Monthly Archives: March 2007

Finders, Keepers

Gamekeeper #1
Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist/Colors: Mukesh Singh
Creator: Guy Ritchie
Letters: Rivikiran B.S. & Nilesh S. Mahadik
Cover artists: Neelakash K. (regular) and John Cassaday & Greg Horn (variants)
Editor: MacKenzie Cadenhead
Publisher: Virgin Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$4.25 CAN

It certainly doesn’t seem as though Virgin Comics — with its celebrity endorsements, big-name industry talent and East Indian culture influences — certainly doesn’t seem to have set the world of comic books on fire. There has been potential in the concepts, characters and craft, but of the titles I’ve sampled, none have really hooked me or set tongues wagging in fandom circles. This latest Virgin offering caught my attention thanks to two names. One is on the cover — movie director Guy Ritchie’s manic action/crime movies are a lot of fun, so I hoped for the same from this book. And writer Andy Diggle, best known for Losers from DC/Vertigo, is a consistently strong talent in comics today. Do they add up to a winning combination for a new comic-book property? Well, only in part. The atmosphere is engaging and the pacing of the plot interesting, but ultimately, Gamekeeper comes across as somewhat derivative in nature, eliciting easy comparisons to some well-known Marvel properties.

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – March 27, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Cylon Apocalypse #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Carlos Rafael

I don’t watch the new version of Battlestar Galactica that seems to have taken the sci-fi fan community by storm these days, and I have only the vaguest childhood memories of the original TV show from the late 1970s. It’s to writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s credit that he’s able to craft an accessible story that requires only the most passing familiarity with the original characters and concepts in order to follow along. The TV writer tells a story of a civil war in the robotic/cybernetic society of the Cylons and how the human soldiers of the Battlestar Galactica find themselves caught in the middle. We really only get the beginnings of the plot here, and I’m not completely hooked on it yet. But again, I found I was thoroughly impressed with its accessibility. Carlos Rafael’s artwork is clear and easy to follow, and he captures the designs and look of the original property with a slicker level of action in the space warfare scenes. His artwork shows a hint of influence from Rob (Onslaught Reborn) Liefeld’s style, but his figures aren’t nearly as exaggerated. Rafael’s figures are more restrained, and he boasts a stronger eye for design. He does an excellent job of instilling a creepiness in the various Cylon characters, even though they are expressionless. 6/10

Continue reading… →

Ghosts in the Machine

B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine trade paperback
Writers: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi
Artist: Guy Davis
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Clem Robins
Cover artist: Mignola
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Price: $17.95 US

Mike Mignola’s decision some time ago to shift the Hellboy property to a series of limited series about his colleagues in the B.P.R.D. was a wise choice. He’s managed to avoid telling repetitive stories featuring Hellboy and how his toughness and grounded nature ultimately enable him to come out of supernatural scrapes intact, and the shift has also provided Mignola and co-writer John Arcudi to explore more character-based stories by fleshing out the supporting characters and adding to the cast. The writers take a split approach to the storytelling here, as they offer up a plotline about an intellectual quest that turns dangerous as well as a number of shorter stories that delve into the past and personalities of the members of the core team. It makes for a well-balanced and accessible read. And if ever there was an artist whose style was as well suited to the surreal and gothic, supernatural world that the B.P.R.D. patrols as Mike Mignola’s, it’s Guy Davis’s.

Continue reading… →

Keeping an Ion Things

Ion #12
“Burying the Past”
Writer: Ron Marz
Artist: Fernando Pasarin
Colors: Richard & Tanya Horie
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artist: Kalman Andrasofszky
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65

I admit it… I got sucked in. The cover for this issue, which serves as the concluding chapter of this limited series, as well as the first page, drew me into a comic book that I figured would focus on characterization above cosmic action. That didn’t prove to be the case. But hey, that’s OK, as I enjoy well-crafted cosmic action as well. But that’s not to be found in this comic book either. In fact, I really don’t see the makings of any kind of plot here at all. No epic is brought to a close. The title character seems to make no changes or advances in his life, super or otherwise. As far as I can tell, Ion isn’t really about Kyle Rayner or any kind of space-faring adventure. Instead, I was left with the impression that it was nothing but an exercise in teasing and setting up DC’s next crossover event book, which is rumored to be about the return of parallel universes to DC continuity.

Continue reading… →

Everything’s Weirder in Texas

Texas Strangers #1
“Training Day, Part 1 of 2”
Writers: Antony Johnston & Dan Evans III
Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Mario Boon
Colors: Traci Hui
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.50 CAN

Antony Johnston, co-writer on this new project, has amassed an impressive list of comics and graphic novels in a relatively short time in the industry, especially when one considers he’s worked exclusively outside of the two best-known publishers, Marvel and DC. When I think of Johnston’s work, I think of the maturity and/or edginess he brings to his storytelling. Texas Strangers is far from edgy or dark in nature, but it’s just as solid as Johnston’s past efforts. He and Dan Evans have crafted a colorful, entertaining and intriguing story for all-ages that makes the most out of two genres: Westerns and fantasy. The story and premise are thoroughly accessible and surprisingly ambitious. Artist Mario Boon’s cartoony approach to the visuals is simple but striking, and the colors really bring out the wondrous energy of the magical elements. Even if this comic-book series doesn’t light up the sales charts during its first go around, I would imagine a digest-sized collected edition would do quite well.

Continue reading… →

Sakai It to Me

Usagi Yojimbo #100
Writers: Stan Sakai, Mike Richardson, Frank Miller, Diana Schutz, Sergio Aragones, Jamie S. Rich, Jeff Smith, Mark Evanier & Guy Davis
Artists: Sakai, Rick Geary, Miller, Matt Wagner, Aragones, Andi Watson, Smith, Scott Shaw! & Davis
Letters: Sakai, Geary, Miller, Tom Orzechowski, Watson, Smith & Shaw!
Cover artist: Sakai
Editor: Schutz
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $3.50 US

Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo has been a mainstay of the comic-book industry for more than two decades. When people think of longtime, successful comic-book creators who work outside of the dominant super-hero genre, names such as Dave (Cerebus) Sim and Jeff (Bone) Smith come to mind. Sakai has earned a place among such creators with his single-minded dedication to this property, which he has guided single-handedly over the years. This 100th issue of the current Dark Horse series doesn’t feature a milestone story in the life of the title character or a climactic conclusion to a long-running plotline. Instead, it’s a jam issue in which the creator, not the character, is honored by colleagues in a colorful, roast-like fashion. Even if one isn’t familiar with the rabbit samurai hero of the series, this self-contained, tongue-in-cheek issue offers up an entertaining and frank look at the culture and camaraderie of the comic-book industry.

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – March 16, 2007

Civil War: The Confession #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

With the release of last week’s Civil War: The Initiative and a slew of Fallen Son specials on the way, Marvel’s readers are no doubt getting sick of the fallout from the publisher’s Civil War crossover event. The anti-climactic tone of the final issue of the crossover series was unsatisfactory, but this latest one-shot provide a quite sense of closure for the central Captain America/Iron Man conflict. Bendis — with his strongest Marvel Universe script in recent memory — manages to humanize Tony Stark and cast him in something other than a villainous or corrupt light. Stark’s dedication to his cause makes sense here; one isn’t more likely to agree with him, but at least his behavior makes sense in the context provided here. This is a quiet, emotional story about two friends who feel forced into enmity, and Bendis’s script really gets to the heart of the hurt both men feel. Alex Maleev’s artwork might seem like a poor match for the sleek, technological qualities of Iron Man, but the dark, gritty tone in his style is a great match for the emotional pain that’s at the heart of this epilogue story. Colorist Jose Villarrubia brings some added texture and realism to the visuals, and given Bendis’s effort to achieve a realistic tone, it bolsters the gravity of the story. It’s a shame that the bulk of the plotlines from Civil War were so frustrating, because there is clearly potential in the concepts. Bendis demonstrates as much here, just as other writers — such as J. Michael Straczynski in Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four — did in various tie-in issues. 7/10

Continue reading… →

String Theory

Red String Vol. 1 graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Gina Biggs
Editor: Mike Carriglitto
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Price: $9.95 US

Though Tokyopop and Viz dominate the world of manga in the Western market, one has to acknowledge that Dark Horse Comics definitely makes itself known in that arena as well, and not just when it comes to English-language adaptations of Japanese material. Red String isn’t technically original English-language manga, since its original presentation was online. Creator Gina Biggs is clearly a fan of manga and Japanese culture, as she sets her teen romance story in the Land of the Rising Sun. Biggs boasts a soft, appealing visual style that’s in keeping with the lighter, youthful tone of her story. Unfortunately, the backgrounds are lacking, making for some repetitive and unengaging artwork at times. The story itself is fairly simple, even silly at times, but it’s also sweet. Red String is all about giggly girls and their rivals, as well as the boys they swoon over and those that torment them. Red String is bound to delight young, female readers, but its appeal seems pretty much limited to that small, niche market.

Continue reading… →

Life Sucks, Get a Helmet

Over the course of the past couple of months, DC has released a number of specials to tee-up next month’s launch a new, ongoing Doctor Fate series from DC Comics. Given the prominence of the Helmet of Fate in DC’s weekly series, 52, it made sense to see these one-shots as spinoffs of that title as well, but events have recently shown that the mystical artifact has really had nothing to do with the Ralph Dibny subplot in 52. In terms of generating interest and excitement about the new ongoing title, these specials fall short of their goal, as they tell us nothing of what to expect, nor do the scripts endeavor to do so at all. Where these one-shots do succeed, though, are with efforts to offer up some fun stories that tap into a lighter, more traditional approach to comics storytelling and with some more grounded, characterization-oriented scripting.

Continue reading… →

Other Casualties

As I type this, lots of both first-print covers of Captain America #25 are selling on eBay for 50 bucks or more. Say what you will about speculators and comics retailing, but the success of the “Death” of Captain America — both in terms of sales and publicity — is undeniable. And from a personal perspective, I’m pleased to see that the new storyline boasts glimmers of real strengths, of being sustainable beyond its connections to Civil War. Once the dust settles, it’s a safe bet Cap #25 — with its two first-print editions and already announced second printing — will clock in with impressive sales numbers, perhaps even topping 200,000 copies, I’ll wager.

Retailers should be celebrating, as Marvel ensured strong availability of this surprise event with a generous overprinting, and mainstream media coverage reportedly drove non-comics readers to direct-market specialty stores (rather than big-box bookstores) in search of the “landmark” issue. However, I wonder if Marvel’s timing and marketing of the Death of Cap wasn’t something of a misstep. The bullets that struck Cap down struck some other Marvel heroes as well.

Continue reading… →

Spartan Decor

300 the movie
Actors: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Rodrigo Santoro & Andrew Tiernan
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: Snyder. Kurt Johnstad & Michael Gordon
Studios: Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures/Virtual Studio
Rating: R

Like many filmgoers in the west this weekend, my girlfriend and I attended a screening of 300, the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic-book series of the same name (most have been referring to the original work as a graphic novel, but they seem to have forgotten it was released in an episodic format initially). The historical epic is surprisingly accessible for the masses, and it’s been long enough since I read Miller’s original work that the story offered a couple of surprises along the way. Obviously, the greatest appeal of the movie is the never-ending array of visual delights, from stunning special effects to Miller’s dazzling character designs. In fact, one’s initial impression of this film is that its appeal rests entirely in the visual experience, that storytelling and characterization are barely secondary concerns. But that’s really not the case. The actors’ charisma — especially that of star Gerard Butler — keeps the audience involved in the plot even when alien and monsters visions aren’t filling the big screen.

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – March 9, 2007

Captain America #25 (Marvel Comics)
by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting

I found that the previous three issues of this series, which tied into Marvel’s Civil War, were actually quite strong, definitely better than the crossover series. The same holds true of this latest issue, which flows out of the ending of Civil War. To be honest, the storyline here is really not all that dependent on the events of the crossover. This is the climax of months of subplots from this title, not other Marvel books. The Red Skull/Dr. Faustus plot offers a shocking and gut-wrenching twist (though not an entirely logical one, as it requires the reader to ignore the fact that no one and nothing witnesses the actual source of Cap’s fatal wounds). I also remain impressed with what Brubaker’s doing with the Winter Soldier. Now lucid and centered, he’s a much more interesting character. Also fascinating is how Nick Fury is maintaining such a presence and power over events even though he’s never seen. Obviously, the greatest hindrance to this story is the reader’s knowledge that there’s no way Steve Rogers is actually dead. Though the story is titled “The Death of the Dream,” ultimately, it’ll no doubt prove to be “The Absence of the Dream.” Epting’s art is effective, achieving a nice balance between a realistic look and a grittier, edgier style. The most fun aspect of the story is that it’s not about the death of a super-hero icon or the American ideal, but rather the beginning of a fascinating tale of espionage and deceit. 7/10

Continue reading… →

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Mighty Avengers #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Frank Cho
Colors: Jason Keith
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artists: Frank Cho (regular) & Leinil Yu (variant)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.75 CAN

When I was a kid, it wasn’t long after I discovered the world of super-hero comics that I was drawn to the team books. I loved me them team books, even through my teens and into my adult years as a comics reader. I still love super-hero team books. I’m a sucker for a good team book. Unfortunately, Mighty Avengers #1 is not a good team book. It’s a good-looking super-hero comic, and Bendis’s story is fairly accessible. But in this first issue, the characters contradict themselves, react blindly for no good reason and speak to one another in such a high-speed, pitter-patter banter mode that it would give Aaron Sorkin a headache. There’s certainly some fun to be had here. Seeing the heroes take on giant monsters was amusing, and Bendis offers up an interesting take on Tony Stark. In the end, though, this new title reaches for the stars but fails to really take flight with its debut issue, and the cliffhanger doesn’t instill confidence regarding what’s to come.

Continue reading… →

History Bleeds

Nat Turner Vol. 2 of 2: Revolution original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Kyle Baker
Publisher: Image Comics/Kyle Baker Publishing
Price: $10 US

I was fascinated and a bit inspired by the first volume of Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner (originally published as traditional, “floppy” comics), due in no small part, no doubt, to the face that U.S. history is not one of my strong suits (I’ve got a good excuse: I’m Canadian). I was really taken with Baker’s unusual approach to telling the story of a slave who managed to educate himself in secret to rise up to fight against what was arguably the most egregious injustice in American history. But with the release of the second part of the story, a darker, more disturbing atmosphere takes over, making it difficult to see the title character as a hero. Baker doesn’t offer any judgments himself, allowing the barbarities of one group of people to be compared to those of another. The question that this story ultimately poses is whether or not Turner’s revolution was a matter of war or one of frenzied revenge. Baker’s art is richly detailed, but his cartooning influences still shine through without compromising the grave nature of the subject matter.

Continue reading… →

Is There Love After Death?

My Dead Girlfriend Vol. 1 original graphic novel
“A Tryst of Fate”
Writer/Pencils/Cover artist: Eric Wight
Inks: Eric Wight, Mike Allred, Michael Cho & Nick Derington
Greytones: Mark Lewis
Letters: Mark Lewis & Lucas Rivera
Editor: Julie Taylor
Publisher: Tokyopop
Price: $9.99 US/$12.50 CAN

People in the comic-book industry have been singing the praises of Eric Wight for a couple of years now, but I don’t think we’ve really seen a project that one could point to as really belonging to him. The one-time animation artist has illustrated short stories in a variety of comics titles, but there was never one that one could call “that Eric Wight book”… until now. Given the amount of work he’s done for the big super-hero publishers, it might strike one as surprising that Wight would opt to make his debut as a writer/artist of original graphic novels outside that arena. Signing up with Tokyopop for this project is not only a good thematic fit, though, but it offers him a stronger penetration into a market that might not be as familiar with his work. My Dead Girlfriend is a light, entertaining read. The imaginative mix of the supernatural, comic elements and teen melodrama is quite charming, and the sweet and innocent love story is saccharine, yes, but quite cute and touching too.

Continue reading… →