Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

I Think I Know Why They Called Them ‘Losers’…

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 21st, 2014

… Rampant sexism with a dash of racism will do it every time.


(From Our Fighting Forces #166, featuring the Losers, from 1976. Story by Bob Kanigher, art by George Evans.)

To be fair, Gunner, Sarge, Johnny Cloud and Capt. Storm come around about their French female mission leader (who goes into battle in a skirt and fishnets) by the end of the story. Though Johnny never apologizes for the “squaw” comment.

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Buzz Words

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 20th, 2014

With a Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly mini-comic
Writer: Gibson Twist
Artist: Rori! de Rien
Publisher: Live Nude Comics (self-published)
Price: $5 US

My savvy comics retailer put this mini-comic in my hands, suggesting it’s something I’d enjoy and find interesting. I’d been vaguely aware of Gibson Twist’s self-published comics, as my local comics shop carries his work, but I hadn’t delved into it. While I found the price I was quoted to be a little on the high side for such a thin book, I decided to give it a shot all the same. I’m always open to looking at something different, and I’m pleased I did in this case. With a Buzz… is a delightfully simple comic — so much so that one could argue it’s a little on the predictable side. But Twist’s message, despite its simplicity and obvious nature, is one that adults can overlook far too easily in life. I wish the activities depicted in this mini-comic were as commonplace as they’re suggested to be here, as there’s really not nearly enough silliness, innocence and self-satisfaction in the world as there should be. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Sept. 17, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 17th, 2014

VariantAvengers #34.1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Al Ewing, Dale Keown & Norman Lee

This Hyperion-focused standalone story, as my online reading indicates, wasn’t intended as an Avengers comic, but it was ultimately decided more units would move as a part of that series, which is a fair bet. Fortunately, writer Al Ewing builds on the seeds already planted by regular series writer Jonathan Hickman, so there’s a certain logic to its inclusion under this banner. Ewing’s take on Marvel’s Superman stand-in is an interesting spin on the near-omnipotent Man of Steel, and I rather enjoyed the reflective tone of the script. I also appreciated the fact that the seemingly infallible Hyperion is shown to be somewhat human, given the moments of rage that lurk at the periphery of his stoic yet imposing demeanor. I also enjoyed Ewing’s use of a rather obscure and quickly forgotten villain from the Matt Fraction-penned Invincible Iron Man run from a few years ago. Ultimately, while the ending promises a new direction for solo adventures of the central protagonist, it seems unlikely that’s going to come to pass. Furthermore, it seems almost certain Hickman’s plotlines on the various Avengers titles will come to an end at some point, so I’m doubtful this new status quo and mission for Hyperion will last. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Thin Bluelines

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 14th, 2014

The world of collecting original comic art is experiencing a boom in recent years, but there’s more going on than increases in interest and prices. The very nature of original art available out there is changing as well, and a lot of it stems from digital advances in the creation of comics. Finding a page of original comic art with lettering right on the board becomes increasing hard when one turns one’s attention to pages created in the past 20 years, given the rise of digital lettering in the mid 1990s. Today, digital lettering is the industry standard and likely won’t be found other than on some pages that are written, illustrated and lettering by a single creator.

But pages of original comic art without lettering are hardly a new development. However, boards featuring only pencil art or only ink art are becoming more and more common, and while a lack of lettering didn’t impact value in any real perceptible way, separate pencils and inks are definitely changing the market. More and more often, thanks to advances in digital scanning, pencillers will send scans of their pencilled boards, and inkers end up working on what’s usually termed as “blueline scans.” In many cases, that creates two boards that go into producing one page of original art. One could argue one of the reasons original comic art is seen as being so collectible and rare is because each piece is (or at least was) one of a kind. But when it comes to blueline scans, are there now two one-of-a-kind pieces of art? Which of the two boards are the original — the pencils, or the inked blueline scan that was actually used in the production of the comic?

Walden Wong, an inker whose work has appeared in innumerable DC and Marvel titles in the past couple of decades, said inking blueline scans of pencils has its advantages, not only for the publishers but the artists as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Hole Truth

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 10th, 2014

Annihilator #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist/Cover artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Bob Schreck
Publisher: Legendary Comics
Price: $3.99 US

In recent weeks, writer Grant Morrison returned to the forefront of mainstream super-hero comics with the launch of his long-awaited The Multiversity event title from DC Comics. It boasts a bunch of elements that I loved: a diverse array of colorful characters, an affection for and tribute to past super-hero comics for which I hold a great deal of nostalgia, and the challenging qualities of a weird, wild Morrison plot. The Multiversity #1 was a good comic book, but Annihilator #1… it’s a great one. The premise revolves around a somewhat familiar trope, but the sheer madness Morrison brings to the two main characters is mesmerizing as it tickles the funny bone and morbid cartilage. The surreal style of Frazer Irving, Morrison’s artistic collaborator on Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch Boy a few years ago, is an ideal choice to bring this mind-trip of the story to life. Given that this title is being released by a lesser-known comics publisher, Annihilator #1 is likely going to fly under the radar of a number of comics readers, and maybe even missed by Morrison fans. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Sept. 6, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 6th, 2014

Variant coverCloaks #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Caleb Monroe & Mariano Navarro

I need to make a point of paying attention when Boom! releases other four-part limited series such as this one. The publisher has scored with them in the past (Talent and The Foundation come to mind immediately), and now Cloaks is another such entertaining story. Cloaks fires on all cylinders. Writer Caleb Monroe has crafted a thoroughly (almost incredibly) likeable protagonist in the form of teenage street magician Adam D’Aquino. His sense of justice, his self-reliance, his love of people and his dazzling skills all combine to make a shining hero. In many ways, he’s a formulaic comics protagonist, but the conventional, arguably overused elements are quickly forgotten thanks to the character’s infectious appeal. The crime and intrigue elements are a lot of fun as well, and Monroe has done a good job of incorporating modern digital culture into the mix. Read the rest of this entry »

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Winds of War

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 6th, 2014

White Death original softcover graphic novel
Writer: Robbie Morrison
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Publisher: AiT/PlanetLar
Price: $12.95 US

I see Image Comics released a hardcover edition of this graphic novel at the end of August. I didn’t pick it up, mainly because I already have a softcover edition of the book. Indy publisher AiT/PlanetLar originally published this creator-owned graphic novel back in 2002, and I was a devotee of AiT/PlanetLar books at the time. I’ve been writing comics reviews for a long time, and I recalled I already penned some thoughts about this book 12 years ago. Rather than write a new review, I found the original review, which I’ve reproduced below (with a couple of minor edits). When I was reviewing on TheFourthRail.com at the time, I wrote many more reviews each week and wrote in a much more brief format than I do today.

When I saw this solicited in Previews, I figured, ‘What the hey.’ I enjoyed Adlard’s art, and publisher Larry Young has a solid track record. I’ve been wanting to wade into more original graphic novels and collected editions lately anyway. Little did I know I was ordering one of the most amazing war comics I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Those who enjoyed and appreciated the craft behind Garth Ennis’s recent War Story one-shots will be awe-struck by the quality and vivid storytelling and characterization to be found in White Death. Read the rest of this entry »

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Altered Ego

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 6th, 2014

Dryspell #1
Writer/Artist/Colors/Cover artist/Letters: Ken Krekeler
Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I have no idea why creator Ken Krekeler opted to call this series Dryspell, as the plot and ideas in this first issue don’t seem to connect with that term in any way, but I suppose it was a good choice. “Dryspell” was catchy enough of a title to grab my attention when Action Lab touched base by email to offer me a chance to look at a digital review copy. What I found was a well-designed, dark and offbeat take on the super-hero genre. Mind you, these more mature spins on the caped crowd are a dime a dozen these days, but Krekeler’s approach to both the art and the script really draw in the audience. I’ve found that lately, I’ve been attracted to darker, bleaker bits of fiction for my entertainment fixes, and Dryspell certainly fits the bill, though it boasts just a hint of black humor, of self-deprecation that helps it stand apart, if only a little bit. The other thing about the book that’s intriguing is how surprisingly relatable it is, as it touches on professional ennui, a sense of being directionless in life, and the challenge of finding and staying true to oneself. I’m at a point in my life at which I have a lot going for me — family, a home, a career I enjoy — but it wasn’t always that way. Anyone who’s felt adrift in his or her own life will find Dryspell to be something of a mirror, even if it’s a reflection of the past. Read the rest of this entry »

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Exit Wounds

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 4th, 2014

Death of Wolverine #1
“Death of Wolverine, Part One”
Writer: Charles Soule
Pencils: Steve McNiven
Inks: Jay Leisten
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Steve McNiven & Jay Leisten (regular)/Alex Ross, Pascual Ferry, Joe Quesada, Leinil Yu, Skottie Young & Steve McNiven (variants)
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

It was inevitable. They killed Captain America. They killed Spider-Man. They killed the Human Torch. But not really. It was just a matter of time before the comics division of Marvel Entertainment got around to “killing off” what is arguably its most popular and bankable character. Does it matter how he “dies?” No. Does it matter who’s responsible? God, no. We know going in Logan isn’t going to die. It’s one of the inherent flaws in intellectual properties and pop-culture icons — they always stay the same, except for those brief periods in which they don’t. But the notion of killing the unkillable character is also a guaranteed way of piquing curiosity. Reading Death of Wolverine is the equivalent of comics rubbernecking. You know there’s nothing for you in it, but you can’t look away. To be honest, from an administrative point of view, I was a bit curious about this limited series, if only about editorial choices, if anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

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Paranormal Activities

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 3rd, 2014

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1
Writer: Jen van Meter
Artist: Roberto de la Torre
Colors: David Baron
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artist: Travel Foreman
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US (regular)/$4.99 US (plus edition)

I haven’t delved into the recent revival of the Valiant/Acclaim super-hero line, which offers new, fresh spins (I assume) on a variety of unconventional concepts that enjoyed a surprisingly level of popularity in the 1990s, driven in part by the speculator boom of that era. I never had much of an attachment to those characters, though I certainly tried checked out of a few of those comics. I was a major fan of Quantum & Woody, but it was the creators on that book, not the Valiant brand, that drew me in. However, I did have some fondness for one of Acclaim’s lesser-known titles: The Second Life of Dr. Mirage, featuring the adventures of a spectral hero and his still-living wife, though much of my appreciation of that comic stemmed from the work of artist Bernard Chang. Nevertheless, the name “Dr. Mirage” was enough of a nostalgia trigger to get me to delve into this latest iteration of the Valiant Universe of the first time. I liked the intensity and emotion that come out quite effectively in the script, but when I reached the end of the issue, I wasn’t all that driven to find out what happens next in the story, and that hook is a rather vital component in serial comics. Read the rest of this entry »

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Flea Market Finds: Superman v.2 #35

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 24th, 2014

Superman v.2 #35
“Visions of Grandeur” & “the Racer’s Edge”
Writer: Jerry Ordway
Pencils: Curt Swan & Kerry Gammill
Inks: Dennis Janke
Colors: Glenn Whitmore
Letters: John Costanza
Cover artists: Gammill & Janke
Editor: Mike Carlin
Price: 75 cents US/95 cents CAN

Those original 1989 prices listed above may seem like an incredible bargain by today’s standards, but I got this quirky, quarter-century-old (!) comic book at a local flea market along with three other 1980s books for a mere two bucks. Money well spent. This particular post-Crisis comic is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First of all, there’s the participation of the late, legendary Curt Swan, whose work in the 1960s to the early ’80s defined the look of the Man of Steel for a couple of generations. But more interesting is the unconventional, divided approach to the storytelling. Jerry Ordway has crafted two tales here, one occupying the top half of each page and the other, the bottom. Each is illustrated by a different penciller and focuses on a different character, but what’s so novel about it is how the two stories and their visuals mirror on another. Read the rest of this entry »

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When You Get Your Name In Lights

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 24th, 2014

When it comes to other-media adaptations of comic-book properties, I think it’s safe to say we’re something of a Golden Age of quality entertainment, unrivalled and unseen since the days of the many movie serials of the 1940s. Technology has caught up with the imaginations of the men and women who crafted super-hero adventures for years, and movie producers have realized that not only is there a thirst for good super-hero adaptations, but they’re looking at comics for projects other than that genre for which the medium is best known (at least in Western markets).

The biggest movie blockbuster of the summer is the supremely entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy. The most watched show on television is The Walking Dead. Marvel owns super-hero genre adaptations on the big screen, while this fall, DC Entertainment is poised to reign supreme with a full slate of shows — Arrow, The Flash, Constantine and Gotham — on various networks. Fans who grew up with comics in the 20th century could never have imagined such an embarrassment of riches when it comes to seeing beloved characters brought to life.

But speaking of embarrassment and riches, this seemingly unyielding trend of comics adaptations has stoked the flames of controversy, at least among followers of the comic-book industry: respect (or a lack thereof) for the people who actually crafted the characters and concepts that Hollywood is using to harvest big bucks. Read the rest of this entry »

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Grant Me the Wisdom

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 21st, 2014

The Multiversity #1
“House of Heroes”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Joe Prado
Colors: Nei Ruffino
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover artists: Reis & Prado (regular)/Chris Burnham, Bryan Hitch and Morrison (variants)
Editor: Rickey Purdin
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US

Until I saw a six-page preview of this comic book online last week, I had no idea Grant Morrison’s long-awaited super-hero epic was about to begin publication; I thought it was starting much later in the fall. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to know it was nigh, and I was even moreso after reading the preview. Grant Morrison has a way of writing comics that I don’t fully understand — in some cases, they completely befuddle me (I’m looking at you, The Filth). But that puzzlement never dampened my enjoyment of those comics. In fact, sometimes it made the experience all the more rewarding, because the intellectual exercise of delving into the writer’s meta-textual concepts made me a better reader and demonstrated the versatility and untapped potential in comics storytelling. My hope for The Multiversity was that it would offer a similar experience. That hope was fulfilled. Not only is the adult intellectual comics reader satisfied, but the kid who loved DC’s super-hero books of the 1970s and ’80s is elated as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Aug. 16, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 16th, 2014

Avengers World #11 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Nick Spencer & Raffaele Ienco

A few days ago, I praised the writing in another Avengers title, noting Jonathan Hickman’s of an impossible but intriguing ethical question really served as a nice payoff of his run on that title. Avengers World features another one of Hickman’s larger-than-life Avengers concepts, but this one is at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of strength. Written by Nick Spencer (with whom Hickman co-wrote this title for a time), it features the young future heroes from the Avengers Next direct-to-video animated movie coming back to the past to save the day in one facet of the multiple-hotspot crisis the title team has been facing over the course of this title. This aspect of the conflict with A.I.M. is resolved thanks to a miraculous plot device that I would imagine any hero, not only those travelling through time, could have employed. Why these future heroes had to come back to deal with the crisis is never made clear. Furthermore, while we’re meant to believe it, they’re never portrayed as particularly more powerful or adept than their present-day predecessors in the Avengers dynasties. Read the rest of this entry »

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Assault on the Senses

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 13th, 2014

Batman: Assault on Arkham direct-to-video animated movie
Writer: Heath Corson
Voice actors: Kevin Conroy, Neal McDonough, Hynden Walch, Troy Baker, CCH Pounder, John DiMaggio, Jennifer Hale, Giancarlo Esposito, Greg Ellis & Nolan North
Directors: Jay Oliva & Ethan Spaulding
Producer: Warner Bros. Animation/Warner Premiere Home Video
Rating: PG-13

I was a huge fan of John Ostrander and the late Kim Yale’s Suicide Squad series of the 1980s, and with that in mind, I was rather looking forward to Warner Animation’s latest DC-based direct-to-video release. Despite Batman’s top billing, Assault on Arkham is definitely a Suicide Squad/Task Force X flick (set in the Batman’s video-game universe), and in several ways, the filmmakers get a number of elements of the super-villain strike force concept right. But it misses the mark in others. Ultimately, the most disappointing aspects of the movie are the gratuitous sexual elements when it comes to the female characters and the over-the-top, in-your-face violence. This could have and should have been a much more palatable entertainment experience, and it could have been so without losing the property’s dark edge. Read the rest of this entry »

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