Thursday, August 25, 2016

Magicpuncher: His punches have the power of magic!

Mmmm... Cloak of Levitation
Doctor Strange: The Last Days of Magic (2016): written by Jason Aaron, James Robinson, and Gerry Duggan; illustrated by Chris Bachalo, Mike Perkins, Leonard Romero, Danilo Beyruth, Kevin Nowlan, and many others: The five-issue build-up to The Last Days of Magic was pretty good. The Last Days of Magic itself, not so much. Chris Bachalo's artwork throughout the story is nice, magicky stuff, conjuring up images of Bachalo's work on Neil Gaiman's Death miniseries in the Sandman universe. 

And I understand what Marvel and Jason Aaron are attempting in the writing of Doctor Strange. Strange has often been a great series going back to his creation by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee in the early 1960's and continuing through such great writer/artist teams as Steve Engelhart/ Frank Brunner to Roger Stern/Marshall Rogers in the early 1980's and on to Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin's terrific The Oath miniseries from a few years back.

But Doctor Strange has never been a popular character, which is why he keeps getting cancelled. Aaron writes Doctor Strange as much more fallible and self-doubting than previous efforts, making him almost into a Spider-man, with magic. It doesn't work for me because it doesn't link up with previous versions of Strange. Maybe it will be popular. But between that and the gigantic ret-cons Aaron works into the narrative, I found myself reading a Doctor Strange story that didn't seem to have Doctor Strange in it. 

And at the point that Doctor Strange first thinks and then exclaims at the villain, "I'm literally punching you with magic!"... well, that was really enough to cure me of any desire to see what Aaron and Bachalo have up their sleeves for future issues of Strange. But if you always hated Doctor Strange as written by virtually everyone who has ever written Doctor Strange, maybe you'll like this revised version. For me, not recommended.

John Constantine Hellblazer: Damnation's Flame (1993-94/reprinted 1999): written by Garth Ennis; illustrated by Steve Dillon, Peter Snejberg, Will Simpson, Glenn Fabry, and John Totleben: DC's scabrous, Liverpudlian Sorcerer Supreme John Constantine takes a nightmarish voyage through the shadow realms of the American Hell in this volume, which would now be collected in the Rake at the Gates of Hell collection (if you're looking to buy this story in a new printing). 

Garth Ennis is suitably pissy and cynical, especially once the horrifying ghosts of Abe Lincoln and JFK come into play. Ennis' long-time artistic collaborator Steve Dillon is in fine form, rendering all the horrors in his nuanced, straightforward, mostly realistic drawing style -- the clean-ness of Dillon's rendering was always a plus on Hellblazer and with Ennis also on Preacher. The horrors of Ennis' writing always needed to be undersold visually. Three nice standalone Constantine tales supplement the Damnation's Flame arc. In all, if one finds a used or remaindered copy anywhere, Damnation's Flame could almost work as an introduction to the Constantine experience. Highly recommended.

John Constantine Hellblazer: The Red Right Hand (2006-2007; collected 2007): written by Denise Mina; illustrated by Leonard Manco and Cristiano Cuchina: Novelist Denise Mina wrote 13 issues of John Constantine Hellblazer in 2006-2007. She wasn't generally well-received by Constantine fans, though I like her work. It was, however, somewhat misleading to collect her issues in two volumes (the previous volume was Empathy is the Enemy): the two volumes actually form one 12-issue, novelistic story, with one standalone fill-in issue in the middle of things. 

I like the 12-issue arc overall, but it's a John Constantine story that seems awfully padded. The concluding issues in this volume go in circles for about 60 pages before finally stumbling to an end. That the fate of the world hinges in a hilarious way on the outcome of a World Cup match involving England is probably the best moment in Mina's run. Lightly recommended.

Enigma (1993): written by Peter Milligan; illustrated by Duncan Fegredo: This wild, woolly, postmodern superhero tale from the first year of the DC Vertigo comics line's existence is a gem, albeit a somewhat padded one -- it's a tight six-issue story running at a somewhat attenuated eight issues. Duncan Fegredo's art is scratchy and scary and often intentionally confusing -- when the superhero fights comes, they're confusing and bloody, which is sort of the point. 

Peter Milligan writes an involving tale of childhood superhero fantasies and grown-up repression. And the final revelation of the narrator's identity is all sorts of funny. Enigma also seems prescient in that it deals frankly and non-stereotypically with homosexuality. In 1993! Kudos to line editor Karen Berger and DC for releasing such a book at the time. Recommended.

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