Monthly Archives: May 2007

Blue’s Clues

The Blue Beetle Companion: His Many Lives from 1939 to Today
Writer: Christopher Irving
Cover artists: Cully Hamner (front) and Tom Feister (back)
Editor: John Morrow
Publisher: TwoMorrows Publishing
Price: $16.95 US

The Blue Beetle seems like an odd choice of character to have his own “biography.” At his most popular, he’s a B-list super-hero at best, and the rest of the time, one could view him as a C-lister or worse. Fortunately, this volume isn’t so much a study of the character’s history but of two businesses that published his adventures in the Golden and Silver Ages of Comics… and of the men who kept the Beetle machine ticking for decades. Irving’s history — derived not only from interviews he conducted but from other sources as well — is more comprehensive the further back one goes in time. The Blue Beetle Companion could have been a tedious read, but Irving uses the personalities of the real people behind the paper protagonist to bring drama and humor to the factoids and timelines that serve as the skeleton of this project. Ultimately, this book will appeal to a limited niche market, but that’s the bread and butter of TwoMorrows publications in the first place. With any luck, younger, newer readers who are fans of the newest incarnation of the Blue Beetle might be drawn to this volume, and if so, it will open their eyes to the wonder and weirdness of the medium, not to mention a weasel or two.

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Be My Valentino

Drawing from Life #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist/Letters: Jim Valentino
Editor: Kristen Simon
Publisher: Image Comics/Shadowline imprint
Price: $3.50 US/$4.15 CAN

I’m a fan of the slice-of-life, autobiographical comic, and I’m thrilled that Image Comics has provided my favorite title in the genre — True Story, Swear to God — with a much brighter spotlight in the industry. I wonder if Image’s decision to publish Tom Beland’s true-romance comic sparked Image founder Jim Valentino’s decision to put together this anthology of real-life experiences. In any way, Valentino is no stranger to the genre, having presented great work in A Touch of Silver several years ago. Well, Drawing from Life (an overly cute but effective title) is no Touch of Silver. The book lacks structure. There’s no common theme running through the various short stories, and the subject matter and tones of the segments are wildly diverse… random, really. Nevertheless, it’s fun to get a glimpse inside someone’s life, and there’s definitely an honest and genuine quality to the storytelling. I also enjoy the chance to get a look at Valentino’s cartooning (as opposed to the more conventional style one often sees in comics today). Those charms aren’t enough to really hold the audience’s attention, though. This first issue is an interesting experiment but not really a successful one.

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Extinction Agenda

newuniversal #6
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist/Cover artist: Salvador Larroca
Colors: Jason Keith
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Editor: Axel Alonso
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

I was one of maybe five fans of Marvel’s New Universe line back in the 1980s, so I anticipated Warren Ellis’s revival of the brand for a new series. However, my reaction to the first issue was lukewarm. In my capsule review of the first issue, I wrote, “As I made my way through this first issue, I was surprised to find that he really hasn’t tinkered all that much with the properties … Both Star Brand and Justice don’t seem changed all that much …” Fortunately, that hasn’t proven to be the case in subsequent issues, and this latest episode is full of the kind of edgy, political and imaginative scenarios Ellis does best.

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The Plain Truth

The Plain Janes original graphic novel
Writer: Cecil Castellucci
Artist/Cover artist: Jim Rugg
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Minx imprint
Price: $9.99 US/$11.99 CAN

DC’s Minx line has finally arrived with this inaugural release, and if The Plain Janes is any indication of what we can expect from Minx books, it’s going to be a strong imprint. This graphic novel should appeal to female readers, especially teen girls, but the characterization is so strong and the ideas so grounded yet offbeat that the book should achieve a much wider appeal. The Plain Janes taps into a modern angst about a world that seems to be growing more and more violent with every passing day. More importantly, writer Cecil Castellucci offers a story that will appeal to anyone who felt excluded by the It crowd in high school, who felt his or her parents ignored needs and pleas or who felt, well, like a teenager. The story and characterization boast definite universal qualities, but at the same time, this is about a smarter group of alienated teens. This is about constructive rebellion, but the tone of the story isn’t all that celebratory either. There’s a definitely downtrodden atmosphere at play, and the black-and-white art enhances that atmosphere quite well. Jim Rugg’s art is simple but effective. Sometimes his characters’ faces and his eye for perspective are a bit off, but overall, he conveys a convincing, realistic world in which this quirky, John Hughes-esque drama can unfold.

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Eye Wide Shut

Many readers likely noticed that Eye on Comics wasn’t accessible for more than a day around May 21. It had something to do with “kernel panicking” and the server trying to “mount the root filesystem.” It’s all very confusing and sounds suspiciously salacious to me. But what do I know.

The site’s back up now, of course, and new content has begun to flow. Anyone who sent me e-mail at my address during the site outage might want to resend, as there was surprisingly few messages in my inbox once I was able to access it again. It was also apparent after the site went live again that some image files were lost in the process. I’ve replaced all of the ones I noticed missing, but if you see any broken images on the site, please e-mail me and let me know about it.

In other site news, some may have noticed Eye on Comics has a new sponsor: A Wave Blue World Inc., publisher of the indy comic Adrenaline. If you enjoy my reviews and commentary, please support my efforts by taking the time to click on A Wave Blue World’s ad on the left and check out its website.

Quick Critiques – May 22, 2007

Delicate Axiom #1 (Tempo Lush)
by Richy K. Chandler

This mini-comic, produced by a writer/artist in London, defies description. At first glance, it’s something of a soap opera. The core premise of this 36-page issue is about two friends estranged from one another as each struggles to come to terms with another friend’s recent death. The people around them try to help bridge the gap between the two friends, as they know the relationship means more to them than even they realize. It seems like a well-grounded concept, but Chandler brings a decidedly surreal quality to the story by transforming some of the characters into figures from the world of fantasy. Mermaids, talking animals and angels are commonplace in this urban setting. Chandler holds off on revealing the fantastic elements, though, which comes into conflict with how the characters perceive them. The reader is meant to be awed, but that doesn’t work when the characters don’t react similarly. Furthermore, the script makes it seem as though we’ve missed out on large chunks of the story. Another friend’s death is the catalyst here, but we’re never told how he died so suddenly. This doesn’t read like an introductory issue. It seems much more like a continuation of a larger saga.

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Annotations – Justice League of America #9

And here we go with the third in a series of five sets of annotations for “The Lightning Saga,” the JLA/JSA/Legion of Super-Heroes teamup story arc currently unfolding in DC’s Justice League of America and Justice Society of America. Writers Brad Meltzer (JLA) and Geoff Johns (JSA) have crafted a tale in the tradition of the JLA/JSA annual teamups of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, but some decades-old references may escape newer readers. Hopefully, these annotations will be of assistance to new readers and forgetful longtime fans such as me.

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The Fightin’ Irish

Shenanigans original graphic novel
Writer: Ian Shaughnessy
Artist/Cover artist: Mike Holmes
Editor: James Lucas Jones
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $14.95 US

Oni Press boasts a diverse array of material among its various releases over the years, but when I think of Oni, I think of strong, grounded, slice-of-life storytelling. The publisher has offered a great lineup of original graphic novels over the years as well, from Lost at Sea to 12 Reasons Why I Love Her. Oni Press rarely disappoints, so that’s why I was so excited to see this latest graphic-novel release cross my desk (despite its somewhat goofy name). As I delved into the book, I was surprised by the first scene, as it focuses on a rather off-putting character. Still, I continued on, eager to see what this 20-something corner of St. Louis had in store. I’ll give former Oni intern Ian Shaughnessy credit for one thing… he’s definitely tapped into some believable characters and the kind of relationship I’ve seen others experience. But in the end, I found I really didn’t like these characters all that much, and his incorporation of a sitcom-esque plot twist in the middle of the book interfered with the character dynamics rather than contributed to them. The art serves the tone of the script quite well, and I’d be interested in seeing more work from industry newcomer Mike Holmes. Ultimately, Shenanigans isn’t a bad graphic novel, just a slightly flawed foray into the slice-of-life genre and not nearly as strong as other Oni fare.

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Here We Go Again…

Countdown #51
“Look to the Skies”
Writer: Paul Dini
Pencils: Jesus Saiz
Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colors: Tom Chu
Letters: Travis Lanham
Cover artists: Andy Kubert & Tim Townsend
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN

I’m not all that surprised that DC’s 2006-2007 weekly series, 52, proved to be a sales success. It was so unlike what we’ve seen in North American super-hero comics before that it was bound to attract the attention of fans of the genre. The series’s strong sales are a testament to the novel approach to comics storytelling, but it remains to be seen if the weekly format is a viable. DC and Marvel have demonstrated time and time again that when they happen upon successful formats or concepts, each flogs that horse until it’s good and dead. So Countdown will serve as the true gauge of whether or not there’s life in the weekly format. Fortunately, DC has lined up some solid talent to spearhead the new book, and while it shares some common traits with 52, there are some clear differences as well. As was the case when 52 launched, it’s difficult to tell what to expect from Countdown in the long run, but this first taste offers solid art, a diverse array of players, strong characterization and entertaining action.

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Quick Critiques – May 9, 2007

Empowered original graphic novel (Dark Horse Comics)
by Adam Warren

Writer/artist Adam Warren turns his attention to an unfortunate quality of super-hero comics, and that’s its gratuitous hypersexualization of female characters, especially in a genre that was originally envisioned as material for younger readers. The designs for the various characters are hilarious, inventive and striking. These sooper-heerows look appropriately goofy, but a couple of the designs are pretty sharp, to be honest. Warren also makes the most of the black-and-white format. There’s a rougher quality to the art and lettering at times, but it never looks sloppy. Warren takes an over-the-top approach to this satirical look at super-hero storytelling, and it’s amusing and wholly effective in making his points. There’s just one problem: it’s repetitive. Warren makes the same points over and over and over again, and the one-dimensional nature of the characters and limitations of the gimmicks aren’t enough to sustain one’s attention all the way through to the end of the book.

To be fair, Warren constructs Empowered to be read in short little bursts, as this is more of a short-story collection than a graphic novel, really. It’s just a shame that it seems to be the same story time and time again. For the most part, the stories are about how inept, vulnerable and easily victimized the title character is. Mind you, there are stories that explore the other characters as well; I was especially entertained by Sistah Spooky’s origin. Overall, I liked the concept, but the longer format didn’t suit the material. Presenting it as a graphic novella, something in the format of Garth Ennis and Amanda Conner’s The Pro from Image Comics a few years back, would have a better fit for this project. 6/10

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Annotations – Justice Society of America #5

Welcome back for the second part of my annotations of “The Lightning Saga,” the five-part storyline currently unfolding in DC’s Justice League of America and Justice Society of America titles. Writers Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns have revived the tradition of JLA/JSA teamups, once a staple of the original JLA series. That’s not all they’ve brought back either, as some semi-obscure references keep popping up in the script and plot. I broke down the first chapter from JLA #8 here, and now it’s time to turn our attention to the second episode, in JSA #5. Hopefully, this will be of assistance to newer readers, unfamiliar with the nostalgia-inducing source material.

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The Year of Living Dangerously

52 Week 52
“A Year in the Life”
Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka & Mark Waid
Breakdowns: Keith Giffen
Pencils:Mike McKone, Justiniano, Eddy Barrows, Chris Batista, Pat Olliffe & Darick Robertson
Inks: Andy Lanning, Walden Wong, Rodney Ramos, Drew Geraci & Darick Robertson
Colors: Alex Sinclair, David Baron & Hi-Fi
Letters: Ken Lopez
Editor: Michael Siglain
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.50 US/$2.99 CAN

DC’s power quartet of writers resurrects the past in this cosmic finale while maintaining the status quo that had replaced it, and I’m honestly not sure how to feel about it. The nostalgic super-hero fan in me is thrilled to see the return of DC’s multiverse concept, and the writers have tweaked it somewhat so that it’s more manageable than the one that came before it. This is big, flashy genre fun, but it relies on a number of plot devices and supposed twists that make it a bit difficult to follow at times, let alone to swallow. Some character-driven elements are thrown in to balance the larger-than-life, science-fiction concepts thrown about in the story, but it succeeds only to a mild degree.

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With Friends Like These…

DMZ #18
“Friendly Fire, Part One”
Writer/Cover artist: Brian Wood
Artists: Riccardo Burchielli & Nathan Fox
Colors: Jeromy Cox
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN

Writer Brian Wood and his collaborators launch a new story arc in this issue, and it’s quite new-reader-friendly. It also marks a dramatic but fascinating shift in focus. Previous stories in this series focused on war from unconventional points of view. Wood explored the power of the media, the politics of war and the perseverance of the human spirit earlier in DMZ. But here, we meet the soldiers, the men who are fighting an unjust and confusing war that they don’t understand. Wood taps into an old-school, war-comic vibe in this issue, but he also explores issues of great relevance. The sins of wars past and present are examined in this story of a war of the not-too distant future. We meet a man who had a hand in a massacre, whose hands are stained with the blood of the innocent, but Wood nevertheless manages to cast him in a sympathetic, relatable light. This stands out as the most powerful, riveting issue of DMZ yet, and given the quality of the series from the start, that’s no small feat.

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