Monthly Archives: January 2007

Big-Screen Synergy

We comic readers always take notice when our four-color heroes make the leap from the pages of the medium we love to the big screen. DC and Marvel have had a lot of success in recent years, with comics flicks seeming to top the wish lists of movie producers. Obviously, one of the reasons the more iconic heroes connect so well with moviegoers is that they remember them fondly from their youth. From comics at camp to cartoons on Saturday morning, millions know these characters and are willing to plunk down cold, hard cash to reconnect with those imaginary friends from their youth. Given the power of that nostalgia, the new movie incarnations of those fondly remembered characters end up being simplified, adapted and sometimes reverted to forms they’d shed decades before. As a result, comics publishers often scramble to bring back old ideas and circumstances so the masses can find something they recognize in the comics of today.

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The Best Man Is Actually the Worst

Hellboy Animated: The Black Wedding original graphic novel
“The Black Wedding”
Writer: Jim Pascoe
Artist: Rick Lacy
Colors: Dan Jackson
Letters: Blambot
Cover artist: Jeff Matsuda
Editors: Scott Allie & Matt Dryer

I’m looking forward to the upcoming DVD release of Hellboy Animated: Sword and Storms movie, and I thought the live-action flick was great big-screen fun as well. I assume that the new DVD release will be full of the same lighter, more energetic kind of fare one finds in this graphic novel, but I hope the plotting and overall flow of the storytelling are more refined. The storytelling in this main story is choppy and occasionally confusing, and I realize it’s because writer Jim Pascoe is trying to provide a number of different though connected threats for the various members of Hellboy’s team. The more cartoony designs for the characters are an interesting change of pace, but the linework seems rough around the edges, and the confusing tone I mentioned before is exacerbated by poor scene transitions. The colors are unusually bright given the gothic, supernatural elements in the story, but surprisingly, they work.

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 29, 2007

Civil War: The Return #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Paul Jenkins, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna

After reading this one-shot, I was left with one nagging question: what was the point? The latter story, featuring the Sentry and his struggle to decide which side of the superhuman civil war to support, seems completely redundant when one considers another writer explored the question in New Avengers and that we’ve seen the Sentry side-by-side with Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man in the core Civil War title itself. That means we’re left with an extended and rather unimaginative fight scene with the Absorbing Man, resolving with the stereotypical revelation that the Sentry has too much power for the villain to leech from him. The main story, though, is the one that’s going to have comics fans talking… at least longtime readers familiar with the dead hero returns in these pages. I suspect many will scream that this story mars a rather poignant story of an atypical but rather human death in the Marvel Universe, but what strikes me about it is how unnecessary it is. The connection to Civil War is tenuous at best, and there’s little reason for the hero to act as he does. I do like the concept of a man living his life knowing exactly when and how he’s going to die and how that might mess with one’s noggin, but Paul Jenkins really doesn’t have the space to explore that idea all that much. Tom Raney’s art is quite strong. He brings out an appropriately pained look on the resurrected hero’s face. The colors are bright and crisp throughout the issue, reinforcing the cosmic energy that’s at play. 5/10

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Comfortably Numb

Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Joshua Kemble
Letters: Joshua Patterson
Publisher: Kemble/Alternative Comics
Price: $3.95 US

Any writer who’s sat staring at a blank piece of paper or a blank screen, unable to come up with a spark of an idea or a beginning to fan a spark into a creative flame will recognize himself or herself in this short comic’s lead character. On the surface, this story seems to be about the challenges of writing and creativity and how life provides both obstacles and incentives for that work. But really, this is about the challenges of self, of how one can one’s own worst enemy, and not just when it comes to writing. I found it surprisingly easy to connect with this self-pitying protagonist, and Kemble’s artwork matches the reflective, self-indulgent mood of the script quite well. Numb is actually the result of another Xeric grant and another example of how those doling out those grants have a sharp eye for up-and-coming, indy talent. Kemble’s work has a solid promotional effort behind, with a bit of buzz already generated online. As such, this is hardly a new discovery, but I still felt the excitement of being exposed to a new creative voice in the medium.

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Let’s Talk About Sex

nEuROTIC graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: John Cuneo
Editor: Kim Thompson
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Price: $19.95 US

Note: This review of adult material and should not be viewed by underage readers.

Fantagraphics Books is one of those publishers in the industry that’s difficult to nail down. It was once propped up by a profitable porno-comic line, but it now also produces a number of important works, notably archival ones such as the new Peanuts and Dennis the Menace hardcover collections of decades-old, classic comic strips. This book — named and oddly capitalized to capture the surreal and sexual tone of the cartooning within — lies somewhere in between. This book — not a graphic novel, really — is a sketch collection of unpublished artwork by noted U.S. cartoonist John Cuneo, whose recognizable style has appeared in a wide variety of publications, from the cerebral New Yorker to the more accessible Entertainment Weekly. It’s an interesting look inside the mind of a creator with a twisted bent. Cuneo’s work will seem familiar, and this book allows him to cut loose and transgress the taboo. To say nEuROTIC is pornographic is completely off the mark, though. This book does not titillate. It’s occasionally depraved, sometimes challenging and often funny. This is a coffee-table book for those who delight in shocking people, who see offending material as a means to enlighten rather than frighten.

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Designer Thugs

Marvel Adventures The Avengers #9
“A Not-So-Beautiful Mind”
Writer: Jeff Parker
Pencils: Juan Santacruz
Inks: Raul Fernandez
Colors: Impacto Studios
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover artist: Cameron Stewart
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics/Marvel Adventures imprint
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

I haven’t paid much attention to Marvel’s younger-readers line since the first couple of issues of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man and Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four. I dismissed the line as rehashing old stories I’d already read and striving for a simpler tone to appeal to the little tykes. A couple of months back, though, Cameron Stewart’s cover art for this particular comic book started making the rounds, and I, like many others, was immediately tickled and intrigued. I asked the manager at my local comic shop to add this issue to my pull list, and I’m pleased I did. Writer Jeff (Agents of Atlas) Parker brings the goofy storytelling of DC’s Silver Age to this unusual lineup of heroes and oddball villain to achieve a delightfully entertaining story that will appeal not only to young, new comics reads but longtime fans of the medium and super-hero genre as well. Despite the oversized craniums of the characters, this isn’t the most cerebral of super-hero stories, but it’s funny, energetic and clever in its own campy way.

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 21, 2007

Fantastic Four #542 (Marvel Comics)
by Dwayne McDuffie, Mike McKone, Andy Lanning & Cam Smith

Writer Dwayne McDuffie takes over the regular duties as FF scribe from J. Michael Straczynski with this issue, and the good news is that it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the storytelling at all. In fact, the transition is fairly seamless. McDuffie’s take on the Civil War plot points is as smart and sharp as Straczynski’s, perhaps even moreso. He makes Reed’s decisions in the divisive crossover event make sense to a certain degree. Once again, his emotional side has been engulfed by the scientist in him. I love how McDuffie writes Reed and the Mad Thinker as respecting one another’s intellect. These are lifelong enemies, but their dedication to science and knowledge trumps their disdain for what the other represents in terms of social position. Johnny’s dialogue in the opening scene is plausible and clever, and I like that McDuffie manages to maintain the character’s grounded tone while not resorting to depicting him as a dullard. McKone’s art is as crisp as ever, and the softer tone he brings to the characters’ faces emphasizes their humanity above the sci-fi trappings and impossible super-powers. The Thing’s adventures in Paris aren’t really holding my attention anymore. It was a cute diversion for an issue, but the Odd Couple riff between the rocky hero and the City of Lights isn’t something that works long term. 8/10

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Gold Standard

52 Week Thirty-Seven
“Secret Identities”
Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka & Mark Waid
Breakdowns: Keith Giffen
Pencils: Pat Olliffe
Inks: Drew Geraci
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Travis Lanham
Cover Artist: J.G. Jones
Editor: Michael Siglain
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.50 US/$3.50 CAN

DC’s weekly series, exploring the DC Universe and some of its second-tier characters, has been an interesting and unique entity in super-hero comics. Usually entertaining and sometimes frustrating, the 52 experiment is finally starting to yield results, and it’s this issue is where the payoff begins. This action-packed issue not only surprised me with its big revelation, but it impresses with how the writers demonstrate that they’ve used the readers’ expectations of super-hero genre conventions and tricks to pull the wool over our eyes. Furthermore, this particular issue is illustrated by the one recurring art team whose style has stood out as unique and well suited to the tone of the project. If this book has one major flaw, it’s the cover, which sadly spoils the big surprise to which the series has been building for months.

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Immaculate Perceptions

American Virgin #10
“Wet, Part 1 of 5”
Writer: Steven T. Seagle
Artists: Becky Cloonan & Christine Norrie
Colors: Brian Miller
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover artist: Joshua Middleton
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price $2.99 US/$4 CAN

I know it’s only been three months since I wrote a full review of an issue of American Virgin, but the strength of this script and how it made me think about faith, religion and prophets wouldn’t allow me to let this issue just pass by without commentary. This title is a shining achievement for the creators and for DC’s Vertigo imprint, and the good news for those who haven’t sampled the series yet is that this 10th issue reads well all on its own. I was actually surprised to find this was the first chapter in a new five-part story arc rather than a standalone issue designed to expose the protagonist’s childhood. Seagle’s script is accessible and telling when it comes to the main character, but more importantly, he examines what it really means to connect with God and to represent Him. This story is full of sin, profanity and anger, yet somehow, it’s surprisingly Biblical in its depiction of one man’s relationship with God.

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EC as One, Two, Three

The EC Archives: Shock SuspenStories Volume 1 hardcover
Writers: Bill Gaines & Al Feldstein
Artists: Jack Kamen, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, Graham Ingels & Wally Wood
Colors: Marie Severin, Anna Bolhis, Cory Dunnihoo, Joshua G. Jones, Tracy L. Morris, Leona D. Cahoj & Liz A. Rost
Cover artist: Wally Wood
Publisher: Gemstone Publishing
Price: $49.95 US

There have been a number of online comics news reports lately spotlighting Gemstone Publishing’s decision to scale back its offerings, specifically its line of Disney comics (featuring both new and reprint material). However, I certainly doubt that translates into a doom-and-gloom forecast for the publisher, especially when it’s now offering material such as The EC Archives. As other publishers have found in recent years, there’s a clear demand for high-end reprints of classic stories and art from the industry’s past, and one would be hard-pressed to find material that suited the term “classic” more than the crime and horror stories of EC Comics of the 1950s. As a testament to the importance of this material, this inaugural hardcover volume of Shock SuspenStories — featuring the first six issues of the original series — comes from filmmaker and Hollywood mover and shaker Steven Spielberg. The stories found within this attractive, oversized collection can be predictable and clumsy, but they’re nevertheless entertaining, and not just on a campy level. Perhaps what’s most interesting about the storytelling is how it paints a picture of Western society from half a century ago.

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Phone Home? Nah, E.T.’ll Blackberry Instead

Ed’s Terrestrials original graphic novel
Writer: Scott Christian Sava
Artist: Diego Jourdan
Publisher: Blue Dream Studios
Price: $19.99 US

A quick look at the spine of my review copy of this book and a subsequent Google-ing of the title reveals that this was originally supposed to be (or originally was) an Alias Entreprises release, but creator Scott Christian Sava has given it new life by publishing under his Blue Dream Studios banner. I’ve enjoyed Sava’s work in the past. Some may remember him from his outing with Marvel Comics — the Spider-Man: Quality of Life limited series — but I prefer to think of him as the writer/artist/creator of The Lab, a goofy, cartoon-inspired workplace comedy. This project is a children’s book, first and foremost, but it’s crafted as a comic, not the usual illustrated text that tends to characterize children’s literature. Ed’s Terrestrials is a light romp, with a familiar premise and artwork that suits the tone of the story but falls short with an oversimplified sense of design.

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 7, 2007

All Star Superman #6 (DC Comics/All Star imprint)
by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely & Jamie Grant

Of all the comics in my reading pile this week, this was the one to which I looked forward the most. Morrison offers up yet another imagination-fueled story with some poignant emotion, but this stood out as a somewhat flawed issue as compared to previous episodes of the series. There’s a slight disconnect in the plot when it comes to the revelation of a temporal monster. It feels as though there’s a panel or page missing. I don’t believe there actually is a missing piece. Rather, I suspect Morrison is playing around with perception and time given the sci-fi/super-hero concepts that come into play. What’s most striking about the script is how well Morrison distinguishes between a young Clark Kent on the cusp of adulthood and the grown, confident figure we’ve seen in previous issues. It was also a treat to see the return of not only Superman 1,000,000 but the Unknown Superman hinted at last year in this very title. Quitely also does an excellent job of conveying Clark’s youth and naivete and the fragility of his elderly parents. I also love the various alternate Superman designs that turn up in this issue (though at least one was previously established in DC continuity, so it can’t be attributed to Quitely). Jamie Grant’s computer colors really pop and drive home the purer, Silver Age qualities of the storytelling. 8/10

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All in the Family

Dynamo 5 #1
Writer: Jay Faerber
Artist/Cover artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colors: Ron Riley
Letters: Charles Pritchett
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US/$4.05 CAN

Jay Faerber offers up some new twists on traditional super-hero storytelling with his latest project, Dynamo 5. It boasts all the fun of old-school comics with a slightly dysfunctional, modern quality. The writer wisely brings a darker edge into play by the end of the issue, and that harsh, concluding scene adds some real suspense to the mix. Artist Mahmud Asrar’s work on this accessible, inaugural issue elicits easy and favorable comparisons to the styles of such established industry talents as Mike (Fantastic Four) McKone and Carlos (Superman) Pacheco. The script is thoroughly accessible, which is vital for this book given that there are so many characters dressed alike and driven by the same motivations. Dynamo 5 is full of playful action, entertaining banter and slightly sordid details that will not disappoint.

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Tribal Counsel

Scalped #1
“Indian Country, Part One of Three”
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: R.M. Guera
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Phil Balsman
Cover artist: Jock
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

Comics scribe Jason Aaron offers up a new ongoing title that works well as a crime drama. There’s an intensity to the plotting and characters that puts one in mind of another Vertigo title, 100 Bullets. Aaron takes us into a violent world where brutality trumps reason and corruption reigns supreme. The artwork captures the setting and violent circumstances quite well. Sounds like another solid winner from Vertigo, right? Well, culture hasn’t factored into the equation yet. Aaron isn’t just bringing a crime story to life; he also invites his readership into an isolated and oppressed culture that, for the most part, remains ignored and abused even in the 21st century. The depiction of the politics of a reservation and its residents didn’t sit all that well with me. Some might dismiss it as liberal white guilt, but I hope we’ll find more balance in the characters and cultural elements in future issues.

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Tony Stark Sees It as Sectarian Violence

Civil War #6
Writer: Mark Millar
Pencils: Steve McNiven
Inks: Dexter Vines
Colors: Morry Hollowell
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: McNiven & Vines (regular) and Michael Turner (variant)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

Marvel’s flagship event title of 2006 reaches its penultimate issue in the first week of 2007. The past couple of issues have sparked some controversy and angry reactions among some readers, but they haven’t appeared to have negatively impacted the sales of this limited series. As such, I expect the outraged and entertained alike will be on board for this sixth episode as well, and the good news is that the plotting in this issue shouldn’t elicit extreme reactions. On the other hand, the overall pacing of this issue likely won’t get much reaction of any kind. Still, there are a couple of smaller moments that stand out as strong, and Steve McNiven’s artwork will not disappoint. Ultimately, the theme of personal freedoms versus demands for security falls to the wayside as the series approaches its finale, making room for a big, colorful super-hero rumble. It’s a big genre crossover story, after all, so I suppose such a stereotypical conclusion is to be expected.

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