Pumpkin Seeds: Comic Book Roundup
1. These days, most comic books are written in story arcs of 3-6 issues; more for limited series. At best, this means fuller stories with more complex plotting and deeper characterization. At worst, it's filler and fluff. Typically, it's the worst that dominates the bookshelves and sales charts.
2. There are way too many X-Men-related titles coming out every month and the Reloaded stunt seems to have killed the only one - New Mutants - I was interested in.
3. Ultimate Fantastic Four: Like most things from the House of Ideas, I love the concept of their Ultimate line but have little interest in the execution. The Ultimate Six mini-series, my first foray, left me cold and feeling somewhat cheated, and as little as I liked the original X-Men or the Avengers when I was younger, I was never a fan of the Fantastic Four at all. I've always been a sucker for first issues, though, and decided to give this one a chance and am happy I did. The first arc reimagined the origin of the team, making them much younger while bringing them into current time. Taking advantage of the expanded story arc formula, Ultimate masterminds Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar effectively use the first six issues to firmly establish each character's identity, laying an emotional foundation that's often lacking in comics, especially in team books. By the time Doctor Doom is [re]introduced in the seventh issue, you can't help but be hooked, and the fact that Warren Ellis takes over the writing duties without missing a beat, ups the ante in fact, is a testament to the benefit of the expanded story arc done right. Jeph Loeb should take notes.
4. Superman/Batman: Early Batman stories aside, Jeph Loeb is an overrated slam poet of a comic book writer whose inexplicable popularity is only exceeded by the teenaged wet dream pencils of his sidekick du jour, Michael Turner. Turner's recent spate of cover work is notable solely for his facility with the ladies but once he gets inside a book for 22 pages, his weaknesses are glaring. Lazy pencils, stiff layouts, characters differing only by their costumes... I try to avoid buying comics for their potential collectibility but four disappointing issues into this combo and it's the only reason I'll complete this arc.
5. Atticus Kodiak: Not a comic book, but the protagonist in a series of novels from writer Greg Rucka, whose work I first came across in Gotham Central. Keeper and Finder, the first two novels in the series, introduce you to Kodiak, seemingly a little too young at 28 to be a professional bodyguard, but an engaging character with an interesting supporting cast. Rucka's prose is fluid and fine-edged, reminiscent of Lawrence Block's work in his own Matthew Scudder series of novels, minus the New York City grit that Block does so well. And that's a significant minus as Rucka's NYC feels a little too MapQuest for a native like me. The names and places are all correct but there's a certain something missing, the same absence you sense in films shot in Vancouver. That relatively minor point aside, Rucka tells a tight, engrossing story, the kind you read in a couple of breathless sittings. The kind he and Ed Brubaker have been delivering regularly in Gotham Central. Of these two, Keeper is actually the stronger book as Finder's plot teeters on a tightrope of implausibility and it's only Rucka's strong characterizations that save it from completely falling apart.