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Scott Carney: Looks like I’ve finally hit the wall.  Or the bag.  Or something.  I’m staring at the stack for the week (all used, one abused) and I’m struggling–struggling because not a single comic struck me enough to make me bleed words.  So let me cut myself…

Derek Mainhart: I feel your pain. I was really excited about this week’s books. Two Grant Morrison books? Lots o’ Allred art? Sign me up! And yet I’m similarly uninspired. I guess we need to start with the book that seemed to have the most potential to make me Happy….

SC: Maybe an allusion to Clerks will make you happy: Seventy-two?  Seventy-two?  Grant Morrison used the f-word or some form of the f-word seventy-two times!

DM: In a row?

SC: Well done.  Can you believe it, though?  That’s how many times an f-word flies off the pages of his effusively offensive, belatedly offbeat, and finally fun Happy #1.  From the first c-word, Morrison, a true super scribe–and pen-point sniper–in his own write, makes it clear that he’s happy to be writing a book for Image and that he’s, sadly, no Garth Ennis when it comes to four-wheelin’ it with four-letter words.  As a result, I really had no use for this book–this is until Happy the Horse reveals who he is and why he needs Sax, our prostrate protagonist.  That bit hooked me hard.  That’s right: I’m going to accept the fact that the explicit language is meant to exaggerate the dour song of experience of the X-rated adult world and to set up the bizarre yet greatly appreciated arrival of an–as far as we know–innocent child’s hyperbolically-cartoonish imaginary friend.  So, despite my initial doubt, I’m going to ride the crazy premise of a loyal My Little Pegasus and its looking to swoop in and save the day with a soiled sidekick; I’m going to trust in Morrison and am going to grab #2.

DM: Yeah, I had a similar reaction. Those first few pages read like a bad impression of Ennis (a true impresario of invective – see below). But I guess that’s the point: Morrison’s satirizing gritty, foulmouthed, hyper-violent crime stories. One of the goombahs even says “We can do this without all the (effin) language.” But the problem is that, in satirizing the dreary, grim and gritty milieu of many a mediocre comic (and movie for that matter), he has created a story that is, in fact, all of those things. Darick Robertson really sells the contrast well; he renders a world that is positively grimy to heighten his rendition of Happy, who looks like a Fantasia character designed by Tex Avery. Unfortunately, that stark visual contrast isn’t matched by the story. In order for the satire to really work, Happy needs to be utterly guileless, standing in counterpoint to the cynical drudgery that surrounds him (think Roger Rabbit). But Happy only looks ridiculous. He’s as wise to the sleaze as anyone; more so, in fact as he informs Nick of his own predicament, “You’re in a mob hospital, they took your weapons, sedated you and now they’ve sent a torture squad to screw some kinda password out of you.” So, no, I’m not buying into the whole hilarity of the situation. Even the conceit (protagonist-goes-on-quest-with-imaginary-friend-or-are-they..?) is something Morrison recently explored in the far superior (thus far) Joe the Barbarian. Sigh. Like you said, it’s Morrison. I’ll always give him the benefit of a doubt (and my 3 bucks for #2).

SC: While Morrison’s f-bombs seemed awkwardly wired, Ennis’s are timed to go off at just the right moment in Fury Max #6.  But that’s just Ennis playing to his–and the “one-eyed [a-hole’s]”–strength.  The expected explosion of expletives isn’t the only reason why this book wears its warning like a Medal of Honor, however; Goran Parlov goes for the gore with a crushing depiction of a head in a vise and with Fury’s straight-out-of-the-headlines mouthful of face.  (I can hear the creators cackling during the process of putting this scene together: “Yes, I’ll have el Cubano, please.”)  And how about poor Elgen?  This brave soul–this patriot–takes a knife to the nether regions, is tossed to the sharks, loses a couple of limbs, and welcomes a benevolent bullet from the coldly caring colonel.  It’s clear: War is hell; and Fury and Heatherly are left to sail the Styx together.  Overall, this issue carries a terrific and oft terrifying tune–though, and I think I’m being fair, this time, the Shirley Defabio scenes don’t necessarily reach the height of perfect harmony.  Hey, it’s gonna happen.  You know what shouldn’t happen?  I’ll tell you what shouldn’t happen: the biggest flaw I found stands defiantly on the last page–the very last page–of the book: #7 comes out on 12/5?  Really?  Really?  Bastards.

DM: Nobody writes war comics better the Ennis. Military history is obviously a passion of his and he captures it in all its awful glory. His Battlefields series from Dynamite is even better than this one. I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment, Battlefields: The Green Fields Beyond, due out in November. If you like Fury, you could do worse than picking up a trade. They’re standalone stories and are a great display of Ennis’ true range (Dear Billy being my personal fave).  Don’t be a bastard. Check it out.

SC: Hmm.  Guess I’ll have to check that out.  Speaking of bastards: I love Jeff Lemire’s take on John Constantine.  (I love Lee Garbett’s take on Zatanna, as well; “Raeppa,” indeed.)  In Justice League Dark #0, the hellblazing S.O.B. is shown to be an insatiable magic whore with a heart–a heart probably plagued with plaque from all the cigarettes he sucks down over the course of the issue.  (Hmm.  I wonder if Zatanna could help him with that with a simple, “Euqalp eb enog!”  That little witch is a keeper, son!)  Story-wise, the book is split in two: there’s the well-developed and snappy slow burn of the first part, which ends with Nick Necro’s fully transparent flytrap of a phone call; and then there’s the rest, which lacks any heat at all, thanks, in part, to the aptly named Cold Flame.  But it’s OK; it’s all good: the darn thing’s a one and done; and next month, we get back down to business with “The War for the Books of Magic.”  Can’t wait for that.  Wait.  Why wait?  Why not try—this: “Htnom ylf yb!”

DM: I gotta disagree with you here. Constantine is a very singular sort of scoundrel. Ambivalent to the point of maddening. Distinct Liverpool accent. Deadpan, world-weary sarcasm. It’s not every writer that can nail the trenchant rhythms of his speech, or his enigmatically contrarian attitude. And, sadly, Lemire is not up to the task (though I commend him for not resorting to using “bollocks” every two panels). His rendition of Constantine has been serviceable within the team format of this book. But in a solo tale like this one, his flawed grasp of the character becomes glaring. A trench coat and a cigarette do not a bastard make. Yes, I realize this is the New 52 version of the character.  A good thing too. The Vertigo version would eat this guy alive.

SC: Something for Garth Ennis to explore in a new series: Constantine Max.

DM: I’m already looking forward to it!  But–and here’s another one you may not have picked up–a book that has no problem capturing the idiom of its lead characters is Steed and Mrs. Peel #1 (published by BOOM!). What is odd, initially confusing, and finally intriguing about the story (Caleb Monroe’s script working from Mark Waid’s plot with art by Will Sliney), is that it immediately takes those two beloved leads completely out of their comfort zone. A post-apocalyptic London, complete with irradiated mutant zombies? Hardly what we’d expect for our avatars of the swingin’ sixties. Indeed, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop (you know, hallucination, elaborate hoax, etc.), but apparently Waid and Monroe are sticking to their guns. Here (unlike in Happy) the study in contrasts works: no matter the mind-numbing horror they now face, our heroes imperturbably maintain their stiff upper lip and all that. End of the world? No excuse to lose one’s cool. Good show! (Sorry. I’ll stop.)

Another book making gleeful fun out out of the annihilation of mankind is Mars Attacks #4 (IDW). I do think writer John Layman makes a mistake in portraying the Martians as slightly  sympathetic. Still, each issue has been a scorched earth snapshot of the havoc those bloodthirsty, brain-exposed bastards are wreaking, rendered in equal parts comedy and gore by the always engaging John McCrea. The disparate snapshots seem to be coming together at the end of this issue. Not sure how I feel about that. But ancient Aztecs? Giant fleas? Buzzsaws to the noggin? High-octane hilarity.

But even that doesn’t come close to the near-sublime, spasmodic absurdity that is…Wolverine and the X-Men #17. Yes. That’s right. Wolverine and the X-Men. I’ve steered clear of the X-books for quite a while now. Their convoluted, insular story lines have rendered them seemingly impenetrable. But Mike Allred and Doop reunited for the first time since their glorious run on X-Force and X-Statix (written by Peter Milligan)? It was the kind of gift I didn’t realize I wanted until I saw it. Any reservations I may have had about deciphering labyrinthine layers of X-history were quickly dispelled on page 3 with the merciful announcement: “Previously – Lots of things happened, but don’t worry your pretty little head about it. Enjoy.” Reassured, I sat back, relaxed and did enjoy a true MIKE ALLRED COMIC. Certain writers, (Neil Gaiman, the previously mentioned Morrison and Ennis) seem to bring out the best in the artists they work with. Well Allred is one of the few artists who does that with writers. It’s as if they realize they need to up their game, channel their inner anarchist, and let it fly. And happily Jason Aaron (never a timid writer) is up for the challenge. The set-up: Wolverine hires Doop to protect the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning (which I guess is what it’s called now) from the myriad threats lurking, well, everywhere. His haphazard duties include, but are not limited to: ambushing a bowling league, seducing various members of a school board, and teaming up for an interdimensional adventure with the most unanticipatedly awesome guest star of the year, whose identity I won’t ruin. (Suffice it to say, my inner-geek had a heart attack.) Doop – truly an intrepid hero of the people. Really, the book this most resembles in its wondrous lunacy is Bob Burden’s legendary Flaming Carrot (check out his recently successful Kickstarter campaign for happy news on that front – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/592668574/flaming-carrot-hardback-and-digital-comics). And that is rarefied air indeed. And so, at the end, I was left in a Doop-shaped pickle; was I wrong about my X-aversion? Did I need to start picking up this book? And then I turned to the Next Issue box featuring a Phoenix-enflamed Cyclops tie-in to the monstrosity that is AvX. Thus I find myself in the unique position of declaring: Book of the Week. I have no intention of picking up the next issue.

Wolverine and the X-Men #17 Cover

SC: I wouldn’t pick it up if I were you.  Thing is, I’m not; so, I’ll be picking it up as a loyal reader might be expected to–even with the seemingly never-ending AvX tie-in hanging over it like something you really don’t want hanging over something you like.  (I’ve already explained–in the previous Back and Forth–how I feel about that whole thing.)  Aaron’s sashayed around the silliness well enough; he’s even played it for a laugh or two–done particularly well in #16, with the focus on the snarky Kilgore kid.  And, you know, that’s what I’ve liked about this series: the “we’re superheroes, sure, but we’re not super serious” vibe.  This issue, however, seems waaaaay over the top–which is fine; I mean, it does focus on Doop, for God’s sake.  Thing is, it felt forced at times, like it had to be pushed and shoved–dragged, even–to the apex of wackiness.  Don’t get me wrong: I thought the Nazi bowling team was a strike; I laughed heartily at Doop’s daliances with members of both genders; and, oh, how I dug the cameo to which you referred.  I don’t know.  I don’t know why I didn’t fall into it as much as you did.  Maybe it’s because you’ve got the experience with the Allred/Doop tandem that I don’t have.  (Thanks for letting me borrow the X-Force trade, by the way.)  Maybe it’s because I’m a grumpy bastard who finds comfort in continuity.  Speaking of continuity: with all the stuff going down after AvX #12–with titles getting axed and added–I’m left wondering if Wolverine and the X-Men will be a thing of the past or if it’ll be a part of Now!  Now, speaking of Now!: I’m pretty sure you’ve got something to get off your chest about the Marvel revamp.  Care to share?

DM: Later.

SC: Bastard.