Monthly Archives: October 2007

Quick Critiques: It’s Not Easy Being Green

Green Arrow: Year One #6 (DC Comics)
by Andy Diggle & Jock

This limited series comes to a rather conventional and predictable, lacking in the edgier and intense atmosphere that allowed it to stand apart from DC’s regular super-hero fare. Mind you, that’s to be expected. This is, after all, the conclusion of a super-hero origin and part of the new lore behind a property DC has invested a lot of creative and marketing efforts as of late. The more vanilla tone found in this final issue is easy to understand and even accept as a result. Diggle has done a great job of updating Green Arrow for the 21st century. As far-fetched as this origin is, the writer has brought a greater complexity and more personality to it, and in the process, he’s also brought a slight degree of credibility to the title character as well. It’s no surprise that Jock’s linework brings the story to life so well; Diggle and Jock proved they had plenty of creative synergy with their Vertigo series, Losers. The subject matter has proven to be surprisingly comparable despite the different genres, and Jock’s eye for big-screen-like action served this story well. But Jock’s work has really shone when it comes to his covers for this series, and this one may be the best of the bunch. The simplicity of the arrowhead shape is balanced by the convincing anatomy of the hero in the foreground and the rich, glowing tones that allow the image to leap out from the black background. My comments here are rather glowing, considering I found this issue to be rather conventional (which is reflected in my rating). But while this was something of a whimper than a bang, there’s no denying the series as a whole is a solid piece of work. 6/10

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 24, 2007

Annihilation: Conquest – Wraith #4 (Marvel Comics)
by Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Kyle Hotz

This series started out on a really strong note, bringing together science-fiction with a Western genre feel, but that was lost by the time the plot reached its conclusion. Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s story for this final issue is a typically cliched ending about the triumphing underdog in the midst of a sci-fi war. Despite his efforts, there’s no dramatic tension to be found here. Furthermore, the Wraith’s angst and a message from his dead father come from out of nowhere, interrupting the flow of the storytelling and shifting away from the edgy intensity that made the title character so cool in the first place. I did enjoy the Super-Skrull’s role here, but Praxagora’s presence adds nothing to the story at all. It’s not clear why she’s been included. While the story is a misfire in just about every way, artist Kyle Hotz does just as solid a job here has he has on previous chapters. His vision of the Super-Skrull’s shapeshifting powers strikes me as different from what we’ve seen before, emphasizing the character’s alien origin rather than making him look like a Plastic Man knockoff. He also does an excellent job of presenting Ronan as a huge, imposing and powerful figure; that makes for a great contrast with the desperate, wailing man he becomes by the end of the issue. My only qualm with the art is the two-page spread toward the end; it’s not at all clear what’s happening. Of course, the script’s description of the deux ex machina resolution is confusing as well. Despite my appreciation of Hotz’s work, this was a disappointing conclusion and a sample of squandered potential. 4/10

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There’s No Place Like Rome

Ex Machina #31
“Ex Cathedra, Chapter Two”
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Tony Harris
Inks: Jim Clark
Colors: J.D. Mettler
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN

With the advent of the conclusion of Y: The Last Man upon us, as well as talk of a movie adaptation of the series, it’s easy to forget that Y isn’t the only ongoing series with challenging, thought-provoking plots and themes currently being offered up writer Brian K. Vaughan. Ex Machina is always at its strongest when it focuses on the political and personal plotlines over the science-fiction/super-hero elements, Vaughan’s manages to bring credibility to those incredible concepts. This particular issue of the series is just as entertaining as those that came before, but the theological cliffhanger here made this episode stand out as particularly compelling. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Vaughan’s imaginative and provocative ideas are brought to life via Tony Harris’s convincing, detailed illustrations. At this point, if you’re not reading Ex Machina, you’ve likely dismissed it and believe it’s too far along in the continuing narrative. But Vaughan’s script is thoroughly accessible, not only in terms of plot information but in how it crosses genres.

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Fight Club

Brawl #1
“Immortal” (featuring Billy Dogma)
Writer/Artist: Dean Haspiel

“Panorama” (featuring Augustus)
Writer/Artist: Michael Fiffe

Cover artist: Dean Haspiel
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.25 CAN

Billy Dogma: Though I haven’t many of Dean Haspiel’s Billy Dogma stories, I did have a passing familiarity with the property. I wasn’t all that taken with it though not entirely put off either. After reading “Immortal,” I’m convinced of the strength of Billy Dogma and of Haspiel’s craftsmanship in the medium. Warren Ellis’s cover blurb about Haspiel being the 21st century “heir to (Jack) Kirby” is right on the money. This bizarre but simple story about love and machismo is surprisingly engaging, and I find I’m really looking forward to seeing where Haspiel will take it.

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 16, 2007

Drafted #2 (Devil’s Due Publishing)
by Mark Powers & Chris Lie

I gave a lukewarm review to the first issue of this unusual sci-fi series but noted that it showed a lot of promise. With this second issue, writer Mark Powers carries on with his socio-political examination of what might happen if aliens visited the earth. Crises of faith, violent opposition and quiet acceptance all categorize the various reactions to such a world-changing event. The main focus in this issue is to show the aliens’ recruitment drive, as they hand-pick a select group of human beings to join them in a coming war. The stronger and more character-driven focus I felt was lacking in the first issue is found in the second episode, and the storytelling is more compelling as a result. Still, it feels as though the plot is moving ahead at a snail’s pace. The issue is padded out with some cliched alien-arrival moments, but there’s definitely the feeling of forward movement here. Artist Chris Lie manages to provide a truly impressive visual with a splash page featuring the dismantling of a piece of military technology. He captures an awesome level of detail while also conveying the invisible energy and movement of an impossible moment. The art in the rest of the book is a mixed bag. Sometimes, the characters look sharp and realistic. At others, the heads are too squat. The characters in the scenes set in Hong Kong don’t look at all Asian, and there’s no cue in the script that indicates they’re supposed to be Caucasian. Sometimes, it’s just the minor details that seem off while the dominant visual elements are well done, but even those minor bits can distract. 6/10

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Gerber Babies

Steve GerberThis week saw the debut of two disparate Marvel limited series — the latest incarnations of Omega: The Unknown and Howard the Duck. But these properties have more in common than a publisher. Not only are both resurrected creatures of the 1970s, but they’re the brainchildren of one particular writer: Steve Gerber. Oddly enough, Gerber is not involved in either of these two relaunches, which is fodder for another column altogether (for someone more in the know about the politics of comics publishing than myself).

With or without Gerber’s participation, the question is: are these two oddball Marvel comics three bucks a pop?

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Superman: Doomsday direct-to-video animated movie
Voice actors: Adam Baldwin, Anne Heche, James Marsters, Adam Wylie, Ray Wise, Swoozie Kurtz, Cree Summer, John Dimaggio & Tom Kenny
Directors: Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery & Brandon Vietti
Writers: Bruce Timm & Duane Capizzi
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Rating: PG-13

Ads for this DVD billed it as an adaptation of the original 1992-1993 comic-book storyline, but the writers and producers have diverged significantly from the source material. While it’s definitely inspired by “The Death of Superman” and takes a few cues from it, it’s really an original plot. I was surprised, but after a while, I was taken in by the new story. The 75-minute feature moves along at a brisk pace, never letting go of the audience’s attention. The animation is slick and polished. The only real disappointments to be found with this feature is that it’s perhaps too much of a pared-down version of the original story, but more importantly, the climactic confrontation between good and evil is perhaps the least compelling scene in the movie. It’s the one predictable sequence in the film, but given the nature of the plot and genre, that’s certainly to be expected to some extent.

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Wham Bam, Thank You, Bram

Graphic Classics: Bram Stoker trade paperback
“Dracula” – adapted by Rich Rainey/illustrated by Joe Ollmann
“The Vampire Hunter’s Guide” – adapted by Tom Pomplum/illustrated by Hunt Emerson
“The Judge’s House” – adapted & illustrated by Gerry Alanguilan
“The Bridal of Death” – adapted & illustrated by J.B. Bonivert
“Torture Tower” – adapted & illustrated by Onsmith Jeremi
“The Wondrous Worm” – adapted & illustrated by Evert Geradts
“Lair of the White Worm” – adapted by Tom Pomplum/illustrated by Rico Schacherl
Cover artist: Mark A. Nelson
Editor: Tom Pomplum
Publisher: Eureka Productions
Price: $11.95 US/$14.50 CAN

From the late 1940s through to the early 1970s, kids discovered classic literature through comic-book adaptations in the long-running Classics Illustrated series and specials. Eureka Productions has picked up on that tradition and is attempting to carry it on, but it’s approached it in a different way. Instead of focusing on a single story, this series of trade-paperback anthologies features comics adaptations of a classic author’s work. Bram Stoker is the star of this seventh volume. I’ve read Dracula but was largely ignorant of the gothic author’s other writing, so on that level, this book was informative and eye-opening. Overall, I think the editor of the volume made a misstep in the choice of artists. Those handling the line art in this book perform well; I take no issue with their craft. But many of the artists — who boast simple, indy-press approaches to comic art — have styles that don’t pair well with the dark, eerie tone of the stories.

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