Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Flea Market Finds: Spirits of the Earth

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 19th, 2014

Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Charles Vess
Letters: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $18.95 US/$22.95 CAN/£11.50 UK

The local Sunday flea market was defunct for a few weeks as it searched for a new venue, its previous locale becoming unavailable to it a little while ago. It found its summer home at a downtown curling club, and when I drove by a couple of times, the parking lot indicated sparse attendance. A few weeks ago, I found myself in the area on a Sunday afternoon, and looking at the time, I realized there was about a half hour left before it wrapped for the day. I had nothing on the agenda at that moment, so I pulled in and checked it out. There wasn’t much in the way of comics to be found. I saw one vendor who specialized in some back issues, all priced pretty too high. One doesn’t go into a flea market looking for comics valued by means of a price guide. One is after bargains; once in a blue moon, I haul some boxes to the flea market and blow them out, most of them for 50 cents apiece.

On my way out after a quick 10-minute reconnaissance of the market, I spied something on a table just 15 feet from the door. It looked like Spider-Man, and it looked like a book, so I took a closer look. Sitting there in pretty good shape was a hardcover copy of Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth, a graphic novel of which I was aware in mostly a passing fashion. On top of that, it was a first printing of the 1990 book. The dust jacket showed a little wear but no tears, marred only by what I assumed was dried little bits of Play-Doh that flaked off easily. The price tag: three bucks. With only minutes left before the venue closed, I offered the grizzled old guy behind the table two, and he accepted. I fished a toonie out of my pocket, gave it to him and made off with what I felt was practically treasure (at least at that price). Read the rest of this entry »

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Admit It, You’ve Always Wanted to Get Into My Pants…

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 18th, 2014

Just about everyone I know is well aware of what a huge comic-book enthusiast I am. My friends, my colleagues at work, strangers on the Internet — my comic-geek cred is apparent for all to see. As a kid, it was something I often kept to myself, but the 21st century has brought about an acceptance of geek culture, as non-comics readers have shown interest ranging from mild curiosity to hearty embracing of the medium for which I have such a passion. Those closest to me accept and acknowledge my interest, and in recent years, I’ve almost always received a few comics-related Christmas gifts — from my wife, my parents, even my mother-in-law. It’s genuinely touching.

But over the holidays in 2013, my now-four-year-old gave me what may be my favorite comics-connected present ever: Superman underpants. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – July 17, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 17th, 2014

Dark Engine #1 (Image Comics)
by Ryan Burton & John Bivens

Image Comics has garnered a strong reputation for superb, cutting-edge comics, but the titles that get the most attention, understandably, are those by established talents in the comics industry. So it’s easy to sometimes overlook other titles being offered by newer names, relative unknowns. Dark Engine is one such comic book, and it shows a lot of promise, both from writer Ryan Burton and artist John Bivens. Dark Engine kind of strikes me like a cross between East of West and Prophet. It’s got an interesting contrast going between a cerebral tone and a sense of brutality and savagery that grabs the reader’s attention. The purple prose that characterizes the narration and the dialogue for the dragon figure at the beginning of the book is, I have to admit, a bit off-putting. I was immediately taken back to a number of Thor stories set in Asgard that I didn’t like — too many flourishes and lofty phrases in the script. The human characters who appear later in the issue temper that a bit, as they speak more normally, offering just a hint of something familiar with which the audience can connect. The use of lower-case lettering for the narrative captions is an unfortunate choice, as the font doesn’t work well with the harshness of the premise and book’s overall look. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mushroommate

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 16th, 2014

Seconds original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Drawing assistant: Jason Fischer
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: Dustin Harbin
Publisher: Ballantine Books/Penguin Random House
Price: $25 US

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books are undeniably a master work in the medium of comics, and I fully appreciated his approach in those books. That being said, they weren’t graphic novels that really clicked for me, though it was certainly no fault of O’Malley’s. The young, slacker, characters and the immersion in gamer culture were just so alien to me. I didn’t and couldn’t connect with the title character and his world. Nevertheless, I was anticipating this new O’Malley project just as much as other comics enthusiasts. Imagine my pleasure and surprise to find one of the key elements emerging in its opening pages was the protagonist’s sense of generational isolation from the younger people working in her restaurant. I immediately connected with Katie, and the message at the heart of this book is a philosophy I’ve observed for years, ever since my professional and personal lives came into focus in my 30s. Read the rest of this entry »

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Letter Bugs – Anderson Laments the End of Marvel

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 13th, 2014

The world of comic books is made up of two separate but equally important groups: the people who work in comics and the fans who read them. Sometimes, members of the latter group cross over and end up working in the industry. And occasionally, in the letter columns of back issues, one can find fan letters written by these readers-turned-pros. These are their stories. (Apologies to Law & Order.)

It’s been almost four years (!) since I last explored this feature, but some time spent sifting through a box of assorted back issue picked up at a flea market brought me back to a bunch of letter pages, and to a couple of pre-pro fan letters. The last time I wrote about these little lettercol treasures, we visited with Astro City writer Kurt Busiek long before he broke into the comics industry. This time, his Astro City artistic collaborator steps into the “Letter Bugs” spotlight. Read the rest of this entry »

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Artful Dodges

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 12th, 2014

I’ve grown more and more interested in collecting original comic art over the past couple of years, and I’m slowly gathering a collection of original pages. My budget is limited, so I’m always on the lookout for bargains. I’ve managed to land some great deals by keeping a close eye on eBay listings, and I’ve managed to pick up quite a few pages for less than $100 apiece on the auction site. In my quest for those bargains (and as part of my general interest in the hobby and market), I think I’ve managed to develop a general sense of appropriate ranges of values for many kinds of pages by various artists. So when I happened upon a listing for a Captain America page from 1992, pencilled by the late Rik Levins, I was taken aback. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – July 10, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 10th, 2014

Daredevil #5 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

Daredevil, as guided by Mark Waid and his creative partners on these various series, continues to stand out as one of Marvel’s best titles, mixing Silver Age fun and traditions with more modern, sophisticated sensibilities. That being said, this was one of the more lackluster issues in Waid’s tenure. This episode answers the question as to how and why Foggy Nelson’s death was faked in between the previous series and this relaunched one, but it wasn’t such a deep mystery that it required a full flashback issue. Still, there are some strong characterization bits to be found here. I am starting to get a bit tired of Waid’s repeated use of the original Ant-Man as a cure-all for any sci-fi/super-hero-genre plotting challenge that arises. If Waid took the time to foster a stronger link between the title character and Hank Pym, a developing friendship, his repeated appearances mightn’t seem so jarring. Mind you, I can’t deny that Waid’s use of a wider and more colorful array of characters and concepts from across the Marvel Universe in Daredevil’s previously small little corner of it continues to entertain.

Samnee’s art is a wonderful match to that more wondrous feel. Most striking visually in this issue was his depiction of Foggy, thin and frail but not seemingly deathly ill. He seems so much like a regular guy, and the way his body moves under Samnee’s hand looks quite natural. Read the rest of this entry »

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Exorcize Regimen

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 29th, 2014

Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta #1
“A Darkness Surrounds Him”
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist/Cover artist: Paul Azaceta
Colors: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $2.99 US

There are a number of creators whose new works I’ll check out no matter what, and both writer Robert Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta are on that list. While they don’t necessarily reinvent the wheel with this new horror-genre comic, they blend misdirection, mood and characterization to deliver a solidly entertaining read. Kirkman always seems as though he’s in tune with the pulse of pop culture, and the possession premise at the heart of this new series ought to make the most of that paranormal trend that’s still prevalent today. I’ve never been terribly interested in the exorcism niche of the horror genre — I’ve never seen The Exorcist — but what held my interest here was the challenging construction of this inaugural issue as well as Kirkman’s decision to ignore clich√© and convention specifically when it comes to the development of a key character. Read the rest of this entry »

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Orphan Back

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 26th, 2014

Bombshells variantVariant coverSuperman #32
“The Men of Tomorrow, Chapter One: Ulysses”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Klaus Janson
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Cover artists: Romita & Janson (regular & variant)/Ant Lucia (variant)
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

DC’s big marketing push proclaiming not only the arrival of John Romita Jr. at the publisher for the first time but his association with the most iconic super-hero character of all time was a merited one and a smart move. I was certainly interested in what he’d do with Superman. Furthermore, pairing Romita with DC exec and top writer Geoff Johns was another wise choice. It’s heartening that what’s making this comic book an important one for DC is the talent, not necessarily the story. That being said, the story here struck me as somewhat generic, but a bit clever, but it’s not enough to keep me coming back. However, the art is exciting and fun, and Johns has instilled some strong characterization bits that have definitely piqued my interest. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Limits of Infinity

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 14th, 2014

Variant coverInfinity Man and the Forever People #1
“Planet of the Humans”
Writers: Keith Giffen & Dan DiDio
Pencils: Keith Giffen
Inks: Scott Koblish
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Travis Lanham
Cover artists: Giffen & Koblish (regular)/J.G. Jones (variant)
Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I’ve never really been a big fan of the late Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters, which he created while working for DC Comics in the 1970s. I later appreciated the quirky, bizarre flavors of those ideas later in life, but they still weren’t something that excited me like other super-hero characters did. When I have been interested in those characters, it was usually through the interpretations offered by other comics creators. For example, I thought Keith Giffen and Dan DiDio’s short-lived OMAC series in the first wave of the New 52 was an underappreciated and entertaining series that celebrated Kirby’s concepts, updating them while also staying true to them. So when DC announced Infinity Man and the Forever People, featuring another revival of a Kirby-created property by the same creative team, I was immediately intrigued. I just picked up a shelf copy at my local comic shop this week rather than add it to my pull list earlier, and I’m glad I did. The reason: I won’t be reading the second issue. While I appreciated the personality the writers brought to the characters as well as some of the tweaks they’ve made to the original source material, there’s not a lot of story here to hook a reader. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Reviews - DC | 1 Comment »

The Beast Within

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 13th, 2014

Chicacabra original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Tom Beland
Editor: Chris Ryall
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $17.99 US

It’s no secret that I’m a major fan of Tom Beland’s storytelling. His autobiographical series True Story Swear to God is one of my all-time favorite comics and always will be. That I would delve into this first fictional creator-owned work was a given, but in advance of its release, I wondered if it would grab me as much as True Story did. The work for which Beland is best known is an incredibly personal one, about him, his wife, his family. He shared his greatest joys and fears in True Story, but Chicacabra isn’t about him. Beland has written fantastic fiction in the medium before, specifically for Marvel Comics. Those were thoroughly entertaining and fun comics as well, but they weren’t as personal, as revealing. But really, one wouldn’t expect any wholly resonant characterization from one-shots featuring long-standing super-hero icons that are designed to be static. So the question remained — would Chicacabra, which lingers on the edge of the super-hero genre, lack the same touching humanity?

The answer is a clear “no.” The cast of Chicacabra may not be real, but they are Tom Beland. As someone familiar with his work and who he is, the characters, inner conflicts and familial concepts here flow directly from Beland’s everyday world and experiences. The framework for those ideas is a piece of fantastic fiction about a young woman and a chance encounter with a powerful, near-mythological and majestic beast, but the story itself is about family and loss, about surviving and thriving. Beland’s message is abundantly clear: to isolate oneself from others is to die, and to connect with people is to live. Read the rest of this entry »

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Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Fighting Evil)

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 20th, 2014

Lumberjanes #1
Writers: Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis
Artist: Brooke Allen
Colors: Maarta Laibo
Letters: Aubrey Aiese
Cover artists: Noelle Stevenson/Maddie Flores/Lauren Zuke
Editor: Dafina Pleban
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Boom! Box imprint
Price: $3.99 US

I’m far from the target audience for this book, but there was such a positive buzz around it, I opted to fork over my four bucks to give it a look. I figured if I didn’t dig it, I could probably flip it on eBay to get my money back. After reading it, I definitely get why it has struck a chord with readers. Lumberjanes, as its title suggests, is a playful adventure book featuring a cast made up entirely of strong, entertaining female characters. It’s appropriate for pre-teen readers up to adults, and I’d be amazed if Boom! wasn’t eyeing this property as something that could spin off into other media. That being said, I don’t think I’ll be following the series — not because I don’t think it’s a good comic book. It is a good comic. It’s just one that doesn’t really appeal to my sensibilities. Read the rest of this entry »

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Voice Lessons

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 14th, 2014

A Voice in the Dark #s 1 & 2
“Blood Makes Noise” parts 1 & 2
Writer/Artist: Larime Taylor
Editor: Dannty Donovan
Publisher: Image Comics/Top Cow Productions
Price: $3.99 US each

That’s right, I’m back after a long hiatus. The dormancy of Eye on Comics doesn’t stem from site issues, personal illness or some ’round-the-world excursion or anything. More pressing, everyday concerns seemed to trump my writing about comics, and honestly, I think I was a bit burnt out on it. But after writing yesterday’s review, I felt re-energized, and with the snow melting, I needn’t worry about snowblowing, wood-fetching or deck-clearing. What follows below is a review I had mostly written when the Big Break happened, so I’m behind a bit on the series. But don’t let that mislead you into thinking the comic book discussed here is one that should be overlooked.

I’ll be honest: the Top Cow brand isn’t one to which I pay much attention. Defined by its titles that represent the Kewl excesses of the 1990s (such as Cyberforce and The Darkness), Top Cow Productions has rarely offered a title that’s really held my interest (at least of the ones I’ve sampled over the past 20 years). So when I saw the promotional material in my Inbox for this particular Top Cow book, I didn’t expect much. Still, I decided to take a few minutes to “thumb through” a digital copy of the first issue. A few minutes turned into 30, as I drank in the first issue and then the second. And then I read a message from the writer/artist/creator in the back of the first issue. The broad concept cover blurb quote — describing A Voice in the Dark, as Dexter meets Strangers in Paradise — isn’t a bad description, but it really only scratches the surface of this powerful, character-driven sample of storytelling. Read the rest of this entry »

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Eternal Torment

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 13th, 2014

Variant coverBatman Eternal #1
Writers: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Consulting writers: Ray Fawkes, John Layman & Tim Seeley
Artist: Jason Fabok
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Cover artists: Jason Fabok (regular)/Andy Kubert & Jonathan Glapion (variant)
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I wasn’t planning on picking up this weekly series, but a light week at the comic shop, an appreciation for weekly titles and a somewhat deluded sense that a $3 comic is a bargain in the 21st century all converged to get me to give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found within — a story that focuses on supporting characters in Batman’s world rather than the title character himself. I was also expecting a simpler approach in the artwork, given the tight publishing timeline on which is series is set to unfold, but artist Jason Fabok has injected a meticulous level of detail into this inaugural issue. The comic definitely has its flaws, but it succeeds in the most important aspect for a weekly serial: it had me curious about what happens next. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Reviews - DC | 6 Comments »

The Doctor Is Quinn

Posted by Don MacPherson on December 6th, 2013

Variant coverHarley Quinn #0
“Picky Sicky”
Writers: Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artists: Amanda Conner, Becky Cloonan, Tony S. Daniel & Sandu Florea, Stephane Roux, Dan Panosian, Walter Simonson, Jim Lee & Scott Williams, Bruce Timm, Charlie Adlard, Adam Hughes, Art Baltazar, Tradd Moore, Dave Johnson, Jeremy Roberts, Sam Keith, Darwyn Cooke and Chad Hardin
Colors: Paul Mounts, Tomeu Morey, John Kalisz, Lovern Kindzierski, Alex Sinclair, Lee Loughridge, Dave Stewart & Alex Sollazzo
Letters: John J. Hill
Cover artists: Amanda Conner (regular)/Stephane Roux (variant)
Editor: Katie Kubert
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I’m a few weeks late writing about this recent release, but I had a number of thoughts about it and wanted to jot them down. First off, I must point out I thoroughly enjoyed this comic book, not because I have a particular interest in the title character, but moreso because I enjoy the work of the writers and many of the artists who contributed. That being said, while I found this comic entertaining, I’m not entirely sure it was a good idea. Sure, a Harley Quinn is definitely a marketable property with mainstream recognition, and Palmiotti and Conner’s sensibilities are a great fit for the character. But this zero issue of the series really isn’t about Harleen Quinzell. Instead, it’s about the mainstream comics industry itself and the friendships the writers have formed over the years. As someone with an interest in the industry, as well as the personalities behind the stories and art, I was quite taken with this fourth-wall-breaking jaunt through the craft of comics. But I question if that cachet will appeal to the wider audience DC is no doubt looking to hook. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Reviews - DC | 3 Comments »