’s not as good as Indigo Girls (1989) or All That We Let In (2004), but it fits nicely into their discography. Amy Ray is still a bit harder-edged than Emily Saliers, who remains the sentimental one of the duo, but that means they play off each nicely. For me, the highlights are “Digging For Your Dream” (Saliers), which opens the album, “I’ll Change” (Saliers), “Second Time Around” (Ray), “Ghost of the Gang” (Ray), and “True Romantic” (Ray). The first two are, unsurprisingly, a bit more melancholy and lovely, while Ray’s songs feature her nice cigarettes-and-coffee voice and deal with a bit more complicated relationships and are a bit more “country,” for lack of a better word – “Second Time Around” has a nice mandolin/banjo melody, for instance. There really aren’t any surprises here, but that’s okay, because the Indigo Girls do what they do, and if you know that going in, you can enjoy them for what they are. The package I got included a disc with just the ladies playing acoustic guitars, a “stripped-down” version, if you will, and while it’s okay, I prefer the full band. You may differ in your opinion!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Let England Shake by PJ Harvey, Vagrant Records, 2011.

Much like the Indigo Girls, I’ve been a fan of Ms. Harvey for 20 years, even though my wife and my sister-in-law cannot stand her music (Philistines, I say!). Let England Shake has been getting some good press, but I can’t share it, unfortunately. It’s certainly not a bad album, but it’s not her best – it’s closer to Is This Desire? (1998) than it is to her first three astonishing albums (Dry, Rid of Me, and the transcendent To Bring You My Love, from 1992, 1993, and 1995) or even Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000), which is her last great album (although I did miss getting White Chalk, which I have to check out). This album is almost completely full of anti-war songs, which isn’t a bad thing, but it does get a bit tedious. The title track, which begins the album, is quite good – it has a weird, ethereal vibe and some biting anti-England lyrics. The rest of the album is mostly about the horrors of war, and Harvey’s lilting and quavering voice contrasts oddly with the tragic imagery about which she’s singing. Not all of it works, and what does mainly does so because of the music – some of the music doesn’t ground her vocals, so the songs seem to float away, while others have a slightly harder edge and they help focus Harvey’s voice better. “The Glorious Land,” “The Words That Maketh Murder,” “In the Dark Places,” “Bitter Branches,” and “The Colour of the Earth” do that, and from those we get the better songs on the album, although “Written on the Forehead” also works even though the music isn’t as strong as the others; it works because the lyrics are more interesting than many of the other songs. The problem with the album is that even those songs noted above don’t change the tone too much, so the entire album makes very little impression, which is a shame. There’s nothing that really grabs you and makes you pay attention – the album feels like background music, and one thing Harvey has rarely been, and that’s background music (which is why Is This Desire? is her worst album, because it leaves no impression whatsoever). I know that Harvey likes to mix up her style and I don’t expect her to be as angry as she was two decades ago, but I do wish that anti-war songs would get her blood up, and too often on this album, it doesn’t seem like it is. While I like those songs listed above, I don’t love any of them, and when it comes to Polly Jean, that’s disappointing.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Another fine month for trade paperbacks and some older stuff that’s just now getting collected! Next month: DC begins chucking out their trades of the DCnU, and I’m getting at least one of them. We’ll see how that goes!

8 Comments

Jake Earlewine

April 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Hey, great reviews, Greg.

I’d like to own that Aparo book. Outside of his Aquaman work, this book probably contains the Best of Aparo.

My problem is with the Bob Haney stories. Wacky, you say? They were wacky even for the Silver Age! Beyond wacky! How about absurd? I always hated that Bob Haney’s stories existed outside of DC continuity. I’d buy The Brave and The Bold because I liked Batman and I liked the covers. But actually reading the damn things always left me unsatisfied, like I’d just drank a diet cola and was still waiting for the sugar jolt…)

I didn’t realize until years later that was because The Brave and the Bold was not under Julius Schwartz. Were Murray Boltinoff and Bob Haney that ignorant of continuity? Or did they just not give a hoot?

Jake, Boltinof and Haey did’t give a hoot. To them, comics were for kids. And Greg,in his later years, Aparo was usually inked by others especially Mike Decarlo, who in my opiion, deluted some of Aparo’s line work.

I was so close to picking up Legion of Monsters as I like Juan Doe’s work, and have a soft spot for Elsa Bloodstone since the awesomeness of Nextwave. I did grab Luther Strode though as I only read the first issue. The TPB is sitting on my ever growing stack of “comics I’ll get to one day.”
I know what you mean about Aparo. People praise him, but I always preferred Graham Nolan, and Norm Breyfogle, but that could be because my comics habit took hold in the ’90s. I didi just buy the Showcase Presents Batman: BatB Vol 2, which features Adams and Aparo though.

Greg, been reading your stuff for awhile now. Enjoy it. Seen a pic of your daughter, adorable. Pics of you, not so much. Actually am curious about what your ipod plays for you. Something just dawned on me though after all this time, YOU MUST BE A WEED SMOKIN’ FIEND.

Eduardo: I checked out some random Batman books, and you’re right, DeCarlo did often ink Aparo. That’s probably it.

azjohnson: Thanks, and ouch! No, I’m not adorable at all. And I haven’t smoked weed in 20 years. I enjoyed it when I was in college, but it kind of lost its appeal after that.

The iPod will return. It needs a break!

Mike Loughlin

May 1, 2012 at 4:51 am

Let Englans Shake was such a disappointment. My problem with the album was that Polly’s voice sounded weak. She just kind of sang everything without the vocal variation or emotional weight of her best work. It’s fIne, I guess, but didn’t have the power I want in a PJ Harvey album.

White Chalk was decent, but not great. It here were some good, creepy songs, and the tone was consistent, but the overuse of falsetto vocals and sparse piano didn’t work for me.

So glad you liked the Haney/Aparo Brave and the Bolds. Some of my favorite superhero comics ever. Yeah, I can absolutely see not being so keen on Aparo if your first exposure was his ’80s stuff. I really like these and his early Phantom stories, but everything after seems a little half-assed – The backgrounds are less detailed and it just feels less immersive to me.

Although…

“Haney’s stories are a nice blend of serious crime-solving and wackiness, although I doubt he intended them to be all that wacky.”

Yeah he did. S’far as I can tell he thought superheroes were basically silly – See his earlier Brave and the Bold stories for proof of that, although they’re mostly not very good. This is why so hard he tried NOT to write superhero stories in his Aparo-paired prime and kept writing these Indiana Jones style archeologist action comics, medical thrillers, and post-modern spy dramas instead.

And serious literary critical point here: Professional writers – even Silver Age comic writers – know what they’re doing most of the time. And if there’s a question (IMO, at least) I think you should assume that they have thought about and understand the tone and texture of their work at least as well as you (the critic type) do – Unless there’s substantial evidence to the contrary.

And I really, really liked WHITE CHALK – And I’d be curious to here a defense of RID OF ME which just seemed embarassingly underdone production-wise.

Although I totally agree that TO BRING YOU MY LOVE is THE P.J. album. I’ll probably get the new one eventually. She’s one of the few ’90s alterna-rocker types I still follow in my dotage.

Mike Loughlin

May 2, 2012 at 6:21 am

MarkAndrew,

Rid of Me is one of the most emotionally charged albums I’ve ever heard. Polly smolders, wails, screams, and even sings with passionate intensity. The songwriting was stellar, direct, and bold; to this day, “Run ‘Til It Bleeds” still makes me uncomfortable. I like the punk/blues riffing and noise in the playing. The production made the whole thing sound more like a demo than a finished album, adding to its rawness.

Of course, that’s just my opinion, and, yeah, To Bring You My Love is amazing.

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